79 posts categorized "Readers' Stories"

A TGB READER STORY: Doggerel About COVID-19

By Henry Lowenstein

Love Letter
I'm fond of you with all my heart,
but need to keep six feet apart,
for the duration
of the corona situation.
We can keep in touch, just as before,
but rather than by hugging,
by internet or semaphore.

Prophylaxis
The hundreds of hands I have not shaken,
the thousands of hand washings I have taken,
the embraces I've eschewed
the social distancing I've pursued
should make the corona virus aware
that I'm not ever to go there.

Help Needed
Our great technologies astound,
our rockets fly the moon around.
But, now we need,
with urgent speed,
technologies to inspire us
to subdue the corona virus
that threatens strife
to our way of life.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]


A TGB READER STORY: Sometimes I Forget

By Ann Burack-Weiss

Sometimes I forget. Especially when the weather takes a turn toward chill and the store windows are filled with fall fashions. I see a well-cut plaid skirt in beige and black, note it would look smashing with a turtleneck in either color, and think, “Just what I need.”

I imagine that I will leave the shop with both the skirt and a beautiful beaded sweater that caught my eye. That although there is no gala occasion to wear the sweater coming up, there is sure to be one before long. And won’t I be pleased with myself for having thought ahead.

Sometimes I forget. Especially on a crisp October day like today. I imagine that I will get up tomorrow morning and decide what clothes best suit where I’m headed. A teaching day? A library day? Field visits to social agencies? Lunch with colleagues? Department meetings? A play or concert in the evening? That I’ll ponder the chance of rain before tugging on suede boots – taking my chances because they go so well with what I have on.

That I will brush out my long hair - pulled back straight from my forehead – before settling on chignon, French braid, or round bun. That V-neck sweaters worn with large hoop earrings (silver one day, gold the next) still look good on me.

So easy it is to forget – on this day that shouts “back to work ” - that the life I once had, the body I once dressed for that life, is no longer mine.

So hard to remember that a changed hairline dictates a curly, no- nonsense bob. That a shorter shape and diminishing waistline precludes many clothing choices and a reduced round of outside activities takes care of the rest. That yoga outfits, black pants, black skirt, and a few tops, are all the clothes I will need for the rest of my life.

Sometimes, I just forget.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]


A TGB READER STORY: A Pandemic in the Time of Pay Phones

By Trudi Kappel

In the fall of 1957, my senior year in high school, the Hong Kong flu became pandemic. At the small boarding school I attended, the infirmary was overwhelmed with sick students. Satellite infirmary rooms were set up in the dorms.

Healthy students ferried supplies between buildings. Nobody used masks or any other protective gear. More students got sick.

Then the school was quarantined - on MY BIRTHDAY!!! Bummer! In previous years, my parents would visit and take me out for a celebratory restaurant meal. This year, I was not allowed to leave campus.

As consolation, Mom baked me a big double-decker birthday cake and they delivered it in the afternoon. We lived 30 country road miles away from the school. My parents decided to take advantage of the trip so before returning home they went out for dinner (boo-hoo, without me) and then saw a movie.

At dinner that evening, school officials announced a meeting of all healthy students at 7PM. School would close for two weeks and everybody should go home as quickly as possible. Do-at-home assignments were handed out.

I raced to the pay phone hoping to locate my parents before they left the area. No luck. There was a long line behind me at the phone so I went to share out my cake.

The theater had paged my parents but mangled the pronunciation of our name so badly that they didn't respond. After the movie, Dad asked at the box office if anybody had responded to that page. No. And the girl who was calling seemed anxious.

Dad thought, could it be? With difficulty he managed to get a call through to that very busy pay phone, and said he would pick me up in an hour.

It was a very busy hour. I distributed the cake and packed books and clothes for two weeks and left. I spent those two weeks at home without so much as a sniffle.

One of my assignments was to read the Russian novel, The Brothers Karamazov. I put it off and put it off. Long Russian novels were and are not my thing.

The day before we were to return, I skimmed the first 50 pages. I figured when my English teacher started discussing the book, I would be able to keep ahead of her.

Ahem. I never read another page. She didn't mentioned it when classes resumed. I didn't ask.

Life returned to normal as I hope that it will soon for us now. Current status: I am not so bored to resume reading the Brothers but it could happen.


A TGB READER STORY: Petal Memory

By Nancy R.

The petals I picked in the summer
come to life in the cup.

I drink the morning
I first picked these blossoms with her along the road near the creek
I had to cross to reach her house.

I drink the afternoon last summer
with a mantle of blue covering me and
the summer breeze tousling my hair.

Pink, delicate and faint,
Bright and rosy.
I pick carefully, slowly in the mid afternoon
as the bees rush from bush to bush
also harvesting.
Sun still high and hot.

I drink the rose colour of flowers.
Familiar, too the cerulean sky and towering poplars
my first friends.
On a blanket
the sound of rustling leaves overhead
my mother nearby working in the garden.

She wrote that there were several doors
and death was no different than in life.
We pass through a doorway.
Is this the way home?

This morning I choose wild rose petals because I wanted to be near Baba who was a wise, kind and good woman who loved me. I drink this assurance and continue my day.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]


A TGB READER STORY: Annual Checkup Time

By Barrie N. Levine who blogs at Into the 70s

I customarily schedule my annual physical for January. I take my blood tests a week ahead for my doctor to review, the usual routine. But for this exam, Doctor M. didn’t even take out his stethoscope.

My husband had died on December 4th, after a struggle with a dementia illness that took him down in two years. I felt physically exhausted deep in my bones from caregiving. I reeled from the loss itself.

I had just completed the 30-day period in Jewish tradition in which the mourning family refrains from entertainment and business involvements.

I had no idea where to go from there after 41 years of a beautiful marriage from my twenties to my sixties.

