Category Archives: Autobiographical Writing

My Lockdown by Dina Corcoran

Back by popular demand and coronavirus be damned! I’m thrilled to have Dina Corcoran as today’s guest blogger. Dina’s work inspires me to find the beauty and good in any situation—excuse me while I put on IZ’s CD and contemplate rejoining my “treasures” when the pandemic is over.

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My Lockdown

Old Toll Road is not a busy road under normal conditions, but under this lockdown it appears abandoned.  Alan and I walk it every day, and as we round a bend, we come upon a field of lupines and poppies busy being glorious—no one to notice them, except for us. 

A face appears, smiling a greeting from on high.  It’s the bee lady, up in the apple tree manipulating a pair of loppers as she prunes, surrounded by a few friendly bees. That’s it.  The only contact we have on the whole walk.

Back at home, the warm gentleness of IZ’s Hawaiian music soothes me.  I play it on Spotify to make it all go away—and it almost works.  IZ’s soft voice rolls over me like waves of the ocean.  When the waves break and calm down again, peace will reign.

My daughter Kim comes for weekly visits.  We sit outside on the deck, fifteen feet apart to maintain social distancing, and chat. She doesn’t even think of coming inside the house.  An attorney, she still has cases at her job; others at her firm have been let go, and she gets their work. This is sad for them, but a relief for her.  She can continue making the payments on the house she just bought. She enjoys working at home and being with her twin sons who must continue their college classes now via remote learning.

My son is an “essential” worker in Southern California for Cal-Trans.  He keeps the freeways functioning. With most everyone off the roads, the speed-demons have taken over, and its common for drivers to go 95 m.p.h. and crash into things. His mother worries about him hanging from light poles or overhangs, fixing the electricity, with this going on.  But he continues to get a paycheck.

Since we are over sixty-five, Alan and I are allowed to Email our grocery list to Cal-Mart, charge it, and have our purchases loaded into the car behind the store. No social interaction. When we get home, we don disposable gloves to unpack our supplies so we can wipe them down with a bleach solution. (Fresh produce gets scrubbed in the sink with water.) As they sit in the sun to dry, we notice that certain items have been left off the list—there’s never any toilet paper.

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My friends are tucked away like treasure to be saved for later. Except for the occasional phone call, we don’t see each other anymore. This virus! Gisela sits alone in a big house, since her husband died. She is saved by her German inclination to abide by a housekeeping schedule. Tuesday is laundry day. Every day has its own obligation.  Her week has structure.​​ ​Minna, from my book club, sips wine and reads Proust. 

th-5We all cope in our own way.

I write.

 

 

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Filed under Aging, Autobiographical Writing, COVID19, Guest Bloggers

These Days by Donald Turner

As COVID lockdown continues, folks are buzzing about how they’re managing. Our habits are changing, some for the better and  some for the questionable. We’re assessing our activities, our possessions, our purposes and letting go of what no longer serves us. Today’s guest blogger, Donald Turner, is letting slip his rigid schedule of accomplishment for  new habits: sleeping, flexibility and contemplating worms. 

These Days

Awake, I check the  time. Ahh. I can’t sleep, but I’ll rest a bit more. Smart phone in hand to track my sleep, I enable WiFi, Location, and Bluetooth for FitBit—slept five hours, thirteen minutes. Yuk. I want at least six hours, especially now, during covid-19 season. I’ve got to get to bed earlier and stop stimulating my mind near bedtime.

Sleep problems looping through my brain, I conclude adequate sleep is more important than completing projects, which can wait. I’ll give up some satisfaction in how much I get done in a day. Making daily progress will be enough.

Before rising, I spend about four minutes blessing my back by doing flexing procedures of ten-second counts each. A retired chiropractor and friends suggested these movements. The flexes are listed below for later reading by anyone interested. Start gently.

On my back, I do real motions on some imaginary devices.

  1. Bike pedaling
  2. Both legs together at the ankles, pedaling a single pedal.
  3. For slight twisting torque on my back, I keep my head against the bed while I arc my bent legs from one side to the other. The legs take turn being the more bent leg which crosses over the less bent leg. The less bent leg rests on the bed. As I get more flexible I push the knee of the more bent leg onto the bed. Repeat five times for each leg.
  4. Buttocks tightened against bed, then relaxed.
  5. Plank, supported by elbows and feet, I stiffen my back as I count to ten.
  6. As I let my back sag, I do pushups from my knees, not my feet.
  7. On hands and knees I do cat-like-spine-upward arcs and downward cow dips—beginning and ending folded as if in a Muslim prayer position.

