Friday, October 13, 2017

Christine, James Drury, and Me

I wrote this in October of 2014. I had  a new book out--always a good thing--but was feeling melancholy, too. I've felt that way a lot this past year, too. Makes me more grateful than ever for sisters--by birth, by marriage, and of the heart. They are precious all.



Her name was Christine Ann and she died of diphtheria when she was three, nine years before I was born. In the few pictures of her that remain, she has straight white blonde hair and sturdy legs in long cotton stockings. “I always thought she would have been big when she grew up,” my mother said. My father never talked about her. My other sister, Nancy, who was two years older than Christine, still grieves.

I was the youngest in my family. There were three brothers between my sisters and me. I was a girly girl on a farm, and I was lonely. So I thought a lot about Christine. I was convinced she would have liked me. She would have wanted to play house with me and talk about Little Women and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. She’d have been a willing participant in dress-up, swinging high enough to touch that branch up there, and playing with kittens in the hay mow in the barn.

I used to pretend, when I was unhappy, that she had not died. She was not only my sister, but my imaginary friend.

For years after her death, Mom would write notes to her in her baby book. “You would be nine today…what a big girl…we miss you so much.” I used to cry over the baby book, for the sister I never knew, for Nancy who’d lost the sister she really loved, for Mom and Dad, who surely would have liked me better if they hadn’t lost her. I cried for myself, too, because I never felt I measured up to the invisible daughter-sister bar.

Years after the last time I read my mother’s notes to Christine in her baby book, someone wrote an article in RWR about wanting the heroine in books she read to be her sister. This was years before I was published, before I’d even finished the first dreadful manuscript. I don’t remember the article well enough to quote it, nor do I know who wrote it, but I knew then what kind of women would populate my stories.

They would be sisters. Even if they were only children, they would have best friends they loved like sisters. They would be flawed, often pretty but probably not beautiful. Some would be heavy, some skinny. None of them would have particularly good hair unless they had broad hips to offset it. They wouldn’t dress especially well, excel at very many things, or cry prettily. They would be neither brave nor stupid. When they sang, it would be out of tune, but they would sing anyway.


I am meandering in this post, for which I apologize, but Christine’s birthday would have been October 11 and she is on my mind a lot. I’ve only lately realized how much her brief life and too-early death had to do with me being a romance writer.

Because her story was the first one I ever made up.

She not only swung with me and read with me and played with me in the quiet of the barn, but in my imagination, I saw her as an adult whose bright blue eyes never faded, whose blonde hair never darkened. The twelve years between us would have been like nothing if she’d lived. She’d have married a man who looked like James Drury. He would have liked it if Christine’s little sister spent vacations and long weekends with them. They lived, oh, yes, happily ever after.

I’ve aged, but in my mind she has not. The tenderness, angst, and sweetness of those imaginings are as clear to me today as they were when I was a little girl missing the sister I’d never known. I still miss her, but I think I was wrong. I think I knew her after all. Happy birthday, Christine.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Confessions of a square peg

I wrote this in 2004, seven years before I retired from the proverbial day job. Although I loved the workplace where I spent 30 years, I was happy to leave it. Most of the "good work" in my classification was gone, replaced by bigger machines and bigger offices, so all I really missed was the people I worked with. I was startled when I read back over this that I'd used the word "broad" more than once, because I hate the term as much now as I did then. It was in this workplace that I learned a lot about sexism--including the fact that I am sometimes guilty of it myself--and a few other of the isms that continual to do structural damage to society. 

I wore my favorite green slacks (size ten) and the velour shirt that matched them. I was thirty; age-wise I fell to the younger side of the middle of the work force at my new job. One of five women in an office of fifty employees, I was so nervous on that first day I must have gone to pee every half hour. Which was, several men commented dryly, no more than they expected from a broad. They supposed I would be the next one to get pregnant and stand around and ask for help and not be able to do my job.

What was I doing here? I certainly didn't fit.

Two of the women I worked with were pregnant. They didn't stand around, and they always did their jobs. We all did, and the only ones we asked for help were each other, because we didn't like being called broads and we didn't like being bitched about.

I learned a lot in that first few months. That some men gossiped and lied and that cute young women in tight pants (smaller than a size ten) didn't have to work as hard as others. That no one cared if my youngest had spots and a temperature of a hundred and climbing; I was supposed to be at work. On time.

But I also learned that working with men isn't really much different from working with women. I had female bosses who were as susceptible to a fresh-out-of-college man with washboard abs and a beguiling wink as their male counterparts were to the aforementioned cute, young, and tightly wrapped. I learned that behavior explained as PMS in women is just a bad mood in men.

I worked very, very hard because that was the way I was brought up and because, truth be told, more was expected from the five women. We had to prove that we could do historically male jobs as well as the men. So we did. After while, no one used the term "broad" very much and though the bitching didn't lessen, it did become pretty much gender-blind, which was all most of us cared about.

Now I'm fifty-something. I wear blue jeans to work most days, the ones with elastic insets in the sides of the waist because now I buy a size fourteen. The office still has about fifty people, but the man-woman ratio is closer to fifty-fifty these days. Of the women in that equation, I am the oldest. Young, cute, and well-built still pays off - time hasn't changed human nature that much. Working hard, once a source of personal pride, has become something rather pointless, even foolish. Response to the word "loyalty" is generally a blank look. Be on time? Why?

"I hate this place," I mutter on a semi-daily basis. My friends and I talk about retirement, counting off the days toward it like children waiting for Christmas. We talk about traveling at our convenience rather than our employers', being Wal-Mart greeters, sleeping till we feel like getting up. It will be so much fun, we say, even though we'll have to be more careful with money and pray harder for good health since insurance costs will be heart-stopping. We can't wait!

Oh, but there's the rub, because I can wait; I'm not ready. I want to give my 401k a chance to recuperate a little from its recent dip into the toilet. I'd also like to shore up my mad money account, buy some new appliances, and maybe trade cars. I have a new grandchild due to arrive in Vermont in March. I live in the Midwest, and I want to see this sixth grandbaby more than the once a year my retirement income will allow.

