When Angels Come Down

A fully mature Monterey Pine cone on the fores...
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As I listen to the winter rain dripping from the roof outside, and silver drops slide down the panes of my study window, wishes for warmth and sunshine aren’t far.

In the summer of 1978 Travis Lake in Austin had been engineered into a bigger lake but hadn’t filled completely. This feat of man’s desire had so far created several stump-studded inlets and striations of deep water surrounded by piles of boulders.

I had traveled from Houston with a group of church friends to swim and frolic in the sun beside one deep part. All around the lake, bright parties of sun-seekers sprawled on warm rock amidst drifting Marijuana smoke. I had only recently completed a course in lifesaving. It meant that I could swim a mile, seventy-five laps to be exact. I stood and declared that I would swim across the inlet. (Because I was prone to declaring and still am, so watch it!) It was less than a mile, probably seven hundred feet in width.

But then came the spanner in the works ~ friend Don decided he would go with me.

Don was sweet but he had just learned to swim. That compounded with the fact that he had a mild case of cerebral palsy so that his left side was slightly crippled meant I didn’t trust that he should swim across and said so. He insisted he could, besides he mentioned that I had been the one with training as a lifeguard. What is it about guys that they make such declarations in the face of facts.

I protested strongly, appealing to those around us. No help there. There was nothing for it but to do or die. I’m afraid the die part came much too close.

We started strong, swimming side-by-side. The water was warm and clear, but too deep to see the bottom. Small talk didn’t last. Don’s strokes weren’t strong and he appeared winded. It wasn’t until we were halfway across that the trouble began. Don started breathing harder, his breath coming in short gasps. I glanced over at him and his face was anxious and red. I asked, “What’s wrong?”

“I can’t go on.”

“What?”

“I can’t.” His voice was thin, strained, catching between gasps.

“You have to!” I insisted, starting to feel panicky myself. “I can’t help you.”

“Life . . . saving . . .” He choked on a mouthful of lake.

“You’ll have to let me drag you.” I worked my way around behind him, swung an arm around his bare chest and hooked him with one hand in the pit of his arm. Immediately he gripped my arm with both hands and started to thrash pulling me under beneath him. I jerked away and pushed him with my feet. He fought me. I socked him. He let go. I came to the top and screamed, “What was that?”

He gasped, “I’m going down.”

“No! Swim!”

He gurgled, thrashing weakly.

“Keep swimming! Help! Help!” Crowds lined the shore in the complete semi-circle around us. Desperate, I waved with both hands. Amidst laughter, a few waved back. “Help us! We aren’t joking.”

Still nothing. Oh Lord! Help us!

Don was barely moving forward. Like a great ship beaten in war, he was taking on too much water. We were probably two hundred yards from shore when he said, “That’s it. Goodbye.”

He sank beneath the waves.

Dear Lord, help us! Don’t let Don die like this.

Then, and this is the part that happened too fast for me to actually have any reaction save astonishment but this IS what happened, Don shot up out of the water. I couldn’t even now describe what happened in any other way. There was a man beneath him, raising him. Where had this stranger come from? He cradled Don in his muscular arms and turned to me and asked if I needed help. I told him I could make it. We swam to shore in silence. Once ashore, the stranger helped Don to a dry boulder. A crowd surrounded us at once. Many explained they thought we were playing out there. I turned to thank the stranger, but he was gone.

I asked others where the big guy who had rescued Don went. No one knew what I was talking about. No one had seen the rescue. We were flailing in the middle and then we were crawling out of the water. Don knew there was someone else out there but hadn’t seen where he’d gone either. I couldn’t describe the man. He had long hair but all the guys in the seventies had long hair. I couldn’t tell you what his face looked like, the color of his eyes, only that he had muscular arms.

Today, I reflect that if Don had passed into eternity that day it would have taken me a long time to get over it. I would have been angry, blamed myself, all kinds of mess would define my life. But it didn’t happen that way. Don lived. The last I heard he was doing what he had always wanted to do – be an airplane mechanic in Seattle.

In 1996, I was in a van with six other ladies on Saturday afternoon. We had been out in the Round Top, Texas area looking at antiques after enjoying a good time together at a ladies Bible study retreat. From here on what I retell will be what I have been told because I can not recall any of it.

Our van had slowed and come to a stop to turn left off of the highway. A small truck traveling at about 55 miles an hour slammed into the back of the van sending it spinning across the highway and head-on into a ditch between two live oak trees. I was the last one pulled from the accordioned van. I was lengthwise down the middle aisle of the seats covered by the decorative paneling and window blinds and other van parts which hid my body from the paramedics.

