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Storytelling…across Generations

Griot

It occurred to me the other day that storytelling in my family didn’t begin with my mother. I come from a long line of strong women, story tellers all. Since the beginning of time griots  have passed down our history in oral form from generation to generation. Griot:   (/ˈɡriːoʊ/; French.  Mandinka.  A West African historian, storyteller, praise singer, poet, or musician.) My grandmother and mother were no different.

Yes, I was told fairytales, as a very young child, but somewhere along the way my mother switched over to true stories about when she was a child (early 1900’s) living in a logging town in western Washington.  The family tales of thirteen kids, roaming the woods, swimming in the rivers and tipping over outhouses. The stories never ended and, like any child, I requested my favorites to be told over and over. My mother considered the telling of

Since the beginning of time

tales very natural.  She and her siblings had grown up listening to their mother telling stories about how she and her new husband (my grandfather) fled France, migrated to America, and then trekked across the country to settle in the Northwest. They boarded a ‘flatboat’ in St. Louis, Missouri and traveled on great rivers until they reached Great Falls, Montana.  They finally debarked and joined wagon trains going further west. My mother told me the story of my auntie (her sister) who, at the age of seventeen, ran away from home and worked her way aboard a freighter to Anchorage, Alaska. She homesteaded in the Tanana Valley for over twenty years. (Song of the Yukon)

Mother at a friend’s cabin

Since I was born long after my brother and sister, I do not know if my mother had the time to spend on telling them stories. She was a single mom who worked long hours building a bar and grill business. She frequently ‘farmed out’ my siblings for long periods of time. It wasn’t for financial reasons and so was always unclear why . (Wild Violets) By the time I discovered this appalling fact, my mother was gone and there was no one left to ask. And those were stories she certainly never told. 

My mother and I

She was very vain and perhaps didn’t want the men in her life to know she had two children. Anyway that’s what my sister thought. She was eleven when my mother began sending them away.

And so here I am, the next generation of storytellers….Would my mother be surprised?
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Storytelling….. (Nostalgia series)

I was reading a particularly good story (Brave Girl, Quiet Girl by Catherine Ryan Hyde)  the other day and it set me to wondering;  when was my first memory of a story being told to me. The very first one? I must have been three or four when I first heard of Cinderella. Many stories were told orally by my mother.   It’s really amazing how many fairy tales she knew by heart. I believe that began my life-long-love of story telling.  When I got a little older, my mother went on to tell me hundreds of stories about her five sisters and their growing up in the woods of Tumwater, Washington.  (Wild Violets)

At about age eighteen my sister gave me three books by Erich Maria Remarque. I don’t remember why those particular books, or why that author. Arch of Triumph, A Time to Love and A Time to Die, and All Quiet on the Western Front. (First Editions, copyright 1954) I wasn’t a reader of books; a typical teenager who got plenty of assigned reading in high school left no time for pleasure reading. Sigh. I can’t believe I was ever of that mindset!

 I had idolized my big sister since birth and wanted to please her in all things so I began reading the first book. I was enthralled with the writing and the story. Sixty years later I still have those books; From that moment on I have always had a book in my hands. 

There came a time when I felt I should try my hand at ‘storytelling’.  Writing plays at first. Telling a story in less than 100 pages. It came so naturally. Friends who read my plays wanted more of the stories; fleshed out as it were. (What happened to the characters after the play was over; what were their lives like before the play began?) and they insisted I expand the stage play into a full length novel. Which, even though it took me years of labor, I did. 

As I lived my life I was always the one who sought out stories. I never tired of my mother’s tales about her and her sisters and what hellions they were. My own library of books grew and grew.  Walls  of books.

Around 1994, I sat down and wrote my first stage play…and as they say…the rest is history! By this time I had read hundreds of scripts (during my acting career)  so I found it extraordinarily easy to write in that format. It certainly sharpened my skills at writing dialogue. Along the way, I discovered that ten minute plays were very popular and for me, easy and fun to write. 

In another life I must have been a forensics detective because, as a hobby, I love murder, gore, forensics and clues. Characters come first for me when writing and one day Detectives Jack O’Roarke and Stella Garcia popped into my head. They were fully formed and rarin’-ta-go!  (World of Murder).

