Author Archives: Luanne

About Luanne

Poet, memoir writer, blogger. Trash memory re-purposer.

The Bitch’s Tail

(Again, apologies to Chaucer. Third up in the series of Cat Tails is that of Tiger)

I’ll proudly claim my B-word title. I am the most petite cat in my queendom and rely on my claws for protection because almost all my teeth had to be removed. Other than my canines–isn’t that ironic?! I have a genetic tooth disease that comes to me from my god-ancestor origins in Egypt (note: the other cats are obviously not related to gods–this is proof). I am special, set aside from the other cats. My power intimidates them, so they don’t even try to get close to me. They have to respect and admire me from afar.

My story begins as a Cinderella tale. Remember that in Cinderella stories, the heroine seems to start from a lowly position, is elevated to a high station, and it is often revealed that her concealed origins were royal or aristocratic.

So when I tell you that my story here begins in a grocery store parking lot, remember that my story-of-origins begins earlier with my royal Egyptian forebears who now sleep forever in the vaults and tombs of pharaohs.

OK, the parking lot. I was young and tiny and hungry. I don’t know how I got to the parking lot because the first thing I can remember is standing there on the pavement, wondering how to avoid all the cars spinning in and out and all around. Before I was smashed to pieces, a young human snatched me up and took me away. She couldn’t keep me, so her friend took me home with him. He was a single college student, living in a one room apartment near campus. He meant well, but he couldn’t really take care of himself very well. I ate better than he did, but sometimes he couldn’t afford litter for my box. And one day he ran an errand, forgetting to put out the candle burning on the table.

He saved my life when he got home, but only after I got a little sick from the thick smoke. I became cautious of life after that, and especially of people, except for my young dad. I slept under the covers with him. He was my world.

One day, he went on vacation and left me with his parents. That was different. I didn’t like them at first and tried to snap at them (I still had teeth at that time). But the father was so good at playing “mousie” that I started to like him. And the mother wouldn’t give up petting me even when I was mean to her. And they bought me so much litter and gave me pieces of chicken. I have a thing for chicken. I asked to stay with them, and my young dad and his parents agreed that I had a better life with them. I didn’t realize until later that “them” came with a few other cats.

I didn’t have to worry about the other cats. My new father is besotted with me. I am his favorite cat, paws down. He won’t allow anyone to say anything negative about me. And when people talk about his love for me, he gets a silly grin on his face. I have claimed the title of bitch because I will smack any cat who intrudes on my territory–and since my father won’t allow anyone to call me a bitch, I will say it myself as it keeps everyone on their toes. [Mother intrudes: “But, Tiger, you are also afraid of other cats and sometimes your own shadow. How do you justify presenting yourself as brave?” Tiger replies: “Mother, this is my story to tell. And if I sometimes lie on my back and cry when someone comes close and stares at me, it’s because I have a sensitive nature. I guess Father understands that.”]

I am the only cat to sleep with Mother and Father every night. No matter how many new cats come to live here, it’s always me. That shows you how special I am. I am also a Tabico cat. That means that I have Calico Cat markings that are made up of Tabby Cat stripes. Tabicos (or, as some call us, Patched Tabbies–or even Torbies) are very rare cats indeed!

I’ve been with my mother and father for years now. I am fourteen years young. The funny thing is that although I know how much Father loves me, I love to curl up on Mother at night. She tries to push me away (careful, Mother, you know the power of my claws!), but I wait until I think she is asleep and climb back. Every morning she has to explain the scent of Tiger on her to Perry, Sloopy Anne, and the other cats.

Maybe you wonder if I still see my first dad. I do. He visits us sometimes with his new wife, and I let him pet me. He’s still one of my three favorite people. And I’ve heard that he’s become a really good cat dad and even a . . . I can’t believe I’m saying this . . . dog dad. Mother and Father think he’s one of the best. You can all thank me for that. I am the one who trained him, the one who had patience with him, and the one who put up with his childish mistakes.

Just remember my motto when you think of me: I AM TIGER, HEAR ME ROAR!

FOR THE OTHER CAT TAILS (SO FAR):

The Dowager’s Tail

The Baby’s Tail

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Luanne here. I was so lazy all year about sending out submissions that I decided to try for at least 15 publications in 2019. Arbitrary number, but who cares. It’s having a goal, not what the goal is, that matters. (If I reach that number with time to spare, I’ll have lied to myself because I’ll up it to 20).

