Category Archives: Memoir

Just Sayin’

When the ice maker repair person was leaving my house the other day, he said something that forced me to think about a writing problem I have. I didn’t bring that to his attention. Instead, I just laughed and responded with “You got that right!”

After discussing the repair to be made with this repair person, the gardener had waltzed off to the treadmill. Since I was pan frying dinner (ahead of time–my favorite time to cook), I was left overseeing the repair. My overseeing consisted of complaining to said repair person that the food was falling apart because it didn’t have any gluten in it. Anyway, when he was done, he shook my hand and said THIS.  Watch for my italics.

“Say goodbye to your husband for me. Tell him it was really fun talking to him. You probably hear that a lot. He’s quite a character!”

THAT. He’s quite a character. You probably don’t know he’s a character because I don’t make him much of a character in this blog. Or in my memoir-in-progress. I present him sort of flat and static–not multi-dimensional or dynamic.

Why is that?

Well, I’ll tell you why! It’s because he would overshadow the other characters (including me, of course).

I first realized this when I was around 150,000 words into my memoir (don’t panic–while I have about 400,000 by now, only 80,000 are currently in play). Because my father was quite a character, and my story is about my father and me, the gardener has to be a very two-dimensional confidant. According to yourdictionary.com, a confidant is described this way:

confidant

noun

  1. One to whom secrets or private matters are disclosed.
  2. A character in a drama or fiction, such as a trusted friend or servant, who serves as a device for revealing the inner thoughts or intentions of a main character.

And, truly, that is who the gardener actually is in my life, along with a whole lot of other things, such as best friend, lover, and most worthy antagonist. But he’s also a pain in the you-know-what to write about–unless, of course, I were to write about him. Putting him front and center. I am not prepared to do that. The thought of that project is beyond daunting.

In case you’re wondering if I am a wilted violet in the face of all that personality, never fear. The kids are waiting for our family reality TV show because they know it’s coming.

The following song is dedicated to the gardener.

 

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Telling the Truth

A few years ago Six Hens published my story, “Boundaries,” about my experience of sexual molestation by a minor. In light of the past week, and after reading the stories of so many women, I thought I would re-post the link here.

BOUNDARIES

If all women tell their stories, the world is bound to change for the better.

 

What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.

Muriel Rukeyser

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What’s Past and The Promise of What Lies Ahead

Today begins the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the new year. I’m wishing you a good (and sweet) year, whether you celebrate or not.

 

If you were reading my blog three years ago, you might remember that spring and summer were the seasons of the hummingbird mother and babies, my father’s illness and death, and the passing of my oldest cat Mac.* These events swirled together, as life’s events often do, and I ended up writing a lyrical essay called “Ordering in Four Movements.”

That fall the essay was published in Phoebe (45.1), a beautiful print journal. If I ever put together a collection of prose pieces, maybe this one will find a “book” home. In the meantime, though, I wanted to share it with more readers via an online journal, so I submitted it as a reprint to Ginosko Literary Journal where it was subsequently accepted. This weekend the journal went live. I hope you will enjoy this piece. It means a great deal to me since it covers emotional issues that preoccupied my mind at the time.

Ginosko Literary Journal — “thumb through” to page 33

* The links in the first paragraph are to the original posts I wrote about these events. The one about Mac tells his life story ;).

I’m still working on my gun essay, but I was challenged to try it from a different angle, which has taken me down a muddy and tangled garden path. Oh boy.

May you have a sweet week ahead. And a happy birthday to poet Mary Oliver!

 

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How to Plan for a Trip to Alaska

Last week I wasn’t feeling too hot, so I published some photos from my Alaska visit in Light and Color in Alaska. If you take an Alaskan cruise or visit southeast Alaska, here are my suggestions in bullet points.