Honoring my good habits, like the flexing habit, improves my days.

Once I’m up, I write about what interests me. If I suspect others would find value, I submit the writing—after tweaking—for the comments of my writing group. I start by reviewing topical lists I’ve created from various ideas come to me as I walk or think in bed. Introspective discovery and the challenge of fiddling with words motivate me.

I know a bunch of writing rules, such as: spell out small numbers like five and thirteen instead of writing 5 and 13.  But, I want numbers as digits to stand out among gobs of words. After all, my STEM education in science and technology biased me toward numbers composed of digits with their lovely shapes. Merely 10 digits.

On behalf of the magnificent TEN, I exhibit them: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9. These shapely symbols tell me, “We don’t get no respect–at least not enough.”

Now in my seventh decade, I use a repeated non-curvy digit to represent my age. The older I get, the faster I get old. To me, my remaining time increases in value. Life has been mostly good during many happy years of reasonably sound body and mind. If I falter in my seniority, may my mind be last to fall.

My life, all life, is evidence of organized matter. Entropy is increasing disorder. Each life briefly overcomes entropy. However, entropy dominates some regions of the universe. My house is such a region–temporarily, I tell myself.

When my bodily entropy is certain to accelerate, an anatomy lab can have me as a corpse—after my brain fails. Such a donation will avoid an expense to my heirs and be a contribution to medical students—especially if my parts correspond to anatomy books.

Perhaps the chap book I’ll write could be tethered to the better looking of my big toes along with an ID tag and a note about my synthetic lenses and the exceptional length of my near-sighted eyes.

Thinking ahead, I’ll be dead forever, so I’ll more than catchup on my sleep deficits. There won’t be an I, nor a me. There was an I, a me. Dust to dust. Atoms to atoms. Entropy wins, but some atoms from my body may yet come to be in another life form, maybe in an earthworm.

Maybe some of my writng group remember my wormy poem:

I’ve never been an earthworm….without a single tear.

 

I’ve never been an earth worm

Never wriggled through the soil

Never flooded to a road

Never plucked by any toad

 

Glad I’m not a worm

Glad I’m still a man

 

On my corpse worms may feed

Extend beyond an ear

Slide out a vacant eye

Without a single tear

 

Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

~Mark 9:44 King James Bible version

Donald Turner retired to Angwin, CA. after 29 years of aerospace computer programming in California for the Navy at China Lake/Ridgecrest, for Northrop Grumman at El Segundo, & for Boeing at Huntington Beach. In retirement Donald keeps busy with writing, gardening, exploring the internet, attempting stock market profit, mixing music with Bitwig, and making his two acres more fire resistant. He is divorced with two daughters and four grand-daughters.

After graduating in 1966 from Pacific Union College, Donald taught high-school math, physics and earth science at Fletcher, NC. from 1966-69, then math at PUC prep in 1969-70.  He holds a  Master of Arts degree in  Physics from University of Wisconsin,  Milwaukee and a Master  of Science in  Electrical Engineering from University of California, Davis. He represents his age in non-curvy digits.

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Filed under Aging, Autobiographical Writing, COVID19, Humor, Students

Hug The One You’re With by Cliff Zyskowski

We’re all going a little stir-crazy under stay-at-home lockdown. Read how one author, musician and yogi manages. Please give a virtual hand (after purelling) to Cliff Zyskowski and his stalwart trees.

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Hug The One You’re With

I shudder in place and need a hug. My wife and son both go off to their essential work duties. I ponder the idea of going out to see who else can’t stay at home, alone, all day—for another minute. I freeze. I see them. Two vultures circling above my yard, on the lookout for vulnerable senior citizens on the loose. Won’t the kombucha, crystals and sage smudge protect me against all calamities?

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I’ve already used the new bidet three times this morning, twice just for fun. Roaming the yard searching for direction, I’m pulled by some magnetic force, a gravitational light saber of mythic propulsion. The rustling branches open wide to welcome my embrace. We hug, Oak and I. It’s taller than my son, not as soft as my wife, it’s girth more than I can wrap my arms around.th-7.jpeg

I feel. Listen. Gather. Hang…on to the laden wisdom. Stability. Security. Sanctity.

“Thanks for not chopping me down five summers ago because of how I shaded your Doughboy pool causing the water to stay cold all summer. Remember how the arborist said I was a Heritage Valley Oak and you needed a permit to level me? He lied to save me. Pool’s gone, I’m still here. Good move.”