I've always planned on retiring at sixty, or fifty-five at the earliest, but I don't feel welcome in the workplace anymore. I work too hard, and have little patience with office politics and tales of who's bonking whom. I resent pregnancy being treated as an illness calling for hours of break-room rest instead of a planned condition that one works through with care. I'm sick to death of the cry of "it's not my job" no matter what the job is and of the terse "because I can" when a supervisor is asked the reason for an order that seems out of line.

What am I doing here? I certainly don't fit.

But I've learned more things as the years have gone by.

My work ethic is mine, and it's not something I can visit on someone else just because I don't like theirs. Although I will still give loyalty because I don't know how to do anything else, I am now smart enough not to expect it in return. I've learned, and repeat to myself almost every day, that my employers don't have to value me; they have only to pay me. I finally accept that being in the minority on an issue doesn't make me right or wrong; it makes me out-voted. Being a sort-of-liberal residing in Indiana, I should have known that anyway, but I'm still voting for underdogs every time. I don't fit in my ultraconservative geographical area any better than I do in my thirties-oriented workplace.

But my home is still my home, and my place of work is still where my paycheck comes from. Just as I love my neighborhood even if I am a square peg in its round hole, so do I like the office where I've spent twenty-some years of my working life. And it really doesn't matter if I fit.

Friday, September 29, 2017

They're the parents of a player...

I wrote this in August of 1991, when my years on bleachers were winding down, and it's probably been my most repeated essay ever. It's a little dated, I guess, because it's been a long time, but I still think there's very little that's better than watching your kids be engaged, whether it's in sports, drama, debate, or anything else. There are things I'm sorry for from my active parenting days, things I wish I'd said or done and things I wish I hadn't. But I don't regret one minute of being a spectator. 

Picture borrowed without conscience from https://www.facebook.com/nmwarriorfootball/ Watching players walk the field is more moving than I can begin to express.


They're the parents of a player. You'll recognize them because they're the ones carrying umbrellas, rain ponchos, winter coats, a big Thirty-One bag full of blankets, and enough money for the entire family to stuff themselves on popcorn and Spanish hot dogs and nachos because there wasn't enough time for supper before the game.

They bring the weather gear even on a clear night, you'll notice, because although clouds may burst with bucketfuls of rain or snow or both, the parents won't have the option of going home or even to the car. It doesn't matter if everyone else leaves the stands--as long as the players are on the field, their parents are in the bleachers.

She's the mother of a player. You'll recognize her because she's the one whose chin wobbles and whose eyes get big when someone screams at the player she belongs to. She's the one who only claps politely when her son's name is called in the team lineup because she doesn't want anyone teasing her about being unduly biased.

She's the one who, when her son does something wonderful on the field, comes completely unglued and spills popcorn and extra blankets all over the people below her on the bleachers as she jumps up and down and screams, "Way to go, honey!"

She's the mother of a player. You'll recognize her because when a player is down, regardless of who it is, she grows silent and covers her mouth with her hand and swallows hard. She's the one who says, "Is he all right? Is he getting up?" in a whisper heard all around. She's the one who, when he gets up and is fine, is first to clap her hands and laugh breathlessly and shake the fearful moisture from her eyes.

She's the mother of a player. You'll recognize her at the grocery store at five in the morning in her sweats buying food so her son can eat in that twilight time between school and game that is is own. She's the one who has washed uniforms 10,000 times and would cheerfully wash them 10,000 more if it will only keep the player safe.

He's the father of a player. You'll recognize him by his hat. It will have his son's team name on the front above the bill and a number stitched somewhere over his ear. It's a silent advertisement that says, "I'm his dad."

He's the father of a player. You'll recognize him because he's the guy working in the concession stand and craning his neck to see over the customers' heads. He will interrupt his "Can I help you?" spiel with a banshee yell of, "THAT'S IT! THAT'S IT!" and then go on as if nothing had happened. But he'll be smiling real hard.

He's the father of a player. You'll recognize him as the man in the bleachers who doesn't yell very much and never criticizes a player who is not his own. Mistakes make him angry, but someone else drawing attention to those mistakes makes him angrier.

He's the father of a player. You'll recognize him by the blaze of fierce pride that crosses his face and by the look of pain when the kid blows it. Every parent knows that expression of agony--it's the one you wear when you'd like to draw all your child's pain into yourself so he wouldn't have to feel it. Ever.

They're the parents of a player. On Senior Night, she'll be the one with a rose and he'll be the one with his chest puffed out. And their good cheer and enthusiasm on Senior Night will seem a little quiet, a little forced, because they know it's nearly over.

They know they'll soon be able to eat regular meals on Friday nights. That they'll no longer have to spend money on things like football packages and special shoes and funny gloves. That they won't have to sit on wobbly bleachers at away games and listen to announcers who can't pronounce their son's name.

They know the extra blankets and weather gear can go way to the back of the closet and they've probably bought the last bottle of rubber cement necessary for the scrapbook.

Pretty soon, they won't be reading Saturday morning's newspaper before the ink has completely dried and sitting at the kitchen table to listen to "Coach's Corner" on the radio. And they'll be envying the parents of underclassmen who play the game because they get to do it all again next year and maybe the year after.

They're the parents of a player. You'll recognize them because they're always there. Always.


Friday, September 22, 2017

At the end of the day...

This essay is comparatively new--I wrote it in 2012. I had a book out called A Soft Place to Fall, about a marriage gone wrong and how two people found ways to make it right. I still have a soft spot for that book and for long marriages. I regret that I sometimes get a little too glib when I talk about it--I make it all sound easy when it's not at all. At the end of the day, though, marriage is private and what goes on within it is not to be shared. No one really understands anyone else's. Looking back on this, my feelings toward my parents' marriage haven't changed, but I have come to realize that--at the end of that day I just mentioned--it wasn't really any of my business.


“A great marriage is not when the 'perfect couple' comes together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.” ― Dave Meurer

On September 28, 1935, my parents went to a minister’s house and got married. My dad wore a double-breasted suit and my mom had on a hat. They stayed married through the rest of the Great Depression and three wars, through the births of six children and the death of one at the age of three, through failing health and the loss of all their parents and some of my father’s siblings. Dad died in 1981, Mom in 1982. They were still married.