Just as I decided on that goal, I heard from three journals that had had my stuff for a long time. One yes and two nos. That meant I had one publication coming up for 2019. Fourteen to go. So I sent poems out to four topnotch journals on Wednesday. On Thursday I was called by the editor of one, taking a poem for early 2019. Best timing yet. So now two down, thirteen to go!

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Filed under #writerlife, #writerslife, Cats and Other Animals, Memoir, Nonfiction

Cat Couture as Anxiety Cure

On Facebook, I belong to a couple of cat groups because I enjoy seeing the photos and hearing snippets of stories about cats. On one of the groups, I saw that a woman named Penny Cardino posted adorable photos of her cat Shadow dressed in a Christmas dress. Before you think I am talking about a woman with too much time on her hands, playing dolls with her cat, learn the reason for this. Shadow suffers from a severe anxiety disorder. Wearing her Christmas dress makes her happy. I knew that thundershirts sometimes work for dogs with anxiety, although I haven’t personally heard of a cat who has been helped by one (that I can recall). But this was the first time I had heard about using clothing to comfort an anxious cat. Penny agreed to be interviewed about Shadow and her anxiety problem.

Where did you get Shadow and how long have you had her?

We found Shadow in at a gas station in 2011. Our vet said she was about 7 weeks old and looked to have been abandoned. The first night she would not come to us, but we could tell she was very hungry. She would walk up and then dart away quickly. I went inside and got her something to eat and a cup of water. It took us three days, but we finally managed to get her trapped. A good friend of mine kept her over the weekend for me while we were trying to decide if we could keep her or not (we have a very territorial male Siamese). We decided that she had been through enough and thought that Ashby (the Siamese) would come to accept her. That was almost 8 years ago.

When did you first learn about Shadow’s anxiety?

While we were gone during the day, we kept her in a huge kennel in our son’s room so she and Ashby could get acquainted safely. We would go in and shut the door and spend time with her. She would sleep with William (our son) and then, about four months after we brought her home, we eventually just let her stay out and put the kennel away. She always wanted to go to William’s room at night and sleep with him but she didn’t want to stay in there by herself, especially in the dark. She would follow him to his room, and later we would hear her crying to get out. At that time, I did not think anything about it–I just thought she wanted to be in the living room with everyone else.

Then she would start to cry if someone new came to visit. The crying got worse; it went on for hours and nothing would settle her down. She would pace constantly. Her cries were loud and long. We talked to our vet; I really did not want to medicate her because it was not an everyday thing. Mainly, it happens when the security system goes off, visitors come to the house, or if there is work being done around the neighborhood close to the house. I started letting her go to William’s room when company came, but I would have to turn the light on for her. Occasionally, if the house was very quiet, she would call out intermittently, as if she were looking for someone. We finally answered her one night and said, “we are right here.” She quieted down, and it was as if she were making sure she was not alone.

I started to make mental notes of how frequently she had these episodes and how long they lasted. There are times that we come home from work and she is in the midst of an episode and we have no clue as to what started it. Shadow is strictly an indoor cat; Ashby is as well. Shadow wants nothing to do with the outside, and she panics if we are holding her and open the door to look outside. She will push it shut with her paws.

How does her anxiety show itself?

When Shadow has an anxiety attack, she usually starts to cry back to back. She has different vocalizations, and we have learned them, but her anxiety sounds very distressed. She paces back and forth, she won’t eat, drink, play or get on her cat tree. Her episodes can last from a day to a week, depending on the event that led to it. Her cries will break your heart because they are long and mournful. She does cry in her sleep at times and has nightmares. William says he hears her crying and will wake up and talk to her, stroke her head and let her know he is there until she calms down. What is odd about this is that during her nightmares, her eyes never open.

How did you learn to put the clothing on her? Did you try a thundershirt first and what happened?

I used to swaddle William when he was an infant after a bath or when he would cry. I would rock him until he settled down. So I wondered what would happen if I tried that with Shadow. I saw the thundershirt commercial and tried it, but she started bucking like a bronco and her cries were more piercing. I also tried a little Prozac, but that made her sick as she does not tolerate medications well.

While out shopping for a baby shower gift, I came across a baby t-shirt that was very soft and seemed like it might fit Shadow. I decided to see if this would work better than the thundershirt. When the next anxiety episode hit, I put on her shirt and she jumped down, walked over to her daddy, and jumped up on his lap. She talked to him and her meows were not distressful. She sat with him for a bit, then jumped down but her demeanor was totally different–she was more calm and not pacing. Shadow went and got on her cat tree and actually took a nap. We were amazed that this one little shirt would make such a difference.

