Tag Archives: story and character

for my son, whose middle name is Edward……

I wrote this in 2008, and I think it wears well. One more time……

I called an old soldier for Memorial Day. Elgin, I said, how are you? Karleen, he replied, it’s so good to hear from you.

Tell me about the war, I said. Oh, baby, he answered, I don’t like to talk about that. War is ugly, you know. And so we talked about his vegetables. In his mid-80s, hale and hearty, he’d just come in from the garden, which is full of squash and zucchini and tomatoes and onions and bell peppers.

He was stationed in the Philippines for two years during World War II. Old sepia-colored photographs show a lean, slouching, hawk-faced young man standing with a rifle slung over a shoulder near a pile of dead Japanese. A recent PBS documentary reminded that the battle for the Philippines was hard fought, often hand to hand, against a formidable and determined enemy who almost beat us.

I asked about Edward, his brother-in-law, whose old high-school, senior-year portrait, gently watercolored as was the style in those days, I have on my altar. Edward is handsome and young and smiling, seventeen, I think, in the portrait. He wears a suit and tie. His hair is neatly parted on one side. He, too, had been in the Philippines, but he was part of the three-month Battle of Bataan, which was lost. And he walked the long, hard, harsh, killing miles of the Bataan Death March, prosecuted as a war crime after the war ended. He survived and was on a unmarked prison ship on its way to Japan, when it was bombed by American forces. So he survived combat and a death march to die at sea. I think he was eighteen when he died. The baby of the family.

The news came to a little town in East Texas called Troup. His mother lost her sanity for a time when the news came, and when she recovered she was never the same. That’s family legend anyway. Edward was my son’s great uncle. And Elgin is his grandfather.

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apples

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? Who didn’t see Disney’s evil queen ask that question? Who didn’t fret over the fate of innocent beauty Snow White? Well, there are several new movies out, playing with a new look for both Snow and the Evil Q., but what doesn’t change is fading beauty and how a woman deals with that, and how society feels about beautiful women, especially if they’re powerful and aging. Our local paper ran a story about such, and it made me wonder…..does a fading beauty always have to envy a newer one? Why do some of us hang on to beauty to the point of turning ourselves into grotesque caricatures? It is hard to face the loss of youthful beauty. We women are all more lovely than we realize. But we can’t know it or feel it with the barrage of how we should look always before us. I didn’t realize the power of beauty until it was changing. I didn’t realize how much I’d depended on it. I didn’t realize that almost any interaction with a man began, for me, with unconsciously determining whether he found me attractive. There’s a power that comes with being attractive.

That’s gone for me. I’ve mourned it, but I really don’t miss it. I like the independence I feel inside. I like facing the fact of my aging, accepting it. I don’t mind the beauty of younger women, and I know the beauty of older women. When you’re older, it’s what you do, how you interact with others, that is the measure of beauty. That’s a better measure than the angles of one’s face and hips, a more sacred, difficult one….one to aspire to.

And we sure don’t need no stinkin’ apples. They always get us into trouble………….

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follow me

 Secret place of the most high….words from the poetry that is often the language of the King James Bible….

I found one when I went out walking with my youngest grandson on a recent Houston spring night. Lovely, soft weather, a just past half-full moon visible in the not quite twilight sky. He alert and ready in his stroller. Shall we look for acorns (one of our pasttimes)? I ask him, and he says his soft ok that makes me smile. (He’s a few months over 2 years on the calendar but so much wiser. He’s my guide for accessing the lost child in me.) But there are no acorns.

Now we walk with him out of the stroller. He’s good about holding on to the stroller when we cross the streets. For a while, he holds on even when he doesn’t have to, and this small act of obedience always touches me. I always urge him to let go, tell him he doesn’t have to hold on when we’re not crossing the street. There’s something in me moved by his obedience but wanting him to spread his little wings.

We pass a fire hydrant, and I tell him that’s where the firetrucks get water. His father has purchased a firetruck video, and this grandson, as did my older grandson, will sit riveted to watch it from beginning to end.  He talks to the hydrant and touches small chains attached to it. I realize he is creating a huge story in his mind, that in his mind actual trucks are coming to the hydrant or something like that. After a time, I get impatient, tell him to come on, walk a distance away. He stays by the hydrant, talking, talking and playing with the chains. When I give up and walk back, he says, stay, Nana, and I obey.

I teach a class about the novel, about writing. You can’t teach writing, but you can facilitate it, and you can offer some obvious ingredients needed to make a story. I know that the students want a recipe, fixed and easy for fiction, and there isn’t one. You have to have the imagination of this small boy, who is making up and acting out some amazing story in his mind inspired by a fire hydrant.

I wait at the edge of night, the moon rising higher, for his story to end. When it does, he’s tired, ready to be tucked into the stroller. Where’s the moon? he asks me. There, I answer and show him.  Moon follow me, he says.

May it always, I think, and send grandmother blessings his way and think about how lucky I am as we walk home in the enfolding dark…..I’ve been in the secret place of the most high, and it was beautiful…..

What’s your secret place? What are your treasures?