Tag Archives: family photos

New Poems and Old Ancestors

Although I haven’t been writing this spring–on purpose, I might add–when I started my new poetry project last fall I focused on creating poems out of the genealogical research that I do for my family history blog The Family Kalamazoo. It makes sense to narrow in this way, as I am always spreading out in too many directions. However, it’s difficult to write poems about a subject that is so personal to my family. It makes sense to write a poem about a maple tree or a new baby because these subjects are universal, but what makes someone else’s dead ancestors interesting to readers? That is a difficulty.

So far I’ve had one poem from this small grouping published, and that was in December. It was in the online journal Blast Furnacebut here is the poem, a prose poem:

When Your Grandfather Shows You Photographs of His Mother

You identify yourself in the antique image. Long slender neck, narrow torso, your face tipped to avoid the light. Your hands rest in the valley between your thighs sharp under yards of stiff calico. Your face long, well-sculpted by a lean diet and youth, nearly but not ascetic. Blue veins clutch the temples under translucent skin, a milky film that just contains you. In the next photograph your black dog Carlo poses at your side.

But Carlo isn’t your dog. Three degrees separate you across the time dimension. You never beat a man with his horse-whip for using it on his horse, though you wish you had that sort of courage and that sort of hands-on life, or burned all the books except the family Bible, praise her lord. And yet you hold your bodies as both shields and thresholds.

Because a face never reflects the same, every photo sees something else. You’re your father under the red star and your mother’s grandmother in the morning sun. But not your mother who is the image of her aunt. You never did let her kiss you. You see Carlo and his mistress in another photograph, and her smile is so familiar. Now the gauzy mask of your mother’s face floats across her-your features. Another light source and hour. Another shift of the hologram that is you.

If you happen to be one of the three people who read this blog from the first post you might find the subject recognizable. I rewrote that first blog post into this prose poem. I am fascinated with how we look like our ancestors and relatives, but in some lights, various shadows, or on different days, we might look like a completely different person–or share his features. It’s as if our general counteance is always shifting.

This is the great-grandmother I wrote about in the poem. Even I find our resemblance (when I was younger, of course) astonishing. The black dog in the one photo is Carlo.

My idea with the poems is to create a chapbook–a publishable collection that is smaller than a full-length poetry collection. Maybe around 20-25 poems. And I want to focus on my female ancestors. These are the people difficult to research because they don’t show up in old documents and newspapers as shopkeepers, dog breeders, or politicians. What was the day-to-day of their lives really like? I am trying to find out by researching and then allowing the material to develop into poems. At the moment a poem is completed, I feel that I have brought to life the experience of one woman.

It’s difficult to find literary magazines to send individual poems to because the subject matter is not contemporary and only universal in the notion of the project as excavating the lives of generations of women. In other words, I need to find places that specialize in or are sensitive to the intersection of history and poetry.

Are you interested in two unrelated subjects that you have been able to connect in your own life?

In case you are wondering why I am not writing on purpose, it’s because I was writing so much for so long that I knew I needed a period where I don’t take on any old or new projects. I’m resting my brain. Except for blogging, of course, dear peeps.


I have a DOLL GOD Giveaway going on at Goodreads right now. Hop on over there and sign up if you want to win a free copy!




Filed under Book Giveaway, Memoir, Photographs, Poetry, Poetry Collection, Research and prep for writing, Vintage American culture, Writing, Writing goals

What Happened When I Got Really Mad at A Big Bully

Yesterday I read a post by my buddy Jaye at Jaye’s Brain that made a connection between adoption and bullying.

In a book review of an anthology by adoptees, Perpetual Child, that I’ve been reading, she wrote:

An essay by Matthew Salesses stood out for me not only by what it said regarding adoption but what it said about bullying/adoption. I started out blogging, unintentionally, by writing about the bullies on the bus. Again, I thought it was my over-sensitivity and my desire to prevent anyone from having negative feelings (or perhaps, any feelings at all) that made me a (bullied) target.

Salesses, in his essay, wrote about being bullied because he was a transracial adoptee. Jaye was adopted, and she writes about the power of the essays and other pieces in Perpetual Child. She shares her very first blog post–which, guess what, just happens to be about being bullied. Go read it (link is in her quote above)!!! And the topic is bus bullying, a subject that I wrote about here.

In 2012, I started my first blog, Don’t We Look Alike?, writing it with my daughter. The subject of DWLA is adoption, and over the past almost two years, I’ve learned a lot about the subject–and revised some of my viewpoints. I want to share with you the first post I wrote. I’m not sure that today I could write my story with the same tone I do here, but this is how the experience seemed to me for most of my life.