I have tried different materials and different styles. She is not a fan of tutus or anything that has a real tight band around the “waist.” Occasionally, she will wear a hat for picture purposes and then I take the hat off. We never leave her clothes on while we are gone; she only wears them when we are home. She last had an episode that lasted three days, our neighbor stopped by to give us some homemade pickle relish and it set off her anxiety.

Have you swaddled or clothed other animals or seen it done before?

My grandmother had a Yorkie that came from a neglectful situation and had to have all of her hair cut off. The mats were so bad that the groomer shaved her entire body, leaving only the hair on her head and tail. This dog would not come out of the bedroom and looked pitiful if we had to go somewhere. So my grandmother bought her a hair bow and a big open bag. In the bag, along with her wallet with money and ID, she paced a baby pillow. Then she fixed that pup’s hair in a bow and off they would go. They went everywhere: to the mall, Walmart, but Dillard’s was their favorite. Everyone would come peek at “Sandy.” For some reason, that little dog perked up and had a completely different attitude when her hair was fixed. She eventually grew a beautiful coat, but still wanted her hair done up in her bow.

Do you have other animals?

We have two other animals–Ashby, our Siamese and Whiskey, our Black Mouth cur.
Ashby will be 9 in March and Whiskey will be 9 in February. Whiskey will not stay still long enough for a picture. Ashby has many, many pictures.

Shadow and Ashby

What else would you like to say about Shadow?!

Shadow is a special girl; she helped my son when he was in elementary school. While he had many friends, he would still get bullied or made fun of and I would talk with him or try and make the hurt go away. Sometimes a parent just can’t make it better no matter how hard we try. But Shadow could make it better. I heard him talking to her one day; he told her that she knew how he felt. He told her that the person that abandoned her was a big bully and she understood how much it hurt him when the kids would laugh at him for being smart or a little overweight because of what she had gone through. Once in awhile, he would cry into her fur and she just sat with him while he let it out. When he and I would talk again, he would feel better. He has learned how handle the bullies.

William and Shadow

Shortly after receiving Shadow’s help, William wanted to tell Shadow’s story. He said that his peers needed to know how “dumping” an animal is cruel, both mentally and physically, so he created a Facebook page for Shadow called Shadow’s Sanctuary. He says that he did this so he could show people the long term effects of being abandoned have on the animal and the people who care for them. Shadow has about 1,000 followers. He hopes to break the cycle of abandonment. William is now 17 and Shadow is still by his side. She is afraid of the dark, unless we are with her. If we know we are going to be out after dark, we always leave a light on for her so she isn’t afraid. She loves her brother, Ashby, and is crazy about my husband. It takes a long time for someone to gain her trust, but once they do, they have a friend for life. I often wonder though, with Shadow, who rescued whom.

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Luanne’s comment: I realized after reading Merril’s comment below that I ought to make a comment about dressing cats in the general, as opposed to the particular as in the case of Shadow. Most cats are stressed out by being dressed up. It isn’t something to try just for the fun of it, unless you are talking about cats who are willing to wear hats and jewelry for photos (as some of mine are). Years ago, my daughter tried to put a sweater on Tiger, and Tiger was so upset it took her four years to forgive her human sister! But Penny’s story about Shadow shows that all cats are different and have different needs. The trick is figuring out what they need and when. That is something that Penny and her family have mastered!

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Extreme Circumstances: The Life of Caroline Meier Waldeck (Sixth and Final BROAD STREET Magazine Article)

The sixth and final installment of what research went into the pieces in KIN TYPES, published by the beautiful magazine BROAD STREET.

The Family Kalamazoo

This is the sixth and final week that the beautiful creative nonfiction journal Broad Street magazine has published one of the pieces from my chapbook Kin Types along with documents and photographs that helped me piece together these old family stories.

The subject of the poem “Someone Else’s Story” is Caroline Meier Waldeck, the wife of my grandmother’s Uncle Fred, a German immigrant who, as a young husband and father, was hit by a streetcar and suffered severe brain damage from the accident.

