ORGANIZING THE PAST – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I just spent three weeks with my 34-year-old daughter, Sarah.

She lives 3000 miles away, in LA, so this was a rare treat. We have so many interests and views in common, we never run out of things to talk about, even when we spend 24 hours a day together for three weeks!

Sarah

Beyond great conversation, visiting with friends and family and watching TV and movies together, Sarah provided an invaluable service. She is a world-class organizer and loves going through the boxes and boxes of photos and memorabilia in the attic.

She organized our family photos going back to my grandparents from the early 1900s. Everything is now in plastic containers, organized by category, dates, properly labeled. We had a serious mouse problem so the plastic boxes with lids are life savers.

Organized boxes in my attic

We found wonderful treasures buried in the attic boxes.

We found the hospital bracelet I wore when I gave birth to my son in 1980. We found a large photo negative of the Surgical Army Hospital my ex-husband ran in Vietnam in 1970-1971.

Letters I wrote to my Mom from my first trip to Europe with friends in 1965 were a hoot to read. We also found a sterling silver cup with my name engraved on it – a gift to my mom in honor of my birth in 1949.

The oldest find was a series of love letters to my grandfather dated 1914. They were from someone who was clearly in love with him and equally clear was the fact that her feelings were not reciprocated.

Letter to my grandfather dated 1914

I was blown away by a particular set of writings from my early life. I had saved my teachers’ comments and evaluations (given in lieu of grades) from third grade through sixth grade. Most interesting was the fact that my basic personality has not changed much since then. I apparently had only a few close friends then, as now. I was considered a leader in small groups but faded into the background in large groups. Like now.

I was curious, inquisitive, creative and intelligent but lacked confidence. I seemed to have constantly sought the approval of adults. I’m better today but still lack confidence and undervalue my talents and accomplishments.

My senior thesis in college

The second category of writings we found, were papers I had written from grade school through college. I was thrilled that Sarah actually read some of these – my early evolution as a writer. She was impressed by my organization, persuasiveness, and writing style. I was impressed too. I was very sophisticated for my age, in writing and thinking.

Our exploration of our family history was gratifying. I’m very happy my daughter will keep our family treasures and pass on our stories. In fact, Sarah encouraged me to write about the many family stories from my grandparents down to my kids. I spent about a year writing and posting autobiographical blogs for Serendipity. I have over 330 pages of these blogs.

Sarah and my dogs

Sarah helped me put them in roughly chronological order, copy them, and put them into large three-ring binders. We added tabs to indicate stories from different people and periods of time.

For example, my life is divided into my early years, living with my first husband before kids, my kids’ childhoods, and life with my second husband.

My Family History with Tabs

I gave a copy of the Family History in Blogs to both my children, so we all have a collection of the most interesting stories about everyone in the family. I feel great that I’ve preserved in writing what the photo albums preserve in pictures. It’s one of my proudest accomplishments.

Binder I had customized for my Family History

And you, Serendipity readers, came along with me for this amazing ride. You gave me the motivation to write all these stories and sharing them with you has been fantastic.

Thank you for reading them and commenting on them. My children thank you too!

DREAMING ABOUT CHICKENS – Marilyn Armstrong

Last night I dreamed about chickens.

It looked a lot like it does around here. A bit hilly. Lots of trees. There was a movie star living in the house. She was supposed to be young, but her skin looked like the bottom of an old leather suitcase and was a trifle orange. She was going back to California where she believed she would be better off.

youtube.com

That left me with 200 chickens. The fowl were arriving (shortly) by truck. Healthy, young, hens and roosters. Enough to start a nice little chicken farm.

Except I didn’t want to be a chicken farmer and I was pretty sure, neither did Garry. I couldn’t just leave the chickens to die of hunger, thirst, and cold. I’m a responsible person and I love animals. Even chickens.

