September 24 – Trauma’s Shadow is Rage

by V.J. Knutson

The author at the time of the incident.

“…he had always been popular and happy and things had always worked out.”
(Holly LeCraw, The Swimming Pool)

I close the book, feeling the rage shifting just below my sternum. It’s the second time this week that words have elicited this response. The first was an online post and the author had written something about how gently we come into this world; a man, of course, whose lack of birthing experience allowed him to think glibly about such beginnings – and, I know otherwise.

Flesh tears from flesh.

Pain builds and peaks and in a bloodied push of exasperation life emerges.

I’m not discrediting the miraculous. Birth is miraculous. And in time, joy overshadows the trauma, and we conceive again. This, too, is a miracle.

Maybe it is all this talk of he said/ she said dominating the news; women daring to call out their abusers. The ensuing backlash.

I named my assailant. Included his address, and full details of the abduction. Then buried the memory, and self, in a well so deep it wouldn’t emerge for fourteen years; knife-edged fragments butchering my complacency. Memory works that way.

No charges were laid, no subsequent trial; the judgment occurred on the spot the day that they found me, missing overnight, in a state of shock. I had asked for it; my clothes, the unfortunate choice to attend a bar underage, the willingness to get in a stranger’s car with friends. The defilement was my fault. How could I not bury it?

Happiness is desirable – no different for me – but I am also a realist/cynic; and life does not unfold in candy-wrapped sweetness. It stumbles along, meets with obstacles, and demands that we look within. To say that someone has lived an unmarred existence, as suggested in the quotation above, is just laziness on the part of the author. This is not truth, so why write it?

Life commands character.

Real life, that is.

The rage subsides. I’ve said my piece. I turn the page.

V.J.Knutson is a former educator, avid blogger, and grandmother. She and her husband are currently traveling cross-country in a 40-foot motor home. Originally from Ontario, Canada, V.J. hopes this journey will provide healing for her ME/CFS, or at the very least, inspire further creativity. Find her online at One Woman’s Quest.

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September 13 – Photos Fade

by Martha SlavinI turned the pages of an old photo album that my mother had kept of our trip to England and France the summer after my dad died. The photos had faded so much that they almost look like watercolors. I remembered how the tour gave my mother a lift back into life after nine months of being closeted in grief.

It has been 36 years since my dad died, and 14 since my mother passed away. I don’t think about them every day, but feelings of affection swept through me as I look at my mother’s face in those old photos.

The photos had been kept in one of those awful albums with stripes of glue to hold the photos and plastic sheets to cover them. Thinking about painting some of them, I scanned the photos into the computer. As I worked with each one, I remembered walking through the vast room of the Alnwick Castle library, filled with comfortable chairs, thousands of books and its collections of Medieval manuscripts and a Shakespeare Folio. Alnwick Castle belongs to the Duke of Northumberland and was recently used in all of the Harry Potter films. It is now a big tourist attraction. Our tour, organized by a group from my dad’s alma mater and long before Harry Potter, stayed in the castle keep with its dorm-like rooms. For several days we savored being part of the quiet life of a country village.Our tours of castles and cathedrals scattered throughout England gave life to my college Humanities classes. I thought of Chaucer, the Magna Carte, Henry VIII, the Bronte sisters, Wordsworth, and William Blake as we traveled the narrow roads from London to Scotland and back south through Stratford-on-Avon to Windsor Castle.

At Lindisfarne, we looked across the sea to Scandinavia. In Edinburgh, we walked on a foggy day on the narrow cobblestone streets leading us past iron gates to the Museum of Childhood. As we came south, we stopped at a pub built of the honey-colored limestone of the Cotswolds and stayed in a charming Bed and Breakfast near Windsor Castle.

My mom was in her late sixties on our trip. Very active, she continued to ice skate well into her 80s. I see myself in her face and her smile. She is of French and English ancestry, and so this trip was special for her. In Coventry, we found a grave with the name of Hart, her mother’s last name, and she wondered if they were related to us. In France, she compared my silhouette to a statue of Josephine Bonaparte and determined that we both had the same nose.