You can read it here: Family Laundry: “Someone Else’s Story” by Luanne Castle

The first feature article is “Family Laundry: “An Account of a Poor Oil Stove Bought off Dutch Pete,” by Luanne Castle

The second feature article is Family Laundry 2: “What Came Between A Woman and Her Duties” by Luanne Castle

The third feature article is: Family Laundry: “More Burials” by Luanne Castle

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Filed under Family history, Kin Types, Nonfiction, Poetry, Research and prep for writing, Writing

Suanne Schafer on the Writing of A Different Kind of Fire

When I attended the Stanford online writing program, I met fellow writers with whom I’ve developed a lasting bond. One of my favorites was not even in my nonfiction program, but rather a fiction specialist, Suanne Schafer. Before her first novel, A Different Kind of Fire, was hot off the presses and in my waiting hands, I knew it would be a good read. I just didn’t know how wonderful a book it would turn out to be! When I finished reading this historical (women’s, LGBTQ, art, Texas) novel, I begged Suanne to write about the book for my blog, and she kindly agreed.

You can read my Goodreads review here.

MEET SUANNE SCHAFER, AUTHOR OF A DIFFERENT KIND OF FIRE

A Different Kind of Fire began as an homage to my grandparents. According to family legend, my grandfather had vowed he would never marry unless he married his childhood sweetheart. My grandmother, though, had other ideas. She traipsed off to the Chicago Art Institute with the goal of becoming an artist. Several years later, she returned to West Texas—one child in tow, pregnant with another, and abandoned by a fellow artist, a European nobleman she’d had to marry. Steadfast Bismarck waited seven years for her husband to be declared dead before Bismarck could finally achieve his goal.

To disguise the fact that I was writing a family history, I set A Different Kind of Fire some twenty years before my grandmother went off to art school. Originally, I adopted the contemporary romance format of alternating points of view to reveal a love story. Eventually I realized I didn’t really want to write a family history—I wanted my story to be larger than that. The more I researched the Gilded Age, the less interesting Bismarck became. Back on the ranch doing the same thing day after day, he wasn’t as intriguing as a young woman suddenly on her own in a big city, encountering suffragettes, bohemian artists, misogynist professors, and handsome European nobles. I wanted to write herstory not history.

I chose a very close third-person point of view for A Different Kind of Fire because I wanted readers to feel as though they were Ruby. To accomplish that, I had to become Ruby, to see only through her eyes, to experience only those things she could directly experience. Showing Ruby’s world through an artist’s eyes proved to be a two-part task. As a teenager, I painted well enough to be expected to follow in my grandmother’s footsteps. In an act of defiance, I became a photographer instead. Both art forms required an eye for line and color as well as a sense of composition, so I already saw the exterior world as an artist would. Thus, translating Ruby’s love for her West Texas home was relatively easy. For her, the drab landscape carried colors most folks never saw: “clouds turned scarlet and yellow against the cobalt sky” and “moonlight silver-plated puffy clouds … and gave an argent shimmer to the grasses below.” She sketched a bleached cow skull and “lightly penciled a copperhead wandering through the eyeless sockets, an insolent S snaked” over paper washed with a “venomous green.”

What proved more challenging was revealing how art permeated every aspect of Ruby’s existence. When she first saw Bismarck nude, her immediate desire was to draw him—she created precisely-detailed anatomic sketches guaranteed to shock viewers of the era. Art influenced even Ruby’s subconscious. I pulled an experience from my own life to illustrate this. I always knew when my grandmother occupied my dreams—I woke to the smell of turpentine. So, when talking to her friend Willow, Ruby confided that she “dreamed of art in the same way she dreamed of making love, awakening with the smell of turpentine and linseed oil in her nostrils, as rich and intoxicating as a lover’s scent.”

Line, color, and composition also informed Ruby’s emotions. When her third child was stillborn, she tailored his christening gown to fit his premature body, then “cradled his skull and, with her hand, fixed its geometry in her brain. Her thumb inscribed the arc of his brow in her memory. Her nose imprinted the scent from the crook of his neck on her dreams. The pad of a finger applied the burnished new-penny color of his hair to her mind’s palette. Her arms held him, awed by how his tiny body made her soul feel so heavy. Finally, she sketched her son so she would never forget his innocent face.”

Years later, when Bismarck became paralyzed by being thrown from a horse, Ruby saw him in terms of color: “His eyes, the new-denim blue now turned to faded chambray … By kerosene light, his skin looked yellow. The color of life giving way to death.” The intimacy of working with his frail body gave Ruby new insight into the Biblical scene of Christ in the Selpulcher as she painted “the blue-gray of lips no longer warmed by blood, the greenish cast to the face, the way white flesh hung slackly from bone when unsupported by functioning muscle.”

