Tag Archives: Family

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.

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July 27 – My Novel and the Polish Trolls

by Fran Hawthorne

How could anyone object to my Twitter post on March 29, after my sister and I visited the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan to see an exhibit of long-hidden photos from the Lodz ghetto in Poland? I wrote:

Henryk Ross’s chilling photos from inside the Lodz ghetto in Nazi #Poland at @MJHnews: It’s like seeing what my great-grandmother saw when she was walled in there. (Oops is it now illegal in Poland to say that?)

Well, maybe the last sentence was too snarky, referring to Poland’s new law banning any reference to Polish collaboration with the Nazis — but isn’t that Twitter style? Otherwise, I saw the post as a loving tribute to my great-grandmother, who was murdered in the gas chambers, and hardly a controversial reaction, 73 years after the end of World War II. 

Boy, I didn’t know the ultra-nationalist Polish Twitter world.

Within a day, my previously invisible Twitter feed was flooded with people with Polish-sounding names furiously disputing my words, often writing in Polish. They claimed that “the genocide against the Poles [Catholics] began in 1939 but against the Jews not until 1941” and accused me of stomping on “the blood of innocent Poles.” They said that Polish Jews were Socialists in league with the Soviet Union and asserted that “the ones who betrayed Anne Frank were most likely Jewish.”

Naively, I thought: Here’s my chance to open some cross-cultural dialogue. After all, I had done months of research on Polish history and culture for my debut novel, The Heirs, which is about two Polish-American families in New Jersey in 1999, one Jewish and one Catholic.

But for each of my new posts — even when I acknowledged the factual basis of some of my critics’ arguments — came a dozen angrier replies.

Was my novel unfair? I had tried to portray the nuances of historical Jewish-Catholic relations in Poland through many characters’ lives and discussions. Two American Jewish cousins bluntly face the classic question: “If you were a nice Polish Catholic [in 1939], would you have been brave enough to hide a Jewish child in your attic?”

Was my novel inaccurate? Despite all my research, I couldn’t possibly know as many tidbits of Polish history as would someone who went through 12 years of school there.

“Don’t engage!” my friends warned me. “You’re just feeding them.”

Even worse: The next time I Tweeted about Poland — in mid-June, regarding a new law on restitution for stolen Jewish property – my Twitter feed was hacked and temporarily shut down.

That did it.

From now on, I will Tweet all I want about Poland, and as long as what I say is accurate and not nasty, I don’t care how much the trolls hate me. I just won’t read their Tweets.

But it’s upsetting and a bit scary. Who knows in what dark caves my Twitter handle is now bandied about?

Maybe my next novel will be about unicorns.

 
Until now, Fran Hawthorne spent three decades writing award-winning nonfiction, including eight books, mainly about business and consumer activism. Her book Ethical Chic was named one of the best books of 2012 by Library Journal, and she’s written for BusinessWeek, The New York Times, Newsday, and more. THE HEIRS (Stephen F. Austin University Press) is her debut novel. Read more from Fran at http://www.hawthornewriter.com/

July 16 – Do Gerbils Go to Heaven?

by Kali´Rourke 

Girl Feeding Gerbil

(c) Can Stock Photo / zsv3207

Our Pastor told a story in his recent sermon, and in it, a little boy’s hamster had died and he asked his father (a fellow Pastor) if “Timmy” had gone to heaven. The boy was told in no uncertain terms by his father that nothing that has not professed faith in Jesus Christ shall enter the gates of heaven. I am paraphrasing, but you get the gist.

We were all a bit appalled to hear that blunt and dismissive statement from a father to a grieving son, and our Pastor said that he took the little boy aside on his way out and told him that Timmy sounded like a great hamster and he was sure that he was now playing in heaven.

Sounds like a platitude, doesn’t it?

I think of it as a large part of my faith. If I choose to believe in a benevolent God that loves all of us and wants the best for us, then I also choose to believe that all creatures, (even the series of gerbils we had for our daughters since there were allergic to nearly everything else) are destined for heaven. No, I am not a theologian and would never claim to be one!

Our daughters have both grown up into animal lovers (Thank you antihistamines!) and they could not imagine a heaven where Minx, Indy, and Cloud and whatever companions they may have over the years will not come running to greet them in doggy and kitty joy someday when they are all together again.

This brings me back to gerbils and heaven.

Yes, they are shorter lived creatures than our canine and feline companions, and yes, the bond is much shallower, but each of our gerbils over the years had names, were petted and cared for and we had small funerals for our little friends when they passed from this life, wishing them well and many chew toys in their heavenly home.

Their passings were somewhat gentle introductions for our little girls to the concept of death and how we must accept and respect it because it comes to everyone in time. They were the opening to important conversations and knowledge that parents pass on to their children.

The gerbil’s names and specifics have escaped me, brushed cloudy by the passing of so many years, but today I take a moment and say a prayer for all of them, sending it along with thanks for being such wonderful little friends to two girls who grew up to be compassionate women who have room in their hearts to love and care for many.

