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    July 2017
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Raising Readers

In earlier days, around the room,

the children would draw near

as Mother read a poem to them.

Such memories, so dear!

The above poem describes a favorite scene at my house growing up. Sometimes my Mom would read poems from The Best Loved Poems of the American People. One of my favorite poems was “Sleepin’ at the Foot O’ the Bed” because I remember doing that myself if we had a lot of family over. Another poem I liked was a rant against “Dried Apple Pies.” It started out: “I loathe, abhor, detest, despise, abominate dried apple pies.” Sometimes Mom would mix things up and “write” a letter to Aunt Goldie, then let us fill in the blanks she had left. It was our version of Mad Libs, and I remember a lot of laughter.

Mom and Dad made certain there was a lot of reading material in our house. We had a set of books of Illustrated U.S. History, and another set called Step-Up Books with titles like The Adventures of Lewis and Clark and Meet Theodore Roosevelt. There were science books in the series, like Animals Do the Strangest Things and Fish Do the Strangest Things. I still remember being fascinated reading about bower birds and angler fish.

We also had a Bible story book with pictures and questions. Kathy, Wayne, and I would take turns each night reading one of the stories from it before bed. We read through it so many times, we memorized all the answers to the questions.

I didn’t realize at the time that all this was a deep-dyed plot by our parents to rear up life-long readers. But it worked.

Don’t miss the rest of the Stories My Family Tells as I Write 31 Days this October. Click here to check out the wide range of topics from a wide range of writers.

Mom’s Life Lessons

Growing up, my siblings and I got all the usual Mom advice and words of wisdom. You know the ones: Always have on clean underwear in case you are in an accident. “Please” and “thank you” really are magic words. And who can forget “Your face is going to freeze that way,” or this classic, “If all your friends jump off a cliff, does that mean you’ll jump too?”

It really is all good advice (except maybe for the face-freeze one. What is that all about?) But the best words of wisdom we received from Mom is a list she wrote of the important lessons she had learned in life. I’m so glad she wrote them down so I can share them with you. In her own words, here are Mom’s life lessons:

  • I have learned that your family is the most important thing in life.
  • I have learned that what you have isn’t as important as what you are.
  • I have learned you have to trust God for all things.
  • You must trust people, though many of them will let you down, hurt, and disappoint you.
  • I’ve learned not to judge people by first impressions because many times first impressions are wrong.
  • I’ve tried to learn to be patient and let God take care of everything.
  • I have learned how good it is to have the love of a good man.

I don’t know about you, but I think that about covers it.

Don’t miss the rest of the Stories My Family Tells as I Write 31 Days this October. Click here to check out the wide range of topics from a wide range of writers.

Sleep Disorders

When my baby sister Mary Ellen was young, she was ornery, sassy, funny, and surprisingly smart-alecky as a four-year-old. And she really hasn’t changed much. (Except she’s much older now, of course.)

One morning, we were all up and going about our day when we couldn’t find Mary Ellen. We searched the house and the yard, giving special attention to the trees she liked to climb—the ones that over hung the creek. Mom was starting to panic, when I noticed one small foot peeking out from under some clothes by her bed. It was Mary Ellen, oblivious to our frantic search, sleeping peacefully underneath her bunk bed.

Another time, Mary Ellen was the one panicking, yelling at Susie in the top bunk. “I can’t get up! I can’t get up!” Mary Ellen had gone to bed with chewing gum in her mouth and when she woke up, the very top of her head was stuck to the headboard.

It’s never dull when Mary Ellen’s around, that’s fer shur.

See, it started as a baby. Although to be fair, our Uncle Stanley taught her this.

See, it started as a baby. Although to be fair, our Uncle Stanley taught her this.

Don’t miss the rest of the Stories My Family Tells as I Write 31 Days this October. Click here to check out the wide range of topics from a wide range of writers.

Mom and the Chimney Sweep

I’ve hesitated about telling this story, not because I don’t like it—it is one of my favorites. But I’m not certain I can tell it coherently, since Dad is barely coherent when he tells it. It’s been over 45 years since Mom had this unfortunate run-in with the chimney sweep, but it still leaves Dad struggling for control when he talks about it.

Long ago, we lived in an old clapboard farmhouse set near the edge of a small town. I’m sure you can picture that house—two story, two front doors, tin roof, no central heating. There was a coal burning stove on the ground floor which kept an area about three feet on all sides of it warm, and no where else. The heat certainly didn’t make it up stairs to our bedrooms.

Anyway, one day Dad and Mom decided the chimney needed to be cleaned, and since I mentioned before that Dad is the one who fixed things around the house, Dad took on the role of chimney sweep. Mom was his helper.

Picture it: Dad on the roof with his tools; Mom down in the family room with a bag to catch the soot. (Oh, my goodness! I can hear my Dad starting to chuckle.) Dad yelled down through the chimney, “Ready, Rube!” (Rube, as in short for Ruby.) Mom leaned in close to the hole in the chimney where the stove pipe was attached in happier times, and yelled, “What?”

