Wednesday, December 26, 2012

We Journey with Shepherds, Magi, Animals, and One Another

The Magi Journeying by James Tissot

No story today about growing up in the forties with the rationing of the war and the shortages on the home front. Instead, as we begin to celebrate the twelve days of Christmas, I cherish three of life’s gifts: the warmth of friendship and family, the miracle of renewed spirit, and the wonder of love shared in Oneness.
         I hope that as the new year dawns, I will grow in compassion, charity, open-mindedness, and the willingness to listen to views that differ from my own.
         It is in the listening that all of us discover that we are truly One and that our differences need not divide us into warring camps but can help us appreciate the multi-faceted complexity of the human spirit.
         As Gertrud von Le Fort wrote in her poem “Corpus Christi Mysticum” in Hymns to the Church, “Everywhere there is one and never two.” My life has been given over to discovering what that line of poetry truly means.
         Always and ever, especially when I find myself at odds with others, I learn that in truth we are One, not two, no matter what seems to divide us. As the new year dawns, let us all reach out and embrace what seems to be Other, but at the deepest level is One.  
         Why today especially? Because this is the first of the twelve days of Christmas. Our celebration of Light within our lives culminates in the Epiphany on January 6 when the three kings discover, as T.S. Eliot wrote in “The Journey of the Magi,” that the stable of our own spirit and the child within each of us offer us not answers but questions about how we will live our lives.
         “The Friendly Beasts” is a carol that speaks to the Oneness of all creation. The music originated in twelfth-century France and the words we sing today are from the 1920s.
         I chose this rendition by Tennessee Ernie Ford because it features the artwork of the famous children’s illustrator and writer Tomie dePaola as well as the words of the song.

         If you enjoyed that traditional carol, you may also enjoy two others that have been favorites of mine since 1986, when a friend gave me the audiocassette “Christmas Carol,” featuring the flute of James Galway.
         One, “Shepherd’s Pipe Carol,” speaks of the loneliness we might feel on the way to Bethlehem, destiny’s end, where family, Magi, shepherds, and animals gathered as One.
         The other, “Pat-a-Pan,” speaks to the divinity within us. I believe that when we embrace our sparks of divine Oneness we make the earth whole.
         If you’d like to listen to both carols, please clink here and go to my second blog where I featured them this past Sunday.
          Next Wednesday I’ll return to my on-line memoir stories on this blog. I hope you know how grateful I am to all of you for the visits you make here each week, the comments many of you choose to leave, and the good will you extend toward my words and toward my journey of accepting the whole of my long life.
         It is peace I wish each and every one of you. Peace pressed down and overflowing. Peace that flows like a river within your heart and mind and spirit. Peace ever and always. In the new year of 2013, let us share that peace with each person whom we encounter as we go about our days.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas in 1946

Last Wednesday I wrote about a time when Dad hocked his watch and Mom was able to give it back to him at Christmas. I mistakenly said this happened in 1946 when I was in fifth grade. However, upon reflection, I think it was 1945 and I was in fourth grade.
         On the other hand, today’s Christmas story did take place in 1946, when I was in fifth grade and beginning to develop a bosom, as we said then. Once again, money was scarce. So Mom explained to my brother and me that we’d be receiving only one gift for Christmas. She asked for a list of five things from which she could select one. The first and only item on my list was a medallion pin. All my girl friends at Saint Mary’s Grade School had them. It was truly all I wanted that Christmas.
         We fifth graders wore uniforms—pleated blue skirts and short-sleeved white cotton blouses with a pocket on the left side of our chest. To dress up the uniform, we carefully arranged a lace-edged handkerchief in the pocket. We’d then fold down one of the handkerchief’s corners over the pocket and use an attractive pin to center it. That year, most of the other girls had medallion pins to do this. I wanted to be like my friends in every way.

Here's a simple crocheted-edged handkerchief.
Many girls in my 1946 classroom wore ones with elaborate lace trimming.

         My brother, who was seven, asked for traps. He wanted to set up a trap line on the backfields of the twenty-acres on which we lived. He planned to check the traps each morning before school and bring home whatever he’d caught—mostly rabbits.

