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The Maven

2018-10-20 ttm pixabay poe cc0 pd writer-17565_640Why? Because–A friend, calling to confirm David and I would meet her and her husband the next day for the Edgar Allan Poe exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center, reported her house was being leveled for the second time in three years: “There are thirteen men under my house.”

I hooked up Edgar Allan Poe with the number thirteen and house with Usher and wrote the following verse. Halloween approaches, so I’m posting it again.

Note: Tuck and Abby are my friends’ dogs.

Another note: Maven means expert. I looked it up to make sure.

THE MAVEN

To G. and M. in celebration
of their tenth trimester
of home improvement,
with  affection.
Forgive me for making
mirth of melancholy.

 

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a rapping,

As of someone gently tapping, tapping at my chamber floor.

“‘Tis some armadillo,” said I, “tapping at my chamber floor,

Only this, and nothing more.”

 

 

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the dry September,

And my house was sinking southward, lower than my bowling score,

Pier and beam and blocks of concrete, quiet as Deuteron’my’s cat feet,

Drooping like an unstarched bedsheet toward the planet’s molten core.

“That poor armadillo,” thought I, “choosing my house to explore.

He’ll squash like an accordion door.”

 

 

“Tuck,” I cried, “and Abby, come here! If my sanity you hold dear,

Go and get that armadillo, on him all your rancor pour.

While he’s bumping and a-thumping, give his rear a royal whumping,

Send him hence with head a-lumping, for this noise do I abhor.

Dasypus novemcinctus is not a beast I can ignore

Clumping ‘neath my chamber floor.”

 

While they stood there prancing, fretting, I imparted one last petting,

Loosed their leashes and cried “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war.

As they flew out, charged with venom, I pulled close my robe of denim.

“They will find him at a minimum,” I said, “and surely more,

Give him such a mighty whacking he’ll renounce forevermore

Lumbering ‘neath my chamber floor.”

 

 

But to my surprise and wonder, dogs came flying back like thunder.

“That’s no armadillo milling underneath your chamber floor.

Just a man with rule and level, seems engaged in mindless revel,

Crawling round. The wretched devil is someone we’ve seen before,

Measuring once and measuring twice and measuring thrice. We said, ‘Señor,

Get thee out or thee’s done for.'”

 

“Zounds!” I shouted, turning scarlet. “What is this, some vill’nous varlet

Who has come to torment me with mem’ries of my tilting floor?”

Fixing myself at my station by my floundering foundation,

Held I up the quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.

“Out, you cad!” I said, “or else prepare to sleep beneath my floor,

Nameless there forever more.”

 

Ere my words had ceased resounding, with their echo still surrounding,

Crawled he out, saluted, and spoke words that chilled my very core.

“I been down there with my level, and those piers got quite a bevel.

It’s a case of major evolution: totter, tilt galore.

Gotta fix it right away, ma’am, ‘less you want your chamber floor

At a slant forevermore.”

 

At his words there came a pounding and a dozen men came bounding

From his pickup, and they dropped and disappeared beneath my floor.

And they carried beam and hammer and observed no rules of grammar,

And the air was filled with clamor and a clanging I deplore.

“Take thy beam and take thy level and thy failing Apgar score

And begone forevermore.”

 

 

But they would not heed my prayer, and their braying filled the air,

And it filled me with despair, this brouhaha that I deplore.

“Fiend!” I said. “If you had breeding, you would listen to my pleading,

For I feel my mind seceding from its sane and sober core,

And my house shall fall like Usher.” Said the leader of the corps,

“Lady, you got no rapport.”

 

“How long,” shrieked I then in horror, “like an ominous elm borer,

Like a squirrely acorn storer will you lurk beneath my floor?

Prophesy!” I cried, undaunted by the chutzpah that he flaunted,

And the expertise he vaunted. “Tell me, tell me, how much more?”

But he strutted and he swaggered like a man who knows the score.

Quoth the maven, “Evermore.”

