Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Coolest Mom EVER!

Okay… I just might be the COOLEST MOM EVER!  For danged-sure…I’m the COLDEST!

I just wanna say (before beginning)… that 17 year-old boys are IDIOTS.

That’s all. Just wanted to put that out there.  J

So…my work day was winding down.  The phone rang.  My friend and co-worker handed it off to me.

The first words I heard?

“Hi, Mum.  I did a really stupid thing…”

If you’re a mother, you’ll understand the gut-clenching reaction I felt upon hearing those words.  On one level, I understood that Eli had called me and was talking to me…so he must be ALL RIGHT.

But on the other hand…all I could feel was ‘doom and gloom’. Had he been hurt?  In an accident? Arrested? WHAT???

Eli proceeded to tell me that he’d gotten ‘stuck’.

STUCK?  Stuck where?  Stuck how?  I’d given him permission to drive to school so that he could ‘stay after’ to finish a project that is due…tomorrow. But driving to and from North Anson didn’t involve any ‘getting stuck’ scenarios.

But see…he’s a boy.  I don’t profess to understand the hold that testosterone has on an adolescent male…but I know it DOES.  I’ve been the mother of ‘boys’ for almost 31 years and I’ve come to realize…they are idiots.

He’d taken his Explorer ‘off road’.  Just to see what it could do.  Understand…his rig isn’t an ‘off road’ vehicle.  But try telling that to a boy who has four-wheel-drive.

Oy!  I could go on and on (and on!) here…but I won’t. Suffice it to say…this wonderful (formerly believed-to-be responsible and common-sensical) young man got his rig stuck WAY off the ‘maintained’ road. Up on the side of a mountain. Beyond the plowed road. Beyond where Explorers are made to go. Without telling anyone where he was going.  Without wearing a jacket or boots.  On a day that didn’t see 10F in the full light of sun. Judas H. Priest! If things had worked out differently, my son could have died. So yeah… I was just a tad wound up.

I arrived home 15 minutes before sunset. I won’t be specific about the heart-to-heart conversation I had with my youngest offspring, except to say…a heart-to-heart was had.
But when all was said and done…Eli wanted to ‘go get’ his vehicle.

I was inclined to let it rot there until Spring. Inclined to let snowmobilers vandalize it, the winter weather assault it...I mean, didn’t he deserve to lose his vehicle, after behaving so irresponsibly?

But once I arrived home… once I’d seen for myself that Eli was okay…I softened up.  I couldn’t help it.  All I could think was… “Hey! I was a kid once, too….and didn’t I make mistakes?  Didn’t I screw up?”

The short answer is…YES.

In the end, I did what mothers like me do. I ‘came to the rescue’.  Oh, that’s not to say I didn’t want to hand off responsibility to his father…another male who should witness the idiocy that the ‘fruit of his looms’ was capable of.

But even while considering the idea of shucking ‘duty’ until Steven could get home and deal with it, I was feeling that strange sense of guilt and responsibility.  Steven works far harder than I do (or our son does.) To expect him to arrive home to (and deal with) a family crisis was unreasonable. Not at night.  Not in the total darkness.  Not when the temps were hovering at ZERO Fahrenheit.

SO! I shucked my ‘work’ clothes.  Donned boots, face mask, insulated jacket, gloves and possible accessories. Fired up that Kubota bitch, Lena…and drove a mile up the road…and then up the steep snowmobile trail towards Spruce Pond…that ‘trail’ that Eli was sure his Explorer could conquer.

We arrived at the vehicle…Eli running up the trail behind me.  Yes, it made sense.  Good sense. The young man no doubt thought I’d offer to let him sit in the bucket or stand on the 3-point hitch and ‘hitch’ a ride…but that would have been DANGEROUS.  So… a little fresh air and exercise were in order!  Heh…

We attached a chain to his rig and to the tractor’s bucket. He got in, started the Ford, put it in reverse….and Lena and I yarded that sucker out of the hole it had been buried in.  After some jigs and jags, the Explorer was once again pointing downhill. 

And I was ‘frozen to the toes’n’!

He followed me down the trail.  Once we were back at the road, I had Eli drive home in his Explorer to wait for me.  Lena doesn’t go much more than 10-12 miles per hour with chains on (and 10 mph at ZERO Fahrenheit is some kinda COLD!) Once I and my frostbitten cheeks and numb fingers arrived at the house, I backed the tractor into the shed, shut her down and instructed Eli to drive me back up to the end of the road so that I could retrieve my truck.  (No, I hadn’t made the poor lad jog ALL the way…only from the end of the road to where he’d gotten his truck buried. I’m not completely heartless, after all.)

All in all, the day ended successfully.  The Explorer is parked in the yard.  My son (whom I love with all my heart) is safe.  Lena is none the worse for wear.  Steven didn’t have to venture into the cold western woods after a long day at work. My cheeks will recover, as will my pinky fingers.

And…I have racked up some serious creds. 

I asked Eli this: “How many boys do you know who have mothers who can and will drive a tractor in sub-zero temps up a mountainside after dark to pull her son’s rig from the snow? Am I not the coolest mother you know?  Or…if it kills you to say ‘yes’ to that…am I not the COLDEST mother you know?”

He had to admit… I am.

Of course, his ability to drive that ‘off-road Ford’ depends on maintaining a good standing with me, so what else could he say?

Sigh… BOYS.  They’re idiots… and I mean that in the nicest sense of the word.

Routine Maintenance at The F.A.R.M. the adrenalin rush is over.   

