Tag Archives: Women’s Stories

April 22 – The Beautiful Lady of Paris

by Sara Etgen-Baker

I spent the better part of the summer of 1970 traveling about Great Britain and Europe exploring many of the old world cathedrals and castles, and poking around historical museums. One hot June afternoon, I stood on Ile de la Cite, a small island in the middle of the Seine River, awestruck as I stared up at the towers and spire of the Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral. She was covered with sculptures vividly illustrating Biblical stories such as the Last Judgment. Even her rose windows and stained glass panes depicted Biblical subjects such as a triumphant Christ seated in the sky surrounded by his Apostles, Adam and Eve, the Resurrection of Christ, and Mary Magdalene.

Like other Gothic churches I’d seen, she was decorated with sculptures of frightening monsters including a gargoyle, a Chimera, and a Strix.

These sculptures were part of the visual message for the illiterate worshippers, symbols of the evil and danger that threatened those who didn’t follow the church’s teachings.

Beyond its religious significance, Notre Dame was a part of France’s history and the site of many French coronations including Napoleon Bonaparte. I couldn’t help but respect her, the imposing edifice who’d withstood the ravages of time, neglect, and war who towered above me, guarding Paris and perhaps the world from evil and providing hope for all Parisians and Catholics worldwide.But when I watched the news footage of the fire burning at Notre Dame, I felt powerless and helpless, as if hope itself was gone. I watched flames consume the venerable and noble Lady of Paris and in some ways, I felt as if I, too, was burning. How, I asked myself, could something that had stood the ravages of time suddenly fall victim to such a destructive force? Although I’m neither a Parisian nor a Catholic, an inexplicable sadness washed over me. Why is the burning of a cathedral thousands of miles away from me saddening me so? Was it the disbelief and helplessness I felt in seeing something so historical and beautiful destroyed? Certainly. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something more to the sadness I was experiencing and there was a lesson I needed to learn. But what?

In the aftermath of the Notre Dame fire, I was struck with something much deeper; the notion of impermanence. I had to face the fact that nothing, save one’s spirit, is permanent; not the structures we construct, the religious teachings we create, the history we build, none of it. Therein lies the truth that the mythical Phoenix learned. Our spirit as individuals and people survive the fire. Perhaps that is the lesson the Beautiful Lady of Paris intended for us. It is definitely one I needed to learn.

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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April 8 – The Old Growth Forest

by Sara Etgen-BakerI often sat next to Father on an old tree stump surrounded by ancient trees listening to him tell fairy tales about trees; tales of trees with human faces, tales of trees that talked, and tales of trees that sometimes walked. The old growth forest surrounded us, alive with hidden secrets. The trees rose upward forever, and the canopy above us was distant, like clouds of green. With my arms outstretched, I knew I’d never be able to reach even a fraction of the way around the trees’ gnarly bark trunks.

I often return to the old growth forest; it is the place where I go for rest and for serenity that flows like cool river waters. The path snakes around the ancient trees; and I step carefully over the roots that knot the pathway, watching the freshly fallen rain seep into the soil, struck by a wish to melt in with it; not to die but to live forever amongst these ancient beings who cast the shadow in which I stand.

The old growth forest doesn’t care for seconds or minutes, even hours are inconsequential. The smallest measure of time here is the cycle of daylight and darkness. The forest is more in tune with the seasons; rebirth brought by the warmth of spring; darkened foliage from summer’s warm kiss; tumbling leaves foretelling fall’s arrival, and then the keen bite of winter.

Here in the old growth forest so little can happen in the time it took me to change from a child into a woman. Perhaps that’s why I love being here. It stabilizes the rapidity of my thoughts and grounds me in a place where the ticking of clocks is disregarded. There is a sacredness here that transcends my everyday concerns, casting them into the timelessness of the forest. Under these boughs, I feel the breath of the Universe and hear the beauty of Its creations.

I’ve trodden along these forest paths so often that my soles are worn thin. But I don’t tire of this old growth forest, for I’m always at home here.

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.