As I shepherded her throughout the tour, I began to feel the reversal of roles from mother to daughter, then to daughter mothering mother. It wasn’t ’till much later when she developed Alzheimer’s that my sisters and I became the mothers that our mother needed while she faded away from her memories and the people she knew.

Martha Slavin is an artist and writer. Her blog, Postcards in the Air, can be found each Friday at www.marthaslavin.blogspot.com She also writes poetry, memoir pieces, and essays. She creates handmade books, works in mixed media, watercolor, and does letterpress. She lives with her husband and two cats in California.

September 9 – Catching Lightning Bugs

by Sara Etgen-Baker

When I was a little girl, Granddad and I spent many summer evenings together sipping lemonade and swinging back and forth on his metal porch glider. On one such evening, I sat with him; and we watched the sun sink lower in the Missouri sky, slowly draining away the light of day. The trees gradually became silhouettes against a newly silver sky, its blue hue all but gone until dawn. Their branches gently swayed in the wind, and the first sound of the nocturnal creatures came; chirping crickets, buzzing mosquitoes, a hooting owl, and a skittering rabbit taking cover in the hedgerow. Soon it grew dark, and a closeness and silence enveloped us.

Out of nowhere, a mysterious yellow twinkling appeared in the night, quick flickers and crackles of incandescent light too fast for the naked eye. The soft warm glow of lightning bugs sliced through the darkness, dipping beneath the black walnut trees. I was enchanted and imagined Granddad and I had discovered the lair of a great magician.

“Want to catch lightning bugs?” Granddad asked, a smile spreading over his face.

“Capture that magic?” My voice quivered with excitement. “Can it be done?”

Granddad looked at my face; jumped out of the swing; and fetched a Mason jar from his work shed, its lid pierced with holes. We walked barefoot into the darkness, following the flickering lights. I ran toward them hoping to capture them, but in my eagerness, they escaped. Granddad cupped his hands and lunged.

“Look!” he said, making a peephole into his hand. With my face pressed against his thumbs, I caught my first close-up glimpse of a firefly.

The jar grew full; and when Granddad tucked me in that night, he placed it beside my bed. The glow of the lightning bugs mesmerized me; and long after everyone else was asleep, I was still wide awake watching the golden lights flare in the darkness.

Now, so many years later, I’ve forgotten most of my childhood dolls and toys. But the night Granddad and I caught lightning bugs and made them into a nightlight is forever imprinted in me. And I’m reminded that there’s so much ordinary magic dancing around the backyard.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

September 6 – The Best Labor Day Present

by Kali’ Rourke

(c) Can Stock Photo / rogistok

My husband’s birthday often falls on Labor Day (although this year it is after the holiday) and the family lovingly teases his mom about “really celebrating Labor Day right!” She has nodded and smiled ruefully over the years, looking with pride at the three wonderful children she brought into the world. She devoted a good portion of her life to being their primary caregiver.

Dad Rourke was an extroverted sales and marketing guy with a great math mind and a way that made everyone around him feel lucky to be there. He always knew that he couldn’t have done what he did without a strong woman to support him and he loved his wife fiercely. His insurance business brought travel and frequent moves for the family, and she was the glue that held it all together.

His success was hers, as well and she took pride in always being his loving, impeccably groomed, and incredibly organized partner. They were our role models in how to make a strong marriage last and they enjoyed over 50 years of happiness.

50th Anniversary Portrait by Sharon Roy Finch

Dad Rourke passed away in 2010, and Mom has resented not going with him sooner as she approaches 93 and is losing much of her independence to age and senility. Over the thirty plus years I have been married to her only son, every once in a while, I have sent her a thank you card on his birthday for giving me and the world such a gift.

This year, I sent it early. I wanted to be sure she would still be able to read it and know, perhaps for the last time, how special she is and how grateful I am to her for all she has done for us.

When we celebrate Labor Day, I know it is primarily to honor the working men and women of industry and commerce, but I submit to you that without the historic and heroic labor of women in the home, whether while giving birth or nurturing, educating, developing and loving these children as they grow, there would be no Labor Day to celebrate.