Chickens don’t get lost

I was still baffled over the whole chicken conundrum when I finally gave up, opened my eyes, and began my day. Coffee would banish chickens. Garry said it was from a movie we’d seen and I was caught in an old movie loop.

Sometimes, the absolutely best storyteller in the world has got to be my subconscious. I would never consider creating a story involving me and chickens.

Author Gordon Winter, Garry and chickens
Author Gordon Winter, Garry, and chickens

Not counting authors since this prompt doesn’t concern that … who tells great stories?

Garry tells wonderful stories. He makes us laugh. I don’t know if the story is true or maybe just a little true, but whatever, it is great entertainment. Tom tells great stories too and he usually has a good closing line, which is probably my biggest story-telling issue. I can tell a good story but I run on too long and am not good at wrapping it up. I’m good for the yarn’s first three-quarters.

Story-telling is the glue that makes friends want to hang out with each other. If you can keep the crowd laughing, you’ll never be alone.

It’s not booze, movies, or video games. Certainly not texting. It’s stories. The tales of our experiences, things we remember, times and places and people we’ve known.

Photo: Ben Taylor

I keep wondering what people will do when they realize you can’t live forever with just a cell phone? They don’t seem to have a clue about having conversations or telling stories. From whence will their stories emerge?

Our stories are our personal mythology. Will our children and grandchildren have stories? Or anyone to tell them?

It worries me. It really does.

ANGEL’S SONG by Kim Harrison – A CHRISTMAS STORY

Get Your Tissues Handy!
I’ve got a gift from me to you today, written long before I found publication and was raw with the need to reach and connect and short on literary grace. You may have seen this last year, but it still makes me cry, and like the best gifts, please feel free to share it.
However you celebrate the season, we hope you find joy, warmth, and a feeling of completeness.
Holiday wreath
-Kim, Tim, and the boys
Angel’s Song
angel clipart
by
Kim Harrison

Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright. . . .

Humming, Kaylin held her coat closed against the cold, more from habit than anything else as she dodged through the unseeing, evening shoppers. She was anxious to get home. Her work had seemed to stretch forever today, but finally, The Boss had let her go. She couldn’t wait to see her daughter-it had been too long since the entire family had been together.

Slipping at the bus stop, she grasped the door to the bus, just making it on behind two tired women as the doors closed. The sound of their money jingling into the box chimed like bells, and the bus jerked into motion. Kaylin stood where she was, gripping the ceiling support as the gears shifted. Her gaze rove over the heads, looking for acknowledgment she existed. There, at the back where the heat didn’t reach, was a smiling face and a beckoning hand.

Though she didn’t recognize him, Kaylin went to sit with the old man. She smiled shyly, the anticipation of her coming evening prompting her to be more bold than usual. “I’m going home for Christmas,” she said by way of greeting as she jammed her gloves into a pocket.

“First time?” the old man murmured, his brown eyes going sad in memory.

She nodded. “Since my accident. I can hardly wait to see everyone together.” Kaylin put her hands in her lap, glad she couldn’t feel the cold anymore.

The man met her eyes. “See that boy up there?” he said, pointing with his chin. “I’m spending Christmas with him. He’s a college student on his way home. He needs all the help he can get, and my family doesn’t miss me anymore.”

Kaylin bit her lip and fussed with the hem of her coat’s sleeve, uncomfortable with the idea she would eventually be forgotten. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. Make the most of the time they remember you. As it’s said, it came to pass.”

She didn’t know what to say. “This is my stop,” she said, glancing out the window to the colored lights.

“Best hurry. The door won’t wait for you.”

Giving him a hesitant smile, she hastened to the front, edging to the sidewalk past the three girls giggling about the presents they had gotten for their boyfriends.

Kaylin’s mood went soft as she took in the familiar street gray with twilight. The curb was jammed with cars. A noisy, joyful reunion on her front steps had the dogs barking. Excitement tingling to her toes, Kaylin waited on the walk, following the last of the children inside.

