Sunday, November 3, 2019

A Friend Who Mentored Me


On Christmas Eve, 1966, I left the convent after spending eight-and-a-half years there. One of the first persons I met after leaving was Robert Kraske. A publishing house in Ohio, had offered me work as an assistant editor of its weekly reader for the primary grades of Catholic schools. Robert was my boss.

On Sunday evening, January 22, 1967, Bob picked me up at the Dayton airport. I was sure he wondered how one talked to an ex-nun who still wore the pallor of the convent. Forging right ahead into unchartered territory, he asked a question that reflected a real interest in what I might reply. Then and there began the multitudinous conversations we had for the next 52 years. 

Rather quickly, I learned that Bob was, in general, always deliberate in speech, especially with regard to words. He was the first person to quote to me the famous line of Mark Twain. He did this while critiquing my first assignment under his tutelage.

"Dolores," Bob instructed, "Follow Mark Twain's advice: 'The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter--'tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.'" I got his point and found a better word than the one he'd blue-penciled in the article.

Twain’s observation mattered to Bob who studied throughout his life the art of crafting words into books. He did this so successfully that twenty of his books for 10-to-14 year olds have been published. Often, during our long friendship, he’d stop me in mid-stream as I sounded off about writing, politics, aging. With genuine pleasure, he’d say, “That’s it, Dolores. That’s it. The right word.” He took delight in hearing or using the right word in any given sentence of composition or conversation. 

Bob became the mentor I needed so as to learn how to write for youngsters, how to delete excessive verbiage, how to hold fast to the thread that would guide the reader effortlessly through my writing.

In short, Bob taught me both to write and to edit. Thus, he gave me a career that lasted from 1967 to 2001 when I retired. During those years, he also taught me the art of writing longer books. It was Bob who gave me the advice that has kept me writing. 

Back in the 1990s, As I worked on a novel about Bronze-Age-Greece, he’d ask, whenever I visited him and his wife, Jan, “How’s the book coming?”

 “I’m still on Chapter 1. Polishing it.”

 “Dolores,” he’d say, “you’ve been on Chapter 1 for two months now. Start another chapter.”

“But, . . .”

“Keep going. Write each day and stop in the middle of a sentence. The next day, pick up from there. Do that until you get to the end of the first draft. Then. And Only Then. Will you know that you have a novel.”

“But, . . .”

“When you have the first draft, you have something to work with. You know you have a book in there somewhere. Then you rewrite. Edit. And finally, only after you know you’ve grabbed hold of the story, do you polish.”

“But, . . .”

“If you keep polishing Chapter 1, you’ll never get to the final chapter.” It was sound advice and I took it. Thus, Bob became the mentor of my writing to be published. 

Finally, Bob has been the mentor of my aging. I have watched him for years as he began to learn how to paint in acrylics, draw with charcoal sticks, and play jazz on a keyboard. Always and ever, he tried new avenues to explore. His curiosity about technique and process never faltered.

Always he read for new ideas and enjoyed nature during his daily walks around Stillwater, Minnesota. And always he embraced life: When Jan died, he learned to cook, collected recipes, paid bills, bought groceries, lived his life, adjusted to the new norm, welcomed his adult children home with meals he’d cooked for them, cherished their triumphs, helped them through the dark times, and remained steadfast. He was a man of great fortitude.

And always he was, for me, the living example of the following words by William Blake: “To see a World in a grain of sand. And a heaven in a Wild Flower. Hold infinity in the palm of your hand. And eternity in an hour.”

I shall be missing Bob for the rest of my life. 

Peace. 
The photo, taken by one of his sons, is for Bob's 90th birthday. He died a few weeks short of his 93rd birthday in late November. 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

My Bout of Loopiness

I’m not quite ready to write about my friend’s death. Instead, today I’ll share with you my recent trip to Emergency. 

I was born with asthma. As I grew older, Mom taught me to distract myself when I couldn’t breathe. “Dolores, if you think about breathing, you won’t be able to,” she said. “Distract yourself! Think about something else and breath will come.” She was right.

Later, I applied her advice to pain. If I dwelt on it, it got worse. So I distracted myself. Living alone, however, makes distracting oneself more difficult: there’s no one with whom to engage in conversation. 

Last Sunday, after 35 hours of a Meniere’s headache, I went to Emergency, with its many distractions. While my sister-in-law parked the car, I spoke with the receptionist. She asked for my social security; I didn’t understand. I opened my purse and gave her the first card I came to.

 “No, Mam,” she said, “This is Medicare. I need your social security number.” 

My mind dulled by pain, I kept pulling out cards. Finally, a glimmer came: oh, it’s the check each month. That’s social security. Stammering, I gave her the number. 

After that, I had an EKG, blood drawn, and a CT. Finally, a nurse—Danielle—led us to a cubicle. She was a gift from the Universe—so calm and so willing to distract me with information about her studying to become a nurse and what she was doing to help me. 