I first became aware of the dark because it was growing lighter. There were waves of gray all around me. I couldn’t see anything but the curtains of different shades of gray. I heard the voices. They were discussing my condition. Would I make it? I had to, I replied. I had to live. I couldn’t die. I had small children. They couldn’t grow up without a mother. But the voices didn’t pay any attention to my distressed answers. They spoke over me. They didn’t speak English. I couldn’t tell what kind of language it was and I couldn’t figure out why I understood it so well. This back and forth took some time. I don’t know how long, just that it seemed time passed in squiggly lines of gray. Finally, the consensus was that I would live. Or was it that I would get to live. Because God wanted me to live.

I recall bits and snatched views of people I knew. They spoke around me, it seemed, as if I wasn’t there. Asking me what I thought were ridiculous questions and then roaring with laughter. I was quite serious about my answers but everyone else thought I was a hoot. I was puzzled as to why I couldn’t see them. I thought my eyes were covered but I touched them, they weren’t. I kept trying to explain that we were in the hospital because of the pine cone fight. Hoots. Pine cones hurt, you know. Laughter. What happened to the ducks? Ducks? The ones all around us. More laughter. I couldn’t grasp why they didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation. The situation about the pine cones and the ducks.

When I came to, the first thing I remember was the clock on the wall was upside down. Someone bent over me and their face wasn’t right. It was wavy and all nose. Whoever it was probably wouldn’t want to be remembered like that, but there you have it.

The second time I came to, my husband was sitting at the end of my bed. He asked me how I was. I asked him where I was. The hospital. It was Monday. That is really NO way to wake up from the weird pine cone fight dreams, I can tell you. I didn’t understand why I was in a hospital. That was when he explained I had been in a wreck. I was most concerned about where the children were. They were staying with friend, Wayne and Shirley Pittman. The second thing I was most concerned in what I now think was an absolutely over-the-top way was the dog. Where was he? Did he have water? I wanted to know details. About the others in the van. Yes, they had been hurt. Mostly stitches and staples and bruised innards. None in the hospital.

The young man who had hit us had been drinking and was reaching for something when he ran into us. Didn’t even see us. The van’s gas tank had imploded upon impact, all the windows except the front one were gone instantly. My seat belt had torn, my captain’s chair shorn from its base. All the other seats had gone flat back and the other passengers watched my rag-doll-like body thrown from front to back several times as the van spun. I had concussion with mild brain trauma, the bruising that occurs when the brain is jostled inside the skull. The real damage wouldn’t be apparent perhaps right away.

Over time I had to deal with speech problems – lost nouns, halting speech, and unable to co-ordinate the tongue during speech so that I would bite it – loss of some long-term and a lot of short-term memory, depression and uncontrollable emotional outbursts, loss of the brain’s maps of time, dates, what the days of the week look like, over-impulsive lack of judgment meant I couldn’t drive for some months (though now I regret I didn’t go out and buy a Mercedes and blame it on impulsive disorder).

I determined to get better and believe I’ve achieved that goal over the years though I still get flustered when I lose the word I can see in my head like on the computer screen in front of me, but can’t find the name of. This willy-nilly speech problem led me to finally pursue my life-goal of writing novels.  Because tomorrow is never a guarantee, there is no putting off until I “get around to it”. I do as much as I can every day. Writing is also a wonderful tool of speech therapy, searching, always searching for the perfect word.

The accident changed me in more ways, too. I remember after the accident as my full body bruise turned from black to blue to green and yellow, I would sit outside and stare at nothing and reflect that life goes on with or without me. I have very little to do with the running of life. There is peace in that.

The accident gave me a certain understanding of eternity. Beyond the waving gray are the angels. They don’t know the future but they know that God holds the future. And this is as it should be. I was given another day just as Don was given another day. We can’t thank the angels. They don’t stick around for us to thank them. They want us to thank the One who deserves our thanks. To God be the glory.

The Bog Blog

Most will recognize that the word bog might mean many things. Here, especially in south Texas the word calls to mind a swamp that is “swampier”, perhaps with a little quicksand lurking beneath the green duck weed, and the faint odor of rotting vegetation.

In England the bog means different things also, not only a type of swampy marsh, but it could mean a toilet. It isn’t a nice word for toilet, more a derogatory term. The English have many words for toilet. If you visit, you could ask for the toilet, or the loo, or the “ladies” or the “gents”, only don’t call it a bog in polite company.

This week I had a bog experience of the worst kind.

Upon waking and getting busy around the house, I found the vacuum had broken, then as I was taking some paperwork to a certain government office to drop off, I discovered their offices closed due to flood. (No it didn’t rain. It was either a toilet overflow or a pipe burst type of flood.) So I had to drive back across town to await their office re-opening. I discovered in an email communique that the offices were open so I drove back. AND I’ve never seen such a line. I think it was the day to turn in papers, or something. At other times I have parked, walked in, handed in the papers, received a signed receipt, and walked out. That day I stood in line. After hour one I was well acquainted with a nice family who were in front of me. By hour two we had exchanged email addresses, by hour three we were discussing the politics of the world and specifically France’s responsibility in the Vietnam war.