Her shoulders eased as she stood in the entryway, basking in the cheerful clutter and the too-noisy greetings. She waved as she spotted her grandmother in a corner, deep in the thick of it. The old woman’s eyes sparkled as they met hers. Her fingertips again had a rosy glow, and the blue tint Kaylin remembered was gone.

“Jasmine is in the kitchen!” her grandmother called over the noise. “Go on. We’ll talk later.”

Relieved her grandmother understood, Kaylin followed the smell of heated punch into the kitchen. She stopped in the open doorway as her heart clenched.

Jasmine stood on a chair before the counter, stirring a cup of green frosting. “I can’t do it, Daddy,” she complained, her high voice clear over the excited babble of relatives. “It’s too hard.”

Kaylin’s hands reached out, but she stood unmoving, forcing back the unexpected tears as her husband set aside his dishcloth and went to their daughter.

“Mommy always helped me, Daddy,” the child said around a sniff as his hand covered hers atop the spoon and they stirred together. “I want Mommy. I miss her.”

“Hush,” he said, the pain in his voice causing Kaylin’s throat to tighten.
“I miss her too, sweetheart, but look. She’s everywhere, especially tonight.”

Eyes bright, the man pointed to the dusty Christmas candles Kaylin had refused to burn, sitting on the kitchen windowsill. “There are her candles, right where she always put them. And the mistletoe above the doorway? She made that just last year. And the bow? Remember her spending an hour on that to get it to look just like the one in the store window? And you can smell her touch in the gingerbread men and taste it in the fruit punch. She’s everywhere.”

“No, Daddy,” the small girl protested. “It’s not the same. I can’t see her at all.”

“But I can,” he said, giving her a hug. “I can see her in you when you cut out your star cookies, I watched her hand move yours when you hung the ornaments on the tree, and I can see her eyes when I look at you. So, Jasmine, she is here.”

“I can’t see her,” Jasmine said, sniffing as she licked the frosting from a finger.

Kaylin ached. The Boss had warned her it would be hard, and she thought she could handle it. But this? This tore at her. Kaylin came close to stand behind her daughter and nudged a cookie, as if she could make the star any less lopsided. Perhaps . . . .

Perhaps she could pretend.

And so she was a silent participant, each moment harder than the previous, a bittersweet mix of memories. She hovered in the kitchen while dinner was prepared, blowing on the gravy to keep it from boiling over until someone remembered it. She watched the rolls brown through the oven window with Jasmine, admonishing the child they weren’t done yet when Jasmine pronounced them finished. She stood in the archway to the living room and worried about the carpet as paper plates over-flowing with food were balanced on knees. She sat at the kitchen table while the dishes were washed, catching up on the women’s gossip with her fingers curved around a forgotten cup until it was whisked away.

And then it was done. Kaylin knew the signs: the last swallows of coffee, the slowing conversation, the children collapsing in their mother’s arms. Kaylin sighed. She didn’t want it to be over.

Jasmine was slumped in her frills and white stockings in her father’s arms, too sleepy to be anything but content. Kaylin sat on the arm of the couch beside them, running her fingers unfelt over her daughter’s hair. There was one final tradition as yet undone, her most cherished part of the evening, and Kaylin’s heart fell when the first of the coats appeared. They had forgotten.

“Wait, Daddy.” Jasmine stirred as her father rose to say his goodbyes.
“We didn’t sing yet. Mommy always sings. Please?”

Kaylin waited, hoping.

“Of course, Jasmine,” her father said, giving her a hug. “You’re such a clever girl for remembering.”

Coats were dropped to the couch in the sliding sound of nylon. Her grandmother beckoned, and Kaylin joyfully edged closer to the piano. Jasmine wiggled down to sit on the long bench before the battered keys, her father standing behind her with his hands on her shoulders. Kaylin could see a glimmer of tears in her mother’s eyes as she took Kaylin’s usual spot before the piano and began to play.

“Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright.