April 1 – Awe, Color, and Magic

by Sara Etgen-BakerMy first television set was a 21-inch black and white Philco console television that Santa delivered on Christmas day, 1956. It carried only four black and white channels; ABC, NBC, CBS, and local KERA. Well, five channels if you counted the test pattern.

Unlike today, the broadcast day had a beginning and an end. It started at about 6 a.m. with the national anthem followed with a “daily devotional” then “The Today Show.” Midday consisted of game shows and soap operas. Kiddie shows filled late afternoons and Saturday mornings. Network news came on at 6 p.m. Then came prime time programming. At 10 p.m. local newscasts aired followed by “The Tonight Show.” Then the broadcast day ended with an announcer bidding us “good night.” “The Star-Spangled Banner” played; then there was static until the test pattern appeared on our screens about 6 a.m.

The television signal itself was delivered to the television through a flat, two-pronged brown wire that was connected to screws at the back of the set and then strung through a small hole cut in the window frame to a large multi-pronged aluminum antenna that was mounted on the rooftop. Theoretically, once the antenna was in place, it didn’t have to be moved again. But that wasn’t always the case! Ofttimes Father climbed onto the rooftop and turned the antenna until the picture improved.

I certainly didn’t understand how that archaic brown wire and antenna worked, but watching television was nothing short of a miracle for me and for those of us who, prior to television’s popularity, only used radio and records for entertainment. You might think that life with a mere 21-inch black and white TV and only four channels would be bland and colorless, but I remember it as being colorful and magical. Whenever I turned the television dial, I stared at the screen in awe wondering, Who might appear on the screen? Where would I go? What mystery might I solve?

Television has come a long way since its infancy. Today, broadcasting is continuous, running non-stop with over 200+ channels and an endless stream of programs and choices. Television sets themselves have progressed from black and white to color. Yet my life seems to have digressed from color to black and white, having lost my faculty for awe, mystery, and color. Why? Perhaps, I’m so mesmerized by the technology that sits in my living room and addicted to the programming choices offered me, that I’ve been anesthetized.

One day I stopped mindlessly flipping through the channels, choosing instead to walk through a nearby woods. I meandered along the path, stepping carefully over tree roots that knotted the pathway. I lifted my head, letting the warm, amber rays of sunlight dance across my face.  I saw small patches of clear blue sky peering through the weathered trees that rose out of the earth. I picked a red berry from a bush and popped it in my mouth, tasting its sweet and tangy taste. Awe, color, and magic re-discovered!

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.

March 10 – Truth Be Told

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Barbie Doll

I frequently watched Mickey Mouse Club and imagined dancing on stage alongside Annette Funicello and growing up to become a beautiful star like her – that was until I saw my first Barbie commercial. From that moment on, Barbie became the girl whom I wanted to emulate. She had it all; a shapely figure, beautiful clothes, independence, AND a Dream House.

“Barbie, beautiful Barbie,” I sang along during the commercial, “…
Someday I’m gonna be exactly like you.”

I became consumed with having my own Barbie and her Dream House, often pleading my case with Mother.  “Mom, Barbie’s amazing! She’s beautiful, independent, and even has her own house. May I have her, please?”

“No!” Mother said firmly. “Barbie’s too expensive. ”

“But, Mom…”

“No buts! There’ll be no more discussion.”Barbie Dream House

Pressing the issue any further with Mother was futile; yet, I couldn’t get Barbie out of my head! My best course of action was saving my allowance to buy Barbie. Barbie was expensive, though. She cost $5, and her Dream House cost an additional $8; a lot of money for a girl who received only a nickel allowance each week. Saving my meager allowance took too long, and I grew impatient. What would Barbie do? I asked myself. She’d raise some money, of course! I set out to raise the $13 I needed to buy Barbie and her dream house.

The only skill I had was ironing clothes. So, I ironed clothes for the neighborhood women, ironing their blouses for a nickel; pants for a dime; and dresses for a quarter. I liked ironing clothes in their living rooms and watching Soaps with them, but the novelty of my entrepreneurial enterprise quickly wore off. Ironing clothes became a painstaking way of earning cash.