From the viewpoint of their youngest child, who was born in their early 40s when they thought they were finished with all that, it was the marriage from hell. I never saw them as a loving couple, never saw them laugh together or show affection or even hold hands. They didn’t buy each other gifts, sit on the couch together, or bring each other cups of coffee. The only thing I was sure they shared was that—unlike my husband and me—they didn’t cancel out each other’s vote on Election Day.

“Why on earth,” I asked my sister once, “did they stay together all those years? Mom could have gone home to her family, even if she did have to take a whole litter of kids. Heaven knows Dad could have.” (He was the adored youngest son and brother—he could do no wrong.)

Nancy gave me the look all youngest siblings know, the one that says, “Are you stupid?” When you’re grown up, it replaces the look that says, “You’re a nasty little brat.” But I regress.

“Don’t you get it?” my sister asked. Her blue eyes softened. So did her voice. “They loved each other. Always. They just didn’t do it the way you wanted them to.”

Oh.

I remembered then. When they stopped for ice cream because Mom loved ice cream. How they sat at the kitchen table across from each other drinking coffee. How thin my dad got during Mom’s long illness because “I can’t eat if she can’t.” When they watched Lawrence Welk reruns together and loud because—although neither would admit it—their hearing was seriously compromised.
And the letters. The account of their courtship. We found them after Mom’s death, kept in neat stacks. They wrote each other, in those days of multiple daily mail deliveries, at least once a day and sometimes twice. When I read those letters, I cried because I’d never known the people who wrote them.

I have to admit, my parents’ lives had nothing to do with why I chose to write romantic fiction. I got my staunch belief in Happily Ever After from my own marriage, not theirs. But how you feel about things and what you know—those change over the years.

As much as I hated my parents’ marriage—and I truly did hate it—I admire how they stuck with it. I’ve never appreciated the love they had for each other, but I’ve come to understand that it never ended. I still feel sorry sometimes for the little girl I was, whose childhood was so far from storybook that she wrote her own, but I’m so grateful to have become the adult I am. The one who still writes her own stories.

But—and this is the good part—these are the things I know.

Saying “I love you” doesn’t always require words. Sometimes it’s being unable to eat because someone else isn’t. Sometimes it’s stopping for ice cream. Sometimes—and I realized this the other day when my husband and I were bellowing “Footloose” in the car—it’s hearing music the same way, regardless of how it sounds to anyone else.

Marriage is different for different people. So is love. So is Happily Ever After.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad.

Friday, September 15, 2017

If you're saving it for good, the time is now...

This is from 2010, and I can't say I remember the reason for writing it. I like it, though. I still feel the same way. Yeah, I know change is good, but I also know that no matter how old I get, I'm not good at it. When I think of collections I think of my mother-in-law's teapots--and of her--and my heart breaks a little, but I also remember the fun she had collecting them and the fun we all had helping her find them. They were, like the quilt I talk about below, well loved, and I like having the ones she gave me.


She had collected experiences, I realized, as much as she had collected all these things. - Jenny Moore





I’m not a collector. I’m also not a saver-of-new-things. About the only thing I collect or save up is dust, and I’m told that’s not in demand on the resale market. While I enjoy other people’s collections, I don’t want any of my own. (In a disclaiming aside here, I will admit to having more fabric than I’ll ever get sewn and two more laptops than I actually need, but I’m not collecting them. Exactly.)

To try put my shattered focus into semi-one-place, let me try this again. I don’t save things for “good.” I don’t have Sunday dishes or company towels or candles that have never been lit. The quilts I have from previous generations are on beds, not put away to be passed on. I’ve learned not to maintain a three-size wardrobe, because even if I lose enough weight to wear the smallest size, I don’t like the clothes anymore.
My grandkids’ drawings are not kept neatly in scrapbooks for them to have and laugh over when they are grown; they hang on the refrigerator until the paper is yellow and curled and has footprints on it from hitting the floor too many times. Sometimes they hang there even longer. My first granddaughter’s drawing of a lion is held in place by a business card magnet. Mari was probably five when she drew the lion and she’s now in her third year at Ball State. I might take it down if she drew me another, but then again I might not. I like it where it is, the way it is.

The drawing would probably look much better if it had been kept clean and flat for fifteen years, but I would not have enjoyed it every day. I wouldn’t have taken a fresh mental snapshot of our own little red-haired girl each time I looked at it. I wouldn’t remember the day of her birth so often.

A few years ago, my daughter-in-law Tahne gave us a set of Christmas dishes. My first thought was to use them just during the holidays, and then only when we had a sit-down meal. This way they would not get broken and sometime in the future, the aforementioned granddaughter would inherit them and look at her mother and say, “What am I supposed to do with these? I don’t think Nana’s washed them since 2005.”

Instead, we use the dishes all the way through the holidays and whenever else we feel like it. That none of them are broken yet is both miraculous and maybe a clue that they are meant to be used and enjoyed whenever the mood strikes, not just at Christmas.

Christmas, by the way, is the reason I’m writing this. I know I’m not saying anything original here. I’m pretty sure there are Lifetime movies based on this very premise. But we’ll get and give gifts at Christmas, which is going to be here in about fifteen minutes, as quickly as time’s going these days. Some of those gifts will be complete failures, some will be okay, some will be fun, and some will be keepers. Ones you put up to use at the perfect time and the perfect place.

I hope you don’t—keep them and put them up, I mean. Use them. Wear them out. My other daughter-in-law, Laura, made me a quilt as a reward for quitting smoking nine years ago. It’s queen-size, beautiful, and never gets too far from my bed, but I told my son I thought maybe I should put it away so it wouldn’t be worn out when it came time for Laura’s and his son to inherit it. He said he thought something well-loved might be a better gift than something well-preserved. I didn’t put it away.

Collecting isn’t bad, by any means, but I’m kind of glad I don’t. I’d rather wear the things in my life out by enjoying them. I don’t want the gifts I give or the ones I receive to be keepers. I’d rather they were things remembered than things passed on to the next generation in good shape.

