The Artist’s Corner – Michelle Smith, Photographer

When I seriously started to hone my chosen craft of writing, one of the first things I noticed was how closely related the approach is too many other forms of art.  Whether it’s cooking, painting, composing, dancing, or taking pictures, we all start with desire and ability.  Where it goes from there depends on our level of commitment, how we respond to mistakes, rejection, and criticism, and how we allow ourselves to grow.  The great artists press on and realize that their success isn’t measured by fame or fortune.

In A Snapshot of Writing, I detailed one of my favorite crossover art forms, photography.  After re-reading the post, the idea came to me to feature other artists and discuss their approach to their chosen art form.  I decided to start with brilliant, budding photographer Michelle Smith.

Welcome to The Artist’s Corner.  Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I’m a survivor.  My strength is my compassion.  I’m a pet person with a rescue cat addiction.  I’m destined to be the crazy cat lady, but my husband and son won’t let me.

Do you put yourself into your photography?

I do.  I’ve had some rough spots in my life, so I’m trying to tell a story through what I’m taking pictures of.  They reflect who I am and how I’m trying to find myself.  I want to be seen, and although it’s who I am now, it’s not where I want to stay, it’s not who I want to be.

What has your experience been?

I was a stay-at-home mom for ten years before I started my career at thirty-four as an EMT and then progressed to paramedic.  I worked for a private ambulance company for eight and a half years, three and a half years of that was in training and education.  I currently work in the ER Department of a hospital as an active paramedic.  I love it!

Did your work experience lead to the pursuit of photography?

No, actually it didn’t.  My husband’s job did.  He’s a detective who trained in taking crime scene photos.  His experience piqued my interest in photography.

How did you develop your passion for photography?

I started going with him to take picture outside of the crime scenes.  He shot landscapes, objects, places, and eventually senior class pictures.  I found myself telling him what to take pictures of, and I started taking the camera from him.  He’d just chuckle at me.  Then he started explaining what I was looking for and how to work the settings, but I didn’t pay attention at first because it wasn’t my camera.  I let him move the settings, and I took the picture.

That lasted for about six months until he gave me a camera for Christmas.  We were going on vacation, and he knew I’d want my camera for the trip, so I got it in November.  It was either give me my own camera or lose his!

What’s your inspiration?

Spending time with my husband because it’s something we have in common.  Listening to him patiently tell me how to use my camera.  Taking long car rides to where we’re going to go take pictures and chatting about it on the way.

What do you enjoy photographing?

I enjoy taking pictures of abandoned places because I feel sad for them.  I think of all the things that took place there.  I don’t have memories of these places so I think what happened here?  I wonder about the families that were displaced, the moms who raised their kids there, and the people who lost their jobs.  Where are these people now?  Time has forgotten these places and no one wants to hear the stories, so I take pictures of the abandoned places and tell their story through my photography.

Where can someone find you online?  Do you have a website?

I have some of my pictures posted on ViewBug under the name Just4FunPhotography.  You can find them on the home page newest to oldest.

In which contests have you competed?  What awards have you won?

On ViewBug, I participated in peer-created challenges and received the People’s Choice award in the categories of Lanterns, Save the Rain Forest, and Toy Planes.  I also received the ViewBug Member Selection Award and Staff Winter Selection for 2015.  I took first place in Nature and also in Architecture at the Portage County Randolph Fair.  At the Lake Community Branch of the Stark County District Library’s Annual Photo Contest, I took first place in Nature and second place in Architecture.

Do you take photos for people?  How does a client contact you?

I haven’t yet for major events such as weddings, graduations, but I’m willing to learn.  I think I’m afraid to because you can’t have that moment back like you can with a landscape or object.

What is your process for photographing people?

Well, actually, my focus is on landscapes or objects.  I’m not a big fan of people pictures, so all the movement in my photographs is natural:  waterfalls, wind through the trees.  Right now, I don’t incorporate people.

How is what you shoot for yourself different from what you do for people?

When I shoot for myself, I look at the picture with a more critical eye because I am the photographer.  I’m harder on myself than when I’m shooting for others.  That’s not to say that I don’t put all my effort into shooting for other people.  I take their requests very seriously.

It’s a great satisfaction for me to be able to take a photo for someone and capture it exactly as they wanted.  Recently, I took pictures of pigs at a fair for a friend who grew up raising pigs for 4-H.  I wasn’t sure I got exactly what she wanted because I couldn’t get past the fences to take the pictures.  She loved them because that’s what she remembered:  looking at pigs up close through the fence.  It was a successful shoot because I made her happy.

Has your work ever been used for commercial purposes?