This Conibear body-gripping trap was named after its Canadian inventor.
The ones my brother used were much simpler.
From the time he was seven in 1945,
until he left home in 1960,
he trapped and provided food for our table.

         I found myself a little peeved that my brother asked for something that would help out the family while I asked for something really selfish—a medallion to make myself more like the other fifth-grade girls. Mom assured me this was okay. But I was certain that she was secretly proud of my brother.
         On Christmas morning, both he and I were elated when we found two gifts each under the tree. I opened the smaller one first, hoping that it would contain a medallion pin. It did.

This is the medallion Mom and Dad gave me in 1946.
It is 66 years old.

When I pulled off the ribbon and paper on the second gift, I found a grown-up slip. I was ecstatic. Mom was telling me, I was sure, that I was growing up and she recognized that. A short time later, I washed in the kitchen sink, went into my bedroom, and donned the slip as I dressed for Christmas Mass at Saint Mary’s Church.
         The rayon slip felt so luxurious. It had slim, slippery straps, unlike the wide cotton ones on the slips I’d always worn beneath my uniform. Those cotton slips now seemed so childish. So gauche.

This slip boasts much more lace than the one I received in fifth grade.

         I wore that slip beneath my uniform and felt sophisticated and stylish. I’d already reached the height I’ve remained since: five feet, four inches. So I wore that slip until it wore out, the lace and the straps frayed, the seams coming apart. Always, it gave me confidence and I needed that in the fifth grade. In January I’ll explain why.

The photographs of the handkerchief, trap, and slip are from Wikipedia.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Hocked Pocket Watch and Christmas

My father was a steamfitter, a term used back in the forties for a pipefitter who assembles, fabricates, maintains, and repairs mechanical piping systems. Dad frequently worked at the Standard Oil Refinery in Sugar Creek, Missouri, on looming cat-crackers that produced gasoline and other products from crude oil.

         However, during the winter months, he was often laid off as no work was being done. During those months, he’d get unemployment, but week after week he’d drink away the money in local bars. My grandmother would send us care packages of food.
         Every few days, he’d drive into Kansas City and check in at the Pipefitters Union Hall to see if any work was available. His union was on the second floor of a brick building; the first floor was a saloon. After the union meeting, he'd spend the day on a bar stool, mushrooming his beer tab.         
         In November 1946, when I was in fifth grade, we had no money and so Dad hocked his watch in a pawnshop uptown by the Independence Square. It was a gold pocket watch, which had belonged to his father. He missed that watch, and I missed seeing him take it out of his watch pocket, flick it open, and peruse the time.
         That Christmas, Mom managed to buy a gift for my brother and one for me. Both beckoned us from beneath the tree. Surprisingly, she somehow also managed to get Dad's pocket watch out of hock. She swore both my brother and me to secrecy, explaining that she wanted that watch to be a big surprise for my father on Christmas Day.

         That December, Dad came home drunk night after night. Mom would send my brother and me to bed, but I’d lie awake by my window, waiting for his car lights to pierce the winter darkness.        
         On Christmas Eve, as snow fell heavily, he didn’t come home at all. Then the police called: Dad was in jail, picked up for drunken driving. He’d be released the next day, when he was sober.
         Christmas morning my brother and I stood looking out the living room window, waiting for him to get home so we could open our gifts. He didn’t come and didn’t come. Then, through the side window, we saw him tramping the deep snow. The police had released him, but not the car, so he’d walked the three miles from the Square, out into the country, and over the fields to our home.
         I watched him leaving a unwavering pattern of footprints on the blanket of snow and thought, “He doesn’t deserve to get his watch back.”

