Home

Defining Special

1 Comment

My Opa died September 2. 

He would have been 95 on September 7. We had planned a birthday party for September 10, and since the family was already going to be together, the decision was made to make it a memorial luncheon.

It was a nice gathering. My brother made a beautiful box for Opa’s ashes. We enjoyed the company of each other. Wished Opa a happy birthday. But that was it. 

I need a service.

I need to hear what people outside the family remember and love about this man who was larger than life to me for so long.

And I need a song.

So, this is my attempt to have a service for my Opa.

Growing up, Opa came to see us maybe twice a year. He was exotic, and it was always exciting when he was coming. There was a time when he had a little camper and parked it in the back yard. I was fascinated by the original tiny house. He lived in Europe for part of my childhood and had extensive travel experience. The gifts he brought always seemed quite extravagant.

But one of my favorite things was trying to learn Dutch from him. I was not successful. I think mess means knife.

I was an adult before I knew anything about Opa’s amazing past. He was taken off a train by Nazis in occupied Netherlands, forced to work in a plant in Germany, escaped, joined the Dutch resistance, became a Dutch Marine, trained in the United States, met my grandmother.

 I was always proud to say that my grandfather was a naturalized citizen who had taken hold of the American opportunity and worked hard. I thought it made me special that I was second generation on that side of the family.

But it is also as an adult that I appreciate this man who, quite honestly, somewhat intimidated the me child. He had a sense of humor that I can still smile about. One of our last conversations included a joke about his medication. And he worried about my well being and happiness. Not long ago when Steven and I went to visit him, we had a few minutes alone and he encouraged me in my marriage to be kind and thoughtful so we would have a better chance of making it work.

What makes me special is not my immigrant grandfather, but his love.

See you in June

Leave a comment

I’ve inadvertently taken May off. . .end of school year.  See you back here in June!

Paper Wrappers

Leave a comment

We’re getting closer to a paper wrapper and the reason I told you I really liked this shirt.

Read on, faithful followers.  Here’s the next five pages or so of the original manuscript. More

Lookaway, Lookaway (yes, really. . .do that)

Leave a comment

So, it’s Literature Life week.  For book club we read a book called Lookaway, Lookaway.

And that is what I wanted to do the whole time I was reading it.

It was a book that was supposedly about a well-to-do North Carolina family and their dysfunction. I’m not against books that incorporate the dysfunction that makes a family unique.  However, this book had nothing redeemable in it for me.  Not one character seemed to have real values and ethics.  I didn’t like a single one of them.  I would almost go as far as to say that the horrible things that happened to them were deserved.  Except I don’t really believe people deserve the kind of heartache and horribleness these people had.

I also didn’t think that North Carolina was fairly portrayed in the book.  I realize that everyone has different experiences, but jeepers! This was not my North Carolina.

I wondered why an author would create such despondent and irredeemable characters.  Makes me sad.

On the other hand, now I’m reading a book called The Secret Piano.  This is an autobiography of a young girl who spent time in the labor camps of China during Mao’s Cultural Revolution.  I didn’t know there was any such thing to begin, so I’m learning a lot.  What lengths people will go to squash individuality and artistry.  I have thoroughly enjoyed this one and highly recommend it.

Paper Wrappers (last week’s installment)

Leave a comment

Karen Black took Milly to pick up her glasses on Wednesday.  They dropped Daryl off at the park on the way.

“We’ll be back in about an hour.  We’ll go get something to eat before your dad gets home,” Karen told him.

“Whatever,” Daryl called as almost slammed Milly’s hand in the door and just kept running.

“You’re lucky, Karen.  You don’t have any brothers.”

Karen laughed.  “We can take a break from Daryl for a while.  What do you want to do?”

“Can we go to the library?”

Karen and Milly picked up the glasses and headed to the library.  Dark clouds were beginning to fill the sky.  Milly watched as one set would blend into the next, covering up the blue afternoon.  She fidgeted with the glasses case in her hand.  She had been able to see better when the lady had adjusted them for fit.  But as soon as she and Karen had gotten in the car she’d taken them off.  Karen didn’t say anything though.  She just turned up the radio and sang along.

“Karen Black! How are you? I haven’t seen you since I don’t know when.” Mrs. Grey came out from behind her desk to hug Karen.

“It’s so nice you remember me, Mrs. Grey,” Karen smiled.

Mrs. Grey laughed. “You kept me hopping with making sure my basketball literature was up to date.  I read about you in the paper.  This will be an exciting year for you.” As she talked she patted Milly’s back.  Milly liked being noticed and listened.  It was soothing to feel Mrs. Grey’s warm hand.

“It’s my senior year.  I hope we can hang onto our championship title.”

“You just do your best, dear.”  She turned to Milly, brushing Milly’s dark hair behind her ear.  “And how are you?  Are you excited about tomorrow?”