The post didn’t have too many readers, but a couple of the “likes” were by bloggers who I still read and who occasionally read this blog.

It’s interesting to me how different my response was to this bullying than to the subsequent bullying I myself was subjected to at my new school in 3rd grade. At the time of the following story, I was in 2nd grade, and at my familiar “old” school.

Here’s my story:

I’m the mother of two young adults, both adopted from Korea when they were babies. But my relationship with adoption began much earlier. I’m the sister of an adoptee, too. Back in the early sixties, it was still a new idea that adoption wasn’t a secret to be kept and that an adopted child could grow up knowing he was adopted and still feel loved and accepted by others. My parents embraced this idea. When they started the adoption process for a boy, they explained all this to me and I thought I understood. Yet it wasn’t quite that simple.

It was a March day, when my parents and I drove downtown to pick up my brother Teddy from Catholic Family Services. We weren’t Catholic, but Mom explained that their agency was the one with the babies and we were in need of a baby. We pulled up in front of an old house on South Street and went in. Teddy lay in a white bassinette in a small room. My parents and I encircled him, looking down at our new baby. Our case worker said, “He’s just six weeks old. Isn’t he a darling?”

Though shocked to see his face covered with a red rash, I quickly decided not to be picky since I had been waiting all seven years of my life for a brother.

A few months before, when the case worker was going to visit us for the first time, Mom and Dad had warned me that she would ask questions, and I sensed that our family getting the stamp of approval rested on me and my answers.

I kept things businesslike, asking for a brother since our family needed a boy more than another girl. Since it was 1963 and I’d never met anyone who was adopted, I assumed that kids, adopted or not, would automatically look like their parents. I had my mother’s brown hair and blue eyes, so I put in an order for brown eyes to match Dad’s.

Now I peered closer at the baby with his frill of reddish-brown hair. “He’s got blue eyes like mine!” I’m sure I sounded accusatory. The case worker explained they were fresh out of baby boys with brown eyes, so they had chosen Teddy because he looked like Mom and me. I considered the logic and figured he would do.

When we got him home, all the relatives started coming over to meet him. For two weeks, we had somebody at our house almost every day. They liked to have me sit on the couch and hold Teddy while they took our picture. Teddy felt like one of my dolls, but warm and heavier, and yet I was conscious of how fragile he was and how careful I had to be with him. Every day I rushed home from school so I could see him. Day by day, I learned to be more comfortable with him, and how to hold the Playtex bottle with its plastic bag insert so he could get formula without swallowing too much air. I learned how to burp him, patting his back which seemed barely bigger than my hand. He relaxed and smiled at me when I picked him up, and he wrinkled his forehead when I lay him back in the crib.

I’d been in the choir at the Methodist church all school year. A group of us would walk from school to the church [once a week]. We were six kids, all ages, from an afternoon kindergartener to a tall fifth grader, a girl I’ll call Jane. Her size and confident demeanor gave her a lot of authority.

That day we decided to cut through the backfields to the church, although we usually just marched down the side of Gull Road. Jane said it would save us a lot of time to cut through, and nobody wanted to argue with her, although the snow was melting in the field, leaving ruts filled with mud.

Since having a baby brother was a new phenomenon in my life, I liked to bring up the subject–a lot. After having been an only child, I loved the sound of the words my brother. As we walked, I chimed in with something about my brother Teddy.

Suddenly Jane, who was leading, turned around and said, “He’s not your REAL brother. Don’t lie about it.”

My skin seemed to peel back from my limbs, and my stomach got a sick flipfloppy feeling. “What do you mean he’s not my real brother?”

“He’s ADOPTED. That’s not REAL.” A sea of bloody red anger splashed across my eyes. Jane had no siblings and, since she was eleven, probably thought she’d never get any. But I wasn’t thinking from her perspective. To me, her words were an act of violence against Teddy.

That’s the first memory I have of being angry. I lowered my head, aiming straight for her stomach. Eventually Jane and I got back on friendly terms, but I never forgot that some people don’t really understand what adoption means for those of us whose lives are changed by it. My parents’ philosophy had become my philosophy, but I now knew it wasn’t shared by everyone.


When I was in 7th grade, a very large girl sat on me and started to beat me up, but I was rescued by my friend’s father who jumped out of his car when he saw what was happening. Other than those scary few moments, the only time I was ever in a physical fight was when I head-butted Jane. In case you’re wondering, not much happened after that point because Jane apparently was shocked somebody stood up to her and not inclined to fight.