 

He went off to join his legion in my house’s nether region

While my dogs looked on in sorrow at that dubious guarantor.

Then withdrawing from this vassal with his temperament so facile

I went back into my castle and I locked my chamber door.

“On the morrow, they’ll not leave me, but will lodge beneath my floor

Winter, spring, forevermore.”

 

So the hammering and the clamoring and the yapping, yawping yammering

And the shrieking, squawking stammering still are sounding ‘neath my floor.

And I sit here sullen, slumping in my chair, and dream the thumping

And the armadillo’s bumping is a sound I could adore.

For those soles of boots from out the crawlspace ‘neath my chamber floor

Shall be lifted—Nevermore!

Books ‘n Boots Soiree

Just back from the Fort Worth Bookfest’s Books ‘n Boots Soiree at Lou’s Place on the Texas Wesleyan University campus, where I learned the following:

“They say Fort Worth is where the West begins, but the fact of the matter is that Dallas is where the East just kind of peters out.”

I also got the impression that this is going to be a fun weekend.

IMG_3540Three writers with ties to Texas Wesleyan read from their works. Dr. Jeffrey DeLotto read from his novel A Caddo’s Way; Marjorie Herra Lewis read from her novel When the Men Were Gone; and Michelle Hartman read poems from her Disenchanted and Disgruntled (in which we learn what happened to the “eighth and most annoying dwarf, Gropey.”)

So there are three more titles on my To Be Read list. IMG_3544 (2)

Click here to see authors who will appear at the festival, and the covers of their books. Click through the pictures and you’ll eventually see my head shot and the cover of Murder on Wheels. They’re the same pictures you’ve seen before, and I don’t advocate covering old territory, but it’s a heady experience for me to be included with real writers.

I’m not supposed to engage in such defeatist talk, but after listening to the authors read tonight, I did look around the room and wonder what I’m doing here.

No matter.  I’m here.

This is going to be a fantastic book festival.

*

IMG_3546Citations: Here’s a picture of my notes. I like to get things right, and since I had nothing to write on but a napkin . . .

Bookfest #2: Heading to Fort Worth

I’ll start by saying I have recovered from my major irritation with WordPress. It was malfunctioning to the max the night I wrote the humorous post that took a downhill turn (as WP) slid further down the hill–but everyone is allowed one major malfunction. I’ve had several myself whose results were worse than a paragraph-challenged blog. WP works now, I work now, we all work now. Amen.

Now to the heart of the matter:

Last Saturday, with my Sisters in Crime, I sold and signed books at the Heart of Texas chapter booth at the Boerne Book Fest.

2018-10-18 cowboy and steer fort worth pixabay ttm cc0 statue-720781_640Next Saturday, October 20, I’ll sign and sell at the Fort Worth Bookfest. Organized in 2018, the festival’s goal is “to raise awareness of the transformative power of literacy through the BookFest platform to showcase the wealth of talent among all cultures that call Fort Worth and the southwest region home.”

In addition to selling and signing, I’ll participate in an Author Spotlight, where I’ll have the opportunity, in “TED-talk style,” to introduce myself, share some interesting facts, and read from one of my stories. On the same venue will be Tabi Slick, author of Tompkins School Trilogy, set in Oklahoma, and Kimberly Packard-Walton, author of Prospera Pass, set in Texas.

First on the agenda, though, is Friday evening’s Books ‘n Boots Soiree at Lou’s Place on the Texas Wesleyan University Campus. Sounds like fun.

David has been, as the Five Little Peppers would say, a brick during preparations for BookFest. He had a banner for my table made and then spearheaded the drive for business cards. He found book easels around the corner at Wal-Mart so I don’t have to drive all the way across town to Michaels. He’s charged my phone, my camera, and the hotspot. I predict that before we leave town, he’ll do a dozen or two other tasks I haven’t even thought of.

I’m still making a to-do list.

mkwaller banner 2 black

This procrastinator is so lucky to have attracted her opposite–a man who does things now. And who knows how to hurry things along in the nicest way possible.