One day a neighbor lady handed me a dime, “Love, go buy me a soda. And here are two empty bottles to return. You may keep the 4 cents you get for them.”  I scurried down the street, ecstatic in discovering an additional source of income. I scrounged the neighborhood for empty pop bottles and redeemed them for cash, getting 2 cents for each 6.5-ounce soda bottle and 5 cents for each empty quart bottle. Weekdays I earned roughly 50 cents in returned bottles.

Piggy BankWeekends were more fruitful, and I typically netted $1-$2 by collecting and redeeming pop bottles tossed onto the ground at the nearby park. I deposited those coins into my piggy bank along with my ironing money. When I had $13, I purchased Barbie and her Dream House and took them home

Truth be told I didn’t enjoy playing with Barbie and her Dream House as much as I’d imagined. I actually got more pleasure from ironing clothes; collecting and redeeming pop bottles and saving money. Still, Barbie influenced me. She was my 12-inch life coach who unwittingly taught me to embrace my desires; to set a goal based on those desires; to work towards accomplishing that goal, and to relish achieving it.

Author Age 10

The Author at Age 10

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.

February 11 – Growing Pains of Grandparenthood

by Ariela Zucker

My daughter asks if my husband and I can babysit for her for a few hours while she and her husband participate in a class for parents who have behavioral issues with their toddlers.

In the past I would say;

“Why do you need a class, an outsider, to give you a piece of advice when here, in front of you stand two people who raised you and your three sisters with decent results.”

In the past, I would offer my opinion.  As a savvy educator, and a parent I would give a detailed lecture on what will work and what will not; accompanied by true-life examples;

“Remember how your youngest sister used to cry all the time?”

“And how your older sister never went to bed without resisting it for hours?”

“And how your gramma, my mother, got me to stay in bed on Saturday mornings by leaving sweet surprises?” this one she remembers but nods her head in disagreement.

Wiser with the years I know better. I just smile and say, “Sure, no problem, whatever you need.”

From the corner of my eye, I can see how my husband looks at me and winks. We finally got it, he says without words. If we want to stay part of our grandchildren lives it will not be in the role of a sage, but that of the sitter.

The readers may raise an eyebrow with surprise or perhaps disagreement. Grandparenthood so I learned on the know-it-all net is nothing but a bundle of joy. It is life fulfilling, it’s a unique, sweet connection, it is everything we were not as parents. In other words, it is a second chance to do it ‘right,’ now that we are older and wiser and have a lot of free time.

When I reflect on my frequent conversations with my friends most of whom grandparents themselves, I realize that here again, I am witnessing a marketing ploy of a product that is not real, a bit like the golden haze around the final stage of life – the golden years of our retirement.

I have no qualms about my years as a full-time parent. In fact, I am still a parent only now my children are adults who are themselves, parents. They matured into ‘know it all’ contemporary, Facebook-style parents. This change makes me almost overnight – a relic.

It took me some time to understand that what I once considered true and trusted ways of parenthood are looked upon as old and useless, even though the proof of their success is standing right in front of me holding their own children.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

February 7 – It Was a Beautiful Sight

by Susan W. Leicher

For a long time, when things were going really badly with my oldest daughter–when her mental illness threatened to rip our whole family apart; my chief therapy was going to the YMCA. Sometimes I swam and sometimes I did yoga. When I swam, I swam competitively and aggressively; my bullet-like passage through the water helping to drain away the sorrow and fury. When I did yoga, I chose the toughest class and the most demanding teacher; drawing strength from the act of pushing myself to my limit within exorbitantly difficult poses.

After some time, my daughter began improving and I stopped craving the cleansing power of physical challenge. The yoga teacher left for a different venue and I ratcheted down my practice. And when I swam, I spent a lot of time just floating around in the water.

And then one day as I entered the gentle yoga class, I saw that my former teacher had returned as a “sub.” I almost walked out, but figured: “Oh well, maybe I can still manage this.”

