Tag Archive | writer’s block

No Words for Today

I wrote a couple of lines this morning which are nothing to cherish. My brain is as dull as the gray skies and pelting rain. So, I deleted my lamenting over my unfinished household projects, and am going to just give you the next three chapters of the second edition of APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS. I promise tomorrow will bring some inspiration for your inquisitive minds. I’ll keep my mind and eyes open today to recognize a new topic. Promise.

#####

 

APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 5 (CONTINUED)

Chapter 28

 Lacrosse, Wisconsin – December—The weather suddenly turned cold, and Rosalie worked to find new ways to keep the house warm for the children. Like everything else heating oil became rationed. She dressed the babies in several layers of clothing and piled blankets several inches thick to keep them warm at night. While the other parts of the house remained chilly, the kitchen stayed warm with the radiant heat from the oven.

By now Rosalie internalized the time the postman dropped letters in her mailbox. A good day brought letters from her brothers, Angelo, and Josie. A bad day brought bills and no letters. She saved any letter for the quiet two hours in the afternoon when both babies took naps. In November, Mrs. Schneider told Rosalie and Donna Josie got on a ship headed for somewhere in Africa, and today she found a letter from her brave nursing friend.

October 28, 1942

 Dear Rosie,

 Hi pal! So good to get your letter. Your words brightened my day, and I love the pictures of baby Angelo Jr.! He looks so much like his Daddy. Incredible! Angelo certainly sure can’t deny that boy!

 I’m somewhere in Africa, but even I don’t understand where. One thing is for certain, this nursing experience is something I never expected. In my worst dreams, I couldn’t have conjured up such conditions. Our “hospital” is a war-torn building; honestly, it’s a shack so bad, the rats don’t want to live here.

 I’m glad I made the decision to join the nursing corps because so many wounded men need our help. We do what we can, but so many lay in pain while we assessed their injuries, At least now we have adequate supplies to treat them. When we first landed, the fighting on the beach held up the morphine, either, and other drugs that we really needed. The wounds of war are horrific–burns, missing limbs, and so much more. For the first time in my life I felt inadequate. But I tell you this. Everyone should be proud of our boys because we found no cowards among our ranks. They writhed in pain but no one complained. These boys are the bravest souls in the world.

 All of us are learning to cope with the challenges of combat nursing on the fly. We wear steel helmets and combat boots in surgery; corpsmen hold flashlights while doctors operate at night; the windows are covered with blankets because snipers are all around us. (If you talk to my mom, don’t mention the snipers, okay?)

 Our commanding officer require us to be feminine looking, but as tough as nails. That means we need to appear neat and clean, with curled hair and a bit of make-up. He believes not doing so would deflate the boys’ morale. We improvise all of the time . . . like using our helmets for sinks and a glass jug for a mirror. The boys have enough challenges so we don’t want them to put up with an ugly nurse! (ha, ha) Every time I wash up, I think of Donna putting up with these conditions. This environment would make her go AWOL for sure!

 Life is tough here, and I’ realize everyone has a breaking point when the stresses of this life become too much.  Last week Sally got so upset when the snipers fired at our “hospital;” a sergeant needed to forcibly restrain her from going outside to give the GD sniper a piece of her mind. Needless to say, she transferred to receive treatment for shell shock. 

We work long, hard hours. Most nights the sixty nurses and handful of doctors collapse on the floors from exhaustion under scratchy woolen army blankets. But our sacrifice is no comparison to what so many boys give for our country. Our boys are brave, so we girls need to be brave too.

 Please say “Hi” to Donna and tell her I will write to her next time, but it might be a while depending upon what the Krauts dump on us.

 Give Gina and baby Angelo a kiss. When I think of home (which is much of the time) you, Donna and my family are on the top of the list.

Sending you my love, Josie

 Rosalie slipped Josie’s letter back into the envelope as a wave of guilt washed over her. How could she complain about oil shortages or having to cook around rationing when her best friend looked war directly in the face every minute of every day? Josie put everything in perspective for Rosalie.  Daily inconveniences didn’t matter when people she loved struggled with the horrors of combat. She bent her head, folded her hands, and whispered a prayer to the Blessed Mary to bring everyone she loved home safe and sound.

Chapter 29

Hawaii, December—After a few weeks at the Pearl Harbor hospital, Bobby and Angelo both got up on their feet and began learning to walk again between parallel bars. Each step proved to be challenging and tiring.

“This is the damnest thing! I learned how to walk as a baby, and here I am struggling how to move my feet one after another all over again.” Angelo said. “If I don’t get better, little Angelo will pass me up!”

“No worries, pal. You get stronger every day. Look at your arms! You look like Popeye in the comic books.” Bobby said.

“Is that the only stuff you read?” Angelo teased.