I’ve since built a deck under its canopy. We visit twice a day—when no one’s looking—before I feed the cats, the tree feeds me.

Moving on to Plum, I hold its decaying branches with a weathered hand. Aging together. It sends out suckers from its root structure. A proliferation of white blossoms announces spring’s arrival. Precious few fruits to savor at harvest.

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“Sorry to prune you so severely last fall. Had to make space for Fig. We burned your fragrant branches on special occasions this winter. The wood paired well with butternut squash soup. Our downwind neighbor noticed.” Plum nods a whispered gesture.

th-3.jpegI make my way over to Sycamore in the front yard. Majestic. Our giving tree. Bark peels off its trunk like dead skin after a sunburn. The rope swing still hangs after 20 years of joy-giving. Your skin grown around the intrusion of thick twine as an afterthought. Parks closed, neighborhood kids clamor forth, waiting six feet apart, for a chance to swing on the only game in town. I vigilantly purell the rope after each use. New pandemic verb; purell: the act of cleansing. Dirt re-appears under the worn grass beneath the redwood plank seat, a sign of the laughter and play only children can muster these days, missing since my boys are men now. Like a scab on the knee in the summers of youth, the bare patch of grass gets picked at, stomping, braking, gliding little feet, pumping the air, digging the earth, gathering flight in Sycamore’s shade.th-2.jpeg

“I’ve been meaning to thank you for curving your new sidewalk twenty years ago around my surface roots. Sorry my feeders send out water seekers into your sewer line. We had a four-year drought, remember? When you stopped watering the lawn, I had to do something. The rotor-rooter you rent clears the line once a year. Like spring cleaning, we can work together on this. You love the shaded parking spaces!” Wink, branch wave, pollen-filled seed bomb drops at my feet. “The runny nose I send your way clears the sinuses of the plague, you know.”

A conciliatory embrace…who’s looking?th-5.jpeg

I grab an extra early-morning hug from Valley Oak. The crescent moon and Venus have long since set beyond the fog’s horizon. A mourning bird sings a harkening tale of day-break. Will this be the day the numbers of those infected have flattened? Parks re-open perchance?

th-1.jpegWhere have all the songbirds gone? Like the last Dr. Seuss Truffula Tree. Sing on. As nature calls my heart open, my arms welcome a restoration consideration.

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Cliff Zyskowski is a retired psychiatric technician and a Chicago native now living the good life in wine country. When not hashing out a long-winded memoir, he plays the piano for inspiration. His work has appeared in The Bohemian and The Sonoma Sun.

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The Joy of Aging

Author Dana Rodney rejoins Building a Better Story with more thoughts on getting older. Here’s her story. ~AnaM

 

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Author Dana Rodney: Before

Just kidding, aging isn’t a joy, you just don’t have any choice. Like they say, getting old ain’t for sissies. I’m sure there are some advantages to growing older: grandchildren, more free time, discounts. But if we’re being brutally honest, the negatives outweigh the positives. So instead of wringing my brain to come up with a list of the joys of aging, how about a list called:

Weird and Unexpected Things About Aging:

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And After

 

#1-  You don’t look as good but it’s a relief.

Mostly, not looking young sucks, but there’s an unexpected advantage to it; you’ve worried about your looks and been judged for it all your life (especially women.) Suddenly you’ve lost them…and it’s a perverse relief. You don’t have to stress about it anymore. Game over. Sure, you still have to be presentable and put in a little effort… but admit it, no one’s looking.

#2-  Whatever you’re gonna do you’ve already done.

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By the time you’re 60, you’ve built your career (or not,) you’ve had a family (or not,) you’ve achieved—or not achieved. At this point you can just accept it. Probably not gonna change the status quo at this point. Like baking a cake. You have one chance to get it right. If it collapses a little in the middle, you can’t go back and fix it. Spread some frosting on top and enjoy the party.

#3-  You don’t care what people think.

You’re not trying to fit in anymore or be like someone else. You’ve become who you are through decades of trial and error and making millions of choices that you can’t undo. You are who you are, might as well stand behind your work.

#4-  Death doesn’t scare you. 

By the time you’re a senior citizen, you’ve seen, experienced, tasted it all. You’re just going through the motions again and again. like re-reading a favorite book, it’s enjoyable, but there are no surprises. Maybe you’re secretly curious about death; it’s the only surprise left. The final adventure awaits!

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#5-  You inadvertently become a mindfulness practitioner.

