Thursday, September 24, 2015


Autumn in my little corner of the kingdom is a Janus-like season. Remember Janus? The Roman God of gates and doorways doorways--one face toward each direction.

Autumn is like that for me--looking forward, looking back.

One day, it's summer, and you'd swear August's picture is still on the wall calendar. The next morning, the leaves whip around wildly, skies are overcast (if not weeping buckets), and you wonder which closet you buried your rainproof jacket and umbrella in.

While the weather is doing its two-faced thing, I veer back and forth between two ways of thinking about life. 

Ahead of us is a season many people dread--Winter, with its more-than-generous servings of snow and ice, wind chills, and dangerous roads/driveways/sidewalks. In its nature, Winter is probably no more dangerous than other seasons, if we take precautions for our safety. But it's well to be prepared.

Behind us is summer (my least favorite season, as I believe I've said before)--a season many folks would love to see hang around a minimum of 200 days per year; the other 165 could be a little cooler, maybe a little rainy, but definitely not below 50 degrees. I prefer variety in my seasons.

But that's just weather. What about what's ahead of us in our lives? What changes will there be in my family? In my health? My town? My church? My friends? 

My grandchildren are young enough to be changing jobs, moving to bigger houses, looking for the best schools for their children. My children are more settled, but still open to new opportunities. My health is currently stable, so I keep on with my exercise programs to maintain the status quo. My town--well, they call it progress, I call it chaos: closed streets, tree removal. . . . My church constantly searches for ways, and people, to serve. My friends are going through their own challenges with health and other problems. 

What's behind me in my life is there for me to see in old photos, read in old letters I've saved, recall with my children in our telephone/email conversations. Some of the memories are smile-bringers--remembering a time and place and the people involved in a birthday party or a Christmas family celebration. Some memories bring sadness--folks no longer with us, relatives and friends lost to time and death.

But I count my memories as blessings--yes, including those memories I'd rather take out to the landfill and bury deep. Without who I was, I wouldn't be who I am today. Neither would you who are reading this post. There's always the possibility that we'll learn from our past mistakes, pass along some wisp of wisdom to a family member or friend, perhaps to a stranger.

My goal--my challenge to myself--is to dwell in the present. See the good around me. Help folks who need a boost, a kind word, a warm blanket. The past is past--I can learn from what's gone before. The future is not yet here--I can plan and prepare, but I can't live it until it arrives.

----- Yesterday I celebrated Autumn's arrival with a drive through the country. Not much color yet in our area, but it's coming, it's coming. I checked on the new chrysanthemum I planted a week ago and gave it a big drink. For supper I ate chicken and vegetable stew I'd made and frozen a month ago. An autumn supper, with bread and butter on the side.

Welcome Autumn your way--football games, tailgate parties; trips to the orchard for cider and apples; stocking up on pumpkins and corn shocks for the October look.

And while you're at it, celebrate being alive. Today.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


Lately my reading has veered toward the biography section at the library. (This is one of the areas untouched by the jumble method of shelving, which I ranted about a few months back—and the fact that nonfiction has escaped is an occasion for thankfulness.)

Biography section is a convenient umbrella that includes autobiography and memoir. I love memoir. Memoir is a way of living part of another person’s life and understanding not only what happened, but one view of why it happened, and how it has impacted the writer’s life.
Looking at my home-grown library, collected over the past fifty-plus years, I find a large number of non-fiction books that are based on memories and recollected stories: All of May Sarton’s journals; the James Herriott animal stories from his veterinary practice in Yorkshire; Russell Baker’s Growing Up, about his youth in the 1930s; C. S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy. . . .
The list is endless. There’s even a category on called “100 Biographies and Memoirs to Read in a Lifetime.” Here are a few you might recognize:
A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson
A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt
Anne Frank’s Diary
Seabiscuit and Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
The Story of My Life, Helen Keller
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen
Night, Elie Weisel
As you can tell by the variety in the above list, there’s no one way to write a memoir. Bill Bryson’s is a humorous tale of outdoor life. Hemingway writes of the explosive political times in the 1920s and 1930s. Frank McCourt tells of an Irish childhood lived in poverty. Anne Frank’s diary recounts her family’s hiding from the Nazis in World War II. Helen Keller writes about her life as a multi-handicapped child.
Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit brought the 1930s horse scene to life; her Unbroken, a World War II survivorship story, was painful to read, but remains one of my favorite books about the resilience of the human spirit and the power of forgiveness.
The late Maya Angelou was a poet, but her memoir helped her rise above an abusive childhood as an African-American girl.
Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa became a lovely movie, based on the Danish woman's various writings—her stories, letters, and articles.
Elie Weisel’s Night is book one of a trilogy in which he ponders serious questions that arise for a survivor of the Holocaust.
There you have a starter list of books to look for, if you want to experience someone else’s life, culture, and time frame.

Now for the big question—Have you ever thought about writing a memoir of your own?
(Don’t make ugly faces; you haven’t heard the rest of the idea.)
If you’ve managed to live through childhood, marriage/career, children (your own or someone else’s), you have a built-in audience. For example: Do your children know where you grew up? What it was like to live on a farm, in a big city, on a river, in the mountains, in another country? Do your children know their grandparents, aunts/uncles/cousins? Did your great-grandfather fight in the War Between the States? (Mine did.)
There’s more to Life than kids’ll learn in a museum. Why not tell them your story? Write about the time you won a blue ribbon for your prize animal/plant/project at the 4-H Fair. Never won one? Write about not winning. Who did win? How did that feel? Did it makes you try harder? Or give up?