“Hey, the stories are great! Don’t think you’re superior, my friend. I bet you picked up the new “Wonder Woman” comic in the day room.”

“No. Who in the hell is Wonder Woman?” Angelo thought Bobby might be pulling his leg about a female super hero.

“Of course I’m serious. Wonder Woman is a hot chick who fights Nazis.”

Angelo laughed. “Too bad she doesn’t fight Japs. Then maybe we wouldn’t be here.”

Bobby said. “Better here than some damn jungle.”

“Amen to that, brother!”

“Hey Ang?” Bobby said.

“Yeah?”

“Is it really only been a year since the war started?”

“Huh?”  Through their months together Angelo got use to Bobby’s constant chatter, and like a seasoned parent, he tuned him out a lot of the time.

“You’re not listening to me, are you?” Bobby said.

“Of course, I’m listening, little brother. For the Americans.  Yeah, it’s only been a year. But it seems like I’ve spent a lifetime in hospitals. Doc wants to operate on me again to remove a piece of shrapnel near my spine. He says I might walk better if I have the surgery. There’s also a possibility I might never walk again if I have the surgery. What do you think I should do? ”

“Geez, Ang. I had no idea. You’ve had so many surgeries already. It’s a gamble one way or another. What will happen if the shrapnel moves?”

“They don’t know. I just want to go home.”

“I think you have your answer then, huh?”

Angelo nodded. Bobby affirmed what Angelo thought. Sometimes the kid was really smart.

 

*****

Bobby and Angelo received Purple Hearts for the wounds they sustained on Guadalcanal, but more importantly, they received orders to continue their therapy in the states. Angelo told the doctor he would take his chances by not having more surgery, and the doctor said he needed to contact the medical facility on the mainland before Angelo could be released.

The doctor believed Angelo would struggle the rest of his life with a bum leg without the surgery, but he also understood the marine had gone through so much already it was impossible to face another surgery and the recovery it required. He approved Angelo’s release from Hawaii.

Angelo read his orders with a big grin. “I’ll be home for Christmas!”

“Yeah, Christmas. I suppose you’ll want to play Santa for little Gina and little Angelo, huh?”

“Good thought. I wonder where I can get a Santa suit.” Angelo grinned as he thought about hugging his kids and kissing Rosalie for the first time in almost a year. “And you can be my number one elf!”

Bobby laughed and threw a comic book at Angelo.

*****

            A week after Angelo and Bobby received their medals their next stop on the road to recovery turned out to be at Camp Pendleton in California. They would finish their physical and occupational therapy at the base hospital. Every day they challenged each other to dig deep, work through the pain, and succeed at the exercises which would free them to go home. Their military careers neared the finish line. The only remnants of their time in the South Pacific were occasional nightmares for Bobby, and a piece of shrapnel near Angelo’s spine.

Chapter 30

Lacrosse, Wisconsin-December 1942—Donna and Rosalie spent the week before Christmas decorating the house in festive colors of red, gold, and silver. At two years old, Gina found the pretty tree in the house a curiosity and learned quickly not to touch the delicate glass ornaments or the hot glass light bulbs.

Two nights before Christmas, Donna and Rosalie sat by a warm fire sipping eggnog.

“This is such a treat, Rosie. How did you ever make eggnog?”

“Mrs. Schneider helped me out. I remember the first time I drank eggnog at Josie’s house. We were about eight years old. We came in from sledding for most of the day with red cheeks. We took off our rubber boots, wet snowsuits and ice-coated mittens in the back entrance, while we jumped around to get warm again. Just thinking about that day gives me shivers. We hung our snowy mittens and hats on that little wooden clothes rack in the mud room and our coats on hooks. Remember?” Donna took a sip as she drifted back to a happy memory. “Mrs. Schneider sat the three of us in front of the fire with a hot cup of eggnog and a plate full of warm chocolate chip cookies. Just thinking of it makes me warm inside.”

“Mrs. Schneider always loved all of us. Remember at their Christmas party they always put two bowls full of eggnog on the table –one for kids and one for grown-ups. I guess the grown-up version contained some brandy.”

“Not to disappoint, Donna, but I made the kid’s version.”

Donna laughed. “Between you and me, I like this version better, but if you tell anybody I don’t like brandy, you’ll pay with your life. A girl’s got to maintain an image.” Donna fluffed her hair and threw her head back.

A knock on the front door interrupted their conversation. Rosalie got up from the chair and walked to the door. “Who in the world is out on such a dark and cold night?”

“You better check. I’ll get the baseball bat in case they turn out to be perverts.”

“You’re in rare form tonight.” Rosalie laughed. She opened the door to find two soldiers on her doorstep. “Can I help you boys?”

Angelo said, “I dreamed you missed me and hoped you might let me in with a big kiss.”

The moment he spoke, Rosalie realized the skinny soldier with the cane was Angelo. “Oh my God! You’re home!” She fell into his arms and didn’t let go. They kissed until Bobby cleared his throat after several minutes.