Book Sales and Books Book

A good day at the Boerne Book and Arts Fest in Boerne, Texas with a group of my Sisters in Crime from the Heart of Texas Chapter

I sold four times as many copies of MURDER ON WHEELS and LONE STAR LAWLESS as I did last spring in Fort Worth–no need to say how many I sold then–but the company of the Sisters  would have made it a good day if I’d sold no books at all. 

I surprised myself by un-introverting and not only saying hello to browsers but also telling them MURDER ON WHEELS is better than LONE STAR LAWLESS because I have two stories in MOW and only one in LSL. I also said I like my stories in MOW more than the ones in LSL. The not-my stories in LSL might be better than their counterparts in MOW, but let’s face it, when I’m selling my own books, I get to say what’s what. 

For future reference, anyone contemplating buying one of the anthologies should buy MURDER ON WHEELS, unless he or she already has a copy. In that case, take the other. My story in LONE STAR LAWLESS is excellent, too. I showed it to my high school English teacher and she said so.

In other news, at The Bosslight in Nacogdoches a couple of weeks ago, I bought a copy of Book Riot’s READ HARDER. Failing to examine it carefully, I thought it was for keeping a record of books read. Imagine my surprise when I later discovered it’s a series of twelve reading challenges. Among them are

-a book about book

-a book about a current social or political issue

-an award-winning young adult book

-a book about space

-a book published by an independent press

-a book that was originally published in another language

So I must make decisions. 

I’m tempted to re-read some books–for a book originally published in another language, for example, I’d like to re-read Giants in the Earth, originally published in 1926, which I read in 1975. Written in Norwegian, it was then translated into English by author Ole Rolvaag. It’s the story of Per Hansa, who in 1873 settles with his family in the Dakota Territory. A look at Wikipedia to check my facts reminds me that Giants is the first book in a trilogy, so I’m free to read the sequels, Peder Victorious (Peder Seier) (1928) and Their Fathers’ God (Den signede dag) (1931). 

For an award-winning YA book, I’d like to re-read Katherine Paterson‘s Newbery winner Jacob Have I LovedAlthough the Newbery is given for children’s books, Jacob is really for older readers, and, I contend, for adults.* As a person of integrity, though, I’ll read a book that’s new to me. Then I’ll read Jacob again.

Note: All of Paterson’s book are exquisite. She believes that once children reach a certain age, they should not be given fairy tale happily-ever-after endings. Her books carry the message that life can be difficult–as it will be–but that readers have the knowledge, courage, and strength to endure, and that there is always hope. The daughter of missionaries to China, herself a missionary to Japan for a year, and the wife of a Presbyterian minister, Paterson writes realistic–and drop-dead funny–books that hold a prominent place among titles most often banned in the United States: Sometimes, when pushed to their limits, her characters say, Damn. They also have problems, have to make hard choices, and are not happy all the time, conditions some adults have forgotten from their own childhoods. Young readers, however, love her stories.

For a book about books, I’ll read The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar (1979). It examines Victorian literature–specifically, the works of Jane AustenMary ShelleyCharlotte and Emily BrontëGeorge EliotElizabeth Barrett BrowningChristina Rossetti and Emily Dickinson–from a feminist perspective. The title comes from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, in which Edward Rochester’s mentally ill wife, Bertha Mason, is secretly confined in the attic.

I read part of Madwoman years for a graduate course and found it fascinating. According to Wikipedia, some critics say it’s outdated, but that won’t keep me from being fascinated again. A second edition was released in 2000.

I’ll check the Internet and journals for the subjects of other challenges. The only book I’ll have trouble choosing is one I “would normally consider a guilty pleasure.”

I can’t imagine feeling guilty about reading.

*The best children’s and YA books are for grown-ups, too. Adults who don’t read pictures books don’t know what they’re missing. A good book is a good book. 

Here’s a grandmother reading The Wonky Donkey to her grandchild. Or trying to read it. Pay no attention to background noise. 