When the doctor asked if I had any concerns, I burst into tears and could barely talk. “My heart is broken...my husband, he’s gone...” The nurse looked in to make herself available for blood pressure, but Doctor M. motioned her to leave and closed the door.

We spoke quietly for nearly an hour, both sitting in chairs, the examination table unused. I don’t remember exactly what he said, or what I said, just the quiet tones of our conversation.

Everywhere I went, even here, grief pursued me. I had to be in shock, still. I remember those unrelenting dark days, and this was one of them.

The doctor listened closely, witnessed my tears and placed his hand briefly over mine in a gesture of warmth. I spoke of my pain, how it burned, how it stayed with me day and night, inside or outside, alone or with others. I went on about how my husband rototilled our vegetable garden and built stone walls with his tractor, performing acts of service for his family as his life’s purpose.

Doctor M.’s compassionate observations comforted me. He spared me a physical examination that would have felt irrelevant, disrespectful - my body was not hurting, just every other part of my being, mind and spirit. My heart was shattered, but not in a way that a medical procedure could detect and set aright. He tended to me, the whole broken me.

He listened intently, expressing his faith in me, in my powers of resilience, in my ability to take in the support so many had generously offered. He advised me in ways that felt important and life-affirming - walk each day in the fresh winter air, be sure to eat nourishing food, seek restorative sleep.

Not able to make sense of my life in ruins, I simply followed his admonitions. That was all I could manage at the time.

The winter moved along, as did the sharply demarcated seasons we experience in New England. A year like no other.

The following January, I again reported for my physical. Before he began, Doctor M. asked how my year had been and how was I now?

First thing, I reminded him of our meeting the year before, when we had a long meeting in which he knew instinctively what would start the healing process for me, his grief-stricken patient.

This new appointment was much shorter than the last one. I climbed onto the examination table without hesitation. The nurse took my blood pressure and the doctor took out his stethoscope. I was ready to resume the annual ritual, a small victory that I recognized as a sign that it was safe to move forward.

No matter how I start my year, I will always include an expression of gratitude to my doctor for being so much more than just a health care provider. He had played a part in my life that I wanted to acknowledge - and praise - with all my heart.

First, he did no harm, his sacred oath. And after that, he honored my humanity.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]


A TGB READER STORY: What Have They Done to the Dictionary?

By Elizabeth Megyesi

I used to think I had a fairly good understanding of the English language. After all, English is the language I spoke as a child, adding words and their meanings steadily as I grew, first at home, then at school.

Throughout the years the words got longer and meanings more complex, but I kept adding them to my vocabulary. Upon hearing a new word, there was always the dictionary to look up the meaning and probably the definition made sense.

But all of a sudden, as if overnight, someone added dozens of new pages to the dictionary with hundreds of brand new words. When you start looking up their meanings, most of the definitions consist of other brand new words.

OK, It didn’t really happen overnight and I should have paid more attention at the beginning of the computer age. At first I learned enough to get by but apparently that wasn’t enough. Sort of like knowing how to drive a car but without understanding how it works. When something goes wrong you are in big trouble.

So now I am at the bottom of the class when it comes to my technical vocabulary words. Not just computers but phones, TV’s, and even cars are becoming a puzzle.

Calling a help desk only works when you know enough to ask the right questions to get your answer. You are advised to click this button or open that file. At some point you have to admit you haven’t got a clue.

Thank goodness for grandkids who seem to have been born with electronic devices in their hands and these words in their vocabulary.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]


A TGB READER STORY: Sleeping With The Enemy

TIME GOES BY DONATION WEEK REMINDER
This is day two of the 2020 TGB donation drive to help support the costs of maintaining Time Goes By. You can read the details on Monday's post.

Whether you donate or not, nothing will change. TGB will always remain advertising-free with never a membership fee or paid firewall. If you would like to help support the work that goes on here, click the button below. If not, which is perfectly fine, scroll down for today's post.

* * *

By Fritzy Dean

His voice is by turns harsh, commanding, demanding - then smooth, silky, seductive. I am held motionless, captivated, not wanting to miss a word or even a syllable. He voice is close, intimate - next to my ear.

I gently adjust the pillow, not wanting to disturb him or the story he is telling. Oh, good, he didn’t notice my small movement. He continues as I relax more and more into what I have come to think of as “our” bed.

It has taken me some time to get comfortable having this voice, and I admit it, other voices in bed with me. As a book lover, I read myself to sleep for as long as I can remember. Then with age came one of what Shakespeare called “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” I developed macular degeneration and can no longer read in bed. I can barely read at all.

I resisted getting an e-reader for a long time. As a senior citizen, I was slow to embrace technology. I felt fearful and inadequate, but missed reading SO much, I gave in and got a Kindle. While it is not the same as reading an actual book, it keeps me from feeling so deprived of my first and strongest love - reading.

With the Kindle mastered (sort of), I was finally brave enough to get an audio book reader and subscribe to Audible. A tech savvy friend set it up for me.

So now, here I am - in bed with my electronic device and my latest book.

This particular book is being read by an actor, a good one, too. He is able to sound like the different characters do, changing his voice appropriately. He is able to project the changing moods of the plot. He is a superb teller of tales.

Unfortunately, not all of the readers are. Especially disappointing is to learn that some of my favorite writers are AWFUL readers. The first book I downloaded read by the author almost turned me against him. His “writing” voice (the one I heard in my head, was deep and melodious. The voice coming from the device was high pitched and nasal, like a hillbilly with a bad cold.

Oh, PLEASE hire an actor next time!

Of course, some authors ARE good readers and what a treat that is. I remember, in particular, Barbara Kingsolver reading Unsheltered. She knew EXACTLY where to put emphasis, where to pause, where to glide along. She wrote it, after all, and she was a wonderful guide for the listener.