Ruby experienced the births of five children, the loss of three of them and her beloved Bismarck. At age fifty-four as she pursued another love in New Mexico, she still viewed the world through the filter of art, seeing the world’s highlights and shadows as if on a canvas, “With little atmosphere to filter the sun, New Mexican light blazed intense and harsh, blinding her. The effect was strangely unsettling. Brilliant daylight bleached important details. Dense shade obscured others. Salient information got lost in those extremes. The narrow range of mid-tones didn’t tell the full story.”

Through a close third-person point of view, I hope I captured not only the tastes, smells, and other sensations that made up Ruby’s life, but the sentiments that bound her to her family, her lovers, her home; the innate disposition and moral code that overlay her actions; and most of all the colors, lines, and composition that guided her art.

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Purchase the novel at Amazon by clicking on the book cover.

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Luanne Castle (Chapbook Confessions #5)

A big thank you to Underfoot Poetry for pushing me to inquire. Where did the poems for my full-length collection Doll God come from? I tried to figure it out!

Underfoot Poetry

Chapbook Confessions is a series in which poets discuss, at length, the writing of their most recent collection of poems, in whatever way they desire. For more information on the series, go here.

Below, Luanne Castle writes on her 2015 collection,Doll God (Aldrich Press).


41fJirDZxUL._SX331_BO1_204_203_200_360xWhen I first read the Chapbook Confessions project, I was intrigued and wondered if I participated would I be able to discover insight into my writing process. The notion of what I might find both allured and frightened me.

Part of me agrees with the brief “Ars Poetica” I heard X. J. Kennedy recite when I was a young grad student in Michigan:

The goose that laid the golden egg
Died looking up its crotch
To find out how its sphincter worked.

Would you lay well? Don’t watch.

The thought of losing the ability to write a poem because I inquired into…

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The Boys in Their Bowties

What lovely news I had yesterday! Longridge Review nominated “The Secret Kotex Club” for a Pushcart Prize! Thank you so much to the magazine and editor Elizabeth Gaucher for their support of my work. I am gobsmacked and verklempt and shocked.

The gardener and I had a lovely Thanksgiving day with daughter and her boyfriend. The cats were happy to see us all happy together. We started the day with a hearty breakfast and mimosas spiced up with Grand Marnier.

The gardener made rotisserie turkey on the grill outside (Arizona weather, you know), plus I bought a small spiral-cut ham. Then there were the sides. Both kids made dishes, and I made more. By the way, I don’t need to be afraid of gluten free stuffing (dressing for you southerners) because it turned out great. You would never have known it was free of gluten.

Now this coming weekend we are having a holiday party with all four kids and my DIL’s parents (as well as some other festivities).

To give you a smile for this week, here are my boys decked out in gift bowties a lady made them.

Felix has a halo because he is always a good boy.

Perry is not as good, but he sure is cute.

The scratches on his nose are caused by one of the girls. He annoys them, and they tell him to get lost (with their claws).

If you think Perry is cute, I will tell you that my  friend is fostering another gray and white boy cat in Phoenix that is ABSOLUTELY ADORABLE and a cuddle bunny and of a perfect disposition! She can’t keep him much longer with her other cats (she has as many as I do). His name is Asher (I helped name him), and we desperately want him to go to the best possible home.

Here is his bio:

Asher was found abandoned on the streets. He is a real sweetheart, a darling cat who does not have a single mean cell in his body, he is truly a gentle giant. He will follow his person around the house like a puppy, wanting attention and company. He’s good with other nice cats, dogs, and people. He is 13 lbs of love, loud purrs, and he is a big kneader and talker too. His estimated age is between 2 and 3 years old. He is desperately looking for someone who will give him a warm, loving forever home and family and will never abandon him as his previous humans did. Even though he tested FIV +, his lifespan is no different than those cats who are FIV-, as long as he is fed good quality diet and kept healthy. Asher appears to be in excellent health now. His adoption fee is $50 and it includes neuter, microchip, FeLV (-)/FIV(+) test. It also includes a free wellness exam in a cat-friendly hospital with a veterinarian who is up-to-date on FIV and can offer professional advice and guidance regarding proper care for Asher. For most up-to-date information and to learn more about FIV visit this website: https://www.fivcatrescue.org  With all inquiries about Asher please contact his foster at 6happypurrs@gmail.com or text at (480) 652-4852.

 

Make it a good week. My solution to minimize holiday stress is to plan like crazy with itineraries and lists and then relax and be flexible, using the written notes as guidelines to be used when necessary and ignored when possible.