Have you been in a physical fight with a bully?


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction

For the Birds

A year ago, I posted this piece about the place of birds in my life. I wonder if you have threads like this that run through your life.

I stand on a chair to reach my grandmother’s birdcage.  My dress and petticoat flip out in back, as I balance on my palms, my sturdy toddler legs straining toward the parakeet.  The parakeet contemplates my nose poking between the bars.  I want it to sing.  It’s all I want of this place, this apartment which rattles like death when the El rushes by. I think how much I miss my own home.  Unless the bird will sing.

Maybe it’s something that happened to me even before I was born.  I started reaching out for the word music with my baby fists, if only to rush them like a bottle to my mouth:  “Little Miss Muffet”; “See You Later, Alligator”; “A Fairy Went a-Marketing.” I recited and sang them repetitively—until my mother screamed at me to stop.  Even then, I slipped under the bed covers and sang “My bonnie lies over the ocean, my bonnie lies over the sea.”  My breath billowed up the sheet.

Only a fifteen-year-old can make the leap from puppy love to bird lover.  That’s what happened when I became fascinated with a boy with a bird’s name.  My girlfriend and I followed him oh-so-subtly-and-cleverly in the halls, only running into him “by accident.”  On the weekend I couldn’t wait for school to begin anew on Monday, so we went to the mall.  Woolworth’s had a department with birds in birdcages.  An arched cage so much like my grandmother’s parakeet cage held two lovebirds.  I paid $9.99 for the lovers.

When my husband and I got married in an ice storm, we drove from the hotel reception in a burgundy Marquise Brougham with a prayer on the dashboard.  Songbirds flew after us into the dark.  That’s the way I remember it.

I sat in Grandma’s old oak rocker, holding my baby son in my arms, murmuring:

Out of the cradle endlessly rocking,

Out of the mocking-bird’s throat, the musical shuttle,

Out of the Ninth-month midnight,

Over the sterile sands, and the fields beyond, where the child, leaving his bed, wander’d alone, bare-headed, barefoot

Whitman‘s poem managed something the others hadn’t been able to—it crept into my body, spreading out and occupying my flesh like a snakeskin it merely tolerated.  I still can’t get rid of it.  The poem and I battle inside like the gingham dog and the calico cat, but if it decided to leave, I’d be as empty as that snakeskin, discarded and colorless.  It’s a poem about a he-bird who loves and loses the she-bird.  Or it’s a poem about the curious boy who observes the bird and his troubles.  But really it’s about a rocking like the surging of the sea and the hissing and whispering and all manner of delicious delicacies of words and rhythm.

When my parents put Grandma in the nursing home, she had to leave her parakeet behind.  Not that yellow parakeet she had when I was a preschooler, but the green one she’d had since then.  Dad brought the cage to our house and put it in the family room where the bird could watch TV.  I kept changing the food and water, but the bird refused a single seed and died within a week.

Richard Siken told us wannabe poets never to write poems with birds in them.  “It’s been done to death,” he said.  I think he said that the bird as trope for poet was old after Whitman.  Or maybe he said before Whitman.  I went home and wrote a poem about Andersen’s Nightingale and the Chinese countryside and didn’t use the word bird.  That’s what you call a writing constraint.

We had such a problem with roof rats and teenagers.  The latter we knew would eventually move out.  My husband called in the pest control people for the former.  The man the company sent shuffled and mumbled, so we let him go about his business.  That afternoon my son ran into the house yelling his head off, and since he’s a mild-mannered young man, I scrambled to get to him.  He led me out to the back steps where three baby birds hung on a glue trap like Jesus and the thieves.  We poured a sort of holy kitchen oil to release them.  One had already died and a second stilled the instant it rested in my palm.  The third one regarded me with one black eye, vibrant as a drop of ink.  We hustled it to the veterinarian where the techs hustled it out of our sight.

My daughter writes songs that come out of her fully formed.  I don’t know how anyone can do that, but then she sings them and her voice sounds like warm magma flowing.  She sends me links to private songs on Myspace so I can listen before anyone else.

Over ten years ago cats started showing up at our house, looking for food and, later, shelter.  We only had a couple of dogs left.  The birds had departed long before for their heaven.  Now the cats outnumber the humans, and they think they have an equal vote.  They vote that anything with a fast heart rate can be considered prey.  So no more birds for our family.