Milly looked down at the glasses case in her hands.  She had been rolling it over as Mrs. Grey had talked with Karen.  “I don’t know,” she mumbled.

Mrs. Grey put a light hand on her shoulder.

Milly gulped.  She didn’t really want to talk in front of Karen.  She wanted Karen to think she was grown up.  “I don’t know who my teacher is,” she finally answered.  “I’m going to go pick out some books.” She headed to the back of the library where the picture window was.  She could see that the clouds were getting darker.

“Hurry, Milly.  Daryl’s game will probably get rained on so we’ll need to go get him,” Karen called after her.

Milly ducked into the last row of children’s books.  She had no idea what she wanted read, she just didn’t want anyone to see her cry.  She opened her glasses case and pulled them out.  She put them on and walked to the window.  Her reflection was dim, but she could see the ovals perched on her nose.  Tears rolled down her cheek as rain drops started to splatter against the window.  Milly wasn’t excited about school tomorrow.  She was scared.  there were so many things that were different about her.  She wanted to fit in.  She had never been the new girl before.  And now she had glasses.  What if she was the only one in the whole class with glasses?  And how many ten year olds didn’t have mothers because she died in a car accident?

“Milly,” Mrs. Grey softly said.  “I told Karen to go get Daryl.”

Milly watched the rain.  It was steady now, making a rhythmic drumming sound on the windowpane.  Lightening brightened the sky followed by the low rumble of thunder.

“She’ll be back for you in a bit.  I picked a book out for you.  I think you’ll like it.  It’s The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.”

“Thank you.” She still didn’t turn around.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Milly saw Mrs. Grey reach her hand out towards her back in the reflection and then stop, letting it drop quietly.

Milly silently shook her head.  They listened to the rain drum and roll on the roof and down the glass. The storm was letting up already.

“You miss her a lot right now.”

Milly nodded, biting her lip.  The ache behind her eyes from holding back sobs was too much.  Her shoulders started to shake as she turned and buried her face in Mrs. Grey’s stomach.  She cried, and Mrs. Grey said nothing.

“Why’d she have to die?  Why’d MY mom have to die?  It’s not fair,” Milly sobbed.  Mrs. Grey still said nothing.  “I’m so scared that no one will like me or I won’t be smart enough or pretty enough or anything.  And she’d know what to say.”

Mrs. Grey stepped back. She retrieved a Kleenex from her pocket and wiped Milly’s face.

“Sweetheart, I don’t know what your mother would say to you right now because I never knew her.  But I know her daughter.  And she’s a smart, funny, and pretty girl.”

“What if no one else thinks so?  I’ve been here a month and Daryl has made friends and I haven’t.”

“You’re friends with me and Karen.”

Milly shook her head.  Mrs. Grey just didn’t understand.  She meant friends in her grade.  Mrs. Grey and Karen were nice but she’d never have a slumber party with them.

“I’m sorry I can’t fix this for you, Honey.” Mrs. Grey handed Milly the book she’d picked.  They heard the cowbell clang as someone came in.  “That’ll be your brother and Karen.  Come on.”

Milly nodded.  She turned to loo back at her reflection in the window.  She wrinkled her nose at her glasses.  Just as she was turning to follow Mrs. Grey she saw the rainbow.  The rain was a slow drizzle and the sun was breaking brightly through the clouds.  The rainbow cast all of its colors in a beautiful arc over the clouds before disappearing in the mist rolling up from the hot ground.

“Hey, Squirt,” Daryl said. “Nice extra eyes.  Maybe now you’ll quit running into things.” He started to laugh but Karen elbowed him the back.

Milly bit her lip again and waited fro Mrs. Grey to stamp her book with the due date.  She tried to tell herself that it didn’t matter what Daryl said. She pushed the glasses up on her nose, not really because they had slipped, but because she wasn’t used to how they felt.

Mrs. Grey handed her the book.  “You’ll get used to them,” she smiled. “Soon you won’t even remember they’re there.”

Somehow, Milly doubted that.

“Ya’ll ready? We need to get going if I’m going to get a pizza delivered”

“Yeah, let’s go Four Eyes.”

Karen waited for Milly. “Don’t let him get to you.  He’s a boy.  They’re all like that. Even the ones my age.”

Milly shuddered.  If older boys were like Daryl, things certainly didn’t seem too promising.

At home Karen and Daryl cleaned up dishes left from breakfast and lunch while MIlly folded clothes out of the dryer.  She liked this chore the best. Dad and Daryl were horrible at folding clothes.  Mostly, she liked it though because she and Mom had done it together.  Mom had even taught her how to fold fitted sheets where theyd didn’t look different from the flat sheets.  They used to race to see who could fold a pair of jeans the fastest.  And laughed every time another of Daryl’s socks was eaten by the dryer monster.