Retirement is an interesting experiment. Your whole life you’ve been pushed to succeed, produce, make money, then overnight your world paradigm shifts. It takes a while to convince your frantic mind you don’t need to be anywhere, there are no pressing deadlines, you can sleep in. But when your mind finally accepts it, what a naughty joy it is to sit for thirty minutes drinking coffee at noon and watch the hummingbirds.

Well, okay…maybe there are some joys to aging after all.

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An interview with Dana Rodney:

AM~ How did you start writing?

DR~ I started writing in 2017 after I retired from a career in the design industry. Seeking inspiration, I wandered into a free writing class in my hometown in the Napa Valley, California. One of the writing exercises I did inspired me, and I just kept writing. A year later, I had a novel finished titled,  THE BUTTERFLY WING, a story which explores Napa Valley history. It is soon to be published, and I will be offering some excerpts from the book in the “Writing” section of my website

AM~ I had the opportunity to be one of your early readers and loved The Butterfly Wing. Are you continuing to  write period pieces?

DR~ Yes, but the time is the future. I am currently working on a new novel on the subject of climate change titled- THE ECSTASY OF ICE, which chronicles the last year in the life of Anuk, the last polar bear on planet earth, in her first-person point of view. 

AM~ Tell me about your background. What else have you done?

DR~I am also a lettering artist. I started doing calligraphy in the 80’s when it was an artsy- craftsy trend. Thirty years later I picked up my dip pen again and started creating  calligraphy art incorporating Asian-inspired shapes, original watercolor washes and the words of the mystics like Buddha and Rumi. 

AM~ It sounds like words are important to you.

 DR~I guess I just love words. Take a look my calligraphy art on the “Modern Calligraphy” tab in the navigation bar of my website

AM~What message do you have for readers?

DR~ Please join my writing journey.  My BLOG  is a fascinating selection of issues that have inspired my books such as climate change, women’s empowerment, history and the natural world. I always am interested in what readers have to add to the discussion. You can also check out my Instagram, Facebook  and twitter platforms for photos of new calligraphy and posts about my ongoing creative journey. I would be tickled pink if  I  could send you a page or two from one of my novels every month. Your comments would be welcome. Click here to join my list: DanaRodney.com

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Dana Rodney: Now

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Newly Old

Welcome back , Dana Rodney, today’s guest blogger on the topic of aging.

Dana says, You gotta read my BLOG called ” Insider’s Trip to Publishing.”  I am currently on the long and winding road of trying to get a novel traditionally published, and I am sharing insider’s tips of what I’m learning along the way. Check out my Instagram and Facebook links  for photos of my fine art calligraphy and posts about my ongoing writing journey. And I would be tickled pink if you would subscribe to my monthly reader’s list called “Turning Into a Pumpkin” —tragic-comic observations on growing old. Join me at https://danarodney.com/

Newly Old

 

Getting old is like something that creeps up on you then jumps out from behind the couch and scares the hell out of you. It’s like this: You’re going along minding your young business; you’re twenty, you’re thirty, you’re forty, forty-five… you feel invincible. All your life you’ve been “young”; you look pretty damn good, your butt still looks fabulous in your skinny jeans. Your future seems like a realm of infinite possibility. Men your own age are attracted to you. People refer to you as “young lady” or “miss.”

Then suddenly, that creeping thing makes its move. You hit forty-nine, fifty, fifty-five, and in the span of five or ten years you are now officially “old.” AARP makes its move. All your life you’ve been young, but now, for the remainder of your life you will be old. There’s no turning back, you cannot file an appeal. Wow, that happened quickly! Your future is no longer infinite; your remaining years can now be tallied up quite accurately, according to the Social Security Administration. Now, the men who are attracted to you are twenty years older than you. People refer to you as “ma’am,” or even worse, the dreaded “old lady.”

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As a newly old person I’ve learned there that there are tiers of oldness. When I was young, if I perceived someone as old, they were just old. Old was old. Now, I realize that sixty-old is way different than eighty-old.

 

You see, no matter how old you get, it is vitally important to remember that you are still young compared to people who are even older than you.

Another thing I’ve learned is that being old lasts a really long time. You’re young for thirty, thirty-five years, but then you’re old for fifty, sixty.

Might as well settle in and get used to it.

