Tag Archives: Memoir

Guest Post: Writing a Memoir of Restoration, Renewal, and Rediscovery by Marilyn L. Davis

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Guest Post: Writing a Memoir of Restoration, Renewal, and Rediscovery by Marilyn L. Davis

Thanks to Two Drops of Ink: A Literary Blog and to Marilyn L. Davis for this insightful article.

Two Drops of Ink: A Literary Blog

By: Marilyn L. Davis

“It has always been on the written page that the world has come into focus for me. If I can piece all these bits of memory together with the diaries and letters and the scribbled thoughts that clutter my mind and bookshelves, then maybe I can explain what happened. Maybe the worlds I have inhabited for the past seven years will assume order and logic and wholeness on paper. Maybe I can tell my story in a way that is useful to someone else.” ― Nancy Horan, Loving Frank

While Nancy Horan’s book is a novel, this passage helps explain the power of memoir or reflective writing. I’m a huge fan of the genre, in part, because it began my recovery from substance abuse, but more importantly, this type of reflective writing healed me in ways I could not imagine when I first started writing.

Much…

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Fear of Driving

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Fear of Driving

This article was first published on Doing Life Together.

Doing Life Together

I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 19.

I got my first learner’s permit when I was a senior in high school. My dad took me out driving several times in his huge Buick LeSabre. Our sessions usually ended with him red-faced and shouting at me, and me crying. At the time, I didn’t understand why Dad was so frustrated.

The day of my scheduled road test was also the day of the first blizzard of 1970. I had no experience driving in snow. Even though Dad promised the test course would be plowed by the time we got there, this was not the way I’d imagined it. I pictured myself driving us to the Motor Vehicles office on non-scary, dry roads. I didn’t want a last-minute lesson on driving on snow-covered roads. So I refused to go. Dad said I could call and reschedule, but I just…

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The Day Milo Went AWOL . . . by Andrea R Huelsenbeck

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The Day Milo Went AWOL . . . by Andrea R Huelsenbeck

An oldy, but a goody. Un-smiley face graphic by Kaz Vorpal.

Doing Life Together

California King Snake California King Snake

As I was readying to leave for work one day fifteen years ago, my daughter Erin, then fifteen years old and the last of our children to leave for school in the morning, breathlessly announced, “There’s a snake in my pants!”

Now, in some homes, a statement like that might be alarming. However, in our house, it was pretty typical.

Firstly, my kids tended to keep their clothes on the floor. Secondly, although we live in Arizona, we are surrounded on all sides by the greater Phoenix metropolitan area—unlikely a wild reptile wriggled in from the desert. It would probably be one of our resident serpents.

You see, my husband, Greg, an elementary school teacher, collected critters.

So my very logical response to Erin was “Who is it?”

“One of the black and white ones.”

Boy, was I ticked. I had recently flown to New Jersey to…

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Seasons of Christmas

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Seasons of Christmas

When I compare Christmases past to Christmas present (the time frame, not the gift), I’m struck that as we pass through the seasons of life, we experience Christmas differently.

The Elementary Years

When I was a kid, Christmas was all about getting presents. Even though I grew up in a Christian home and loved baby Jesus (what’s not to love about babies?), my main focus in December was toys. I remember my mother sitting me down at the kitchen table with a Sears catalog and a piece of looseleaf paper, telling me to list a few suggestions for Santa. Soon, I’d ask for more paper.

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“Only write down the things you want the most,” my mother instructed.

“I am,” I insisted, “but there’s more.”

“Don’t you want clothes? Maybe some new underwear?”

“No.”

We lived in a town where many people were well-to-do, but my immigrant parents struggled. I was jealous of my friends, who didn’t have just one doll, but doll collections and wardrobes; they had stacks of games, but I only had a few. I didn’t understand why Santa brought them so many toys. I was an angelic child; my friends were naughty. Shouldn’t I be getting at least as much as they? The inequity of Christmas was beyond my understanding.

High School and College

As I got older, the focus shifted away from receiving gifts toward giving them. In elementary school, we generally made gifts for our parents in class. Now I had to think of gifts on my own. I don’t remember what I gave my parents, but I earned a little money babysitting or from part-time jobs, and I budgeted for my family (including my little brother) and my friends (especially boyfriends). Mostly, I gave inexpensive gifts, but for my boyfriends I bought engraved pewter mugs or cufflinks or medallions (hey, this was the late 60s and early 70s).

