Applications

I keep stealing glances at our teenager as we sit at the laptop, and I’m trying not to snatch the mouse away or jump on the keyboard because I know I’m a faster typist.  Today, our son is applying for his first job.  Many of his friends are already working and driving, but we allowed Joshua to go a little longer without pursuing either.  For one, he didn’t express an interest in driving like we expected him to.  His father wasn’t too upset because he wasn’t looking forward to the jump in insurance rates.

For the other, we didn’t push him to get a part-time job as soon as he turned sixteen because we wanted him to focus solely on school and Boy Scouts.  We wanted, and were able, to extend him the luxury of a little more time to stay young, if not little, in a world that is demanding he grow up fast.

We’ve come a long way since the days of Lightning Juice and This Mothering Stuff is Hard.  Sometimes it seemed like a blur, and at other times the moments ground by painfully slow.  But Josh has taken an interest in his own life lately now that Scouting is winding down and his senior year approaches.  So, I sit beside this young man whose most recent goal is to grow tall enough that he can fit my head under his chin the way I did to him when he was little.

This young man with a square jaw reminiscent of his Grandfather Smith when he was a young marine.  This young man who has been cutting grass on the gargantuan riding lawnmower since he was eleven and a half.  This young man who cracks us both up when he types “Cuz i neds a jub” in the “Why do you want to work here?” section of the online application.  This young man who started shaving the peach fuzz that quickly turned into the stubble I feel when I kiss his cheek.  This young man who can play ‘Jingle Bells’ doing arm farts.  This young man who wants to earn enough money this summer to put a dent in his upcoming post-high school education and pay for his car insurance.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

Now the things we want for Joshua are giving way to the things he wants for himself.  Of course our desires for our son will always be for his benefit, but we’ll yield to him more and more as he shows maturity.  And we’ll be there for the times he doesn’t, guiding him back to the right path.

I often wonder if we did enough, laid a strong foundation for him.  Only time will tell, but for right this moment, while he’s still a goofy teen, while we’re pulling our hair out when he’s sassy and driving us crazy, I’ll store up these memories for the day he heads out on his own.

The Hoopla About Chuppahs

Beautiful white chuppa with red flowers for outdoor wedding ceremony.

When John Welles’s best friend, Sam Feldman, invited him to a party Sam’s mother was hosting, John was not at all enthused. Sam, who always had a girlfriend on his arm, wanted John to run interference for him as he dodged the girl his mother wanted him to meet. Little could either young man have predicted how captivating Abigail Cohen, called Babby, would prove to be. Not only was Babby beautiful, the young school teacher was intelligent, articulate, and poised. John began to rethink his opinion about dating Babby, but not in time. By the end of the party, Sam and Babby hit it off exactly as Sam’s mother knew they would. John did not begrudge Sam his good fortune. Rather, he and Claude Willoughby were the best men at Sam and Babby’s wedding.

Being Jewish meant Sam and Babby took their vows under a chuppah. A chuppah is a Jewish wedding canopy with four open sides. There are many traditions surrounding the chuppah, and they have changed throughout the years depending on an orthodox or modern interpretation.

The chuppah is usually a square of cloth supported by four poles. The fabric can be as elegant as silk or velvet, as simple as cotton or linen, or as important as an heirloom piece of lace or tallit belonging to a family member. The poles can be free-standing or held in place by friends of the couple. Either way, the poles should touch the ground. It is a great honor to be asked to hold the chuppah poles, and this role is often given to people very close to the couple.

Many couples like to decorate the chuppah poles and tops to match the theme of their wedding. Whatever material is chosen, be sure that it will withstand unpredictable weather conditions if the ceremony is outdoors. Ruining a family heirloom or the collapse of an unsteady chuppah will definitely spoil the wedding.

the-hoopla-about-chuppahs-2The purpose of the chuppah is to symbolize the new home the couple will create. At one time, the cloth chuppah was draped around the bride and groom but was later spread over their heads. Ancient rabbis compared the chuppah to Abraham’s tent during Biblical times. Abraham was famous for his hospitality, and since his tent was open on all four sides, travelers could enter from any direction.