The first two meds she gave me had little effect on the pain. Then she prepared the morphine. While doing so, she said, “It might make you a little loopy.” 

I replied, “When I was in a small girl’s Catholic college back in 1954, we sang a song about morphine. We didn’t know what we were singing about, but we liked the beat!”

“Do you remember it?” 

When I told her I did, she asked me to sing it for her.

As Danielle began the intravenous morphine, I began to sing, normally at first and then, as the medicine went into my vein, with gusto: “Morphine Bill and Cocaine Sue—strolling down the avenue! Up from Broadway—down to Main—Just to buy some . . . . . . . Cocaine!!! Honey have a [sniff the nose], have a [sniff the nose] on me. Honey have a [sniff the nose] on me. Honey have a [sniff the nose], have a [sniff the nose] on me. Honey have a [sniff the nose] on me.” I ended the song on a resounding crescendo.

Danielle started laughing. Pulling aside the cubicle curtains, she hurried out into the hallway. Soon other nurses were laughing—an 83-year-old wrinkled-face woman singing about drugs back in the 1950s! Danielle came back in to tell me they thought it was a hoot!

I grinned at her and sang again—uninvited. The song took me back to hootenannies in 1954. To ukuleles. To be-bopping. 

When the headache had fled, a nurse came with a wheelchair. Danielle leaned down and whispered, “She wants you to sing for her too.”

As the nurse wheeled us down a long hall, I sang, shouting at the top of my lungs, about Morphine Bill and Cocaine Sue.  Passing nurses and doctors laughed and spurred me on.

At the end of the hall stood a couple with a six-or-seven-year old boy. The parents gaped. The boy’s eyes widened. The nurse leaned down, “Shhh! Shhh! The child! The child!” 

By then, we’d come to the foyer. Everyone grinned. The receptionist rose, leaned toward me, and whispered, “We’re feeling a little better now, aren’t we?”

“You bet!” I shouted and left the hospital—at my loopiest!

Peace.

Friday, October 18, 2019

In the Interim



Several postings ago, I shared with you my decision to post every other Sunday for the foreseeable future. So this coming Sunday is my “regular” posting day. I hope that day to share with you a friendship of fifty-three years between me and Bob Kraske, my first boss after leaving the convent. He became my writing mentor; later, he became my mentor for aging. So I have a lot I’d like to share with you about Bob.

That’s for this coming Sunday.

Today, I simply want to express my regret for being unable to do any blogging for the past few weeks. I’ve visited a few blogs, but visiting has been erratic. I miss reading about what is happening in your lives, but Meniere’s headaches and joint pain have kept me lying low—mostly resting on the couch.

The headaches are like migraines in intensity. However, there is no extra sensitivity to light. Symptoms from Meniere’s can happen at any time, but are more evident when the barometer is bopping up and down—rising and falling precipitously. That especially happens when the seasons change: late March/early April and late September/early October are the most problematic times for me. 

This past Sunday, my sister-in-law drove me to Emergency because I’d had one of the headaches for 35 hours and it simply wouldn’t desist—no matter how much medication, prescription and otherwise, that I swallowed. It was, perhaps, the worse headache I’ve ever had. I had a vision of using a machete to cut off my head! Then I broke out laughing as I realized I’d have no way to reattach it!

After an EDG, blood draw, and Cat Scan in Emergency, I was given the first tier of medications. They didn’t do the trick, so I got the second tier—morphine.
Wow!  I’d never had morphine before. It’s quite a drug. I hope never to have it again.   

But the headache went away and something really amusing happened while I was in a loopy morphine state. I’ll share that with you in a couple of weeks. I hope I can make it as funny as it was. Arkansas Patti is able to not only tell but write stories that make me laugh out loud. I hope to follow her lead and do the same with this story. We’ll see if I can pull it off in early November.

The left-knee pain will soon be taken care of as I’m having replacement surgery on Monday, November 18. First it was scheduled for October 13 and then December 4, but it now seems that the 18thwill happen. I’ve been icing my knee twice daily and taking meds for discomfort. All is well. I’m just tired. I think pain does that—it tires us out.

So, all this is to say that I’m sorry I haven’t been visiting your blogs, reading them, and leaving comments. I hope that all is well with each of you and that you are able to live within the day and find the peace that dwells at the deep center of yourself.

Please be gracious to yourselves as you travel this journey we are all on.

Peace.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Soldier Boy: The WWII Letters of Donald G. Reimer



During this past week, I’ve avidly read the e-book entitled Soldier Boy: The WWII Letters of Donald G. Reimer. A fellow blogger—Cynthia Reimer—discovered the letters a few years ago in her grandparents’ attic. Along with her dad’s letters home she also discovered letters that had been sent to him. He’d kept them and at one point during the war had sent them back home for safekeeping.

Thus, these letters vividly show us what was happening—between January 1943 and late 1946—on the home front as well as in the boot camps in the United States and the jungles of the Pacific.

