Tag Archives: Women’s Stories

June 1 – Twiggy’s Eye

by Sara Etgen-Baker

In 1968, go-go boots, mini-skirts, and the mod Twiggy look were in style. Like most teenage girls of that time, I wanted to be fashionable, but I knew Mother would never agree to my wearing flashy go-go boots or bearing my knees in some mini-skirt. My best option was convincing her to allow me to wear makeup and have the much sought after “Twiggy Eyes.”

I begged and pleaded with my mother to allow me to wear makeup, but she firmly believed that no 16-year-old girl should wear makeup. Her response always was, “No, ma’am! Only ‘ladies of the night’ wear makeup.” My solution: Not eat lunch at school and save my lunch money until I had enough money to purchase makeup at the corner drugstore.

And so I did. Every day for a month, I stashed my lunch money inside a secret compartment inside my purse. For 30 days, I suffered from hunger pains in the afternoon and even lost weight with Mother never questioning either my hunger or my sudden weight loss. No matter. I was willing to suffer to have my own makeup. Finally, I’d saved enough money, and one day stopped at the corner drugstore on the way home from school and purchased the makeup, hiding it in the deep crevices of my purse.

When I arrived at school each morning, I went in the restroom and put on my makeup achieving the Twiggy Eyes I yearned for. Before going home each afternoon, I went into the school restroom and with a swipe or two of makeup remover, my Twiggy Eyes vanished, and Mother was none the wiser.

My plan worked beautifully until the day I fell in gym class and broke my ankle. Mother was called to pick me up from school. When she arrived she found me lying on a stretcher on the gym floor with my left ankle twisted to one side, broken in several places. She looked at my ankle and then turned sharply, staring at my face. “What’s that on your face?” she questioned with irritation and disappointment in her voice, and I knew I’d betrayed her trust.

We drove in silence to the doctor’s office where he set my broken ankle in a plaster cast. Once at home, I was told to hand over my makeup, and I watched teary-eyed as she tossed it in the trash.

“Never try such stunt like that with me ever again. You hear me?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I never again tried such a mistrustful stunt with my mother. Just for the record, Mother grounded me for three months.

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.

May 25 – The Darning Egg

by Linda C. Wisniewski

On a cold spring morning, not too long ago, I dug an old pair of socks from the back of my drawer, admiring the purple, black and olive-green stripes I had knitted. Though oversized and lumpy at the heel, they felt warm and cozy as I put them on. Later in the day, I noticed holes in the toes and went upstairs to toss the socks onto the floor of my closet.

Later that week, with time on my hands and a need to feel productive, I sat on the bed, socks in hand, debating my choices. My husband watched, amused.

How long have you had them? Throw them away.

But how could I toss them aside, after struggling so hard in sock-knitting class, wielding four double-pointed needles in my two hands until I finally finished these trophies?

My mother taught me to knit, but never socks. She did not have the patience. She was always in motion: cleaning, cooking, sewing. Sometimes she’d sit down to read a McCall’s or Good Housekeeping magazine. I see myself in her, or is it her in me? Reading, knitting, and sewing can easily become just one more thing to accomplish.

I can do this, I thought, holding my holey socks in my hands, I can do this one little thing. I can mend the socks. I turned the first one inside out, tucked my fist into the toe, and remembered I still have my mother’s wooden darning egg. I took it down from a shelf and turned my sock over it. With quick small stitches, the way she taught me, I closed the hole, ending with a knot, a snip of the thread – and a deep connection to another time.

How is it that such a small, unnecessary task satisfies my soul? I wonder what else I can mend.

Linda C. Wisniewski writes about life and the connections we make by giving each other the space and time to be heard. Former feature writer and columnist for the Bucks County Herald and the Bucks County Womens Journal, Teacher of memoir workshops at the historic Pearl Buck House in Dublin, PA.  Linda is also the author of the memoir, Off Kilter: A Woman’s Journey to Peace With Scoliosis, Her Mother and Her Polish Heritage, published by Pearlsong Press. This post originally appeared in her blog, https://lindawis.com/.