As another side note (remember my little problem with focus), remember what my son said about well loved being better than well preserved? I think that goes for people, too. Even though I’d like to be a whole lot better preserved than what I am, well loved is better. I wish it for all of you. Till next time.

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Gift of Grief

I don't remember how old this is, and I've used it often enough I apologize if you've read it in another time or another place. I still feel this way. Most of the time. Sometimes when emotional or mental stresses or losses pile on top of each other, it gets nearly impossible to kick the bad stuff to the curb. It's as if you can't even lift your leg under its weight. But once you have, once you've gotten past the "I can't do this" thing, you can find the good. The gift. Finding the gain doesn't get easy, but it has value. Hold onto it.

“Love is an engraved invitation to grief.” ― Sunshine O'DonnellOpen Me
Simply because there is always hope in flowers.

It’s Sunday afternoon when I write this, and the sun is almost out.  How nice it is after two weeks of unremitting gloom.  As it grows lighter outside, I grow lighter inside as well.  Which is odd when you consider what I’ve been thinking about.

Grief.

We all see a lot of it in our lifetimes.  When we’re young and if we’re lucky, we see it from afar.  We see old people die and it’s too bad, but ... you know, they’re old.  Then, of course, comes the time when it’s not from afar and the person who passes on isn’t old.  This is when we really find out about grief.

My grandmother died when I was seven, and even though it felt strange that she wouldn’t sit at the table and drink from her cracked cup anymore, she was eighty-four.  So I didn’t grieve.  Not really, though to this day, I think of Grandma Shafer when I see a cracked coffee cup.  Then when I was eleven, a 10-year-old schoolmate died.  Forty-some years later, I still feel profound sorrow when I think of her.  She was smart and funny and had so much to give here on earth that even now I have difficulty coming to terms with her death.  But I couldn’t identify the feelings I had about her passing, couldn’t explain the tears that came to my eyes for years whenever I thought about Cindy being buried with her red cowboy boots.

When I was thirteen, I lost the only grandfather I’d ever known, and the hurt came in waves, like the throbbing from a bee sting.  He died in June, and by the time school started, I’d gotten over the worst of it, but junior high was different than it might have been.  Because grief wasn’t far away anymore.

I’ve thought about it, off and on over the years.  When my parents and father-in-law died, it hurt, but the grief part of it was far-flung, long lasting, and unexpected.  Life was so busy — we came home from Louisville after my father-in-law’s viewing to go to my son’s football game, then went back the next day for the funeral — that it just went on.  I would see things, of course, that made me think of the parents we’d lost, and I kept Christmas-shopping for my mother long after she was gone.  She was always hard to buy for, and I’d see things she’d like.  And then, in the middle of J. C. Penney or Kmart, I would mourn, because I couldn’t give them to her.

We often drive by the cemetery where my parents are buried.  Sometimes we are past before I even think about it and occasionally I wave —“Hi, Mom” — and sometimes those bee sting waves of hurt strike again.  They’ve been gone for more than 20 years, how can this be?

Sometimes we grieve for things — items irreplaceable but gone, or times — youth, when everything worked right and gravity was our friend, or even places — remember the Roxy and the railroad hospital and those spooky mansions on North Broadway?  Now and then it is a state of mind we miss, or a conversation we wish could have gone on longer, or a friendship we wish we could go back and fix because we blew it big time.

I write a lot about gifts because, being the Pollyanna sort of person that I am, I think nearly everything is a gift.  While I realize that this can be annoying to people who get tired of trying to be happy when they’re just not, I find it much nicer than being unhappy when I don’t have to.  (Don’t even try and straighten that sentence out; you can’t do it.)  But even I’ve never considered grief a gift.  Until now.

Because until you love somebody or something, you can’t grieve losing them.  I wouldn’t still miss my mother if she hadn’t had such a positive and profound effect of my life.  I wouldn’t remember Cindy’s red cowboy boots if I didn’t recall their owner with affection.  I wouldn’t smile at cracked coffee cups if not for the grandmother who died when I was seven.

The buildings and the times and the friendships that are gone all leave remembrances and, in many cases, laughter, behind them.  So, even though the Roxy is gone, I remember watching Woodstock there and singing along, “...one, two, three, what are we fighting for...”  And although the high school now climbs the Broadway hill, I remember walking quickly past the railroad hospital because it was scary looking.  It is fun to remember that.

I remember boys who went to Vietnam.  None of them were still boys when they came home, and some didn’t come home at all.  A part of me — and of everyone else who remembers the Vietnam era — mourns them still.  But another part remembers how tall they walked and all that they gave.  There was one who seemed stronger and better than the others and though I’m still sorry he had to go there and I regret the 14 months of his life he can never get back, I’m happy he came home safe.  And married me.

So there you have grief.  It tangles up with memories and joy and good things.  It is, when all is said and done, a gift.

Friday, September 1, 2017

...whatever gives you pleasure... @Vicki Williams

My friend Vicki Williams, whose teaching probably led me to becoming a published writer, wrote this post this past week. It's on her site at http://soitiscancer.blogspot.com/2017/08/to-chemo-or-not-to-chemo.html?spref=fb. You can read it there or, because she gave me permission to post it again, read it here. Either way, don't skip any and don't stop until you reach the end. It's that way with good stuff, you know--you want to skip the middle. You shouldn't, because as in real life and Tootsie Pops, that's where the good stuff is.

Vicki and I are way different, and I'm sure I've made her roll her eyes more than once--the reverse is just as true. What else is true is that she is, in words I'm pretty sure she'll approve of, one gutsy broad. I appreciate all she's taught me and the courage and the friendship she's shared. 

Not that she's done. Not yet.

by Vicki Williams

To Chemo or Not to Chemo

PROLOGUE

When Jim and I were young, we both swore that should we ever be diagnosed with the Big C, we would refuse treatment. But then it happened. Jim got pneumonia that didn't respond to the medicine they gave him. His VA doctors ran tests and called him into inform him that he had lung cancer, the inoperable kind, the terminal kind. The Veteran's Administration doesn't mince words.

"If you have treatment, we might be able to buy you two years. Without it, you'll be dead in two months."