Cynthia sorted these handwritten letters, added transition; clear explanations for what was happening month by month in the European and Pacific Theaters of War; and entertaining information on the camps her father was in and on the radio shows, songs, and celebrities who were popular at the time.

For me, this book Soldier Boy was a revelation. When the war began, I was in kindergarten and in 3rd grade when it ended. I knew what was happening from what adults said, from the movie newsreels, and from the newspaper headlines.

Also, every week, Mom gave me our ration books and I bought groceries at the corner store across our grade school. The owner had pinned a large world map pinned to the wall behind the cash register. As I waited for the bus, he’d point out what was happening in both theaters of war. He made the war and the world come alive for me.

Given that background, I’ve read many books about WWII. Most historians, I’ve discovered, research the battles, the strategy, the lay of the land, the troop numbers, troop movement, the death toll, and the names of the men making the decisions. I brought that background to Cynthia’s book.

Here’s why I say her book was a revelation to me. The letters didn’t describe generals or strategy. Nor did Donald Reimer try to explain why the war was happening or why he enlisted. Instead he shared with his family at home what was happening with him in each camp the army sent him to.

 
Thus, this past week, I met one man—an ordinary soldier who became part of the 485th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion. With him, I spent day after day, marching, cleaning guns, eating in the mess hall—and sometimes there wasn’t enough food, learning to recognize all the different planes that might fly over the battlefield, writing home, getting lonely, going on a three-day passes and sitting in the audience at some radio shows, and moving from one camp to another.

Truthfully I never knew there were that many boot camps in the United States. Nor did I know how many months the men trained for war. Nor had I ever thought about the tedium of waiting for the next letter. The next march. The next battle.

These letters introduced me to one anti-aircraft soldier who felt he had a duty to his country. Mostly, it seemed to me while reading, he lived at peace within himself. He was sure of what he had done: enlist. He was sure that he was in the right place at the right time. I believe that his letters reveal him to be a man of peace.

Yet he ended up on the islands of Leyte and Okinawa. In his letters, he doesn’t complain or grouse or say, “Why me?” He simply lives in the present. Longing for it all to end and to eat a Christmas dinner with his family. But not until he’d done his work.

If you decide to read this book—and I do so hope you will—please also leave a comment/review on Amazon for other readers to find. Thank you.


Peace.

Anti-aircraft artillery from Wikipedia

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Living in the Present

Most often when I’ve posted, I’ve written about the past—my childhood, my life in the convent, my small part in social activism, my writing process. Today, I want to write about what is presently happening in my life. Perhaps that’s where most of my future postings will take place: in the present.

First, let me share a decision I’ve made: I plan to post every other week from now on. That’s because I’m simplifying my life and accepting my energy level and also the amount of time writing now takes.

Second, to dwell in the past for a few moments, I want to admit that the last eight months have been somewhat difficult. I’ve struggled with some health problems and also with a malaise that has kept me from enjoying my usual optimism. Since the death of two friends (in May and June), I’ve found myself mulling my own mortality.

For years, I’ve made schedules about the time I’d need to write all the books that are in my heart and head. In the past eight months, I’ve accepted that those books may never be written. That is to say, I suppose, that finally, and irrevocably, I have accepted that I have little control over the future. What will be, will be.

So where does that leave me? Right here in the present. Enjoying the rain shower today. Enjoying Maggie’s leap from the coffee table to my lap as she settles down to purr her way into her morning nap. Enjoying porridge with walnuts and figs for breakfast. Enjoying reading P. J. Tracy’s latest mystery.

Enjoying and feeling grateful at the same time. Grateful that my compromised vision stays steady. Grateful that I can afford to heat the house in the winter and cool it in the summer. Grateful that Pat and Gennie, who remain with me in Oneness, chose me as a friend. So much for which to be grateful: My family. A long life. The cats with whom I’ve lived. A passion for writing. Friendship.

I hope this posting does not sound sad or dismal. I’m neither. I’m letting go of the past eight months with their ups and downs. That is to say, I am turning away from the closed window of the past and turning toward the now open window that beckons me.

Beyond that new window is a new writing project. Writing fills me with great energy. It motivates me. More importantly, it is, for me, prayer. That is to say, when I write, I live in the present and in presence of Oneness. So I am eager to begin my next book.

It is to be another memoir and already the words are giving themselves to me. The words and the story. The memories and the emotions. The people who have touched my life with good and the happenings that sometimes befuddled me but always worked out to good.

This coming week, I will tie up some loose ends from the past eight months. Then, I will begin the memoir. In the next six weeks, I have one doctor’s appointment each week. So my health remains an issue. But there are four other weekdays for me to write. I tell you now that there is nothing more satisfying for me than crafting a good sentence.

So this is the present. In future postings, I’ll be sharing with you what’s happening with the memoir, with my health, with my reading, with my friends. So much to share with all of you who have given me such support since 2011 when I first began to blog.


Thank you, ever and always. Peace.

PS: The photo is of me in kindergarten. I was known as "Bright Eyes."