No, but I’d definitely consider it.  For National Geographic; I want that shot!  It’s the dream.  I’d also like to see my picture of a baseball player on a card or the electronic billboard at the game.  Or maybe a hockey player because of their facial expressions.  If you have patience, and capture the right moment, they have some intense expressions.  But then I’d have to photograph people!

What’s your favorite photograph that you’ve taken?

I have to choose one?  I have two!  I captured it on my first day out with my own camera.  Picture this:  With butterflies all around, capturing just one was difficult.  I turned to notice the curls of a flower vine hanging just above my head.  As I admired its beauty, this butterfly fluttered right down onto the dangling vine.  I was filled with excitement and literally shook!  I slowly raised my camera into position, took a deep breath, and then snapped the picture.  Then I recalled my lessons; even though I took the picture, the settings may not have been correct for this situation.  I reined in my excitement and slowly changed the settings to capture the picture as you see it.  I smiled, thinking to myself, Wow that’s going to be amazing.  This photograph has no post-process editing.  I named it Curly Q.

My second favorite is of the 1792 distillery rickhouse in Kentucky.  It’s called Master Distiller Approved.  I applied the rule of thirds and vanishing points to the picture, but when I snapped it, it came out with too much backlight from the windows.  I closed the aperture, and it was perfect.  Plus the smell of bourbon in there was heavenly!

What’s your dream photograph?

Are you really ready?  People are going to think I’m freakin’ crazy.  I want to capture what was left behind after Chernobyl.  After viewing other photographers’ work, I became inspired and decided that’s one of my dream shots.  It’s part of the abandoned place thing.  So many lives were lost, these people had no time to pack, they were evacuated in forty-eight hours, and told they were leaving for just a short time.

The other, I’m claustrophobic so it’s never going to happen, is to photograph the abandoned hulls of underwater shipwrecks.  I’d like to do war ships, but you can’t get close.  Talk about stories to tell!

What’s your biggest beef with photography?

Photoshopping!  Lightroom, a program that fixes the picture and makes it more than it was to begin with.  It’s not real, and photographers are getting awards for this type of work.  The pictures are over processed, over edited.  There’s a minimum of allowable tinkering.  All I’ll do is sharpen, define, and noise reduction which fixes shaking.  If the picture is already good, it’s not even noticeable.  There is some post-processing no matter who you are (National Geographic, Victoria’s Secret, or Sports Illustrated), but you can’t make a bad photo good.  Well, you can, but that’s cheating.

My other complaint is photographers who steal other people’s work.

Would you like to work full-time as a photographer?  If so, how do you see your business growing?

Absolutely!  To enjoy your hobby as a career could be more relaxing than the grind of an everyday job that is so-so.  Not that my job is so-so.  Remember, I love being a paramedic.  Breaking in to the world of photography to make your name takes time and commitment.  There’s the investment in equipment unless you get hired in somewhere that supplies equipment.  So, I’d work for someone commercially to get started.

Then there’s the investment in your craft.  I’m still learning and growing my confidence.  I need to work at handling variables such as people (they’re so unpredictable!) and not putting a picture in my head and trying to make it happen.

Do you work alone or with a partner?

I prefer going with someone else.  I enjoy going with other people whether they’re photographers or not because when they see something they want a picture of, I can give it to them.  I don’t have to guess at what they’ll like.  It’s quite confidence building to deliver a picture right then and have them be pleased.  Plus I like to chat with people!

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 22

I am making a transition in my writing life.  The reason for this is the complete derailment I experienced in the earlier part of this year.  I know that isn’t much of an explanation, but this short version is free of negativity and the temptation to succumb to it.  I could go on and on telling you what went wrong and how I allowed it to happen, but I do not want to contaminate anyone’s thought process with my own difficulties.  We’re writers; we’ll manufacture plenty of woes on our own without someone spoon feeding suggestions to us.

The good news for me is that my writing passion is starting to return.  The stories are creeping back into my head like deer tentatively stepping from the security of the forest into the wide-open unknown of the meadow.  It was my own fault they were driven away in the first place, and I must and am taking responsibility for this.

For a short time I did nothing positive toward my writing life.  The only connection I maintained to writing was reading.  I hid out in books, believing what I did was helpful, but I was living in denial.  One piece of writing advice that actually saved me was to do something different altogether.  I was struggling anyhow, so why force something that wasn’t coming to me naturally?  Instead, I walked.

My husband and I began hiking familiar trails close to home.  I welcomed the exercise and fresh air like old friends.  We kept at it, and now we look forward to seeking new places to walk.  I took pictures with my cellphone during our hikes, playing at the most amateur form of photography.  The simple act of creativity spurred my mind.  I began to mentally describe what I saw and fashioned one or two-line stories.