There have been other such lovely surprises. Pride and Prejudice read by NO, NOT Jane Austen, but by a full cast of actors. I smiled the whole way through. Such a lovely bedtime story.

I called this little essay, Sleeping With The Enemy because of my fear of, and reluctance to embrace technology. However, recently I began to encounter a word that must have been coined by the millennials – frenemy.

From the way it is used I assume it means someone or something you love in spite of yourself. Something you would love to hate, but just can’t - so perhaps I should rename this, because I certainly intend to continue sleeping with the frenemy.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]


A TGB READER STORY: The White Cotillion

By Tim Hay

I was not pleased with my “Sidehill Gouger” comeuppance delivered by “This Betsy” - the freshman in my back seat occupying my rear-view mirror. Not wishing to receive another dose of her unnervingly-accurate analysis, I zipped my lip for the remaining two hours of our Christmas break trip to Spokane.

After I'd dropped all four girls off at their homes, my mother met me at our door with the revelation that I was going to the White Cotillion. In 10 days. For which she'd purchased two expensive tickets.

Because I had recently been a recipient of a Dear John letter, I was now without a date to this over-the-top shindig. Three phone calls afforded me no replacement date. Hoping to net a little consolation from my mother, I described my Sidehill Gouger encounter with This Betsy.

Mom just snickered! Then looked me in the eye, meaningfully, and said, “Tim, why don't you call “This Betsy” for the White Cotillion?

Ten days later, carrying a slender sense of dread, clad in tux, cufflinks, cummerbund and carrying her corsage, I stood in her entry. Her mother called upstairs to Betsy. Their stairs creaked a bit in anticipation, and -

There she was! In a white formal, flared-out by (most likely) multiple petticoats. All set atop white high heels and slender legs.

Betsy's sparkling eyes and almost-shy smile provided proof of the boy-girl impact she possessed. If anybody can over-grin, I know that I was doing so as I watched This Betsy pin her orchid corsage onto her 'formal'.

I opened her door to my Dad's big Buick and we departed back to my home, where my parents were hosting some friends for dinner. Betsy and I talked all the way there. Hard liquor was pervasive in the 1950's, so Betsy and I were hardly inside before Dad had poured scotch-and-sodas for us.

“Mom and Dad, I'd like to introduce This Betsy”.

Mom, in recognition, smiled warmly. Dad looked impressed. And Betsy blushed.

I'd pushed it a bit far. As usual. Chatting with the family guests, I had one eye on my watch and two eyes on Betsy. No one, including myself, had thought to ask Betsy her age. Later she told me that, not only had she just turned 17, but that her scotch-and-soda had been her first real drink. Ever.

When I sprung that little gem of information on my Mother the next day, Mom was mortified.

Spokane's social event of 1956 was the achingly-formal White Cotillion Ball, marking the presentation of 18-year-old daughters of the Spokane Club members to Spokane's society.

The Spokane Club building is an architectural confection. Its red brick, white stone, fancy moldings and shiny-clean beveled-glass windows combining with multiple Christmas trees had the effect of approaching a Disney magic castle. Betsy's eyes glistened in response.

Once inside, she marveled at the luxury, the elaborate holiday decorations, the almost ankle-deep carpeting, the white moldings and especially the cut-glass wall sconces and the dozen layered chandeliers pouring their sparkles of delight onto the 200 formally clad party goers.

At first we circulated, sipping punchbowl nectar from our long-stemmed, cut-glass, champagne glasses, talking and talking. Huge round tables, friends, the four-course dinner served by uniformed waiters.

We ate, barely appreciating our meal, eyes on one another, talking and talking.

We watched the grand ceremony welcoming club daughters to Spokane society. Then we danced. A bit more closely than the others were dancing. We drifted to a small table in an obscure corner. Talking and talking. Later, we became aware that most of the Cotillion dancers had left. We followed, hand-in-hand.

The Buick would not go as slowly as I wished. Betsy slid over next to me. My entire being had become a smile. All too soon we were back at her home. I turned the lights off. And we sat. Next to each other. And talked. And talked even more. My watch too-soon showed after midnight, and she had to leave. It was unavoidable.

I leaned in. Betsy turned her head toward mine. The memory of that one single oh-so-sweet kiss remains with me today. For we have been “we” for 60-plus years. And This Betsy is still calling my bluff.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]


A TGB READER STORY: Off to Buy Vitamins

By Deborah Cavel-Greant who blogs at Simple Not Easy

I'm on Facebook, it's how I keep up with my friends and family members. But the "targeted" ads I am served are a hoot and some days are more entertaining than the FB posts.

My favourite is the one about a 50-year-old woman whose dermatologist hates her for her age-defying beauty secret which makes her look 25 (and which she is willing to sell me).

I’m not interested because if I looked 25 people would expect me to act 25 and if there's one thing I love about being old it's that you don't have to apologize for being slow anymore.

Another frequent ad thrown at me is from a dating service that laments the fact that their "senior men" can't find "faithful senior women like you Deborah".

Since I’ve been married to the same old fella for almost 55 years, if I answered that ad I'd not be the "faithful" woman they're looking for would I? Besides their "senior men" (hunky bare-chested models dressed as policemen and firemen and doctors) - are all about 35! My sons are older!

Still hoping they have a merry and potentially wealthy widow on their hands (I gave Facebook NO information other than my name, age and hometown I left at age 11), they offer to move me into a high-end retirement home, then try to entice me to join a single-seniors-only cruise. I sense frustration as they try to find something, anything that I might buy.

An interior designer will come to my home and make sure it doesn't have that "granny vibe" we all fear. Sadly, I do not care for their recommended $12,000 sofa that looks like three metal ironing boards welded together into an isosceles triangle and covered with shiny fuchsia-coloured Naugahyde.