Actually, it was probably more like, “Wha? Augh! choke, cough, hack” because, of course, the soot was already on the way down as soon as Dad had said, “Ready, Rube!”

mamas eyes

Rube, apparently, was NOT ready

Dad said when he had climbed down off the roof and made it back inside the house, Mom was still just standing there, covered in soot, holding the empty, useless bag. Although, I can’t figure out how he noticed all those details since he was on his hands and knees, beating the floor with the palm of his hand, gasping for air as he laughed.

We’ve all enjoyed many laughs over this story through the years, including Mom. But she never again volunteered to be an assistant for this, or any other, chimney sweep.

And I can’t blame her.

Don’t miss the rest of the Stories My Family Tells as I Write 31 Days this October. Click here to check out the wide range of topics from a wide range of writers.

The Clown Car

You may be surprised to learn that my family was part of a circus act. We performed every Wednesday evening and twice on Sunday for a least a year back in 1973, then expanded our act in 1974.

This was the gig the congregation at our church would gather to watch after every service ended: My family of six people would all pile into the family car, a 1973 Ford Pinto (You see, it was a clown car before the act even got started.)

To begin, Wayne would get in and sit on the hump in the back. Kathy and I would fold ourselves in on either side of him, where I would balance Dad’s guitar case. The members of the Back Seat Crew weren’t little either. We were aged sixteen, twelve, and ten years old at the time. After the BSC were settled, the FSC would perform. Susie would climb in the front of the car and perch prettily on the console, and Dad and Mom would swoop gracefully in to take the spacious driver and passenger seats, respectively.

The bonus for the congregation was if they were outside to see the front end of our performance when we burst out of the car after arriving at church. I think some people came to church just to watch our performance, but it is not an evangelizing tool I would recommend.

And the expansion of our act? Mary Ellen was born. She, of course, immediately snagged a coveted spot with the FSC on Mom’s lap. The BSC, of course, was taxed with the responsibility for keeping up with her carry-on luggage filled with clothing, food, and burp cloths which the little princess demanded as her due. Such a prima donna!

Don’t miss the rest of the Stories My Family Tells as I Write 31 Days this October. Click here to check out the wide range of topics from a wide range of writers.

Autumn Leaves

October gave a party;
The leaves by hundreds came,—
The Ashes, Oaks, and Maples,
And leaves of every name.
The sunshine spread a carpet,
And every thing was grand;
Miss Weather led the dancing;
Professor Wind, the band….
The sight was like a rainbow
New-fallen from the sky….
~George Cooper (1840–1927), “October’s Party,” c.1887


Nearly everyone who knows me knows that autumn is my favorite season. October is my favorite month. Better writers than I have tried for hundreds of years to capture the season in words, and I don’t think anyone has succeeded yet. I’m not even going to try. Besides, this story is really about my Mom.

Back in the early ‘90’s, I was in the Air Force stationed in Greece. Of course, I loved being there. It is gorgeous there on the blue, blue Mediterranean Sea. But. . .seasons don’t change there in the way they do in the eastern U.S. and I was missing my October colors.

Mom, being Mom, got creative to help me out. One day, when I walked to the post office on base, there was a package waiting for me. A package! This is like gold for someone stationed away from home. And this package was of the finest pure gold.  It was from Mom and was filled with sugar cookies, cut into leaf shapes, and frosted with the colors of October. They were the most beautiful cookies I’ve ever seen, and delicious as well.

A simple tale, but poignant for me in the telling, because it shows the essence of Mom’s love—thoughtful, creative and individualized. And this memory gave me yet another reason to hold to October as my favorite month.

Don’t miss the rest of the Stories My Family Tells as I Write 31 Days this October. Click here to check out the wide range of topics from a wide range of writers.

Storytelling Surprises

Storytelling can surprise you sometimes. I truly have been enjoying writing the funny stories my family tells, but I just can’t today. I can’t tell a light-hearted anecdote about one of the cute kids in my family.

I was typing along on yesterday’s story about my big brother, Ronnie, and my Mom, just getting it down on paper, so to speak. This story has been told countless times through the years. It was an easy post to write.

Then, at the end of the story, I typed the line, “In loving memory of Ronnie and Mom. You will always be missed.”

Period. Full stop. Also, full heart and full eyes. From that place deep inside where emotions are tender and obey only their own reality, the tears welled up, surprising me. I had typed those two sentences matter-of-factly, to honor my Mom and my brother. And it is a matter of fact. I will always miss my Mom, gone 15 years now, and my brother who died the year before I was born. (By the way, if someone tells you “You can’t miss what you never had,” don’t believe them. And try to refrain from smacking them upside the head. Or not.)