My efforts probably don’t sound very constructive to the writing life except for the simple fact that they placed my focus squarely back on writing.  I felt like an adult who had successfully recaptured the magical thrill of Christmas morning.  All the superfluous baggage that people will try to tell you (or you’ll convince yourself of) is part of the writing life simply disappeared.

Again, I’m avoiding detailing exactly what those bad things were for me so that my followers won’t latch on to them.  I’m also cautious in supplying instruction on how to overcome them because too many times we grasp a particular piece of advice as a hard and fast solution to our problems.  When it doesn’t work, we become more despondent and depressed than we were at the beginning.  In short, you must proceed fearlessly on your own to discover and apply what works for you.  Fellow writers can cheer you from the sidelines, but they cannot prop you up nor do the work for you.

With a deep sigh of relief and contentment, I am single-mindedly focused on writing.  The scales have fallen away from my eyes, the chains from my hands, and I am free to write.

Write Happy!

Using Vulgar Language

I’m not bragging when I say I read voraciously.  Ever since I discovered reading as a child, it has been one of my absolute favorite pastimes.  My personal library attests to this as does my activity on Goodreads.  Reading has added a few words to my vocabulary that I didn’t think were all that unusual, but apparently they are.  One such word is unbeknownst.  I don’t use it all the time and I’m certainly not trying to sound haughty when I do.  It appears a few commentators do not agree with me.

Today’s The Weight of Words is in honor of unbeknownst, a humble adjective usually used with ‘to’ that simply means happening or existing without the knowledge of a specified person or persons.

Unbeknownst to my mother, my brother and I are planning a surprise birthday party for her seventy-fifth birthday complete with a cruise to Hawaii as a present.

According to one site I checked, the first known use of unbeknownst was in 1626, so yes, it probably does sound a little archaic.  But that doesn’t render the word useless or worthy of exclusion from the English language.  I used it recently in a blog post which prompted this post in turn!

Unbeknownst derives from beknown, an obsolete synonym of knownUnbeknownst has widespread usage, including appearances in the works of Charles Dickens, A.E. Housman, and E.B. White, yet despite its candid history, unbeknownst has caused a ruckus among usage commentators.  It has been called everything from “obsolete” to “vulgar.”

I’ll continue to use the word, especially since it still crops up in new writing, and unbeknownst to those who have no idea what it means, I shall talk over their lazy, empty heads.  Okay, now that did sound a titch haughty.

 

Washing Dishes

It’s the oldest girl’s chore to wash the dishes.  She will do so without complaint, drying and stacking them on the cupboard shelves.

“Can’t we run the dishwasher?” she asks.

“No—that thing makes too much heat, and it’s already eighty-five degrees in here,” her father replies.  Disgust tinges the edge of his words, and he shakes his head at her like she’s an imbecile for even asking.

The girl’s brother and two younger siblings, a girl and a boy, wear the smiling faces of obedient, compliant children.  They dash away amidst the tension their older sister has created.  Their smiles have more to do with not having to wash dishes in the August heat.

And so the girl suffers alone as her family seeks shade in the darkened family room and cool beneath the ceiling fan.  She’s up to her elbows in hot, sudsy water, thinking about how her father never used to speak to her in that tone when he spoke to her as a child.  He developed the manner in the sixth year of his second marriage when his new wife had their first child, the little girl.  It worsened when the boy was born, as if her father was obligated to speak to her this way.

She’s not paying attention, and her hands slip off a plate.  It lands on the two inches of counter space between her and the sink, bouncing twice, before it shatters into a million shards.  All she can think is that she didn’t know a plate could bounce.

“I’ll replace it,” the girl says, sensing her father’s wife behind her.  No doubt the woman had come to criticize the girl’s work, but a more fortuitous situation presented itself.

“Don’t worry about it,” the woman says.  There is no inflection in her voice, no understanding in her eyes.  “It was ugly and mismatched anyhow.  The last one from your grandmother’s set.”

It is not the last one, but it might as well be.  There’s a saucer under a dying jade plant in the family room, chipped and stained from soil leaching out the hole in the terracotta pot.  The girl will pay for the broken plate with money earned from her job as a lunch counter girl at the golf course because it’s the right thing to do.

Later, when the sun dips behind the pines in the backyard, the girl sits in a lawn chair and drinks iced tea.  Her bare feet brush over the fuzzy, silver leaves of lamb’s ear she planted around the air conditioner compressor last year.  She thinks to herself that she cannot remember a time when there wasn’t lamb’s ear in her life.  Even at the apartment complex where she lived with her mother and brother.  And she thinks that it is stupid to have whole-house air conditioning and not use it.