May 18 – Where Beauty Lies

by Ariela Zucker

Flower Montage

We got to Portland in the middle of March. My first impression of Maine was “gray.” The sky was the color of ash. The snow, still on the ground, was a mixture of mud and slush. Only a few people walked the streets wrapped in their winter coats, and their heads bent to the ground to watch for hidden obstacles.

When the wind blew, it brought a faint scent of salt from the ocean but mostly a bone penetrating chill. And then when the snow finally melted by mid-April, the rain began. Cold drops that turned everything into mud. Mud season the locals kept joking was the fifth season in Maine. Following a never-ending winter, quick and chilly spring, short summer, and a promise of glorious autumn, that more often than not failed to deliver.

After two years in Idaho, I missed the mountains’ deep greens and the lake in front of our rented home. Idaho supplied dramatic scenery, Maine, in comparison, was almost flat. Under the gray skies, the colors appeared muted, and the residents unfriendly and brusque. People kept telling us that in time Maine will grow on us (like a fungus my husband used to joke).

In time we will discover the colors, the subtle beauty, the picturesque corners that gave Maine its reputation. Seventeen years later, I can assure you that it is all true. Maine grows on you. There are those breath-taking spots, like the brochures promise. Where the ocean meets the craggy, rocky shore, and picturesque lighthouses send their haunting lament over the waves to warn the sailors. In the summer, the ocean is so blue one cannot tell where the water ends, and the sky begins. Spring is an extravaganza show of greens and the fall blaze in reds and oranges. Trickling StreamOver time I fell in love with the subtle tones of Maine’s beauty, those I did not appreciate in the beginning. The winding country roads that go on forever, passing through small villages with only one main street. The surprise that never fades of seeing the ocean peeks behind a curve of the road. Small streams and uncountable lakes, that the locals call ponds. Old farmhouses with falling apart barns and the promise of ghosts that hide in the frequent fogs. The flat blueberry barrens covered with wandering rocks that make them appear like the face of the moon.

Now I know that the real Maine is in the small details, those that do not draw attention to themselves and are only clear to those who know how to observe.

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. Ariela blogs regularly at Paper Dragon.

April 27 – 20 Minute Gardening

by Letty Watt

Our weeds are flourishing in the garden. My eyes see the beauty of the Pansies, and then I grimace when I see the purple Henbit blowing in the breeze. Henbit first became my nemesis when we lived in Kansas, and our garden under the mailbox turned purple every year.

The mailman once explained to me that the pioneers enjoyed the Henbit for its food and beauty. I replied that I really did not plan to eat it any time soon. Shortly after that discussion Jack and I were driving down country roads on a warm spring day gazing at the shades of green growing crops when suddenly a massive field a purple exploded on the horizon. My jaw dropped in awe. Imagine the wagons of pioneers toping these purple hills of central Kansas in the spring.

However, I digress. I know that I tend to overdue projects and end up straining my back and hamstrings. I hit upon the idea of twenty-minute weed pulling this spring.

First, I assemble the supplies: a plastic table cloth for throwing weeds onto; gloves to protect my tender hands (from washing and cleaning the house with Clorox and water); digging tools; knee pad; plus set a timer on the phone for twenty minutes. In the beginning, I returned all items used to their place in the garage when I finished, but now I have found it saves time to keep them together in a bucket or wrapped in the cloth. Most importantly for me is to select a small area where I can make a difference visually, tending to the hidden weeds last.

Start the timer and dig away. Twenty minutes did not take me to the end of the entrance of our walkway, but I stayed with the timer and felt no pain afterward. The next patch can be weeded later in the day or another time.

In the next project, I discovered a most valuable lesson. Since I am not able to attend the Yoga and Tai Chi classes during this Covid-19 stay home stay safe time, I realized that I need to stretch every chance I get.