Steven climbed up onto the porch roof to knock some ice off the valley between this ‘summer kitchen’ addition and the roofs of the main house and the shed.  I was working here at the desk when I heard him put the ladder up, so I opened the window and asked what he was doing.  He told me and I scowled. (That's my 'worry face' in disguise.) I asked if he needed some help. He told me 'no'. My idea? I was going to volunteer to take the screens off the windows and push the snow off from the relative safety of the bedroom…

I admonished Steven that it would be slippery underneath the snow after all the rain we’d recently received.  He acknowledged I was right…and then climbed the ladder anyway – ax in one hand, shovel in the other.  I sighed and went back to work. My husband seems to spend an inordinate amount of time on roofs. Cleaning chimneys, repairing chimneys, re-flashing, painting and yes...shoveling.  Therefore, I spend an equal (and ridiculous) amount of time worrying.

He started pounding the ice and Scruffy got nervous.  She asked to ‘come up’.  (Yes, these little dogs are just like kids and ‘ask’ to be held, sometimes.) I cradled her in my right arm while typing with my left hand. My desk is adjacent to these bedroom windows so I registered Steven’s movements out of the corner of my eye as he worked.

All of a sudden I heard the sound of a big ‘slide’.  Looked up and saw Steven’s feet start to go.  The snow and ice slid off the roof.  The ladder went with it.  As he fell backwards, trying to stop his downwards/forwards momentum, Steven let go of the shovel.  The ax was already sliding off with the snow.

I jumped up just as Steven’s butt hit the roof.  Saw him continue to slide.  I hollered “Hang on!” (as if he needed to be encouraged to do so!) He yelled for Eli, who was inside and downstairs.  I hollered even louder for Eli.

“ELI!!!! GO HELP PAPA!! QUICK!!” and ran out of the bedroom, registering the fact that Steven had stopped his slide—temporarily, at least – with both legs dangling over the edge of the roof and perhaps 4 inches of butt-cheek holding him in place.

I pounded down the stairs and ran through the kitchen, passing Eli as he struggled into his shoes.  His shoes?  He needed SHOES?  Did I have shoes on?  I had no idea! “Get out here and grab the ladder!” I shouted.

As I came off the front steps, what did I hear?

I heard my husband – from his precarious perch on the edge of the other porch roof – holler “Be careful! Don’t slip on the ice, Karen! Let Eli do it!”

Don’t slip on the ice? Let Eli do it?  Eli was still getting dressed, for Pete’s sake! And Steven was barely holding on to the edge of the roof.  Sheesh!

I moved through the soft, wet snow pack to the ladder, stepping onto the partially buried ax as I did so.  I grabbed the ladder.  Eli was right behind me and we stood it upright and leaned it against the roof, to the right of Steven’s legs.  We held it securely. 

Steven was smiling, dammit.  Smiling as he tried to get his right leg onto a rung without shifting his weight enough that his 'slide' would continue. If he did slide the rest of the way off, what lay underneath him – ten feet below – was the railing.  Not snow…but wood.

He managed to get his right foot onto a rung.  Managed to turn himself around and find secure purchase for his left foot. As he started down the ladder he said “Eli, pass me up that shovel.  Might as well get this last bit of ice off.”

Eli leaned down and pulled the shovel out from beneath the snow and ice which had just slid off the roof. He handed it up to his father.  I was still scowling.  Mad?  No.  (Well…maybe a little.  “If they’d listen to ME, this wouldn’t happen!” I was thinking…) Scared?  Not anymore.  (Okay…perhaps a wee bit scared.  After all, my husband had almost [ALMOST!] fallen off the flipping ROOF!) It is possible that ‘scowling’ is my fall-back expression…what I do when I don’t know what other expression is suitable?  I didn’t know and didn’t care.

I realized I had my Crocs on.  Rubber shoes will multiple pre-manufactured holes in them.  Crocs…without socks.  For all practical purposes I was barefoot in the snow.  Barefoot while my husband calmly continued with ‘routine winter maintenance at The F.A.R.M.’

Thank God, he’s safe.  But yeah…I’m pretty much done with winter. I’m through with snow, cold, ice and freezing rain.  It’s way too stressful.

But hey… we’ve gained almost two hours of daylight since December 21st.  Spring will be here before we know it!  Shoveling roofs will take a back seat to removing the banking from the house, tilling the garden, mowing the lawns, painting, clearing brush…working up next year’s firewood…banking the house…and shortly thereafter…shoveling the steps, the walkways and the roofs.

Ah, the joy of ‘routine maintenance at The F.A.R.M.’

Call Me When You Get There

Men are from Mars?

Maybe.  It seems that even “almost-men” have an inherent inability to communicate effectively with the fairer sex.

I like to think I’m imbued with a good dose of common sense.  And I’ve always assumed that – because I am common-sensical – my offspring would be, too.

But it doesn’t always work that way.

Here’s an example of a conversation I recently had with my youngest.  Eli is seventeen.  He is a smart young man; hard-working and with a good sense of humor (most of the time, except when he doesn’t ‘get it’.) But occasionally, there seems to be a ‘disconnect’ between his sharp mind and his ability to reason.  It is my belief that the latter will catch up with the former in the next few years. I’m an eternal optimist, after all.

Eli has his drivers’ license.  He also has a Ford Explorer.  Those are good things.  He likes having this new bit of independence and frankly, I love the fact that his travels can be made without needing his mother as a constant chauffeur.  But having my teenagers on the road has caused me many, many moments of worry.  Panic, even.  I love them.  I want to keep them safe.  Heck… it’s my JOB to keep them safe!