Parenthood

As much fun as Christmas is with small children, I remember those years as stressful. Though my five kids loved Santa, I tried to redirect them toward the spiritual aspects of Christmas. I read them books about the birth of Christ. They participated in Christmas pageants at church. I helped them make gifts for our neighbors.

It’s hard to provide multiple presents for five kids on one teacher’s salary. I sewed pajamas and clothes and doll quilts for the girls, and made handmade gifts for my friends and parents. Things my children needed were saved until Christmas. And then we scrambled to find at least one special item for each child, usually charged on a credit card, paid off slowly.

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After we moved across the country, my parents started sending us a check in December. They’d always bought gifts for their grandchildren before, but the separation was now too vast to know all their preferences, and shipping presents would have been an extra expense. While I love my parents for their generosity toward us, it also meant we had the extra pressure of shopping for their gifts to the kids as well, or else spending the days after Christmas taking the kids to stores to pick out their gifts (exciting for them but exhausting for us).

And there’s the logistics of wrapping and storing all those presents. I didn’t want to wrap while the kids were up and about and could catch me in the act, which meant I had to wait until they were asleep. I often wrapped presents way into the wee hours of Christmas morning. In the meantime, our closets and dressers and garage and car trunks were stuffed with boxes.

Having five kids in ten years meant that some years we had students in three different schools. Three different schools = separate winter concerts to attend. And I was also in our church choir for five years, and the handbell choir for two. Lots of rehearsals. Lots of performances. Lots of teacher gifts. Lots of running around.

No Snow

Speaking of moving across the country—in Arizona, Christmastime is different than in New Jersey. Our first Christmas here, we were invited to dinner on our neighbor’s patio.

Photo by Kelley Diwan.

Photo by Kelley Diwan.

Greg and the kids profess to miss the snow. I don’t. I happily admire pictures of snowy landscapes, but I prefer weather I don’t have to shovel. From my current window, I can see green trees and turquoise skies. My view in New Jersey Decembers was shades of gray—bare trees, dead grass, dirty snow along the road (if there was any snow, which didn’t always happen at Christmas), and an overcast sky.

Teaching

The eight years I taught in the twenty-first century (as opposed to the four years I taught before I had kids), Christmas at home had to be drastically simplified. Part of that was because I spent long hours working in my classroom after school. Also, as the music teacher, I produced the musical portion of the kindergarten gingerbread house celebration, as well as two assemblies and a winter concert at the State Capitol with my chorus.

Before my return to teaching, I used to send out a newsletter with my Christmas cards, filling everyone in on my entire family’s activities and accomplishments during the year. With teaching duties I barely had time to send cards—and some years I didn’t.

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Retirement

Christmas is so much more relaxed now. With no jobs, we have plenty of unscheduled time to tackle Christmas activities, and time to meditate on the heavenly miracle of God assuming human form to sacrifice himself on our behalf.

With our children grown and living on their own, Greg and I no longer have to hide wrapped packages. Although we don’t have the excitement of kids waking early in the morning to open presents, our four offspring who live nearby come home for dinner or at least dessert, and we exchange our gifts then.

I’ve loved every season of Christmas so far, and I’m very content with our celebration this year. (But I’m looking forward to the season of grandchildren, if God and our children ever bless us with any. Don’t tell my kids—I promised long ago I would never pressure them.)

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How about you? Was there a season when your Christmas was especially magical? What is your favorite way to celebrate? Share in the comments below.

Creative Juice #6

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Creative Juice #6

Some of the most creative articles I found online this week:

 

Review of One Year There: A Soldier’s Year in South Korea in 1968 by Robert Denis Holewinski

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Review of One Year There: A Soldier’s Year in South Korea in 1968 by Robert Denis Holewinski

I met Bob Holewinski at my fortieth high school reunion in 2010; he’s married to my former classmate. When Deb mentioned on Facebook that he’d written a book about his year serving in Korea during the Vietnam era, I bought the Kindle edition. Like Holewinski, my husband also served in Korea (for thirteen months, starting in January 1969). That connection piqued my curiousity about Holewinski’s experience.

Two years passed before I even looked at the book. Why? Because it’s written in free verse. I procrastinated reading the poetic military memoir because I expected it to be an epic like the Iliad, which I suffered through in high school, and remember nothing about. So, I saved it for some undefined future date.

In the meantime, Deb shared on Facebook that Bob had written another book, and a few months ago, mentioned he is a talented artist. I checked out his paintings on the websites that sell them, and they so impressed me that I shared them on ARHtistic License.

Then, I felt guilty that I’d never read Holewinski’s book, and decided to tackle it.