“Can we take this inside, you two? I’m freezing.”

Angelo laughed. “Sweetheart, this is Bobby. He’s the kid who insisted on being my friend.”

Rosalie blushed. “How rude of us, Bobby. Of course. Come on in. Donna and I are enjoying some eggnog. Would you two like a cup?”

Bobby smiled. “Eggnog?”

Angelo said. “You’ll love it. My Rosie is the best cook in the kitchen.” Rosalie laughed because her inexperienced cooking seemed to be a source of jokes in the family.

The boys dragged their duffle bags into the living room where Donna waited. Angelo went to her and hugged her. “Donna! It’s so good to see you again!”

“Likewise, Angelo.”

“How can I ever thank you for taking care of my girls?”

“You can’t. No thanks are necessary.” Donna smiled. “Auntie Doe Doe is on the job!”

Angelo dropped his embrace and turned toward Bobby. “Donna, this is my friend, Bobby.”

Donna smiled at the boy. “Not the famous Bobby!”

Bobby blushed. “The one and only, but don’t hold the rumors against me ma’am.”

“Only if you call me ma’am again!” She laughed.

Rosalie took control much like her mother would. “You boys make yourself comfortable, and I’ll get the eggnog and cookies.”

“Cookies?” Bobby said. “This Christmas is the best ever!

Angelo laughed. “Out of the mouths of babes.”

 

Create Your Own World by Writing It Down

Every time I turn around, I read something that reminds me that I have the power to design my own life, create my own world, manifest good things into my life. I know deep in my heart this is true because every important thing I’ve ever wanted has come into my life. My children, Ken, a cozy home, my pug dog, my cat, and even our wheelchair van have appeared when I needed/wanted them.

After I divorced my first husband, who was a person would not leave his backyard, I finally had a chance to do the travel I always wanted to do. My adventures were shared with two wonderful women I met on a “fam” trip which landed in my lap because I did marketing for a travel agency and no one could participate in this completely free trip. After our first meeting, Jane and Robin took me along as their companion on other “fam” trips for the cruise lines.

I thought cruising was only in my dreams, but to my delight, even this exotic dream manifested itself into my life. We traveled the islands of the Western, Southern, and Eastern Caribbean. I saw Bermuda and Mexico. Then Ken came into my life and we cruised down the western coast of Mexico and South America, through the Panama Canal and into the Caribbean to land on the beautiful island of Puerto Rico.

I always wanted to have a book published, and becoming Ken’s caretaker gave me an opportunity to get six of my stories published. In this department, I still want more. I want to be published by a larger publishing house. Now my affirmation goes something like, “I will be a well-known author.” I think about this everyday. What I haven’t done is put it in writing. Funny, huh? You’d think this would be the first thing a writer would do, right?

Because I do believe in the power of words and thought, I’m very cautious about what I say. Do I want big royalty checks and all the hoopla that goes with them? I’m sure I’d like the money, but I know I will never sell my soul to get it. Life is too short. So I hesitate.

As I ponder this great question of fame and whether I want it or not, I have fallen into a deep drought of ideas for my next story. Inspiration has alluded me, and all of you are probably nauseous that I would bring up the “block” again. It frustrated me I haven’t been able to even start a short story. . . or for that matter to stay loyal to my blog. So those of you who take the time to read this post, I thank you for putting up with me. I truly hope that you manifest what you want in your life. Remember, it only takes a moment to put your dreams in writing and watch them come true.

Perhaps my vacation in a couple of weeks will do the trick. That’s right. The pieces fell into place so Ken has the best care and all precautions for his safety have been covered while I get away to Florida for four days. Now, if I could only control the weather . . .

The Writing Drought

After I finish a novel, (I’m using the term “finish” very loosely.) I have a writing drought. I fall into the bad habit of thinking about what to write next and then do nothing about it. Before I know it, the idea has vanished, and I’m drier than before I had the thought.

When times like this occur, I turn to something else creative. This weekend I dragged out my jewelry making supplies and put together a few more necklaces and matching earrings for a show on Sunday afternoon with a few friends. Sometimes stringing beads in lively combinations loosens the cobwebs for more serious tasks–like writing, but unfortunately, no inspiration cometh.

April 14 003

Then it’s time to try my other passion, painting. I do so love smearing pigment on a canvas, even though I have no clue technically what I’m doing. My dear friend Marie who is a very accomplished watercolor painter, has told me, “Now that you’ve had a great deal of  fun, don’t you think it’s time to start learning what you’re doing wrong?”