There was an old couple who lived on the first floor of the complex who kept lamb’s ear in planters on the concrete porch.  She would slip down to visit them while her mother slept off her third-shift weariness.  Her brother sat in his playpen in front of the TV turned to Sesame Street.  The old man and woman knew the girl never had enough to eat, but they were also poor.  They fed her ice cream floats made with Pepsi and sent her home with bouquets of lamb’s ear.  Her mother spanked her when her brother ate one and got sick.  Then her mother got sick, and finally her dad came to visit.  She remembers him calling his new wife from the green phone hanging on the kitchen wall.  His finger absently picked at the peeling, flowered wallpaper.

“Honey, the kids are going to come stay with us for a while.”

With one sentence her life changed forever.  She and her brother had a new home and a new mommy who never let them forget that she sacrificed her career in banking to raise them.  Then came the two new siblings who the girl tried to watch over when she wasn’t being shooed away by her father’s wife.  She didn’t want her new sister and brother to eat lamb’s ear.  They are old enough to know better now.

She remembers when each of those babies came home from the hospital.  Everything smelled new then, like baby powder and plastic toys.  Plenty of pictures exist of these events, pictures with the girl’s profile or arm just barely captured in the frame. That’s when she realized her position was oldest girl, not oldest daughter.  Her brother is nowhere to be seen.  In fact, except for school pictures, there are very few of the girl and her brother since the arrival of their new siblings.

The sky turns dusky, then the shade of a bruise, and when the bats swoop from the trees, the girl goes in.  Her family already retired upstairs for the night without calling to her.  She is old enough to get herself to bed.  First, she must do a load of laundry that includes her bras and pantyhose.  Her father’s wife made her wait until laundry for the rest of the family was done because no one else needed to wash their items on delicate.  The girl doesn’t want her things ruined; she has to buy them herself.  No matter.  It is cool in the basement, and she can doze on the day bed while watching reruns of ‘80s sitcoms on the black and white TV her father keeps on his workbench.

The girl falls asleep to the rhythm of the washer and dreams about the Gibson Girls in the wallpaper behind her father’s bar.  She sees herself in the bust-enhancing gowns with her hair piled elegantly on her head and a bouquet of lamb’s ear in her hand.  Many suitors try to tempt her with ice cream floats, but the girl knows she is not free to accept, and so she runs away, Cinderella-style, to a waiting sinkful of dirty dishes.

We Interrupt This Broadcast…

Greetings friends!  Here’s an update from the headquarters of  HL Gibson:  This week, I query.  Just like I took a week off to edit my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, into tip-top shape, I’m taking this week to knuckle down on the querying process.

Take some time to read my work in Read & Relax,  enjoy a recipe from my novel in Edible Fiction, find out how I’m entertaining myself in Books, Movies & Music, read a funny tale of family life in Lightning Juice, or journey with me through Research Road to discover the interesting information I worked into my novel.  There are also many worthwhile writing tips in my Writing Toolbox as well as the Baring My Writer’s Soul series.

Keep in mind all the marketing I do here in anticipation of my novel won’t mean a thing if I don’t land an agent.  Stay tuned as I promise there are great things to come.  Thank you for remaining loyal in your following.

God Bless, HL Gibson

Gone Fishing

HL Gibson has gone fishing this week, and by fishing, she means editing.  She’s taking off some time to overhaul her novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, in preparation for querying.  Please enjoy re-reading some of her shorter works in Read & Relax, or try one of the recipes from her novel in Edible Fiction.  If you’re looking for a funny story about family life, Lightning Juice is for you.  There are recommendations on entertainment in Books, Movies & Music.  Find tidbits of advice in HL’s Writing Toolbox, specifically her experiences in the Baring My Writer’s Soul series.  If you’re in the process of conducting research for your own writing, check our Research Road where HL shares what she has discovered.  Stay tuned for more from HL Gibson, and thank you for your loyal support.

The Truth in History

Tim Eady’s father worked for Mrs. Burton during the winter months when the construction crews were laid off. Occasionally, Tim’s father landed inside work hanging cupboards or finishing baseboards. This year, all the new homes were completed on time inside and out. The first flakes of snow saw the departure of a handful of families for Florida or one of the Carolinas, seeking work to tide them over.

Tim’s father would have gone, but his mother said it made no sense to pull Tim and his two sisters out of school for three months. The girls had started third and fourth grade in the fall. Tim was in his junior year. Besides, his mother expounded, Tim could hunt again this year, and they’d be near family come Christmas. Not to mention Florida never had snow for Christmas, and what’s Christmas without snow? Tim’s father grew up with fireworks in Charleston for Christmas, but he just shrugged his acquiescence.