Tears pricked at Kaylin’s eyes. Her favorite. Voice quavering, she joined her voice to her family’s.

“Round yon virgin, mother and child.
Holy infant, so tender and mild.”

“Daddy,” Jasmine whispered, her face upturned as she pulled on his sleeve. “I can hear Mommy singing.”

Kaylin’s throat nearly closed, and tears slipped down her cheeks. Angels could sing. And on Christmas Eve, they could be heard by those who listened.

Her husband knelt and gave Jasmine a tight, fierce hug. “So can I, sweetheart,” he whispered, rocking her. “So can I.”

“Sleep in heavenly peace.
Sleep in heavenly peace.”

***************************************************
For You Last Minute Gift Givers,
Kim has your “Perfection” gift card for under the tree and an exclusive one-of-a-kind Rachel Morgan doll designed and created by Kim herself.
Click on either of the links for additional information for each item:
You will need to scroll down the page to view each of these items on Kim’s blog.
   Rachel Doll                                                                            Gift Card
Holiday Hollows
Take time this holiday to read a good book.
Even Santa enjoys a Kim Harrison novel.
Happy Holidays!
Freebies for The Drafter and The Turn are still available in limited quantities. Send a SASE to address below. If you need assistance, Tim can be reached via the email address below.
Tim’s Email Address- coldtoastwritingsllc@comcast.net
Kim Harrison   www.kimharrison.com   P.O. Box 498, Dexter, MI   USA   48130

A LACK OF UNDERSTANDING

The Message by Rich Paschall

Roy walked into the restaurant just after noon, about the same time as almost every other Saturday for the past ten years.  He picked up a newspaper from a rack near the door and came inside.  The sign in front of the register said “Please wait to be seated.”

“Oh, you can sit anywhere, hon,” the blonde haired waitress advised.  She was on duty most Saturdays but Roy did not know her name and she did not know his.  Their faces were familiar to one another but they never introduced themselves.

The restaurant was equally the same size to each side of the register.  Roy took the first booth to the right, as was his usual custom. He set his cell phone down on the table and grabbed for a menu.  A bus boy appeared with a glass of water, set it down and hurried away.  Roy turned over the coffee cup on the table, as if to invite it to be filled.  Then he perused the menu which he knew well.

As he waited for the waitress to arrive his phone buzzed the alert that he had received a message.  Roy did not look down.  A moment later it buzzed again, but Roy continued to ignore the phone.  He knew who was sending him something on Messenger, and he would read it near the end of the day, as usual.

The waitress came to booth 1, filled Roy’s coffee cup, and then set the pot on the table. “What’ll it be, hon?” she inquired in a tired voice.  At that she grabbed an order pad from her apron and a pencil from her blonde teased hair.

Roy looked up and thought that her hair style must have been in fashion 30 or more years earlier.  He guessed bright blue eye lids were in vogue then too.

“I’ll have scrambled eggs and sausage with hash browns and toast,” Roy announced.  It was his usual Saturday fare at the Golden Prize Restaurant.

“Links or patties?” the seasoned waitress asked.

“Uh…links.”  Roy thought he must have had sausage patties last time, so a change was in order.  In truth, little ever changed in Roy’s life, except for one recent event, of course.

His concentration on pork sausage choices was interrupted by another buzzing on the phone.  He glanced down to have his suspicions confirmed.  He knew what the message would say.  He would read it later.

Soon the bus boy arrived with a coffee pot in hand, but Roy’s cup was full and the young man scurried away.  Roy sipped his coffee, read through the sports section of the paper, and did not look at his phone.

Across the room he spied a couple with three young children.  The youngest was just a toddler who could not sit still. Roy stared at the group and wondered how a family of 5 could afford to eat at the “family restaurant” at those prices.  “I could buy a week’s groceries for what that  meal will cost,” Roy thought.  It was a bit of an exaggeration, but not far off the mark.