Two months doesn't sound like a very long time when you're only 44 years old. He said yes to the treatment and we started on a 19 month ordeal of chemotherapy (13 sessions three weeks apart), radiation (five times a week for 5 weeks), a heart attack (brought on by the chemo), isolation (due to an infected tooth and a low white blood count) and then more chemo.

At the time, none of this could be done locally so we made 100-mile round trips to the VA Hospital in Fort Wayne.

He was nauseated and vomiting much of the time during chemo. This throat had sores from radiation and he could only eat food like soups or pudding. He got so bone-tired during radiation that I had to feed him part of the time as he was too weak to lift a spoon.  Of course, he lost his hair (which doesn't sound that important in the scheme of what all was going on but it is traumatic to the people involved. In fact, Jim told me if he died when he was bald, I was absolutely not allowed to have an open casket..

He was 6 feet tall and weighed 180 pounds when he was diagnosed. He weighed 135 when he died.

After the first series of chemotherapy treatments, the doctors told him that his tumor had shrunk so much that it couldn't be located on an x-ray. Yay, right? Not so fast. As I said, the VA doesn't sugar-coat anything. The doctors also said that if there was even one cell left, and that was a sure thing, then it would begin growing again.

The chemo was followed by the radiation. When that was over, they recommended more chemo. If I remember right, he had three sessions before the hospital told him, he was so weak, his body couldn't tolerate any more. He lived two more months.

All during his final months, I continued to believe that if I ever got cancer,  I would refuse treatment.  You never really know how you'll feel until you're faced with it. Life can be ironic.

In July of 2015, my dog tripped me and I fell down the stairs.

"Shit," I thought, "I hope this isn't one of those I've-fallen-and-I-can't-get-up scenarios."

It wasn't but I knew I'd broken some ribs. The pain from broken ribs is intense. You can't sit up or lay down or walk or breathe or laugh or cough without feeling as if lightning bolts are jagging through your insides.

After a few days, I went to the Redi-Med Clinic to get some pain pills. In order to prescribe the pills, they had to do xrays to see if I really did have broken ribs. I did.

Then the nurse came out and said, "we found a spot on your lung. We've made an appointment for a cat scan."

"Don't you think you should have asked me first?" I asked.

She looked startled, then told me, "well, if you don't want it, it's up to you to cancel it.

So, I did.

When I saw my family doctor, she said, "Vicki, you know my recommendation is that you have the cat scan."

"I look at it this way: if it's not cancer, then the cat scan doesn't matter. If it is cancer, it still doesn't matter because I don't plan to do anything about it."

The following May, I had what I guess you'd call an "episode". I woke up in the middle of the night panting for breath. I felt like a heavy boulder was sitting on my chest. I tried to go back to sleep but I couldn't so I finally came downstairs and made a cup of coffee, debating with myself about what to do. I knew I wasn't able to get dressed and drive myself to the emergency room. I didn't want to call an ambulance because I knew they'd ship me off to Fort Wayne. I didn't want to go to Fort Wayne. It honestly never occurred to me to call any of my friends though they all asked me why later.

So, I went and sat in my recliner and dozed off and on. The pressure eventually subsided but the shortness of breath didn't. I was watching the clock, planning to go to work but when the time came, I told myself, "Old Girl, you're fooling yourself if you think you can drive to Kokomo (45 miles) and talk to clients." So I called in sick.

I worked for another three weeks. My main symptom was exhaustion. I slept a lot when I wasn't working.

When I was young, in my family, if you got sick, your Mom always told you to go lay on the couch. They'd let that go on for a couple days to see if you'd get well on your own. If you didn't, they'd give in and take you to the doctor. What I did in this instance was sort of my version of that philosophy.

Finally, one day I was coming from one of the courthouses where I conducted intake for low income clients. I walked down the halls, panting, and got to the doors. I could see my car parked across the street.

I thought, "I can't make it that far. I'm going to collapse on the Courthouse lawn and make a spectacle of myself."

I forced myself to take a step and then another step and eventually made it to the car. The next day, I called my clinic and they told me to go to the E.R.

I was there for four hours having test after test, for one, the dreaded CAT scan and for another, an arterial blood draw which, if you've never had one, is nothing like a regular blood draw when it comes to pain. My little woman couldn't get her needle into my vein. She poked and prodded and changed its direction. She felt so terrible, she was almost crying. In the end, she said to go do my x-rays and she'd come try again in the other arm afterwards. That time she got it after only a few tries.

The doctor came in after he had all my results.

"Well," he said, "the spot on your lung is definitely cancer....and in addition to that....."

"Wait," I exclaimed, "you mean there's more."

"Yes, in addition to that you've got some congestive heart failure going on."

They gave a intravenous dose of Lasix. Lasix makes you urinate to get rid of the excess fluid around your heart and lungs.

The emergency room doctor advised me to see a pulmonologist.

I went home with a sheaf of papers the size of an encyclopedia. I threw them on the kitchen table and threw myself on the sofa. I never looked at them again.

The Lasix began to wear off and I was back to panting again. I decided to see the pulmonologist. I got the stack of papers from E.R. that were still on the kitchen table and, low and behold, there was a prescription for Lasix (actually Furosemide - same thing). My girlfriend ran to the drugstore to have it filled.

A friend took me to Fort Wayne where the pulmonologist was located (of course). He looked at all my paperwork. (The Fort Wayne Hospital is allied with the massive Parkview system, as is my home hospital in Wabash.

"Stage 3 lung cancer," he pronounced. "Do you want to tell me you your options?"

"No, I've already made my decision. No treatment."

He looked at my papers again. "I see you're a long time smoker."

"You're not going to give me a lecture about smoking now, are you, Doc?"

"No," he smiled, "I'm going to tell you to go home and do whatever gives you pleasure."

I smiled back. "Good, because that's what I was going to do anyway."

I quit my job the next day. It had been such a strain to keep going on when I felt so terrible and had so little stamina, that it was a huge relief to have the responsibility off my shoulders.

My family doctor had been on vacation but as soon as she came back, she gave me an appointment.

I love my doctor. She's the perfect doctor to have during stressful times, a friend as well as a physician.