  • Bring a good camera that will work almost telescopically. That is the only way to capture the eagles in the trees and the seals floating on the icebergs. Really be comfortable with it.
  • Bring a backup camera of some kind that will actually work (and that doesn’t have a defective SD card). (Sniff)
  • Get a waterproof pouch or dry bag for kayaking and rafting so you can bring your camera or iPhone.
  • Bring a nice thick hoodie with deep pockets.
  • Bring all the outdoor and clothes layering necessities, but don’t bring any extra clothes. If you plan to dress up you are taking the WRONG CRUISE SHIP.
  • Invest in a good rain hat. Consider bringing full rain gear unless you don’t mind being wet. You might use an umbrella occasionally, but the hat is much more important. It was all I used–and we had a lot of rain.
  • Go beyond your comfort zone. Cross some stuff off your bucket list. Mine included kayaking, riding a river raft in 60 MPH winds, seeing glaciers up close, frolicking with bears (well, sort of haha), taking pix from the outside platform on a mountain train, and seeing the other wildlife and landscapes of Alaska.
  • Be happy if you don’t have cell phone access for long periods of time. It means you’re having a real vacation.

I have been too tired to post until now. First I was recovering from my illness and then my daughter’s new boyfriend came to visit. The best part of that sentence is the new boyfriend part because he was her best friend. In fact, they have been friends for twelve years, so it was pretty exciting that they finally figured out what everybody else already knew. And it was fun being around lovebirds for a few days.

Also, I am working on a new memoir piece that has to do with guns, as well as working on some proofing of pieces going out, as well as writing poetry reviews. I have several coming out this fall and winter.

Here are a few more Alaska photos. Have a great week.

Haines, Alaska

from the train platform

a peek at the blue sky

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The Dowager’s Tail (more apologies to Chaucer)

Now that the baby has told his story and been put in a confined area for a brief time, I, the dowager duchess known as Pear Blossom, will tell you the history of this family.

Before I arrived at age six months, the household was ruled by a handsome male ginger and white with a magisterial presence. His name was Macavity (aka Mac-the-cat). He commanded an excitable blond terrier mix (dog, that is) and four humans–father, mother, son, and daughter.

One day, my litter mate Little Bear and I found ourselves at the end of a cul de sac. He was an adorable and rather stupid ball of fluff. We were hiding in a large rosemary bush at the end of the last driveway. He spotted a human and ran out to greet her! With my more cautious nature, I stayed in the bushes. That was the last I saw of Little Bear for three days.

At that point I had had enough, so I walked around the side of the house. Unbeknownst to me, the mother was on a treadmill that looked out upon the side yard and saw me. Within minutes I was captured and imprisoned in a corner room in the tower. Over the next few days, I met up with my brother; he was adopted by a single woman who lived in the desert and thought he was the cutest kitten ever born; and I was left with Macavity’s family. I was uncertain about him because he was very controlling, and the dog was annoying. I wasn’t yet focused on the humans. They said my tower room smelled very bad, but I don’t know why.

After some loud discussions about how many cats were appropriate for one family to own, I was released from my prison and forced to negotiate an entire house with six other inhabitants. I set up my boundaries, and to my surprise, Mac was not difficult to get along with. Neither was the dog. The humans granted all my requests until they made one mistake. They offered me Science Diet for dinner. I took the opportunity of a briefly opened door and marched down the driveway. I would show them! The mother ran after me and promised she would never make me eat that food again. I came back inside and ate a better meal. It’s now been almost eighteen years that I have been with this family, and they have never brought Science Diet into the house again.

The years while the children were growing up were good. Mac was a benign overlord (although dangerous to touch if he didn’t welcome it), and he had mastered the human language called English by calling our mother “Mom” on many occasions. The human children encouraged him to do so. Then first the boy and then the girl moved away to a faraway place called College. Felix decided to live with us when the girl left. Soon after, Sandy had many health problems and, with my intuitive gifts, I lay beside him when he suffered. Eventually he passed away, and Mac and I forged an even closer bond.

A couple of years later, we all moved to Arizona where Mac and Felix became good friends. Our mother placed three beds on the kitchen counter, and the three of us–Mac, Felix, and I–slept during the day and during the night on those beds, close as the three little kittens. Tiger came to live with us, but she was the odd cat out. We three were a team, and Tiger didn’t fit in. We were never mean to her, though.

