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. . . .

*

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

*

 

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

*

Image by congerdesign via Pixabay

Cats, Computers, Clicking & Knocking a Professor Out of His Chair

Not really about cats . . .

Writing Wranglers and Warriors

Kathy Waller UnCon 10 06 2016 Written by M. K. Waller

I fell asleep in my chair and when I awoke, I was right clicking on Ernest the Cat’s soft underbelly.

2018-08-21 WWW ernest and computer 2018-05-23Such is my life: cats, computers, and clicking. It’s past time for a new project.

Thirty-three years ago this month, I received a master’s degree in English. I’d spent the previous year digging myself into and then out of research that resulted in a thesis: The Writing of Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona. I followed my usual writing process: modified chaos. If my adviserhad known how I worked, he’d have booted me out of his office the first day.

At the outset, he gave me some excellent advice:

  1. Modify your aspirations. When I said I’d like to write about Emily Dickinson, he asked if I wanted to spend all my time reading what everyone else had written about her.  I didn’t. He said…

View original post 1,280 more words

Hospital Rag and Ice Cream Cones

When I think of my hometown as it used to be–and I do that often–two people immediately come to mind.

I’ve written before about Dr. Francis Carlton Luckett, who practiced medicine in my hometown of Fentress, Texas from 1917 until shortly before his death in 1965. I won’t repeat myself here except to say he was an extraordinary person and physician. In the words of my great-aunt Bettie Waller, his presence raised the level of the community. To people who knew the town in the first half of the 1900s, he was Fentress.

But what prompted this post–Dr. Luckett was also a musician. He worked his way through medical school at Tulane by playing a theater organ, accompanying silent films. In Fentress, he gave recitals and played for weddings. And he composed “Hospital Rag” for the piano.

As a child, I was fascinated by the idea that my doctor, who hated giving children injections (I never got mad at him for popping me with a penicillin shot every time he saw me; I blamed my mother instead), came to my house to take my temperature (and give me a penicillin shot) when I was sick, and took out my tonsils, had composed a rag. But I never heard him play it, and he didn’t commit it to paper, so I gave up hope.

Until Doctor’s granddaughter sent a recording to my friend Patsy Munk Kimball (whose husband was named for Dr. Luckett, and whose two sisters, in addition to her first child, he delivered), and Patsy sent a file to me.

Wow. That man was all over the piano.

Patsy had shared with me many old photos of Fentress in its early years, when the Fentress Resort drew people from miles around.

I wished aloud that I could share everything with folks who remember Dr. Luckett. David offered to make a video and put it on Youtube.

Suddenly the topic broadened–we couldn’t make a video about the town without including Dick Ward, who owned and operated what used to be called an ice cream parlor in the early part of the 19th century and continued until, like Dr. Luckett, he retired in the 1960s. He, too, was Fentress. I’ve written about him, as well.

There was a big sign on the awning in front of his store–W. F. Ward Conf. After I learned to read, I asked what Conf. meant. Confectionery, my father told me, but he’d heard someone remark it ought to say, W. F. Ward Cone, because that’s what he sold–huge double dip ice cream cones for a nickel. And if the top dip fell off, as sometimes happened, especially to children without the manual dexterity to hold the cone upright (or who tried to get on their bicycles with cone in hand), he automatically replaced the dip, free.

That had to be the best deal anywhere–the only price in the world that was never affected by inflation. 

And ice cream is therapeutic. After a penicillin shot from Dr. Luckett, one of Dick’s ice cream cones made everything okay again.

(And make no mistake–it wasn’t just kids–I saw plenty of adults walk out of Dick’s store carrying ice cream cones. And smiling.)

But back to the video. Patsy supplied the pictures, I put them in order, and David made the video. It’s on Youtube for all to see.

If you want to know more about Fentress, the bare facts are covered in the Handbook of Texas. But if you want to know the whole story–like

  • why the Methodist Church was founded, or
  • what J. C. Dauchy always carried in his pocket, or
  • which teenager made the owner of the telephone company so mad–and how the teenager did it–that the owner threatened to cut off service to the Fentress School, or
  • which new bride invited visitors to “Come right in” when her husband was taking a bath in front of the fireplace in the living room (in 1905), and
  • what the new husband did when he heard his bride invite company to come right in, or
  • what the members of the Staples Baptist Church did immediately after their minister preached against the Sin taking place in Fentress on a daily basis (I’ve been told that during Prohibition, the skating rink/dance hall did get a little loud)–

If you want to know anything like that, don’t ask the Handbook of Texas.