Mrs. Burton lived on the outskirts of town and drove a faded, red Ford pickup. She wore a plastic bonnet over her hair whenever she went out, rain or shine. Every day found her in heels and pearls with a lace hankie tucked beneath her watch band on the underside of her wrist. When Mr. Burton died, she went right on living at their farm instead of selling and moving in with her sister in town. From the porch of her home she fended off foreclosure and potential suitors with Mr. Burton’s double-barreled shotgun. She also grew shrub-sized, pink begonias in wash tubs on that porch.

Canning, gardening, and tending chickens kept Mrs. Burton involved, as she called it, and gave her purpose in life. She also baked and attended Bible study, joined missions’ teas and volunteered at the library, participated in the fair and collected clothes for the migrants who worked the lettuce farms every summer. Much to her shame, she could not sew, but a few frenzied days of her clicking knitting needles produced some of the finest afghans to ever grace the back of a couch.

There were no animals in her house save only a yellow canary in a cage in the living room. The bright little bird never sang until the day his mate died, and then he chirped his fool head off every waking moment of the day. Mrs. Burton thought this morbidly hilarious. She had one of her church friends make a double-layered cage cover of black fabric to place over the bird when she needed it to shut up. She wasn’t unkind to animals. She just believed they belonged outdoors. She fed hundreds of strays and wouldn’t kill a snake in her yard. In autumn, when the corn grown on her land leased by others had been harvested, she walked boldly among the cattle let out to graze the stubbled fields.

the-truth-in-history

Winter on the Farm by Guy Whiteley

Tim’s father started with fence repair, and since there were miles of fence, he was guaranteed steady work. But his father wasn’t the one to prolong a job just to draw out a paycheck. Tim hunted the woods skirting Mrs. Burton’s fields and occasionally stopped to talk with his father when he worked the fence closest to the woods. A sharp crack in the distance always brought his father’s head up and a smile to Mrs. Burton’s face. Then she’d drive the truck back in the direction of the shot, stopping to pick up Tim’s father, and together they’d find Tim and the deer he’d killed. She waited in the truck while Tim and his father loaded the deer in the bed.

“Now Tim, you put plenty of them newspapers down under that doe when you hang her in the barn. At least an inch thick. Sprinkle saw dust on any blood that soaks through, you hear?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Rake it up and throw it all in the burning barrel with the paper and guts when you’re through, son.”

“Yes, sir.”

Then she’d drop his father back off wherever he’d been working and drive Tim to the barn where he’d dress the deer. There was a handy block and tackle setup with a crank handle for hauling the deer up toward the rafters. Tim supposed Mr. Burton had rigged it for getting heavy stuff up to the loft. Mrs. Burton brought him hot tea and sandwiches, the same delivered to this father, and when the job was done, she’d drive him to Fulmer’s to have his deer processed.

As a reward for feeding the family, Tim’s father allowed him time off from helping with chores to tan the hides of any deer he shot. Mrs. Burton graciously let him use her barn as a workspace. It took Tim a few tries, and a lot of trips to the library, but through his trials and errors he became skilled at producing supple, quality leather. That Christmas, everyone in his family and Mrs. Burton received moccasins. The following year, he sold his hides and earned such a reputation that hunters began bringing him their hides for tanning. Tim’s father let him keep the money he earned, so Tim made sure his father saw him spending it on jeans and shoes for school, fabric for his mother to make his sisters’ dresses, and books for the three of them. Reading was the only thing he had in common with the girls.

When the fences were done, Tim’s father worked in and around the barn. Tidying and repairing kept Mrs. Burton’s farm neat as a pin which always humored Tim because she was a bit of a pack rat. At least the newspapers in the empty stalls were stacked neatly as were the towers of plastic flower pots from the nursery. If she had one of something, chances were she owned at least a dozen of whatever it was. Radios, all in working order and dusty, lined the shelves next to the wood chipper. Scythes and shovels stood like troops at attention five deep against the walls of her garage. More canning jars than she could use in a lifetime even if she broke half of them waited patiently in the cellar next to coils of chain covering the floor and shoe boxes full of different sized knives. But Mrs. Burton wasn’t stingy. From her own personal stores she’d supply whatever need demanded filling.

“Ain’t you worried about rats around here, ma’am?”

Aren’t, Tim—and no. The threat of death keeps them at bay.”

Tim assumed she meant the smell from his hides, and he worried that her comment had been a request to tan them elsewhere. He’d meant drawing rats all over the farm with the promise of hiding places and knew they were attracted by the smell of a fresh kill, not repelled. He let it go when she hinted at a pair of fur-lined slippers.