So today, instead of sticking to my Write 31 Days theme, I would like to encourage my family, and all families, to get their stories on record—the stories from your past and the stories that are happening now. It doesn’t have to be fancy or pass any grammar checkers. Just write them. Or the next time you get together with your family, video them. I would love to see, in my own family, how our stories interconnect. And if any family member is interested in starting a blog, I would be happy to help. I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I can help you get started.

Tomorrow, I’ll have another story ready. It will be short. Light-hearted. Probably involve a cute kid. But for today, my eyes are still brimming. And I just want to reminisce.

sneak

My sister posted this on Facebook today.

Don’t miss the rest of the Stories My Family Tells as I Write 31 Days this October. Click here to check out the wide range of topics from a wide range of writers.

Go Ahead. Make My Day

Doesn’t every little boy like to play cops and robbers? When my older brother, Ronnie, was about five-years-old he loved to pretend he was a sheriff from the Old West. This was when the television landscape was densely populated with lanky, sharp-shooting sheriffs and squinty-eyed outlaws.

Unfortunately, at this time Kathy was too young to be an outlaw, and the rest of us weren’t born yet. So, of course, this left Mom to take on the role of the rough-hewn, reprobate scourge of the Old West when Ronnie’s little cousins or friends weren’t around.

Mom, being the good mom that she was, threw herself into the role. She robbed banks, held up stage coaches, and generally made herself the terror of the otherwise peaceful towns residing in her son’s vivid imagination.

Of course, Ronnie didn’t slack in his attempts to restore peace. He chased whatever bad guy Mom was at the time until the menace was neutralized. And by neutralized, I mean shot, of course. What else is an Old West sheriff to do when confronted with a desperate outlaw brandishing blazing guns?

One day, when the sheriff shot her, Mom flopped down on the couch. “You. . .you got me!” she managed to say before her eyes closed in pretend payment for her pretend crimes. The miniature sheriff swaggered over to assess the situation, gripping his trusty six-shooter. . .then whacked the outlaw on her head with the very real butt of his very real toy gun.

“There!” he said, satisfied with his work. “That ought to do it!”

In loving memory of Ronnie and Mom. You will always be missed.

Don’t miss the rest of the Stories My Family Tells as I Write 31 Days this October. Click here to check out the wide range of topics from a wide range of writers.

In Which Susie Lives the Dog Life

When my next-to-baby sister, Susie, was young, she was just full of surprises. For instance, try extending a simple, friendly gesture like singing “Happy Birthday” to her and she would turn into a small, fierce tornado–little fists flailing and feet kicking out in every direction. No one knows why, although you can now sing “Happy Birthday” to her without the threat of bodily harm. It might be prudent to keep your distance, though.

Quite an imagination that child had also. Once, when Susie was about five-years-old, the family dinner was interrupted by a loud yelp from my brother. We looked at him for an explanation. “Something bit me!” he said.

We all looked under the table to see Susie there, on her knees. “Susie bit me!” Wayne exclaimed, incredulous. “Mom, Susie bit my knee!”

My beleaguered Mom, in a tone of voice that only a mother-of-four whose husband is working out of town for the week could duplicate, said, “Susie, (sigh) why did you bite your brother on his knee?”

Susie, still crouched under the dinner table, replied in a do-I-really-need-to-explain-this tone of voice, “I was pretending I was a dog.”

Don’t miss the rest of the Stories My Family Tells as I Write 31 Days this October. Click here to check out the wide range of topics from a wide range of writers. Hey, it’s not too late for you to join us!

Smoking in the. . .Sanctuary?!

WHO in the WORLD would be so disrespectful as to smoke in the sanctuary of a church?!

Let me introduce you to my youngest sister, Mary Ellen. You’d think that someone named after her sweet maternal grandmother (Ellen) and her totally loveable aunt (Mary Golden) would inherit some of their sweet, lovesble traits. You poor, naive readers—although, to be totally fair, Mary Ellen wasn’t exactly smoking in the sanctuary. Here’s what happened. . .

My Dad was pastoring a small, mission church in small town Ohio back in the mid-to-late ‘70’s. Mary Ellen was the only little one there for a while, so of course, she was the church baby. Spoiled. Rotten. The small congregation was more like an extended family, and Mary Ellen was at home with everyone. This particular Sunday morning, she slipped away from one of her admirers, but instead of going back to where Mom was sitting, Mary Ellen decided to put on a little show.

The next thing Mom knew, Dad was saying, (from the pulpit, mind you—where he was preaching) “Ruby, you need to come and get this baby.” Mom looked up from her Bible and there was Mary Ellen, standing in front of the step leading to the podium, a long piece of white chalk between her fingers, puffing away with the practiced ease of a 1940’s movie siren.

No one in our family even smokes! We have no idea where she got that—a remnant of her misspent babyhood, no doubt.

And that’s not the only time this precocious two-year-old disrupted a church service. But that is a story for another day.

Don’t miss the rest of the Stories My Family Tells as I Write 31 Days this October. Click here to check out the wide range of topics from a wide range of writers. Hey, it’s not too late for you to join us!