The bride and groom are brought to the chuppah by both parents. The space inside the chuppah should be big enough for the couple, clergy, and a small table for ritual items such as wine and glasses. The bride will also need enough room to circle her groom without tripping or snagging her dress. Don’t forget to make the chuppah tall enough for the tallest person to stand under without hitting the fabric where it will drag in the center. Family and friends in the wedding party, including parents, often stand outside the chuppah. Afterward, the new couple can receive guests in their chuppah as a symbol of the love and openness of the home they will build together.

This Stinks!

One of the best parts of being a parent is getting to torture your teenager. It is why my husband and I were put on earth according to our teen, Joshua. We make his life miserable by expecting him to unload and load the dishwasher, sweep the floors, feed the pets, empty the trash, take out the recycles, keep his room clean, keep himself clean, do his homework, and get good grades. I’m sure you can see what horrible ogres we are.

These requests are usually met with heart-wrenching sighs and occasional eye rolls, sagging shoulders, and shuffling walk as he wanders off to complete this drudgery. This frees up me and the hubby to invent news ways to torture him right out of existence. And sometimes, the opportunities just present themselves in the form of stinks bugs.

this-stinks

Public Enemy Number One

I don’t remember stink bugs when I was a child. I’m sure I would have because the name alone invites ridicule; but truly, these foul little creatures seem to have materialized from nowhere. At the end of summer, just as the temperature is changing to give us frosty mornings, warm and breezy days, and chilled nights, the stink bugs show up. They cover the screens of every window and door, walk around looking menacing, and make the most horrible buzzing noise. I’m not an entomologist, so I assume the stink bugs are looking for a warm place to crash in the winter. Every now and then, one makes its way inside. If I leave the windows down on my car, they climb in. Joshua is terrified of them.

Picture this: I’m driving along one day with Joshua in the passenger side when I spied a stink bug on his side of the vehicle. It took my wicked mind only a split second to devise a plan.

“Hey, Josh? Don’t freak out, but there’s a stink bug on your side.”

“What? Where?”

“It’s moving.”

The brilliant little stink bug must have overheard our conversation because it flew off right on cue. Joshua freaked out, looking all around him for the flying demon. I actually lost sight of it for a moment because I needed to keep my eyes on the road. Joshua, who was seat belted, twisted in his seat peering into the space between his chair and door or between his chair and the center console. I saw the stink bug had landed on the far side of the visor in front of him. It was barely visible from where I sat. The tips of its legs gently curled around the edge of the visor.

“Mom—where is it?”

“Right here.”

I flicked the visor down toward Joshua which sent the buzzing offender flying toward his face. He screamed like a little girl. If I hadn’t been driving, I’d have been rolling on the floor. Then in a microsecond, he managed to unbuckle himself and dive head first between the front seats, landing in a gangly heap in the back.

For the sake of this post, I actually measured the space between the seats: it’s eight inches wide. At the time, Joshua was probably 5’ 10” – 5’ 11”. How he managed to jump from a seated position, fly between the seats without touching either side or the gear shift, and land in the back without breaking something is beyond me. It sure does make for one hilarious post. We never found the stink bug.

Being Strong for Melinda

trial-or-tribulationSharon and Robert have spent many dark and lonely hours, separated from each other, asking for the things they believed were right and good. Too many times they listened to doctors whose explanations left them staring and openmouthed, their minds weighted down with things they struggled to comprehend.

Endless dashes to the hospital turned into a permanent stay for their only child. She looks like a little caterpillar cocooned in blankets, bandages, and wires from a host of monitors. Robert calls her his baby bug waiting to emerge with new wings.

Prayer requests make the round on social media. Praise reports are given when their daughter rallies. Many drop off when her condition lags. The weak and faithless have no explanation for this decline. They cannot explain why they couldn’t get Melinda healed, make excuses for God as if He needed them. All of it wears on Sharon and Robert until they pray for release for their beloved child because that must be what God wants for her, right?