 

The man standing beside the SINC Heart of Texas banner is author Nichols Grimes, who kindly let us take his picture.

What Have We Been Up To?

The goings-on over at Writing Wranglers and Warriors…

Writing Wranglers and Warriors

And now for a look at what Writing Wranglers and Warriors have been up to lately:

CHICKEN DIAPERS, PINTEREST AND RESEARCH,by KP Gresham

KP Gresham writes about . . . chicken diapers.

“Then I got to thinking. In a different Hardscrabble Homecoming book, a character (and I do mean character) has a pet chicken (which integral to the story). I’d heard stories of a writer who did, indeed, diaper her chicken and keep it inside as a house pet. So what the heck. I looked up “Diapered Chickens.”

ONE STEP AT A TIME, by SJ Brown

Wildlife photographer SJ Brown writes about hiking the Appalachian Trail.

“Guided by a series of white hash marks we wandered into the woods and left civilization behind and began to enjoy the tranquility of the trail. This leg of our journey had the most elevation and would be the most challenging for both of…

View original post 833 more words

Weep, Explode, or Quote Chaucer

[ The following is a rant about WordPress’ new, improved stuff, so skip it if you  wish. This post began as a semi-humorous post, but after four plus hours of writing and trying to format it, I am seriously disgusted, and disgusted is a mild term. After I completed the post, my paragraphs disappeared. It was one long block of text. I found a way to bring the paragraphs back. Ready to post for the second time, I previewed and saw again one long block of text. This is the third copy-and-paste version. It was done on the old WP Admin version, after WP stopped sending me to later versions. Paragraphs were okay the last time I looked, but I have no idea where they’ll be when you see it. So. The post is semi-humorous, but if I were writing it now, it would be titled, “Quoting Chaucer.”

[I just discovered some of the paragraphs aren’t double spaced, even though I double-double spaced all of them trying to make them double spaced. If you can follow my meaning.

[I also just discovered I posted it on the wrong blog, so I have to apologize to my co-bloggers there. It just does not stop.

[Thank you for allowing me to vent my spleen.

[Postscript: On the other blog where I (accidentally) posted this, the paragraphs are back. Go figure.]

Dear Readers,

I accidentally posted a test post.

I wrote a test post because WordPress is introducing a new method of posting–they say it’s “modern”–and I was trying to figure out how to perform a certain function for a friend who asked me because she couldn’t figure it out.

IMG_3454 (2)
Exploding

I didn’t choose to use the “modern” way. I used  it because when I tried to use the Old Fashioned, Sensible way, the “modern” way popped up. I didn’t ask to use it, I didn’t ask to test it, I just GOT it.

I thought I had figured out how to do what I wanted to do, but obviously I hadn’t, because I clicked something I thought I understood, and there it was–posted for all to see.

One really neat aspect of this “modern” way of posting–in case you’re not sure, the continued use of quotation marks stands for I am being sarcastic because if I don’t, I will weep, explode, and/or type words that would cause WordPress to delete my blog because I have it registered as friendly to families*.

As I was saying before I digressed, one really neat feature is that most commands are hidden behind one little plus sign way up in the left corner. No more comprehensive toolbar (or it might be a task bar) at the top like the original WP Admin has, no more abbreviated toolbar at the top (like the second generation “improved posting experience” has), just a *#&!(^ plus sign in an out-of-the-way place where it won’t attract attention, especially the attention of bloggers who want to know where all the stuff on the old toolbar has disappeared to.

pilcrow - paint
Pilcrow, inexpertly but sincerely rendered

Another neat feature–when you’ve pre-scheduled a post and then want to go back in and edit the pre-scheduled post, it takes three clicks to get to the draft format so you can make changes. It used to take no clicks at all.

If I’m wrong about the three clicks, I will admit my error. When I tried it, it took three clicks.