Happy Labor Day, Mom Rourke. You did a fabulous job and always made it look classy, coordinated, and effortless. As Bob Thaves so famously quipped about the great Ginger Rogers, “Backwards and in high heels,” right?

Kali´Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, volunteer, philanthropist, and a proud Seedling Mentor. She blogs at Kali’s Musings and A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome. This post originally appeared in Kali’s Musings.

August 31 – Runt of the Litter

By Sara Etgen-Baker

Eddie, Sara, Fritz Von Etgen, and Dave – The Etgen Family

“Hilda’s in labor!” yelled Mr. Davis. I leaped off the porch, ran next door, and watched Hilda strain as five milk-chocolate-colored Dachshunds slowly wriggled their way from her belly. The first was a runt who immediately captured my heart. I giggled, watching it and the other four bundles of energy squirming beneath Hilda’s tummy, all begging for lunch at the same time. But the magical moment ended when Hilda nudged her runt puppy away. The runt inched his way back, but she shoved him away, pouncing on his tiny back and breaking his tail.

“She’s hurting him!” I screeched. “Make her stop!”

Mr. Davis scooped up the injured pup and placed him in my hands. “Run, kiddo. Get a shoebox and put that pup in it!”

I darted inside, gingerly holding the wounded pup in my hands; found a shoebox; placed the runt in it, and watched it stretch its tiny body ever so slightly.

“Hilda’s mean, Mr. Davis! Why would a mama dog hurt her own puppy?”
“Kiddo, Hilda’s not mean; her instinct tells her that her puppy’s too small to survive; she loves her pup and believes killing it is the loving thing to do.” Mr. Davis patted me on the back. “Kiddo, you got a doll blanket and baby bottle back home?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Go get ‘em. We’ll save ‘dis pup.”

I dashed home and found the two items. We wrapped the runt in the blanket; placed it in the shoebox; heated some milk; added Karo syrup to it; and poured the mixture into the baby bottle. The runt sucked on it, wiggling contentedly. I caressed its tiny body with my fingers; he fell asleep; serene and out of harm’s way.

“Kiddo, many runts die ‘fore they ever open their eyes. If’n we can keep this runt alive till his eyes open, he’ll prob’ly survive. If so, you can have him.

So for fourteen days, we handfed him until his eyes opened. I named him Fritz and took him home. Slowly, the runt developed into a high-spirited, mischievous, loving Dachshund with a slightly broken tail. We were constant companions, spending time together on the back porch where he licked my face and barked at anything or anyone just to protect me. Later, Fritz became my confidant; the one with whom I shared my thoughts and fears.

Fritz was primarily an outside dog, occasionally sneaking inside the house through the open door; I chased him around the house trying to catch him. But Fritz was half-a-dog high and a dog-and-a-half long with short, stubby legs and tiny feet; often running down the hallway and sliding out of control with the back of him always going in front of him.

For twelve years Fritz graced my life protecting me, showering with doxie kisses, entertaining me with his shenanigans, and showing me how to live exuberantly. As he grew old and achy, he lived optimistically showing me how to face adversity. Mostly, though, he taught me about friendship and loyalty.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

August 20 – What Are the Bad Words, Mommy?

by Kali’ Rourke

© Can Stock Photo / photography33

Back to school – what wonderful memories!

Our older daughter was riding the school bus on a regular basis in her elementary school years and one afternoon she came home, cocked her curly blonde head to the side, and asked winsomely, “Mommy, what are all of the bad words?” 

My first thought was, “Yeah, right…like I am going to give you a punch list of profanity? I don’t think so!”

I asked her why she needed to know. She said, “Well, the boys on the bus are saying a lot of words I think are bad, but I don’t know for sure, and I don’t know what makes a bad word.”

She had an excellent point. We had not actually explained profanity or swearing to our children yet.

I explained that “No, I would not give her a list of bad words.”