But I have to let them learn and grow and mature.  I can’t smother them completely.  I have to let them ‘go’. 

Within reason, of course.

Often, I let Eli drive to his friend Isaac’s house to visit and spend the night.  This only happens when I think the road conditions are acceptable – but even then, I worry until I know he’s arrived safely.  So I say (every single time!) “Call me when you get there.”

And Eli says (every single time!) “I will, Mum.”

But what Eli doesn’t say is that his promise to call has a caveat.  Several caveats, in fact!  He’ll call IF he remembers.  He’ll call WHEN he remembers.  He’ll call if he’s remembered to take his phone with him – or if he’s forgotten his own cell, he’ll call if the battery in Isaac’s phone is charged.  Or if Isaac’s phone isn’t lost or otherwise engaged. The list of the excuses he’s used for NOT calling me when he arrived at Isaac’s is a long (and inventive) one.

A few days ago, Isaac invited Eli to spend the night at his house.  It was Christmas vacation and my son had worked several days in a row, so I was inclined to let him take off to enjoy a day and night of fun with his friend.  Eli asked for my permission and (after the usual admonitions about what he could and couldn’t do if I allowed him to go) I said ‘yes’.  He threw his clothes into his backpack and started down the stairs with Josie following a few steps behind. 

“I’m ready to go, Mum.”  He looked at me through the balusters as he descended.

“Wait a minute!”

He stopped.

“You call me AS SOON AS YOU GET THERE, okay?”

“Yes, Mum.”  His eyes didn’t roll, but his tone of voice certainly conveyed the same expression.

“I mean it, Eli.  No ‘forgetting’.  If you want to continue to be allowed to drive yourself over there, you have to be responsible enough to call me when you arrive.  I worry, you know…”

“I know, Mum.”

“Okay, then.  Have a good time.  Drive carefully.  I love you.”

“I love you too, Mum.”  He started down the stairs again.

“And what are you going to do as soon as you get to Isaac’s?” I queried. 

I know this boy.  His “Yes, Mum” responses are so automatic that he often doesn’t even absorb the questions I’ve asked.  He doesn’t realize it – but he typically says what I want to hear just to shut me up so that he can be on his way. So yeah – I wanted to cement the notion of ‘calling me’ into his brain.  No ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response… I wanted Eli to have to think about the question before answering. So I asked…

“And what are you going to do as soon as you get to Isaac’s?”

He stopped. Blinked.  And answered.

“Park the truck?”

I laid my head on my desk top, not knowing whether to laugh or cry or scream.  Josie piped up behind her brother – her words preceded by an exaggerated sigh that sounded, hauntingly, like ME.

“Eli, the answer starts with a ‘C’! Sheesh!” (She couldn’t descend the stairs until her brother was allowed to go on his way…so it was important that he get with the program!)

As I write this, I’m laughing.  Eli’s argument in defense of his answer was a good one.  An accurate one.  Every time he goes to Isaac’s, I say “When you get there, park your truck until it’s time to come home.”  His license is still provisional.  He can’t drive anywhere with passengers who are under the age of 18 unless they are family members.  He knows this – but it is a mother’s job to remind him.  So I do. 

And apparently, he’s paid attention to something I’ve said.

Being a parent is a tough job.  I’ve been at this since I was 19 years old and it hasn’t gotten any easier.  If anything, I’m more neurotic than ever. I’m constantly worried about their well-being, whether they are 17 years old…or almost-31.  And yes…last Monday night when we’d had a day of freezing rain atop packed snow, I also emailed oldest son Guy to make sure he was ‘home safe’.  And my father and my mother-in-law did the same.  They called here to make sure Steven and I had also arrived safely home.  It’s a never-ending cycle – but a good one. 

We parents can’t help the way we are…so we just have to hope our progeny will understand and be patient…and CALL when they safely arrive.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Nature of Writing with Saint


I've mentioned that I'm finally going to meet my co-author, Eugene Saint – the friend who, two years ago, gave me those Tennessean pups we affectionately call the “Pease Wees”.  Saint and I have an almost-completed full-length Tag novel that needs to be finished, edited, designed, etc. and we realized we could do it much easier and faster in person rather than online via emails or over the phone.  The internet takes too long and on the phone…well, that comes with its own complications.  See, Saint prefers to rattle my cage rather than concentrate on the task at hand.  I don’t believe he’s really ADD but he most certainly is “focus-challenged”.

Friends have asked me what it’s like to work with Saint.  That stranger.  That older person.  That guy ‘from away’.  

That MAN.

Frankly, it’s hell.

Perhaps you’ll understand what I mean.  Here are some typical exchanges between Saint and me.

** What Saint says:  “I was reading your stuff…when all of a sudden I slammed into the car dashboard/computer monitor/my desk.  Practically broke my neck!”

What Saint means:  “You use too many commas.”

** What Saint says: “Hidey Hole?  Hidey Hole?  What in God’s name is a Hidey Hole?  Are you gay, or what?”

What Saint means: “I don’t care for the term ‘Hidey Hole’.  Perhaps you can come up with something different, my dear?”

** What Saint says: “Whine, whine, whine…good stuff, good stuff, whine…”

What Saint means: “Your posts are all about feelings.  Too ‘girlie’.  Luckily, I write stuff people want to read.”

