Tag: 2019 December Group Writing

Memories of 2019


I’ve gone through a little exercise, the past several New Year’s Eves, to try to sum up the year that’s passing in twelve words, one for each month. Herewith, my roundup for 2019: Softness, Family, Broken, Celebration, Construction, Sickness, Renovation, Compromise, Stabilization, Justice, Insurance, Acceptance.

In no particular order: Item: Two dear friends with life-threatening illnesses, both diagnosed in the same month. Both my age. Scary. Item–A lovely new sunroom on the Southside of the house (some days, when it’s in the 20s outside, it’s in the 80s in the sunroom. There’s a stand of trees in front of it, and when they’re in full leaf, rather than bare as they are now, it’s shaded in the summer. Item: Some beautiful soft and fluffy snows in January, but other than that, not much of a winter. Item: A bit too much involvement with the criminal justice system, across a couple of months, but ultimately the best outcome we could have hoped for in the trial of my stepson’s murderers. Item: Family celebrations, holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and love. Another year older, and signed up for Medicare. At least my monthly health insurance premium went down.

Item: A few relationship difficulties, and the eventual resolution and coming to terms with them. Item–A gradual settling and stabilizing of the house, following the undermining, and after a year, the feeling that it might be “safe” to start to remediate some of the problems. So far, so good, and I have an opening front door again! Item–A monumental, weeks-long, blow-up with Mr. She’s Medicare Advantage insurer, who canceled his coverage because they said we hadn’t paid the bill. (Big mistake. Huge.) The week after I got a letter from the office of the Highmark CEO, acknowledging their error, and making all sorts of prayerful amends, I switched Mr. She’s insurance over to UPMC and canceled Highmark. A petty, but sweet, revenge. Item: the completion of bits of drywalling and painting that I’ve been waiting for, for 34 years, upstairs; and the finishing of the stairwell, including the framing in and “prettifying” of the electrical panel. Unfortunately, at the same time, the guy who was putting a new deck on the back of the house (see “remediation of subsidence problems,” above) ruptured a tendon in his finger, so that project is on indefinite hiatus. Still, I am beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel, and starting to conceive of the possibility that the house may be finished before I am carried out of it feet first. This is a new feeling, and I like it.

Memories: Books, Books, Books


As a solitary child, books were my best friends. I loved their friendship because they were quiet, fascinating, non-judgmental, and, as companions, they were always available. So I decided to honor my memories of my childhood books.

Money was tight in our household, so except for a tiny allowance, I rarely asked for spending money. To keep my reading habit alive, my mother would take us weekly to the Garden Grove Library, in those days a tiny building with a charming children’s book section. We were allowed to check out seven books at a time, which I easily finished before the week was out. At the library, I discovered that many books were written in series. Thus, I began my love affair with L. Frank Baum’s Oz books (which I wrote about here a couple of years ago). As an adult, I have only a fragmented recollection of the stories (although I remember many of the characters); instead, I loved the artist of many of the later books, John R. Neill, and have a small collection of those books.

I was a huge fan of books that ran in series, because launching into each book was like continuing on a delightful journey, especially those that were mystery stories: The Happy Hollisters and Nancy Drew mysteries. I adored fairy tales, too, like Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I didn’t realize how popular several of the Grimm brothers’ stories were until I discovered in my research that they wrote Rapunzel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Rumpelstilskin, and Snow White.

Memories: The Workbench


Had a couple of dreams last night. They were the first dreams of or about my father that I’ve had since he died in June. One of them was about his workbench. In the dream, the workbench was different than it was in real life, and of course, there were strange bits of non-history in the dream. That’s just how dreams flow.

When my parents were young and struggling, before I was even born, my father built a couch. It was much cheaper than buying one, and it served their needs for several years. It was a fairly simple affair. It had an L-shaped base made from something that looked like a couple of old solid-wood doors joined together with legs that were perhaps eight inches to a foot high placed around it. That made a flat base. Then there were two large, flat cushions with a sort of plastic cover on the base and two longer wedge-profile cushions that made up the back of the couch. That was it. I wish I could describe the cushion covers better. On the exposed sides, they were a sort of mottled red. On the other sides, it was similarly mottled gray trying to be white or silver. It was the early 1960s and, for a young couple with little boys, it was serviceable.

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White Elephants welcome. Ugly teapots and clay objects of uncertain type encouraged! Really, you want to get in on the December theme, Memories, before your frazzled host does another one of his posts about bears, outhouses, or disco. Hey, wait a minute…I’m sure there is an entire catalog of disco “holiday” albums and worse! Maybe […]

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Memories of Christmas 1956: Pictures of Perfection


The film is dark and grainy, and the room is poorly lit. None of the cast is wearing the proper sort of clothes or makeup. And all of them, particularly the father of the little moppet with the starring role, are bursting with their pride in the first member of a new generation in the family. It’s the iconic Christmas of my childhood, my first real memory, one I have been able to call up at a moment’s notice all my life, but which lived only in my heart and in my mind for almost 50 years. Until, that is, a most unexpected gift from Dad gave it back to me “for realz,” as the children say.