With the next twenty-minute gardening project I added several opportunities for stretching during the dig, and then plenty afterward. For a healthy back, allow at least ten minutes for back health when the twenty-minute timer rings.

The most relaxing stretch for me when I am on my hands and knees is to practice cat/cow, a yoga move. When I stand to move to another location I now bend at the hips to touch my toes and pretend that my back-end is up against a wall. It is a great stretch for the hamstrings which typically do not like to pull weeds.

Just imagine getting fit and healthy while weeding the garden, and staying home, healthy, and safe. The blooming flowers will thank you and so will your back.

Writing soothes Letty Watt’s soul and clears her mind. She began writing a weekly blog over five years ago, with the purpose of building a repertoire of stories for telling aloud, but things changed. Now she writes because stories hidden in the recesses of her mind are begging to get out into the world. Check out her blog, Literally Letty, at https://literallyletty.blogspot.com.

April 13 – The Things We Choose to Show

by Ariela Zucker

The other day as I watched one of my favorite TV shows; “Dr. Phil,” I realized another face of our new reality. Lately, a lot of my favorite TV shows moved to the hosts’ kitchens or living rooms. So, I get an inside look at the way their homes look, something I never thought will ever happen.

I looked with great interest at Dr. Phil’s and his wife’s Robin’s kitchen and completely forgot to listen to what they had to say. I tried to peek behind their shoulders. To find out what their fridge looks like, are there magnets strewn all over like they are on mine? Any unique decorations on the walls? What type of oven Robin is using?

They do a lot of cooking together. Robin revealed as a secret recipe for staying sane while spending whole days with your spouse. But I was busy eyeing the island in their kitchen and the knife she used to cut the vegetables.
I noticed another thing as I was peeping into several TV hosts’ private living environments. None of them appeared seamlessly put-together as they usually do when I see them on TV.

Hairdo and makeup seemed as if they were a home job done rather quickly. I watched Sharon Osbourne (The Talk), one of my favorite hosts on the show. Her body language transmitted unease, and the walls behind her were empty. She always appeared to me as if she is participating in the program because someone made her do it. Her body language in the small window of the ZOOM screen was clear proof.

Yes, I might be shallow, investing time in other people’s kitchens and makeup. You might also raise an eyebrow at my choice of TV shows.

But as a result of seeing all these TV stars in their natural environment, I became more sensitive to mine.

I volunteered to give a ZOOM class next month, and now I begin to worry about the message I want to send while strangers are watching me, and especially the walls or furniture behind me.

Should it be in the kitchen? Or this is too personal. A blank wall? What will people think of my decorating abilities? The slightly chewed couch in the living room? The dog ate my furniture is a bit of an overused cliché.

In the end, it is the bookshelves in the corner of the living room. Books and assorted photographs and memorabilia seem to photograph well. When I grew up, everyone that I knew had bookshelves in their living-room, even if there was nothing else there. Many of the books were never read, but they were a declaration of sorts. We are book-loving people. I wish that I kept a photo of my parents’ bookshelves, but the next best thing I can offer is mine.

Drastic times call for drastic measures, I quickly arranged the shelves (even dusted) I believe my solution is viable.

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. Ariela blogs regularly at Paper Dragon.

April 6 – Their Peculiar Ways

by Sara Etgen-Baker

“Wash your hands, little lady!”

“I already washed them a little while ago. Why should I wash them again?”

“You’ve touched countless things since then; your hands are dirty.”

“But Grammy,” I turned my hands over, closely examining them. “They don’t look dirty!”

“Yes, they are! The kind of dirt I’m talking about is invisible; it rides on your hands and can make you sick.  It can only be removed with soap and water. So go wash your hands!”