         Dad came into the house, stomped the snow off his shoes, and mumbled a few words that were lost as my brother and I tore open our gifts.          
         After we’d hugged and thanked her for our presents, Mom asked my brother to give Dad his gift. We all watched as he opened it. When he saw the watch, tears welled his eyes, trickling down his cheeks and falling on his wrinkled shirt, which was flecked with vomit.
         That was the first time I ever saw my father cry.
         He held the watch gently in the palm of his left hand and slowly ran the fingertips of his other hand over the inscription.  He had no words. He simply sat there in the worn easy chair, his eyes glazed with tears.
         We waited. Unsure what to say.
         “Thank you,” he finally murmured, raising his head and taking in the three of us standing in front of the tree. He seemed to see all of us for the first time.
         My little brother and I went over to the easy chair and hugged him. He was home.

If you haven’t read the guest posting for this past Monday, please stay for a few more moments and read about being homeless in Hawaii.

All photographs from Wikipedia.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Guest Post: Homeless in Hawaii

Hello All.
Today, I’d like you to welcome a guest poster—EC Stilson. Last week, Wayman Press published the third book of her memoir trilogy. The first in the series is Bible Girl & Bad Boy, the second is Homeless in Hawaii, and the third is The Golden Sky. Wayman Publishing did not publish the books in this order, but if you are new to EC’s work, this is probably the order in which you’ll want to read the three volumes.
         What follows is an excerpt from Homeless in Hawaii in which a seventeen-year-old Elisa flees her past and finds herself homeless on Waikiki strip. With her is a friend whose main intent seems to be to protect her from the misfortunes that might befall someone who’s left family and friends behind and now lives among strangers. As time passes, Hawaii works its magic. Elisa matures and finds herself letting go of the memories that haunt her. 
            I’ve guest posted on EC’s blog several times, and so I’m grateful to return that favor. If her excerpt piques your interest you’ll find Homeless in Hawaii on Amazon as a traditional trade paperback and as an e-book.
A Turning Point for Street Performers in Hawaii
That day, playing music on the street with Cade, our musical capabilities transitioned from merely playing, to performing. I’d stop in between songs and talk to the tourists. We laughed and joked. I knew what I was doing because during our slow times I made myself remember the notes of the “A” minor scale as numbers. When I talked to the tourists I had the whole thing planned.
         “Do you want your own song?” I asked a darling little girl with curly blonde hair.
“Really? Yes!”
I stood up straight and looked her parents right in the eyes. Sure I was homeless. Sure, some people thought that made me scum, but they were wrong. God and I both knew that. “Can you give me ten of your favorite numbers? They can be random, or part of a phone number, part of an address.”
They gave me their phone number and I played each one as they fell on the “A” minor scale. It only took one short time through and I knew what the song would be. I switched to a major, added some fiddling double stops and danced around the girl. She danced with me and for a moment it was just her and me—two free creatures of God, enjoying what life had to offer.
When they left, Cade pulled me toward him. “Elisa, that was brilliant.”
“It taught me something. I want to stop judging myself by other people’s standards. I had so much fun.” Then I turned the tables on him. “Now I’m dancing and playing ‘phone numbers.’ You’re singing! What’s become of this world?”
For days after that, every single time we played on the street, people would leave tips. Kids would come up and ask for their very own songs. Word spread and people viewed us as regulars on the strip. An elderly couple who lived in town came to see us each night. A mysterious stranger with a lump on his neck continued coming.
         But nothing really scared me anymore because we had a routine. We owned that strip, and not even the intimidating locals, who started watching us frequently, could discourage me.

Click the picture to see it LIVE on Amazon!

Postscript: On Wednesday, I'll be posting another on-line memoir story from my growing up years. We've reached fifth grade now and lots happened.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Fourth-Grade Cure for Asthma

Way back in July I began to tell stories about my grade-school years. In my last posting on rationing, I covered third grade. Here’s a story from fourth grade. It’s been posted before, but it now fits in the arc of this on-line memoir.
         During the first five years of my life, Mom and Dad rushed me to Emergency six times. I almost died four of those times—or so mom told me. She kept me alive. She put her finger down my throat when it clogged. Thumped my back. Rocked me. Read to me. Gave me mantras to recite in the midst of an attack.

            “Distract yourself,” she told me. “If you think about breathing you won’t be able to. Just think about something else. Ice cream cones. Raggedy Ann. Look at picture books.”
             Distracting myself helped. In fact, those library books helped me learn to read when I was four. Ever after, The Little Engine That Could, Ferdinand, and The Story about Ping have been dear to me. One may explain why I push myself to accomplish things. The other two, why I so love animals.