I pre-scheduled the test post so I could experiment with the commands–those I could find–and then, I thought, unscheduled it. But oh, silly me, I guess I didn’t unschedule it, because when I went back in to confirm that I knew how it worked–whoosh–there went the post, out into cyperspace, where it will live forever. I guess I didn’t know how it worked.

A third invaluable feature–under the little plus, there’s a pilcrow–the symbol that means start a new paragraph. About that, I will say no more.

Back when WP introduced the “improved posting experience,” there was a place users could tell WP what they thought. We were invited to tell them. A whole bunch of us did. Some people thought it was peachy keen. Others thought it was wretched and said so.

I remember saying I thought they were rolling out a new version just because they could. I’d never said that to anyone, but having already said so many things they didn’t take seriously, I figured I might as well insult them as not. They responded that I surely knew my accusation wasn’t true.

2018-09-29 ttn pixabay karen_nadine cc0 angel-2073098_640
Weeping

I didn’t bother to be ashamed of my outburst because other people burst worse than I did.

To all of us rabblerousers, WP said we were stodgy and set in our ways and didn’t want to learn something new. As far as I’m concerned, WP should have apologized for that.

Some of us threatened to move our blogs to Blogger or another service.

After a while, WP stopped responding to our remarks. The roused rabble continued remarking. One in particular noted several times that WP had stopped responding.

There may be a place for users to tell WP what they think of the “modern” way of posting, but so far I haven’t found it.** I suspect they learned their lesson the first time.

I don’t know if our input was responsible, but WP kept the original posting “experience” as an alternative to the “improved” one. The original page has more words and therefore is more flexible than the newer experiences. It also has more links to other functions, so fewer clicks are needed to navigate the site.

Some of the rabble suggested WP created the “improved” (second) version to make it easier for new users. To that I say–LET THEM READ THE ******* SCREEN. Like READ the WORDS.

2018-09-29 canterbury pilgrim pixabay cc0 chaucer-3306450_640
Riding to Canterbury

Oh oh oh! Look look look! When I previewed this post, it appeared as one long paragraph. Just one more thing. So I opened a second screen and copied and pasted the post into it. And what should appear but the message,

Classic
It’s the classic WordPress editor and it’s a block! Drop the editor right in.
I see no advantage to the blocks.
(And I would like to drop the editor right in.)
In addition, the toolbar appeared at the top. When you click the little plus, one of the choices is Classic. Maybe this means WP Admin will remain. As in, They learned their lesson.
I guess the Classic was there the first time I clicked the plus. I guess I should have read all the box. If I hadn’t been jangled by the little plus, I might have.
Just so you’ll know: I’ve used the “improved experience.” It’s okay, if you want just the basics. If you want to do anything more, or to find out something you don’t know, you’ll have to take a circuitous route.
I also appreciate that WordPress offers this service free of charge. I pay for extra features, and that’s fine with me. However, I would like basic features to work.

Let me be clear: WordPress malfunctions, large or small, are not important.

As many scientists observe, global warming is important.

2018-09-30 ttm scroll pixabay cc0 harold-933746_640
Reading a scroll

As Spencer Tracy observed, plumbing is important.

But right now, WordPress’ messing with my posting “experience” has brought me to the verge of apoplexy.

The “modern” experience, by the way, is called Gutenberg, a most inappropriate name.

Because believe me, folks, if Johann Gutenberg has invented this, we would still be using scrolls.

*

*I don’t know a lot of those words, but I will use the ones I know, and if I need more,  I’ll find more on the Internet. The Internet is not family friendly. I learned most of the words I know by studying Chaucer.

**But I’m going to keep looking.

*

Another test:

this is a test

ddd

kkk

ggg

#MeToo: Four True Stories

I’m not going to get political. I’m just going to tell some true stories.

The first:

2018-09-25 TTM pixabay congerdesign cc0 guitar-1583461_640Back in the Ice Age when I was a senior in high school, my friend and I provided entertainment at a fundraiser dinner for a Masonic girls’ organization, held on the grounds of the Masonic Lodge in San Marcos, Texas.