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Keep up with what Dana is doing:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/danarodneyrealty

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dana_rodney/

Website: https://danarodney.com/

 

 

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My First Trip to Mexico

In 1973, I hauled my duffel bag  stuffed with bikinis (yes, itsy bitsy bikinis), towels, sleeping bag, mess kit, and summer reading on a greyhound from San Rafael to meet my then boyfriend Kirby in Elko, Nevada. Kirby came from Ketchum, Idaho in his beater VW bug—the Spud Mobile. We were headed south to Old Mexico, but first we had to stop at Kirby’s grandmother’s winter home—she was a snowbird—in Sun City, Arizona “to check on things.” Actually to borrow her pickup with a camper shell on the back.

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We were vampires, sleeping in the air-conditioning all day, only appearing outside after dark when the temperature cooled off to 95. We saw a lot of the late night golf course, a popular hang-out for the over sixty and after ten o’clock set. I didn’t see much more of Sun City other than the grocery store and gas station, but we managed to outfit our expedition and get underway in about five days. Seriously under-capitalized and under-prepared.

 

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We crossed the Nogales border at dawn on August 8, and made Kino Bay by the full heat of the day. We pitched camp perched on an empty bluff over a beach where gulls circled and called and took inventory of our equipment and supplies. Folding chairs. Check. Camp stove and fuel. Check. Tarps and nylon rope. Check. Flipflops. Check. Pancack mix, eggs, beer, watermelon. Check. Reading material: Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, The Odessa File by Frederick Forsyth, The Abortion: An Historical Romance by Richard Brautigan and Tom Robbins’s Another Roadside Attracton. Check.  I sat down in one of the folding chairs and got to work on Jonathan Livinston Seagull. Kirby popped a cold one.

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The next time I looked up (the book engaged me) we’d made Mazatlán. We found a palm shaded trailer park outside of town right on the beach and sank roots. The place was half filled with characters from The States. One hippie woman, living in her school bus with her small, naked children, kept a pet coatimundi, a south American cousin to the raccoon, that thrived on rum and coke and liked to sleep in a hammock with me. Old Tom told us stories about anything and everything, mostly his exploits in the war. We bought fresh fruits, vegetables and marijuana from Raul who drove his horse drawn cart to the trailer park every other day. We paid him $20 for a medio kilo.  I cut out a lid of the best buds then sold the rest to the surfer dudes who arrived a few days later for $20 and a bottle of rum. Everyone was happy, especially Kirby and the coatimundi, who did not smoke pot.

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Raul and son. “Hey amigos, wanna little smoke?”

For a month we swam, snorkled, ate fresh fish, saw the sights and finished our summer reading in the hammock. We went to the disco, took a boat ride to the island, and ate at the Shrimp Bucket. Until we ran low on money.

Time to head home.

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Kirby drove straight up to the border, and I dumped the baggie of pot out the window before we crossed. We spent all but a few dollars on gas in Nogales, AZ to get us to Sun City. The desert, so fragrant and wide open with limitless possibility on the way down had turned inhospitable—an endless dun-colored landscape, dangerous and foreboding. images-1But we were kids, and when we’d spent all but our last dollar at the breakfast counter in The Silver Dollar Casino in who-knows-where Nevada, I invested it in the giant dollar slot machine and won fifty silver dollars.

In 1973 it was enough to get home.

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Kirby

 

 

Meet me in Mexico!

 

Amazon    Nook     Kobo

 

 

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True Crime

Guest blogger, Jan M. Flynn is the author of Corpse Pose: And Other Tales. Her stories appear in literary magazines and anthologies; two have won awards in national writing contests. Her debut novel The Moon Ran After Her has been excerpted by Noyo River Review. Jan lives and writes in St. Helena, CA.

Jan’s memoir, True Crime, reminds us sometimes we need to forgive ourselves.

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True Crime

In sixth grade, I took up shoplifting. The new set of friends I aspired to were a year older than me and already in junior high, so their rung on the social ladder was several steps above mine.  It was going to take more than go-go boots and a smart mouth to infiltrate their tribe.

 

 

This was made clear one Saturday afternoon when Betsy, Valery and Cindy — three of my new compatriots — and I walked the three miles to the mall for a slow cruise through J.J. Newberry’s discount store. We had nothing to spend but time, having blown our allowances on pizza and Dippity-Do for our slumber party the night before, but Newberry’s was always worth a look. It carried everything from paisley-printed tent dresses to live chicks at Easter, and for us it served as a pop-culture training ground.

Unknown-1.jpegMoreover there was the slight prospect of encountering Sam Blakeman and his friends there. Blakeman was in eighth grade, had long surfer-style hair that fell into his eyes in just the right way, and liked to be seen with an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips.  Of course we didn’t expect to actually speak to him. The hope was to simply observe from a safe distance and discuss our findings afterwards.

imagesWe made languid progress through the aisles, thumbing through the .45 records, scanning the teen magazines and lingering over the discount jewelry.  I trailed my companions, doing my best to emulate their tough-girl saunter.

