Category Archives: Memoir

Creative Juice #274

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Creative Juice #274

This week’s offerings are heavy on writing advice, but you don’t have to be a writer to love the first two articles.

Creative Juice #272

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Creative Juice #272

Lots o’ neat stuff.

Be Careful What You Tell a Child

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Bonnie and me
I’m the one on the right. I must have been about four years old.

When I was a little girl, I took grownups at their word. Eventually, experience and disappointment taught me not to trust them.

Uncle Eddie was my mother’s sister’s husband’s brother. I guess he wasn’t really my uncle, but I called him Uncle Eddie, and his wife was Aunt Jo to me.

Aunt Jo was glamourous. She wore makeup and sparkly jewelry and even a mink stole over her shoulders in cool weather. She smelled like perfume and laughed melodiously. She made a big fuss over me, and made me feel special.

My parents in contrast were very plain and ordinary, and their affection for me depended on my excellence. (For example, if I had straight A’s on my report card, I had their approval. But one B proved I wasn’t trying hard enough.)

One night when Aunt Jo and Uncle Eddie were over, I managed to captivate Aunt Jo. “I’m gonna take you home with me,” she said. And I thought she meant it.

I had a doll suitcase, which I emptied and packed with a nightgown and a change of clothes. When Aunt Jo and Uncle Eddie got up to leave, I grabbed my suitcase and joined them.

When my parents asked me where I thought I was going, I reminded them that Aunt Jo said she was taking me home with her, and then I found out that was a joke. It wasn’t funny to me; it was heartbreaking, a betrayal.

Another day, when I was roaming the neighborhood with my friend Rose, we heard music and singing and laughing from her neighbor’s house. “Let’s see what’s going on,” she said, and we rang the doorbell.

The lady of the house let us in. Some sort of celebration was going full swing. The lady made a big fuss over Rose (kind of like the fuss Aunt Jo would make over me). She let Rose sit on the piano bench with her as she played piano and sang a song. Then she passed a candy bowl to Rose and me and we helped ourselves to sweet treats. Rose said, “We have to go now,” and the lady said, “Come back soon.” Then she turned to me and said, “You too.”

The next day, as I passed the house, I remembered the lady’s words. I also remembered the candy bowl. So I rang the doorbell.

When the lady came to the door, she was wearing a robe and seemed very tired, not nearly as vivacious as the day before. “Yes?”

She didn’t seem to recognize me. “I’m Andrea. I was here yesterday with Rose.”

“And. . . ?”

“You said I should come back soon.”

“What do you want?”

I thought about the candy bowl, but it would be rude to ask for candy. Why did she not remember me? I thought she wanted me to visit. “Never mind,” I finally said, and went on my way.

Many years later, I realized that both Aunt Jo and Rose’s neighbor were likely tipsy when they said those words to me that were so full of promise.

But little kids don’t understand the implications of alcohol. They don’t understand why grownups would say something and then not follow through, as if they didn’t even remember.

My way of coping with the capriciousness of adults’ words was not to believe them when they promised something fun. That way, if the fun thing actually happened, I was pleasantly surprised; and if it didn’t, I wasn’t all that disappointed because my cynicism didn’t allow me to hope for it. Maybe that was a good lesson to learn in a less-than-perfect world.

The Kindness

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old car

I was on the road home with my (then) two little kids when the car started acting up, making noises and bucking. This was in the days long before cell phones. I was afraid of being stranded on the highway, with no money to pay for a tow and repairs. I knew my husband wasn’t home, but I wasn’t far from a good friend’s farmhouse, and maybe her mechanically-inclined husband was home. They lived on a country dirt road, and the turn-off was just ahead, so I took it.

Although I tried avoiding the ruts, the ride was bumpier than it should have been, the car misfiring and misbehaving. I was still a distance away from my friend’s house, but I could see her neighbor’s place. The man who lived there was working in his yard, and looked up at the clamor my car was making. The car shuddered as it clanked with malice, and I turned into the neighbor’s driveway just as the car died.

The man came over and opened my hood. His wife recognized me as her neighbor’s friend (I had met her before), and she offered me a glass of iced tea. We sat in the yard and chatted about kids and crafts as her kids and mine played together and her husband tinkered away on my engine. The knot in my chest from worry about my car loosened.

After about an hour, the man had my car engine running smoothly. I can’t remember what he said was wrong with it. He asked me if I could pay him $20 for the repair. I tittered nervously. We were just getting by. I didn’t know when I’d ever be able to pay him. He didn’t press.

I don’t remember the first names of the couple, but their last name was Vogt. If by some chance they should happen to read this little story, I would want them to know that I may have forgotten their names, but I’ve never forgotten their kindness to me that day, almost forty years ago.