After we did our part, we were sitting at a picnic table enjoying plates of barbecue when a man sat down beside us and complimented us on our singing. He complimented us a lot. We smiled and thanked him, and so forth.

He had white hair and was probably in his sixties–ancient, to a couple of eighteen-year-olds–and he was also drunk.

In the course of the conversation, he said he was passing through town, and he would like us to bring our guitars to his motel room and sing for him. He asked us several times.

We said that would be very nice, but no, we couldn’t–we had to get on home. Sorry. We said that several times.

We did get on home, and on the way, we laughed and laughed. We were not accustomed to being propositioned.

Note: If the older man had been a younger man, we still wouldn’t have gone.

But if we had, there would have been a difference.

If we’d run into trouble in the older man’s room, people might have believed and supported us.

If we’d gone with a young man and run into trouble, they might not have believed us–or, if they had believed us, they might have said it was our fault, that we should have known better, that we’d gone to his room because we wanted what we got, that we’d asked for it, that we were, among other things, sluts.

My friend and I thought the picnic proposition funny because we were members of a Masonic group, the most conservative girls’ organization imaginable–we weren’t allowed to wear strapless formals (even spaghetti straps were suspect), slacks, or shorts at functions–and we were on Masonic property, chaperoned by Masonic adults. We thought the man was just tipsy, and he seemed nice, so it didn’t mean anything. And it might not have. But we should have mentioned it to one of the adults in charge.

The second:

Three years later, Janie, my college roommate, came in from a date. I was already in bed, awake but not inclined to start a conversation. She sat down on her bed and breathed as if she’d been running a marathon. I turned on the light and asked what was wrong.

Her date had tried to rape her.

Some background: It was their first date, they’d met through friends, and they’d gone to Austin, about thirty miles away, for dinner. On the way back, they stopped at his motel just outside of town so she could use the bathroom. When she came out, he was lying on the bed, naked.

She said all the words that mean No–a shocked, unmistakable No–and he grabbed her. A wrestling match ensued. She told me she’d vowed never to use her knee on anyone, but she used it. He got dressed and brought her back to the dorm, all the while telling her she’d asked for it, she’d given all the signals that she wanted it, and on and on and on.

I’d gotten to know Janie well over the year. I couldn’t imagine her giving signals. She was attractive, dressed in the fashion of the day but modestly, and was friendly and outgoing, but I never saw or heard that her relationships were anything her ultraconservative parents wouldn’t have approved of. The one blip: one boyfriend had hit her, but she broke up with him immediately afterward.

So how did she “ask for it”? She asked to stop to use the bathroom. It was several miles through town to the dorm, and public restrooms then were located at the poorly lighted sides of service stations; most weren’t especially clean. Her date’s motel, located on the sparsely populated interstate, was on the route to the dorm. It was conveniently placed and had a clean bathroom, which she needed then, not fifteen or twenty minutes later. Those were the only signals it took for him to strip off his clothes and blame her for making him do it.

I don’t know who else Janie told, but she didn’t tell the police: attempted rape, unreported.

The third:

Twelve years later–well past the Ice Age–following an evening interdisciplinary graduate course in women’s studies, female professors divided students according to where our cars were parked and we walked together to our cars. There’d recently been some rapes on campus, the profs said. The week before, the college newspaper had quoted the campus police chief on the topic: there had been no rapes on campus. Why the disparity? Because the girls hadn’t reported them.

The fourth:

I’ve known one nineteen-year-old who walked off a new job because her boss put his hand down the front of her blouse; a twenty-something chaperone on a religious retreat for teens who was accosted between the campfire and her cabin by a pillar of the church and who had to wrestle and run to get away; a forty-something wife and mother who was grabbed in a workplace storeroom, within hearing distance of co-workers, and who had to wrestle, quietly, to get away.

The first woman didn’t tell because she knew nobody would have cared;  the man had the power, she had none, and she might as well quit and go home. The third woman told me, well after the incident occurred, but otherwise kept it to herself because if her husband found out, he might take matters into his own hands.

