BETTE A. STEVENS, AUTHOR – PURE TRASH AND DOG BONE SOUP

dog bone soupAnd now, there’s the rest of the story. DOGBONE SOUP is the long-awaited “rest of the story”of Shawn Daniels and his brother. Bette Stevens novel is now available for your reading pleasure. And it is a pleasure.

Bette has the purest, freshest writing style I’ve read in many a long year. Reading her prose is like peering into an exceptionally clear, deep pool. It looks like the bottom is close enough to touch, but watch out. Those waters run deep.

This author knows how to tell a story. Her style and the story are a perfect blend. Like the clear water, this author runs deep.

If I hadn’t come down with the flu, I’d be writing my review. In the meantime, here’s a good one from Barbara Ann Mojica’s Blog, GROWING UP MUCH TOO SOON.

DOG BONE SOUP is a wonderful story. It’s a coming of in a hardscrabble world, armed only with courage, determination, intelligence, and grit. Sometimes, that’s enough.


PURE TRASH: BETTE STEVENS – The Prequel

There are so many television shows and movies, not to mention sappy posts on Facebook and other social media sites about “the good old days” … kind of makes me a trifle queasy. As someone who grew up in those good old days, I can attest to their not being all that great. There were good things about them, but it was by no means all roses.

Good is a relative term, after all. If you were white, Christian and middle class … preferably male and not (for example) a woman with professional ambitions … the world was something resembling your oyster. A family could live on one salary. If you were “regular folk” and didn’t stand out in any particular way, life could be gentle and sweet.

The thing is, an awful lot of people aren’t and weren’t people who could blend in. If you were poor, anything but white or Christian, or a woman who wanted to be more than a mother and homemaker, the world was a far rougher place.

Bette Stevens
Bette Stevens

Pure Trash: The Story: Shawn Daniels in a Poor Boy’s Adventure: 1950s Rural New England is set in rural New England in the mid 1950s. It’s a sharp reminder how brutal our society could be to those deemed different or inferior. Not only was bullying common, it wasn’t considered wrong.

I remember how badly the poor kids in my class were treated when I was going through elementary school. How the teachers took every opportunity to humiliate kids whose clothing was tattered and whose shoes were worn. I remember feeling awful for those little girls and boys.

Not merely bullied by their classmates (who oddly, didn’t much notice the differences until the teachers pointed them out), but tormented by those who were supposed to care for and protect them. Bad enough for me and the handful of Jewish kids as Christmas rolled around. For them, it was the wrong time of year all year round.

In this short story, Shawn and Willie Daniels set off one Saturday in search of whatever they can find that they can turn into money. One man’s trash can be a poor child’s treasure. Bottles that people throw away could be collected and turned into ice cream and soda pop. Shawn is excited. It’s going to be a terrific day. Until the real world intrudes and Shawn is sharply and painfully reminded that he’s different … and not in a good way.

The story is about bullying, but more important, it’s about being different and being judged without compassion, without understanding or love.

It’s a very fast read. Only 21 pages, the story flies by. I was left wanting more. I want to know how the boys grow up. I want them to become CEOs of big corporations so they can thumb their noses at their whole miserable society. An excellent short story leaving plenty of room for thought.

Though set in 1955, the story is entirely relevant today. Despite much-touted progress, we still judge each other harshly based on appearance and assumptions. Everything changes … but maybe not so much.

For lots more information about the book and its author, stop by the authors’ website: 4 Writers and Readers. Pure Trash is available on Kindle and as a paperback from Amazon.

BEING HERE AND NOW

Oedipus defeats the Sphinx by correctly guessing the answer to the following riddle:

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As babies, we crawl on hands and feet, using four legs. When we grow up, we stand. Thus, as adults, we stride through life upright, on two legs.  In old age, we are bent over, so in the evening of our lives, we walk with the help of a cane, on three legs.

This was how human life was summed up a couple of thousand years ago and even today, there’s truth in it. But not Truth. Because the riddle’s narrow perspective focuses on the physical changes we experience though life. It leaves out the emotional and intellectual changes … the most important stuff.

As kids, we want to grow up. Children are in a terrible hurry. We race full-tilt towards a future in which anything is possible. We want it all. We want it now. When we get there, we run even faster towards the next goal.

We slow down a bit as we get to the middle of life. We accept responsibility. We load ourselves down with possessions and obligations. We simultaneously discover life doesn’t work as we expected. We see our best plans and fondest hopes dashed on the shoals of random chance, a bad marriage, a boss who doesn’t like us. Or sheer accident derails us. A bad economy makes the profession for which we prepared irrelevant. We discover, in a personal way, that people die. For no good reason. In war, in traffic. Of disease, suicide, stupidity. Unlike Hollywood, real death is usually inglorious and sad.

