Tag Archives: Sheila

Tuesday: Exercises in Writing #17

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From Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg:

Tell me all you know about Texas.

I know almost nothing about Texas. I almost said I’ve never been there, but then I remembered that I was. Still, I don’t know much.

My sister Brenda knows Texas. When she was in the eighth grade, she chose that state to do a major report about. She wrote to whatever agencies a student would write to to gain information. She received a fat manila envelope filled with maps and brochures. She clipped photos from them to illustrate her project. She added to her knowledge with research from our own encyclopedias, and from books she borrowed from the library. She typed her report and put it all together in a brown duo tang folder. I was intrigued, as I was was always interested in anything Brenda was doing, but I didn’t pay that much attention.

Many years later, my sisters, Sheila and Robin, their husbands and my brother David all moved to Texas. I didn’t pay attention then, either. They went to the gulf, to go swimming. David had an accident at his workplace that – I think – resulted in an injury to his feet. That’s all I know.

When my oldest daughter was a young adult, she moved to Texas with her fiance, who was transferred there for his job. I visited her there. She had a boa constrictor, and a small collection of mice that had started out as live food for the snake, and became pets when he took too long to devour them.

I spent a great deal of time sitting near her pool with a book. My daughter and I were both reading The Clan of the Cave Bear series, by Jean M. Auel. We hadn’t yet gotten tired of the huge swaths of repetitive background information she inserted between every new occurrence, and enjoyed sharing our thoughts on how the story was developing.

One day, we went for a long drive; I don’t remember the reason or the destination. Cities in Texas can annex surrounding lands as long as they are able to provide services for them. Because of this, highways are expanded outward in the most confusing manner, running in ever larger circles around the heart of the city. That’s the only thing I learned about the state while I was there.

Many years after that, my sister Nita moved to San Antonio, Texas. Her grown children lived there, too, during much of the time that she was there. Nita loved the heat, worked – when she could – at a small factory, and lived in a community with many people who spoke mainly Spanish.

Finally, last year, my sisters Brenda and Cheryl, with their partners, went to Texas on vacation. Brenda had a bout of vertigo, and missed some of the side trips. The weather was grand. The food was good.

That, I think, is every single thing I know about the state of Texas!

 

Tuesday: Exercises in Writing #10

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This morning, looking for writing ideas, I went to amazon.com and used their free browsing feature to check out 1000 Awesome Writing Prompts by Ryan Andrew Kinder. He has some great ideas! I chose this one:

How were you named? If you feel that your name is boring and the story behind it equally so, make up a name and come up with an interesting story behind that.

My mother had trouble with names. Our dogs, even, lacked imagination. We had, first, Laddie, because Lassie was famous on the big screen, but our dog was a boy. He was followed by Tippy, because his tail had a white tip, who was followed by Tippy II and Tippy III in a smattering of short-lived dogs. We had Lucky and Lady. Husky, because he had a bit of that breed in his mix. Rusty was based on his color.

Naming baby boys was easy. My brothers were given traditional names with a family history. Ted was Theodore George, after his two grandfathers, which was usual for the oldest boy in our German family. Dave was David Robert: David after my mother’s grandfather, and Robert after our father. The baby that died at birth was given Dad’s complete name – Robert William – though we always referred to that baby as Bobby.

Girls were harder, right from the start. Mom pulled girls names from whatever inspiration was around. Brenda was named after Brenda Starr, of comic strip fame. When I was born, a nurse said, “Look at all that black hair, dark as cinders…you should name her Cinderella.” From that comment came my name, Cindy. Not Cynthia. Not, thankfully, Cinderella, though I like to tell folks that’s who I was named for.

I don’t know where Mom got the idea to name her next daughter Cherie, but she was set on it when her next door neighbor gave birth first, and took that name for her own daughter. Mom was furious! She had less than a week to come up with an alternate. Though she remained friends with that other mother for most of their lives, Mom never failed to mention that bit of thievery. My sister ended up with the name Sheila.