Granny and Grandpa’s. 104 Church Lane, Handsworth Wood, Birmingham 20, England, UK. Northern 4749, if you wanted to phone and have a conversation. (This entailed going under the stairs where the telephone was located, and hiding yourself away for the duration, almost as if there was something a bit untoward–nay, rude even–about standing there talking into the air, as if to someone who was actually in the room with you, but, really, wasn’t.)

The old air-raid shelter under the living-room floor, where my mother and Uncle John used to lie awake at night and listen to the bombs raining down around them. The kitchen, with its tiny gas stove and old stone sink, and its attached pantry, which usually had a cake of some sort front and center in it. The cereal box (All-Bran), emptied of its original contents, and kept on the old teak draining board, where Granny used to stuff the tinfoil lids from the milk bottles, and then, when it was full, send them off “to the seeing-eye dogs.” (I never could understand how covering up the eyes of “seeing-eye dogs” with gold and silver tinfoil disks [for that was how I imagined them being used], was at all helpful. It was decades before I “twigged” and realized that it was actually a recycling project.)

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Unlike most unsolicited, intrusive online messages that pop up or appear in e-mail to remind me of some tepid offer when I simply want to be left alone to use a service, I enjoy the Facebook memory feature. It will say something like “7 years ago today,” and then bring up an old post or picture. […]

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The Dead Will Be Remembered


He woke up wondering whose dream he had dreamed of. Whose memory was the dream based on? And as he wondered every morning, who was he who dreamed the dreams of others?

In the last dream of the night, he had lived in India in a small town, larger than a village, but not one of the great cities. The details came back to him: his name in the dream, where he had lived, what he had done. He had been an educated man and knew geography, being able to point to his town on a map.

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The Christmas season is very much a season of joy and a celebration of the advent of Jesus the Messiah here in von Aue household, even more so in my generation of the family than it was when I was a child. My father’s atheism put a damper back then on the reminders of the […]

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During the 1980s and 90s I worked as an environmental lawyer in a large company. While occasionally participating in prepping witnesses for trial or deposition testimony it was my own experience as a witness that has made me more hesitant to accuse someone of lying, particularly when it comes to remembering past events, even those […]

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Group Writing: Uniquely Human Memories


Here dead lie we because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
But young men think it is, and we were young.
A.E. Houseman

I think of Alfred Edward Houseman (1859-1936) as my “hometown” poet, because he was born in Bromsgrove, only a few miles from my family home in Worcestershire, England. Many of his best-known poems contain evocative thumbnail sketches of the natural beauty and landmarks of his birthplace and the surrounding area. He attended King Edward’s School in Birmingham, as, (I like to point out in my ceaseless search for reflected glory), did JRR Tolkien, my Uncle Arthur, and Mark Steyn, among dozens of other luminaries you’ve heard of and haven’t, and he went on to study classics at Oxford. While there, and over the course of his subsequent professorial career, he gained a reputation as a diligent scholar, a stickler for detail, a misogynist, and a bit of a curmudgeon, once saying, “Knowledge is good, method is good, but one thing beyond all others is necessary; and that is to have a head, not a pumpkin, on your shoulders, and brains, not pudding, in your head.” (Worthy. Wish I’d written that.)

His best-known poems form the cycle, A Shropshire Lad. (Shropshire is one of the counties adjacent to Worcestershire.) Shropshire’s county town is Shrewsbury, as fans of Ellis Peters and Brother Cadfael will know. And, not far down the road from Shrewsbury is Ludlow, of which Houseman wrote:

A Memorable Interview


In the days following Christmas in 2000, I traveled from Montana to California to visit my older sister, who was dying from cancer.

Carol was no longer eating solid food; she had a bag that fed mocha-colored goo into her stomach. Oh, every once in awhile her longing to taste something would overcome her, and she’d eat something, all the while knowing that the consequences would be unpleasant. But her life was circumscribed to a recliner; her life closed in; her passing, imminent. Yet she was still her cheerful, almost ebullient self. We ran through some chitchat, catching up on our families and their activities. That took about an hour.

100 Years, 3 Wars, 409 Combat Missions: Living Memory


On Friday, 6 December, Col. Charles McGee went flying for his 100th birthday. He actually flew the aircraft, with a copilot, and walked on and off the aircraft firm of voice and stride. Colonel McGee started flying in World War II, then stayed in the cockpit for the next thirty years, seeing combat in both Korea and Vietnam. He holds the US Air Force record, to this day, of 409 combat missions. As we commemorate the 75th anniversaries of D-Day at Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge this year, we note the number of World War II veterans rapidly falling to the far end of the actuarial tables. Accordingly, each one who remains with us, still of firm mind and voice, becomes more of a treasure.

Group Writing: So, How Old Is That in Dog Years, Again?


This is an update of a post I wrote exactly three years ago, when the answer to the question posed in the title was a mere “42.” I hope my long-time friends will forgive my shortcut here, and that my new friends will find it interesting. I celebrate the memories of all kinds that have formed our Ricochet lives, from the ageless @midge (even older than I am) and infants like @joecombs23 (joined Thursday), to absent friends and loved ones, those who, for one reason or another, are no longer part of the site. Here’s to us all.