With heavy hearts, tears amassing in their eyes, they claim they are willing to accept this for their baby girl. Each buries a duplicitous heart beneath stoic faces and solemn nods of the head. They just want to quit, for this to be over. They never speak of it anymore. In fact, they’ve stopped talking to each other at all. The constant company of the Women’s Bible Study Group and Men’s Fellowship doesn’t allow for much private conversation between them. Such good people, these men and women, who stay with Sharon and Robert 24/7, praying audibly non-stop.

Sharon slips away to the ladies’ room. She does not turn on the light, locks the door. The sound of breathing in the dark room scares her for a second, but whatever harm might be done to her by the owner of the breathing is preferable to what is going on with Melinda. Especially if it ends her.

“Sharon?”

She jumps and laughs wildly.

“Robert? What on earth are you doing in the ladies’ room?”

“It’s the only place the guys from church wouldn’t think to look for me.”

More deranged laughter, shared, from the emotionally and physically drained parents. Robert sighs but does not reach for his wife. Neither move to turn on the light.

“I’m so tired, Shar.”

“You, too?”

Robert’s voice dips and rises uncontrollably.

“I just want this…I just want…”

“I know, dear. Me, too.”

Their hands meet in the darkness, instinct guiding their palms and fingers into place. But they do not draw closer to each other.

“I want to quit, Shar. No—I have to quit. I’m done. I’m finished, and I got nothing left.” He pauses to draw a deep breath. “I was in here working up the nerve to tell you.”

“Rob, that’s why I came in here.”

“Why didn’t you say something?”

“When, Robert? Between entertaining and performing for the people from church—God knows I love them, but I really just need them to go home—to holding in my emotions every time the doctors tell us Melinda isn’t progressing as they’d hoped? You won’t even meet my eyes anymore.”

“I know. I’m sorry. But I was afraid if I looked at you, you’d see how scared I am—”

“—I’m scared, too—”

“—but I don’t have any answers for you, Shar. You know, I’m supposed to be the strong one and all that.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, honey. I never expected solutions to this. Not from you, anyhow.”

“Well, that’s a relief.”

“Is it? Because we’re off the hook, but I suspect we wanted our prayers answered in a specific way we’re too afraid to admit.”

“Can I turn on the light?”

Robert flips the switch before she consents setting off a round of watery-eyed blinking.

“Well, that’s better,” he jokes.

They step closer and melt into an embrace. Sharon cries against his shoulder as he runs his hand over her hair.

“I’m not really okay with losing Melinda,” his wife says.

“I know.”

“I feel so guilty for saying that. Like I’m less of a…”

“I understand, Shar. Really, I do.”

“So, now what?”

“Now we quit pretending. We’ve got to.”

“Agreed.”

“And if Melinda…if she…”

“Dies.”

“Yes, if…then we’ll figure it out together. Just the two of us.”

“But it doesn’t have to be just you and me, Rob.”

“I know. I meant all the church crowd.”

“They mean well—and quite a few have been helpful. Sincere.”

“That’s true. But when this is over, whatever over may be, it’s just you and me, and you and God, and me and God to work through this.”

It’s Sharon’s turn to sigh.

“Is this where we were supposed to be all along, Rob?”

“You mean if we hadn’t let all the hoopla get in our way?”

“Yes,” she chuckles. “Just trusting. Shutting up and trusting that God’s got this under control.”

“That’s a hard and scary place to be.”

Sharon nods and leans her forehead against Robert’s.

“I can’t promise I won’t be sad,” he whispers.

“You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t. Just don’t be afraid.”

“I’ll try, Shar. For you.”

“No, babe. For you.”

All the prayers they cannot speak radiate between them. A knock on the restroom door precedes, “Sharon—come quick. The doctors have been looking all over for you. Sharon?”

Melinda’s parents, raw and exposed, striped down to the soul, brace each other with hands to the shoulders.

“I don’t know where they are,” says the muffled voice on the other side of the door.

“Well we have to find them now. They need to know Melinda has opened her eyes and asked for them,” a male voice joins in.

Gasps of shock from the people on the outside are lost in bursts of laughter and tears of relief from Robert and Sharon within.