Mac was two years older than me, and he began to experience health problems. He was a big boy with a heart defect, and he developed kidney disease and diabetes. Our mother took excellent care of him. She kept his blood sugar down with a special food diet of Weruva chicken. When he eventually died, my grief took me by surprise. I could not eat. The vet told Mother that I would die if she didn’t find a way for me to eat. She cried so hard she saturated the fur on my back with saltwater. I realized that Mother loves me very very much and couldn’t bear to lose me, especially after losing Mac and her human father in the same summer. So I began eating a little Gerber’s chicken and Temptations treats. Those treats have 2 calories a piece, so I was able to get enough nutrition to keep me alive. I rallied and began to want to live. But I was left with a permanent condition of high blood pressure and had to go on medication.

Do you think Mother could wait to get another cat? NO. She brought home Kana. Kana has a similar personality to Mac, so I understand why Mother did that especially because Kana was extremely depressed at the shelter. Nobody wanted an 8 year old big black cat rumored to nibble on people occasionally. So that’s fine, but she needs to leave me alone. Then Sloopy Anne came home, all because she had been at the shelter for two full years and nobody wanted her. Everything was fine until Perry came bouncing into our backyard and one thing led to another. We ended up with a baby living amongst us oldsters.

My life is satisfactory. Mother is very good to me, and I trust her implicitly. Father has an ideal lap when he’s in his chair watching TV. My only complaint is that I have a medical issue that causes some trouble. [Whispering] I get UTIs. They are very painful.

Three years ago, when I was dying from not eating, Mother told me a secret as she slobbered all over me. I will share it with you, but please do not disillusion the other cats by letting them know. She told me that I am her favorite child. She tells everyone who will listen that I have never put my teeth on her in eighteen years.

I suppose that my age and because I was Mac’s companion imbues me with a dignity that commands respect from the others. I accept that respect, although I never abuse it. I am a good roommate. I am also the cat Grandma likes because I curl up in her lap and stay quiet.

Thank you for reading about my family and my life.

Forgive me for using photos you might consider old–I consider them timeless

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The Baby’s Tail (apologies to Chaucer)

I get to go first because my mom says I’m her BABY. The other cats want to tell their stories, but I’m first first first!

My name is Perry.

I love love love my mom. She says we’re best friends! I show her I love her by wrapping my front legs around her neck and licking her ear and neck. She pretends she doesn’t like it, but I know she DOES!

My dad is cool, too, and sometimes I lie next to him on the couch, but only for a minute because it’s hard to lie still for so long!

Before I came to Mom and Dad’s house my life was really hard and my tummy often empty, but I try not to remember those days out on the street.

I was so scared when I was at the shelter. They tried to stick needles in me and grab at me. It was loud with bright lights so I hid in a little cave Mom bought for my cage. I didn’t know yet that she would be my mom, but I knew that I was only happy when Mom came every day to read to me about Curious George. The people at the shelter thought I was the opposite of George—boring and uncivilized and uninterested.

So my mom brought me home and held my food bowl while I ate. She read to me several times a day and sang me songs. She recited poems to me. Toys and stuffed babies surrounded me, too, and Mom taught me how to play games. Pretty soon Dad started to play games with me. He talked to me a lot when Mom wasn’t around.

One day, I realized that I would be with Mom and Dad forever, and I was so happy.

Then I found out five other cats live in the house. Weeeeee. I love other cats! More friends friends friends!

I try to make friends with Felix because he’s the only other boy, so I grab him in a “bear hug” wrestling hold, but he lies there like he’s dead. BORING!!!! Boring boring boring. So instead of playing with him, I have to chase him out of his bed a few times a day just so he knows I’m here.

Kana is the other cat I try to make friends with because she’s the dominant cat. Hahaha. Until I got here, I mean. If you know what I mean! She’s a big sleek black panther girl, and we could be best friends if she wasn’t such a you-know-what. It’s what you would call her if she were a dog. Get it?! Kana has a short temper, and when I try to lie in her bed with her sometimes she gets mad. Or if I “share” her kibble one time too many. Then we sit on our butts and slo-mo throw our punches. Mom says sometimes I bug Kana too much, and she puts Kana in the laundry room with kibble. She says it’s so Kana can get some private time away from me. I try not to let it hurt my feelings, but I don’t really get it.

Although I get along fine with some of the other cats, these are my two favorites. They are the only ones I lie next to in the same bed. We three are the ones mom calls THE BIG CATS.