** What I say: “Well, Saint…I’ll let you go so I can grab some supper.”

What Saint says:  “That’s right.  Go fatten up.”

** What I say:  “I wondered if maybe you’d consider reducing the number of times that you indiscriminately use the ‘F-bomb’ in your posts.  I really don’t think it adds anything to the story.”

What Saint says: “(F-bomb), no!”

** What Saint says:  “So I was thinking… maybe I’ll do something enjoyable this afternoon.  Or, maybe I’ll read what you wrote last night.”

What Saint means: “I wonder if I can make her cry…”

What I think:  “When hell freezes over, old man.”

** What Saint says:  “That’s cool.”

What I say: “You’re kidding!  Are you kidding me?  You actually LIKE it?”

What Saint says: “Well, not now that you’ve pointed out how dumb it is…”

** What I say: “So… what happens if you don’t like me once you’ve met me in person?”

What Saint says:  “Who says I like you now?”

What Saint means: “I can’t wait to meet Kaz!”

** What I say: “So…will you still want to write with me if you don’t like the ‘real’ me?”

What Saint says: “Who says I want to write with you now?”

What Saint means: “I can’t believe how lucky I am to co-author a book with Kaz!”

** What I say: “Saint, you drive me NUTS!”

What Saint says: “Awww…bless your poor misshapen head.”

What Saint thinks: “This is too easy.”

What I think: “Man, is this old duffer in for a rude awakening!  Bring it on!”

No, Saint and I don’t have a tranquil partnership, and he's not the type of friend whom I'd consider to be a ‘soft place to fall’.  In fact, he says I won’t like him.  That he’s a miserable SOB.  

Heaven knows Saint likes to be right, so I won’t argue with his assumption or his self-assessment.  Too, there's that little 'side-benefit'.  If I don't argue with the old drives HIM nuts.  I've gotta keep him on his toes, or most likely his aging brain will atrophy and I'll be stuck pulling his dead weight.  So, just this once, I'll let him have the last word.

** What I mean: "I can't wait to meet Saint."

Tennessee With Saint

 Well, it looks like it might actually – finally! – happen.  In October, if all goes as planned, I’ll hop aboard a Delta jetliner and fly to Tennessee, where I will finally meet “Bee Dazzle’s” co-author – that bossy, know-it-all curmudgeon, Eugene Saint.

The reason for the anticipated trip is two-fold.  Saint and I have also co-authored a full-length Tag novel, titled ‘Following Seas’.  

The novel is almost complete.  Almost.  The old man has been holding up the works but I try not to crab about it.  At his age I suppose I should be grateful that he can still muster up the strength to toddle from recliner to computer desk. 

We wrote the original manuscript three years ago with several other authors who were participating in an online game of Writers’ Tag.  The site folded but Saint and I stayed in contact.  Our posts had proven we had some synergy.   Since each author on the site retained ownership of his or her own contributions, Saint and I deleted the posts written by the others and then read what remained.  To our delight, what remained had the makings of a terrific novel.

We decided to rework the plot to make it truly ‘ours’.  At night – after our families had gone to bed – Saint and I wrote.  Sometimes we’d talk on the phone when Saint needed to complain about something such as my overuse of commas, ellipses…or italics.  He’d gripe and I’d defend.  He’d grumble some more and I’d concede.  He’d crow in victory…and I’d get irritated.  It’s part and parcel of the experience of writing with Saint.   

Eventually the manuscript began to resemble a completed novel.  My nerves, in the meanwhile, began to resemble a frayed rope.  One thing about Saint?  The man is never wrong.  Ever.   It’s useless to offer even the mildest criticism of anything he’s written because before the end of the conversation I’ve somehow turned into that lowest-of-the-low: a “girl”. 

Don’t get me wrong.  Saint’s not ‘macho’ nor is he a misogynist – but he IS a survivor.  When backed into a corner he comes out swinging.  And if he lacks an original or worthy argument, he falls back on his old stand-by: the argument that I “don’t get it” because I’m a “girl”.   I have to admire his use of that accusation because – to his way of thinking – there’s little to be said against that argument.  And because he knows I get cranked when he says that, he uses it every chance he gets.   If it wasn’t for the fact that I have great respect for senior citizens in their dotage, he and I would have engaged in more than the occasional tussle.

But now we’re almost finished with this undertaking.  If we can polish Following Seas to a point where we’re ready to sit down together and give it a word-by-word edit, I’ll fly down to Tennessee and we’ll do exactly that:  Finish the book, design and create a cover and synopsis, write the dedications and acknowledgements…and be done with the project.  That’s the main purpose for the trip.

The other reason I hope to go to Tennessee is quite simple.  I’m curious.  Incredibly so!  I’ve written parts and pieces of several novels with this man who is – in essence – a stranger.  I want to see and know the ‘real’ Saint.  The guy who is a husband and the father of eight, a musician, artist, veteran, teacher, sailor, writer… and more – or so he claims!  I want to find out if he’s really an irascible old goat… or just a grumpy old fart.  I want to know if he’s as smart as he sounds… or if he’s just good at sounding smart. 

I mean, think about it!  The only details I know about this author are those he’s allowed me to know.  A few photos and a voice on the other end of the phone line are the extent of my knowledge.  In reality, he might not be an irascible old goat!  He might be a young woman with a deep voice (a smoker perhaps?) who has been sending me photos of her grandfather.  He could be a vagrant.  A politician.  An oral hygienist.  The possibilities are endless.  Heck, he might even be a Republican! 