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 18

writers-soul-18Last week I read the chapter in Heather Sellers’s book, Page After Page, where she compares the source of one’s great writing to a compost heap. That seemed apropos because there are days when I feel like my writing is… well, you get the point.

Anyhow, if you haven’t read her book, I highly recommend you do. There is a reason I keep returning to it as a source of inspiration unlike any other writing book I’ve ever read. Rather than expound upon those reasons again, simply search my blog for posts where I mentioned Heather Sellers and/or Page After Page. Back to the compost.

According to Mrs. Sellers, our life provides the best source of writing material because we keep it hidden beneath layers of time, and like compost, it ferments to the place where the events become less painful and/or incredibly memorable. It is then that we should till the compost of our existence, digging deep, to dredge a great story. How profound.

But I don’t want to write about the time in third grade when two friends, with whom I thought I shared an amazing friendship, passed notes saying they’d rather not hang with me. I intercepted one such note. Or the time my dad gave my dog away on my birthday and packed me off to my cousins’ house to spend the night while he did so. Or the time my mom accidentally put my guinea pig out to graze right after my dad fertilized the yard. Or the time my first real boyfriend trounced my heart with my former best friend. You get the picture.

Just so you don’t think I’m poor-mouthing my life, or parents, there are great memories, too. One that springs to mind I don’t actually recall, but I’m told I gushed, “I love my daddy; he lets me ride my horsey,” after I received a hobby horse for Christmas. Then there are all the wonderful memories of my mother as Troop Leader during my Girl Scout years, especially when she took us to COSI.

What concerns me as a writer is writing about myself and/or writing myself into a story. Several people who have read different pieces of my work say things like, “Oh, Prudence Mayfield is so you,” (The Secrets of Dr. John Welles) and, per my husband regarding my current WIP, “Yeah, the mother in that story is totally you.” My son also says this about the daughter in the same story. And once, my mother said, “I recognize what happened in this short story as you in high school.”

These comments surprised me because I wasn’t consciously writing myself into my work. I suppose subconsciously, I was dredging through my compost. So much the better if it makes the writing great. But to intentionally write about myself and experiences? I’m not so sure about that. There are some dark, dank, compost-y places in my head and heart that I believe should just stay there.

Another reason why this whole thought process intrigues me is because I have a major complaint against writers who vehemently insist that the story wasn’t about them. Then you read their biography and, just as you suspected, it reflects their life so perfectly, they might as well have used their real name.

Now I know there is a small part of every writer that is written into his or her work even if it’s just his or her preferences regarding food which his or her protagonist just happens to like as well. Even hopes and dreams can reflect who the author is. Writers – quit trying to deny this. So, I’m left with the questions: how much of myself do I intentionally write into my work? And, if asked, do I confess that I wrote a passage so well because I experienced what my character(s) did? Or do I turtle my head into my coat and swear it wasn’t me?

I already believe that I serve my heart upon a platter for dissection, AKA public opinion. All artists feel this way. Rather than becoming caught up in trying to determine how much of me is in the story, just enjoy it, and trust that I have quite a bit of compost from which to grow new tales.

A First Good Day

Some of the new swings are seen. A total of 11 new swings have been installed. SWINGPARK - The new swing park near the corner of East Brady and North Water Streets beneath the N. Holton St. Bridge on Wendesday, July 23, 2014, included newly designed swings that are a collaboration between the City of Milwaukee, the Brady Street BID #11, and the grassroots organization beintween (Òin betweenÓ). Beintween installed swings at the site in Fall 2012. When the swings fell into disrepair, they were removed by DPW in Fall 2013 as a safety precaution. The agencies worked together to redesign and rebuild the swings using recycled materials including rubber tires, metals and wood. A total of 11 new swings have been installed, including a set of baby swings and a metal swing that is ADA accessible. The cushioned ground beneath the swings has also been replaced with shredded rubber tires, and new lighting has been installed for a safer experience. Photo by Mike De Sisti / MDESISTI@JOURNALSENTINEL.COM

Angie sits on a swing, swaying gently and trying not to catch her skirt in the chains. Her flats are placed firmly on the shredded rubber mulch, the new favorite material to cushion falls at the playground. All around her children laugh and squeal, running from swings to slides, rock wall to climbing rope, sand box to wooden fort. Mothers cluster on benches in the shade of meager trees, some pushing a stroller with a drowsy baby back and forth, back and forth. A trickle of sweat slides between Angie’s shoulder blades.

