Monday, March 28, 2011

Odd Girl Out

For this week's RemembeRED prompt, we're asking you to remember kindergarten. If, after thinking about it for a while, you can't recall anything, move on to first grade.

Mine your memories and write about the earliest grade you can recall. What was special? What was ordinary? What did you feel? Hear? See? Smell?
I am the baby of the family and like all youngest chilren, I wanted to do all the things that my siblings were doing. The idea of going to school like my brothers and sister thrilled me. I thought school was going to be the coolest thing since round wheels were invented.

My sister, seven years older, had been playing "school" with me forever. I thought school would be like that: where I was the center of attention (a rare treat for the youngest in a big family), and where everything was fun and I would spend time on things I liked doing.

It was 1969. My sister would be going to junior high that year, my brothers would be in middle school and I...I would be starting kindergarten! I was so excited. I dreamed of notebooks and pencils and a lunchbox of my very own. Mom loaded us up in the Oldsmobile and off we went to register for school.

Mom saved me for last. At the time, I thought that made my registration the most special. I have since realized that she made a loop and my school was the last one before the grocery shopping trip.

While my siblings were comparing schedules and doing a "who's who" of the teachers they would have, Mom held my hand and we walked in to the elementary school office.

The first person to greet her was Mr. Hessong, the school principal. I was in awe of this important dignitary, the famous Mr. Hessong. He was short and balding; he smelled like Old Spice, wore a pinstripe, double-breasted suit and had a very kind smile. My sister liked him, but my brother thought he was a tyrant. I have since figured that out, too.

The receptionist handed Mom a big stack of papers. Is she up to date on her vaccinations? How long has she been a resident of the school district? Mom completed the forms in her neat backhand slant and we went to the next station. We walked past the restrooms, with their peculiar smell of industrial deodorizer, mingled with little-boys-who-miss and Pine-sol.

Mom and I sat at a long cafeteria table: you know the kind, with a formica top and picnic bench seats attached. A sign was taped on the end, "Kindergarten Registration", written to mimic a child's writing, even down to a backwards "K". The irony of that still cracks me up. A teacher waited for us to sit. This was the woman who turned out to be the one who would put a pin to my balloon. The dasher of dreams. My nemesis.

You would think I would remember her name, wouldn't you? She sat there in her round wire-frame glasses. Her flat, reddish hair was parted severely down the middle and a long ponytail that ended in a ratty, skinny tail of split ends. She was fairly young, but smelled like Geritol and White Shoulders. She looked at my forms, talked to my mother and then began to quiz me.

"Do you know what color this is?" she asked, holding up a pencil.
"Good. Do you know what shape this is?"
"A circle."
"Well, I would have expected you to say 'round', but I suppose that will do. Can you tie your shoes?"
"Yes, ma'am." (Mom taught us to be polite.)
"And what is this?" She held up a book.
"That's 'Little House on the Prairie'."
Dragon Lady frowned. "And this?"
"A Child's Book of Days" I was sure I was correct.

She shook her head, looked back at my paperwork and dropped a bomb. "I'm sorry. Patricia is a little bit too young to start kindergarten this year. She won't have the social skills to manage this transition yet, and since she can read, she won't feel challenged by the curriculum. She won't fit in. She will just be a disruption."

I could read, but I didn't understand what a "disruption" was. Whatever it was, it wasn't good, I could tell that much. Mom looked over at me and I was afraid I had done something wrong. Then she looked back at the Dragon Lady and over at the two books that had been my undoing. Then she levelled her green eyes on the teacher.

"Are you the kindergarten teacher?" Mom asked.

"Yes." replied Dragon Lady.

"Good. Because I don't want her in your class. She'll start first grade next year with Mrs. Vest and you can keep your kindergarten!" My Mom. The Great Defender, with a Dutch accent that made her twice as intimidating.

I cried all the way home. I had been rejected. My dreams of school were crushed. I would have to wait a whole year and that seemed like a lifetime. Dragon Lady didn't care that I was a good girl who would never have dared to be disruptive. She didn't care that I was so excited at the prospect of going to school that she would have been my hero. I was exactly the sort of child who would have come home with "teacher said this" and "teacher said that" until the whole family would want to drown me. She didn't care that, as my first teacher, she would have had an influence on my lifelong relationship with learning.

Instead, she took a short look at a skinny, timid girl and chose not to bother.

I'm sorry to say that this is only slightly fictionalized. I actually was rejected for kindergarten for those two reasons. As a kindergarten reject, I never learned to take a nap, color inside the lines, drink milk, share or cut paper in a straight line. It's been holding me back ever since.