 

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Week Five at BROAD STREET Magazine: Wondering About A Violent and Mysterious Death

Some of my relatives whose lives I wrote about in my chapbook Kin Types were heroic, but for week five at BROAD STREET magazine, I discuss the research for family history that is not heroic. Instead, I found it to be devastating.

The Family Kalamazoo

This is the fifth week that the beautiful creative nonfiction journal Broad Street magazine has published one of the pieces from my chapbook Kin Types along with documents and photographs that helped me piece together these old family stories.

This week is about Louise Noffke’s death and the family history (including domestic violence) that surrounded that tragic event. Read it at Family Laundry: “Half-Naked Woman Found Dead,” by Luanne Castle

Louise was buried with her husband Charles Noffke, my great-grandmother’s brother. The “together forever” headstone is a bit ironic considering one of the newspaper articles that I uncovered.

This next is the headstone of the daughter of Louise and Charles. She is also mentioned in the Broad Street article.

The first feature article is “Family Laundry: “An Account of a Poor Oil Stove Bought off Dutch Pete,” by Luanne Castle

The second feature article is Family Laundry 2:…

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Filed under Family history, History, Kin Types, Nonfiction, Poetry, Publishing, Writing

Author Kelli Donley on the Arizona Indian Schools

Recently, I read a suspenseful and engaging novel that gives context to a controversial piece of Arizona history: Counting Coup by Kelli Donley. I had met Kelli at the Phoenix MEET YOUR LITERARY COMMUNITY event in early October. I wrote about it here. My booth was right next to Kelli’s, and as we sat and chatted, I looked over her three novels. They all appealed to me, but Counting Coup is her most recent–and the first sentence grabbed my attention, as did the subject of the “Indian schools” in Arizona.

I asked Kelli to write a guest post about the Indian schools. If you are intrigued by the subject, you will want to rush to purchase a copy of Counting Coup. (If you like contemporary romance, you’ll love it, too!)

MEET KELLI DONLEY, AUTHOR OF COUNTING COUP

I grew up in a suburban ranch-style home in the middle of Mesa, Arizona, just off of Alma School Road. The neighborhood was like so many others. We had a basketball hoop in the front yard, a swimming pool in the backyard, and a series of colorful goldfish in a bowl on the kitchen counter. My bookshelves were marigold, lined with precious Nancy Drews my mother had collected before I was born. My brother and I would fight over the remote on hot summer days, arguing over “I love Lucy” or “Brady Bunch” episodes. When my mother was at the point of putting us on the curb in a box marked “free,” the calendar would switch to September and we would be shuffled down the street to school.

We were Astros, attending Alma Elementary. It never occurred to me to ask any questions about Alma School Road, even though our school had a different address. But when we’d go to Phoenix to visit my grandmother in her tiny, smoky apartment, we’d drive down Indian School Road. Indian School? I saw neither Indians nor schools from the backseat of my mother’s Chevy Citation.

I remember asking my mother and receiving a brief, vague answer that brought forth images of the trailer park-ridden, dry desert reservation we’d see from the highway when traveling to Tucson to visit our other grandparents.

Indian schools were where Indian children went to school.

“But, Mom,” I persisted, smelling a mystery, “Mom, we have Indian kids at our school. Wayne is in my class. His brothers are older. You know them!”

“Oh, well those kids live in our neighborhood. Of course they attend your school.” And then she did that little toss of her hand that meant, “Don’t bother me. We’re done with this topic.”

Was the Indian school like the one I attended, with chalkboards and globes and a music room where the recorders always reeked of Pine Sol? My questions went unanswered.

Some 25 years passed. I went to college, traveled, joined the Peace Corps, wrote a couple novels, and to everyone’s surprise, married a man in my hometown. I’d found my professional passion working in public health, and loved being a wife and stepmom in Mesa.

One cold December day, I was invited by two colleagues to visit their recent project at the Phoenix Indian Steele Park in central Phoenix. They’d been awarded a grant to restore one of the remaining buildings at what was once the Phoenix Indian School. They explained the school was opened in the 1890s, and at its biggest, was hundreds of acres of farmland that students were expected to tend. The school closed in the 1990s, and the land was purchased by the City of Phoenix from the federal government. Too quickly, city officials bulldozed buildings, dug lakes, and created the modern-day park—all with very little input from the local American Indian community. Three buildings were saved from destruction.