My advice to writers? If you’re just starting out, tell a story you know . You can always research a topic that you don’t know anything about but your writing will take longer, because you must get it right.  Keep writing!

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Storytelling (Nostalgia ~ #13)

A short story, novella or full length novel often begins with a snippet of a story. Sometimes from your own past experiences, sometimes from others. Sometimes from a collage of different people melded into one. I just finished reading a 500 page novel that was born out of some brief family history of the author’s. The following memory came to me suddenly, about my Dad. Many of the subtle nuisances were lost on a child but now they make exquisite sense. 

My Dad was a ‘butcher’ his entire life. Beginning, I would assume as an apprentice when he was very young right up to being a civilian butcher on troop ships delivering men to the Korean Peninsula. (Civilian because he had lost sight in an eye during WWII and couldn’t re-enlist). After he returned and twenty years of working for someone else he bought a small butcher shop. Today his shop would have a fancier name like John’s Custom Meats, but back then I believe the signage said, ‘Meat Market’. Super Markets were just catching on but people were suspicious and preferred the specialty shops and small grocer so he did fairly well.  His work day would begin at 6a.m. and the shop would close at 6p.m. He would work another 1-2 hours moving all the trays of meat

 from the case into the cooler for the night. Then he would meticulously clean the inside of the cases. He scrubbed the top of the butcher’s block with salt and saw dust, using a wire brush. When all was clean he would collect the saw dust from the floor and replace it with fresh. 

Back in the 1950’s the meat cases were made mostly of wood, stretching the horizontal length of the front of the store. Glass in front and accessed in the back by wood-framed glass sliders.  Behind the counter was a large wooden butcher block table. But not the ‘butcher-block’ that we think of today. No, this table was made from one huge, square block of wood with legs attached. A saddle indent in the wood, on one side, was made from years of where my father (and the men he followed) stood and cut meat. The floor was covered with fresh saw-dust, changed out nightly. His knives, which no one else was allowed to touch, hung on a magnet strip on the side of the table. 

Weekly a truck would back up to the rear door of the butcher shop and my Dad would help off-load halves of a whole beef, and whole pig carcasses. Nothing was precut. My Dad would ‘break down’ the meat, cutting steaks (sirloin, rib-eye, T-bone, and Filet mignon), using a meat saw to go through bone. Racks of ribs and roasts, all cut by hand. Every left-over scrap of  beef was tossed into a bin (everything was stainless steel back then; no plastic was used). He began filling the cases with his beautiful cuts of meat. Next he would process the scraps of meat, collected earlier, through the grinder to make hamburger. (Hand cranked; he couldn’t afford electric saws or grinders back then.) There were only two grades; ‘hamburger’ (the cheapest filled with more fat and less meat) and ‘ground round’ (the leanest and most expensive.) The ground meat would fill long trays that fit inside the display case. When a customer asked for hamburger, my Dad would hand scoop one or two pounds from the tray, slap the meat into a sheet of waxed, white butcher paper and weigh it. He was never off on the weight and mostly put it on the scale for the customer’s benefit. If he had weighed heavy he never took away from the mound of meat; that would have been bad customer service in his view. In those days a butcher was allowed (by Federal regulations)  to sprinkle in a chemical that would ‘brighten’ yesterday’s hamburger that had turned a little brown. He would do this regularly and put it on ‘sale’ the next day.  

My mother would drive him to work and pick him up every night. As I mentioned, he was a veteran and had lost the sight in one eye during his time in the South Pacific, thus preventing him from driving. Frequently Mom and I would go early and help close up. Mom and Dad would also make their own sausage to sell. Using scraps of beef and pork they would make huge batches of ground meat, mixing in special spices. Placing a special tip on the grinder, they would attach a casing made of pig intestine on the end. They pressed the meat through the machine and into the casing, tying off  the lengths of sausages with a quick couple of twists of the casing.  