That year’s wood supply diminished quickly when the weather turned for the worse, and Tim’s father had to drag downed trees from the woods. They worked together bringing the logs in to the barn where his father sawed them into manageable pieces and split them. Tim stacked it on the back porch, sneaking a peek in the kitchen windows where he could see Mrs. Burton sitting at her kitchen table writing out recipe cards. On his third trip from the barn to the porch, he felt a twinge in his throat and a flush of heat on his cheeks. He straightened from piling wood and swiped the back of his glove across his forehead, moving shaggy, wet bangs from out of his eyes. As he did so, he made eye contact with Mrs. Burton who waved him in. She met him at the back door and led him by the arm to sit at the kitchen table.

“My boots, ma’am.”

“It’s just snow and sawdust. Nothing that won’t wipe up.”

Then she put her cool hand on his sweaty neck to draw him forward. He blinked like a toad in a hailstorm when she pressed her dry lips against his forehead and held them there for half a minute.

“Mm…hmmm… You’re fevered.”

Tim sniffed hard to no avail and employed his coat sleeve to stem the flow of what felt like hot water dripping from deep inside his head. The heavy canvas raked his nose but absorbed nothing. Mrs. Burton had turned to the stove to make chamomile tea, but even without seeing she knew to grab the box of tissues and place them on the table beside Tim.

A few minutes later as the kettle whistled, the indeterminate voice of Tim’s father rang out. His footfalls pounded the steps and back porch, preceding a woodpecker’s rap on the glass pane of the back door.

“Come in,” Mrs. Burton called.

“What’re you doing in here, boy? I been calling for you.”

“He’s got a fever.”

“That so?”

“Yes.”

Mrs. Burton’s word was final, and Tim’s father finished cutting and stacking wood on his own.

“He don’t mean to be hard,” Tim said as he sipped his tea.

“He could take unemployment like other men do.”

“Naw, he couldn’t, ma’am. Pride won’t let him.”

“Mm…hmmm,” Mrs. Burton said into her own teacup. Then, “How are your studies going, Tim?”

“Good, ma’am. I got a B+ in Algebra and an A- in English.”

“How’s your Science and History?”

“I’m working a solid B in Science, but History is kind of boring.”

“And what grade does boring translate to, Tim?”

“A C-, ma’am.”

“Oh, Tim,” she said, placing her hand over his, “History is too important to forget.”

“It’s all just memorizing dates and the bad things people do to each other.”

She cooed like a dove behind her slim hand, and Tim understood her to be laughing at his assessment of History class.

“Yes, well, I suppose it’s the way History is presented that makes it interesting or not. Why don’t you slip off your coat and boots, bring your tea, and we’ll sit in the living room?”

Tim had never been in the inner sanctum of Mrs. Burton’s home. She never forbade him from entering; none of the jobs she had for him ever took him beyond the kitchen. She settled him on a love seat with a mound of embroidered pillows and a red and blue afghan. Tim’s size twelves stuck out, and he overlapped his feet to hide the hole in his sock exposing his big toe. A dull thud permeated the frosted windows; Tim’s father was splitting chunks of freshly sawn logs.

“Everyone remembers history differently, Tim.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Mrs. Burton paused her rocking chair to trace her finger through a fine silt of dust on an end table. She frowned and rolled the gray film into a ball to be flicked away with her thumb.

“Did you know I used to keep this house spotless? Spotless without a single thing out of place.”

Tim couldn’t, and wouldn’t, contradict her for he had nothing to compare to except the twine tied bundles of magazines bordering the room and baskets of yarn on every available surface not taken up by a knickknack.

“Mr. Burton insisted on it. Said his mother kept a spotless house, and so would any woman fit to marry. Guess that means I wasn’t fit for marriage to Mr. Burton.”

“But you said you did keep it clean, ma’am… or do.”

“I tried at first, but my efforts always fell short. Mr. Burton could only remember how perfect his own mother was, and it’s that history that came between us.”

Tim shifted on the loveseat. He slurped tea and waited to receive whatever Mrs. Burton would say.

“Then there’s the history of excuses I made when I couldn’t be seen in public because the bruises Mr. Burton left showed up on my arms or face. Only so many times a woman can wear long sleeves in the summer or walk into an open cupboard door.”

“Ma’am?”

Longing glances toward the barn couldn’t will Tim’s father to fetch him home. All he could do was watch the windows darken with twilight. The sky thickened with clouds promising snow that night.