This house in Arizona has a tile roof, and the pigeons think it’s a rocky hillside, like their homes before humankind. While pigeons have those pleasing round breasts and iridescent feathers like abalone, they excrete their body weight every day—and always from the eaves above my exterior doors.  I asked my neighbor to stop feeding the birds, but she doesn’t speak to humans.  We put up screens to stop them from roosting in the obvious places.  But a stubborn contingent stay put, and from my fireplace I hear them cooing.  My brown striped cat purrs on the hearth, in rhythm with the pigeon coos.

A young pigeon dances on my patio, with his wings akimbo across his back, like a child stuck in a shirt he’s attempting to put on.  Two adult pigeons watch from the roof.  I put him in a brown bag and drive him to the pigeon lady.  She has big man hands and examines him brusquely, but listens with her eyes closed, like a good doctor.  She says, “I’ve never seen this before.  It’s not a broken wing.  He’s twisted his wings together across his back, like you twist a twisty on a bag.”  She carefully and surely untwists his wings and puts them flat against his sides.  “I’ll keep him for the winter and release him in the spring when he’s healthy.”  I write a poem about the pigeon lady and through it she becomes a religious icon in my religion of one.

In the summer, I bring her another pigeon.  This one acts odd, walking around the yard, but only flying a few feet at a time.  She tries, but can’t save this one.  “He had an illness, and I don’t know what it was.”  She wants my permission to do an autopsy.  That’s the way she learns how to take care of the living pigeons.  When I hang up the phone, I can see through the window that another pigeon resting at the edge of eaves is breathing rhythmically as its body empties and fills and empties and fills in an unbroken pattern.

My grandmother outlived her parakeet in the nursing home for a year.  I told my parents that if she had had the parakeet in her room, she and the parakeet would both have lived longer, but they explained that she died of uremia from renal failure.  “The bird died because it didn’t eat, Luanne,” my mother said.  “Stop trying to connect things that are not related.”


In June, I wrote about the pigeon lady in another post. Birds and trees are two of my writing obsessions. When a motif turns up repeatedly on this blog, I can tell it’s another obsession ;). What are your obsessions . . . um, motifs?


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Poetry, Writing

New Year’s Eve with My Dad

I first published this post last New Year’s Eve.  I’ve added an update at the end.

Although I rarely go to New Year’s Eve parties any more (cue: one big whine and then a hefty sigh of relief), when I was growing up NYE always meant parties.  My parents went to one or hosted one every year.

In the sixties, my parents held their parties in the basement of our house.  Mom draped a paper tablecloth over the ping-pong table and Dad stocked the bar he’d built in the corner.  He set up table games and placed ashtrays on every available surface.  When he dragged out the box with the hats and noisemakers and boas I scrambled to help.  My favorite was the noisemaker blow out.  When I blew on the pipe end, the little roll of paper unfurled with a sputtery raspberry.  The tin drums which spun on wind-up stems sounded a raucous blare, so Dad would grab one of those and twirl it.

In the kitchen, my mother made canapés and Chex Mix.  She refrigerated 7-Up and washed the “frosted” highball glasses. Gold leaves, which I was sure were 24k gold leaf, decorated the crystal.

These plastic clips identified which drink to refill: rum and Coke, Seven and Seven, etc.

These plastic clips identified which drink to refill: Rum-and-Coke, Seven-and-seven, Gin-and-tonic, Scotch-and-soda.

I’m not saying I was a snoop, but I could hear everything.  I could even see a flash of the neighbor’s shiny bald head or Dad’s hand dealing cards through the register in the floor right near my bed.  I sat on the floor for hours with my legs cramped up underneath me.

While I didn’t hear anything of particular interest, the social interactions between the adults—their jokes, the vibrations in their voices, the sudden bursts of laughter– kept me straining my hearing.  Dad’s loud, excited voice rose above the others.  Everyone else faded into a background buzz in comparison with him.  Dad was the life of the party.

For his 80th birthday I made him a video of his life, and when Dad saw himself on video, he said, “I didn’t know I was so obnoxious!”  I had to laugh to myself at that because it isn’t as if nobody has told him that over the years.  Mostly, though, his enthusiasm for having a good time has been infectious.  At eighty-four he still likes to stir things up.  I suspect he’ll be wearing a hat and sounding his noisemaker at midnight tonight in Michigan.

Dad is ready for the party!

Dad is ready for the party!


This year Dad is, of course, 85. I will be seeing my parents the day after tomorrow, so I can ring in the New Year with them just a tad late.