All the years I helped in the butcher shop I never saw my Dad dressed differently. Pure white t-shirt under a crisp white, short-sleeved dress shirt (ironed by my mother), blood stained white apron, with chino (kakis) pants. In the rear pocket was a pint of whiskey in a brown paper bag. His face was clean shaven, his fingers cracked and covered in small cuts. His hair neatly trimmed and slicked back with Brylcream. No matter what time of night we got home, my mother had dinner almost ready. Nothing left to do but ‘fry up the meat’. From the front door to the kitchen sink to wash up, to the dinner table to the couch was my father’s journey. The whiskey had navigated from the hip pocket to a glass sitting on the coffee table. Together we would watch boxing (my Dad’s passion) and shows from the 50’s:  Rawhide, Ed Sullivan, Ozzie and Harriet, What’s My Line, and Candid Camera. 

Now, with a few decades of life experiences behind me I realize my Dad was probably never without pain. Pain in his back from carrying sides of beef and long trays of meat. Working fourteen hour days. And the untreated, jungle rot (tropical ulcers) on his legs must have been excruciatingly painful by the end of each day. No wonder he lay flat on his back on the sofa, self-medicating with whiskey.

I’ll end this story with a funny anecdote.  My Dad hated the narrator for the Skippy Peanut Butter commercial on tv. This was before all of our electronic accessories  of today. But finally one day he happened to read an ad for a remote mute button. It attached to the tv by a cord that ran across the living room floor and ended in a small box with a mute button. Yes, that was it: an on and off button. It finally arrived in the mail and we hooked it up. That night, my Dad waited in anticipation for the Skippy commercial to appear during our nightly shows. The the minute the commercial began my Dad gleefully pressed the mute button and yelled at the tv, “Take that, you S.O.B!” 
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Happy New Year!!

Petey watching Live PD

I’ll end the year with a little poetry about the love from dogs and affection from cats.  Don’t groan….ewww, poetry...I think you’ll find the poetry funny if you have either cats or dogs. I’m blessed with both.  Rescued of course. 

 

Molly & Barcode

Cat Love

Don’t ruffle my fur that direction! You’re doing it all wrong! I’ve got it looking just the way I want.

I love you but I’m very busy today.

Don’t move, this is my lap time and I’m very comfy.

Scratch right there, no a little more to the left, a little higher, to the right.

Petey & Barcode

Look what I’ve brought you–isn’t it beautiful? I killed it in the garden.

That’s what we’re having for dinner?

You need to work on how you pick your friends. I don’t like that one and besides he had the nerve to sit in my chair!

I could find a better human, you know, if I put in some effort…

But I guess you’ll do…for now.

Dog Love

Stack Dogs

Pet me, pet me, pet me! Oh boy! A butt rub!
I love you to the ends of the earth and beyond!

I’ll just lay here quietly, I won’t bother you, as long as I can touch you.

In memory….Gus

Throw the ball! Throw the ball!
Again! Again!

I love my dinner, you’re such a good mommy!

‘Walkie’, ‘go outside’, ‘go for a walk’, ‘let’s go pee-pee’. Yippee! Where’s my leash?

In remembrance, Sam

I love your friends. That one scratched my ears and told me I was a good dog.

You’re home! You’re home! Why were you gone so long….it doesn’t matter now…You’re home!

You’re the best human ever….I love you!

Fiona & Petey

Molly & Petey

Petey

We’ve Lost One of the Great Writers

Dorothea Benton Frank

TS.  By now fans around the world have heard about Dorothea Benton Frank’s passing earlier this month. A rare blood cancer swiftly took her life at age 67. When I interviewed Dorothy Benton Frank back in 2015 it was a large feather in my cap as I had been a fan for decades. I found her warm and friendly, much like her stories. As a tribute to this wonderful story teller, I have resurrected that interview so that we might once again enjoy her humor and inspiration. You and your stories will be sorely missed, Dorothea.

The interview

dottie.lowcountry.5

in her office

Q. Where do you write? Do you have a special room, shed, barn, special space for your writing? Or tell us about your ‘dream’ work space.

A. I write in my office in my home in NJ or in my office in my home in SC. My dream work space would be to occupy my little office in SC full time. This cruelty of this past winter’s plummeting temps, deep snow and black ice has cured me of any desire I may have had to remain in NJ. It’s not that I have anything against NJ. I have had many wonderful years here. It’s that I’m trapped indoors for months. But check back with me in a few years when I finally do reside in SC and hurricanes have me screaming for higher ground. Is anyone ever completely happy?