Tiger, one of THE LITTLE CATS,  likes to parallel play with me sometimes. We bat at the same mobiles. She’s a nice little calico girl, but she’s not really in my category, ya know? OK, I admit it: if I get too close, she hits me with her claws out. I kind of avoid getting too close. But we’re cool.

Sloopy Anne looks just like Tiger, except she has a black face instead of a tabby face. If I see one of these girls slinking around a corner, I don’t always know which one it is. Sloopy Anne waits for me to come out of my bedroom every morning so she can chase me or show me her claws. But after breakfast, I chase her under the chest in the living room. Sloopy Anne is a LONER, but she’s ok.

That leaves the old lady. Not Mom. That other old lady, Pear Blossom. She lies on the back of the couch ALL. DAY. LONG. She won’t tolerate me trying to play with her. She gets crabby, but doesn’t stay mad long. She just loves Mom and likes to sit on Dad’s lap. To the rest of us she is always saying: don’t annoy me. She’s not that much fun.

This last  month, though, there’s been some excitement in our house. My human sister is here with her cat Izzie! Izzie is SO much NICER to me than the other girls. She kisses me and lets me eat her kibble. She doesn’t act annoyed by me either. I wish my sisters were as nice as Izzie!

Life is so wonderful! I don’t have to worry about the heat and snakes and coyotes and storms. Or the big bobcat. I get smelly food twice a day—and treats at bedtime! And pets and hugs all day long. Not too many strangers either. I don’t like strange humans. My Mom says I am just like Curious George. I get into her purse and the kitchen drawers and climb between her arms when she’s cooking. I eat her mail, even the checks! I always want to be in the middle of what’s going on in this place! And my Mom and Dad LOVE me, and I LOVE them!!!!!!

THIS IS ME HIDING FROM MOM AND DAD TO TEASE THEM!

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Multicolored ~ nonfiction by Luanne Castle


A big thank you to The Disappointed Housewife for publishing my piece, “Multicolored.”

The Disappointed Housewife

GREEN surrounds me as I enter the butterfly pavilion. The leaves of the trees and flowers create an oasis in the Sonoran desert. All seems still inside, protected from the dry winds, until I notice the undulant motion of butterflies winging above me, swooping down to sip at the nectar of the blossoms. The guide warns visitors to watch where we step, what we touch. Fragile life whirls around us. After all these years, I think I understand how they feel. One has to go through so many changes to get to full flower. Now is not yet the time to die.

BROWN fur nestles under the leaf. I’m here anew, peeling the caterpillar off the green veins and stem which define the underside. I curl up my fingers, cupping the bug in my palm. It tickles me and then plays dead inside the tent of my hand, as I…

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Nothing Says Grandma Like Club Aluminum

My maternal grandmother was a good baker and a good cook of meats (usually beef) and vegetables. Her use of Grandpa’s garden vegetables in stews and ratatouilles came from being raised on a farm by a mother who was a good cook. She loved her Club Aluminum pans, and the one I most remember was the Dutch Oven. Since my grandmother’s father and my grandfather (her husband) were Dutch, as a kid, I thought it was a pot that was original to the Netherlands, not realizing that is its official name. Her pots were “silver,” the color of aluminum. My mom had Club Aluminum, too, and as I got a little older I realized that she had probably gotten the pans from her mother. She also thought they were the best type to cook in, but her pans didn’t seem to work as well as Grandma’s ;). Or, at least, more anxiety made its way into those dishes.

When I became engaged at nineteen, I had never thought about a wedding or wedding gifts. The only thing I ever imagined was a white velvet dress with a red hooded coat like Mary wore for her wedding in Babes in Toyland. Instead, to save my parents money, I wore my mother’s wedding dress that my other grandmother had made, but that’s another story. I know it sounds blasphemous to American wedding tradition, but I didn’t even register for gifts.

My bridal shower was a family affair, to which I wore my favorite outfit, a teal corduroy pantsuit. Everyone had a very similar pantsuit, but mine was special because of the color. When I arrived at my aunt’s house, I discovered that the person I most wanted at the shower, Grandma, was home sick. The whole event paled after that news, but I do remember that her gift was the biggest and splashiest–an entire set of Club Aluminum pans in yellow. Instead of a metal handle like my mother and grandmother’s Dutch Ovens had, mine had a plastic knob.