April 14 004

My answer was “no.” Not yet. I enjoy doing what I’m doing. When I learn what goes into a good painting, I will look for that purpose instead of just creating. When I started taking singing lessons to polish the edges off my voice, I never heard a soloist the same any longer, and I must say, I even lost a bit of joy in my own performances. Besides, I have no allusions about selling my paintings. I fill up the basement with canvas’ that are not so okay and many of the others cover the walls in my home. (even the bathroom).

April 14 005

My worst fault is being prolific. No matter what I chose to do, I do a lot of it. Being prolific is a blessing and a curse. It’s a double-edged sword. It’s also satisfaction.

So far, my tactics to inspire myself have failed; the writing drought still exists. The kernel of the next novel is planted, but so far, no germination. I am struggling with where to start. I’ve even tried writing pieces that aren’t the beginning to save for later. This sucks.

I guess I’ll have to haul out the writer’s block bible — of which I have a few — and see if there are any more clever ideas to climb out of the trenches into the writing no man’s land.

If you have ideas for me, jot me a line. After all, with over 1300 followers, I’m sure each of you has a strategy for times like this. No?

Cold Weather Strategies

With temperatures in Chicago colder than Siberia, and temperatures where I live even colder than that, Ken and I are hunkered down with 60% of the rest of the country. We all have our own strategy to keep warm.

Vinnie, my shy cat, has parked his fat little body in front of the heating vent as a constant stream of warm air emits from the furnace.scan0001

Ernie is dressed in his sweater, perched in his favorite spot on the back of the couch, keeping a watchful eye on everything going on outside our window. I think he actually felt sorry for the mailman this morning because he neglected to bark as poor Travis dropped the mailbox.

Christmas Party 015

Ken and I are still in our flannel pajamas, wrapped in a fleece bathrobes, under an electric blanket, while we both type away on our laptop. He’s been working on his word search puzzles, while I’ve drafted three new chapters for my novel. That in itself warms my heart. Writer’s block has miraculously left me and my mind is once again communing with my characters again. It’s a good day.

But as I stay toasty, I pray for others who are not as fortunate to have a warm place to wait out this arctic cold snap. With temperatures at fifteen degrees below zero and wind chills between thirty and forty degrees below zero, the weather has been the headline story for the lower 48 states. In fact, last night anchor people spoke about “warming places” that have been established, so people can get out of the dangerous cold. At these places, people can also get hats, gloves, mittens, sweaters, and other warm clothes, as well as something warm to drink. In the background of the location, I could see small children with their parents trying to stay warm, and this image made me sad.

It’s my opinion people shouldn’t be homeless in a country of such wealth, but then, I’m a bleeding heart liberal who thinks human rights and dignity are more important than developing more and more weapons that can obliterate a population. I think taking care of our citizens should be a priority, not an obligation . . . Silly me.

So stay safe if you’re lucky enough to have a nice warm home as Mother Nature does her worst. Remember those indoor projects you never have time to complete? Now’s the time to get them done.

If you’re lucky to be in a warmer place, count your blessings. We northerners will pray for you in the summertime. Promise.

 

An Impending Interview

interview_in_progressI had a big surprise this morning. Greg Berg from the local public radio station called and requested an interview to talk about my novels! I’m always excited to talk about my writing, but to have a public forum like this is very special. Right now I’m basking in the afterglow and saying my thanks to the writing gods.

We’ll record the interview over the phone next Monday morning. The radio program is on the air early in the morning–I think he said his show is aired from eight to nine o’clock in the morning. He asked me whether I had anything going at that time, and I replied, “Other than sleeping, not a thing.” That got a laugh. Little did he know I was telling the truth. This retirement gig has its perks.

So, next Monday I will be talking about all my “girls” and their men who go through World War II like no other generation. As I continue to research and write about this time period, I am always awed by the way a divided America came together overnight after the Japanese attack. People assumed roles they never would have in any other circumstances as they all faced an uncertain future.

We also talked about the fact I teach at the college where the program is broadcast. I made the comment teaching basic writing and grammar has made me a better writer because I’m conscious of the building blocks of our language.

Perhaps this interview will also spur me on to get back to writing my latest project about. Lately I’ve lost my drive to write everyday and crank out at least a chapter a day. The carpal tunnel really derailed my efforts, but then the malady became an excuse. And the excuse became a bad habit.

After the Thanksgiving festivities, and as I stay out of the craziness on Black Friday, I will once again get back to work. Now that my intention is in writing, I WILL get back on the writing track. Carpal tunnel be damned!

Lost in a Sea of Words

writingA professional must go to work whether he or she wants to or not–this simple fact separates amateurs from the real deal. When I graduated from college, I pursued a professional writing career, which has taken me through twenty years of freelance and staff work. I’ve written technical copy, ad copy, brochure writing, newsletter writing, training materials, web copy, etc. I was a kind of jack of all trades kind of writer to keep employed.

Now I’m retired and I’m still writing. My writing nowadays is either reflexive pieces or storytelling through novels and short stories, which is a lot more fun than writing about farm equipment or sensors or switches, but the pay is not as lucrative.

