Monday, October 31, 2016

A Halloween Memory

This is a story I wrote several years ago and it appeared in Prairie Times. I've edited it slightly for length. It's a way back when story and maybe some of you will relate. You may even have an angel show up at your door tonight!

My Blue Angel Gown 

I wanted to be an angel. Fifth graders get ideas in their heads about what or who they want to be for Halloween and this time it was an angel for me. It was back in the days when most costumes were homemade. Mom was more practical than creative, but something must have struck a cord in her that year. Perhaps she longed to be the kind of Mom who came up with something brilliant for her daughter, as she’d seen other moms do, but I’m only guessing.  

The reality was that there was no money for such things. With five children it was hard enough putting food on the table let alone buying material and whatever else might be required to turn her oldest child into heaven’s envoy. I don’t remember if I bugged her endlessly to make my costume, but I sure had my hopes up. I even offered a few ideas in case she ran out of her own.

And there was another problem. Mom didn’t drive. In those days a lot of women didn’t and most families only had one car anyway. Our dad did almost all the grocery shopping after work on payday. Our neighbor, Mona, drove, but deep down I knew the chance of Mom going anywhere to find anything like an angel costume was highly unlikely. It left me resigned and thinking of what other things I could come up with on my own.  The odd sheet or pillowcase for a ghost or a well worn shirt of dad’s and a burnt cork to make a mustache were family staples.

Then one glorious  autumn day I came home from school and Mom announced she had a surprise for me. Out of a shopping bag she pulled a filmy blue nightgown and told me she was going to make my angel costume out of it. Oh, my. I was dazzled. I held the nightgown up to my face to feel the sheer softness of it. It was a woman’s size, trimmed with broad satin ribbons and my fifth grade sensibilities were charmed.

“Where did you get it?” I asked.

“Mona and I went to the Goodwill this afternoon and I found it. Do you like it?”

Of course I did! I held against me as she tucked and fussed. She was having fun, too! The nightgown had two parts. The layer underneath was shiny nylon and over that was a filmy layer of soft pale blue. It was way too big, but I trusted Mom would do her best to make it fit. And wings? I have a dim memory of entwined coat hangers wrapped in ribbon and sort of hanging off my back.

The day finally came for me to wear my designed-by-mom costume. She swept my curly hair up and stood back to admire her handiwork. I felt like a true Cinderella and couldn’t wait to go to school. We wore our costumes to class back then and paraded in the school yard to show them off. I was sure I’d be the best angel anyone had ever seen and I wasn’t disappointed. The other girls, Raggedy Anns, ghosts, fairy princesses, and clowns, all loved the feel of my gown. Mom had hemmed it and made a cummerbund sort of thing for my waist where the excess material was pulled up and puffed out. I wore my bedroom slippers to complete my look. I swished and twirled in front of my friends. I loved it and felt loved wearing it.

It’s a moment in time that I hold dear because in subsequent years we were back to ghosts, dad’s old shirts and and garbage bag monsters. There were just too many responsibilities at home with all of us kids for Mom to be able to do something so special every year. But it was one  happy little girl who went door to door that night and whenever I see a drawing or picture of a fairy-like angel, I think of Mom and my beautiful blue angel gown.  

Image: Free Digital Photos

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

You Never Know

I can’t remember whether I read my first copy of Ideals magazine in my mother’s home or somewhere else. I loved the publication because it was all beautiful pictures, encouraging stories and inspiring essays. One year,1977, I bought the autumn edition because I’d fallen in love with the cover. I still have it. I take it out every September and leave it where I can turn to a beloved page whenever I’m in the mood. I have several of the poems nearly memorized.

Yes, fall arrived this morning
I felt her tangy touch
Persuading me to wander
Down paths I love so much . . .

That’s the first stanza of a poem by Georgia B. Adams. Lovely.