They are flummoxed. Abandoning the hope that I am a high-rolling, world-cruising-cougar, they test the theory that I am a crippled-up, penny-pinching old party pooper and offer to sell me the secret of how to get $35,000 of free money from the government because I am infirm.

When I don't even want to know how to get $35,000 of free-for-the-taking-money, desperation sets in.

It's well known if you are over 65, you are either decrepit or an elderly Olympian so they abandon all semblance of targeting and simply go with alternating stereotypes. They begin rotating advertisements for medical aids with those for hair-raising experiences.

Do I need a new electric wheelchair? No? Do I want to go sky-diving? No? How about standing out in the geezer crowd with a hand-carved cane from Borneo? No?

Surely I'd enjoy a life-changing (I read this as "life-ending") sledding adventure down the North Face of the Matterhorn? NO? Perhaps I need a medical lift or a potty chair to sit beside my bed? NO?

An all-inclusive travel package to Mozambique to run in a marathon? NO???

When I don't pitch my credit card at the screen, I visualize them hunched over their keyboards with knit brows, shuffling ads like a deck of solitaire cards. One, gnawing his thumb knuckle, says tensely, "Pull back a little, offer her (long pause) square-dancing lessons."

They watch with nervous expectation as the ad comes and goes, all Madison Avenue ad agency sweat under the armpits as FB stock ticks lower by the second. A vein in a temple pulses visibly. One swears, and spits out, “The old dame is holding out. She's still not buying ANYTHING!”

In rapid succession they promise to hide my varicose veins, cure my diabetes, lift my sagging bosom, reduce my dewlap and “turkey-neck”, ease my painful gout. This gives me pause. I don’t have any of these problems; perhaps Facebook has a "Coming Afflictions" application I have inadvertently signed up for? Should I worry about this?

But I crumbled when I got a message from my cousin Mack this morning. Facebook has apparently developed an app that does what no other web application has ever done before; transcended that final curtain which we have never peered beyond.

My dearly loved cousin Mack passed away last December. However, I got a message on Facebook from him today recommending a well-known brand of senior's vitamins.

They finally have me. I'm off to buy some. If those vitamins can make Mack feel well enough to post to FB from where he's gone, they might finally make a square-dancer out of me.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]


A TGB READER STORY: The Last Time

By Kay Richard

In the grainy black-and-white film of Aunt Evelyn’s home movie camera, Maureen and I are doing our version of the hippy hippy shake. I’m wearing cut-offs and a button-down collared blouse, along with the ever present headband.

The camera pans over to the kitchen table where Georgette, still wearing her white Henri’s School of Hair Design uniform, is teasing mom’s hair into a beehive French roll while mom plucks her eyebrows.

When her transformation is over, Aunt Evelyn asks me to stand behind mom for a family shot. I’m blowing bubbles with my wad of pink Bazooka and giving mom rabbit ears with my fingers.

They left for their night out on the town to celebrate mom’s 35th birthday. Soon the camera is spanning the club and the musicians are mouthing words to songs we can’t hear. There’s mom, crossing the dance floor with her drink and settling into one of the booths along the side wall. Cigarette smoke rises from ashtrays on every table.

I hear the front door open and close and get up to ask Mom if she had a good time. She is lying on the sofa, her left arm elevated on the back, her right hand in a fist sitting on her chest, creases between her eyebrows.

I asked her if she was alright and she told me to go back to bed. Kissing her on the cheek, I told her I loved her and returned to my room.

When I woke the next morning, Aunt Evelyn was sitting at the table. She’d been there for awhile, waiting to tell me that mom had been taken to the hospital during the night. She’d had a heart attack, but was stable in the newly constructed ICU.

A few days later, Aunt Evelyn drove me to Heywood Hospital. I wasn’t allowed to see mom because the age requirement was 14 and up, so we stood in the parking lot outside her room and she waved to me from her window. I blew her a kiss and we headed home. It was the last time I saw her alive.

If I could ask her any question, it would be, “Were you glad that you kept me”? An unwed pregnancy doesn’t elicit so much as a blink of an eye these days, but in the 1950’s she must have faced shame and ostracism.

We never had the opportunity to have the conversations that would answer so many questions about the circumstances of my birth but I like to think that beyond the fear, she felt that maternal love that made her carry me out the hospital door and into the large French-Canadian family that I grew to love.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]


A TGB READER STORY: Rings and Things

By Kay Richard

A couple of months after sidling through the doors of the local junior high school, I was still trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible. My locker was side-by-side with Brenda, an eighth grader known mostly for her sarcasm and lack of empathy.

Always trying to fit it with my peers, I begged for sling back loafers to replace my Buster Brown lace ups, headbands instead of barrettes and pierced ears (no!).

For Christmas that year, I was given a white, three-ring binder with the profiles of the Fab Four on the cover. Suddenly, I was the envy of all the girls including Brassy Brenda. I sashayed the halls in my fabulousness.

It was short-lived, however, when I made a rookie faux pas. I’d been noticing that many of the cool girls were suddenly sporting a tie clip on their blouses. Ever wanting to join their ranks, I stopped at my Aunt Evelyn’s house on the way home from school and asked if my uncle might have an old tie clip I could have.

The next morning I arrived at my locker wearing Uncle Nere’s gold and rhinestone tie clip on my Peter Pan collar. Brassy Brenda was on me like a magnet to the North Pole.

“Whose tie clip is that”?

I turned and smugly replied, “I got it from my uncle”.

She crowed, turned to Cruel Candy on her right and said, “She’s going steady with her uncle”! They walked off in hysterics as I tore the tip clip off and ran to the bathroom where I spent homeroom period getting my tears under control.