I am not wonderfully happy with this piece. It feels clunky to me, and even after reading it a jillion times, I'm having trouble figuring out what is clunking. Ideas? Be tough, I can take it. I got over being rejected for K. I'll get over concrit, too. :-)

Always, feel free to comment! Trish in AZ

Monday, March 21, 2011


This week's Remembe(RED) writing prompt was to write about forgiveness;
forgiving someone else, yourself...forgiveness.

I thought I was good at forgiveness. When my sweet husband annoys me or inadvertently hurts my feelings, I am able to let it go quickly. I had a great childhood, but my parents were not very demonstrative or encouraging. Instead of being angry or blaming, I taught myself to look for the love in their actions, focus on that and accept it as a token of love. I certainly didn't stay mad at my children when they made childish mistakes. I even found it in my heart to forgive a brother who had really let the family down in our hour of need. I thought I was good at forgiveness.

Then one day, when I was nearly forty and looking down the barrel of Mother Nature's aging gun, I realized I suck at forgiveness. I hadn't forgiven myself for putting my dreams on hold. I still lambasted me when I looked at myself in the mirror. I hadn't made peace with my flaws or my spirituality and I didn't feel like I had progressed as a human being to the degree I should have. Should have. Could have. Would have.  But didn't.

I decided I better learn more about forgiveness and acceptance and I started with me.

I looked in the mirror. I really looked. It wasn't easy, but I looked. OK, I do have oily skin and a bumpy nose. My hair is very fine and a mousy dark blonde. But I looked beyond that and decided I have nice, large, gray eyes. My lashes are fair but they are quite long and thick. The oily skin has protected me from wrinkles, so I don't think I look as old as I am. The occasional zits contributes to that illusion of youth. I'm not skinny anymore, but neither am I overweight. Just curvy. I'm short, but at least I'm taller than I am wide. All in all, I'm no beauty but I'm pretty damn cute.

Next I examined my faith. After long introspection, I decided that I had come to a closer approximation of true faith than many avid churchgoers will ever see. The heck with them, my faith is between me and God, and we are just fine.

My dreams. Oh, my many dreams. I wanted to be an anthropologist or an archaeologist and a journalist and a Pulitzer-prize winning novelist. I wanted a home and a family. I wanted to have a ranch.

Forgiveness and reality make good bedfellows, so I revisited those dreams. I don't want to be an anthropologist. I'd chip a nail. I don't want to be a journalist because I'd have to be unbiased. I worked hard for all these opinions; I'm keeping them. I'm allergic to animals and hay, so no ranches. I already have a home and a family I cherish.  The last thing was the Pulitzer-prize winning novelist. So I sat down to write the story that had been percolating in my brain. I finished it. I had it e-published. Maybe it will become a best-selling ebook. I'm still chasing that dream.

I am still working on being a better version of myself. I want to be more patient, more creative, more tactful and more energetic. I want to learn how to make chili that won't wound anyone. I want to be better at embracing my talents, instead of feeling different and disapproved of. I want to stop ending my sentences with prepositions. 

At least, I've learned how to forgive myself for not having those attributes now, and learned how to work toward them without scolding me.

Always, feel free to comment! Trish in AZ

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mom's Belgian Endive aka Witlof

This week's prompt asked us to describe your favorite fruit or vegetable: the first time you tasted it, where it came from, where you were, what memories it brings.

My Mom was born and raised in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and came to America as a young adult. She brought with her a heritage of Dutch cooking, which seem to come in two varieties: the potatoes, cheese, onion and cabbage type of meals or, thanks to Rotterdam's importance as a shipping port, spicy Indonesian type dishes.

When Mom was in the mood for comfort food from her childhood, she would make this dish that had black-eyed peas and Indonesian spices in it. It smelled exactly like the north end of a jackass walking south and we kids all hated it. It took all day to make, so we had the whole day to dread that pot of beans. After a bean day, we were a little scared any time Mom was going to make Dutch food.

And then one day, about 30 years ago, Mom came home from the grocery store with a treasure: a food she hadn't tasted since she left Holland. Belgium Endive.  They are easier to find now, but back then they were unusual.

I looked at the white and green endives, shaped like a bullet, and thought, "Oh no. I bet these are going to be like those damn beans." I liked vegetables, but I was afraid she was going to dip them in some weird spice that grows only on trees that get pooped on by some particular monkey. Or something. I also knew better than to show any reluctance, though, because Mom would not tolerate a decision on food until we'd tasted it. So I watched.