She’s not sure where she fits in. Part of her identifies with the little girls playing house, carrying their baby dolls by the neck in the crook of their arms. They sequester themselves in the tower of the fort until the little boys invade wielding invisible lights sabers and threats of feeding the dolls to the Sarlacc. Angie has experience disrupting homes. As for the prom princess mall mavens, the only thing they have in common with Angie is the fact that they, too, have given birth.  She is smart enough to know that this alone does not make her a mother. There’s more to it. A lot more. Probably what these women sitting around the perimeter are doing. But she cannot tell what that something is.

Her eyes burn and drop to the toes of her scuffed black flats. Heat reddens her face as she imagines what these women would think if they knew how many miles she walked to wear the soles of her shoes thin, or how short her skirts were in comparison to her long navy blue one sweeping the surface of the playground. Fireworks of yellow, red, and orange flash behind Angie’s closed eyes. Sunlight caresses her cheeks with the warmth of a mother’s hands as she tilts her face upward. A woodpecker’s tap on her shoulder interrupts her solitude.

“Angie?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Gloria Freshley stands to Angie’s right, clasping a briefcase handle in both hands. The social worker nods and gives her a head-to-toe once over.

“Very good. Remember what the judge said, okay?”

“This is not a reward for my good behavior, and the Mendenhalls are being generous by letting me see Chloe.”

“Exactly. Keep that in mind, and this will go smoothly.”

No mincing words with Gloria. Angie takes a breath to speak. Questions contort her face, but Gloria blinks slowly once in lieu of shaking her head. All the queries, arguments, and debates drift toward the thick clouds stacked across the sky.

“Here they come.”

Angie watches her three year-old daughter toddle between a man and a woman, her chubby hands held in one of their own. Their approach slows when the little girl navigates the concrete curb surrounding the playground, stops to watch the children play, and grabs a handful of sand to work between her palms. Mr. Mendenhall shares a smile with Chloe as he wipes her tiny hands with a handkerchief pulled from his back pocket. There’s something reassuring to Angie that her daughter lives with a man who still uses handkerchiefs. From beneath locks of long, brown hair, Mrs. Mendenhall’s eyes scan the playground. She’s a soldier on point acknowledging the enemy without giving herself away.

Indecision about the next twenty minutes muddles Angie’s thoughts. All she knows is that she doesn’t want to waste time thinking about her feelings. Analyzation comes later. For the next twenty minutes, earned by nineteen cocaine-free months, she will talk to Chloe and watch her play without touching her. She must remember to thank the Mendenhalls for taking care of Chloe and allowing this meeting. She must also remember to leave first. The last is her own stipulation, an old habit from her days on the streets to hide her true emotions.

Chloe staggers toward Angie who smiles at her daughter’s defiance to hold the Mendenhalls’ hands the last few yards. There are no words or expressions when Chloe totters past to explore the swings behind her mother. A bitten lip brings the taste of salt and rust; Angie’s mind scrambles to pin down a reaction to her daughter’s lack of recognition.

“Swings are her favorite,” Ted Mendenhall says to soften the blow.

“I should know that,” Angie replies.

“You do now,” Karen Mendenhall says.

The four adults sit at a picnic table. Their conversation contains praise for Chloe. No promises are given, no condemnation expressed. The offer to meet again in six months lightens the tension etched in the lines around everyone’s eyes except Chloe’s. She blows kisses over Ted Mendenhall’s shoulder as he carries her back to the car; his free hand holds his wife’s.

“That went well,” Gloria says. “I’ll call you a week before the next meeting to see where we are.”

Angie stands in the center of the playground trembling, unable to contain the smile aching her face. Suddenly, she realizes that she is the last to leave . Laughter and tears flow freely from the eighteen year-old as she enjoys the first good day she’s had in a long, long time.