Invisible dirt riding on my hands?  I hadn’t heard of such a thing and didn’t understand why I washed my hands more at Grammy’s house than I did at home.  Maybe she has more invisible dirt at her house, I reasoned.  Grammy had many other peculiar ways so I chalked up her handwashing practice as another one of them.

Before disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer were available, Grammy took sheets of paper towel and a small can of disinfecting spray with her, stuffing it inside her rather commodious purse. While out and about, she used her spray, liberally coating the surface of restaurant tables, public phones, restroom doorknobs, then vigorously rubbing the area until the coating disappeared. I never questioned her ritual but found it odd and even a little embarrassing.

Even my mother had her own baffling ways. She didn’t use her dishwasher because it cost too much to run. She never threw away any empty plastic butter tubs.  Instead, she washed them and stored them in a cabinet for putting leftovers in. Eventually, the cabinet became so full that when the cabinet door was opened, the tubs tumbled out onto the floor.

Bar soap was cheaper than body wash or liquid hand soap and was, therefore, Mother’s preferred choice for washing one’s hands and body. Anyone who’s ever used bar soap knows that the bar gets smaller and smaller with each use.  Eventually, all that remains is a balled-up, dirty, disfigured, and insignificant piece of soap that’s annoyingly impossible to use. Mother habitually gathered up all these mutant miniature soaps and placed them in—you guessed it—the empty butter tubs.  Once she’d collected enough tiny soap pieces, she chopped them up; placed them in a Styrofoam cup; filled it with water; and cooked it in the microwave for 30 seconds. After drying for a few days, wah-la! A new bar of soap.

So what’s the point of rambling on about these women’s peculiar ways? Grammy was 18 when the 1918 flu pandemic began and lost a cousin to the virus making her highly sensitized to the presence of unseen germs. Mother grew up during the Great Depression and, out of necessity, learned to live prudently and waste nothing.

When the COVID19 pandemic struck, I suddenly had a new appreciation for what I thought were Grammy’s over-the-top sanitizing habits.  When store shelves emptied in the wake of the pandemic, I found myself understanding Mother’s fear of not having and respected her frugality.

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 30 – Corona Virus Chronicle

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Almost three weeks have passed since we first saw evidence of the coronavirus—people frantically hoarding toilet paper, paper towels, disinfectants, rubbing alcohol, and hand sanitizer. The next week, we watched shelves being emptied of food essentials such as eggs, bread, cereal, crackers, cheese, peanut butter, meat, bottled water, juice, etc.

“What’s happening?!*” Bill and I commented to one another. Had we miscalculated the seriousness of the pandemic? Or were people just over-reacting? I hate to admit it, but we succumbed to the fear and chaos; quickly grabbed a shopping cart, and purchased some of our frequently-used items and even some random items believing that things were direr than we realized. We wanted to be prepared.

That day even before mandates to self-isolate, Bill and I isolated ourselves in our home shielding ourselves from exposure to the coronavirus. To stop the virus’ spread, schools, businesses, restaurants, malls, and non-essential businesses soon closed. Everyone suddenly found themselves shuttered inside their homes facing a string of rainy, sunless, dreary days and negative news. The pandemic was real after all, and we hunkered down seeking solace inside our home.

The past ten days have been challenging ones for Bill and me as we came to grips with the ever-changing new pandemic reality—a reality riddled with more questions than answers. Although we’re retired and don’t get out much, we suddenly missed the freedom of being able to go wherever we wanted when we wanted. We missed dining out and the social contact we had at our favorite restaurants. During my morning walk through our neighborhood, I saw only an occasional car but nary a person was out and about. How surreal and life-altering it all was.

But today shortly before noon, the rain stopped, and the dreary, gray skies that had enveloped our neighborhood slowly lifted. I opened the garage door; stepped onto our driveway; and glanced upwards to the sky. Pristine white clouds drifted by. The concrete was warm under my feet, and I was glad to be free of my fear and the confines of being inside. I removed my shoes and sat cross-legged on the lawn running my hands over the soft green grass relishing the new growth. I closed my eyes; the warm sun on my face felt like the kiss of summer without the fiery heat of noontime in August.