The second did tell. She and her husband spoke to the pastor and other leaders of their church, which had sponsored the retreat. They were told their problem was that they they didn’t contribute enough money to the church; not giving enough made them unhappy. They found a new church. The wife told me she was scared when the man grabbed her, and she worried about teenage girls on future retreats he chaperoned.

Another minister’s view on the topic:

In a blog post “Women Are Scary (and other lessons modesty culture teaches men),” missionary Jonathan Trotter writes

“I grew up learning of the guy’s responsibility to not look, and that’s great, but what I really heard A LOT about was the girl’s responsibility to not be looked at. Practically speaking, this is just really stupid. And it’s offensive, because it’s basically saying that guys can’t help themselves and we need women to save us from our own animalistic urges. “Please, ladies, put this blanket on.”

“Seriously, men? Give it up and guard your own heart. Not.Her.Job. You cannot blame your lust on a woman. Ever. Period. If you walk down the street by her house late at night and “fall into temptation,” that’s on you, man. I don’t care what she was wearing or if she came after you buck naked. Man up and run away.”

He says a lot more than that–the entire post is worth reading–but the above message bears repeating.

The end:

Or not the end, because there’s more of this to come.

*

Image of guitar by congerdesign, CC0, via Pixabay.

Elizabeth Berg: The Last Time I Saw You

10-12-2019 TTM pixabay CC0 african-boerboel-2138273_640Lester Hessenpfeffer awakens on a bath rug stuffed into the corner of a gigantic cage and stares into the open eyes of the bull mastiff. The dog wags his tail once, twice, and Lester feels his chest tighten with joy. Just before he fell asleep, he’d been preparing a speech for the dog’s owners about how he’d done his best, how he’d tried everything, but . . . Samson had ingested a few Legos the day before, which the owners’ great-grandchildren had left lying about. One had perforated his intestine. By the time he was brought to Lester’s clinic, the dog was in shock and the prospects for saving him were almost nil. Lester had slept in the cage with him to provide comfort not so much for the dog as to himself. He’d known Samson since he was a puppy, and he was very fond of the owners, an elderly couple who thought Samson hung the moon. They’d wanted to spend the night at the clinic, but after Lester told them he’d be literally right beside the dog, they reluctantly went home. Lester had hoped they’d get some sleep, so that they could more easily bear the news he was pretty certain he’d have to deliver in the morning. This is always the worst part of his job, telling people their pet has died. Sometimes they know it, at least empirically; on more than one occasion someone has brought a dead animal into the office hoping against hope that Lester can revive it. And when he can’t, he must say those awful words: I’m so sorry. He’s noticed a certain posture many people assume on hearing those words. They step back and cross their arms, as though guarding themselves against any more pain, or as though holding on more time the animal they loved as truly as any other family member, if not more. Oftentimes, they nod, too, their heads saying yes to what their hearts cannot accept.

But here Samson is, alive and well enough to give Lester’s face a good washing with a tongue the size of a giant oven mitt. “Hey, pal,” Lester says, “you made it. Let’s have a look at that dressing.” He rises to his knees and very gently turns the dog slightly onto his side. Samson whimpers and holds overly still, the way that dogs often do when they’re frightened. There’s a lot of drainage, but nothing leaking through. He’ll give Stan something for pain and then call Stan and Betty. By the time he’s done talking to them–he can anticipate at least a few of the questions they’ll have–he’ll be able to change the dressing without causing the dog undue distress. He thinks Samson will be able to stand and move about a little this afternoon, and imagines him lifting his leg with great dignity against the portable fireplug his staff uses for cage-bound male dogs (the girls get Astroturf). The portable bathrooms had been Jeanine’s idea; she was always coming up with good ideas. She had the idea for Pet Airways before they came up with Pet Airways, although her suggestion was that owners and pets fly together–cages would be installed next to seats so that an owner could reach down and scratch behind an ear, or speak reassuringly, or offer a snack. This was a much better idea for alleviating the stress caused to animals when they fly, and Lester advised Jeanine to write to Pet Airways suggesting it. She said she’d rather keep the idea for herself, because she wanted to start Dog Airways, as it is her belief that only dogs really care when their owners are gone. She is by her own admission a dog chauvinist, but she’s good to all animals who come to the clinic, even the hamster whose hysterical owner brought her in because she was gobbling up her babies as soon as she gave birth to them.