She did some more tests and discovered my sugar was very low and so was my blood pressure. She took me off some of my medications. She sent me to the lab for a test for Potassium.

Turned out my Potassium was fine but I was extremely anemic. So she started me on iron pills.

I call them my miracle pills. I went from barely being able to walk across the room and napping off and on all day to feeling a lot like my old self. I couldn't run around the block but I stay up all day now. When I was so far down, I practically made the Walgreen's, which is two blocks from my house, my main grocery store. I just couldn't face walking around a large store like Krogers. After the iron pills, I could go to Kroger's again.

Of course, a lot of my friends tried to encourage to have the cancer treatments and if I'd had a husband or kids or anyone else depending on me, I might have. As it is, my mother, who'd had dementia and whom I'd retired once before to care of, died in 2013. My only child died in 2015. Now, there is no one who needs me to take care of them and I damn well hope no one ever has to take care of me.

I tell people that I feel like I'm in a boat, just drifting around, watching the sun and the water and the palm trees. I know my boat has a leak in it and some day it will sink but until then I'm enjoying my life. I feel fine right now. I have my pets for company; I plink around on the computer; I watch t.v. I'm still passionately interested in politics. I still live for the NASCAR races. I still love casinos. I can't wait for Outlander to start again. My friends come and see me.

When I compare my life to Jim's last 19 months of tests and treatments and infusions and hospitals, I think, I'm way ahead of the game.

I've never been afraid to die. Sometimes when I'm lying in my bed (I some times have to struggle to get up the stairs but my bedroom has been my bedroom since 1991 and it feels like my safe space) I think to myself, "I hope I die right here", then I close my eyes and go to sleep.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Of backseat driving and traffic jams

This was from 1994, and I have to admit things haven't changed a lot. We do have an automatic transmission and a GPS now, but I'd still almost rather have a toothache than drive with him in the car and he'd rather I did, too. We do manage, unwanted advice and snarkiness aside, to always have a good time, so I'm good with it.




My husband and I spent last weekend in Tennessee. The weather and the Smoky Mountains were beautiful, the relative we went to visit as funny and warm as she's always been. I learned some things on this trip.

I learned that what Southerners refer to as laid-back is what we refer to as godawful slow.

I learned that road construction is not a Hoosier phenomenon, but one shared equally by Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. We could see a little bit of North Carolina across the hollers, but not enough to tell if they even have roads there, much less road construction.

I learned, once again, that if two people have been married for a long time and one of those people is perfectly well aware that the other one hates the way she drives, she should just stay in the passenger seat and read the map. Even if she knows he's tired and that she drives just as well as he does and even if they're driving what is generally referred to as "her" car. "Her" car is the newest one, the one with just barely under 100,000 miles on it, the one she cleaned out especially so that he, my husband, wouldn't make remarks about shovels and lighting matches and getting tetanus shots.
Not mine, but this is what it looked like.

To give him credit, he didn't make those remarks. I mean, he said the car looked nice and got under the wheel prepared to drive the entire 1200 miles we were going to cover during the weekend.

That wasn't good enough for me. I had to say, "I can drive any time you want me to. I know you've got to be tired." Nice of me, wasn't it? That's part of how you stay married forever--you try to always be nice to the one who knows what you look like first thing in the morning.

But he thought I meant it. If I wanted to drive for a while, he said, he'd just take a little nap. So we pulled into a rest area and changed drivers. Duane laid the passenger seat back and settled in with pillows.

Then he told me how to back up. And how to re-enter traffic on the highway. And what the speed limit was. I turned the radio down so he could sleep. He turned it up so I would go crazy.

I drove about 50 miles. He only sat up three times to ask where we were, if I was tired, and how fast I was going.

On the way home from Tennessee, I did it again--offered to drive knowing full well no marriage should have to stand up to that kind of test twice in one weekend. In the first hour and a half, I drove three miles. We sat in a traffic jam and moved seven feet every five minutes and commented that there were times an automatic transmission would come in really handy.

Then, when traffic was almost flowing again, we ran smack into road construction and a long stretch of one-lane driving. Only it wasn't actually a lane but more like the path cows make on the way to the barn--about three feet wide and bumpy. Since I don't have a fondness for orange cones and I like orange-and-white-striped barrel things even less, I steered close to the berm and stayed there. We discussed that calmly, as in "What are you going to do when the berm runs out? Have you thought about that?" I steered closer to the orange things, driving two miles while flinching every 20 feet or so.

Pretty soon, he wasn't tired anymore and I got back into the passenger seat with my map. I turned the radio down and reached for some rich Tennessee chocolate. We talked and laughed the rest of the way home, the marriage intact.

At least until the next time I offer to drive and he lets me.

Friday, August 18, 2017

All about me...

Well, not really about me, but about my December book. I don't usually do book stuff (much) on this blog, but since I never got a regular post put up, I'm doing what can be viewed as...well, as a commercial. Only I don't have a fast-forward on here, so you may as well just go get a sandwich.

Anyway, here is the cover of The Happiness Pact. It will be out December 5, but is available for pre-order everywhere. I'll put some links down there below the blurb and if you want to order from all of them, feel free!

Thanks for coming by and for your interest in the Window.


Tucker Llewellyn and Libby Worth—strictly platonic!—realize they're each at a crossroads. Tucker is successful, but he wants a wife and kids: the whole package. Libby knows that small-town life has her set in her ways; the tearoom owner needs to get out more. 

So they form a pact: Libby will play matchmaker and Tucker will lead her on the adventure she desperately needs. But the electricity Libby feels when they shake on it should be a warning sign. Soon the matchmaking mishaps pile up, and a personal crisis tests Libby's limits. Will Tucker be there for her as a best friend…or something more?

Amazon

Barnes & Noble 

Kobo

Harlequin


Friday, August 11, 2017

Are we there yet?

Although I couldn't find it when I went looking for it, I remember the column I wrote about "random" drug testing. It was sometime in the early 90s. Imagine my surprise when I saw by an editorial in July 28's Peru Tribune that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Here is my response. In order to be fair, I also sent it to the Tribune for them to address--or not--how they chose.