By the time we reach our forties, we’ve lost a few rounds and are the worse for wear. We’re slower to judge, less sure of the future. The answers of youth are replaced by more questions and the wariness of people who’ve seen a few things. We begin to pay attention to security, realize we are “peaking” professionally and should make the most of whatever opportunities are available.

And then, flash! You are not young. Seventy is not the new forty. Holy shit! Who is that old person in the mirror?

You look around the office. You’re the guy kids come to for advice. Maybe you find no one interested in your experience because “the company is going in a different direction.” People in their forties seem awfully young. Ouch. How did this happen?

We all know, on some level, we will get old. After all, if you don’t get old, you get dead. Alive is the preferred state of being at every age and stage. But no one expects to be really old. We plan to be like we’ve always been. Maybe a few gray hairs. A wiser, more mature version of the person we think we know so well.

Times changes us more than we thought possible. We quit running towards the future and start looking around to see what’s going. Here. Now. This is the future. We made it. The rainy day for which we were saving? We look up to see clouds. Rain is falling.

No more “we’ll do that someday.” Buy the camera you always wanted. Get the car of your dreams. See Paris. It’s your turn. Finally.

None of us plans to die, but we know we could. Time to shift our focus to enjoying what we are, what we have, who we have. While we can. Life is fragile and we are transitory, just passing through. It’s a very different perspective from younger years.

Will the good old days come again? Doubt it. How good were those old days? Do we want them back?

The only time we own is today. Use it well.


Ice, Water, Steam: Weekly Writing Challenge

FIRMLY UNRESOLVED

To Be Resolved — We’re entering the final days of 2014 — how did you do on your New Year’s resolutions these past 11.75 months? Is there any leftover item to be carried over to 2015?


I have stuck to the letter, comma, and sub-clause of my 2014 resolution, which was to not make any resolutions. Despite that, I promised myself I would make every effort to live through the year. I would not give up.

We can’t control the outcome of multiple heart surgeries. Nor can we control the rate at which bones knit — or fail to knit. We can control some of the variables. Make sure we take medications, eat sensibly, get to appointments. Do what is within our power to help the body recover from the assault on it. But after that?

The rest is in the hands of destiny. God, if you believe in that. My job, for all of 2014, was to nudge destiny in my preferred direction, which is to say, keeping alive.

December 22, 2014. I am not where I hoped to be, but not so bad. My heart is doing pretty well. The new valve works. The redesign of the left ventricle and the arterial valve were successful. The pacemaker is pacing, My blood pressure is sometimes weird, but more or less normal.

My cut-in-half breast bone has not knitted. It grinds and grates. I can hear it when I move. It’s particularly unsettling at night as I shift in bed. The grinding of bone-on-bone is an ugly sound. I’m amazed at how many different activities affect ones breastbone. Who’d have guessed?

No one can predict when my chest will heal. The answer is “In its own good time.” Not very doctorly. In the movies and on TV, doctors have answers. They know. In the real world, doctors have a pretty good idea, based on experience, how a procedure, surgery, or treatment will play out. But patients are individuals, so while a doctor’s best estimate could be accurate for 70% of his or her patients, that leaves a lot of wild cards. Of which I am one.

At this time last year, I was not sure I’d be here to celebrate Christmas. I was facing a terrifying surgery that turned out to be four terrifying surgeries and a couple of other procedures … much more than even the surgeon expected.

As to the million dollar question. “Do you feel better than you did before all that surgery?”

That’s a hard one. Though I was kind of dying, I didn’t know it. I attributed breathing issues to asthma and mobility problems to progressive, crippling arthritis. I’m lucky I can walk. As soon as the calendar flips over, I’m off to get shots to see if the pain can be better controlled. From my perspective (as opposed to a doctor’s viewpoint) my main issue is finding ways to control pain.

The answer to “Do you feel better?” is — “Define better.” I don’t feel better, but I am better.

I breathe better, but don’t walk better. I hurt more than last year, but the internal workings are in better shape. The surgery didn’t address the stuff which was bothering me most.

My spine can’t be fixed.

My best choice is to learn to accommodate. Anyone with chronic, disabling medical problems knows what I mean. There’s no enemy to battle and conquer. Direct confrontation will not win the day. It will just leave me exhausted and defeated. I need to be cunning, wily, and sneaky. I have to stay patient, adaptable. Be creative. There might yet be a breakthrough in pain control.

I live in hope.

I’M JUST FINE. THANKS FOR ASKING.

BLAST FROM THE PAST:

A mere two years after a double mastectomy, I’m facing another medical crisis. I’m not handling it gracefully. Too many crises. Dozens of surgeries. I can’t bore you with details; I have, thankfully, forgotten them.