It was during this time that my renter called. She had just moved in and the next morning when her son was showering she discovered water coming from beneath the toilet. Later when she was washing up the dishes, her sink wouldn’t drain, later she was bathing and noticed black stuff coming up from the drain.

Gross! Ack! Ack!

Then the tub wouldn’t drain, and yes more black stuff. I don’t want to write anymore about that.

I have a handyman who works on most everything to some extent. I asked him if he would go “snake” the trap line. The ‘snake’ is a long wire with a type of bent pipe at one end so that if you drop the wire into the line and wind it, it should squeegee out the blockage. The ‘trap’ is a pipe sticking above ground that leads to the intersection of all the main drain lines underground. He went after work and did that and said he could find nothing.

During all my adventures in house renewal and fixing up, which we’ve been doing for almost two years, my main disappointment is in finding a good plumber who was half-way affordable. And this was an emergency. My renter has young children.

I remembered in one of my trips to a local big-box home makeover store that I had discovered one of the employees in the plumbing department did plumbing as a side job. So I went back to that store and couldn’t find him. I asked another employee, “do you know one of the employees who does plumbing on the side?”

“Nope.”

Now, hummmm, how frustrating is that? Here in Texas it isn’t customary for a customer to be brushed off in such a manner, I would have questioned his attitude, but I was tired. It had been a long day. “Okay”, I said. “Do you know where the wax ring seals are for the toilet?”

“Yep, over there.” He pointed, and didn’t move from his spot.

I nodded and dragged myself over to wax ring seals which go under the toilet where the sewer pipe meets the porcelain. It completes a leak-proof seal in the assembly. As I’m looking at the variety (who knew?) I heard a voice whisper, “You’re lookin’ for Milton. He works tomorrow from eight to one. But you didn’t hear it from me.”

It was the abrupt guy. “Okay.” I whisper back. “And thank you but I’m not speaking to you.”

“Right. I haven’t helped you in the least.”

“Right.”

This is top-secret stuff that we’re talking about. I figured Milton must be on some supervisor’s “watch” list or something. I have a name now and I determine to come back the next day.

So I let the renter know that her plumbing was not up to par(umm, she called me about it, oh yeah) and could she go back to our other rental property to give the children baths? Like camping, I say. I don’t think she thought much of that prospect. She said, “I’ll take the kids to my grandmother’s.”

Whew! So I went to the big store the next day about ten o’clock thinking Milton would probably be on break. I recognized him. He was in the plumbing department talking to some customers. I sauntered over, looked at valves, noted the impressive line-up of pvc fittings. Milton asked if he could help me. There were customers there and this was top-top-secret-agent-stuff so I said I had a bath that wasn’t draining. He finished with his customers and took me to the display of drain mechanisms. I said, “It isn’t really going to work. Something has plugged up the line and we can’t get it unstuck. I need a plumber.”

He pulled a couple of boxes off the nearby shelf and opened one of them, emptied out the various parts to lay them out on top of another box, and spoke into the open end of the now empty box, “I’ll need your number so I can call.” I gave him my number and the address of the house. He said he knew just where that was. He said he would call me after work and meet me over there. He would start work immediately.

I went home to await his call. He called. He set a time that he would come with his crew. They showed up and flushed the lines from the bath (Ack! Ack!) and the toilet and discovered that the trap was clogged with cement. Apparently when the previous owner poured his porch slab, some of the cement went into the trap. Whoops. It dried in little hills forcing the exiting waste to have to squeeze through. Or not.

The next few days he was able to come with his crew and dig. Thirty-eight feet of pipe was replaced. He discovered on uncovering the pipe nearest the house that the palmetto bugs were rushing out of the hole by the hundreds. The palmetto bug is a relative of the common roach, only they are about three inches longer. Almost the size of those Madagascar Hissing Roaches. Yuck! I hate palmetto bugs! He said that the reason there were so many is because the pipe was actually broken. They like the broken sewer lines. Double Yuck.

So tonight I report that the bog is finished! done with! FINIS! Except I can’t because the renter just called and her sinks won’t drain.

Just the fats, Ma-am.

Fact #1  America’s number one health issue is obesity. I’ve been aware of this perhaps longer than the average American because this hugeness issue first showed up at my house. Not saying we were the only ones, just that it was what it was already in 1969 and that’s a long time ago.

Weight is an issue I struggle with, yet while I type this I remind myself this obsession isn’t a weight issue at its core, it is a food issue. You see, my parents were foodies before foodies were cool. In fact, my parents were so uncool in their foodicity that many, many years ago I said that I hoped they lived to see their grandchildren graduate. I wasn’t a cool thing to say, more like a cruel thing to say. It was then my father took me out to eat, something he did when he needed to discuss some serious something. During that wonderful Italian meal, he said, “It cost a lot of time, money and effort to put on this weight, why would I want to take it off?” Why indeed.