I still have my Dutch Oven and a couple of the other pans with lids.

You can see the yellow exterior is pretty banged up after all these years, but the inside is still pristine. My pot has seen some really yummy dishes, but it also was what I used to make Kraft mac and cheese in (for the kids), too, I’m sorry to admit.

This link has a little history of Club Alumimum. It explains that it is cast, not spun. So it is cast aluminum, kind of like cast iron.

Eventually, a report came out that aluminum is dangerous for cooking. If I remember correctly, it was supposed to cause some sort of brain trouble. I guess that has been mainly proven wrong at this point. But it was asserted so strongly that the gardener bought me a set of Calphalon pans. Gosh, I hate those things. Everything sticks to them. Grandma knew what was a good pot! I’ve since added some All-Clads to the mix, and those are ok. But nothing is as good as Club Aluminum.

Or a well-seasoned cast iron frying pan. Funny how much less expensive ($14.88 at Walmart) those are than all the fancy frying pan brands sold today!

By my current kitchen standards, Grandma’s kitchen was a little too small, with not enough counter space, a small persnickety stove/oven, and a ridiculously crammed smallish fridge. She didn’t have granite counters, hardwood cabinets, or stainless appliances. But to me it was a wonderland of magic commanded by my gentle, smart, warm, and loving grandmother.

More about Grandma in “Grandma and the Purple People Eaters.”

 

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My Practical Father (Not Always) Repost for Memorial Day Memories

Since my father was a Korean War veteran, I thought I would repost an old blog post I wrote about him five years ago. When you get to the part about him being in the hospital, remember that this first went up in March 2013. He passed away in May 2015.

###

My father was born in 1928, and the memory of the Depression is imprinted on his decision-making.

When he has a color choice, he goes with “brindle brown” because it’s practical and doesn’t call attention to itself.  Until I actually looked up this color, I thought it was a term unique to Dad.  And I figured it meant something like “shit brown.”  Now I see that it really means spotted or streaked like an animal’s coat or like the word piebald.  I suspect that my father’s meaning is closer to what I had originally thought, rather than a dog’s sleek brown fur.

I’ll go a step further and assume Dad probably picked up that term in the Army.  Since he was raised by a single mother, Dad’s true “finishing” came from his fellow soldiers in the Korean War.

Dad’s always hated the color black.  It’s impractical–shows dust and lint.  He doesn’t like lavender either.  His mother wore the widow’s weeds of black and lavender, so maybe there is an emotional terrain underneath the practicality.

When I was younger, men owned small leather grooming kits for travel.  They were sometimes called Dopp kits, although Dopp was a name like Kleenex, an actual brand name.  My father’s was brown, and if somebody gave him a black one as a gift, he wouldn’t use it.

His brief case was brown, not black.  So was his squeeze-type coin purse, back in the days when men carried those.

For the past thirty years he’s carried a brown leather magnetic money clip.

images (2)His belts are brown and not black.  And certainly not khaki canvas or burgundy leather and they don’t have a big turquoise-studded buckle.

My father looks practical and shops with a practicality born out of that Depression upbringing.

But don’t be fooled by how he looks.  When a friend or an acquaintance would show up with something to sell, Dad would buy it, no matter how impractical.  He bought things like:

  • An old non-working violin he was told was a Stradivarius (it was not)
  • A silk Oriental rug (beautiful, but impractical)
  • An old motorboat much too heavy for the motor that fit the boat (it never worked right, but I was still light enough that I could water-ski slowly off the back of the boat)
  • An abacus when I started 4th grade (so I could do division on it)

You get the idea.

Do any of your characters (or real life relatives) contain contradictions?

My dad is sick in the hospital right now, and the doctor isn’t quite sure what’s wrong.

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It’s been three years and 14 days now since my father died. I can hardly believe it. He’s buried at a veterans’ cemetery in Michigan, so I can’t be there today. But I’m still thinking about him.