I opened my eyes and watched as neighbors opened their doors and windows bringing the clean air into their homes. One by one, my neighbors emerged from their houses making their way to the end of their driveways. We all stood at the edge of our driveways many feet apart and had conversations, offered emotional support, and shared laughs. This sort of chit chat connected us to one another. And there in the midst of a pandemic, a feeling of hope swaddled our neighborhood.

CORONA VIRUS LESSON LEARNED:  There’s great power in fresh air, sunshine, and camaraderie.  And I’ll never again take those things for granted.

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 23 – Rainy Day

by Ariela Zucker

It has been a week. I can’t believe how slow the time goes when one is stuck at home and does pretty much nothing. My birthday came and went, and due to the new circumstances, we couldn’t get together as we do every year. Now by the end of the week, the rain comes, and I cannot steal the few moments of sunshine sitting on the deck, as I did all week. The dog is gloomy too, and in his favorite retreat, his crate. I cannot convince him to go out, not even for a short stroll up the hill.

The other day my granddaughter ‘discovered’ a big wooden box in the unused bedroom on the second floor. “Just old pictures and some cards,” I said, and being a toddler, she immediately lost interest in favor of her tea-set. But this morning, with the grayness and dripping rain, I go up the stairs. I retrieve the wooden box and pull the pictures out.

A rainbow of memories spills on the table. Postcards from years ago, photographs I kept for no apparent reason, a haphazard collection inviting me to jump in.

I make myself a fresh cup of coffee and set on the journey.

I sort the pile into a.postcards and b. photographs. After a quick deliberation, I choose the postcards just because they seem so colorful and promising.
To my surprise, these are unused cards, and I have no idea why I purchased them and kept them all this time. They are all pictures of animals in varied settings. I smile when I find a colorful fish from Eilat on the red sea. Another card showing Canada Geese makes my heart twitch with images of these big birds on their migration south in the winter and back north to us in Maine in the spring.

The last card is a thank you note. It shows a medium-sized black lab with big sad eyes. On the back, a short note reminding me of this female lab named Narrisa, my daughter and I raised as a puppy to become a seeing-eye dog. Narrisa was an adorable but timid dog. She never graduated and was given for adoption. We had several puppies before and after. Some who made it all the way to become proud seeing-eye dogs.

Fostering seeing-eye puppies was just one of our projects. Of my youngest daughter homeschooling itinerary that contained many other volunteer overtaking. Preparing meals for the elderly, helping in a no-kill cat shelter, counting horseshoe crabs. Those were all part of our curriculum. She grew up to be an independent, self-sufficient young woman. So much can be done from home, I remind myself.

This memory cheers me up. I turn to my newest achieved skill, ZOOM, and call for a family meeting. For a brief time, we all share the same space.

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. Ariela blogs regularly at Paper Dragon.

March 9 – Keeper of the Bell

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Ivy Morain with her husband and 13 children

When I was little, I loved everything about the start of a new school year— the swish of crinoline ruffled petticoats underneath crisply starched, frilly dresses Mother made me; slipping my feet into my new saddle oxford shoes; Mother and I rummaging our way down the aisles of our neighborhood TG&Y purchasing school supplies, then stopping on the way home at Landers Corner Store where every neighborhood kid received an empty cigar box for storing school supplies. Once home, I proudly printed my name on the outside of my cigar box and carefully placed my school supplies inside.

I can still smell the potent fumes of the rubber cement with its snotty-like consistency, can feel the wax crayons in my hand, and can imagine grasping my Huskey #2 pencil pretending to print my ABCs and 123’s on my Big Chief tablet. Nothing was more exciting than heading back to school with my new plaid metal lunch box in one hand and my cigar box filled with school supplies in the other.