Blakeman and his crew were nowhere to be seen. Time stretched. My attention wandered. I drifted into the pet section and was chatting up the parakeets when Betsy appeared at my side, gripping my arm with sudden urgency.

Here you are. C’mon!” she muttered, already towing me toward the exit.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“Christ on a crutch, shut up,” she ordered in a fierce whisper, “Let’s go!”

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Impressed with her blaspheming, I kept silent as she propelled me through the crowded store, past the exit, and down the walkway in front. We didn’t stop until we reached the entrance to Macy’s, a half-block away. There we rejoined Valery and Cindy, who leaned against a low wall, Cindy smoking a Marlborough with elaborate nonchalance.

“So what’d you get?” Betsy asked Valery.

Valery, with a renegade smirk worthy of James Dean, stuck out her tongue to reveal a small unicorn pendant on a silver chain.

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Realization dawned. “You stole that?” I gasped.

Valery spit the trophy into her palm. “Five finger discount,” she explained. “Everybody does it.”

images-14By “everybody”, she meant anybody she would want to hang out with. A flutter developed somewhere below my ribs. I had always been a good girl, obeying my parents, getting good grades, going to church. But I saw now that something more was demanded of me.

It took me a couple of weeks to work up the nerve to steal something myself. As it was, my career was short.  I got away with one successful heist — a lipstick fished out of a clearance bin at Woolworth’s — and the combination of suspense, danger, and guilt made me giddy. Valery and the others granted me their cool approval.

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Not long after, I was with one of my neighborhood friends, Sally Peterson, a playmate since preschool. She and I were in the same grade, relegating her to my social B-list. We walked down Harbor Street and along 6thAvenue toward downtown, a drab two-block commercial strip. I was practicing my swagger, wearing the pants I had wheedled Mom into pegging tight all the way down to my still-pudgy ankles. As we neared the drugstore, I let Sally in on the secret of my new thievery skills. She was satisfactorily shocked.

“It’s no big deal,” I said. “Watch this.”

I sauntered into the store, Sally in tow, and browsed its dusty aisles. Behind the back counter stood the pharmacist, who was also the owner. A balding man in horn rim glasses and a white lab coat, he noted our presence with an unsmiling gaze. My heart began to hammer, but after my boasting I could hardly back out now; Sally was regarding me with expectation. I scouted feverishly for something suitable. Face powder? No, too big. Nylons? Too hard to slip the package off its display spindle. At last I settled on a 5-cent candy bar from one of the open bins near the front of the store. A mere beginner’s trophy, but it would do to impress Sally Peterson.

Unknown-3Stomach churning, I palmed the Hershey bar, shoved it into my pants pocket, and yanked my sweater down over my hips. Stifling nervous giggles, I eyeballed Sally and jerked my head toward the exit. We hustled out of the store without buying anything, which on reflection was a mistake. As we left, I felt the pharmacist’s eyes on us.

Once we were outside and half a block up 6thAvenue, I exhaled, grinning at Sally. Lifting my sweater, I showed her my prize. She looked at it doubtfully, and then her eyes widened. I was just about to conclude that Sally was too square to bother with, when a large hand gripped my shoulder.

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I was spun around to face the apoplectic pharmacist. He grabbed the candy bar out of my hand. “You thought you were smart, didn’t you?” he shouted, his eyes blazing. “You thought you’d gotten away with it, didn’t you? But you had to show her” — he nodded toward Sally, who stood mute with horror — “ and I was watching you. You’da gotten away with it if I hadn’t seen you do that, but you thought you were smart, didn’t you?” he repeated, his eyes bulging behind his horn rims.

“I have to go home,” announced Sally, and fled.

images-16The pharmacist couldn’t stop her without releasing his grip on me. “You’re the one who stole from me, “ he bellowed into my ear, “You’re coming with me!” This seemed an unnecessary remark, since as he yelled he was frog-marching me down the sidewalk toward his store. Once we got there, he hauled me up to a chair behind the back counter and plunked me down. “You sit there,” he shouted, “while I call the police!”

It didn’t even occur to me to run or to plead for mercy. I was so clearly guilty, and besides, I couldn’t speak. I was blubbering and choking with sobs and unable to believe what was happening to me. As we waited for the police to arrive, my captor kept up his tirade: “I see you kids in here, thinking you can just steal from me. If it weren’t for kids like you, I could take my family on a nice vacation!”