The following spring, the school hosted a Friday evening dance in the cafeteria. Patty and I were sitting on the sidelines when the cutest boy in all of the junior high schools in central Massachusetts asked me to dance to the Beatles song, If I Fell.

I saw Brenda’s jaw drop into her glass of punch as Joey and I swayed to the music and when school convened on Monday, I was sporting his black onyx ring on a chain around my neck.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]


A TGB READER STORY: Christmas Elves

By DJan Stewart of Djan-ity

One year when I was home visiting my parents and siblings for the holidays, my sister Norma Jean and I went to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. I think I had been married for some time and away from home for awhile, but I really don't remember when it was for sure.

My parents had two distinct families, and the youngest three children were all six or under at this time, while Norma Jean and I were adults.

When we went out the door, Mama and Daddy had begun the Christmas Eve preparations for the young ones in the house (my brother and sisters) who had finally gone to bed. Daddy had begun to assemble a bicycle for our brother Buz, while Mama had to finish wrapping and putting Santa's gifts under the tree. It was a warm and happy scene. Off we went to Midnight Mass.

When we returned, the scene was anything but happy. The entire living room was scattered with glasses half-covered in salt (from partially consumed margaritas), and the bike was still only half assembled in the living room. The entire scene was, in a word, a nightmare. And our parents had stumbled into their bedroom and crawled into bed.

Apparently in the midst of their tasks, some friends had come over to visit and our parents had gotten quite drunk and forgotten what tonight meant to their young children.

We were aghast. For a few minutes we wandered through the living room and kitchen and wondered what to do. We decided that we would be Christmas elves and fix things.

Norma Jean set to the task of reading directions on how to assemble the bicycle and I began to clean things up. We toiled for several hours before inspecting our work and calling it good.

Norma Jean had learned how to follow arcane directions and actually put the bike together! (I was more impressed by this than I let on at the time.)

Well, in the morning the kids came downstairs to find that Santa had indeed come during the night and that his elves had done their work quite well.

It is one of the more satisfying Christmas memories that I share with my sister. We still smile about it. I had to write to Norma Jean to see if my memory of the event matched hers, and it pretty much did. She said,

”Maybe that's where I got the start of loving the feeling of accomplishment when I read directions and put things together...We cleaned up and set up the living room to be a real Christmas when everyone got up the next morning. It was certainly memorable.”

Over the years, Christmas has lost much of its magic for me. I don't like what I see happening to Christmas these days, but I am sure that there are still many parents, and Santas, and elves, making things happen for others.

(Oh, and by the way, I have forgotten what our parents' reaction to all this was, even though I am sure they appreciated the visit from the elves.)

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]



A TGB READER STORY: The Data Dilemma

By Susan Remson

Every day we read, hear or see something about privacy and how our lives, and the specifics of it, seem to be watered down into one word. DATA.

Where I shop, what I eat, how I spend my money, who I phone, what I watch on TV, and who I vote for and so much more about me is reduced to numbers. DATA.

Everything about me is out there for lobbyists, candidates, marketers, insurers, health care providers and researchers of every shape and discipline to find out all about me. Easily, I am told. DATA.

DATA is my Permanent Record. Remember permanent records? If you’re as old as I am, you went through grade school and high school being told that everything you did would be on your Permanent Record (in my mind it was always capitalized).

From the time you started school you were told that your PM would haunt you for the rest of your life. Every third grader trembled at the thought that every mistake she ever made would follow her for the rest of her life!

Well, now my PM is DATA. Every time I pick up my phone or go to the bank or purchase a banana, my DATA is recorded, although if I don’t want the sale price on bananas, maybe not.

I have been hesitant to get those digital coupons that the grocery offers because I know they are recording my purchasing preferences. And selling my phone number which will lead to more calls from unknown phone numbers that I don’t answer.

I’ve only recently given in to online shopping – maybe that’s because all the stores in my neighborhood are closing and I don’t know where to go to for my basic needs except online. But I am still spooked by those pop-up ads that know exactly what I have searched for and what I might want to buy. And I’m not just talking about buying bananas.

But here’s the thing. Maybe I shouldn’t mind so much. After all, how different is that DATA to my school PM? Okay, maybe it’s more telling, more invasive, more revealing of my personal habits, but when I think about it, I was never very concerned about my PM.

The reason I wasn’t concerned is because I hardly ever did anything wrong in grade school, and in high school I was a meek, shy, obedient student with mediocre grades and few extracurricular activities.

If you were to track down my PM and read it, you’d be pretty bored. If you do want to read it, go ahead. I’ve nothing to hide – nothing of interest anyway, except that I was boring.

So what about that DATA that the world now seems to have on me? Well, I think it’d be pretty boring too. Does the world care that I do my banking mostly at the ATM, that my credit is good, that I have had one speeding ticket in the last 50 years and that I prefer bananas to oranges?

Perhaps, but I’ve really nothing to hide and actually I might even benefit from someone knowing my fruit preferences.

This past week I got an envelope in the mail from the store where I do most of my grocery shopping. It was filled with coupons and each and every coupon was for an item that I have purchased in the past and will probably purchase again. The DATA that the grocery store collected is actually good for my bottom line.

Really, how can I resist a dollar off on toilet paper and a free pound of butter? Not easily!

Maybe the real bottom line is this: If you live your life with nothing to hide, you don’t have to worry about the DATA. It’s not DIRT. It’s just DATA.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]



A TGB READER STORY: The Redemptive Power of Sunsets

By Lynn Bechtel of Write on Harlow

I don’t have a full view of sunsets from my house but I can see a faint rosy glow, the edge of the sunset, through the branches of the evergreens at the back of the yard. Sometimes that faint glow draws me out of the house and down the block to a field where I can watch the full display across the valley.

My mother loved sunsets. She kept a journal beginning in 1966 – she would have been in her late fifties then. She wrote in it sporadically, an entry or two and then a gap of years before another entry. The last entry was dated 1976.