“Here ya go, hon,” the waitress announced as she artfully slid the coffee cup over to set down the large plate of eggs, sausage and hash browns and the small plate of toast.  “Anything else, dear?”

“Nope,” Roy said automatically. There was something else, but it was not on the menu at the Golden Prize.  In fact it could not be bought anywhere so Roy tried to keep it off his mind.  His phone sitting in plain view was a reminder of his situation, however.

When the meal was finished, the waitress arrived with coffee pot in hand.  “More coffee, hon?”

“Just a little,” Roy stated.  The waitress filled his cup, put the check face down on the table and walked away.  Roy sat motionless for a while, took a sip of coffee and then grabbed the check.  He calculated 15 percent of the total in his head, so he would leave the appropriate tip in cash. Then grabbed his phone off the table and headed to the register.

The blonde waitress was leaning on the counter as if she was waiting for Roy to arrive.  He handed her the check and his credit card.  She  handed back the receipt to sign and Roy was soon on his way home.

When he got home, Roy plugged in his phone to be charged and successfully ignored it the rest of the day.  When the clock had passed 9pm, Roy picked up the phone to find the battery at 100 percent.  He sat at the kitchen table, opened Messenger and began to read.  It was basically the same message he had received every day that month.

“Baby, I am sorry I had to go.  Things were not good for me and I needed to go away. I want for us to be friends, but I just could not stay any longer.  I need more freedom.  I hope you will understand and forgive me.  Please bb.”

Roy read the short message a few times.  He did not understand, so how could he?  Each night he read the message received that day, thought it over carefully, but he just did not understand.  If he could not understand, how could he forgive?

Roy sent no responses for over a month.  Then the messages stopped coming.

 

REMEMBERING THE FAR AWAY #WRITEPHOTO … Marilyn Armstrong

Thursday photo prompt: Faraway #writephoto

Long ago in a land far away …

I remember.

You could stand in the cove and feel the sands move out from underneath your feet. You could walk a little and feel the brush of underwater grasses against your ankles and see the tiny baby fish, schools of them looking for a tiny something to nibble.

It was warm there. Especially in the morning, when all you could see were the fishermen going out in little boats. Sometimes, they would come back with a lobster, smile at you. Then they would toss you the lobster. Just because they were happy and you were smiling.

The thing about that world was people were nice for no reason at all. They would give you things because you were there, the sun was shining, and the sea was warm. We didn’t need to talk, though we did urgently needed to dance.

Oh, how we danced. Steel drums beating so loudly in a cement basement, steamy in the heat of September on a Caribbean night. I’d like to go back now, even without the dancing. Just for the peace of that place — far away and long ago.

HOW A FORTUNE TELLER RUINED MY GRANDFATHER’S LIFE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My father was a scientist and a very rational man. He didn’t believe in religion or have any superstitions, except one. He told me to never, ever go to a fortune-teller. He had a logical reason. HIS father had told him an eerie story about HIS experience with a fortune-teller, which had haunted him throughout his life.

My grandfather, on a lark, when he still lived in Russia, went to a gypsy fortune-teller in a nearby gypsy camp. He was given a long, detailed story about his future life. Most of the story seemed outrageous, if not impossible at the time. He forgot about the incident. Until, to his dismay, the predictions started to come true, one at a time. I don’t remember all the details but here are a few.

The gypsy told my grandfather that he would serve in the army. At the time in Russia, only first-born sons were conscripted into the army. My grandfather was the third son, so this would never happen. Except that his oldest brother shot off his toes to avoid military service. Then the second oldest brother died suddenly and young. So it fell to my grandfather to take up arms. Just like the gypsy told him. What are the odds?

My father’s father

Next, the gypsy told my grandfather that he would take a long journey involving a boat. He had no intention of ever leaving Russia. Until he couldn’t make a good living as a tailor when he finished his military service. Then he decided to come to America – a very long journey, part of it by sea.