She steamed them for about 15 minutes, and then rolled them in heavy cream, then seasoned breadcrumbs mixed with parmesan cheese. She drizzled butter over the top, sprinkled on some more of the crumb mixture and baked at 400 until they were golden brown and fragrant.

Oh. My. Heavens. They were so rich in my mouth! More flavorful than a lettuce and milder than cabbage, they had a flavor and texture all their own. The butter and parmesan belong together in the dictionary under "Perfect". Of course, you could  roll pretty much anything in breadcrumbs, cheese and butter and make it tasty, but these were divine.

Mom told us about the little green grocer where Grandma did her vegetable shopping, and the cheese market where Grandma bought cheese. She told us about how excited she was at her first trip to a supermarket, a uniquely American invention. She told us how Grandma was a "calendar cook". You could tell what day of the week it was by what was on the table. Mom is a much more creative cook.

When I can get Belgium Endive now, I almost eat myself sick on them. I love the way they taste and I love their connection to my own roots. I even love that they taught me not to jump to conclusions.

Always, feel free to comment! Trish in AZ

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Beautifully Ugly

This week's assignment is to write a short piece, either fiction or non-fiction, about something ugly - and find the beauty in it.

They were ruined. Bent and gnarled and covered with brown spots, Grandma's hands were ruined. Arthritis had eaten away at the joints, a fall had damaged her wrist, years of toil had roughened and chapped her hands until there was nothing feminine left to see in them.

Once, they were the strong and unyielding hands of a determined young woman. They were hands that had lifted her firstborn baby, dead from diphtheria, from his crib. They were hands that had scraped together meals during a starving time and then rejoiced when peace came. She had dipped her hands in a bucket of soda-ed water to scrub floors so many times that they were permanently red. As she aged, the skin had thinned so much that the slightest scratch made a gash which left a scar. 

If Grandma held her hand up to you in warning, it looked as wide as a door and twice as hard. (She never did spank me, though.) If she shook a finger at you, that crooked digit waving in the air shamed you into "behavior". 

But when she held my infant son, her first great-grandchild, her sure touch and loving, gentle tenderness made her hands beautiful again. When I was a child and she used her work-wearied hands to guide my own hands to knit a stitch, or to dredge smelts in flour, or to squeeze butter cookie dough from the cookie press, her long-fingered, reddened hands were beautiful. 

When I was a bride and she held my hand to see my wedding ring, the soft stroke of her hand on mine was filled with joy for my happiness. The beauty of her came through her touch and filled our hearts. Her patience and wisdom could be found in her teaching hands. The knowledge of a lifetime was seen in her busy hands, accomplishing her tasks. The love that she felt for all of us was easy to see in the delicate touch of her hands. 

The day came when her hands were too worn out to even hold a book. I saw her in the nursing home. I sat next to her bed she beckoned me closer. I placed my hand on her blanket and looked into her ancient face, smiling. And on my own young, hard-working hand, she laid her ragged, sore, withered and beautiful hand.

Always, feel free to comment! Trish in AZ

Saturday, March 5, 2011


 This week's writing prompt: Imagine you are meeting someone for the first time. You want to tell them about yourself. Instead of reciting a laundry list of what you do or where you're from, please give us a scene from your life that best illustrates your true self.

"Mommy!  Mommy! Come Quick!!"

My youngest son, three years old, came tearing into the kitchen at top speed. He grabbed my shirt and did his best to drag me out to the front yard. His big brother was lying on the grass looking skyward.

Thrusting his chubby finger up to the deep blue, he yelled, "LOOK! The cwouds!  They're moving!"

"Well, what do you know! They are moving!" I smiled at my excited son.

We went into the house, got a big blanket and a box of graham crackers and spent the rest of the afternoon looking at the clouds skittering across the sky. I told the boys a story about a little, puffy cloud who wanted to grow up to be a big rain cloud. And since one of Mommy's principal jobs is that of teacher, we talked about how water evaporates, rises to the sky and forms clouds only to rain and release all that moisture back to us in an endless, life-giving cycle.

Daddy came home and asked what we were doing. Still excited by his discovery, our little boy said, "Lookin' at the cwouds go!" And my sweet husband flopped his tired body down next to us. We munched on graham crackers and pointed out shapes in the clouds.  We didn't finish the dishes or turn on "Wheel of Fortune", we looked at the sky.