Fact #2: Obesity spawns incredible health risks such as diabetes, high blood pressure, hypertension, heart disease and stroke, breathing problems, sleep apnea, joint pain and strain, and the list goes on. It may be un – PC to talk about fat. Sorry. While there is a movement undertaken by overweight young persons to reclaim their sagging, uh, self-esteem, the monetary toll that fat takes on health care in general will only increase as the largest generation ever (pun not intentional), the baby-boomers, reaches medicare age as it is on the brink of doing.  Can we afford it, I doubt it.

My father did make it to my children’s graduation. Sadly, he died of pancreatic cancer (not known to be related to weight problems) and in his last year of life he lost so much weight I was begging him to eat.

My parents loved food. They took the family out to eat every week. I’m traveling down Memory Lane as I recall all the places we ate at. We hit every good place in Houston: The Golden Palace on West Gray, the original Antoine’s Imports and Deli, Valone’s  across from The Shamrock Hilton, Alfred’s on Stella Link, Captain John’s Seafood or the original Christie’s in the Med Center area. On Sundays after church we would sometimes take a drive (over 80 miles) to Don’s Seafood just this side of Beaumont or to Gaido’s in Galveston. (With the exception of Christie’s, Antoine’s, and Gaido’s all these places are gone.) When we kids left home the parents reported their visits to Tony’s, Brennan’s, Kaphan’s, Sonny Look’s Steakhouse (where an armored knight sat on a white horse in the parking lot), San Fransisco Steak House (a girl on a trapeze swung over the patron’s), Vargo’s (peacocks in the gardens), and all the ones in between.

My parents loved food. Not just at restaurants, my mother was an exceptional cook. My parents made a point of inviting the large families from church over for a meal – because who else would invite a family with four or more children to their home? Since we were a family with four children, we knew from experience. It was a great ministry they kept up for all the years we were growing up. My mother was an excellent cook and we children developed enduring friendships. It was all good.

Eventually their love of food caught up to them with lots of extra weight and later with diabetes, strokes, and sleep apnea.

Fact # 3: My parent’s generation grew up during the Great Depression. They didn’t have much food. If their families couldn’t grow it or raise it they probably didn’t eat it. And my parents were better off than many, at least they had a home. My mother in her old age tends to hoard her food. When my father passed away and we had to relocate my mother to a safer environment, I found food in drawers, in cabinets, hidden in bookshelves. Candy jars and cookie jars resided throughout the house. I’m not sure but that my parent’s love of food wasn’t colored by their childhood want.

This doesn’t excuse the younger generations of large people – generation after generation of fat. I worked for twelve years in a public school where I noticed a growth in numbers of large kids and fat families. There were always exceptions — large child, skinny parents, large parents, skinny children but the most common phenomenon were large parents with large children. And The Great Depression can’t be blamed for this.

So what can be blamed? We’ve gotta blame something. I say let’s blame Poncho’s Mexican Buffet. It’s those little flags that you could raise at the table when you ran out of something. It was non-stop, all-you-could-eat mexican food and it was cheesy, it was greasy, it was yummy. My parent’s loved that place. I loved that place. I can’t believe they went out of business.

Plenty of all-you-can-eat restaurants have taken hold and I see this no matter the size of the city or town. I saw an all-you-can-eat Chinese Buffet in Lufkin, Texas! Don’t-chu know that’s gotta be some good stuff in there, boy howdy!

I don’t even like to go in an all-you-can-eat place any more. Mainly because it’s a waste of good money. These days I try not to eat my weight in food. Also, it seems such a waste of food. Health laws require that any food set out in a service area can no longer be re-served, even if it was never touched. All that food must be tossed at the close of the day. Now don’t all rush to eat it up, ’cause they’ll just put more out. And isn’t it a shame with hungry people all over the world that so much food is thrown out every day? I say if no one patronizes those places they will gradually go away.

Fact #4: (Okay, opinion) Poncho’s was the first of its kind that I recall. I still say it’s Poncho’s fault we’re all fat.

Write Now

Hitchcock-PD
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Sometimes when things are the busiest I find it easiest to write something. For over two weeks there have been health issues to deal with. Ugh! The most uninspiring bit is the part where I lie around like a sloven harpy for hours. Peel Me A Grape!! It can’t be helped. The body is recovering after having had its resident kidney stone blasted by sound waves, I prefer to think it was punk-slammin-stuff because when I hear that it seems like overwhelming sound waves which mean nothing. Pretty destructive stuff.

So I haven’t been very productive in the writing department and for that I suffer unbearable feelings of self-doubt and recriminations. I’ve come to believe that these “real downers” are all part of the writing experience.