Ask me.

Because I know.

And I tell the Truth. Mainly.

So turn up the sound. Here’s a Fentress, Texas video diary, accompanied by Dr. F. C. Luckett playing his composition, “Hospital Rag.”

 

 

 

 

 

Making a Killing

Writing Wranglers and Warriors’ first cartoon–a guest post

Writing Wranglers and Warriors

DSCN1633 (3) Cartoon by guest poster David Davis

2018-07-31 WWW DDAVIS COPYRIGHTED 157 mystery novelAlien Resort © David Davis. All rights reserved.

***

Before becoming a cartoonist, David Davis produced, directed, and wrote sci-fi videos. Notable among them is Invisible Men Invade Earth, which received the Judge’s Choice award at the 2017 What the Fest Film Festival (Dallas); the Out of This World award at the 2016 Lionshead Film Festival (Dallas); and the Most Original Concept award at the 2016 Houston Comedy Film Festival. His films also appeared at the 2017 Fort Worth Indie Film Showcase; 2017 Dallas Medianale; 2012 Boomtown Film and Music Festival in Beaumont, Texas, and the 2012 CosmiCon and Sci-Fi Film Festival in Roswell, New Mexico.

Andrew Whalen of Playerone.com writes that David’s Reverse Effects, screened at the 2015 Fantastic Fest (Austin) “is almost like a living comic strip, but undeniably vigorous and fascinating.” He also labeled David “eccentric,” but the jury is still…

View original post 13 more words

Seven

A Sampler from Writing Wranglers and Warriors

Writing Wranglers and Warriors

Kathy Waller UnCon 10 06 2016 Written by M. K. Waller (and others)

23:59 hours.

That’s how late I am in getting this post online.

That’s how late I am in writing this post I’m late in getting online.

Instead of belaboring the point, I’m going to do something I should do more often–remind you of some fine posts I didn’t write that deserve another look.

Here are seven–click on the title links to read. And there are more where these came from:

OBSESSING ON ELF EARS…

by Mike Staton

Mike Staton

Please forgive me. I’m so embarrassed. I just don’t know if I can actually write this post. I’ll do my very best. You see I have this peculiar fascination with ears – not with any old ears. Elf ears… the long pointed ones that project out from the heads of lady elves.

My admission is not something that makes me proud. I’d rather have a fascination with…

View original post 761 more words

Story


 

 

Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution–more so that opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to. Story is what enabled us to imagine what might happen in the future, and so prepare for it–a feat no other species can lay claim to, opposable thumbs or not. Story is what makes us human, not just metaphorically but literally. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story; the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of seducing us into paying attention to it.

Lisa Cron, Wired for Story

 

 

 

Reference Questions* I Have Known

 

  1. Is cabbage juice good for you?
  2. What is cystic ovary syndrome?
  3. Do you have any more picture books about fire trucks? He won’t read about anything but firetrucks.
  4. Is chemotherapy an effective treatment for multiple sclerosis?
  5. Do you have a book about condoms? I need to know who invented them.**
  6. How do I know what size bra to buy?
  7. How do you cure hams?
  8. Was Rachel Carson married to Kit Carson?
  9. How do you get to Gatesville, Texas?
  10. How do you make cherry pie?
  11. What did people eat in Victorian England?
  12. What do you call the 125th anniversary of the founding of a city?
  13. Is there a town called San Simon in Texas?
  14. Do you have any stories with voices?
  15. I need to know the names of some saints.
  16. Do I have to wear a hat to a Catholic christening?
  17. I need a list of scientists who’ve won the Nobel Prize.
  18. What does the Federal Reserve do?
  19. How many teeth does a giraffe have?
  20. How do you make a Sally Lunn cake?
  21. Where’s the book that was on that table the other day? It’s white.

***

*Some of the above might be outside the official realm of the reference question. But they’re close.

*No, dear freshman boy, in this little school library in this conservative little town in this conservative big state, I do not have a book about who invented the condom, and I’m trying very hard not to guffaw while I tell you this. (And when the little school library became a little public library, I didn’t have a book about it then, either. But I had books that came close.)

***

Images licensed under CC0, via pixabay