Cheryl was next; her name, Cheryl Ann, was taken from the side of a tugboat. Nita Louise followed (and later showed a bit of Mom’s desperate ingenuity when she named her own daughter Tina Louise) though I don’t know where the name came from. Robin’s name was a nod to my father, Robert. I don’t know how Mom came up with Darla, but her middle name – Jean – was for one of her best friends.

Carl and Amy owned the hotel bar at Lake Nepessing. The two had met when Carl was stationed in Germany during the war. Amy was a beautiful blonde with a strong accent. Once, when Mom was expecting, she and Dad had them over to play cards  After a few drinks, Amy got a bit maudlin. She was not able to have children, she said, but she loved them dearly.

“And just look at this houseful of children you have here! How is that fair?”

Mom shook her head in sympathy.

“If this baby is a girl,” she offered, one hand on her growing belly, “I will name her after you!”

That was how my baby sister Amy got her name. The adult Amy was flattered, and took the honor seriously, following the life of her little namesake with special gifts for holidays and other occasions.  For Mom, I can’t help but think it was just a relief: one name she didn’t have to struggle to come up with!

Who’s the Boss?

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My mother was always “the boss.” Though only four foot, seven and a half inches tall, Mom packed a lot of authority into her diminutive frame. “Because I said so” was her unapologetic reasoning behind any given directive.

If that wasn’t enough, she had an arsenal of back-up material. She’d threaten to tell Dad, who she allowed us to believe was “the boss,” just because it served her purposes. There was the spanking, or the threat of it. If necessary, that threat would expand to include the belt or the willow switch. There was guilt, and Mom was a master at it.

Mom was in control. If she wanted to go shopping, out to dinner, or to Bingo, she just  said the word. If she was ready to go home, whether anyone else wanted to leave or not, it was time to say good-bye.

When Mom was on her deathbed, heavily medicated and barely aware of her surroundings, my sister Sheila died. The doctor advised us to not even tell her. “Spare her that pain,” was the suggestion, and we tentatively agreed. Yet, as soon as Mom asked where Sheila was, and said, “I want the truth,” Robin and Amy spilled the beans. That’s okay. Any one of us would have done the same. We had spelled it out in the agreement: “We will spare her…unless she demands to know.” Because Mom was the boss.

I’ve never held that much authority. I’ve tended always to cajole, request or beg more than “order.” When I gave my daughters a directive, it was accompanied by a long explanation and a list of reasons. I never wanted to be a “because I said so” Mom. My youngest, losing patience with my wordiness, would clap her hands over her ears and say, “Okay, okay, I’ll do it…just stop talking!” The only time I ever felt like I was “the boss” was the few months before my oldest daughter was due to get her driver’s license. Any misbehavior, and that license was at stake. I felt guilty, but incredibly powerful, whenever I wielded that threat.

Mostly, though, I’ve always tried to be more diplomatic. I don’t like taking orders, and I’m not comfortable giving them. I don’t like the idea that someone needs to be the leader. It would be nice if we could all just talk our way through. However, when a time comes when it’s necessary to be assertive, I have to say, I envy Mom’s style!

 

Sixty

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Sheila, summer 2011

I can clearly remember when Mom first brought Sheila home from the hospital, placed her in the bassinet, and gathered us around to see the new baby. Brenda was four years old, I was three and Ted was one. Our birthdays were all in August. Sheila was born March first.

She was born in a leap  year, barely missing the 29th of February. She was almost named Sherry, but Mom’s friend Pat (later Pat Burris), who lived in the little cottage next door, had her baby first, and took the name. Mom resented that for the rest of her life.

Sheila was Mom’s biggest baby yet, and she held that record through all eleven children. She wasn’t a big kid, though. She was always small and slender. As an adult, she was the shortest of all of us. She always had quite a presence, though.

She still does, in my memories of her. There she is, in childhood antics, games, plans and fights. There she is, babysitting for my little ones. There, at Christmas, with little gifts for everyone. Sheila is there, in memories that stretch back almost sixty years, to that first introduction.

Unfortunately, Sheila didn’t last that long. She died in August, 2011. Today would have been her sixtieth birthday. Happy Birthday, dear sister!