She wrote several times about the sunsets she could see from the kitchen window. In the first entry, written on a January afternoon, she describes a sunset that was a delicate rose in color with black tracing of tree branches.

She goes on to say how frustrating it is that my father and I didn’t see this beauty: “I say, ‘Look at the sunset – it’s fabulous.’ They say ‘yes, very nice’ and they don’t really see. It’s so beautiful it hurts.”

And she’s right. As a teenager I didn’t see the sunsets – or at least I didn’t see what she saw – the painful beauty of them.

I wrote about sunsets in my own journal once a few years ago. I’d had a string of conversations with friends who were dealing with illnesses of various kinds. I wrote about driving home from work along the river one winter afternoon.

The sun was setting behind the hills across the river and it took my breath away - the hills, the scarlet sky, the reflection in the river. I wrote that I wanted to give this sunset to my friends as an antidote, a balm, something to hold onto when all else seemed to be giving way. The redemptive power of sunsets.

Maybe that’s what my mother saw in sunsets those many years ago. I wish I could come up behind her, circle my arms around her waist where she stands at the sink, rest my chin on her shoulder and see the sunset along with her. Yes, it’s gorgeous, I’d say.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]



A TGB READER STORY: How to Write a Good Obituary

EDITORIAL NOTE FROM RONNI: Thank you for all your story contributions this past week. We now have a good collection to keep us going for three or more months.

* * *

By Kath Noble of Postscript by Kath

Someone you love has died. Suddenly you have a million things to take care of, and you don’t know where to start. I can help by sharing some tips on writing a good obituary.

When I began my business writing obits, Postscript by Kath, I read a TON of obituaries from all over. Many are full of trite phrases and lists of people, places and careers, probably assembled by staff at a funeral home.

Every once in a while, there was one that was obviously written by a family member or friend that made me smile or tear up. That’s the kind I try to write and teach others to write.

Writing a good obituary begins before the person dies. My mom and I sat at her kitchen table over the years before she died at 92, with me writing as fast as I could and her telling me stories, names, dates.

I used questions from A Grandmother’s Book but you can make up your own or just ask them to tell you their life story. Be sure and ask about spelling for names and places. You may end up doing a “G-rated” version for immediate sharing and an “X-rated” version for sharing later with intimates, as I did.

Alternatively, you can talk to someone else who knew the person well, and take good notes. Ask them about stories the person used to tell, what made them laugh or cry, and what they cared about the most in life.

Did they have a favorite joke? What were the high points and low points in their life? Did faith play a role in their life and how did that change over the years? What issues did they care most about? What role or job did they love the most? How did their friends describe them? Do they have a favorite charity in case others want to donate in their name?

Must you compile a list of dates, parents’ names, siblings, spouses, children, jobs, places lived, and so on? Yes, if you can, but not necessarily to include all of it in the obituary. This important information can be given to the survivors for their own use.

How about birth dates? A friend’s mom really did not want others to know her age, so she wrote, “Mary was born sometime in the 1920s!”

But there is another reason to avoid using exact birth dates. Identity theft often happens using data from obituaries, so consider using the birth year and place, but not the date. And NEVER list a home address.

Most obituaries include the cause of death. If a person died in an accident or by suicide, some families may wonder if they should leave out the cause. If they don’t, some readers may read the obit and wonder, “Well, what happened?”

This is a very personal decision, however, and satisfying readers’ curiosity should not be the deciding factor. Much of the stigma attached to suicide has diminished, though, and perhaps we can acknowledge that by being honest and saying “died by suicide.”

What should you actually include in the obituary? It doesn’t need to be a play-by-play of the person’s entire life nor a list of accomplishments. The obits that make me smile give a glimpse into a real person, not a saint.

Consider the obit for Mary “Pink” Mullaney.

“We were blessed to learn many valuable lessons from Pink during her 85 years, among them: never throw away an old pair of pantyhose. Use them to tie gutters, childproof cabinets or hang Christmas ornaments.“

If you are thinking about writing your own obituary, start writing now. Your family will be so grateful to have one fewer thing to deal with when you die and to have your story told the way you wanted it to be told. They can write eulogies and tell stories about you at the memorial service.

Decide what style of obituary you want to write for yourself: a traditional one written in third person or a more personal one, telling some of your life story in first or third person.

See my Facebook page “Postscript by Kath” for examples or search for “great obituaries” online. Read a lot of these so you can steal their ideas and style. Decide if you want help writing or editing your obituary and where to get it.

Just make sure you give several copies of your obit to your family and let them know your wishes about editing it and where to have it published - in the newspaper, on the funeral home website, and/or on a Facebook Memorial Page.

The latter two choices are free, whereas hard newspaper obits can run into hundreds of dollars and may not reach as many people.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]



A TGB READER STORY: Scary Movies

EDITORIAL NOTE: The queue of reader stories has gotten extremely low. If you are so inclined, this would be a good time to forward your stories for publication. Instructions are at the bottom of this page. I don't like begging for contributions, so if participation continues to decline, I will bring this feature to a close.

* * *

By Jackie Davis

When I was a child in the ‘50’s and early ‘60s, there wasn’t much in the way of children’s programming nor was it necessary. We had many things other than screens to entertain us, particularly on the farm.

However, there were movies on television, old and not so old. By the late 1950s, as most of you may remember, major studios began making movies available to be broadcast on television. Some were older films, some had finished their theatrical release more recently.

In 1961, NBC began broadcasting Saturday Night at the Movies. That was a must-see at our house.

However, the first disturbing movie I watched was an older afternoon movie, shown by one of the local independent stations, The Sullivans. I remember running outside into the yard sobbing at the end it, and my mother so helpfully pointed out, “You know that really happened?” There are no words.