Q. Do you have any special rituals when you sit down to write? (a neat work space, sharpened #2 pencils, legal pad, cup of tea, glass of brandy, favorite pajamas, etc.)

New Release 2019

A. Water. Solitude. My work space is neat and tidy in chapter one. By the end of a book it looks like someone dropped a bomb on my desk. Usually I dress for work the same way you would if you reported for work in a very casual corporate environment.

Q. Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?

A. The nuns who taught me in high school told my parents I wasn’t “college material.” Nice, right? In 1970, parents believed teachers, especially clergy, as though their words were spoken Ex Cathedra.

Q. Do you have a set time each day to write or do you write only when you are feeling creative? 

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The book that started it all….stories about the low country>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

 

 

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A little Philosophy, a little Humor, a little Politic Reflection

“A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the audience (public); they thought it was a joke and applauded.

He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that ‘s just how the world will come to an end: to general applause from wits who believe it’s a joke.”  Soren Kierkegaard, Philosopher, (1800’s)

 

I think we’re almost there. Just waiting for the clown with the codes.

We don’t have to agree. We can agree to disagree. BUT, everyone should be very afraid. 

 

 

 

 

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Celebrating Our Veterans on Their Day, 2019!

          Members of the military impacted my life in many ways. My life  was certainly changed by members of my family serving in the armed forces.  So what better time than on this Memorial Day to honor them….those who keep us SAFE and FREE!  And to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for us and their country.

                                                    ****

Gerald Guyer (cousin)   US Marines**WWI – gave his life in Normandy, France ** Son of Gladys; nephew of Violet, about whom I have written many stories.

W. Jay Woods

William Jay Woods (father)  US Navy ** WWII –   South Pacific – PTSD.  He met my mother in San Francisco, where she owned a bar and grill.  He returned from war  an alcoholic, experienced rages and had a parrot named Butch.

John Cable, ‘Dad’

Johnny Cable (step-father)  US Army/Infantry ** WWII Southern Pacific. Lost an eye, suffered from jungle rot and PTSD.  At five years of age I remember not being able to run in and jump on the bed in the mornings to wake up Daddy.  He would wake up ready to fight the ‘Japs’ and in those first few seconds he was back in the jungle.   He was a wonderful father but the horrors of the South Pacific battles were never far from the surface.
He later served on a ship in the Korean War as a meat cutter.  He was instrumental in serving the troops a HOT Thanksgiving dinner on the beach that year.

family histories, family secrets, story telling, writers

my mother, Violet

Violet Guyer (mother) US Armed Forces ** Wife, sister, and mother of members in the military.
My mother, who I write about, was auntie to Gerald.  She married Jay (active Navy) and Johnny (active Army) and was a military wife for two decades. She was mother to Jack (US Air Force) and Doris, (US Marines).

Brother Jack

Jack Borden (brother)  US Air Force ** Loaded B52 bombers – hot spots around the world – 20+ years of service.  My brother would come home from far away places like Germany, Iceland, Africa, Panama and because he  didn’t have a hometown girl, he would take me, his teenage sister, ballroom dancing.

Jack Henderson.  (first husband) US Air Force * While in the military, he was on a ship in the Pacific and

Robert.Berry

Robert Berry, Navy Seal

witnessed one of the first A-Bomb test explosions off Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands.  

Robert Berry (second husband)   US Navy Seals, US Coast Guard ** 20+ years of service.  Robert was a Navy Seal, underwater demolition during the Viet Nam years.  He later served as a warrant officer aboard an icebreaker and was certified to scuba dive under the Arctic ice.

 

john.Viet.Nam

John Sugarek, Viet Nam

John Sugarek (husband)  US Marines ** Viet Nam –   John was my husband for 30 years. He was kind-hearted and funny and everyone loved him.  I witnessed two of his  flashbacks from battle in Viet Nam (twenty years later)  and he suffered, untreated, from PTSD. Partially due to the PTSD (I believe) he died at his own hand in 2006.  His fellow wounded warriors celebrate at the Whiskey Battery Reunion, once a year.marines

 

We are all grateful to our military for their unswerving bravery, service, and loyalty and we honor those who have come home, battered but alive.