Poison by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer

PoisonSusan Fromberg Schaeffer’s novel, Poison, is a brilliant work of fiction; it is how all novels should be written. Poison explores the themes of love, greed, desire, human strengths and weaknesses, peoples’ perceptions of each other, and how we are molded by these perceptions. The author allows us inside the heads of a wide cast of characters and gives the reader the opportunity to decide who is good or bad, right or wrong. You’ll find yourself comparing the characters to your own friends and family all the while claiming, “I would never act like that.” The stream of consciousness style gives the reader the delicious, wicked sensation of reading someone’s private correspondence or diary. The letters between several characters heightens the experience.

Ms. Schaeffer employs the scenario of a death and a will like a bomb to set off a series of explosive events. It’s a situation many readers will find familiar. Like watching a slow-motion train wreck, one cannot turn away from reading the disastrous accounts of the characters’ lives. Your allegiances will shift throughout the book.

Poison is not a beach read. It is not for readers who want to plow through a book or those who want to be told everything up front with lots of action and a singular POV. But if you are willing to allow the story to unfold, the characters to develop and evolve, Poison will prove to be incredibly satisfying. I truly believe the novel will appeal to the intelligent reader whose mind can juggle multiple POVs, information given out of chronological order, and backstory appearing right up to the conclusion. It may sound like utter chaos, but I found Poison to be remarkably well-structured, one of the best works of literary fiction I’ve ever read.