I couldn’t. The very sound of her voice hurled me backward into a visceral memory of that terrible time. After a few minutes, I actually began to shake. I felt helpless, enraged, lost. I rushed out of the class and headed to the locker room to change for the pool, thinking to lose myself in the peace of a few calming laps.

When I arrived, there were only a few people in the water: some older women and one older man “Fred” who flirted shamelessly with me whenever we found ourselves swimming at the same time. I unwrapped myself from my towel, went to hang it up and was heading toward the pool edge when the lifeguard stopped me: “Lady, what on earth are you doing?”

I looked down. In the throes of my remembered grief and fear, I’d managed to put on my goggles and cap but forgotten to put on my bathing suit!

Help! What to do? I could go straight home and never show my face (or anything else) at the pool again or I could go back upstairs, don my suit and swim out to my friends.

I chose the latter course.

“Good heavens, Susan,” said one of the ladies as I reached her side. “I thought you were one of those scandalous French girls!”

“My dear,” said Fred. “I don’t know what to say. Except that it was a beautiful sight.”

I burst out laughing, did my laps, and moved on. We heal.

Susan W. Leicher grew up in the Bronx in a bi-cultural (Latina and Jewish) home. She moved to Manhattan after finishing graduate school with a Masters’ degree in Public Policy and raised her family on the Upper West Side, where she still lives with her husband and two black cats. For the past forty years, she has devoted herself to conducting research and producing policy reports and marketing materials for non-profits, federations, government agencies, and foundations. She has just published her first novel, Acts of Assumption. Susan blogs at https://swleicher.com.

February 1 – Me and My Shadow

by Sara Etgen-Baker

It was just before dawn as I ran along the wooded trails adjacent to my home. I was making slow and painful headway against a stiff winter wind when dense fog settled all around me. Suddenly, I felt as if something was coming up behind me. My heartbeat quickened as did my pace. Who or what was following me in the silent darkness?

Was it a small animal searching for food? Was it another lone runner seeking refuge and contemplation in the predawn stillness? I turned around and looked behind me and thought I saw the black, shadowy figure of a woman following me. She trailed me, hushed as the night, dancing between the trees as the sunlight flickered. So I moved aside to avoid her presence, but I couldn’t escape her. She was the immaculate outline of my shape, an echo of my movements, and my lifetime companion. She was my shadow swirling in the mists, brought into being by the little flashlight I carried with me.

But she’s more than my silhouette that disappears at night. She’s also my shadowy little self who, day in and day out, dogs me at every step adding her loud voice to every thought I think, every word I say, and every word I write. She cares too much about what others think of her. She’s an intolerant perfectionist; prideful, strong-willed, and compulsive often holding me captive to my own fears, doubts, anger, and worries. She’s also weak and, therefore, feels she must control a situation or others. She shields herself from vulnerability, infiltrates my relationships, and occasionally keeps me awake at night. She sometimes ignores the truth and lives in denial. She overshadows my spiriting and obscures my creativity. Unlike my daytime shadowy silhouette, she lives in darkness knowing that the light I carry in my heart steals her very life. She is my ego.

Although the light I’m carrying with me is small in comparison to the darkness surrounding me, I turn and confront her. “Not everything is about you,” I say.

“Possibly,” she replies, “but you do have to admit that the majority of things are.”

“From your perspective, yes. But you’re an ugly part of me and a burden; I’ve tolerated you way too long. I need to let you go and contemplate the deeper significance of life.”

“You disappointment me,” she says. “Enlightenment and transformation are highly overrated. You need me. Just you wait and see. You’ll come crawling back to me.”

“No! You’re wrong! I won’t need you. Just YOU  wait and see!”

Pshah! was her response as she disappeared in the early morning sunlight.

I was transformed that morning, my ego shattered. Over time, many of the things that concerned me diminished. Many of the superficial, material things that mattered to me before, suddenly ceased to matter as much. I came into being that morning no longer caring what my ego or the world thought of 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.