 

…and More

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Cindy, Ted and Brenda in the living room, in front of the door leading to the old kitchen

Before Dad started the big project that would become our new kitchen, he had already been remodeling the house. He had already closed off a portion of the living room, on the right side, to create a second bedroom. That became the master bedroom.

The small bedroom in back, original to the house, became mine and Brenda’s, where we slept in matching twin beds with gray vinyl headboards. Then it was ours plus Ted’s, when his big, “two-year” crib was moved in. That was when Sheila and then Cheryl, too, were sharing the other bedroom with Mom and Dad. When Cheryl outgrew the bassinet, there were two little cribs in that small room along with double bed, dresser and cedar chest. When Nita was born, Ted was moved into a big bed, Sheila was moved to the big crib in the back bedroom, Cheryl and her small crib were moved in there, too…and Brenda and I were moved upstairs.

The upstairs consisted of two large bedrooms. Dad was afraid of fire, so neither bedroom was given a door. Over the years we hung drapes over the openings, and argued for doors to no avail. If we mentioned privacy, we were told we didn’t need it, or that we should just respect each others privacy. If we’d had doors, they wouldn’t lock, anyway. Ever since Brenda – as a toddler – had wheeled her baby carriage into the bathroom and locked the door behind her, causing Mom to have to stand outside on a bench talking to her through the window until Dad could be reached to come home from work to take the door off the hinges to save her, none of our inside doors locked.

Straight ahead at the top of the stairs was a simple, square room with a closet. The ceiling was made out of tiles of wood, with the grain going first one direction, then the other. The windows looked over to the grandparent’s house. Around the corner to the right was an L-shaped room with deep shelves built in over the stairwell. The closet led to the attic space under the eaves. The windows looked over the flat kitchen roof, to the garden, the parking lot, the Lake Inn, and Lake Nepessing beyond. That was our bedroom.

It was scary, at first, to be so far away from the hub of the family. Turning off the closet light caused moments of panic, as we rushed from the pull cord to the bed in the dark. We devised a way to link metal hangars together, to form a long chain. One end, we’d hook into the light cord; the other end, we’d bring carefully across the room with us, get into bed, then pull. The light would go off, the links of hangars would fall apart and drop to the floor in a loud, clanging heap, Mom would shout up the stairs for us to keep it down and, giggling, we’d settle in to bed.

I learned quickly to enjoy the quiet and calm of the upstairs. I would sit on the top, deep shelf, away from the fray, with a book for company. I would take a tablet, a doll and a flashlight to the very farthest point of the attic, under the eaves, to sit by myself to write. We’d make imaginary lines on walls and floor, to create separate spaces.

As the little girls moved in upstairs, we helped plan and decorate their room and rearrange their furniture.  Visits to our room were special, and only allowed rarely. Eventually, Sheila, Cheryl, Nita, Robin and Amy all made their way upstairs. A half bath was installed upstairs, to the left of the landing. The little bedroom downstairs, where we had all taken a turn, was shared by Ted and David for the rest of the time that I lived at home.

As the family had grown, so had the rest of the house…

 

Burnt

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Yesterday, I imagined my house on fire; I was able to save five things.

I changed the rules to save all of my houseplants, then chose two photographs, two laptops and a scanner, one book of poems and a big purse. I know that’s more than five items, but it all made sense yesterday.

Today, the question is this:

What things do you most regret leaving behind when the house burned, and why?

With the opportunity to start fresh, I’d have only a few regrets, but they are important ones:

  1. Diaries and Journals: One low shelf in my bedroom is dedicated to these old writings. I almost never look at them, but when I do, it becomes an all day activity filled with giggles, tears and the reliving of old memories. I wrote mostly of heartache and frustration, but also made note of cute things my daughters said, moments of absolute contentment and long lists of aspirations. I would regret not being able to revisit that younger version of myself.
  2. Books: The books I’m reading now,  the books I re-read on occasion, the books I refer to regularly for information and the books I hold onto  purely for sentimental reasons…all would be missed. Those are the items that I’d still be looking around for, then poignantly remembering their loss, for the rest of my life.
  3. My Dining Room Table: It’s old, scratched, stained, and the most valuable piece of furniture I own. Not for its monetary value, but because of its history. My father brought the table home about fifty years ago. It was used, of darkly stained wood with big rolled legs and a half-dozen leaves for expanding it. It was relegated to the back room, which – in our house – was a combination play room, guest room, den and laundry room. The table – except when used for overflow crowds at mealtime on Sundays and holidays – was used for folding clothes. As I was the child most often in charge of laundry, I became very familiar with it. Years later…maybe thirty years later…after all of us were grown and gone from home, after my Dad had passed away and family gatherings were not as big as they had once been, my mother told my brother David that he could move the table out to the garage, to use for projects or parties. “Mom, he will ruin that table,” I told her, “if you wanted to get rid of it, I’d be happy to take it.” “No,” she said, “I gave it to him. It’s just an old, beat-up table.” So that was that. Then, in quick succession, David died and my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Whenever I’d visit, she’d send me home with clothes that she never planned to wear again, and ask what I’d like, of her other belongings, when she died. I always said, first, that I’d like her to just stick around, so that questions like that didn’t have to be considered. When pressed, though, I did mention, once, that I’d like that table. “David’s table?” she asked, “Oh, I gave that to Sheila already.”  So that was that. Then, less than two weeks before Mom passed away, my sister Sheila died unexpectedly in her sleep. We all congregated at the house we grew up in, to say goodbye to our sister and to be with Mom for the balance of her life. My sister Brenda came upon some of her nieces one day, talking about how that old table should be sent with Sheila’s boyfriend “because nobody else would want it.” She stepped in and let them know that, in fact, I wanted it. So that was that. Now it’s mine, a relic of my childhood, carried home by my father, inherited from my brother David, my sister Sheila and  – finally  – my mother, thanks to the intervention of my sister Brenda. I really regret not saving it from yesterday’s fire!
  4. The bright pink, surfboard-shaped rug, that Rosa Parks likes to sit on, while eating her dinner. My little dog will have enough to adjust to already; she should keep something that will make her feel at home.
  5. My daybook. I’d be lost without it. If I’d been thinking, I would have shoved it into my big purse before leaving!

So, having lost almost everything in this imaginary fire, I guess I have few enough imaginary regrets!

Diversions

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I was planning to write a quick, short post this evening, then turn off the computer.

I worked today. I’m tired and still have lots to do.

Besides, I’m off tomorrow, and will have time to write a longer, more thoughtful post then, as the finale to this month of daily writing.

That was my plan.

I thought I’d download my latest pictures to have a current image, at least, for tonight’s meager posting.

I can’t find the camera!

I took photos just last night, in the side yard with the dogs. It was dark, and I was trying out different settings for the best effect. I was sure it was in my coat pocket…then figured it was in the other coat…then scoured counter, tables and desk to find where I’d mislaid it. Nothing!

I put on boots and coat and went outside to retrace my steps from last night, in case it had fallen out of my pocket into the snow. I searched the car, too, just in case. Then I came in and repeated the search I’d already done. I emptied my purse. I looked in the insulated bag I use to carry my lunch to work. I looked through every other room in the house.

No camera.

I could have selected one of over a thousand photos already downloaded onto this computer.

No.

By that time I had decided they were all too dated. If I was going to use an old photo, it may as well be special.

I pulled out four albums, two metal boxes and one small wooden chest, all full of photographs.

What followed was an hour and a half of reminiscing.

“Oh, my daughters when they were tiny!”

“There’s Katey, right after Michael was born…”

“One sweet, beautiful grandchild after another!”

“…What holiday was that?”

So much for my quick bit of writing this evening!

I’ve decided on – then rejected – several different sets of photos with several different directions to write about them.

I could have written more about my five-day sail; I have photos to accompany that story!

I could have illustrated – with photographs – my time on Grand Turk Island, and many of the characters I met there.

Sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews, friends, parents and grandparents, my pets, my gardens through the years…there were too many possibilities.