Andrea in Song

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Just for fun, I’m going to tell you all about me—with songs!

I was born in November, 1952,  when this song was the most popular on radio:

I grew up in New Jersey. That’s right—I’m a Jersey girl.

I went to a Catholic school from kindergarten through eighth grade. This song was frequently sung in my classroom and my church. I had some of these images on holy cards in my missal:

From third grade through eighth grade and then again in tenth grade I took piano lessons from Sister Mercy. All her students practiced the Czerny exercises:

In high school, my favorite activity was chorus—so much so that I dreamed of being a high school choral conductor. My eyes still tear up whenever I hear kids’ voices.

And so I went to music school, first at Duquesne University, then Monmouth College (now Monmouth University) and finished my B.A. at Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) and my M.A. at Trenton State (now The College of New Jersey). In the course of doing a junior practicum at the high school, middle school, and elementary levels, I found out that elementary music class is the happiest place on earth. (Who knew? We didn’t have a regular music class at the parochial school I attended.) So I left my high school dreams behind and worked in elementary school instead. I found a video online of highlights of my kindergarten end-of-year program back in 2011. The theme of the show was the ocean. I’m playing the piano.

Greg and I married in 1974. This was the music for our first dance at our wedding:

From 1979 to 1989 we were busy giving birth to five kids. This song was a common sound in our house during those years:

Now we’re empty nesters. Greg spends his days refinishing gunstocks. I blog and work on my writing.

Now it’s your turn, bloggers especially: Compile a list of songs that tells your story, with videos if possible. Post it on your blog, or on social media, and give us a link in the comments.

Creative Juice #258

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Creative Juice #258

All sorts of info to inspire your artistic brain.

  • I know the common green mantises; I didn’t know they have diverse cousins.
  • Flip through Nathalie’s art journal.
  • How things get done in Mozambique.
  • Lovely photographs of ordinary objects.
  • Funny and amazing animal videos.
  • Natural poses to suggest when you’re taking photographs of groups of people.
  • Teeny tiny paintings.
  • This artist’s quilted portraits celebrate Black life. Be sure to click on the link at the end of the article to see more. (Actually, you have to click on the little box that appears when you click the link.)
  • For the writers: mining memories for your memoir.
  • Incredible photographs of endangered species.
  • For the artists: open calls, grants, residencies, and fellowships.
  • The Presto from the Summer concerto from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons played on a big honkin’ organ.

Creative Juice #255

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Creative Juice #255

Hey, if you’re a writer, there are THREE articles here for you. And nine for everybody else.

  • Design so beautiful you’ll want to live here.
  • Like dogs and horses? Then you’ll love this Instagram account.
  • For the fiction writers: tips from Margie Lawson.
  • Sculptures made from zip-ties.
  • An artist celebrates her pregnancy.
  • Does your writing routine (or any creative practice) need a refresh? Go outside.
  • Do you like sunflowers? Here’s a bunch of ‘em.
  • Interesting street art.
  • Why writers should just do it and get it over with. (Sensitivity alert: there is a metaphor in this article that may be offensive to some people and may be an anxiety trigger for others. It made me laugh. Full disclosure: I’ve never had this procedure; back in the Stone Age, when I was dating, it wasn’t yet a “thing.”)
  • Do you ever think about writing your memoir?
  • I’m glad I read this. The pandemic, which I thought was almost over, is back again with a vengeance, and I have been longing for the good old days like nobody’s business. I needed a reminder that our lives before weren’t necessarily great, and I don’t have to look at the present like it’s oppressive.
  • Chimneys used to be a much bigger deal than they are today.

Creative Juice #251

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Creative Juice #251

A lot of beauty in today’s articles, curated especially for you.

  • Do you like Irish step dancing?
  • If you read my post about the Sirens, you know I love to sleep.
  • Georgia O’Keeffe on the art of seeing. And lots of links, if you enjoy going down rabbit holes.
  • I may have included these father of the bride photos in a previous edition of Creative Juice. You know what? They’re so beautiful, you should see them again.
  • Beautiful fruit photography.
  • Read your children some books about kindness and talk about how to make a difference in the lives of the people around you.
  • I’d never heard of Sonny Curtis, even though I’m familiar with two of his most famous songs; but I love his daughter’s essay about him.
  • Would you believe there are 800 pairs of herons living in Amsterdam? Maybe because of the canals. . .
  • Ingenious and useful creations from toilet paper rolls.
  • A mom’s June sketchbook pages.
  • I love this Instagrammer’s ICAD cards.
  • How a quilter pieced a 60-piece block perfectly!