The fact of the matter is that I want to know. As a woman who always picks up strays on the side of the road, it was natural that Saint would become one of my closest friends.  I want to see him with my own eyes.   
I suppose it’s only fair that Saint sees the real ‘me’ too. I just hope he’ll be able to come up with a suitable defense strategy when he finds out I’m not a ‘girl’.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Dark Heart -- Exciting Enough to Make Even Me Turn Red

Nine months ago I received Tony Park’s Dark Heart as a Christmas gift from two of my Australian friends, Grahame and KK.

Since reading my first Park novel in 2009, I’ve been an enthusiastic fan of his tales of adventure set in the heart of Africa.  Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana…the author has traveled extensively in these countries, as well as much further afield.  In fact, Park spends half of each year on the Dark Continent, researching his novels and learning first-hand about the culture, traditions, geography and the wildlife of each region he travels to or writes about.
Author Tony Park with his mother Kathy 
The first rule a successful author learns is “Write what you know.” It’s obvious that Tony Park knows his stuff.  It’s not often that I read stories which make me feel a part of the setting but Park’s novels do exactly that.  I’ve rarely journeyed further than Maine’s borders but when engrossed in a tale by Tony Park, I feel as if I’m right there – on the veld, in the bush, in the jungle…or in a small African village, the city of Joberg or Kruger National Park.  

Dark Heart is well-named, for it is a dark tale.  There are few light or bright moments but then, there’s little to smile about when you find out you’ve been targeted for assassination. 

The story revolves around three characters who are bound by the events of their past.  In Rwanda during that country’s horrific civil war and subsequent genocide, Dr. Richard Dunlop, attorney Carmel Chang and photojournalist Liesl Nel are unknowingly caught up in one of that country’s biggest mysteries: Who was responsible for the shooting down of President Habyarimana’s aircraft?  That single act of terror was long thought to be the spark that ignited one of the world’s most vicious attempts to exterminate a populace.  Seventeen years later, a clue emerges which could very well solve the mystery… if the trio can stay alive long enough to follow the evidence to the guilty party.

The three work at cross-purposes, however.  After witnessing the horror of the battlefield in 1994, Richard and Liesl had succumbed to a night of ‘survivor sex’.  What was meaningless to them was a life-changing event for Carmel, who – as the woman in love with Richard – was devastated upon discovering the two together.

After Rwanda the three went their separate ways, battling personal demons and stockpiling guilt and blame for almost two decades.  When thrown together after surviving almost simultaneous murder attempts, cooperation is the last thing on their minds.  But without it, the odds of them surviving are practically non-existent.

Dark Heart is spellbinding.  It might sound hypocritical to say that, since I began reading the book almost nine months ago and have just finished it today…but that is the nature of the beast that is my life, right now.  I have only read ONE novel in the past year and this is it.  I took this unscheduled ‘day off’ and treated myself to a few hours of pleasure…sitting outside under blue skies with a gentle autumn breeze tickling the hair at my neck…and I read.  I was so engrossed in Park’s latest tale that I didn’t even notice as my Irish skin got only its second sunburn of the season –the first having made itself painfully apparent after a weekend at the wood splitter in August.

Dark Heart is well worth the read, as are all Park’s novels – from Far Horizon right up through to African Dawn.  Not only are the stories entertaining, they are educational and deliciously descriptive.  Take the time to immerse yourself in another world – an exciting one – and share my guilty pleasure.

Just…don’t forget your sun-block when you do. I recommend SPF15, at a minimum….

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Letters From Ed

The last letter I received from my friend, Ed Squibb
            A great man has left us.  Last week Edward R. Squibb III peacefully departed his home and moved on, leaving friends and family behind as he started a new journey certain to be chock-full of fresh adventures. 

            The ‘Ed’ I knew was a character.  A breath of fresh air.  A man who walked into a room and took center stage without ever acting a part.  Every single encounter I ever had with Ed Squibb left me smiling.  Sometimes even laughing out loud.  I’ve rarely encountered a wit as sharp or an intellect so stimulating.

            I met Mr. Squibb years ago when he stopped by my parents’ real estate office to shoot the breeze…or whatever it was he and my folks liked to shoot.  I was intrigued by this man who was dressed in shorts in what was – for all intents and purposes – the dead of winter.  Naturally, I had to mention his attire and ask what it was all about.  I wouldn’t have been ‘me’ if I’d sat there quietly listening to the conversation when there was a burning question just waiting for a reasonable answer. 

            “You never know when a game of tennis will present itself!” the gentleman said by way of explanation.

            I fell back on my first line of defense.

            “But it’s winter.  You can’t play tennis in the snow!”

            He jumped up, orchestrated a perfect ‘serve’ and as the imaginary racket swung through the move, he brought his other hand down (the one that had just tossed up the imaginary tennis ball) and pointed it straight at me.

            “Here’s a novel idea.  Indoor courts!”

            I laughed in chagrin.  Oh, yeah… indoor courts.

            Over the course of our friendship I had the pleasure of watching Ed play tennis a time or two – usually against opponents almost half his age.  He played to win and rarely lost, and yet – he was always gracious.  A true sportsman, was Mr. Squibb. 

            I also had the honor of representing Ed in several business transactions.  He was a stickler for detail and he knew his ‘stuff’ but he always granted me the respect of asking for my opinion.  To my delight, he even took my advice a time or two.