I can’t say just what year it was that I watched The Diary of Anne Frank (made in 1959) on Saturday Night at the Movies but I would have been eight or nine years old.

To say it made an impression on me is an understatement; I clearly remember afterwards asking my parents, “Did that really happen?” I was horrified, though I didn’t understand the extent of the horror at that time.

I read the book as soon as I could get my hands on it. At some later point in my youth, my grandfather told me that our family was German. Again, I was aghast.

The end of WWII was in the recent enough past that I even I had a rudimentary understanding of the implications. But he fixed all that when he told us our family was Jewish before they came over to this country in the late 1800s. That was in junior high.

I began to doubt the veracity of that story when I was in college and had a Jewish boyfriend; he told me it was doubtful as our last name didn’t translate right. (We knew for sure that he made it up when, as an adult, my sister checked out a genealogy book from inter-library loan. They were Lutherans.)

The Time Machine starring Rod Taylor continues to be lodged firmly in my memory. However, when I saw it as a child, what stuck with me was that in that movie, the atomic war occurred in 1964. Every time I heard a sonic boom in 1964 I went running for the cellar, sure the end was nigh.

These days, the scenes that come to mind are when the time machine goes too far into the future, as the earth is winding down and the sunrises and sunsets go back in seconds as time continues to speed up.

The finale on my scariest movie list is Fail Safe. I would have been in the fifth or sixth grade when I watched it at home on a Saturday night. There was no discussion with either of my parents after that one. At least I was able to appreciate more of Dr. Strangelove when I watched it at an age too young to fully understand the satire.

And yet we were not allowed to watch The Twilight Zone as it was deemed too scary. Geesh.

And then there was the fact that my father made me watch some of the historic events that unfolded both live and on the news in the late 50s and early 60s. “It’s history in the making,” he would say. And it was.

And I have been watching and reading those scary stories ever since.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]



A TGB READER STORY: Eat All Day, Pee All Night

By Fritzy Dean

Recently I spent several miserable days ”in hospital,” as our British friends would say. Even though I was quite uncomfortable and anxious to get home, there were some lighter moments during my stay. Those moments are my focus here.

The very beginning was far from auspicious. The intake nurse was a young black man. He was clearly bored, having asked the same questions over and over all day.

In a monotone he asked, “How tall are you?”

I told him.

“How much do you weigh?”

I told him, adding, “That is my weight this morning in my birthday suit.”

Without a pause, in the same dry monotone, he said, “Thanks for the visual.”

“Oh, you’re welcome! I’m sure that image is burned into your retinas for all eternity!” It was a little funny and I would have laughed if I hadn’t been in so much pain.

Among other indignities, I was told I would be going down to the basement of the hospital to the ultrasound lab for a tesy. AND I was instructed to EAT ALL DAY.”

Now there was a time, not so long ago, when that order would have made me delirious with glee. Eat All Day? NO problem! Now? Not so much.

I got used to be being quizzed by the nursed. Did you order breakfast? What did you have? Have you eaten lunch? You should order a snack, you know.

When I got to the lab, I was so stuffed that the probe used over my abdomen was painful. I felt like the Goodyear blimp, about to blow. But the tech was happy; he got excellent pictures.

One of the discoveries from that lab trip was a small amount of fluid on my left lung. So, in addition to getting Lasix, a powerful diuretic, every morning I was also given the same dose at night. So there was no sleeping. None.

I got a routine down after a short trial period. Get up, drag my IV pole to the bathroom, empty my bladder, go back to bed. Lie down, arrange the sheet and blanket over me. Get up, drag my IV pole and repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Every few hours, someone would come into the room and and ask me to look at the pain chart on the wall. The chart had a series of faces drawn in a line, with a smiley face at zero for no pain and a frowning: face at ten, for a lot of pain.

“The face I need is not on there,” I told them. “The face I’m feeling is a fire-breathing dragon and your numbers don’t go high enough to record it.”

Finally the pain began to subside. I felt as if I had gone 12 rounds with Mike Tyson. He kicked my butt, too.

One day the nurse, again a young black man, told me that instead of his usual five patients, he had six that day. AND he was the charge nurse so he would be extremely busy. Because of this, he asked if I would confine myself to the room, please?

WHAT? The only time I have left this room is on a gurney. Where do you think I would go? Just stay confined in the room, ma’am. Okay. Sigh. That is how I discovered I was in the maximum security Unit.

Another day, I was desperately trying to nap, while “housekeeping” was clearing the room. The housekeeper was picking up linens and trash and swinging a dust mop, all while speaking seriously into her phone. I was not trying to listen.

In fact, I was trying NOT to listen, when she raised her voice enough to be heard in Galveston. “Listen Here! I hope you don’t think my life is all rainbows and unicorn farts, 'cause it’s not!”

She saw me looking at her with my mouth and my ears wide open. She dropped her voice to a whisper, so I never heard the definition of unicorn farts. I was very disappointed. I’m still wondering if they smell like rainbows. What do rainbows smell like, anyway?

In spite of these light moments of levity, I was grateful to escape. My bed had missed me dreadfully. We were so happy to be reunited. If my prayers are answered, this will be my last visit to the charming, alarming oh-so-grueling eat-all-day, pee-all-night establishment in the Texas Medical Center.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]



A TGB READER STORY: My Season of “Not Quite”

By Carole Leskin

There is something about late August that makes me uneasy. A kind of sadness mixed with a desire to just get it over with and move on to September.

When I was a little girl, I loved the summer. August meant wearing as few clothes as possible, riding my bike all day, swimming, fishing and crabbing with my father, boating on the bay, playing hide and seek at nightfall, the magic show of fireflies in the darkness and just being free!