About the detective fiction. P. D. James in her book “Talking About Detective Fiction” says we humans have always had to deal with a dangerous and violent environment and we turn increasingly to diverse pleasures such as the detective fiction novels. “Today there is undoubtedly an increased interest in detective fiction. …  which offer at least temporary relief from the inevitable tensions and anxieties of contemporary life.” I like that. I love her detective fiction novels. She is one of the few contemporary writers of detective fiction which is made up of a simple puzzle that must be solved. I would equate her works with Agatha Christie. Other detective fiction writers whom I love to read include a more complex set of problems and usually a couple of sub-plots which are thoroughly enjoyable.

Most of my life I’ve loved reading mystery stories. I spent many an enjoyable summer afternoon reading Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine or Alfred Hitchcock Magazine or old worn copies of Agatha Christie paperback at my grandparent’s old fishing shack on Caney Creek by Sargent, Texas.

The time has come. With a bit of luck and pugnacious persistence, I will drum up enough gumption to complete project after project and launch them much like a kid with a bottle rocket in the middle of a deserted night-scape. There is no telling where it will land but it will make some sort of bang somewhere.

Social Me

The La Salle Hotel located at 30.6730° -96.373...
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Today I’m just back from a long weekend in Bryan, Texas. Such a great old hotel on Main street. A night’s stay at the La Salle includes a glass of wine, cookies and milk, and breakfast. The beds are quite comfortable, the sheets just the right sort of “smooth”. I love cool, smooth sheets. They feel rich. I was there for a novel revisions conference with Darcy Pattison who wrote a book called “Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise After the First Draft”. I’m on draft twenty-seven but who is counting, right? I found the conference incorporated just the right amount of work, social interaction, and food.

One subject outside of the subject of revision was social media. It’s a huge topic at writing conferences, it seems. Building the writer’s platform is something I’m hearing now and I wonder just how long I have been out of touch. It feels like a new subject. It’s not. A writer’s platform is not just about social media. Social media is all things internet such as Facebook, blogs and twitter. Add to this now the idea of “platform”. Michael Larsen in his book “How to Write a Book Proposal” states that “Your platform is what you have done and are doing to give your ideas and yourself continuing visibility around the country in the media or through talks — ideally both.”

Apparently it used to be that publishers created an author’s platform with scheduled book tours, book signings, and even school visits. It was an invisible and unspoken agreement. That hasn’t been the case for a long time. Even I, the out of touch one, knew that. Hence the huge surge in self-published books especially in recent years. After all, why wait for a publisher to publish your book when you can do it now? Especially if  the book’s author will ultimately be in control of the book’s market and advertising buzz anyway.

I understand the frustration of going the traditional route because it can take years of rejections for a manuscript to find its publisher. I will not be self-publishing, though because despite recent upgraded avenues of self-publishing where the book is expertly edited, there are still self-published books which have not been. It’s hard to tell which are which at first glance. This is not an indictment of self-published books. There are excellent ones. I’ve read a few. I’ll still be working my way through more and more manuscript revisions so that the product I send to an editor is the best I can make it. So I plow forward for what it’s worth.

I’m at that waiting in hopes space now with one manuscript getting tighter and another nudging an agent. This is that glorious space between high hopes and getting dashed to terrible bits by a rejection.

Here’s looking at ya.

Acadia National Park

English: Rocky coastline on mount desert Islan...
English: Rocky coastline on mount desert Island, Maine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are some places around America that inspire with their tremendous beauty. One of those places I visited when I was fifteen. I remember discovering wild blueberries, eating them by the fist-full, and hearing the huffed warning of a bear. Running away with our pails of berries back to momma at the camper. She made pancake syrup, which we ate right away with campfire hotcakes.

Ankle deep in freezing clear water, I stood until I could no longer feel my feet to watch a starfish moving along lichen-covered boulders in a tidal pool. The evergreen trees were close to shore and sort of leaned toward the sea. Morning mists swirled and  twisted between the thick deep brown tree trunks.

Huge gray-brown rock cliffs worn by weather and waves jut unevenly into surf, the colors of everything piercingly bright in the gray dawn. I haven’t been back but …

Let me fly away,

toward that eastern shore to

face sunrise, while waves roll and

fold across my feet.

To stand again in clear water

cold,

between slate gray sea and Hiawatha forest

tufted along the beach.

Reclamation of lost

pieces of the heart means

more than anything rediscovering

the fine earth rhythms of life.

Chasing Dreams

Breakwater and fishing boat near the harbour o...
Breakwater and fishing boat near the harbour of Boscastle, Cornwall, UK (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’d always wanted to write a novel. Who doesn’t, right? I’d written a few children’s stories done some illustrating for friends, done some professional illustrating and artwork. Okay. But I wanted to write something like a novel. And my favorite pass-time reading is murder mysteries.