Writing always offers a challenge no matter what kind of writing is involved. I think that is why I like it so much. The only time I don’t like the task is when I’m too tired, too discouraged, or too frustrated because I feel like I have nothing to say. Like right now. But I’m a professional, right? I should be able to come up with something profound, and if I keep typing it might happen. Not. Some days even professionals have an off day.

I’m mainly writing these words to let you know I’m still alive with a promise of something more entertaining next week. Part of my funk comes from recovering from criticism of another blogger chastising me for not spelling Stephen King’s name correctly in my last post (along with other not so nice comments). She took the wind out of my sails because a great deal of what she said was right. So, I’m parking my writing boat in a slip to sail another day.

Even a professional needs to take a day off once in a while to recharge her batteries for another day.

When a Funk Sets In

frustrated writerHave you ever had a time in your life when procrastination took over?

I’m in the midst of one of those times right now. It’s Dec. 11 and I still haven’t put up my Christmas tree. I’ve hauled out other decorations and spread them around the house, but I just haven’t been able to move myself to decorate the tree this year.

I told myself over the weekend, that the cold, rainy day would be perfect for getting the tree up, but I watched football games instead. After yesterday’s post, I’m sure that all of you are quite surprised by this news–seeing I made myself out to be “Mrs. Christmas Tree.”

Well, it’s not just the Christmas tree I’ve been putting off. It’s everything. I’ve failed to go to the grocery store, so the cupboards have little to offer. I still haven’t wrapped Christmas presents. Heck! I don’t even know if I have a gift for everyone. Sending out Christmas cards is completely out of the question. Even making a simple, good, meal has been a chore lately, and I LOVE to cook.

Worst yet, besides my blog, I haven’t written too much of anything for weeks. I have cranked out a short story for Sunday’s “Story Corner,” but that’s it. No work on the novel, nothing. I’ve been a slug. I hate it when I get this way.

Could all of this be a simple case of the holiday blues? I truly have nothing to be blue about. After all, last week our family rallied around us and gave us a beautiful wheelchair ramp for Ken. They also blessed us with a very generous Christmas present of cash so we’d have presents under the tree this year. I feel ashamed that I’m dragging my feet, but all I want to do is play Facebook games.

So, if you have any great ideas to help me “get off the dime,” so to speak, lay it on me. I could use a good kick in the pants.

Phoenix or Phoney?

Today I’m making a public confession. I’ve been a novel writing procrastinator. I haven’t given up writing for days, that’s not it. I faithfully write small pieces for this blog, so not to disappoint the folks who have so graciously opted to follow me. And I’ve written a few short stories and a short piece of creative non-fiction to satisfy the requirements of a grant. But as far as adding to my latest novel–Nada.

Yesterday, I got brave and I took another whack at the Stephania story, but just as I got going, I got a call from a friend to join her for lunch. Instead of saying, “Sorry, I’m working,”  before I knew it, I was out of my PJ’s and on the road for a 30-mile ride  to Milwaukee on a bright sunny day. I was happy and carefree for a couple of hours, and of course, when I got home, I didn’t resume my novel endeavors.

I’ve never felt this way about a book. This morning I may have gotten my answer to my dilemma over this problem. I read another blog about the 99.9% “Phoenix” failures–you know, those stories that drive us nuts but aren’t just “right.” I’m thinking that poor Stephania might be falling into that category.

However, I’ve never been one to cut my losses too soon, so I’ll let Stephania stick around for a while to see if she’s worthy of publishing. You see, she woke me up this morning with a new idea for what she might do next. She’s a scoundrel, though, so I hope her ploy is more than an attempt to keep her out of the Phoenix file.

Writer’s Block Cured with a Short Story

I’m having writer’s block this morning. I have no good ideas to pass on to you about writing or teaching, but yet I am compelled to write something. Maybe it’s my sore throat that is blocking my brain today. I woke up with this annoyance in my throat and my first cup of coffee has done little to soothe it. Or maybe it’s because Ken has the television on this morning. He’s watching an old episode of “Perry Mason,” and I’m a sucker for old TV, so my attention is drawn there instead of inside my head to create something fresh and new for you.

So with such a dilemma, I’m just going to pass along a short story for you today. Hope you enjoy.

Life Without Chuckie

Part I – First Grade

Copyright 2012 Barbara Celeste McCloskey

          Barbie and Chuckie were best friends. They lived side-by-side since they were babies, playing on the living room carpet whenever their moms got together for a coffee klatch. As toddlers, they built block towers that they took great joy in knocking down. When they got older, the blocks were replaced by “Lincoln Logs,” and after that Leggos. When they could go outside, they played in the sandbox and flew into the sky on the swing set in the backyard. They climbed trees, roller skated, built snowmen and ice skated together. Every Halloween they went “trick or treating” and giggled when they thought they scared the adults who handed them enough candy to last until Christmas.