Schlesien Family History Mystery

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I am the daughter of German immigrants. Whenever my parents were asked what part of Germany they were from, my father answered, Bavaria; my mother, Schlesien. (The English word for Schlesien is Silesia, as Bavaria is the English word for the German Bayern.) Bavaria was recognized by most people; no one knew what Schlesien was. My mother simply explained that after World War II, it became part of Poland, and she could never return home again.

All my life I had the same experience when people asked me where my parents were from—no one had ever heard of Schlesien.

Until about ten years ago. A woman who worked in the office of the school where I taught told me her father was from Schlesien. I was the first person she’d ever met who had heard of it. We experienced an immediate kinship, like twins separated at birth who had finally been reunited.

Mom circa 1940
Mom, circa 1940. She was proud that the photographer chose to display this photo in his shop window.

My mother’s life before I knew her seems like a fairy tale to me. She was born in 1920 in Namslau, near Breslau (present day Wroclaw). She had a brother and a sister. Her mother was a homemaker; her father was a train engineer. She was proud of him; his social status was comparable to a 1960’s airline pilot.

The family’s surname was Stodolka, but my grandfather felt it didn’t sound German enough, so he legally changed it to Stold.

At one point in Mom’s childhood, her mother experienced a severe illness and could not take care of the kids, so they went to stay with their maternal grandparents for a few months on their farm. Some of their cousins were there, too, and they were all expected to help with the chores. One day the older cousins were tasked with splitting firewood. They told Mom’s brother, Joachim, to hold a log upright. You know what’s coming, don’t you? Yes. They swung the ax and cut off Joachim’s thumb.

Joachim picked up his thumb and went crying to Oma (Grandma). As he put pressure on his wound, Oma boiled an egg, picked off the shell, and carefully peeled the membrane surrounding the egg. She then lined up Joachim’s thumb with the stump, wrapped it with the egg membrane, wound spider web around it, and securely bandaged it. The thumb healed so well that in his teens, Joachim became a masterful violinist and pianist and earned a scholarship to a conservatory of music. I swear, this is what my mother told me. But when I repeat the story to other people, they tell me I’m nuts.

During my mother’s youth, Roma wagon caravans regularly stopped in her neighborhood. One of the Roma women told my grandmother that my mother had “second sight” (clairvoyance). My grandmother didn’t believe it, but my mother did. (I don’t.)

It’s fun to remember old family stories. I’ve posted some other more recent family stories too.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have a quirky family story? I dare you to share it in the comments below.

Oops.

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Photo by Candace McDaniel

My oldest daughter, Carly, entered kindergarten with seriously advanced reading skills. She was working her way through the Little House on the Prairie series. In school, she was being taught the letters of the alphabet, numbers, counting, and colors. They did have a gifted program, but not for kindergarteners. I fought hard to have her spend part of her day in a first-grade classroom. I was considered a difficult parent.

We lived outside of Trenton, New Jersey, and I began exploring private schools. In nearby Princeton there were schools that catered to advanced students and actively sought them out. I found one that had the resources and experience to work with students like Carly. They offered us a substantial scholarship, and my parents offered to pay most of the rest of her tuition, and that was where she spent the next three years of her education, until we moved to Arizona.

Many of the people who live in the Princeton area are quite wealthy. We are not. It was as though we lived in different worlds.

Parents at the school sometimes threw events at their homes for the parents and/or children in their kids’ classes. You could film an episode of The Crown in their homes. Generations of ancestors looked down on you from the oil portraits on the walls. Birthday parties were elaborate extravaganzas: carnivals, candy hunts, craft parties.

One time I was invited to an “informal reception” in connection with a fundraising drive. Silly me—I saw the word informal and thought it meant casual.

That’s not what informal means in Princeton. At least, not in the late 1980s.

I sewed myself a skirt out of a Hawaiian floral print. I was so happy with the way it turned out. It was bright and colorful—magenta and yellow and green. I paired it with a shocking pink shell and a turquoise over-shirt.

I took three steps into the reception and realized I’d made a horrible mistake.

Everyone was dressed in black, or in black-and-white.

In Princeton, informal is a short step down from formal. So, not ballgowns and tuxedos, but definitely not casual.

And there I was, sticking out like the proverbial neon sore thumb.

I thought about leaving. I thought about bursting into tears. But instead I took a deep breath, smiled, stood up straight, and tried to fit in as best as I could. No one said an unkind word to me. Nobody mentioned my homemade skirt.

For today’s post, I selected an online blogging prompt: Write about a time you were inappropriately dressed for the occasion. This was the first incident that came to mind.

Now it’s your turn. Did you ever show up to an event either over- or under-dressed? Share in the comments below.