Here’s the thing. It’s my mother’s fault. When she was still in her twenties, she and my father pulled up stakes in Minnesota and with their four children (and one on the way) they joined millions of other Americans in the westward trek to California – the Promised Land of the 50’s and 60’s. It must have been so hard for her. Consequently she never missed an opportunity to remember Minnesota and the days of her youth to us whenever we snuggled up on the bed to listen to tales of the “olden days”. And she would rhapsodize especially about autumn. The chill in the air, the colorful trees and turning over outhouses on Halloween were my favorites. My siblings and I fell in love with an autumn we were pretty sure we’d never experience.

Many years later I married and moved with my husband and son(and one on the way)to upstate New York. Now I had an autumn “seasonal experience” every year just like Mom had in Minnesota. Every bit of what she had instilled in us about the season was presented in my 1977 copy of Ideals. I pored through it and the romance of the season washed over me. I admired each and every one of the writers and artists who contributed to it. How I envied their way with words.

Here’s another thing. Many more years later, when I began writing, I hunted down the Ideals contributor guidelines. I wondered if I could ever be as good as some of the wonderful writers I’d found within the pages of that beautiful publication. Measure up? Probably not. But I gave it a shot. I wrote several simple, rhyming poems and sent them in. I waited for the rejections. I wrote other things. Then one day I got an envelope containing a contract from an editor – at Ideals – they’d like to use one of my poems in an upcoming Easter issue. I was gob smacked! And grateful and gob  smacked! I wish I could tell you how gob smacked I was. You’ll just have to imagine the awesomeness of it. 

And here’s what’s happened since.

I have a poem in each of these issues 2012, 2013, and this year Christmas 2017. God is simply amazing.  Right? 

Image: 1977 Autumn Ideals

Monday, October 17, 2016

Read Any Good Books Lately?

Okay, enough of this lazy business of recovering from out of town guests. Time to get a move on.  Time for a few book reviews, don’t’ you think? Let me tell you about . . .  

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown – Crewing. Whenever I heard the word (rarely) the first thing that came to mind was a crew neck sweater. Or maybe haircuts? Silly me. In this book I learned all about “crewing” as it relates to boats and water. The “boys” were nine members of the University of Washington  crewing (rowing) team and in at the 1936 Olympics they kicked butt. The path they had to take to get there will amaze you. The author focuses on the life struggle of one rower, Joe Rantz, and several of his crew mates. Your heart will bleed for Joe. In one instance he was left to fend for himself at the ripe old age of fifteen. He came home from school one day to find his dad, stepmother, and siblings all packed into the family jalopy and ready to leave – for good. Joe was told there was no room for him so he was on his own. At fifteen. Wait’ll you read about that! Anyway, the stories behind the story made this a terrific read and by the end of the book I was cheering like a crazy woman for that long ago crewing team. And Hitler never saw it coming.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand – Maybe “unbelievable” would have been a better title for this astonishing book. One of the reasons I read it was because I’d read Seabiscuit by the same author. Hillenbrand is one thorough writer! This is the tale of the Impressive life of Louis Zamperini. The years leading up to his becoming an airman in WWII were harrowing enough (he was also an Olympian – a runner), but as the story progresses, we find him stranded in the Pacific Ocean after his plane went down. He and two other men faced the elements for nearly seven weeks (catching a shark and eating its liver???) and when Louis and his pilot (the other man died) were finally rescued by some Koreans they were tromped off to prison camp. Ghastly. When you read of the cruel officer known as “the Bird” you’ll understand what I mean. So scary. But when Louis died at the ripe old age of 94 he had become a redeemed and forgiving man. He even sought out the Bird to offer him that forgiveness. He was a remarkable human being. Can’t recommend this one enough.

The Anarchist’s Dictator by Eric Sundwall – How smart do  you think you are? Our firstborn son has written this lyrical riddle and boy, ya gotta have some brains to get it. What is the Midgard Serpent and why do dolphins fascinate us so? Epsilon Xi might shed some light on the subject. Who is Uncle Murray – do you think you know? No, he’s not the dictator. Or maybe he is. In July of 2017 your name could be in the pool of readers who have taken a stab at naming the anarchist’s dictator. Big bucks at stake, too. The whole book is only 27  pages long and it may take that many years to figure it out but perhaps you’re up to the challenge. Check out  for more.

So, what’s on your book list?