The first time I determined to write a novel, I began to write. I hand wrote, filling a lot of composition spirals, did my research, hand-wrote more or less a plot. But I didn’t like it. It wasn’t good enough.

The morning after a bad dream I wrote it down. The story, I wrote in a logical beginning, middle and end which real dreams rarely have, turned into six neat pages. There was conflict. It was fairly interesting. I took it to my critique group at Houston Writer’s Guild and Tony told me “there’s way too much you’re not telling us. This needs to be a novel.”

Great, I thought, how do I start? I thought about it for a few days. The first chapter has to have an eye-opening, cut-to-the-quick scene. Do I open with the murder? Do I open with the victim confronting the killer? Do I open after the deed has been done? AND most importantly was this really a murder?  I wasn’t sure. It was bad but was it murder bad?

In early versions I opened with the deed done. In later versions this morphed into the killer confronting the victim. Then later, the victim’s point of view was included. And still later, the victim became not a dead girl but a kidnapped girl.

But the kidnapper was still a killer. His inaction was not weakness. One victim at a time, please.

Now the setting was a matter that needed serious thought. The terrain or setting is extremely important in any story. In this one there had to be a beach, a lot of fields, a storm of great magnitude, a cave, an ancient house with secret passages. Hmmm. Where could that be?

I’ve always. ALWAYS been a fan of British Murder Mysteries. I think because in the place of guts, gratuitous sex, and unnecessary language there is the best hook of all – suspense. Alfred Hitchcock hook ’em with shadows suspense. PLUS I happen to adhere to the school of “write what you LOVE” not “write what you know.” Because if you love something truly, you will know it through the research you will do to write it.

So naturally the setting had to be in Britain – but where? Should I choose my own ancestral home of Scotland? I’ve grandparents from both Glasgow or Edinburgh? Or can I manipulate my Texas-born heroine to consider the warmer climes of Cornwall?

The answer came after I viewed the mood-setting “Coming Home”, “Wuthering Heights (the newer one), and of course the best of all – “Rebecca” (the old one). Creepy stuff. Love it.

It took me a year to write the entire story, taking the chapters one at a time to critique group and writing and re-writing everything a ga-zillion times. I researched Cornwall and established friendships with an inspector with the London Metropolitan Police, a nurse in Devon, and the owners of the best little Bed and Breakfast in Cornwall (more on that later, if you want more info on that- ask). With lots of questions and making myself a real nuisance with queries about titles, and names, and the way things are pronounced. This was before all the flood of books on the subject which are now on the market.

It is amazing that a country so close to ours in culture and language is soooooo different! There are as many colloquial sayings, different accents and different cultures within England as we have here in America. It is an endless fascination for me.

In all this I researched the material I needed through the internet. A wondrous thing. This was before September 11, 2001 and the open government policies on police procedures and the available brochures from the Home Office were beneficial.

But I didn’t have a FEEl for the place still. I knew that in order for my novel to have any kind of honesty about it I needed to go to England. I needed to taste and smell the place. Something, thankfully the internet can’t provide yet. So I set my plans in motion.

My family didn’t have any desire to travel clear across the “great pond” to stare at grass in Cornwall. My neighbor Elizabeth was more than thrilled to accompany me.

Meanwhile, I invited the Met Inspector to lunch via email to pay him back for all the putting up with repeated questions and endless emails. He had also agreed to read the clumsy tome itself which was an added bonus for me.

Elizabeth and I set out for England. A grand adventure for both of us. She would see relatives she hadn’t seen in years and I would see … what? The place my forefather’s left. The place that had always been in my blood. Why I read and watched anything and everything English.  That was where I was going. I was going home.

The plane touched down and I looked out on a gray morning like all the gray English mornings in London I had ever read about. The drizzle inching down the plane windows and the cold hitting me as I disembarked. So unlike Houston. I was thrilled. My heart sang. Here it was … England, at last!

It was a week of amazement and wonder. The first thing Elizabeth and I did was visit her cousin whom she called “Auntie”. Auntie offered us kippers and eggs. I had never had kippers and eggs. I can truly say now that I won’t ever again have kippers and eggs. I happen to love smoked herring which is what kippers are. But our canned smoked herring is a far cry from the vacuum packaged smoked herring I had that morning. I got it down and it stayed, but I didn’t feel like eating the rest of that day.

My kind, generous, wonderful hosts at “The Old Rectory” Bed and Breakfast just outside Boscastle, Cornwall drove me everywhere. They wouldn’t ask but I offered money for their gas. I don’t think I gave them enough, I just have that sinking feeling, because petrol (gas) there is so much more there than it is here. It’s the VAT. Drat the VAT!