We stood in front of one of them.

I followed the women into an adobe building so old the window panes were wavy from time. Cobwebs kept aging beams above woven together. Missing floor planks made navigating the long narrow walkway a game of hopscotch. Two steps into the doorway, taking in one long look of the now empty rooms, goosebumps rose on my arms and my stomach began to ache. I turned on my heel, retreating outside.

They followed, confused.

“What happened in there,” I asked rubbing my arms and trying to calm my breath.

“What do you mean?” one of the women asked.

“Something terrible happened in that room,” I blurted, feeling my cheeks turn red from unexpected emotion. I felt crazy, but only momentarily.

The women’s heads nodded. We sat together in a clump on the concrete stairs leading into the adobe music room. It was here, sitting next to them, I would learn that for more than 100 years, American Indian children were placed at boarding schools, and not just in Arizona, but across the United States, Canada, and Australia. The initial motivation was to break Indian culture and create new Christians. “Kill the Indian, and save the man,” was a commonly repeated refrain.

It is a complicated history, but eventually, children were no longer taken against their will to attend the schools. Instead, many attended in later years because there was no other option on their tribal lands.

One of the women shared a story about how her grandmother, from a northern Arizona tribe, had been kidnapped at age 5 by federal employees and brought to the school. She hadn’t been able to return until she graduated at age 18. By then, she no longer spoke the language of her parents. This would forever impair her ability to connect with family, tradition, and culture.

The same colleague went on to then tell me how her parents divorced when she was in junior high. Her mother struggled. She sent her two older daughters to the Phoenix Indian School until she could care for them herself. They spent two years together at the school.

I had a thousand questions. First, how could I have spent more than 30 years in Phoenix and never known about the school? This history wasn’t included in our education, or field trips. It wasn’t on any test. There was no day of honor or remembrance. In the shade of a date palm, I looked up at the haunted adobe music room, and realized the park was sacred earth. Children died here, their bones buried under the grassy lawn of today.

This chance meeting planted the seed for my latest novel, Counting Coup. This is the story of Avery Wainwright, a professor who uncovers a stack of 60-year-old letters. Written in the 1950s,

the letters tell of a year Avery’s grandmother, Alma Jean, spent teaching in the Indian school system. The ghostly yet familiar voices in the letters tell of a dark time in her grandmother’s life, a time no one had ever spoken of.

Today, the American Indian boarding school system remains, albeit voluntary. Health outcomes for American Indian children in the United States remain among the worse. These boarding schools allow children to graduate, but still keep student at a fragile age away from their families and home.

I have a thousand more questions to ask, and many more stories to write about my homeland. Thank you for reading!

For more information about Counting Coup and my other novels, visit: kellidonley.com.

Kelli Donley is a native Arizonan. She is the author of three novels, Under the Same MoonBasket Baby and Counting Coup. Inspiration for this novel was found hearing colleagues’ stories about childhoods spent at the Phoenix Indian School. Kelli lives with her husband Jason, children and small ark of animals in Mesa, Arizona. She works in public health, and blogs at www.africankelli.com.

Thank you for visiting, Kelli!

 

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Filed under Arizona, Book Review, Fiction, History, Reading

When the Family Home Burned Down, 1902

I’m so jazzed to have an article about the aftermath of the fire at my relatives’ home in 1902 up at the wonderful creative nonfiction magazine, Broad Street! It’s week 4 of the 6 week series. This is the only piece featured that is flash nonfiction, rather than poetry, although I am hoping you can find some “poetry” in it.

The Family Kalamazoo

The horrific fires in California have been in the news over the past week. My heart breaks for the people who died, those who lost their homes, and the animals that perished as well. Fire has long been a blessing and a devastation for humankind. Today’s post is about a fire that burned down the home of my great-great-grandmother’s brother and his family.

The last three weeks I’ve shared articles published by Broad Street magazine. They are featuring a series showcasing what went into the making of six poems and flash prose pieces in my chapbook Kin Types. The idea is that you can see how you, too, can put together stories of your ancestors.

Today the fourth part of the series was published and can be found here: Family Laundry: “The Weight of Smoke” by Luanne Castle

The first feature article is “Family Laundry: “An Account of…

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Filed under Family history, Flash Nonfiction, History, Kin Types, Poetry, Publishing, Writing

Eastern Tennessee and Me

I promised Tennessee, so here it is. Years ago, my parents gave us a membership to a sort of timeshare thingie. This year, to use our points, we decided we wanted to see the Smoky Mountains. To reserve a week during fall color season, we had to decide last January. Although we chose by what we read online, our stay got bumped back a week, color was late this year, and we ended up before the color had really begun to change. ALTHOUGH. The gardener kept pointing out “color” whenever he saw the faintest hint of rust or red in a sea of green. Very annoying.