The good news is, it’s a much quicker read than the Iliad (I finished it in two days), and for me, much more engaging.

One Year There

Holewinski says he wrote the book to “purge the phantoms that have been dwelling inside me since living ‘One Year There.’” As it turns out, poetry is the perfect medium for his story. With its lack of paragraphs, punctuation, and capital letters, the poems peel away any artificial barriers that might separate the reader from the raw tension and emotion pouring from Holewinski’s words (my apologies–I don’t know enough coding to make WordPress match the author’s indents):

i run up the long hill
to a dark and damp bunker
half sunk down in the ground
half built up with sandbag walls

covered with a plywood and sandbag roof
there I charge through the narrow entrance
breathing fast heart hard pounding
alone
waiting
looking out through the slit openings
with dripping moisture the bunker smells
of oiled canvas damp earth and i wait
alone
come on
come on
where is everyone already

Stationed at a nuclear missile base in South Korea, a high-priority target of the North Koreans, Holewinski lived with danger unimagined by average citizens stateside, who watched coverage of the Vietnam war on the nightly news. Only the worst Korean incidents garnered any press, such as the capture on January 23, 1968, of the USS Pueblo by the North Koreans. After eleven months of negotiations and a public apology by the United States government, the eighty-three crew members were finally released from their detainment.

When Holewinski’s unit was in training, being prepared for their assigned duty in Vietnam (and being cautioned that they would probably not be coming home alive), the Pueblo’s capture altered their orders to serve in Korea, but the risk of dying in action remained high.

In One Year There: A Soldier’s Year in South Korea in 1968, Holewinski records his memories about the countryside, the locals, and his fellow soldiers. Spoiler alert: if you don’t want some story details, skip these bulletin points:

  • While his unit fills sandbags in an attempt to contain a flooding river, a drunk sergeant falls into the rushing waters. Though clinging to floating debris, when he slams into a log jam at the bridge, he loses his grip and is pulled under the surface. His body is never found.
  • The mayor of Hasangoni, where the military base is located, negotiates deals with the officers to enrich himself and possibly benefit his villagers.
  • While on emergency bivouac, soldiers dressed in their winter gear observe an old papa-san wading through an icy river carrying his bicycle.
  • A soldier from Florida experiences snow for the first time.
  • A village girl who clears tables in the mess hall falls in love with one of the American soldiers. When his tour is over, he returns stateside without even saying goodbye.
  • The murder of Martin Luther King causes a rift between the Black and white soldiers.
  • A busload of Korean orphans visits the camp, accompanied by the nuns who care for them. The children, wearing traditional costumes, sing folk songs and perform ethnic dances for the troops. Then they are treated to a full meal in the mess hall, with the soldiers waiting on them. After that, the kids hunt for Easter candy and receive gifts of clothing, books, and games. This is one of the highlights of Holewinski’s tour.
  • A soldier who’d returned home re-enlists (because he can’t find civilian work back home), and is shunned by the draftees.
  • An imminent attack sparks an evacuation of the camp—including its nine nuclear warheads.
  • A soldier purposely breaks his hand, hoping to get sent home with a medical discharge. Instead, he’s treated in the infirmary.

Robert Holewinski Self-Portrait

In some places, the line breaks seemed wonky to me. I don’t know if it was deliberate on the author’s part, or if the formatting was distorted from viewing it in a large font on my Kindle. (What I use so I don’t have to put on my reading glasses.)

Holewinski successfully captures the tension, danger, and despair endured by military in a combat zone. His poetry flows economically, with the emotion coming through without wordy explanation. As someone who has never experienced military life, I found it illuminating. I suspect that One Year There would especially resonate with anyone in the armed forces.

I is for: In Praise of Afternoons

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I is for: In Praise of Afternoons

First published on Doing Life Together.A2Z-BADGE 2016-smaller_zpslstazvib

Doing Life Together

In response to the The Daily Post prompt: Because the Night.

If you had asked me in my twenties what time of day I did my best work, I would have said, “In the morning.” I married an early bird, and once I adopted his strategy for catching the worm, I was hooked.

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The strategy worked well during my child-rearing years. When the kids were small, they woke as soon as they heard us stirring, eager to get on with the day, reluctant to miss anything.

Waking early also served me well during my teaching career. Getting to work early gave my brain time to prepare for my students.

But when I left teaching for my new writing life, my brain underwent a paradigm shift.