Today, December 12, 2019, I’m celebrating my ninth Ricoversary. In dog years, I’m 63, which isn’t exactly my age in human terms, but it’s close enough for government work. Nine years ago today, I squared my shoulders, girded my loins and, for the first, but far from the last, time in my life went to war with the Ricochet subscription and billing apparatus, and its very determined ideas about auto-renewal and subscription status, and I signed up for my first month as a member. There were no levels. No Coolidge, Thatcher, or Reagan. Just a monthly fee, which the site told you far more often than you cared to know, was tied to the cost of a Starbucks latte.

The price of admission at the time included three benefits that I couldn’t get by just visiting the public site: one had to do with the podcasts (I’ve never been an avid consumer of the podcasts, so I can’t speak to them with any detail, but I believe that for some time most of them were behind the member paywall); a second granted me the ability to comment on posts; and the third allowed me to actually create my own posts and publish them on the member feed.

Memories: Trekking the Himalayas


As a child, I wasn’t much interested in taking risks, especially physical risks. I never climbed mountains, shot a gun, raced a car, or jumped off roofs. Those activities were for crazy people. I much preferred playing it safe, protecting my physical well-being as a matter of course. I looked both ways when I crossed the street, probably at a very early age, and have no scars from touching a hot stove. I’ve never broken a bone or even sprained an ankle.

But at the age of 54 and 50, respectively, my husband and I decided to go on a trek in Nepal. I was thrilled and terrified about the thought of sudden winter storms, washed-out bridges, freezing cold, falling into an “eastern toilet,” dysentery, and other maladies that could show up on such an adventurous (and dangerous) trip. With my husband’s encouragement, I decided that if we prepared well, we’d be fine.

We bought good hiking boots and for two months prior to the trek, took long uphill walks. We were already in pretty good physical condition from working out regularly. I read about the Nepalese culture. We signed up with a Sierra Club trip (where we had to become members and then promptly left the organization on returning home) and had a skilled guide. We had to carry 20-lb. backpacks, but the porters carried everything else. (We were instructed to limit our duffel bags to 40 pounds, and we did.) The weather was cold but we had no snow, and we had plenty of warm clothes and sleeping bags. We had to cross over a rushing stream by way of a log, leap over a breach where a bridge was gone, and wade through a freezing cold stream. (Okay, at 110 pounds, I was carried over by one of the Sherpas.) And the only one who got sick was my husband who ended up with pneumonia and had to walk 15 miles the last day of the trek. He toughed it out with flying colors.

Memories: The Restroom Reader


I told Mrs R that if she hadn’t shredded all of our canceled checks and credit card statements, that I’d be able to use them to put dates on some family travels and photos. It would also help me complete a detailed timeline of family history.

The canceled checks are all gone, but a couple of weeks ago she found a stash of credit card statements from the late ’80s that somehow hadn’t been tossed. Those are some of the very years that I wish I remembered better. We had children at home, so those should have been the best years of our lives. Some events stand out, but too much of it went by in a blur.

A Day That Will Live in Infamy?



This is from the first typed draft of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s address to Congress on December 8, 1941.* The day before, Imperial Japan had launched a devastating massive air raid with the aim of crippling the US Pacific Fleet. It failed in its objective only because the lower status ships, the carriers, were out on maneuvers while the American national security establishment’s consensus opinion highest status ships (battleships) were floating at anchor.

In a single morning, the expert consensus was shown to be disastrously wrong, and in the sinking of these actually obsolete platforms, the Navy was left with no choice but to turn to admirals who would fight a carrier-centric war. We won. Notice that the wording in the speech was most strengthened by FDR’s change from “world history” to “infamy.”

Memories: A Moment


It may have been a grey December day like this one, but I don’t remember. It must have been cold because I was wearing my bright red scarf. Did I buy the scarf or was it a gift? I don’t remember. I may have chosen it, although I generally avoid wearing red. It had a luxurious softness that I do remember because on an otherwise unmemorable day, I wore it to visit my grandmother.

She was sitting alone in her room. I remember that she didn’t say hello. She didn’t say anything at all. She didn’t smile, and she didn’t rise to greet me. When I leaned over to hug her, she felt my scarf. She stroked my scarf like an intrigued infant with a new, soft toy that she did not want to give back. Its gentle texture and pleasing bright color held her attention. Or was it that she was trying to acknowledge me?

Memories: The Red Jacket


My dad was born on December 5, 1920. Dad loved wearing red; shirts, sweaters, pants, hats, and for the last decade or so of his life, a bright red windbreaker jacket. Me, not so much. In fact, I have always disliked wearing red. The closest I’d come was my blue Boston Red Sox cap with its red B.

Shortly after dad passed in 2014, my sister and I got together to go through his things. When we came across the red windbreaker I impulsively told her, “I’ll take it.” It was the only piece of his clothing I kept.