Last year, Barbie and Chuckie began their school careers together. They walked through the kindergarten door hand-in-hand; she worn a pretty pink dress with the crinoline, and he wore his favorite western shirt with the pearl snaps. As best friends, they never realized that the public school would change their lives forever. Kindergarten was the first place showed them that they were very different from one another.

Oh, Chuckie knew he was a boy and Barbie a girl, but the children didn’t realize until school was in session that being one or the other gender curbed the activities of what they could do together. Chuckie couldn’t cook with Barbie in the pretend kitchen, and Barbie was banned from the dump trucks and fire engines from the boy’s toy cupboard. When they asked why, their teacher just said, “That’s just the way it is.” And because their parents said to obey the teacher, they unhappily accepted these restrictions and followed the rules.

Before they knew it, they graduated from kindergarten and were “promoted” to first grade. However, when the next school year came, the two children would face another challenge that would upset their world as they had known it.

As six year olds, they spent the summer having fun—riding bikes, climbing trees, playing in the neighborhood park, and roller skating on the cement sidewalks in front of their homes. They took swimming lessons that were sponsored by their small village and held hands as they went on their first bus ride to the pool together. But before they knew it, summer was over and it was time for first grade.

Having such a wonderful time in kindergarten, ordinarily the two would be looking forward to going to school together, but something happened that was out of their six-year-old control. Barbie’s parents decided she should go to the new “parochial” school their Catholic church built, and Chuckie would stay at the public school. Before they knew it, the fun times of summer were over and the big day was upon them.

Barbie lay awake in the pitch blackness of the early morning. Her tummy was shaking inside, and her hands were cold. Usually she liked the quiet of the darkness, but this morning she wished a fairy godmother would rescue her with a wave of a magic wand and make her grown up so she could decide where she would go to school.

She wrapped herself tightly in the patchwork quilt that her Grandma Ella had made for her sixth birthday. The snugness of her warm blankets usually made her feel better. But today, even Grandma’s blanket didn’t help. She reached for her stuffed bear, Rupert, squeezed him around his plump, plush tummy with one chubby arm, and then stuck her right thumb in her mouth. For an instant she was ashamed of succumbing to her “thumb habit.” She had given up thumb sucking the first day of kindergarten and was proud she’d been on the wagon ever since going to school last year. But this morning, she couldn’t help herself.

Barbie heard her mother’s alarm clock buzz and listened to her mother’s scuff slippers shuffle to the bathroom and then the toilet flushed. The water ran. The door squeaked open, and her mother padded down the hallway to the kitchen. Barbie heard the perking of the coffeepot, cupboard doors slamming, ceramic dishes clinking and the rustling of the waxed paper her mother used to wrap her father’s sandwiches. Finally, the latches snapped on the aluminum lunch box and her father began his morning ritual. There was more toilet flushing, water running, and teeth brushing. After he walked to the kitchen, all she could hear were muffled sounds of their hushed morning voices. Barbie clung to Rupert tighter. She heard the backdoor slam, and knew her mother would be coming for her in just a few minutes.

When her mother opened the bedroom door, Barbie squeezed her eyes shut and pretended to be sleeping. She wanted to be a “Mouseketeer” when she grew up, and she knew she was good at acting.

“Come on, sweetheart,” her mother said in a too sweet voice. “It’s time for our first day of school. Rise and shine.”

The little girl groaned and just like her favorite little girl actress, Shirley Temple, she opened her brown cow-like eyes and complained, “But mommy, my tummy hurts and I just can’t go to school.” This excuse usually worked for “The Beaver” on TV, so she thought she’d try it.  And besides, it really wasn’t a lie.

Her mother gave her a doubtful “mother look” and said, “Oh really. Well let’s just see if you have a temperature.”
Barbie realized that unless she had a temperature of about 108 degrees and could blow up the mercury in the thermometer like the Bugs Bunny cartoons, she’d be going off to the new school, probably with a smack on the butt for making up stories. So, she dragged herself out from the covers and shuffled to the bathroom.

All her mother said was, “Good, you’re up.”

 

 

Chuckie knocked on the door at 7:45 a.m. dressed in his favorite Roy Roger cowboy shirt and new corduroy pants that made a whooshing sound as he walked. Barbie’s mother let him in, and he smiled at the sulking girl sitting at the kitchen table.

“Ready for the big day?” he grinned. They had been talking about going to different schools since her July birthday, and he was doing everything to make their separation sound like a great adventure that they could talk about when class was over.

She stuck out her tongue at him while she played with her cereal.

“Hey, that uniform dress isn’t as ugly as you said.” Chuckie said as he sat down at the table.