Firstly, I must explain how physically and emotionally exhausted I was. For more than eight years, I’d worked at a job that was…

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The Impact of a Wonder Child

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The Impact of a Wonder Child

When I was seven, I joined Brownies. Not only was it a lot of fun, but for the first time in my life I met girls my age who did not attend my parochial school.Brownie cap

Kathy was one such new friend. When I met her, I had no idea what a huge impact she would have on my life. We were close friends for about eight years. I’d go to her house, only a few blocks from mine, whenever I could.

Kathy was a genius. No, I mean it. Literally. Not only was she an honor student, she was interested in everything: stamps, science, literature, art, music—and she pursued everything with a focus that was all-encompassing. I shared many of the same interests, but I didn’t have her discipline, or the resources she and her sister Freddie (for Fredricka) had: parents who liberally supported their interests by buying them stuff.

For example: stamps. I collected stamps. (Hey, it was a popular hobby in those days.) Half of my stamps came from the US. The other half were from Germany, because my aunts and uncles and cousins lived there. They purposely varied the stamps they used on letters to my family because they knew I’d be steaming them off the envelopes and mounting them in my album.

stampKathy, however, ordered stamps from ads in the back of magazines. She would send a request to a stamp company, and they would send her small collections of stamps from different countries in little glassine envelopes. It was called “buying on approval.” She would decide which envelopes she wanted and return the rest with her payment for the stamps she kept.

I was forbidden from doing that.

Kathy and I would get together with our stamp albums and admire each other’s collections. Hers was truly awesome. But she found interesting specimens in mine to compliment. She generously shared some of her most exotic stamps with me. I gave her my “doubles.” She explained some of the finer points of collecting, like first day covers, and not separating blocks of stamps. (Before the days of self-stick stamps, postage came in perforated sheets. You separated the desired stamp and licked it, or moistened it with a damp sponge, to activate the glue and make it stick to the envelope. Multiples of the same stamp were more valuable if they were still joined together.)

As the years went on, I took piano lessons, and so did Kathy. Then she also took drum lessons. Her huge old house had an actual music room where the piano and the drum set lived. She also owned (and played) a guitar, a zither, and a recorder.

Kathy offered to teach me how to play drums. She even provided me with a notepad where she wrote down all the rudiments so I could practice them. (I, however, didn’t have drums, or parents who wanted me to play them, so I could only practice at Kathy’s house.)

We spent many afternoons sitting at the piano and singing. We worked our way through songbooks by Peter, Paul, and Mary, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez. Even though I could play piano, Kathy was a much better sight-reader than me.

Books 3Both of us loved to read. I got most of my books from the library. Kathy used the library, too, but she and Freddie had multiple bookshelves packed with their own tomes. They had all the Nancy Drew books, all the Hardy Boys, and the Bobbsey Twins, and Cherry Ames—you name it, they had it. And they’d let me borrow anything I wanted to read.

Often, on a lazy summer day, we’d each choose a book and go to the backyard and climb a tree, where we’d perch and read. After a couple of hours, their mother might come out with a pitcher of lemonade and glasses, which she’d fill and hand up to us; or maybe some corn on the cob that she’d boiled and buttered for us. Good times.

swedish-flag-mastKathy’s family’s heritage was Norwegian, and she loved everything about Scandinavia. When her bedroom was due for an update, she painted it blue and asked for yellow curtains, so it would match the flag of Sweden. She loved Norse mythology, an interest I did not share. She pursued her love of Odin, Thor, and Freyja through comic books. I stuck to regular books.

After reading millions of comic books, Kathy began drawing her own. Her depictions of the human form were strikingly realistic, posed in heroic stances. Then she took her art one step further: she drew scenes from mythology on felt and colored them in with embroidery. Incredibly stunning.

In ninth grade we both entered the same public regional high school. Our circle of friends widened considerably. Kathy continued to be an academic superstar. I did well, but not as well as she. As high school went on, I discovered that Kathy was considered quirky. Tall and slender, with an unruly mane of kinky long hair, she attracted attention wherever she went, not always of the positive variety.

We shared some activites, but not others. For example, when our school got a computer lab (this was in the late sixties—the computer filled a room; students had access to two “terminals”), I dismissed it as a faddy gadget; Kathy signed up for as much computer time as possible.

glockenspiel-279774_640Musically, I was strictly a chorus person (though I was also an accompanist). Kathy was in both chorus and band, her outlet for her percussion skills. She didn’t play drums in marching band, she played a lyre-shaped, handheld glockenspiel (this was back in the days before marching bands had a stationary percussion ensemble, or pit). But she earned the ire of her band mates by composing her own glockenspiel parts when the arrangements didn’t call for one.