On July 28, reading the Peru Tribune, I was pleased to see an article about Ole Olsen’s Children’s Theatre’s production of The Tempest. I was glad to see Maconaquah’s projects being reported on. Police Chief Mike Meeks gave an informative interview about Narcan. I even liked the headline on the op-ed page that proclaimed, “Schools need to step up.” Because where kids are concerned, of course schools need to step up. As do parents. Churches. Politicians. The kids themselves.
          But then I read this one phrase in the editorial, the one that said, “…strongly considering adopting drug testing for high school juniors and seniors involved in extracurricular activities as well as students who drive themselves to school.” Is this then the stepping up the Tribune is referring to?
          When my kids were in school in the 90s, there was a lot of talk of random drug testing among student athletes. I don’t know if it was ever implemented, because my kids graduated and my mind moved on to other things, but I do recall writing a column that questioned the randomness of only testing student athletes. I didn’t understand then—and still don’t—what was random about that. What about student musicians, student librarians, and the students who skip school as often as they attend? Was there no possibility, no matter how remote, that any of them might be using as many illegal drugs as the athletes?
          So, here we are 25 years after my indignant column, and the definition of “random” apparently hasn’t changed a bit. Students who do not join extracurricular activities--which I always thought we encouraged, didn’t we?—and those who don’t or can’t drive themselves to school are evidently drug-free.
          Now, I admit I’m a little out of it as far as kids go. Well, maybe a lot out of it, but I still don’t understand the picking and choosing. I have no problem with drug testing, as long as it starts with the administrators and works its way down through the faculty to the student body. I truly doubt it will do any good, but I’m usually happy with proactive things. Of course, I’d be happy if the schools’ stepping up had more to do with curricula, better teacher salaries, and making sure no kid ever went home hungry. Or, wait, maybe just the band kids and the ones who wear green T-shirts could go home hungry. Yeah, just random ones. That’s it. 
          Our prompt at this month's writers' group meeting was "are we there yet?" I didn't have to explain at all what this essay had to do with the prompt. Twenty-five years after such total inequality was encouraged, it’s being encouraged yet again. It makes me think of prior to 2008, when I thought racism was…well, not a thing of the past, but better. It reminds me, loud and clear, that no, we’re not nearly there yet. And that we must not give up until we are.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Let's talk about reading...

This is from 2010, when I got my first Kindle. I'm on my second one, now. It's smaller, lighter, and has hundreds of books on it. Sadly enough, there are a lot of them I haven't read. The free-book phenomenon struck soon after e-readers started gaining in popularity, and to borrow a phrase from a couple of movies and an old talk show, "They're everywhere! They're everywhere!" It isn't a credit to me that a writer has only about a chapter and a half to capture my attention, but it's true. I still miss brick-and-mortar bookstores. I miss the textures, the smell, and talking to other people in the aisles. Books-A-Million is still alive and well in Kokomo, but that's 35 miles one way and it doesn't feel the same as bookstores used to--can't explain that, but it's true.

So, anyway, do you have an e-reader or are you strictly paper and ink? Either way, happy reading.

I have a Kindle! I put it off for a long while because of how much I love the feel, scent, and sight of a paper-and-ink book in my hands. But then one of my girls, Tahne, got one. And she loved it. A friend got a Nook. And she loved it. I looked at the mountains of books lying on nearly every flat surface in my house, not to mention the bookshelves. And I didn't love it. It was time, I decided. Oh, yes! said the roommate, who has no appreciation for the number of books I have...everywhere. But, I argued, I didn't want to spend the money. I'll buy it for you, said the roommate. He really has no appreciation. So I said okay.

I ordered it, it came, and I looked at it for a couple of days. "I don't know what to buy," I said, "without running my fingers over the spines, looking at the covers, and reading the blurbs."

You can do that with the Kindle, except for the spine part. But it's different. Way different. So I bought my own book. Boom! In about a minute, there it was: The Debutante's Second Chance.
Wow.

But I didn't, you know, want to read it. I needed to buy something to read.

A friend, Janet Dean, had a new book out--The Substitute Bride. So I bought it for the Kindle. Boom! It's a mail-order-bride story, a good one, and it was fun to read. No, it was a lot of fun to read. I took my time over it, relished it, loved every word.


I was heartbroken last year when the only bookstore close enough for me to go to closed (I won't go to Waldenbooks anymore, but that's a whole 'nother story) and I had to buy most of my books at Walmart or the grocery store. Or else I ordered them from Amazon and waited.

Did I mention Boom!

Since getting the Kindle, I've read Robyn Carr's new one, a lovely one by Marta Perry, The Five Little Peppers Grown Up (yes, really), and then, once again, I was stumped. So I bought one by Jenny Crusie, an old one I thought I might have missed. The Cinderella Deal.

Yes, I had missed it. And it's lovely. One of her very best and very funniest, and I'm taking my time over it, relishing it, loving every word. I didn't feel the spine, can't smell the paper-and-ink, but you know what? I can still laugh out loud at the humor and feel the tenderness slipping along my arms.

Walking through the house, I passed a flat surface without a stack of books on it.

It was dusty.

Oh, no, what have I done?
***
On to 2017 - While I'm here, I want to invite you to come to the Logansport, Indiana library tomorrow, August 5, at 2:00  to talk to Nan Reinhardt, Cheryl Brooks, Kathi Thompson, and me about writing. We'll have books to sell and sign, but mostly we just like conversation. Come and join us!


Friday, July 28, 2017

About Singing Trees...and Gilead

This is from June of 2010. My fourth book was getting set to come out and I was so excited. Ten or so later, I still get that excited with every release. Home to Singing Trees was and is still special to me. I think my writing's grown up some, but I still love that every inch of this book was placed in or around Gilead, where I grew up. (Five whole miles from where I live now!) While I played fast and loose with names and businesses, I used ones I found in research or see in church every Sunday or heard when the roll was called in elementary school. Sarah Williamson McKissick was my great-grandmother, but it wasn't her story I told.

The book is still a favorite. It's still available--how was that for a commercial?--and finding this brought back some memories. It was the first time I was ever invited to do a post on a guest blog and, once again, I was so excited. The blog, Prairie Chicks, is no longer active, although many of its founders are still writing. It seems to be what we do.