God bless the gerbils.

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.

July 12 – Ties To The Past

by Sara Etgen-Baker

The author wears her own apron, created in 1965.

My fascination with aprons began when I cooked alongside Mother. “Put on your apron!” she insisted. I tied one of her aprons around my waist and immediately felt a connection, a type of kinship with her and other women, for there was a time, not so long ago when wearing an apron was commonplace and synonymous with femininity and domesticity. My mother and my grandmothers put on their aprons the moment they entered their kitchens and wore them throughout the day while preparing meals and tending to household chores.

Grammy’s Tulip Apron

All three women were also seamstresses often making their own aprons and expressing their personalities and individuality with them. Grandma Stainbrook made colorful, loose-fitting bib-style aprons with deep pockets. Grammy, on the other hand, created dainty, pastel-colored half aprons that complemented her outfits and accentuated her tiny waist. Mother was practical and preferred making a bib-style apron, wearing it to protect the dress underneath. She reserved her fancy half aprons accented with ribbon, lace, and appliques for holidays and entertaining.

Mother used her bib-style apron for almost everything; dusting furniture, drying my tears, picking up hot pans, and wiping the sweat from her brow. Her bottomless apron pockets were always full and housed clothespins, handkerchiefs, bandages, loose change, my jacks, and my brother’s marbles.

At 14, I enrolled in home economics class where I sewed my first garment; a half apron of my own. I bought the apron pattern for 65 cents but didn’t have enough money to purchase fabric. So, I used the remnants of mother’s kitchen curtain material; a white fabric covered in delicate yellow roses. During that first semester, I learned sewing basics; cutting out a pattern; pinning it to the fabric; cutting the fabric, and basting the garment. I learned to thread the sewing machine, maneuver the foot pedal, and guide the material under the advancing presser foot. By semester’s end, I’d sewn my apron to the waistband; attached small, rick-rack covered pockets to it; and hemmed it.

Mother’s Holiday Apron

There was something satisfying about taking a piece of fabric and turning it into a beautiful apron. I felt special, for sewing my own apron was a sort of rite of passage into womanhood; and proudly wore my apron every chance I had. In 1965 aprons were a part of being a woman and a homemaker; however, when the women’s movement took hold, aprons seemingly disappeared from favor and the feminine landscape.

But aprons remain important, for they are historical garments reflecting how women functioned in society; how culture viewed them; and how they saw themselves. I recall the apron-wearing women in my life; the stories behind their aprons gave life and meaning to the fabric itself. Their aprons are statements of what they represented to their families and serve as reminders of recipes, values, events, and traditions from gentler, less complicated times. I remain fascinated with aprons, for each one has a unique story to tell with its own ties to the past.

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.

July 3 – Full Circle

By Linda HoyeLandscape

We stand atop a small hill in the middle of a field on the Saskatchewan prairie: me, my husband, my cousin, and her husband. I met this cousin for the first time today; she and her husband have graciously taken us on a drive to see the land where our grandparents farmed. The warm wind that blows across this land uncovers truth today.

I was adopted as an infant–chosen was the word used by well-meaning folks back then. What they didn’t understand was that in order to be chosen, an infant first had to be unchosen; rejected. That’s a burden I’ve carried for almost sixty years and one that still gets in the way from time to time.

The parents who conceived me are long gone from this earth, and my Mennonite grandparents who farmed this land probably never knew I existed. Nevertheless, I feel as if I have come home here.

All around, in every direction for as far as I can see, there is green. It is the most beautiful place I can imagine. Lentils grow here now; a modern-day crop on land that once provided a living for my family.

This is the place where my birth mom was born and grew up. It was passed down to their oldest son, and he raised my recently-connected-with cousins here. A slight indentation in the earth is the only indication that a house stood here at one time, and a grove of trees left standing nearby is the melancholy beacon of all that once was.

To the untrained eye it’s just endless green prairie, to me it’s a mending of a mother-daughter connection that was severed when I was relinquished to adoption. A number of years ago I stood at the gravesite where my birth mother was buried, now I’m here on the land where she was born.

I stand firm in this place; I feel roots take hold. I read once that we carry place in our DNA; if that’s true there is certainly something of this place in me. I have no trouble believing it.

We wander back across the field to the car and, Mennonite style, (men in front and women in back) get in. Conversation with my cousin flows easily and gently. I continue to get to know her and come to understand something more about this family; my family. Stories I’ve heard snippets of, and things I’ve imagined, become real.

We dive a short way along gravel prairie roads, turning left, then right, passing the site of the old school where only a tall wooden swing set remains, and arrive at the Mennonite Brethren church. A little farther down the road, we stop at a little cemetery and there we find the graves of our grandparents. I take photographs of the worn stones and then we head back toward town.

It is about as close to a perfect day as I can imagine.