Back in London it was time to meet and take the inspector out to lunch. I didn’t realize it but he was nervous because before lunch he wanted to meet at a Starbucks. And he brought a colleague.  After all, it was an email friendship. I could have been anyone or anything!! We met. I passed because we had a great time. After a full lunch at “The American Cafe” he took me to meet his family and his wife served “high tea” which is usually served at about four but they were so nice to give me tea and finger sandwiches and desserts at ten at night.Thank you, Anne for serving high tea out-of-place.

That’s one thing I wasn’t used to. Here in America we tend to go to bed early. Maybe it is the old Ben Franklin early-to-bed-early-to-rise thing but in England they eat later and hit the hay later. So I think I got back to the London Bed and Breakfast around twelve. Elizabeth had been worried. We didn’t have cell phones back then. I apologize again, Elizabeth. It was thoughtless.

The next day it was time to go and I cried and I sobbed and I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay forever. I don’t know. Maybe because Elizabeth and I were so well-treated. We felt like stars at every turn. Maybe it was the Foot and Mouth that had kept all the other tourist away so that E and I were just about the only foreigners in Cornwall that week … I don’t know. It was a wonderful trip where words can’t quite convey how great it was.

I met a good friend Jamie on the train between London and Cornwall. (Hi Jamie, told you I’d include you here.) I met Sharon and found a soul-mate. I met lots of wonderful people who brought alive that England which I had stored up as a dream.

I got the book researched. Smells and tastes included.

It was a good place to go. There aren’t so many murders, really. That’s the point isn’t it? The quiet, peaceful village and then the piercing scream? Ha! It’s fiction. England is everything it was ever chalked up to be in all the books. I recommend it.

Years passed while I DIDN’T work on the novel because I wanted to write a children’s fantasy novel that had me intrigued. Then my father passed away and I couldn’t write or think of anything but trying to work out the logistics of getting my invalid mother to a safe environment. They lived out in the countryside.

When I went to rewrite the novel, it took a different course. It isn’t so much mystery as suspense now. So let’s see what happens soon with this.

Cheers.

My Bladder’s IQ

Portrait of Jan de Doot and the kidney stone h...
Portrait of Jan de Doot and the kidney stone he removed with his own knife from his own kidney with the help of his brother in the 17th century. This story is described in the book Observationes Medicae by Nicolaes Tulp. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now I’m not given to posting disgusting anythings but a funny thing happened on the way to Saturday. It was Friday and time to get my bladder tested. Lately, I’ve had some routine-if-you’re-over-fifty tests and I don’t know but if that isn’t the weirdest test out there I don’t know what is. I felt like a pin-cushion and science experiment all at the same time.

Except for the antibiotic shot, it didn’t hurt. Not in the traditional sense of pain but let’s just say, it weren’t comfortable. Yeah, bad-grammar squirming uncomfortable. It wasn’t a test to sit and read a book during either. Wish it had been.

After many tubes were hooked up, attached, and added the nurse told me she had five questions for me. The test started out like that. Nice, you know, pleasant, apart from the discomfort. I thought – Oh, questions. That’s nice. I like questions.

But after the first question, “When you feel your bladder fill about how long before you think you need to find a toilet?” it was all downhill. Let’s just say, not the pleasant conversation I had thought it might be. Plus the fact that I am totally, completely, and constantly aware that I’m sitting on a padded chair with a hole in it and a pee bucket underneath. Never-mind.

Because of a routine CAT scan done before my colon-scope, a kidney stone made itself evident to the doctors. It was news to me. I saw the scans, the thing was a bright white dot. Yep, there’s a kidney stone. That wasn’t all I saw. Wow, the clip the surgeon left where my gall-bladder used to be thirty years ago is not unlike one of those pincher-like devices I used to use in my hair. I searched but didn’t see the spot on the lung that the radiologist noted on the written report. I won’t know about that until further tests after the kidney stone removal in two weeks.

After all these tests I hope I’m more educated and more informed. I think I’m smarter for it already. On this one I won’t get the test results until Tuesday. I hope my bladder passed. Heh. Heh.

Durn Politikin’

Edmund Burke
Edmund Burke (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This past Tuesday morning a lady came to the door and asked for me by name, so I said “This is Me.”

“You’re voting straight Democrat in this election, right?”

“Nope.”

“You mean you’re voting for the Republicans?”  She sounded aghast.

“Yep.”

“Well, go blow it then,” she said in disgust, walking away.

I had to laugh.

Edmund Burke (1729-1792) once wrote about conciliation with America, “Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom; and a great empire and little minds go ill together.”

Thing is, we gave ’em a chance. We would have given ’em a couple of more, except the last two years have been close to devastating for too many people. All those bail-outs. Banks didn’t go under but they certainly weren’t giving out any loans where people needed them either. The banks were bailed out of desperate times, but turned a deaf ear to people who were living the desperate times.

If Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae had been allowed to break … then and only then could there have been a possibility of fixing something. Because they are still floundering (yes, that’s a flat fish flapping around on the dock before it dies from lack of water). I’ve checked with the Houston Housing Authority, the Harris County Housing Authority, and several others, the waiting list for available housing paid with government assistance is closed with no possibility of filling out paperwork, getting in line, nothing. What happens to people who lose their house to foreclosure?

Now, I’m not sold on the Republicans doing anything amazing. Call me a skeptic, I’m not thrilled about this election. From where I stand what I see of Democrat or Republican is – they’re like two sides of the same plug nickel. They get up there to Washington and pass a bill or two, maybe three, and they get fat, either in the wallet or literally. Seems to me very few actually communicate well with their constituents. Maybe I’m wrong. But I watched the town meetings where the state representatives tried to sell the health-care agenda. I don’t think any of them knew what the bill was about. Few could address specifics, and those didn’t know much of what the bill included. Made most people furious is what I saw.

Here’s what I would say, if I could.

First. What we want is for our roads to be re-poured, for crumbling bridges to be rebuilt, for those who can’t find work to be able to work rebuilding America’s infrastructure. This would be a good job for our military service people coming home to NO jobs and facing homelessness. Shame on us. Those who volunteered to go over and fight a war or to keep peace to no avail and then come home to – what? No wonder so many recruiters are committing suicide. Shame on us.

Second. What we want is the same insurance that you have. That’s right. It’s real simple. We want your medical insurance.

Third. We want you to finally do something about term limitations. We think six years is plenty of time to change the world. You have a lot of power at your fingertips. Show up to vote, for every bill. And vote for term limitations.

Here’s another quote from Edmund Burke. “Society is indeed a contract …l it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead and those who are to be born.”

I usually try to stay out of the political discussion. I’m just not that serious about party politics. I don’t mind others being serious about it. All this has impact on how we live and function daily. When politics collide with everyone around me is when I have to speak up. Even if I don’t really want to.

Edmund Burke is attributed with saying, “It is necessary only for the good man to do nothing for evil to triumph.”

Letting Go Again

Side mirror with warning legend
Side mirror with warning legend (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just finished a heated exchange with my daughter. We’ve been over this ground before. It isn’t easy to let go of a child at any time, but it is worse to say goodbye after an argument.

The same child who would copy everything I ever did, from reading her books with me at night, to having tea with me in the morning (she had her own teacup), to checking with me about where I was and what I was doing, this same child wants me to stop putting up roadblocks every time she wants to go away. She’s an adult.

So let her go.

This morning’s heated exchange began after my daughter declared her intention to drive across Texas for a job interview at a distant city’s school district for a temporary position. I spent some years working in a public school district and know from experience that they are always desperate for warm bodies who know how to read and write, and more so for a body with a college degree in a biology and chemistry.

My thoughts out-loud, which is always a mistake, was “why are you driving clear across Texas on a rainy day to interview with someone desperate to have you in the first place?”

Never speak to the girl-child without a well-thought-out, well-rehearsed, written dissertation beforehand should be posted all over the house for me and me alone. She listens to her father.

This morning she didn’t explode right off. No. It was more of a quick boil and spill-over into – “You don’t want me to ever leave! You want to keep me here in this prison (meaning our house) forever!”

“No,” I said. “I do want you to leave. I’m looking forward to you moving out. We’ll have more room …”

“You want me to go! You don’t want me here?” Tears.

How did that happen?

Ten minutes after she left she called and said something fell off a freeway sign and sheared off her side view mirror. She pulled off the road and examined the spot the mirror had been. Only a chip out of a rubber seal besides the blank spot where the mirror had been. I breathed a prayer of thanksgiving. A few inches to the right and whatever took off her mirror would have landed where she was seated.

She made there. Her interview is tomorrow. I have no doubt she will be asked back.

The whole idea of letting a child go, whether the first five steps across the living room at ten months old, the first day of kindergarten, the first solo drive at sixteen, or the first  time you drive away leaving your child at college, it doesn’t get easier. It never gets easier.

I’m sorry she and I parted with tears and words we probably didn’t mean to say in such and such a way. But I’m thankful she made it there fine.

A wise woman once told me that worrying has its place but don’t count on the children doing what you expect them to do all of the time. God’s plan for my children will not necessarily be the same as my plan for my children.

And as much as it hurts to say it, I’m thankful my daughter doesn’t need me.  I’m thankful that she is a great young lady with a fine brain and a rocking sense of humor. It’s just that I have to keep telling myself to stand back, hands off, let her make her own mistakes, let her fall a few times. She’ll always be my daughter and I’ll always be her mother. That’s all that really matters now, I guess.

And I must be reminded to let go, again.

"Have something to say and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style." (Matthew Arnold)

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