Fake breasts

I’ve spent more time in the hospital than most interns. I’m a professional patient with the scars to prove it. When I die, they should stuff me. Put me in some kind of museum proving with enough medical attention, even the totally unfit can survive. Each doctor who redesigned some portion of me can tattoo his signature along the appropriate scar, assuming all the doctors are still alive. Probably they aren’t because I started my career on the wrong side of medicine while still a teenager and apparently am not due for retirement anytime soon.

I need a new mitral valve. I used to joke and laugh, saying the only major system in my body that continues to work is my heart. I laughed too soon. Probably jinxed myself.

I go into each surgery with fear and resignation. I know how I’m going to feel when I wake up from the anaesthesia. I will hurt. I will be sick and disoriented. I will realize I must have survived because I’m aware how totally miserable I am. Again.

Last time I woke up and the first thing I did was look down at my chest to see if I had a semblance of breasts. I did. Lumpy, not flat. Though I knew they weren’t original equipment, I was comforted by the familiarity of the landscape. With all the pain, drains and anger at my body for betraying me, it was nice to know I would at least appear — on the surface — female.

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View of Boston and Fenway Park from the Baptist Hospital

That was when I said: “Never again. I’m never going through this again.”

I should just shut up. How stupid am I? I can’t remember how many times I’ve woken from that weird deathlike anaesthesia sleep and have fought my way back up to the light. Each time, just a little weaker, a bit less sure of the future — but alive. Hanging on.

Lobby of the Dana-Farber in Milford
Lobby of the Dana-Farber in Milford

It’s too soon. I’m not ready. Maybe this time the magic won’t work. My first husband died following complications of mitral valve replacement surgery. I watched him die. After the surgical accident that killed his brain, he remained technically alive, but in a vegetative state for 9 long months. I took care of something that looked like him, but whose eyes were empty. When finally he passed completely, I and the rest of his friends gratefully wished him well on a journey he should have taken nearly a year before.

Probably no surprise that this particular surgery holds a special terror for me.

Less than two years since I vowed “Never again,”  again has come. I suppose I’ve already made the choice to let them fix me, or try anyhow (does “or die trying” sound too ghoulish?). The alternative — slowly dying while my heart becomes less and less able to pump blood — doesn’t sound attractive. An attractive option does not seem to be available. But, there’s no advantage in waiting. I won’t get younger or healthier. The older I get, the more dangerous surgery is.

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Glass shaft at the Dana-Farber.

I gave myself a little gift of time. I put off my appointment with the surgeon until the beginning of September. I need to get my head into a better space, to settle down emotionally. A few weeks of denial before I tackle another scary reality.

So for the next three weeks If you ask me, I will tell you. I’m just fine. Thanks for asking.

IT WAS A MIGHTY RIVER – GARRY ARMSTRONG

The Mumford is normally a powerful little river. It’s the largest of the Blackstone’s tributaries.  The Mumford’s wrath has more than once been felt as it overflowed its banks and turned the town into a lake.

Mumford Dam - May 2014
Mumford Dam – May 2014

Mighty no more. The Mumford is barely a stream. Until the dam in Uxbridge, where the river crosses Route 16, the river looks more or less normal.

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That’s because the dam contains the water, allowing only a small spillway and a tiny overflow to pass the dam and flow into the Mumford. Immediately in front of the dam, there are a few inches of water — enough to sustain a few small fish that can feed at least one blue heron.

Mumford River - September 2014
Mumford River – September 2014

Just across the overpass formed by Route 16, probably no more than 200 feet from the dam, the river becomes a series of shiny, reflective puddles. Not a river at all. Unable to sustain fish or other water-based life. No turtles. No ducks, geese, or swans.

One heron, waiting for a fish
One heron, waiting for a fish

The drought to which no one is paying attention, which is being ignored by TV stations and newspapers alike, is taking a terrible toll on wildlife. If it doesn’t start to rain soon and steadily, it’s going to take a similar toll on people, especially those of us who get our water from private wells.

Mumford River, just down from the dam
Mumford River, just down from the dam

We all share the same aquifer. Not just in the Blackstone Valley. All over the state and across state lines into Connecticut and Rhode Island. The aquifer, a series of interconnected waterways that run through the base rock of New England, doesn’t know about state lines.

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Your well, my well, the wells belonging to my neighbors up and down our street and wherever the aquifer runs … they are all connected. Your well may be on your property, but the water belongs to all of us. Your water use affects me as surely as does the lack of rain.

Pretty reflections in the shallow puddles of the Mumford
Pretty reflections in the shallow puddles of the Mumford

Even if you are on “city water,” where do you think your water comes from? We are the watershed.

The water source is here. If we are drying up, so are you. Whether you know it or not.