Nothing, however, compared to the thrill of meeting my teachers. I adored them, hung on their every word, and wanted to be just like them.  When the school year ended, I missed school terribly. I filled the summertime void practicing school with the neighborhood children whom I corralled onto our huge front porch, my makeshift school and taught them using a small slate board Mother bought me.

One summer, Mother showed me a family heirloom—a vintage teaching bell “This bell,” she explained, “once belonged to my grandmother, Ivy Catherine Morain, who used it in her one-room classroom on the Kansas prairie in the 1890s. When your grandfather became a teacher, she gave it to him making him Keeper of the Bell.  He, in turn, gave it to me when I began teaching. If you promise to be careful with it, you may use it in your one-room classroom.” Delighted, I took the bell outside keeping it safe and occasionally clanging it to announce when my school was beginning.

When I entered college, education was naturally my career choice. Upon graduation, Mother gave me Ivy’s bell.  “You’re now Keeper of the Bell; you’re also the keeper of children’s hearts and spirits.” I was Keeper until my husband received his teaching certificate; he was Keeper until our niece received hers.  She was Keeper until her sister began teaching. She’s the current Keeper.

Each new Keeper was told the oral history of the former Keepers including personal details about their lives and careers.  Concerned that oral history would disappear, I researched and wrote more about the Keepers, making their stories more interesting.  The result was a 120-page notebook with photos and related documents.

Compiling the Bell Book was a soulful labor of love. It was also important. Why? Alex Haley aptly said, “…the family’s the link to the past and the bridge to the future.” I’m gratified knowing I did my part in linking our family’s past to its future.

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 17 – I Exist

by Ariela Zucker

The other day I discovered that a cyber family, much like a real one, acquires overtime unique lifelike qualities. It happened when I found in my inbox letters from people suggesting that I will update, fix, resolve duplicates, and respond to birthdays. I don’t know them; I don’t believe we ever met. My careful and polite inquiries as to the nature of our relationship did not produce satisfying results, and then it dawned on me.

It happened when I agreed to merge my family tree with someone I did not know well. Merging with a stranger would seem rather hasty, to every reasonable person except those surfing on Geni (an online family tree creator). And so, without further ado, I ‘approved’ the procedure which granted me access to his tree with hundreds of new relatives.

A few months later, I noticed that these people I opened my heart and family tree to, are inching, ever so slowly, into my nicely organized creation contaminating it with their inaccurate information and endless requests. Frantically I tried to unmerge and almost like in real life, found that merged tree cannot be severed without putting the whole family at risk.

***

Actually, it started more than nine years ago when one night, I keyed- in my name into the Google search box, pressed enter and came up with nothing.

It was the first time I really understood the phrase ‘if you are not on the Internet, you do not exist.’ I cursed myself for giving up to the cheap temptation, seeking false reassurance in the limitless cyberspace, but it was already too late.

And so about nine years ago, in the middle of the night, I did the only thing I could do to alleviate the situation and ‘created’ myself.

All I had to do was to let go of the old notion that the fact that I breathe, sleep, eat, and see my reflection in the mirror, is sufficient proof of my existence. Instead, I pressed on the empty rectangle box in the center of the computer screen and typed my name in.

I kept typing and inserting other names; my parents, my husband, my children, and in front of my eyes like magic, my family, with me in the center, came alive.

Blue rectangles for the men, pink rectangles for the women, many lines running horizontally and vertically connecting them all to one elaborate net, growing and growing and filling the screen.

The sense of relief was immediate and so rewarding.

When I last checked, my family tree had 543 people.

It is an elaborate constellation, created mostly by me. Names, most of which are fourth cousins twice, trice or even four times removed. People I don’t know will never know, and frankly don’t even care to meet.

Still in the middle of the night when the quiet disturbs my sleep and all by myself I surf, I am surrounded by my cyber family, I exist.

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. Ariela blogs regularly at Paper Dragon.