“I always said the dusting wasn’t going anywhere, so what’s the rush? It’d be there when I returned from grocery shopping or running errands. But Mr. Burton wanted it done now o’clock.” She chuckled at the joke. “And the pendulum of his fist always swung on time. Sometimes in the middle of the night for no reason.”

Tim coughed until his chest rattled. He had no place to expel the viscous secretion, so he pretended to sip tea and deposited in the cup.

“So I dusted, and I cleaned, and my fingers and knees went raw from my attempts to please Mr. Burton, and people called me eccentric. Said I was too particular about my house and that it was too clean for a body to feel truly welcome. That’s the history people in this town remember.”

“Ma’am, it’s getting on dark, and my father will just about be done, I’m sure.”

“There’s a light in the barn, Tim.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She licked her lips and said, “Do you think I’m eccentric, Tim?”

“Ma’am?”

“I thought I might as well live up to their opinions of me.”

“Whose, ma’am?”

“Oh, you know. Those gossipy, ole biddies at church. I started by saving newspapers because they’re so harmless and absorbent. That’s how I justified it to Mr. Burton, by making newspaper seem useful in more ways than one. He didn’t care as long as the house was dusted. Then I save wooden thread spools, bread wrappers, and twist ties because they were easy.”

Tim thought of the coffee cans of said items stacked on the kitchen counters.

“Did you know there’s a bedroom closet upstairs chock full of peanut butter, pickle, and mayonnaise jars?”

“No, ma’am. I did not.” He chewed the inside of his cheek. “I suppose them rocks lining the flower beds were part of it, too?”

A nightingale laugh trilled from her lips, and the passion of memory glowed in her eyes.

“Exactly, Tim. I’d forgotten the rocks. And see how easy it is to mix up the real stuff with the useless? You’re such a smart boy to remember.”

Her praise solidified them in unwanted knowledge. Tim sat forward and placed his teacup on the coffee table.

“You’ll remember my history when I’m gone, won’t you, Tim?”

“Where’re you going, ma’am?”

“I don’t care if you correct them in their erroneous beliefs; I just need one person to know the truth.”

“What truth is that, ma’am?”

“I hated dusting. Can you do that, Tim? Can you remember my history the way it really happened?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

A soft silence fell between them, ruptured by Tim’s father poking his head in the back door and calling out.

“Hey, boy—I’m warming the truck, so get your stuff and c’mon.”

“Yes, sir,” Tim called back.

He and Mrs. Burton stood at the same time. She carried both cups into the kitchen and set them in the sink. With her back to Tim she said, “The only paper I never saved was the one with Mr. Burton’s obituary in it.”

Tim jammed his arm into a coat sleeve and asked why not.

“I didn’t have to. Everyone remembered for me, told me about it all the time. They never found his body, you know. They dragged the lake come spring where they thought he’d gone in, but they never found it. That lake is so big and too deep. Three in one, really.”

“What was he doing on the lake, ma’am?”

“Trying to save some little kid who’d fallen in.”

“I thought he was ice fishing. Did the kid die, too, ma’am?”

“Huh? Oh, no… I guess I was wrong. I saw a red and blue knit cap on the ice as we were driving by and figured it belonged to some kid out there skating who should of known better with the thaw making places thin. I drove back to town as fast as I could and went straight to the fire department, but it was too late. I couldn’t remember where he’d gone in. Mr. Burton was lost.”

A headache and stuffy ears made it hard for Tim to think. Finally, he asked, “Where were you coming from that day, ma’am?”

“I don’t understand? What do you mean, Tim?”

“When you and Mr. Burton were driving by the lake, where were you coming from?”

“Does it matter?”

“I don’t suppose, but you remember everything else so well, ma’am.”

“Very good, Tim. We must keep our histories truthful.” She took a deep breath. “From the hardware in Austinville.”

“Why over there, ma’am, when we got a perfectly good hardware in town?”

“Because the road back took us past the lake, Tim.”

“What did you buy in Austinville, ma’am?”

“Matches, Tim. I had a lot of stuff in the burning barrel that needed burning that night.”

Three honks from the driveway told Tim to hurry up. He zipped his coat and shoved his feet into his boots without tying them.

“You take tomorrow off, okay Tim?”

“Yes, ma’am. My mom’ll make sure I don’t escape the house for school or work once she finds out I’m sick. I’ll be laid up with Vicks all over my chest and a hot water bottle tucked in my side. She still gives me baby aspirin, but at least I get ginger ale and popsicles.”

Mrs. Burton smiled at Tim’s mother’s doctoring skills.

“Well, it sounds reasonable to me.”

“I’ll see you when I see you, ma’am.”

“Goodbye, Tim.”