Eliza Doolittle with whom I lived for twenty years.

            As I grew older, the asthma didn’t lessen in intensity. In kindergarten and first, second, and third grades, I missed three out of nine months of school. I’d miss a day or two or even a whole week at a time. Every time I returned to school, I was behind. The other kids had moved on from where I’d been. They knew more spelling and arithmetic. They reeled off answers to the Baltimore Catechism questions.
            I was always trying to catch up and always exhausted from trying to breathe. So exhausted that I couldn’t think of answers when the teachers called upon me. My classmates, of course, thought I was dumb. On the playground they shouted, “Dummy. Dummy. Pain in tummy.” I hid behind the trashcans.             
         Mom wanted to change all that for me. So the summer before the fourth grade, she and Sister Corita who’d taught me in the third grade—and would have me for the fourth—encouraged me to try for perfect attendance that year. Each of us committed to doing something.
            Sister Corita would watch me carefully in class. If I looked overly tired, she’d send me to the cloakroom to nap.
            Mom would watch me carefully at home. She’d send me to bed immediately if I came home from school drooping. She’d make sure I got lots of extra sleep on the weekends.
            I’d rest whenever it was suggested to me. I’d try to breathe slowly when an attack started and not panic. I’d “go the extra mile,” as Mom said.
            She promised that if I pulled this off, I’d get a charm bracelet like the one the scout leader had. Incentive enough for going that extra mile. In June of 1946, at the completion of fourth grade, I actually got two rewards: a certificate for perfect attendance and a bracelet, which jangled seven small, silver objects whenever I moved. Wow! 

         The frosting on the cake came in fifth grade. The class voted on who were the five smartest students. Out of twenty-eight, I was number five.
            I beamed all the way home. I wasn’t a dummy. I was number five. Five! Imagine.

 Photographs of mother and children and the charm bracelet are from Wikipedia.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Gratitude and a Christmas Book Fair

In the spring of this year, Wayman Press offered to publish A Cat’s Legacy, formerly entitled Twelve Habits of Highly Successful Cats and Their Humans. I will be forever grateful that Dulcy’s companion book to A Cat’s Life now has its own life.
         And so today I feel privileged to be part of the Wayman Press Three-Day Christmas Book Fair, which offers over eighty e-books, several of them free. 
         Two of my books are on that list of eighty. Also, I wrote a short story—a  cat fantasy—for Open Doors: An Anthology, which is being offered as a free choice. The story is entitled “The Mesmerizing Monk.” It is from a feline fantasy which I am writing.
          Below is the information provided by Wayman for this book fair.

A socially conscious press, Wayman is dedicated to helping those in need. Much of the profit from the following anthology will be donated to Primary Children's Hospital in the form of Christmas gifts we'll bring to the long-term patients staying there.

Welcome to the Christmas Book Fair!

Wayman publishing has teamed up
with many phenomenal authors
to bring you this December weekend event.

For three whole days
--December 2-3-4--
you can find these

e-books for great prices.

. . . And . . .

Most of the profit from Wayman Publishing's books (12/1-12/20) will be donated to those in need!

Discover Upcoming and Recently Released Books!
A Cat's Legacy
Newly Released Cover!
A Cat's Legacy: Dulcy's Story 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Sydney's Song by Ia Uaro

Sydney's Song

by Ia Uaro

Giveaway ends December 20, 2012.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Click HERE to include on your Goodreads TO READ List
Released: 12/2012

Middle Damned
Newly Released Cover!
Middle Damned

. . . Also . . .
Enter to win FREE editing
some of the physical books
and many prizes shown below.

Awesome prizes!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Winners will be announced on 12/8.