Maybe I should have patted him on the head, praised him for his keen observation, and gone back to the kitchen. Maybe I should have given him something to do so he wouldn't "waste time" looking at the clouds. I didn't do that. It is too important to me that my children, then and now, know that I will never dismiss their insights and ideas. The biggest gift we can give our children is a sense of being valued and respected, as well as loved

I believe in the innate power of the storyteller. People have been entertained, informed and whisked away by stories since the beginning of humanity. So I told them a story. Mommies are storytellers, and we are our children's first teachers. I wanted my children to know about things like why it rains, to show them how all things fit together in an intricate plan. I wanted them to ask that all-important question: "Why?"

Now that those two cherished boys are grown men, I see those early lessons bearing fruit. They are both intensely interested in the world around them. They are both well-balanced, confident, capable and honorable young men. They both make good decisions, because they learned long ago how to think for themselves.

My children gave me treasured gifts, too. They gave me permission to cast aside my chores for a while and look at the world through their eyes: fresh, young, innocent eyes to which all things are a revelation. They taught me that it is never a waste of time to stare in awe at some beautiful sight. They gave me a precious reminder that life is short, that we shouldn't waste those golden moments of being connected to the ones we love and our remarkable world. They taught me to slow down, to hold life with both hands and smile at the wonder of it all.

Always, feel free to comment! Trish in AZ

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Garden of My Hopes

This week's writing prompt:
Water gives life. It also takes it away. Write a short piece - fiction or non-fiction - inspired by one or both of these statements. Word maximum is 600.

My wagon was the fifth in line in a long train of westward-bound women. We were all alike and yet so very different. We were all unmarried, either never married or widowed young. A few had children. And we were all willing to throw away our cautions and sense of propriety, and take our chances with frontier men who needed wives. We were all willing to defy our families to make a new start. I think we were all privately sure that this was our only hope for building the lives we wanted. Opportunities back home had dried up.

I stepped down from my wagon on the third day of July. Spring rains had been plentiful; the plains were green and vibrantly alive. A line of some forty men stood about. Each one was freshly scrubbed, hair slicked and a fearfully anxious look of hope in their eyes. They looked us over and I, for one, felt like I was a calf on the auction block: being sized up, evaluated for the strength of my form, for my ability to work... and to bear.

Mr. Jonas Hayes was our wagon master and he was responsible for the pairings. He knew the men, and he had become acquainted with the women. It wouldn't do to have a free-for-all, with men fighting over women and women running off with the wrong men.

So in the most unromantic of meetings, Mr. Hayes shook the hand of Mr. Jedidiah Crosley and led him to where I was standing. Before I had a chance to run or hide, which is what my instinct told me to do, we were headed north to Mr. Crosley's farm. My farm. Me. Mrs. Crosley. Love at first sight be damned because I didn't have the faintest clue what was going to happen next. All I could do was to trust that Mr. Hayes knew a good man from bad one, and that I hadn't made the most colossal mistake in the world.

Two hours later, with no words spoken and my insides feeling bruised from the jolting, rutted wagon road, a little house came into view. It stood strong and solid on the verdant prairie, like a protective mother with her hands on her hips. Fields of wheat, rye and oats stretched to follow the sun's path and the river sparkled in its lazy bed beyond. A square of black, rich, bottomland soil was waiting for me. It was five fenced acres near the house.

Jedidiah helped me down from the wagon seat. He looked full into my face, brown eyes shining, and finally found his voice.

"I've worked very hard on this place these last five years. I have good fields and ample water. This land will grow anything. I've fixed up a place for kitchen garden, and I built a stout house to keep warm. I thought I was building all that for me, but when I looked into your beautiful blue eyes, I knew I'd been building it for you all along." That day and many times after, when Jedidiah finally found his words, they took my breath away.

I planted my kitchen garden and the river made it bloom. We planted our crops and the water brought forth the bounty of the earth. Jedidiah and I grew our family on that patch of ground; the rains and the river kept us all growing. The things we grew together started the seed of a lasting love. That quiet, strong, gentle man who said those loving words to me on that July day? He watered that first seed of love with his patience and devotion.

The memory of my bleak life in the east dried up and blew away like the seeds of a dandelion. I put my heart and my hands into watering the life I wanted, and I grew a loving family, a treasure of a husband and a life of fruitful purpose.

Always, feel free to comment! Trish in AZ
Fiction, obviously. I'm pretty old, but I didn't come west in a wagon. My eyes aren't blue, and I've never lived on a farm.