What did you do for fun before technology came along and gave us hand-held games, computers, and videos? What was a treat in your family? How did you celebrate birthdays (if you did)?
My family never travelled much for vacations. In fact, vacations times were when we "got caught up on things around the place.” (Maybe that’s why I was never a fan of summer vacation once I went to school.) If you were one of the families that went to Grand Canyon, Grand Ol’ Opry, Epcot Center, camping in the wilds of Montana . . . wherever . . . write about it! Make it come alive.
Okay, you don’t like the idea of writing about yourself. Just remember—no Memoir Police are going to come along with a red pencil and mark your comma splices or circle a misspelled word. This is not for publication, except for whoever you share it with.
So--here’s another take on the subject of Memoir.

Do you know folks who live in nursing homes, retirement communities, assisted living, or other such types of housing, who may have stories to tell?
I used to walk at the Y with a man twenty years older than I, who hadn’t grown up in our town, but had moved here as a young man and become acquainted with—to hear him tell it—practically everybody over the age of ten. Wow, did he have stories to tell! And his memory was prodigious. He collected stories the way I collect books. I wanted him to go to the genealogy center here in town to record some of his stories (I knew he’d never write them down), but he hasn’t done it yet. He now resides in assisted living locally and continues to get out and about if someone drive him.
There are many, many books in print, along with helpful websites, that tell how to write a memoir. But you don’t need to read those yet. Just get a spiral notebook, a good pen, and put on your smile. Sit down in a comfortable, and let the memories roll.

If you're writing someone else's story, let that person decide if the story is to be shared.

if you’re writing your own story, don’t share it till you’re ready. And if you’re never ready? Hey, that’s okay, too.

Keep in mind that you may not have been old enough to remember some world-wide things going on in your or your subject's early life—such as The Great Depression, World War II, or the Korean Conflict, or the Beatles’ invasion of the U.S. So, do some research. That’s what Google is for! You’ll be glad for the details to make these remembrances live for the reader. And details provide a context for what you or someone else can remember about family, work, or school.

Kodak has us already in the mindset of “making” memories.
How about putting a few of them on paper?



Thursday, September 3, 2015

[No pictures today--my computer is experiencing technical problems. So you can imagine your own schoolhouse photos.]

Today is September 3rd. In my young years, I would have been in school two days already, beginning the first weekday in September. This would be a short week, and so would next week, with Labor Day off.
Another generation of my family is off to school, some starting in mid-August. I’ve had news and photos of my great-grandchildren—in a Read-A-Thon, tested for advanced placement, waving good-bye with their backpacks in place.
This time of year I envy anyone going off to school. My memories are mostly happy ones—and those happy memories were created by teachers who cared. Today I want to recall a few of them.
First Grade – Mrs. Nabb presided over eight grades at Clear Spring School, in rural Coles County, Illinois. I have little recollection of the other kids because I was utterly, entirely, and overwhelmingly in love with Mrs. Nabb and Books! Emotional memory says that school was just for me. The books were all mine to read. (I guess the other people were there to keep the place running.) In Mrs. Nabb’s care, I read first, second, and third grade books. Took some home to read and return. Did workbook pages. A truly heavenly year.
Fourth Grade – Miss Kincaid taught all subjects in that one room. Lincoln School was in town, first four grades on the lower floor, two fifth and two sixth grade rooms on the upper floor. Miss Kincaid will forever be my very first writing mentor; she read a book to us after lunch period to get us to settle down, and we got so taken up with the characters in one such book that she invited us to write our own stories using those same characters. I discovered writing was almost as sacred as reading.
High School, Junior Year – Mrs. Peterka, who had been my eighth grade teacher at the junior high, was now an English and French teacher at the high school. I found myself transported to another culture learning French. Bonjour! Comment t’allez-vous? Je vais bien, merci! Et vous? A few years later in college I took a couple more years of French, just to get my Bachelor of Arts degree, but guess what? Those couple of years ended up being four, with beaucoup reading in the 19th Century novelists (who couldn’t write a story in fewer than 400 small-print pages); so I ended up with a double major for my B.A.—English and French.
Indiana University – Dr. Sparapani, a recent addition to the faculty of the regional campus that year, taught Advanced Rhetoric. I know, it sounds grim beyond bearing. But it was really just advanced composition—and I’d already figured out I needed help, some kind of help, with writing papers for college classes.  Dr. Sparapani endeared himself to me forever when he said, “You have great ideas. You just need to learn how to organize them.” And that’s what he taught us.
Purdue University – Mr. Hollander was my professor for many advanced courses. Not content with my Bachelor’s degree (actually, not ready to give up my status of perpetual student), I continued my studies for a Master’s. After the first year (took me three years to finish the one-year course, but there’s a good reason)—as I say, after the first year, I discovered it was possible to teach as a graduate assistant while also taking (fewer) classes. I applied and eventually was accepted. Mr. Hollander returned one exam with the comment, “You’ll be an excellent comp instructor.”
These five people are what I call Keeper of the Keys. Each one held the key to a part of my mind and heart. Each inspired confidence, made learning a joy, made me work hard, and through all that gave me a gift I can never repay. My role is to pass the love of learning along to someone else.

I did teach composition for about five years, but I had no interest in pursuing a Ph.D. so I wouldn’t have been able to teach more advanced courses at the college level. Eventually I needed to earn more income than was provided by part-time teaching, so I searched for and found a place to use my writing and analytical skills.
What I learned from my beloved teachers has expanded my life: reading, writing, learning another language all contribute to who I am and who I aspire to be.
During this new school year’s beginning, I celebrate all teachers. And I especially single out the five who gave me the keys to my life. They very likely never knew they did such a thing. They would say they were doing their job. But I know different.
Today’s post is the 100th since Thursday’s Child began in the fall of 2013. Thanks for coming by!