The personal details the gypsy told him were the creepiest part of the story. The gypsy told him that he would marry a young woman who would bear him seven children, including a set of twins, but only two of the children would survive. Believe it or not, my grandmother had exactly seven pregnancies, including a set of twins. The oldest and the youngest, my Dad, were the only ones to survive infancy.

By now my grandfather was freaking out! The next prediction by the gypsy was that his wife would die young and leave him to take care of two children on his own. She died of tuberculosis when my Dad was three. The gypsy said that my grandfather would struggle for a few years but would eventually marry a strong woman who would be a good mother to his children. This happened exactly as predicted. His children, aged three and eleven, were latch-key kids until he met his second wife who, my father always said, ‘rescued’ them.

The rest of my grandfather’s life also played out pretty much as the gypsy had told him. He started making a good living. (He was the first to bring the pleated skirt to America). He lived comfortably until his death as an old man for the day – he was in his 70’s.

The story doesn’t end there. My father understood his father’s aversion to clairvoyants. But as a young man, he fell madly in love with a woman who was ‘beyond his reach’. He was a poor, Jewish medical student and she was a proper WASP who wanted a comfortable and respectable life. He was not in a position to give this to her.

My Dad as a young man

My Dad was so smitten, that he took a year off from medical school to pursue the woman full-time! During this period, he came across a fortune-teller. He couldn’t resist finding out if he would ‘get the girl’ in the end. The gypsy told him that the woman would never marry him. She said that the woman would string him along but eventually would marry a man from Chicago who was ‘like a locomotive’. Dad remembers this phrase because it was an unusual way to describe someone.

As predicted, again, despite a long courtship, his paramour eventually sent him a letter breaking off the relationship. She said that she had found a well established, well-off man and was moving to Chicago to marry him. She described him as strong and commanding, ‘like a locomotive!’

Unbelievable! My father had no rational explanation for any of this.

Neither do I.

CHANGING THE PAST – BY ELLIN CURLEY

This blog was the first blog I wrote and published on Serendipity in November of 2015. I have written a large number of blogs since then, many of them recounting personal stories from my own life as well as the lives of my family members.

Rereading it in January of 2018, I realize that it is a fitting epilogue to the Family History in Blogs that I have set out to write. It brings my story full circle. It expresses where I am after having spent so much time delving into my own life and the lives of other loved ones.


Folder for my Family History In Blogs

Here is the editorial conclusion to my opus of family lore and expression of family love:

 I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of time travel. I’m particularly fond of the fantasy of going back in time, knowing what you know now, and changing some pivotal moment in your past. I used to wish fervently for this fantasy to become a reality so I could undo some of my Top 10 “mistakes” and bad judgment calls. Many of those involved my first husband – like deciding to marry him and deciding, multiple times, to stay with him rather than leave.

Time machine, from “The Time Machine”

I’m a logical person, so the problem with this fantasy is that I have to be willing to accept all the drastic changes in my time line that would naturally flow from my new and improved choices.

The major change that comes to mind, if I didn’t marry my ex at all, is that I would no longer have my children. I can’t imagine life without them, so, scratch that option. If I had left him after I’d had my kids, my life still would have changed so dramatically the odds of my meeting my current husband are essentially nil.

I’m not prepared to give him up. He’s the best piece of luck I’ve ever had and the best decision I’ve ever made.

Family portrait from 1993

This means that I have reached a point in my life that I never thought I’d get to. I’m at peace with my whole life, knowing that all the crap I went through led me to where I am now. It also made me into who I am now.

My husband and I often discuss the fact that without the angst in both of our pasts we might not have appreciated each other when we did meet. And we’re pretty sure that we would not have gotten along well if we had, somehow, met when we were both young.

Tom and me last year

The result of all this philosophizing is that I don’t wish my past away anymore. I wish it had been easier and had left fewer scars, but I’m totally content with where I am now. So if I had to pay a high price to get to this place, so be it. It was worth it.

AMEN!