Gag Me With a Spoon

Lightning Juice is all about funny tales from family life, so today’s is a Retro Lightning Juice from the Reagan years. Enjoy!

~~~~~

Gag Me With a SpoonBoys will be boys, and girls will be girls. But when they’re teenagers, regardless of the decade, they all turn into little monsters. I’m reminded of this by my own teenager, who reminded me of an incident that took place during the late ‘80s, also known as the golden era of big hair and great music, in which my younger brother and I acted in a way that should have earned us a grounding.

Out of the blue one day, our father asked my brother, Heath, and me to make chili for dinner. In our defense, I’m not exactly sure what Dad was thinking. It’s not as if Heath and I could cook and not because our mother didn’t try. We just didn’t care. We were teenagers, and the only thing that concerned us was getting to the dinner table on time. How the food arrived was not our concern.

Of course, being teens we were highly disgruntled at Dad yanking us away from whatever leisurely activity we were engaged in, which is to say we weren’t doing a stinking thing. I recall that we had some sort of idea how to make the chili, and Dad helped by setting out all the things that went into the pot. At least we had enough sense to brown the meat before adding the rest of the ingredients. That’s where our common sense ended.

When it came time to season the chili, a devious little plan entered our heads. Well, actually, it entered my head, but Heath was quick to accept the idea. He even snickered in the most sly and sneaky way, so I’m crediting him with fifty percent of the accountability on this one.

Now everyone knows that chili is a zesty, spicy dish that ranges in degrees of heat from the mild “did I really just eat chili or was that oatmeal,” to the hot “oh, my goodness, I feel warm.” Heath and I opted for “Dear Lord in Heaven, I can no longer feel my tongue and throat, somebody call an ambulance.”

We didn’t exactly abandon Mom’s recipe, we kind of ignored and/or enhanced it by doubling, possibly tripling, the amount of chili powder we put in the pot. It was our way of ensuring that Dad never again made the mistake of interrupting our nothingness with the silly request to make dinner. And then we spotted the cayenne pepper.

By this time we were both giggling as we spooned in the cayenne and the red pepper flakes we also spied in the cupboard. But wait—there’s more. We rummaged through the refrigerator searching for anything else that might be remotely toasty to the palate and came up with Texas Pete peppers and Tabasco Sauce. Do you know how many shakes of that tiny Tabasco bottle it takes to empty half of it?

Like a couple of witches standing over their cauldron, Heath and I added and stirred, making sure our secrets ingredients were well hidden in the mix. Imagine how pleased our mother was to come home from work to find dinner made by her darling children. I remember her exact comment after the prayer during which Heath and I barely suppressed our laughter all the while making surreptitious eye contact.

“Well, this is interesting,” Mom said after a choked down spoonful.

I probably don’t need to tell you that it was nigh unto inedible. At any moment, Dad would realize his gross mistake and concede that the making of dinner was best left to him or Mom. It wasn’t to be. We all looked to Dad who was slurping up the concoction like it was manna from Heaven.

“This is (slurp, slurp) the best (slurp) chili I’ve (slurp, slurp) ever had.”

With faded smiles slipping from our faces, Heath and I tried to conceal our disappointment. Sure, Dad’s forehead had broken out in beads of sweat, his face was beet red, but he ate two bowls of chili without a single sip of milk to quench the burn. The rest of us gagged it down.

My brother and I probably sound like little demons. We were. I’ll never know if Dad ate the chili to make us feel good for giving it the ole college try, or if he suspected what we had done. To this day, he’d never admit either way. But keep one thing in mind, as far as my brother and I go, the apples don’t fall far from the tree. Don’t believe me? Just ask Dad’s three sisters how ornery he was as a kid.

Bonded

Raw DesireHis family hadn’t gone to the Winterfest Celebration looking for a puppy, but the second Robbie laid eyes on the young dog, he knew he had to have him. And it wasn’t just a matter of wanting; this dog belonged to Robbie. The boy knew it in his heart. He felt it in his soul.

The puppy’s eyes mirrored what Robbie sensed. The other dogs were friendly as they casually licked hands, nuzzled legs, and inevitably stuck their noses where they didn’t belong. This puppy, already weaned and ready to go, approached Robbie as if to say, “Here I am. I’ve been waiting for you.”

How to express this to his parents? That was the true dilemma. There had been so many things in the past that he had wanted, some obtained, some not, but so help him God this was different. To own this puppy, to be owned by it, was simply meant to be. Unlike the four-wheeler, the canoe, and his attempt at keeping chickens, Robbie’s very existence, his future peace of mind, was wrapped up in this dog.

He could hear his mother now. “We already have a dog. What are you going to do about ole Rusty? How’s he going to feel when you bring home a new pup?”

Rusty belonged to his parents before Robbie had been born. It was learning to walk while holding handfuls of Rusty’s wiry fur that instilled a love of animals, of dogs specifically, making Robbie even surer this puppy was meant for him and him alone.

Besides, Rusty was on his way out. Robbie felt no guilt at this thought. He and the ancient Airedale had already discussed this matter while curled up on the couch. They had said their goodbyes, made their plans. Robbie knew Rusty would approve of this puppy. It would be a bridge across the gap of his grief on the day Rusty didn’t come when he called.

All day the boy stayed with the husky pup, guarding it. His intense look of ownership, one of pure possession, caused even the adults to skirt this particular animal. Until finally…

“You know this dog ain’t for sale.”

“I know it.”

“I’ve already started working with this one. He’s begun his training, you know.”

“I said I know it.”

“He’s on display to show what sledding dogs are like.”

What more could Robbie say?

“The puppies for sale are over there with my wife. There’s three nice bitches left if you’re interested.”

“I don’t want a bitch.”

Robbie’s tongue tingled with the semi-forbidden word. He saw his parents milling their way back through the crowd. They hadn’t spotted him yet, still sitting with his puppy. Probably figured he had spent the day with his friends watching the men with chainsaws carve ice sculptures.

“What do you expect me to do?”

The breeder’s question placed Robbie on the precipice between hope and despair. He had only moments to formulate the correct answer. His parents, with visible head shaking and exchanged looks, spied him kneeling on the straw, the husky pup straddling his legs.

“Damn kid,” the breeder muttered.

“You’re gonna teach me how to train this dog. Okay? I’m gonna learn from you, and he’s gonna learn from me. That’s what you’re gonna do.”

The breeder ran his hand across his stubbly chin, ending at the base of his throat where he scratched long and leisurely. His eyes cast heavenward.

“I know it.”

There are times in the lives of children when they experience the raw desire to possess something wonderful (a horse, an electric guitar) or do something fabulous (ballet lessons, white water rafting). More often than should occur, children must bypass these opportunities. Perhaps there’s no time, or worse, no money. Sometimes they’ve used up all their credit with the dreams they want to pursue. Parents insist that children exercise logic and reason in these circumstances. They probably say this in an effort to assuage their guilt especially when their own resources don’t allow for childhood dreams to be fulfilled.

For Robbie Freeman, today was not that day.