Barbie gave him a look that said, “Shut up, stupid,” and continued to stare into the bowl of Sugar Pops that tasted better than candy.  Then she spoke, “You probably wouldn’t think it was great if it was all you can wear for the rest of your life.”

“Oh come on—don’t be so crabby. You’re just scared.” He reached over and patted her shoulder. Then he grabbed a bunch of green grapes off of the fruit bowl on the table without asking first. Barbie’s mom gave him a disapproving look.

“Oh sorry, Mrs. “C.” Do you mind if I have some grapes?”

“No, Chuckie—you go right ahead.”

Barbie grabbed her new school bag and bagged lunch, kissed her mother and sighed. She looked at Chuckie, “It’s time to go.” He said “Okay” and the two of them walked down the sidewalk toward the highway. They walked two blocks in silence before Chuckie said, “As I see it, schools are schools. The teacher will tell you what to do, you do it and you’ll be just fine. My big brother Ronnie said that now that we’re big kids, we’ll get to go out for recess a couple of times a day.”

That brought a smile to her face. Why am I cross with Chuckie? After all, it wasn’t his fault I’m Catholic. “You’re the best pal, Chuckie. I just wish I was coming with you.”

“I know.” He grabbed her hand. “Don’t be afraid.”

When they got to the chain-linked fence that surrounded the public school, Chuckie opened the gate and walked into the playground that surrounded the school. Barbie had to cross the highway at the crossing guard station. Chuckie watched her as she waited for the crossing guard to blow his whistle, put his hand up to stop the cars and then motion for the children to cross safely to the other side.

Chuckie yelled, “Don’t be afraid, Barbie. Just remember that you used to be scared of climbing trees and roller skating and playing hockey and . . .” She kept walking afraid that he’d see the tears going down her face.

As the little girl walked toward the big white brick building, she was torn in two. Part of her wanted the comfort of the familiar surroundings of the public school and to be with Chuckie, but the other part of her—her explorer part—wanted to see what the pretty new building had to offer. Her mother drove past the place last week and told her what door she would go in, but Barbie pouted and pretended not to be interested. Now, deep inside she wanted to know what on the other side of the huge glass doors.

She pushed open the door and walked down a long hallway of tiled in black and white squares. On each side of the hallway there were tall green metal doors with silver handles. Eight doors opened along the hallway; each room had straight rows of wooden desks. Barbie looked for the door with a Number One on it. Even though the hallway wasn’t yellow, she felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, wishing this “road” would take her home. But this wasn’t make-believe, this was school.

When she found the first grade classroom, she anticipated to find a pretty young teacher like Miss Huck sitting at the desk. Her jaw dropped when she found a person, who looked like an overgrown penguin, standing at the blackboard. The person wore a long black dress that went down to black shoes. Over the black dress, there was a long white bib that went down to the floor both in the front and the back. The dress and the bib were cinched at the waist by a thick black leather belt. The person also wore a long strand of black beads that had a four-inch silver cross on one end. A white paper box was perched on the person’s head that was covered with a black veil. The only skin visible was gnarly hands and a pudgy pink face that was framed with rimless glasses. Barbie thought the outfit would be a darn nice Halloween costume because it scared the heck out of her.

This person looked at her with a cross face, “Come in. Don’t dawdle!” She commanded. “What’s your name?”

Barbie stood stunned by the sight and sound of this odd person. She guessed it must be a lady because teachers were ladies, and it had a woman’s voice but Barbie didn’t know for sure. The person repeated, “What is your name, child? Speak when I talk to you.”

“Barbie,” she answered in a barely audible voice.

“Barbie what?” the woman was growing impatient with her. “You must speak louder child, I can hardly hear you.”

“I’m Barbie Celeste,” the child answered in a playground voice.

“There’s no need to be fresh.” The teacher said as she looked at a clipboard. “Oh here you are, Barbara Jean Celeste. You sit here.” She walked to the first desk in the second row. Her cousin Jimmy was already sitting in the seat behind her. His eyes were wide and his usual smile wasn’t on his face. He was as scared as she was.

As soon as all the children were in their desks, the strange person said, “Good morning, class. My name is Sister Esther.” She didn’t smile. “The desk you are sitting in now is where you will sit the entire time you’re in the first grade. Your desks are arranged in alphabetical order, so I can learn your names quickly.”

The nun looked at Barbie, “Some of you I will remember right away.” She turned to the rest of the class and smiled, “And some of you will take me a bit more time.” She took a drink from a glass of water that sat on her desk and cleared her throat before she continued. “We have rules in first grade and you WILL obey all of them. Tomorrow when you come to class, sit in your desks immediately. You are not to speak unless I ask you a question. When you answer me, you are to stand beside your desk and answer the question. You will address me as, “Sister, not teacher.”