            There are a handful of people who have been instrumental in supporting my writing career and Ed is up near the top of that list.  Shortly after I began writing “Observations from The F.A.R.M.” Ed paid me a special visit – one that was longer than his usual mercurial pop-ins.  He sauntered through the doorway and plopped down in a chair, slapping an Irregular down on the desktop in front of me.

            “Thank you.”

            That was it.  Just ‘thank you’.  I had an inkling that he was being complimentary.  However, I didn’t dare make an assumption – lest I make the proverbial ass out of my umption.

            “‘Thank you’…for what?”

            “THAT.” he said, “That is exactly what people need.  YOU are exactly what we need.  Don’t stop.”  Ed jumped up.  The man was rarely still and never stayed seated for more than a couple of minutes before getting up and moving around the room.   I was immensely flattered by his words and wanted to hear more.

            “It is?  I am?”

            “Yes.”  He wound up and threw a perfect pitch and a fantasy ball flew across the lobby and into the map room – where it no doubt struck out the batter at plate.  Then Ed reseated himself and grabbed the newspaper, opening it to my column.  “But this thing is a mess.  I took the liberty of marking it up for you.  Your content is great but your format is horrendous.”

            As I write this I’m laughing once again, picturing that scene from years ago.  There I was – all primed for a round of accolades – and my friend was commencing to tear my writing to shreds!  I never had to worry about getting a swelled head with Ed.  That man was a drink of cool water on a hot day and HE was exactly what this fledgling writer needed.  Ed was what – no…Ed was WHO – a lot of people needed.  He wasn’t stingy with himself.  As he made the daily rounds in his neighborhood and through the town, he brought sunshine and a unique rapport into each personal interaction.  Sometimes I was just a spectator and I’d watch him as he chatted to folks in the post office or the store.  When that man left the premises, those who remained were on an “Ed High”…giddy, chuckling…they went back to their routines with uplifted spirits.  He had a rare gift.  Of that, I have no doubt.

            As I think back on my friendship with Ed, certain images and scenes come to mind.  The day he offered me a tour of his home after discovering that I’d left some maps I promised to lend him between the doors of his next-door-neighbor’s house instead of his.  (He well knew any maps were worthless in my hands!) 

            The morning when, out of the blue, he handed me a check to donate to a community effort he knew I was supporting. 

            The afternoon he invited me to lunch and made me a delicious sandwich after I delivered some papers which needed his signature.  

            The day we realized – to our amazement – that Ed served on a ship in the Navy sixty years earlier under one of our close family friends.   (We were able to reconnect the eighty-something Ed with the ninety-something Lawrence and the two men became devoted pen-pals.  Ed generously shared the content of each letter with us and to our delight we had a deck-side seat to the re-blossoming of a friendship between the two WWII veterans.)

             I remember the morning I gave him a squeeze after his beloved Amy passed away – and the day I hugged him when he smilingly – almost shyly – told me about finding Ann.  In all the years I knew him those two occasions are the only times I ever touched Mr. Squibb – but he touched me in intangible ways very time we met.

            Yes, Ed was my cheerleader.  He gave me compliments – nothing over-the-top and always thoughtfully tempered by constructive criticism.  And he did something few people do these days: he wrote to me.  He wrote honest-to-goodness ‘fan’ letters about my little newspaper column and my novel ‘Grumble Bluff’.  He wrote thank you notes for silly things, making my simplest gestures seem like matters of great import.  He wrote suggestions in the margins of my newspaper columns. 

            He even ‘wrote’ me my very own, honest-to-goodness ‘cheer’.   Always eager to engage in discussions of diction, vocabulary, syntax and style, Ed took a liking to the pentameter of all my ‘names’ put together.  Once he learned them, he said “You sound like a cheer!” and from that point forward – every time I ran into him – he would do exactly that. 

            Ed would cheer.

            As he would throw his arms up to the left, then to the right, then double-time left-right-left, he’d chant “KAren!  LouISE!  BESsey-ATwood-PEASE! Hooray!” And damn if he didn’t make me laugh every time. 
Ed read The Irregular every week (and the NYT every day.)

            I’m truly going to miss that man.  Sometimes months passed between conversations or letters but I knew he was around.  That gave me a sort of comfort.  I’d pass him as he pedaled his bike to Anni’s Market to get his morning newspaper…and I’d smile.  I’d see him jauntily skip down the post office steps dressed in his khaki shorts…and I’d smile.  Even now, through my tears, I’m smiling. 

            There are people who pass through our lives who seem to sprinkle stardust as they go along.  That was Ed Squibb.  Those of us who were the beneficiaries of his optimism, his wit and humor and his generous spirit have been forever enriched.  Ed has moved on but he left us all with vibrant intangibles…memories filled with laughter and warmth.

            Those will surely sustain us until we meet again, and I look forward to that reunion.

            Thank you, my friend, for sharing your stardust with me.     
And thank you, Ed, for your letters...
Love, KLBAP (Hooray!)


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Contest! Win an autographed copy of Grumble Bluff!

Fans of Grumble Bluff have been asking for the sequels for years....and I'm sorry that they aren't published, yet.  Oh, to have time to devote to this project!

In one of GB's sequels, Katherine Anne and Greta start an 'anti-bullying' group at their school.  This group is called "STEERS", an acronym for "Students Tolerating, Encouraging, Enriching and Respecting Students". A kind of play-on-words...BULLies...STEERS...

Hey, the girls are only 13 years old!  What do you expect?  Heh...