“He’s struck again, the mysterious dryer resident,” Mom said

“It was time for his feeding,” suggested Milly

“Oh, come on, Milly! You can do better.  Imagination, please.”

“Hmm, well. . . a sacrifice, small. But our laundry will now be light and fluffy.  The dryer god has deemed it so.  Until, of course, he is offended again by Daryl’s holey socks and we will pay the price.”

Mom laughed, tossed the lone sock in Milly’s face, “Much better!”

Milly held the sock she’d just pulled from the dryer.  She lifted it to her nose and inhaled the fresh, clean warmth.  It was almost like Mom was there.

“What you doing, Button?” Dad’s voice broke in.

“The dryer god has taken another sacrifice,” she answered, still holding the sock.

“What?”

Milly just looked at him.

“Well, Karen is leaving.  Come say goodbye.  The pizza is here too.” Dad left.

Milly followed slowly.

Got my glasses. Daryl made fun of me all afternoon.  If my own brother can’t be nice how come a stranger might?  Dad didn’t even notice.  Maybe I’ll be sick tomorrow and not have to go to school.  the dryer god struck again.  Nobody understands.

Lessons from Narnia–Lucy

Leave a comment

ChroniclesHere we are at Lucy.  She’s the darling of The Chronicles of Narnia.  She has the childlike faith that is so pure and refreshing.

Dear Lucy is the first to find Aslan.  She loves him completely without hesitation.  She understands when Mr. Beaver tells her that he is a very good lion, but he is a lion after all.  (Seasoned paraphrase.)

It seems that the lesson from Lucy is simple.  Love completely, without reservation, believe in the good and the God all around you, and encourage others to do the same.  And it is that simple.

But Lucy isn’t.

She falters.

She knows the path that should be taken–she sees Aslan telling her.  Though she tries to tell the others, they override her, brush her off, cause her to doubt herself.

And in that way, how like her we can be.  We let others infiltrate our faith, our understanding and we let doubt pervade.  Questions tumble around us.

Like Lucy we need the encounter again to feel strong, to feel validated.

Those experiences are available to us.  We open our eyes and hearts–and with childlike faith we again follow the good yet terrible lion.

Guests on Earth–Lee Smith

Leave a comment

Lee Smith went through the same creative writing program I did at UNC-Ch.  Six degrees of separation.seasonedbookclub

Her latest book was the chosen book for Between the Covers this last month.  It’s historical fiction about the Highland Hospital in Asheville, known for where Zelda Fitzgerald spent much time and died there in a fire.  There were parts of the book that I enjoyed, but overall, I was disappointed by this work.

It opens with a F. Scott Fitzgeraldesque premise.  The main character, fictional Evalina, tells us that she will tell the story of Zelda almost as Nick tells Gatsby’s story…through her own eyes.  But that’s the last we really hear of Zelda’s story.  Nick is attached to Gatsby the entire novel; Evalina tells her own story and Zelda pops in and out just as she does with her stays at Highland.  This is not the same premise.

Therefore, disappointing.

It’s a dangerous thing to open your book with a direct comparison to one of the great American classics.  You’ve set a high bar for yourself and those who are familiar with your allusion are going to be critical.  Had Ms. Smith allowed reviewers to make the comparison, she would have been ok in my eyes.  However, she didn’t.  And I am indeed critical.  Without the comparison and the arranged premise, I think the book may have been salvageable in my eyes.

There was much to commend–Ms. Smith does a fantastic job creating the beauty of the Asheville mountains and describing how mountain folk lived during that era.  She also creates many characters who are believable and loveable.  Her descriptions of the procedures thought to be the height of treatment at the time are realistic and horrifying in today’s knowledge.  And I truly do like Evalina.  I follow her decision making and sympathize with her.

However, I feel like there are details that are weird.  Why tell me, suddenly, and by a minor character who really is non-consequential that Evalina’s father was her grandfather?  What point did that serve, and by using the character that was used to impart this information, I’m not even sure it’s true.  While Evalina shares this information with someone dear to her later in the book, I don’t know how she confirmed it and still don’t really believe it.  It didn’t seem to serve any purpose.  I hate that.  It’s a detail that gets caught up in my brain and distracts me from the novel as a whole.

I also think the character of Pan is weird. While I believe there are such people who live in the woods and caves and speak little and come alive with music and plants and animals, his attachment to all of the women and Evalina’s nonchalant attitude about it are just strange to me.

I can admit that perhaps that one can just be attributed to the fact that these are people who are in a mental hospital.

So, do I let go of what my reality is so I can accept the reality of Evalina and the rest at Highland.  Yes, to some degree I can.

But then I get back to the idea that this was no The Great Gatsby, and I was promised something similar in the first chapter.

Older Entries