Linda Hoye is on the other side of a twenty-five-year corporate career. A writer, photographer, gardener, and somewhat-fanatical grandma, she lives in Kamloops, British Columbia with her husband and their doted-upon Yorkshire Terrier. Find her online, where she posts a few words and a photograph early every morning, at http://www.lindahoye.com.

June 12 – Talking Through the Night

By Debra Dolan

A soft beautiful breeze washed over me for eleven hours this week as I was visited by a beloved niece I had not seen in eight years. It was a last-minute sojourn as she made a stopover on the west coast en route to summer employment in Japan. Instantaneous, unconditional big-big love for this precious sweet human being so full of joy, contradiction, and sorrow. Tears and extended arms of happiness as we greeted one another. Such a special night sharing life’s present-day events; first, in the local neighbourhood pub as she nourished her body and, later, in the quiet intimacy of my home as we fed our souls, surrounded by flowers, books, and candles, sleepy by the late hour.

Our journeys since 2010 have had parallels and divergence; not surprising given the nearly 40 years apart in age. Lina was conceived while I traveled in my brother’s new homeland attending the Nagano Olympics and I last saw her when the Nishibori-Dolans were in town for the Vancouver Olympics. Now she attends university in eastern Canada with the same confidence and vitality I have always observed while I, after decades of employment and intense social interaction, feel displaced and exhausted coping with a prolonged head injury.

Spending time together was an enormous gift. Sharing our personal bliss and challenges was the best restorative antidote for the myriad of topics exposing raw emotions with a thunderous force. It was unbelievably refreshing and energizing to be in the company of someone bursting into adulthood so full of exuberance for the future while struggling to shed childhood angst, uncertainty, and unhappiness. A great honour was bestowed on this dear-old-aunt when she revealed the truth of her recent experiences with openness, insight and a longing to understand.  She exhibited a strength of character, complete with integrity and forthrightness, which is rare at any age. I am immensely proud of the woman she is becoming and I am enormously grateful I was in a position to offer her refuge, comfort, and a listening presence.

It was one of those treasured spontaneous opportunities to ‘pay forward’ the kindness, solace and care that so many have gifted yours truly. I eagerly await her return visit in August.

Debra Dolan lives on the west coast of Canada, is a long time (45+ years) private journal writer, and an avid reader of women’s memoir. She has been a member of Story Circle Network since 2009.

May 31 – Fiction vs. Memoir: Finally I Made The Choice

by Len Leatherwood

canstockphoto16227556-danr13 (c) Can Stock Photo / danr13

 

After a huge cry this morning, I feel better.

I have spent the past five days immersed in one of the toughest/saddest times of my life – moving to LA in 1994 to be near my brother who was about to go into active AIDS just at the point when the life-saving protease inhibitors were first introduced. (My oldest brother had died of AIDS just 3 years before.) My husband, three kids and I came after my brother offered me a job in his laser surgery center so that I could run his business when he and his partner got sick and we could be near him as he died. If that weren’t bad enough, he also had a “loving” boyfriend who had targeted him for his money. I wish I could say it all went smoothly. It didn’t. The result was an emotion-ridden roller coaster ride that forced me to grow up and understand that tough love is sometimes the only love that makes sense.

Robert had the opportunity to choose life over death with the help of those coveted protease inhibitors. In truth, Robert chose death. In the book, I had him do one thing differently, which helped him to see why and how he could choose life. In both real life and fiction, my brother and I made peace with each other and were deeply bonded as a result of this experience.

I went with fiction for lots of reasons, primary among them being that the predatory boyfriend is still alive and would sue me in a second. However, I also wanted the freedom of fiction and to have the chance to “re-imagine” what life could have been if my brother had made a different choice. Plus, John Rechy, my writing mentor, with whom I workshopped this book for five years in a Masterclass, is well-known for calling all of his books fiction even when some mirror his life fairly closely, and he strongly encouraged me to go this route.

I read through every volume that I have produced over these past 18 years of trying to wrestle with this subject – five major drafts most of which were memoirs – and finally concluded that my decision to factionalize this book was indeed the right choice for me.

Alas, I worked 18 hours a day on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday and then stayed up almost 24 hours on Tuesday so I could finish the editing.

Is it perfect? No. I woke up in the middle of the night and realized I’d forgotten a scene that must be included. I also have a few scribbled notes regarding details I need to make sure are right. In addition, the pacing might have a bump or two and the ending might need one more run through. However, am I finally going to be able to put this baby to bed so I can move on? I believe so.

I am tired, but also happy and relieved. Hooray.

Len Leatherwood: Program Coordinator for SCN’s Online Classes, has been teaching writing privately to students in Beverly Hills for the past 17 years. She has received numerous state and national teaching awards from the Scholastic Artists and Writers Contest. She is a daily blogger at 20 Minutes a Day, as well as a published writer of ‘flash’ fiction/memoir.