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Tai-Pan, Shogun and James Clavell ~~ Nostalgia

James Clavell & one of his manuscripts

Summer of 1971. My then husband and I were anxiously awaiting the arrival of ….. our custom built 26ft sailboat. We had settled on the name “joss” for the boat, as its loose meaning is good and bad luck. Given how fickle a sailboat can be, it seemed highly appropriate. I was currently reading everything James Clavell was publishing and I came across the word in his novels. 

So being the gutsy girl (for the time) that I was, I wrote Mr. Clavell for more info about the word, especially how it was used in the Orient . And he ANSWERED me!  See below. He wrote with his personal address in Vancouver, B.C. and invited us to sail up and anchor at his house on Vancouver Island, offering a cup of tea!

Click to read

 Clavell wasn’t just a writer.  Both he and his wife were Chopper pilots. Clavell was also a dedicated sailor of sailboats.  It was one of the highlights of my life to receive a personal letter from him and be invited to ‘drop anchor’ at his home on the sea.  No, we never did make the perilous trip, under sail, to his home port. A deep regret, but we were new to sailing and anyone who knows those waters between Puget Sound and Horseshoe Bay (B.C.) will understand how we were so not capable or experienced enough to attempt it. 
But! we were crazy enough to take our 420 (International Dingy Sailing class) sails with us to Portugal and sail the Tagus River, not knowing the waters, currents, language or people! 

We were young and adventuresome! 1971

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Honoring All Veterans, Fallen and Still Fighting!

Our politicians could take a page from the young men and women who are, TODAY, fighting for our country or defending smaller, weaker spots around the globe. Brave, honorable, honest, with integrity, they are making the world a better place.  Giving selflessly of their time, dedication to country, and sometimes their lives. 

I would like to honor and name the people in my family who have served.

Gerald Guyer  (WW1 Normandy)
William J. Woods (WW2, South Pacific)
John W. Cable (WW2, South Pacific)
Jack D. Borden (B52 Bombers/23 years USAF)
Doris B. Gill (US Marines) 
Jack Henderson (USAF Enowitach Bomb testing)
Robert Berry (Navy Seal. Korea, Vietnam)
  John W. Sugarek (US Marines, Vietnam)

 

 

 

 

 

For more stories

Nostalgia… (#12)

Martin Short, (famous actor on SNL, career included dozens of movies) was recently interviewed where he told a charming story. He, Gilda Radner, Paul Shaffer were born (as actors) at ‘Second City’, Toronto.  In the early days, Martin was in a community theatre production of Fortune & Men’s Eyes. The director told the actors that, as the audience came in and took their seats, the actors would be pacing on stage, in a prison setting. In character, wearing only their underwear.

Paul Shaffer, most famous for years with Letterman

 

Fortune & Men’s Eyes

 

Gilda (whom Martin was dating at the time 1972), Paul and some other pals all planned to go see Martin one night. But, as the story goes, the thing Paul Shaffer was really excited about was they would all go for dinner after at the Shakespeare Steakhouse.

So on the night of the performance, Martin’s friends arrived and Paul, upon seeing Martin pacing, moved up the lip the of the stage and whispered, “Martin, Shakespeare  Steakhouse is closed, wink once if Bavarian Seafood makes sense.” 

John Sugarek, actor

 

 

 

This type of crazy thing happens all the time in live theatre. Short’s story brought to mind the time that my husband played Dr. Miranda, (a murderous ex-Nazi) in Death and the Maiden (a part that Ben Kingsley is famous for). Our theatre was so small that it didn’t have a curtain.  Since Dr. Miranda is held hostage and tied up for most of the play, it meant that my husband, John, remained on stage, in character and tied up during intermission. With audience members coming and going.  Actually, he volunteered as there was no logical way to get him untied and offstage. 

During intermission, a trio of white-haired senior ladies came tripping down the aisle and neared the edge of the stage. John (said later) prayed that they were not

Death and the Maiden

Ben Kingsley & Sigourney Weaver

going to speak to him.  They moved as close to him as they could and one of the dear old things winked and said to him, in a stage-whisper, “Psst! Psst! Mister! Do you want us to untie you?” Giggling and twittering they turned and found their seats again. John stayed in character but it was hard not to burst out laughing.

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