I didn’t feel well, so that probably made me crabby.

My left foot had developed plantar fasciitis and hurt, that caused my back to go “out” and that hurt, and my reflux was in an uproar. After a trip to Walgreens, I was set to explore.

Unfortunately, an area we thought would be rustic and relaxing turned out to be the cheesiest tourist trap in the country: Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, and Gatlinburg. CHEESY.

Fake Alcatraz might have been the most educational place there (from the outside at least). We couldn’t find anything worth doing, didn’t want to do the crowds at Dollywood, and there was no place to eat gluten free food in that gluten-crazy, kid-friendly zoo. (Although we did end up going to one place in Pigeon Forge–I write about further down).

Fortunately, our timeshare was a lovely condo in a beautiful complex, and we ate almost all our meals there and packed cooler lunches to take with us. What a blessing.

View from our condo pool.

We ended up traveling to Ashville, NC, and the Biltmore (largest private home in the country); Knoxville with its history and art museum; Cumberland Falls in Kentucky; and towards Chattanooga, although we didn’t make it that far because we took country roads and explored.

Biltmore

Art that intrigued me in Knoxville

The second painting is from a large collection the museum owns by Joseph Delaney, an African-American artist from Tennessee. He studied at the Art Students’ League in NYC a little before my MIL, and I can see a similarity in their styles. This painting, in fact, is of the lobby of the Art Students’ League.

Cumberland Falls

Two touristy places we went to turned out great. We chose well. One was Parrot Mountain and Gardens in Pigeon Forge. The collection of colorful exotic birds is extraordinary. They also give homes to pet birds that find themselves homeless–and you can find a pet there, too. Although I don’t usually like zoos, this place does seem to do a really good job providing well for birds that could not live independently in the United States.

The other thing we did that is very touristy was a boat ride on an underground lake (in a cave). Called the Lost Sea, it’s located in Sweetwater, TN.

I do think Dollywood “ruined” the general vicinity. The traffic and all the cheesy establishments were such a disappointment. It probably brought jobs to people, and if so, that is good. But ugh. I would never return to that specific area. Luckily, we had a decent time with all our side excursions.

The only thing that was a real dark side for me was something that I’m sure I’ve seen elsewhere, but hadn’t really paid attention to. I had just finished a Rita Mae Brown Sneaky Pie mystery on the plane ride to TN. Those books take place in Virginia, and there was mention of kudzu and the destruction it wreaks. So when we arrived at our destination in Pigeon Forge, I couldn’t help but notice the Little Shop of Horrors monstrosities growing all around me. The large-leafed plant that spreads over everything: ground, bushes, trees, cars, old buildings, you name it. I felt as if I had fallen into Poison Ivy’s Garden of Hell.

I tried and tried to take good pix from the car, but it was impossible–and where I saw it was generally from the car.

 You have to look carefully, but in the photo just above, you can see beyond the first line of trees to the massive section covered with the creepy stuff. It’s actually a pretty plant, so while I was gazing from the parking lot at this view, a woman said to me, “Pretty, isn’t it?” Direct me said, “It makes me feel as if I’m in a nightmare. It creeps me out.” Then she agreed with me. Here is a great link to learn how kudzu got to our country and how dangerous it is (and how stupid people are): HISTORY OF KUDZU IN THE U.S.

On a positive note, we saw deer and lots of cows and sheep, but it was the woodchucks that stole my heart. As we drove on rural roads, woodchucks would be in the woods just off the shoulder of the road. They traveled in pairs or singly, and they were cute. WOODCHUCKS I doubt any of my pix turned out as our meetings were sudden and brief, but follow that link and you can see what we saw.

OK, that, in a nutshell, was our visit to eastern Tennessee.

Most of my writing lately has been working on finalizing the Broad Street magazine articles and writing reviews. There have been a lot of family activities lately, and now the holidays loom ahead. #wishIwerewritingmore My first review is out in the fall issue of Main Street Rag. I reviewed J. R. Solonche’s Invisible, a full-length collection of poetry.

Make it a great week, peeps!

 

 

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Filed under #writerslife, Book Review, Poetry, Sightseeing & Travel, travel