Today, I stepped out on to my balcony and was almost overcome by the humidity and a sense of lethargy. The garden is beginning to close for the season. Many of the flowers and plants are limp and struggling to live just a bit longer. There are already rust and brown leaves on the ground, looking out of place in what is still predominantly green, but a reminder of things to come.

The birds have raised their young, the nests empty, the fighting for places at the feeders over. The sun casts its shadows earlier and displays a different color on the water - a yellowish green, an artist finding a way to convey the mixture of life and death.

I remember my childhood August and wonder. Is it me? Have I lost something somewhere along the way of growing old? Why do I struggle to just go with the flow - lazy, unhurried and content? Why do I want this month to end and September to begin?

I yearn for the clarity and crispness of autumn - warm sweaters and cozy blankets, mugs of hot chocolate, the colors of turning leaves, the harvest crops, scarecrows and a fire in the fireplace.

Perhaps this is what being 74 is about. Learning to live in the season of "not quite". Letting go of what was, beautiful as it might have been, and finding a way to embrace what is - undefined, different, yellowish green - with an end in sight. But not yet.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]



A TGB READER STORY: In the Vortex

By Ann Burack-Weiss

It is 1946 and I am 10 years old. The first night home after my tonsils come out, I begin to cough. Scabs and blood fill the yellow enamel pail with the green rim. Doctor and ambulance follow.

My nose is packed with cotton. Sirens scream. Outside the hospital are bright lights; nurses wearing big white hats hold out their arms to me.

I am flat on a table, more bright lights. I want to sleep but they keep slapping me awake, calling my name.

The next thing I remember must have been a day or two later. I am in bed and two young nurses enter. They carry scissors and speak in a soft Irish brogue. My hair is matted with dried blood. They must cut it all off.

I am a tall, skinny girl with a curved back. “What beautiful hair! ” is the only compliment on my looks I have ever received. My hair is long, thick, dark and carries a miraculous wave. With it you can shape corkscrew curls that rival those of Shirley Temple.

You cannot cut my hair! I cry and shout. Perhaps they take pity on me or fear that I will begin to cough again, but they soon agree.

They leave and return with a bottle of oil and thick-toothed combs. It is long, rough going. The oil needs time to soak in, it hurts as the comb is dragged through, the washing reveals missed areas, back to the oil, the combs, the washing. Finally, they are done.

I am handed a mirror. It is hard to take in who I am looking at. This chalk white face cannot be me. But, of course, it is. And when they leave, I go to sit by the window.

I am in the Floating Hospital for Children in Boston – recently re-established on land – and the window faces a deserted block by the harbor.

I look out at the dilapidated buildings (as clear in my mind’s eye today as the view I see each day from my bedroom window). And I say to myself in an adult voice that I don’t recognize, “You were going to die. Now you are going to live.“

* * *

I am seated in a small room, conducting an intake interview. I face a young, black woman who is telling me about her descent into crack addiction and the day she decided she had to quit. It is a harrowing story. I am listening hard. She has just said that she looked in the mirror and couldn’t recognize herself. I am there with her.

Then - we are rising, rising, swept up and swirling in a vortex. I am no longer the social worker with the degrees. She is no longer the client with the problem. Our identities have been stripped away. We are pure spirits – disembodied beings passing each other in the same swirling pattern, tiny molecules up there in outer space.

Then - we are back in the office, returned to ourselves. She is talking, I am listening. She is still speaking of the mirror. How much time could have passed – not as long as a minute. Seconds, perhaps?

* * *

One transcendent experience in a long life does not a mystic make. And it is totally possible that the image of an unfamiliar face in a mirror performed some neurological voodoo.

Yet, whenever I think of the hereafter, I picture myself and my beloved dead as spirits whirling around in the vortex.

The vortex contains all the souls who ever lived – those blessed with the riches of life, those who had the hardest of fates, those who died at birth, those who lived on to a ripe old age – all now equal parts of the same whole: together awhirling, atwirling, aswirling in the vortex.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]



A TGB READER STORY: Sow’s Ear Guacamole

By Diane Darrow of Another Year in Recipes

The old saying has it that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but one day I thought I’d give it a try. My “sow’s ear” was a bag of three avocados I’d bought for the extremely low price of $2, intending to make guacamole. They were hard as rocks, so I left them out for a few days on a sideboard to ripen.

They didn’t. After a full week, they were still rock-hard and were developing some squishy dented and flattened spots. Grand! These bargain avocados were clearly never going to ripen. I’d just have to use them now, adjusting my recipe to cope with whatever would turn out to be edible on them.

Once I’d peeled the avocados and cut away all the ugly gray-brown parts, I was left with a small quantity of too, too solid flesh.

GuacamoleDianeDarrow1

First adjustment (actually decided earlier): Don’t buy a bunch of fresh cilantro when you’ll need only a few sprigs. Defrost a cube of the cilantro base you’d made to salvage some of the last big bunch of it that you’d bought.

Second adjustment: Don’t even try to mash the flesh with a spoon or chop it with a knife. Puree it by machine.

That done, I could proceed with my usual approach to guacamole: chopping onion, tomato, and a serrano pepper and mixing them, along with salt, into the puree and cilantro base. It came out looking pretty good, much like a proper guacamole.

Hoping for the best, I set a bowl of it next to a batch of tortilla chips and served it as our dinner appetizer.

GuacamoleDianeDarrow2

But alas, that guacamole was no silk purse. My gallant husband dipped one chip and said he tasted mold in it. It didn’t taste moldy to me but neither did it taste much of avocado. He stopped after the second chip.

Feeling an obligation, I ate more of it than that, but it was completely uninteresting. Maybe a plastic purse?

Regretfully, I discarded the rest. Let that be a lesson to me (which at my age, you’d think I would have learned already): Don’t buy avocados that you can’t pick up in your hand and feel at least the beginning of ripening!

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]