I had to pause to feed the dogs.

It is getting late.

I still have lots to do, and I haven’t had my own supper yet.

I settled on this sweet photo, though I have no particular story to go with it.

I like it because we all look so much like ourselves.

Brenda, always glamorous (and in charge), looks directly into the camera.

I look a little bit serious, a little bit reserved, and am wearing almost the same identical hairstyle that I have today!

Teddy (though he’s just “Ted” now) often wears that same expression in conversation today! I am in love with his choice of clothing in this picture, but am happy to report he’s gotten better about [not] mixing patterns.

I adore Sheila’s small face, round little belly, and the fact that she is shirtless, while Ted is not.

I don’t know that he sunburned easily, but I have seen several old photos of Ted with his sisters where he is the only one with a shirt on!

And Laddie…a good old dog!

And now I’m off to finish my evening.

Sister Time

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I just spent a week on vacation with my sisters!

We drove to Nashville, stayed in two large side-by-side apartments in a lovely resort (thanks to my sister, Brenda!), had a wonderful tour of the city that included a traditional dinner and “honky-tonkin'” down Broadway (thanks to my sister, Amy!), took in a fantastic show at the Grand Ole Opry (thanks again, Brenda!), and all-in-all just had the best time with the dearest women I know (thank you Brenda, Cheryl, Nita, Robin and Amy!).

We started out on Sunday, in two cars. Cheryl drove one, with Brenda keeping company beside her, and me lounging in the back seat. Amy drove the other, with Robin as co-pilot and Nita relaxing in the back. Both cars were loaded to capacity with the luggage of six women off on a jaunt. Each car took a different route, but arrived within a half-hour of each other.

We unpacked and settled in, opened bottles of wine, ordered pizza delivery and started plotting our week. Some things had specific dates and times, others were just ideas or possibilities. We’re big on possibilities in my family. We prefer to not book every moment, leaving openings for serendipity and the wonderful surprise. We keep in mind that on vacation, relaxation and enjoyment trumps an agenda every time.

The wine was the first of many bottles we worked through; the pizza was the first of many wonderful meals.

Cheryl was called away on a family emergency. She left in her car on Tuesday to be with her son and his family in South Carolina. We missed her, and worried along with her, but did our best to soldier on. I’m happy to report that everything seems to be going well there, and we’ve all been able to relax a little.

I could report on all the activities we managed to squeeze into our week, all of the sights and sounds of Nashville, the many interesting shops and marvelous restaurants, the terrific characters we met. They are nice memories, but not most important.

I can say, honestly, that there were moments of tension, of anger and hurt feelings. When you get a group of people together who were all children together, those things come out. They were only moments, though, quickly resolved, and not the memories I will hold when I think of this vacation.

When I remember this time with my sisters, I’ll be thinking of other things:

…the way we kept informed and kept Cheryl “in the loop” by frequent text messaging and long-distance word games.

…early morning, sitting in the outdoor hot tub chatting with Brenda as the steam rose into the cool air.

…high fives all around whenever we pulled a correct answer out of the air during Pub Trivia.

…eating a nice meal at a brewery, Brenda and I decided to order the six-glass artisan beer sampler. I expected double-shot sized samples, but we received our beer in 8-ounce glasses. I tasted each, shared with Nita, and drank my favorite with my meal. Brenda started at the left and worked her way through every one!

…Robin and Amy, the youngest in our family, shopping for their grandchildren.

…Nita, reporting to her grandson, “I’m having SO MUCH fun!”

…the candle we lit for our sister, Sheila, to keep her close though she’s no longer with us.

…packing to go home, with one less car, more passengers and many purchases: when the hatchback finally closed successfully after many failed attempts, we cheered and embraced.

…running into bad weather on our way home, we ended up in a motel for the night. Shortly after we checked in, the electrical power went out. We drank beer and wine and played our game with one small LED flashlight, and the glow from Sheila’s candle.

These, along with the giggles, the bright eyes and sweet smiles of each of my sisters, are the memories I’ll cherish.

Found!

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In early December, the title was “Lost!”