Mrs. Burton watched Tim and his father out of sight. In the morning she’d take a bag of horehound over and see how Tim was faring.

‘Til Death Us Do Part

In the summer of 1964, Dr. John Welles and Bea Turner attended the wedding of a couple that never expected to marry. Many hardships had paved the way to the happy couple’s nuptials, but they put every adversity behind them as they celebrated their special day. Everything that came before their marriage and whatever would come after only served to strengthen the bond that existed between two people truly in love. All of Addison came out to join in the joyous occasion making it a day the bride and groom would never forget.

The wedding cake I had in mind for the couple had to be completely homemade. Box mixes wouldn’t do, and the grandiose cakes created by bakers to satisfy the whims of brides today wouldn’t be believable. Unfortunately, neither my mother nor I had a recipe for a homemade white cake. Scandalous, I know.

My Internet research led me to a website with a cake that, from the recipe, looked as if it would suffice. I don’t have a problem with giving credit and linking back to the originator of a recipe, so I contacted the owner of the site requesting permission to do so. Unfortunately, I never heard back, and I’m not a recipe thief. This forced Mom and me to rework the recipe to our liking and present it as our own. Not a problem since we always tweak a new recipe the minute we find it anyhow.

The most important requirement: the cake had to taste homemade. You wouldn’t think that would be a difficult task since we weren’t using a prepackaged mix, but our cake had to capture the essence of the above-mentioned scene. How does one bake hope, beauty, richness, longing, humbleness, elegance, era, location, and love into a cake? Follow our recipe and find out.

Timeless Wedding Cake

3 sticks unsalted butter, softened

3 c granulated sugar (I used raw necessitating the need to pulverize the larger crystals in a food processor to ensure incorporation during the creaming process. Don’t skip this step; it’s worth it. You’ll be glad you did once you taste the cake.)

5 eggs at room temperature

3 c flour and more for dusting the cake pans

¼ t salt

2 t baking powder

½ c buttermilk at room temperature

½ c whole milk at room temperature

2 t vanilla extract –OR– 1 t vanilla and 1 t lemon

Preheat your oven to 350° F. Spray three nine-inch round cake pans with nonstick spray and dust evenly with flour. Make sure to coat all the edges, and tap out any excess flour.

In a stand mixer, cream the softened butter and sugar until it is very light in color and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time taking care not to over beat after each addition or you’ll end up with a tough cake.

Combine the milks and vanilla in a glass measuring cup and whisk. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Add the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar mixture alternately with the wet ingredients. Begin and end with the dry ingredients. A rule of thumb for this process is to add one-third of the dry ingredients, one-half of the wet, another third of the dry, the remaining half of the wet, and the last third of the dry.

Mix on a medium speed until well combined, taking care to stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Evenly distribute the batter between the three cake pans. The batter will be thick, almost like a pound cake batter, so use an off-set spatula to level the tops. All three cakes should bake on the same level of your oven, somewhere near the middle. Carefully shift position of the pans from front to back midway through baking.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. The top of the cakes should not jiggle, and a light crust will have formed on the top. Cool for five minutes in the pans, and then remove the cakes to a wire rack to continue cooling.

Bourbon Soaking Syrup

1 c water

1 c raw sugar

2 T bourbon (I recommend Woodford Reserve)

Combine the sugar and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over a high heat. When at the boil, the syrup is done. Remove from the heat and stir in the bourbon. Set aside to cool. The syrup will thicken as it cools. Brush the cooled bourbon syrup on the top of the cooled cake layers.  If you like thicker syrup, cook longer until more water has evaporated, but take care not to burn the sugar, or it will taste scorched.

Buttercream Frosting

1 c unsalted butter, softened

3 c powdered sugar

2 t vanilla extract

2 T whipping cream

In a stand mixer, cream the butter with one cup of powdered sugar on a low speed. Scrape the bowl as needed and add the remaining two cups, one at a time. Increase the speed to medium and beat for three minutes. Mix in the vanilla and whipping cream. Beat an additional minute, adding cream by the tablespoon if needed, to achieve a spreadable consistency.  If you enjoy a thicker layer of frosting between your cake layers, consider doubling the recipe.

Assembling:

Place one layer of completely cooled, bourbon-soaked cake on a stand or plate and ice the top of the cake to the edges. Place the second layer directly on top of the first and repeat the icing process. Add the final layer of cake and ice accordingly. Use the remaining frosting to ice the sides of the cake. The bourbon soak will add a layer of flavor and keep the cake moist longer.

I knew we had achieved success with our recipe when my sister-in-law took a bite and said, “Oh…this just tastes old-fashioned.”

Enjoy!

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