Speaking for myself, I'd love to see junior high schools and high schools promote just such organizations, devoted to teaching tolerance and empathy between well as 'survival' techniques, i.e. what to do when you're bullied or what to do when you see others being bullied. We have 4-H, Scouts, Sports Clubs, Year Book and Drama Clubs, but what could be more important than eradicating bullying? Every child deserves to attend school unmolested. And every child needs tools to encourage self-confidence and self-like, as well as learning how to safely and effectively extricate themselves and others from dangerous or degrading situations.

In order to get folks thinking about this subject, I thought I'd hold a little contest.  Just submit a suggestion for naming an anti-bullying group at your local school.  On July 4th I'll throw the names into a hat and draw one out.  The winner will receive a copy of Grumble Bluff, autographed to the recipient of his or her choice.  It's that simple!

Below is an email received 3 days ago from a new fan of Grumble Bluff:

"I have to say and I told my girls, it would have to be the most beautiful, entertaining and all time best book I've read. Honestly I'm not saying that... for any other reason except that it was. It had me in fits of laughter and in tears. You deserve so much for writing a book like that and I think school kids should read it as apart of their curriculum if only for the "Bullying"aspect."
Deb in Queensland, Australia

And except from Ashes at Grumble Bluff:

I jumped off the Rommels’ porch, cut around to the back of the house and started running as fast as I could across their back lawn and up the hill that rose behind it.  Arms and long legs pumping I flew, up towards the ancient pine tree that stood at the top of the mound that overlooked Greta’s home.
            Of course, she was already there – hands propped on her knees as she caught her breath.  I heard her laugh at me as I slowed to a stop.  It was a good sound, that laughter.
            “Beat you again!” she crowed.
            “Yeah, but you cheated!  I had to stay and exchange recipes for tuna casserole with your mother before I could leave!”  I plopped to the ground beneath the pine tree and leaned against the pitchy bark.  If I’d tried that run last September I would have dropped dead of a heart attack long before I reached the bottom of the hill.  Now, I was only pleasantly winded.  
            “I’ll bet she can’t even cook!”  Greta sank down beside me and made a face.  “I didn’t handle that very well, did I?” she asked quietly.  I elbowed her affectionately.
            “You surprised me.  I didn’t know you could be so…witchy!” I grinned.  “And here I’ve been telling people how polite and nice you are!  Hah!”  I tried to keep the moment light.  Lord knows she’d had few enough light moments, lately.
            “I shouldn’t have hollered at her.”  Greta began sifting orange pine needles through her fingers.  The air was warm and smelled of pungent ferns and pitch and soil.  Briefly, I longed to be home at Grumble Bluff; my own private woodland sanctuary.  Problems always seemed more manageable at Grumble.
            “She’s a big girl.  She can handle it.”
            “Actually, she’s tiny, isn’t she?  I can’t even remember her, really -- but I never pictured her being so small.  I guess that’s where I get my size.”  Greta was whippet-thin and about five inches shorter than I was, but she was still taller than her mother.
            “Let’s just hope your chest grows bigger than hers did!” I giggled.  “She might as well have Hershey’s Kisses taped under her shirt!” 
            “Shut up!” Greta smacked me in the shoulder and giggled back at me.  “I’m going to have massive bosoms, just you wait and see.  They’ll be even bigger than yours, if you can believe that!”  We loved poking fun at each other because we were comfortable in our affection.  It was different than when other people made fun of us.  We’d both been through plenty of that.      
            We sat quietly for a few minutes, listening to the lazy sounds of the birds and hearing the occasional noise of traffic as it passed in front of the house.  Finally, Greta spoke.
            “What do you suppose they’re talking about?” she asked.
            “I think Gram and Gramps are giving her the ‘old what-for’.  I think they’re telling her that they love you and they want you…and she can just forget about taking you with her.  That’s what I think!”  And hope and pray...
            Greta scooped the scattered pine needles into a big mound in front of her.  Her hands were busy but her mind wasn’t focused on what they were doing.  She was thinking about her mother.
            “‘Pamela Grimes’, she said.  I guess that means she remarried.  So I have a stepfather.  Yuck.” 
            “Oh, man,” I said, the thought just hitting me.  “Maybe you have brothers or sisters, too!”  That worried me.  Again, I was being selfish.  But I knew how much Greta had longed for siblings.  She doted on my younger brothers, Greg and Duncan, and had often said she was envious of me because of them.  If Pamela had other children – brothers or sisters to offer Greta – would that make her want to go live with her mother?  I couldn’t compete with real live siblings.  And that’s what I suddenly felt like I had to do; compete.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Mud Run on Vacation...

I’m on vacation this week.  It’s Thursday and so far, it has rained every single day.  That’s okay, though.  It’s springtime and we need the water.

Just… not so much of it.

I’d promised to contribute some items for a Chinese Auction being held at Happy Horseshoe Campground, to benefit the New Portland Community Library.  Some of the donations were large and needed to be transported in the back of my truck, so when the rain stopped briefly and a weak sun tried to penetrate the upper-level clouds, I took advantage of the opportunity to deliver ‘dry goods’ instead of wet.

In my haste (and perhaps in my laziness) I didn’t think my plan through to its logical conclusion.  We live in a paradox here at The F.A.R.M.  We’re on the side of a hill…but in a bit of a bog, all at the same time.  I think this is one of the few places on the planet where water doesn’t run downhill.    