It was one thing to flirt with being bad; it was quite another to have an adult place me squarely in the class of bad kids. I was a good kid, just conducting an experiment, and it had never occurred to me that there could be a connection between a 5-cent candy bar and depriving a family of their vacation.

Unknown-2At length the squad car pulled up, and a weary-looking policeman took me into custody and down to City Hall. He didn’t handcuff me, and in fact he was rather gentle, but he did his job. He walked me down the cement steps to the station, right past the City Hall park where kids played. Some of them were boys I went to school with. They stopped and stood slack-jawed as I performed my perp walk, my face wet and burning.

I had to sit on the wooden bench and wait while my parents were called. Mercifully, my father wasn’t home, so it was my mother who came down to get me and to talk to the captain.  He spoke to her in low, serious tones. I didn’t have a previous history, so I would be let off without probation and if I stayed clean, this wouldn’t appear on my permanent record.

All I could think of was that life as I knew it was over, and that I wasn’t going to get to go to the Beatles concert at the Cow Palace, which was only two weeks away. My friend Jeanine, an only child with an indulgent father, had tickets for herself and a friend, and she had chosen me. images-2My mother had bought me a new dress for the occasion, a plaid wool sheath with a lace collar, just like what I imagined girls wore on Carnaby Street in London.

 

But now I was certain to be a pariah, too morally contaminated for anyone to want to take anywhere. Besides, my dad would be killing me soon.

My mother’s face was set in an odd, constricted smile as we drove away from the police station and up the hill to our house. She said very little. When we got home, I didn’t need to be told to go to my room. I flopped face down on my bed and gave myself over to despair. I clung to my chenille bedspread and gazed through swollen eyes at the white organza curtains, watching the shadows gather on the window shades. Time passed.

Eventually the wheels of my father’s Chrysler ground into the driveway. In the kitchen, my mother’s voice and his mingled in a long, muffled conversation. I had been suspended in a vortex of dread for hours, but my heart lurched anew when the conversation stopped and ponderous footsteps came down the hall.

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At length my bedroom door opened — in a normal manner, which surprised me. I had expected it to fly off its hinges. In came my father.

He stood, all six feet, four inches of him, at the side of my bed. He surveyed my wilted form. I met his eyes for a breath and then began sniveling again. My father’s silence was eerie. He didn’t look enraged. In fact, he didn’t even look angry. He looked puzzled. The silence continued, and I began to realize that he didn’t have any more idea of what to say than I did.

“I’m — I’m sorry!” I finally managed to gasp, and I meant it with all my heart. This unleashed another shuddering fit of tears.

Dad observed soberly. At length, when I had settled down slightly, he shook his head and started out of the room.

“Well, I guess you won’t do that again,” he said. “Supper’s ready.”

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Editor’s note: I’m hoping Jan made it to the concert. In 1964 my mother gave me permission to go to the concert, but not to take a bus from Marin County to the Cow Palace to buy a ticket. I have practiced forgiving my rule-making mother for 54 years. Some things might be impossible to forgive.

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thanks Amazon

 

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Filed under Autobiographical Writing, Humor, Memoir

          Miracle at Soda Canyon part 1

Mary Jane Stevens joins Building a Better Story with Miracle at Soda Canyon, A Tale About One of the Worst Fires In California History. Mary Jane, a Napa resident for over 30 years, lives part time in Truckee. A retired business owner, she has begun to write about her life, her two adult children, one grandchild and husband Bob. She feels blessed in her marriage, which recently has survived more than the usual troubles of modern life. Please enjoy Mary Jane’s harrowing tale of fire and miracles.

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cnbc.com

Late Sunday evening, October 8, my husband Bob, called me at our home in Truckee to say that there were helicopters with bright lights hovering low outside our house in Napa; over loud speakers they were saying, “Fire! Evacuate! Evacuate Immediately!” 

Bob asked what he should take and I suggested a few necessities, cash, the insurance policy file, our laptop computers and my good jewelry, all which were in easy to reach places. I said, “Get out of there fast and call me when you get down the hill.”  He wanted to take all the paperwork out of the office but I told him to leave it, his life was the most important thing. I told him we’d made it through a fire in 2011 when the house was gutted, and we could do it again.