She might not ever hear some of them and I might miss some she would. Instead, her Dad and I promised that if she heard a word she thought was bad, she could come to us and ask us if it was bad without getting in trouble for saying it. We would tell her if it was and why. Profanity changes over time and from culture to culture, and sometimes you just have to trust your gut or the way the person is saying it to tell you if it is inappropriate. This was very important with sexual orientation, racial, or gender slurs and she would hear many of those as she got older. I explained how hurtful they can be and that she should never use them, even if she was really mad at someone.

If your child does not come to you asking about bad words but just starts using them, address the behavior as soon as you hear it. Feel free to borrow that great line, “Profanity is what you say when you can’t think of something intelligent.”

Profanity sets up an image of your child that they may not enjoy having, even if they like the temporary shock value with their friends. It can get them in trouble at school, too. If there is someone they truly need to put in their place, there is always a better way to do it. As they grow, and particularly when they are in business situations, it is an advantage not to be in the habit of using profanity. It can slip out at the most inopportune times!

Another fond memory on this topic: Our younger daughter was having great difficulty with a boy on the bus who kept swearing and bugging her. One day she looked down her nose at him and said in a voice that rang through the entire bus,” You are just a Homo Sapien.” He was appalled and looked around at the kids who were giggling at him and yelled, “I am not, and I’m telling my mom you called me a Homo Sapien!” #vocabularywin

 Kali´Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, volunteer, philanthropist, and a proud Seedling Mentor. She blogs at Kali’s Musings and A Burning Journey – One Woman’s Experience with Burning Mouth Syndrome. A longer version of this post originally appeared in Kali’s Musings.

August 13 – Summer Punch

by Sara Etgen-Baker

The home I grew up in was a two-bedroom, one-bath cracker box house. Minus the garage, it was only about 950 square feet. Like most post-war homes, ours didn’t have any air-conditioning. During the summer, Mother opened the windows for circulation and summertime heat relief.

Most summers, our neighborhood wilted under a hard Texas sky, sweltering in temperatures that stayed fixed in the mid-to-upper nineties. The cloudless sky was painfully bright whether I looked up at the burning sun or down at its reflection on the concrete pavement. The birds were silent; the grass stood still as if it was too hot to move. Cold water ran hot from the taps, and the roads turned to tar. At night there was very little relief from the heat; our pajamas and nighties stuck clammily to our damp skin.

Most summer days, Mother sat inside in her easy chair sipping on fruit punch and dabbing at her brow with a wet hand towel she kept in the fridge for that purpose. My brothers and I escaped the oppressive heat inside the house and played outside on our shaded front porch. My brothers played war games with their green, plastic Army men; and I played jacks. One particular summer day while playing jacks, my ball bounced out of control striking down my brothers’ Army men who were in the midst of a critical battle.

“Look what you did, you stupid girl!” my older brother shouted, throwing my ball and striking me in the face.

“I’m not stupid! Take it back!” I sprang from my sitting position, knocking over all the green Army men.

“Look what you’ve done!” he yelled as he stood up and glared at me.

“I hate you!” I said, punching his shoulder.

“I hate you MORE!” he said, returning my punch. My younger brother joined in the ruckus. The three of us slapped at each other, striking one another’s arms and legs. Words were exchanged. Within a few short minutes, Mother flung open the screen door and marched onto the front porch.

“Stop it right now!” she hollered. “I’ve had enough of your bickerin’ and fightin’.” Mother raised her arms and lightly clenched her hands into fists. “On the count of three, I’ll start punching. May the best man win! Ready? One…two…three!”

She threw her fists in our direction, packing quite a punch as she struck our shoulders and arms. We froze in place, unable to defend ourselves against our otherwise mild-mannered Mother; the same mother who rarely raised her voice and who never even spanked her children. We ran off the porch, convinced Mother had gone stark-raving mad! Mother wasn’t crazy, of course. The ever-present heat inside the walls of the tiny house had closed in around her, short-wiring her temperament.

Although my home is air-conditioned and bigger than Mother’s, like her, my temperament short-wires during August as summer’s relentless heat bears down on me. Walls close in; my patience runs thin, and I’m more easily agitated. So, I pour myself a glass of summer punch; sit down in an easy chair, and wipe my brow with a cooling rag, resisting the urge to snap or pick a fight with those around me.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.