 

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My Past in Costume Jewelry

Remember when I wrote about feeling inspired by Dawn Raffel’s memoir and wanted to write about the “secret life” of objects I hold dear? I wrote about “Magical Bowls” and later about my grandmother’s mailbox sign.

This past week I went through a drawer of old jewelry to photograph it. I like to photograph things that I have packed away and haven’t seen in a long time. That way I can decide what to keep, as well as what to get rid of and just keep the photo. Jewelry was always something that appealed to me. When I was in college, I first worked for a department store in the jewelry department. I even briefly considered becoming a “jeweler.”

I use quotation marks because the definition of jeweler versus jeweller is one of the many things that has shown me how fast our world is changing. When I was in my twenties, there was a difference in the United States between these two professions. Today, the first is American and the second British, but in those days there were American jewelers and jewellers. And one was a more sophisticated job than the other. One actually made jewelry and the other sold it in a store. I’ll be darned if I can remember for sure which was which.

The other happy memory I have about jewelry is that the gardener was even more fond of buying me jewelry for gifts than I was at receiving it. This is what he gave me for high school graduation. It is sterling and onyx and was purchased at a shop on the Kalamazoo mall that specialized in gifts and decorative objects from India.

While I worked in the jewelry department, I managed to purchase a couple of pieces of jewelry with my discount. I thought they were a little better than costume jewelry, almost semi-precious. Today, they have no value as the gold is “gold-filled” and the styles are no longer fashionable. They really are costume jewelry.

But I didn’t stop hanging around jewelry after I quit that job. After I graduated from college, the gardener and I opened a store that sold “accessories.” That included handbags (purses, pocketbooks), billfolds (wallets), jewelry, belts, and gloves. I was always more interested in accessories than in actual articles of clothing, so it was a good fit for me. (Actually, I am not very interested in clothes at all). The gardener worked for Dictaphone as a sales rep, while I ran the store.

Over time, I collected a handful of pieces of “semi-precious” costume jewelry for myself. This is my carnelian Les Bernard necklace. Vintage Les Bernard jewelry is available online at about the same price it sold for originally ;).  Carnelian represents passive female energies (whatever that means).  Check out its meanings here.

Although I enjoyed the freedom from a corporate job running my own store, I was a little bored. Luckily, there were a few aspects of the job I enjoyed. One of my favorite parts of running the store was “doing” the window displays. I never had a class, a mentor, a single comment from anyone teaching me how to decorate a window, but maybe the proudest part of running the store is feedback I got from others about my windows. (I wish I had photos–maybe one day I will run across a photo!) There was a professor at Western Michigan University who loved my windows and one of her assignments was to send her students to check them out and do a write up about them. I would say that the most engaging part of my style was my use of color. For instance, my favorite window was all in bright red and natural wicker/bone. I didn’t bring in any other colors, and the contrast of those two colors was unique and really drew the eye.

Today my enjoyment of interior design is probably tied to my window design background, but I would never want to design someone else’s home interior (although friends have asked me to do so). I have confidence when it comes to doing what I like for myself, but I don’t want to have to take someone else’s “likes” into it ;).

What I noticed as I went through pieces of costume jewelry from one grandmother, then my other grandmother, then the gardener’s aunt, and a piece from an elderly relative who was cousin to my grandfather was that each piece, even if it is absolute junk from the viewpoint of the world at large, means something to me. Each piece makes me remember something about my past. The clay cross from La Purisima mission brought home by one of my children from a school trip, the kukui nut necklace from my parents’ trip to Hawaii, the hand-beaded bracelet a high school friend made. They all mean something to me. When I die, nobody else will have any connection to this jewelry. It will look like garbage to anyone who goes through my stuff.

Sometimes when I go to an antique mall I look at the vintage jewelry displays and try to imagine the stories behind the jewelry. But, honestly, it looks like shopworn seen-better-days stuff to me. That is a crushing blow, probably related to feelings of mortality. So of course I didn’t get rid of anything. Now I have the stuff in a drawer AND the photographs.

While I’m not a hoarder because (to the gardener’s everlasting annoyance) I like to throw things away (he is a hoarder!), I sure have managed to accumulate a lot of stuff for a thrower-awayer. I surprise myself at how sentimental I am. But then you’re probably not surprised!

On that note, have a great week! (hah)

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