~~~~~

Thank you to HBSmithPhotography for the lovely picture of the young boy with the husky pup.

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 12

Writer's Soul 12Today’s Writer’s Soul blog post is going to be a bit like tap dancing on a landmine.  Per the suggestion in Page After Page, I’m going to explore my parent’s influence on my writing life. When I first read the exercise, I thought to myself, “There isn’t enough red wine in the entire world to make me do this, especially when both parents follow my blog.” Yet here we are.

I don’t believe either of my parents ever aspired to be writers, although I do remember mom jotting down an occasional poem during my childhood. That’s okay because neither resisted the idea of writing or being an artist of any kind.

The funny thing is I don’t really consider either of them to be readers. Well, not on the same level that I hoard and consume books anyway. Mom admits that she came to pleasure reading as an adult when she read The Wind in the Willows. This still surprises me because she was always reading to me and my brother when we were little. In fact, I credit Mom with instilling in me a love for books as I mentioned before.  (My Love Affair With Books)

I only remember my Dad reading Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon Days and John Irving’s The World According to Garp. Otherwise, my only memories of Dad reading were the gigantic manuals and/or books he studied when testing to make rank on the police force.

To what degree did my parents influence my writing? Mom is extremely creative in areas of decorating, cooking, hosting, and crafting. Perhaps I’m drawing on these genes when I write. From Dad I learned that whatever I do should be done well and completed. I mention the completion aspect because he has always complained that Mom has thousands of dollars of unfinished crafts and too many tea sets. I think Dad doesn’t understand that creativity is ongoing.

Both of my parents are hard workers, and while Dad would probably say that he did what he wanted to in life, Mom would wistfully admit that there were things she would have liked to have done and didn’t. I know she wanted to own a bed and breakfast or tearoom.  Her dreaming is what prompts me to keep writing even when things seem hopeless and the self-doubts arise. Dad’s successful career causes me to worry about making money at writing. I believe this stems from the fact that he conveyed to me and my brother the need to get jobs that supported ourselves but didn’t necessarily allow us to follow our dreams. This is the type of influence one would expect from a provider.

With these perspectives on working and following dreams in mind, I am better able to understand why I vacillate between the thoughts of “Will I make any money at this or am I just chasing a pipe dream” and “I really want to write and be published more than any other creative endeavor.” There’s a lot of pressure that comes with such thoughts, but as an adult, I’ll own them.

If Mom and Dad aren’t the driving force behind my writing, who is? The first people to come to mind are the countless writers behind the Little Golden Books Mom bought for me. Laura Ingalls Wilder, Judy Blume, and L.M. Montgomery float to the surface of my memory. I could go on forever listing all of the authors and books I discovered through the years, but I’ll just say that my love of writing was birthed from my love of reading an excellent story.

What makes a great story? Great words. I admit, I’ve been caught reading with my lips moving, but if people would step closer and lean in, they would hear me reading softly to myself. When a passage is well written, it begs to be read aloud. My friend, Eleni Byrnes, would understand my obsession with words. She keeps a notebook of words she likes as she comes across them. It’s why she writes so well.

So, I’ll start with Eleni in my writing family tree and make her a sister. I’ll add Billie Letts and Wally Lamb as grandparents because they are excellent story tellers, and I’m all about the story. Isabel Allende will be my exotic aunt, and David Mitchell and David Liss my quirky cousins. Tim Gautreaux and Charles Frazier are favorite uncles.

Again, there are too many brilliant authors who have influenced my writing, so I’ll direct you to my Authors I Admire board on Pinterest and Goodreads to see who they are. Together, they make up my writing family tree and neighborhood.

I encourage everyone to explore who influences their writing or chosen art form. You’ll discover an extended family you never even knew you had.

Write Happy!

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