Always a lover of science, Kathy made the high school chemistry room her second home. She’d hang out there before and after school and during her study periods. She organized the chemical storage room for the chem teachers. She even had her own lab coat, which she wore for her senior yearbook photo. (See why people thought she was quirky?)Chem glassware wikim commons

Meanwhile, I discovered boys. I am ashamed to admit that I ditched Kathy in favor of one-on-one time with my Romeos. Little by little, we grew apart, mostly because I purposely ignored her.

I heard she had a rough time in college. She studied chemistry or physics at Cal Tech for a few years, but quit before getting a degree. She transferred to a different school to study early music (she was by that time a very good harpsichordist), but stopped just a few credits short of earning a degree. I don’t know if she ever did get her Bachelor’s.

I’ve only seen her once in my adult life. After Greg and I married, Kathy and another mutual childhood friend came to our apartment once for dinner.

Thanks to the magic of the internet, I have an idea where Kathy lives and what she’s up to. I know performance is still a part of her life–I’ve seen her on YouTube rocking out on organ with her band, a smile on her face and a familiar twinkle in her eye. But I’m uncomfortable about reconnecting with her. Too many decades have gone by, and I suspect there may be awkward feelings.

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The reason I am sharing Kathy’s story is because she was an incredible influence on my life. She encouraged me creatively, especially musically. She was my early role model and a polymath (though I didn’t know that term until recently—it means a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas). She widened my concept of possibility.

Is there someone you grew up with who helped shape the person you are today? A childhood friend who shared your creative interests? Someone who dominates your memories in a positive way? Share his or her story in the comments below.

Music of My Childhood

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Music of My Childhood

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: Papa Loves Mambo.

When I picture my childhood in the fifties, there are three songs that immediately pop into my memory as being heard on the radio.

High Hopes:

Mr. Sandman:

And the third made my mom stop what she was doing, find me, and dance her version of a tango with me. Hernando’s Hideaway:

My parents also had a stack of 78 rpm records that they brought from Germany when they immigrated to the United States in 1952. Many of them were German military marches, their patriotic tunes during World War II. Others were songs from America–American music was extremely popular in Germany during that era.

Gradually they added to their record collection, buying LPs at Superama. They bought show tunes and classical music.

My mother’s brother was a musician who played violin and piano. It was his dream to play professionally. Then the war came along, and all young men were required to report for duty. He never returned.

A fortune teller told my mother that my uncle was alive and living in Russia, and that he’d married a Russian woman. My mother asked the International Red Cross for help locating him, giving as much identifying information as she could, including the fact that he had been stationed along the eastern front. The Red Cross investigated, and could not find any verification as to his whereabouts. He was officially missing in action.

Piano 9I think my mother listened to classical music because it kept her brother alive in her heart. When family friends gave us their piano, Mom dreamed of her children being pianists. My brother and I both took lessons.

The soundtrack of my teen years was folk/protest/rock. And a lot of show music, because I sang in choruses and musicals throughout my high school years. I accompanied my high school chorus on piano. Then I went on to college with plans of being a high school choral director. I had classical voice training—art songs, opera.

As a result, I like a wide variety of music. I listen to lots of classical music, also to most popular music (though not a lot of rap—nothing that will make me blush), contemporary Christian, and bluegrass. I like being surrounded with music. I like music playing in the background while I’m writing. I practice piano almost every day. I’m a Phoenix Symphony Orchestra subscriber. Music is my life.

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What kind of music did you listen to when you were growing up? How did it shape you into the person you are today–or did it influence you at all? Share in the comments below.

Preserving Family Stories . . . by Andrea R Huelsenbeck

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Preserving Family Stories . . . by Andrea R Huelsenbeck

Doing Life Together

Why does Vivian’s house have a false alarm?

The autumn our daughter Carly was two and a half, we admired the fallen leaves together. “But, Mommy,” she asked, looking up at bare branches, “how do the leaves get back on the trees?”

Our old house in New Jersey had a smoke alarm in every room. The one in our son Matt’s bedroom was directly over his crib. He loved that smoke alarm. A little red light on it blinked once a minute to show the alarm was operational. As an infant, Matt lay on his back, watching for the red light, gleefully waving his arms and legs every time it blinked.

In our old neighborhood, people invited trick-or-treating families into their homes on Halloween. Most children headed straight for the treat bowl. Two-year-old Matt walked right past it, located the home’s interior hallway, and checked for a smoke alarm. Then…

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