Despite an alarming tendency toward prudishness and an inability to drop the f-bomb unless I’m truly, truly ticked off, I am a fairly modern woman. Back in the 60s, I’d have been first in line to burn my bra if anyone had asked me. When Helen Reddy sang, “I am woman, hear me roar,” it was me she was singing to.

Although I liked reading about the 1800s, I never wanted to live then. Those long dress and multi-petticoats wrapping around a woman’s legs no matter what she was doing, not to mention that she did virtually everything only to be told every time she turned around where “her place” was—well, I just wasn’t having any of that, thank you very much.

When, after reading hundreds of romances (sound familiar?) I made the blithe decision that, hey, I could probably do that (sound even more familiar?) it was to contemporary I turned. Three published—and more unpublished ones than I care to talk about—books later, I still love contemporary. Even more than that I love Women’s Fiction. So much I capitalize it when I write the words.

But one day I was at the family farm where my brother and sister-in-law live and I looked at the concrete steps that led down to a flattened area in the hilly lawn. The flat space was where the interurban train that ran between the small towns in the community used to go right through the yard.

And I thought...hmmm….

It would be fun, maybe, to write a story about the building of the interurban. So I went to the library. Many sunlight-deprived hours later, I had a story. I found the germ of it in The 1877 History of Miami County and went on from there. It had nothing to do with the interurban, but I didn’t care. It captured my imagination and my heart and the tips of my typing fingers and before I knew it, Home to Singing Trees was born.




Liam and Sarah’s story is about second chances for two people who richly deserve them. It’s about families and working together and overcoming things you think just can’t be overcome. It will be released by Wild Rose Press on October 15 (it will be in both electronic and print formats, but the date on print is tentative) and I am so excited. Here is a teaser of an excerpt—there should be a graceful way to segue to that, but I haven’t found it yet!

He felt the warmth of her skin through the thin fabric of her shirtwaist, and the scent of roses was even stronger when she was in his arms. Her curly hair tickled his nose, and he brushed it away, allowing his hand to linger on the silky tresses.

She is so soft, and it’s been so long since I’ve felt this kind of softness, or even wanted to.
When she finally drew away, he was reluctant to let her go, sorry for the space she placed between them on the wooden step.

“Is it all right,” he asked, “that I call you Sarah?”

With that question, he felt her withdrawal become not only physical but mental and emotional as well.

“Of course,” she said, her voice colorless. “You are my employer, after all.”

Liam was struck with the abrupt and unsettling realization that being Sarah Mary Williamson’s employer wasn’t enough. He didn’t know what else he could be; even in the wilds of Indiana, employers and servants didn’t marry, and the liaisons they did enjoy were hardly the kind he would ask of Sarah.

Maybe, he speculated, they could be friends. He had other female friends, like Amy Waite, the daughter of Gilead’s most prosperous merchant and the teacher of the lower grades at the school. And there was Sue Anne Klein, who had come to visit her aunt and uncle, the Shoemakers. Only Sue Anne wanted to be more than friends.

He looked at Sarah’s hazy profile in the darkness, at the set of her firm chin and broad shoulders and remembered that she hadn’t felt firm or broad at all in his arms.

Friends?

It would do.


For starters.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Class reunion

I happened on this from 2008 and thought I'd wait until next year to use it again, because next year it will be 50 years since we walked down the sides of the gym floor and graduated. However, there's much talk among friends and family about class reunions right now. I hope you have as much fun at your reunions as we do, that you manage to leave cliques and hurt feelings behind with the big hair and wearing dresses to school no matter how cold it is.

Our class has an annual party now, coming up in August. See you then, Class of '68.



We all thought we'd change the world with our great work and deeds. - from "Class of '57" 


It was my high school class reunion. My 40th--yikes! About 70 of us, including 42 classmates from the original 92, met at the local museum (Would that be the museum of ancient history? asked my daughter Kari), where we ate and drank and talked and talked and talked. (Actually, if you want to see where we met, it's here www.miamicountymuseum.com)

I was not a mover or a shaker in North Miami High School's class of '68. I was more of a sitter and talker. But 40 years after the fact, when most of us are a little heavier and a lot grayer--well, some are grayer; many use a lot more hair color, myself included--it doesn't really matter who moved and shook and who didn't. It was just fun to see each other and finish each other's sentences because even though our lives have gone off in a starburst of directions, our beginnings were the same.

The subject matter of conversations was different than it used to be. We used to talk about our kids and now we talk about their kids. We used to talk about beginning new jobs and now we talk about winding down the ones we've had for a long time. Many of of have retired. Many more of us are thinking about it. What will you do? we ask each other, and we are pleased that no one plans to be bored or go quietly into that good night. We made noise and had sometimes raucous fun when we were young and I believe we intend to continue that into our old age. With somewhat less agility, of course.


Do you still write? people asked me. And I shrugged and mumbled and said I didn't know if I really did or not. But I do. Of course I do. Writing's like breathing to me, so I'll always do it. And I want to go to college--which I've never done--and volunteer at this place and that one. But I'm not sure, I told my friend Patty who has suffered such great pain in recent years and still looks wonderful, what I want to be when I grow up.

Some of us know. Nan is going to play more golf. Call me, I said. I'll go along and ride in the cart and drink. No one wants me to play golf--I'm godawful--but I'm a good rider-alonger and I'm fond of margaritas. You know, the frozen kind with very little booze but a lot of delicious slush. Marsha's going to play bridge. Jim's wife Becky, who is not a classmate but is funny and puts up with Jim :-), doesn't know what she's going to do, only that it will be whatever she wants. Many will travel more, will do more on ebay, will spend more time with the kids' kids.

And in five years, we'll meet again. Someone asked if our next gathering would be in the nursing home and Jeann said, No, probably the retirement center--the one after that will be in the nursing home. And that'll be fine. We'll talk and talk and talk and hug each other hello and goodbye and discuss what we want to be when we grow up just as we always have.

Wasn't it Dickens who started a story with, "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times..." I'll cut that a little short in reference to the the class reunion. It was just the best of times.