The subject was my red notebook.

I was planning to write about my friend, Emma Jean. She was one of many on a list of “60 most influential women in my life” that I had compiled at my sixtieth birthday. The list was in the notebook, along with other lists, poems, quotes and ideas.

The notebook was lost.

It seemed that everything hinged on information it contained.

Should I start reading just any book, when the notebook contained a list of books I want to read? How can I finish a letter without the quote I had planned to include? Could I write a blog without notes and ideas collected for inspiration?

I was stalled, for the loss of my red notebook.

Finally, I had to resign myself to the idea that I might never find it.

At last, I had to move on without it.

I managed. I bumbled forward. I got by without it.

But I never stopped noticing the loss.

Last week, getting ready to go away for a few days, I pulled my little suitcase out of the attic.

Inside, along with the little travel slippers I keep there, was my red notebook!

Contained within are all the things I knew were there, the bits of information that I’d felt the need for and sorely missed all these months.

Here, the notes on the diet plan I knew would change my life, the lists of books and websites and movies!

Surprises, too!

Here, a poem I had forgotten about…a quote that brought tears to my eyes…the notes for my sister Sheila’s eulogy, jotted down on a tearful drive nearly two years ago. Here, a bundle of old photographs tucked between the pages…a recipe for home-made sidewalk chalk…my menu for Christmas dinner, 2011.

It’s such a joy to find something that’s been missing, I have half a mind to start hiding things on myself!

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.”

~Helen Keller

Low Points

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In the vast terrain that is Memory of my life so far, there are gentle slopes and curves, a few sharp turns, more peaks than I probably deserve…and four deep trenches.

I can name them.

1) When I was eleven or twelve years old, my baby sister, Darla, died. She was not quite two months old. I can picture how she was in life, her sweet cheeks and fluff of hair and Cupid’s bow mouth. I can see her, still, in the small casket, in the white baptismal dress each one of us wore before her. I remember how we clutched at each other in sadness and in fear, at her death. Fear at seeing our strong parents crumbling in their grief. Fear of our own newly realized mortality.

2) After fourteen years of marriage, I divorced my husband. I never planned for that turn of events. I didn’t see that as even the remotest possibility, going in. We had planned to grow old together.  In my Catholic family, I was the first to use that option. Divorce changes everything. It alters your past memories and future plans. It ruins holiday traditions. It changes the whole world’s opinion of you and the way your own children perceive you. It forced me to re-think the person I was, and the person I would become.

3) When my youngest daughter was fourteen and a half years old, she chose to go live with her father. It didn’t go well, or certainly not as I would have liked. I couldn’t make her come back and the courts wouldn’t force it, so I watched from a distance with great sadness and regret.

4) In the summer of 2011, my sister, Sheila, died – without warning – less than two weeks before cancer took my mother’s life.

These are the low points of my life, the trenches in my memory.

I’ve had other losses, other break-ups, other heartache…but none have shaped my life the way these have. None can pull me back in the way these can.

It happened just yesterday.

I was writing about my little dog.

I’d been running through it in my mind.

There was the walk in fresh snow, when we came upon the tracks of a coyote who had passed by. Both dogs – Clover first, then Rosa Parks – dipped their nose into each paw print, then, nose-to-nose, looked into each others eyes. “This is serious!”, I imagined was the message that passed between them.

I was going to write about the idea that Rosa Parks is about the size and weight of a year-old baby. That the heat from her body, when she curls up to sleep in the bend of my knees or around my feet, makes me question my resolve to spend the rest of my life alone. I didn’t realize how much I was missing the warmth of another living thing, until I got her.

I was going to tell how snarly Rosa is, how protective of her space when I go to get into bed. In the morning, though, with tiny baby noises, she crawls up to give me little nudges, to show me her belly and to let me scratch her ears.

I started to write it, but wandered, and before I knew it, the story was about my tragedy more than it was about my little dog.

I don’t live my life in grief. I’m quite happy most days. I certainly don’t plan to introduce my loss into everything I write.

Yesterday, I just strayed too close to the edge.