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videoblocks.com

About twenty minutes later I saw Bob’s name on my cell phone screen. I was relieved—a little prematurely it turned out. He was calling to say he couldn’t get down the hill—the road was blocked.  He and about twenty-five people, including neighbors and some vineyard workers who’d been picking in the dead of night, were trapped by the fire.  They were at the top of Soda Canyon Road near Atlas Peak Road seven miles from Silverado Trail, close to where the fire may have started.  No way out!

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wvah.com

And no one knew they were stranded.

The helicopters had moved on to warn others.  The group decided to move to a clear area at Stagecoach Vineyards which happened to be near vineyard manager Esteban’s home where they still had cell service.  

 

I sent my kids a text then called them to let  them know what was going on.  Casey and Kelly deserved to know their dad was in serious danger. They would never have forgiven me if something happened to him, and I hadn’t warned them.

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Kelly, as it turned out, had her phone turned off for the night, so she did not get my messages until the following morning. 

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Casey, who is a Los Angeles City Firefighter, immediately hung up and called Bob to get the GPS coordinates from his cell phone. With those coordinates he called someone he works with at the department’s command center. Casey told his contact about the people stranded near a fast moving fire in Napa, gave him the coordinates and asked him to contact the Cal Fire Commander in Napa with the information to rescue his dad and the others. 

 Whenever Casey was not out on calls we talked on the phone during the night.  Both of us feared the worst, but neither said what we were really thinking.  Friends from Napa had told us the fire was huge, and the winds the strongest anyone had seen in recent memory.  Bob told us, in our last conversation, the fire was raging right toward him. It was excruciating not having more information.

 

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Atlas Fire    Napa Valley Register

Earlier my friend, Carolyn, called me from the deck of her home in west Napa as soon as she saw the fire across the valley.  She was supposed to join me, along with several of our friends, at my home in Truckee the following day and knew Bob was home alone. A childhood friend, she’s has known Bob all his life. She was watching the fire scream across the mountain at an unbelievable pace and worried about him.  She stayed on the phone with me, off and on, most of the night giving me much needed emotional support.  Many of my Napa friends texted me throughout the night with words of encouragement and prayers for Bob’s safety.

When we talked, I told Casey how quickly Carolyn could see fire spreading and it wasn’t looking good for Bob’s evacuation. Unknown-4

To be continued…

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Filed under Autobiographical Writing, Fire Season, Students

Battle Lines

Author Nathaniel “Bob” Winters observes details of the battle to put out October’s fires.

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newsteller.org

Battle Lines

by Nathaniel R. (Bob) Winters

10/16/17   Yesterday my wife and I drove up the Napa Valley headed back to St Helena after a five- day evacuation from smoke and fire. On arriving at Oakville, we discovered the fire was burning over the ridge-tops and raging down the mountains towards our home.

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fireaviation.com

Through our windshield, we could see two choppers  filling up water into huge buckets then dumping it onto the flames. Two large fixed wing aircraft were also attacking with retardant.

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fireaviation.com

The battle goes on. The winds have calmed down and the “powers that be” believe we are safe. I hope they are right.

This morning I masked up and took Rue for a walk, watching the two choppers continue the fight. I flashed back to other another battle line in Nam.

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thoughtco.com

But luckier than in Nam,  the weather men are forecasting rain Thursday, the first winter wet-down after our usual summer drought.

It  appears some prayers are about to be answered. “They” say there are no atheists in foxholes…. This “not quite kosher” guy is not so sure about prayer, but it couldn’t hurt!

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Filed under Autobiographical Writing, Fire Season, Students

Green Grass, Yellow Mustard

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Thank you 123rf.com

 

Now and again I like to showcase the wonderful writings of my Upper Napa Valley writing workshop attendees. The following poem is by Theresa Cordova Ortez, a member of our Napa Valley College class, Autobiographical Writing, held at Rianda House, St. Helena’s Senior Center. Theresa writes Flash Memoir, scenes of her life and family. This is her first poem and it captures the beauty I’m blessed to experience every  day as I drive to work. I hope Theresa’s poem inspires you to visit the Napa Valley this spring.

The Cycle

Blue skies

Sunny days

Yellow mustard swaying in the fields

Grassy green hills

Beautiful grape vines stripped of their fruit

Standing tall in tidy rows, waiting for their time

When once again they will bear grapes

The color of deep purple and gold

the color of sun

This world-renowned jewel that sparkles like a diamond

This beautiful Napa Valley, which we are so fortunate to have

To visit, to work, and for me

To call home

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Thanks Abe K. via Flickr

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Filed under Autobiographical Writing, Poetry, Students