As the cross nun laid down the rules, she moved between the rows like a drill sergeant, assessing new recruits on the first day of boot camp. “I expect you all to obey and we won’t have any problems. First grade is harder than Kindergarten. We will be learning how to read and write the alphabet. We’ll also learn how to write all of the numbers and add and subtract them. In first grade, we call this arithmetic. There will be no fooling around in class. The only time you will have to play is when we go outside for recess. And when I ring the bell, you will run to get in line to come back into the building.” She took a breath and Barbie put her head down on her desk. Oh Dear, Jesus, this is worse than I thought. I wanna go home! I don’t like this. Why can’t I be with Chuckie? Why do I have to be Catholic? I bet Chuckie’s teacher isn’t like this penguin!

            Sister Esther went to the front of the room and frowned. Barbie thought she must really hate being a teacher. Miss Huck never frowned in kindergarten. Then the nun said, “Class, open your desks and take out your reader.” She held up a book with a boy and girl’s picture on the cover. “Open it to page one.”

The thirty children in the class obediently opened the book. Barbie wondered what she’d find inside. She didn’t like her new school nor her new teacher, but maybe she could find a place for herself in her new storybook. At that instant, Sister Esther read, “See Dick run. She Jane run. Run, run, run.” Barbie slunk behind her “reader” and groaned. Wait till Chuckie hears about this. He’ll never believe it!

Barbie and Chuckie’s schools dismissal time was the same, so he waited for her at the crossing guard’s corner.

“So, how’d it go?” He said with a big smile.

“You’ll never believe it. My teacher’s a big penguin! And a mean one, too. And we got this dumb book where all the people just run, run, run. We have to be quiet all the time. Jimmy got put in the corner because he talked, and she yelled at me for sneezing! For Pete’s sake, Chuckie, I have to get out of this place!”

“Oh, Barbie. You’re such a kidder.”

“No, Chuckie, I’m serious. I’m telling the truth!”

“Come on.” Chuckie took her hand and they started to walk home.

Barbie continued her protest. “I’m not lying, Chuckie. Good ol’ Sister—that’s what we have to call her, not even teacher.”

“Sister? That’s funny.” Chuckie was sure Barbie had to be making this up.

“And good ol’ Sister Esther thinks she’s the greatest violin player. And I tell you that she’s awful. I bet the violin doesn’t even want her to pick it up. She got the squeakiest sounds out of that thing. It hurt my ears!”

Chuckie laughed.

Barbie punched him in the arm. “It’s not funny.”

Chuckie said, “Ow! Just because you don’t like your teacher, you don’t have to be mean.”

“I’m sorry. I just hate this school. She even yelled at me for singing too loud.”

“But you’re a good singer. I like it when you sing. She really yelled at you?”

“Yeah.”

“You need to come to school with me. We’ve got extra desks in our classroom.”

Barbie shook her head. “My Mom won’t give in. She’ll say, ‘It will be better tomorrow. You just miss Chuckie.’”

“Yeah, you’re probably right.” Chuckie said. “We need more time to convince your parents. I’ll save you a seat.”

“Thanks. You’re such a good friend, Chuckie.” Barbie smiled and they skipped the rest of the way home.

Routines and Writing – What’s it all about?

Every morning I follow a routine. I wake, let little Ernie outside for his morning “whittle,” feed Vinny his wet food, make coffee, take my morning medication, pour a morning cup of hot coffee and then settle down with my computer on my lap.

When the computer is “booted-up,” I follow another routine of collecting my free chips for the Facebook casino game I enjoy, check my email accounts, and finally I settle down for a morning of writing. I think the hardest thing I do everyday is come up with an idea for my blog. Anybody else have this problem?

I rejoice when I actually have an idea before I start writing, but those cases are so rare, it’s not worth talking about. So, by trial and by error, I slug it out and search my brain for an actual topic. When I really get stymied, I go and look at other blogs for inspiration, but most of the time the topic comes by just writing. Getting my fingers on the keys, pounding out familiar strokes, and seeing the words appear on the screen — at this point– ANY words will do. When I have SOMETHING down, at least I can work with it or DELETE it and try again. I’ve broken the ice. Whatever I’ve written  proved to me that there is something in my head I can discuss.

In my writing class, I call this stage of the game “FREE-WRITING.” My students call it a waste of time. My novices are not convinced that a writer must limber up like a toned athlete.  Sometimes I think they believe that ballpoint pens are magic wands, producing the necessary word count without effort. What they don’t understand is important things happen during this warm-up stage. They don’t connect THINKING with writing. (Heaven forbid!) For them, writing is a necessary evil they must endure to complete their desired programs; after all, why does a hair stylist or a welder need to know how to write?

My reality is I will convince one or two of them that writing is fun. I’ll convince another few that writing is something they must conquer to be viable in the world. And the rest will not change their minds about anything I try to teach them about the joys of writing. It’s the way of the world. I just wish I was more powerful to change it.