I drove to the barn, where the items were stored in the uninhabited hen house.  No problem.  Perhaps the fact that it’s ‘downhill all the way’ contributed to my lack of foresight.  I dug out two wooden armchairs, a filing cabinet and some office supplies and wrestled them out through the confines of the room. The truck loaded, I put it in 4-wheel drive and decided to travel around the front of the rock wall and onto the upper lawn, instead of backing up the way I came.

Bad move.  I sunk.  And when I tried to back up, I sunk some more…until I was stuck.  No forward movement, no backward movement…just dark mud flying. 

No one wants to admit they’ve had this type of Bonehead Moment, even when they are accustomed to the practice.  I was determined to extricate myself (and more particularly – my truck) from the predicament.  I thought about calling my husband at work to ask for advice, but I knew he would worry about it all day long if I did.  For another split second I considered calling my neighbor Alan, or my neighbor Herb…or my neighbor Dave, but I discarded those ideas just as quickly.  They might not yet have gleaned that I can be a bit of an idiot, and I want to keep the charade going for as long as humanly possible.  I reminded myself that I’m a capable woman.   I wasn’t going to ask for help if there was any way I could help myself.

I trudged up to the house and put on my old jeans, a raggedy sweatshirt and a pair of boots.  Grabbed a pair of work gloves.  Rustled though the shed until I found a chain.  And then, I went to Lena.

Lena is a goddess, as far as I’m concerned.  This 30HP Kubota has saved my bacon more than once.  But I was concerned that I might make the situation worse.  I was worried that I’d get HER stuck, too… and then where would I be?  I could picture Steven’s face if he drove into the dooryard after a hard day’s work and saw not only his wife’s pick-up, but his precious Lena buried in mud.  Mud where there was supposed to be grass.  Just grass, and no mud or truck or tractor.

But I’m proud.  I’m stubborn.  Heck, the word ‘desperate’ even comes to mind.  I threw the chain in the bucket, climbed aboard, buckled the seat-belt and fired her up.  Backed her out and drove gingerly down the hill to a position behind the truck.

I know the movement of a large farm tractor is hardly synonymous with the word ‘gingerly’ but Lena’s good that way.  She knew what I needed and tip-toed through that mud. 

I got down off the tractor and fastened one end of the chain to the towing towing hitch and hooked the other end to the tractor’s bucket.  Started the truck and put it in ‘neutral’.  Considered finding a way to bungie-cord the steering wheel in place since I needed to pull the truck back around the corner and the front tires were guaranteed to turn in whatever direction they wanted to (i.e. whatever way I DIDN’T want.)  But I decided to give it a whirl, first.  See what would happen.  If the world came to an end, at least there would be no witnesses to my humiliation.

I climbed back aboard Lena.  Started her.  Raised the bucket off the ground, put the tractor in 4-low… and backed her up.  Gently, easily…yep, even gingerly.  She never hesitated.  Never groaned under the strain. Her wheels didn’t spin and she yarded that Dodge out of the mud and back onto terra firma like nobody’s business.

Chain off, truck back in the driveway, tractor parked in the shed.  I drove the load of donations to my neighbor’s house and zipped back home to survey the damage.  Hmmm…. If only mud were green instead of brown, the ruts would hardly show at all.  

I used my large feet – perfectly designed for optimum mud-management – to squish the sod down all along the ruts, figuring I’d better take advantage of the fact that it was still soft, wet and easy to manipulate. A few muddy minutes later the damage was negligible.  


I made a mistake in judgment but I felt a sense of satisfaction, anyway.  I didn’t need to call husband or neighbor to help me – I got out of the jam all by myself.  Well, almost by myself.  I had Lena to help ease the pain of my Bonehead Moment.

Monday, May 20, 2013

An Open Letter to the 126th Legislature's EUT Committee

An Open Letter to the Members of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee of the 126th Maine State Legislature:

Dear Senator Cleveland, Representative Hobbins and Esteemed Members of the EUT Committee,

Do you have the right to have input in zoning changes within your community?

If you live in one of Maine’s 433 organized municipalities, you do.

If you live in an Unorganized Territory that was NOT included in the Expedited Permitting Area, you do.

If you live in a Plantation that adopted LURC’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan as your own zoning ordinance – whether inside or outside the EPA – you do.

But if you are one of the less than 1% of Maine residents who were unfortunate enough to live in an Unorganized Territory with terrain coveted by the wind industry and not protected by State Law, you lost your rights in 2008.

Do you enjoy more rights than we do?  If you still have the right to ‘have a say’ on how your community is zoned, the answer is ‘yes’.  If the answer is ‘yes’, then you surely will support LD616 – the request of five communities (Lexington, Concord and Carrying Place Townships and Pleasant Ridge and Highland Plantations) to have equal rights restored to us.  If the answer is ‘yes’ but you intend to vote ‘no’on LD616, then please tell the less-than-1% of Maine citizens why you think you are more deserving than we are.  Please speak up.  Look us in the eye.  And tell us why we were (are) deemed second-class citizens.

Isn’t it time to do what’s right?  This decision should be an easy one to make.  Please don’t allow corporate lobbyists to cloud the issue. No matter what they say, passage of LD616 will not disallow their projects.  It will simply give rural Maine citizens the same rights to self-governance enjoyed by each member of your Committee -- the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee -- as well as 99% of your constituents and fellow Mainers.

It’s time to stop stalling.  No more kicking this proverbial can down the road.  We’re Mainers and Americans and we’re asking you to do the ethical thing.  Integrity and fairness call for a unanimous “Ought to Pass”.