The hosts would like to thank everyone.
Wayman Publishing

We hope you enjoyed discovering new authors and their stories
at our Christmas Book Fair.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Rationing in World War II

For those of us in the United States, World War II began on December 8, 1941, when the Japanese attacked the American fleet stationed in Pearl Harbor. At that time, I was five and in kindergarten. The only thing I knew about war was that Dad worked in a munitions factory in Parsons, Kansas. I didn’t know what “munitions” were until a year later.
         During the next four years, the war hit home in other ways. In early 1942, rationing began with tires and cars. Automobiles factories switched over to manufacturing tanks, weapons, aircraft, and other military products.

During the remaining months of 1942, the government began issuing War Ration Books for items like the following:

·      gasoline—This was necessary to save on the use of tires since no rubber was coming from Southeast Asia, which the Japanese had invaded. To save fuel and rubber for tires, the government imposed a national speed limit of 35 miles per hour.
·      coffee—This became necessary when German U-boats began sinking ships carrying coffee from Brazil.
·      radios, typewriters, bicycles, stoves, sewing and washing machines, metal office furniture, vacuum cleaners, phonographs, and refrigerators—These items were made of materials all necessary to the war effort.
·      shoes, silk, and nylons—These items were made of materials necessary for parachutes as well as boots for the military.
·      meat, oils, butter, margarine, and canned milk.
·      processed food that were canned, bottled, and frozen.
·      sugar, dried fruits, jam, jellies, and fruit butters.

According to Wikipedia, from which I gathered this information,

. . . Each person in a household received a ration book, including babies and small children who qualified for canned milk not available to others. Some items, such as sugar, were distributed evenly based on the number of people in a household. Other items, like gasoline or fuel oil, were rationed only to those who could justify a need. . . .
         Each ration stamp had a generic drawing of an airplane, gun, tank, aircraft carrier, ear of wheat, fruit, etc. and a serial number. . . . One airplane stamp was required—in addition to cash—to buy one pair of shoes and one stamp number 30 from ration book four was required to buy five pounds of sugar. . . . Red stamps were used to ration meat and butter, and blue stamps were used to ration processed foods.   

                                                                                                          . . . To enable making change for ration stamps, the government issued "red point" tokens to be given in change for red stamps, and "blue point" tokens in change for blue stamps. The red and blue tokens were about the size of dimes and were made of thin compressed wood fiber material, because metals were in short supply. . . .                                                                        

As of March 1942 dog food could no longer be sold in tin cans, and manufacturers switched to dehydrated versions. As of April 1942 anyone wishing to purchase a new toothpaste tube had to turn in an empty one. . . .

When Mom, Dad, any my little brother returned to Kansas City in the summer of 1942, we moved to Independence, Missouri. There, Dad got a job at the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant. That fall, when I entered second grade, Mom had to rely on me to purchase groceries after school. We had only one car and Dad, with his gasoline ration, drove it to Lake City.  

Across from St. Mary’s Grade School stood a small corner grocery store. After school, I’d take the cash, ration book and stamps, tokens, and Mom’s grocery list there, and the kind owner would take the rationed food from the wooden shelves and the meat from the glassed case, bag it for me, and collect the right amount of cash, stamps, and tokens. 
Then we’d watch out the window and he’d help me carry the sacks onto the city bus when it stopped at the corner. The bus carried me out into the countryside where my family lived. I did this until 1946 when rationing ended.
That grocery store owner and I became good friends. Behind the counter, he’d tacked a large map of the world. As we waited for the bus, he’d point to places in the Pacific or in Europe and tell me what was happening.
When I was able to decipher the columns of the morning newspaper, I’d see photographs and read articles that I could share with him. Together, he and I followed the war to its end. When victory was declared in Europe on Tuesday, May 8, 1945, he and I sang “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company C” and did a little jig in front of the cash register counter. We’d done our part for “the boys.”

To celebrate, the grocer gave me a Valomilk. I hadn’t had much candy during the war, so I carried this rare treat home. Mom suggested I split it with my little brother, and the two of us gobbled it up. The war was over! Maybe I’d get a bicycle for Christmas!

Postscript: If you’d like to know more about rationing during World War II and see pictures of the Ration Books and other memorabilia, please click on the two following sites: Number 1 and Number 2.

All photographs from Wikipedia.