Jeanine also had the idea that Lester should attend his high school reunion. When the invitation had come to the clinic, Jeanine had opened it, and then immediately begun a campaign to get her boss to go. Lester knew what she had in mind–she wanted him to find a woman. . . .

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From Chapter Two of Elizabeth Berg’s The Last Time I Saw You
Random House, 2009

“As onetime classmates meet up over the course of a weekend for their fortieth high school reunion, they discover things that will irrevocably affect the rest of their lives. For newly divorced Dorothy, the reunion brings with it the possibility of finally attracting the attention of the class heartthrob. For the ever self-reliant, ever left out Mary Alice, it’s a chance to reexamine a painful past. For Lester, a veterinarian and widower, it is the hope of talking shop with a fellow vet–or at least that’s what he tells himself. For Candy, the class beauty, it’s the hope of finding friendship before it’s too late. As these and other classmates converge for the reunion dinner, four decades melt away; desires and personalities from their youth reemerge, and new discoveries are made. For so much has happened to them all. And so much can still happen.”

“For the delightful hours it takes to read this novel, it seems that the characters jumped off the page and joined the crowd for a casual family supper.” — Chicago Tribune

“Marvelous . . . plenty of pathos and can’t-stop-laughing moments . . . readers will care about every character. — The Oklahoman

“Book groups are clamoring for upbeat yet significant works that are entertaining as well as enlightening; Berg’s latest novel satisfies and succeeds on both counts.” — Booklist

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Image via Pixabay

 

Martindale High School Girls’ Basketball Team

Martindale girls basketball team - Crystal Barrow capt. (2)

Martindale High School (Martindale, Texas) girls’ basketball team, 1935. My mother, Crystal Barrow is front row, center, holding the basketball. In those days, players were allowed to dribble the ball once before handing it off.

Tennis was her game. Lucyle Dauchy Meadows, my father’s cousin, told me, “When your mother and your aunt Mary Veazey played doubles, nobody in the county could beat them.”

Hillfest

When the booming started, I was incensed: one of the neighbors had gotten hold of some fireworks–some very strong fireworks–and were defying both a city ordinance and common sense–it’s too dry here to play with matches. Ernest the Cat was incensed, too; he jumped off the arm of my chair and ran behind it.

It took a good half-dozen booms before I realized they came from St. Edward’s University, which celebrates the beginning of the fall semester with Hillfest–a concert followed by fireworks. We can’t hear the concert, but every year we go outside to enjoy the light show.

 

My mother brought home boxes of books . . .

My father worked up to three jobs to ensure our family never missed a meal. We weren’t poor but neither were we wealthy or middle-class. Every so often my mother took a job to help make ends meet, including one at Gamma Phi Beta sorority at Northwestern 2018-09-05 TTM pixabay - cc0 - books-1082949_640University, where she worked as a cleaning woman during the Christmas holidays. She brought me along to help because she couldn’t afford a babysitter. I remember her telling me that the sorority’s chapter said no blacks or Jews would ever be admitted into its ivied halls. My mother brought home boxes of books thrown out by the sorority girls when classes ended, and in those boxes I found my first copies of Mary Shelley and Shakespeare. I read them, determined that the privileged girls of that sorority would never be able to say they knew something about the Bard that the son of their holiday cleaning woman didn’t. Decades later in 1990 Northwestern’s English department actively and generously pursued me for employment by offering me a chair in the humanities, which I declined.

— Charles Johnson, The Way of the Writer:
Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling

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Image by congerdesign via Pixabay