As many of you may know, our well recently went dry. It was a chaotic moment for us. We did not have the money to renovate our well. I had no bright ideas. We had one option. I didn’t like it but we didn’t have a choice. We had to ask for financial help. It probably was the most depressing moment of my adult life.

I was surprised by the response. I am still shaking my head in wonderment at the generosity of friends and strangers. We’ve received enough money to schedule the renovation of our well.

Thank you doesn’t seem adequate to convey our gratitude.

Thank you!

WAITING FOR WATER, HOPING FOR RAIN

DAILY PROMPT: READY, SET, DONE – Free Writing In the Morning

This is a dark morning. It looks like it’s going to rain. That’s a good thing and I hope it will rain for real. But it’s often dark and gray like this in the morning, yet no rain comes. By mid morning, the sky clears. The ground stays dry.

It’s been like this … if I think about it … since last summer, the summer of 2013. That’s the first time I went to Manchaug and saw the dam was dry. It was far dryer this year, the lake being nearly gone. The mallards and swans are gone too. The turtles are living in brown puddles.

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The dams were had already been closed and dry by the autumn of 2013 and have not reopened. Still locked up through this entire year. We had a moderate amount of snow — along with plenty of ice and cold — but the amount of snow didn’t make up for the lack of spring and summer rains. No autumn rains, either. Makes for beautiful foliage, but dry wells.

Dealing with our own personal drought, we’ve gone in just a few days from total panic to a kind of zen acceptance. You can’t do without water, of course. Whether you live in a grass hut or a modern house in the suburbs — or our ranch house in the valley … water is the bottom line in necessities.

Not just any water. We need clean water. Drinkable water. Water with which we can wash and cook. Now … after 4 days … we have a little bit of water in the well. Not much. It’s a fragile thing. No laundry. Hand showers and don’t leave the water running even for a few minutes. Bottled water for making coffee, cooking, drinking, even for the dogs. That stuff coming out of the faucet is not a color water should be. Brownish, yellowish. Unhealthy. Until the well is repaired … which we hope will be soon … we are on rations.

This is Mother Nature reminding we modern folk how little power we have if she wills otherwise. We can have all the technology in the world. Software, hardware, the fanciest smartphones, computers, and cameras … but when the well is dry, nothing help. We know no magic that can make the water flow, only basic technology to try and clear the natural fissures in the rocks through which water passes and fills our holes in the ground. Which is all a well is. A deep hole in the ground with a big pump to bring it to the surface.

We are in waiting mode, waiting for the well fixers to get back to us with final number, hoping those numbers we get and the money we’ve collected work together. Because we have to get this done. Soon. Before the ground freezes.

Each morning now, it’s a little colder than it was the day before. Autumn is here. For real. Winter cannot be far behind.

READING THE BOOK OF ALL-ANSWERS

Not Lemonade – When life gives you lemons… make something else. Tell us about a time you used an object or resolved a tricky situation in an unorthodox way.


The implications of this prompt are so far-reaching it boggles my mind. You mean there is an orthodox method for doing … everything? Is this written somewhere? I mean … you know … is there a book? Or maybe even a checklist? Does this require church membership and/or attendance?

In all my years on earth, I never heard about this and it perturbs me. Something so important, knowing that all things can be resolved by following some structured, orthodox rules … well … where were these rules when I needed them?

It reminds me of all the times in my life when I have found myself in one of those messes life tends to dump on me from time to time. No work, no money, no hope and oh, yeah, I’m dying. And there I am, without a clue as to what I’m supposed to do about all of it. Finding myself thinking and rethinking ways to save my home, my brain, my life … then eventually, sometimes through sheer serendipity (there’s that word again), discovering a way out.

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Never once did it occur to me I had done something unorthodox. Clever maybe. But unorthodox? As far as I could tell, what I mainly did was not give up.

I’ve done a lot of stuff other people thought was stupid, brave, or weird. They condemned me, admired me, envied me, and hated or loved me according to their natures. Never once did anyone imply there had been an alternative solution had I but followed the path of orthodoxy. Typically, most everyone was surprised I found a solution at all. I was usually as surprised as they were.

If you don’t believe in coincidence, my life won’t make sense to you. Not that it makes sense to me.

Here’s how it goes. There’s this guy. He knows a guy, who knows about a procedure. Which leads to a doctor, who has a lot of influence at a major hospital and finds my case interesting. So he invents a surgery, gets the hospital to do the whole thing for no money because naturally I have no medical insurance and am destitute. Donates not only his services but those of two other surgical teams … and I get fixed. I don’t die. I live so I can have yet another crisis. So far, so good.

I don’t know when I have used an unorthodox solution because I don’t know what an orthodox solution might be. If someone will send me the book, I promise I’ll get around to reading it, eventually. Maybe I’ll review it on Serendipity. Something this important shouldn’t be a secret!