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing

Thank You So Much for Your Brilliant Comments on My Story!

Here is the notice on the website of Midlife Collage about my story:

“Still Photo” Lands First-Place

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Talkative passenger on a two-hour flight leaves a lasting impression in “Still Photo” by Luanne Castle. This first-place story, which leaves readers thinking, is now on the Winner’s
Circle page.

Thank you so much for helping my story win!!
The $50 is flying its way to me as I write. I will be thinking up a contest for the blog here, as promised.  Stay tuned . . . .


Filed under Blogging, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Photographs, Writing

Voting on the Stories Ends Tomorrow at Noon

Commenting, Facebook liking, and voting (closing arguments) closes tomorrow, Sunday (August 11) at noon.

What’s that for? I have a creative nonfiction or memoir story up at Midlife Collage this week as I explained in my blog posts Monday and Tuesday.

If you have time, please go to the Midlife Collage contest and look for my story “Still Photo” by Luanne Castle. It competes with four other very short stories.

Even if I don’t win, the comments are rewarding to read because it’s wonderful to see if I have reached my readers. And if I win, I will set up a contest on this blog for blog readers :).

And whatever participation you can manage, I thank you from the ends of my toes and tips of my fingers.  Thank you!!!

Go here to find my story:

Midlife Collage  OR Facebook page.  Remember: it’s “Still Photo” by Luanne Castle.


Why is the story called "Still Photo" if the photo is of a camcorder?  Read my story and find out!

Why is the story called “Still Photo” if the photo is of a camcorder? Read my story and find out!


Filed under Blogging, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Photographs, Writing

Shameless Begging for Help (Again)

I hate to beg for help. I asked for help last Thursday with my poetry reading skills. Now here I am asking for help again. I am definitely hanging my head and kicking the dirt with my shoe as I write this.

This time there is a time constraint. And rules.

One of my stories is in the Midlife Collage contest this week. See it up on the Home page:  “Still Photo” by Luanne Castle. It competes with four other very short stories.

The idea is that readers (that’s you, a reader 😉 ) read the stories which are up this week. Then you leave comments on at least three of them. (Note: the comments only count if you comment on at least three stories). Not “atta girl” type comments, but the sort of comment you might leave on one of my blog posts. If you think my story deserves to win, by all means, say so in your comment and give a reason why.

If you don’t have time to leave the comments, please leave a Facebook “like” for my story!  Here is the Facebook page.

The way they select the winner is through both the comments and the Facebook likes, with the comments being weighted more heavily.

I would be so grateful if you would read my story and the others and give the feedback that you are able to give.

Go here to find my story:

Midlife Collage  OR Facebook page.  Remember: it’s “Still Photo” by Luanne Castle.

Here’s my plan.

If my story were to win, I would like to use my award to design a contest for Writer Site–something you all can participate in. What do you think about that idea? I got the idea from the Paying It Forward segment on our local TV station.

Extra info:

Midlife Collage has a feature of interest to commenters called “Comments That Stick.” MC says, “We look for readers who write inspiring, enlightening or entertaining comments.” These will be comments that live on long after the contest for that particular story has closed.

Why is the story called "Still Photo" if the photo is of a camcorder?

Why is the story called “Still Photo” if the photo is of a camcorder?

Maybe you too will want to submit a piece to Midlife Collage!



Filed under Blogging, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Photographs, Writing

Grandma and the Purple People Eaters: Re-Post

This week I need to take a little blog rest so I can focus on my other writing. In case you weren’t reading my blog back in December, here is a post from back then about my grandmother.


When I was little I stayed with my grandmother during the day while my parents were at work.  It was just Grandma and me at the house.   Grandpa worked down the block, at his Sunoco filling station.  Every day at noon, Grandma and I brought his lunch to him.  He’d climb up out of the pit where he worked under cars and smile when he saw us with his gray lunch box.

Sometimes I played with the girl up the street and other days I’d pick through the toys and books left behind in their bedrooms upstairs by my mother, Aunt Alice, and Uncle Don.  I found a giant printing set, a potholder loom and loops, and a collection of miniature furniture and animals.  In my aunt’s room, I read my first chapter book, The Bobbsey Twins.   Grandma and I fried donuts and sugared strawberries.  We sang Ethel Merman songs like “Anything You Can Do.”  I could always manage to sing louder and higher than Grandma.

Any note you can reach
I can go higher.
I can sing anything
Higher than you.
No, you can’t. (High)
Yes, I can. (Higher) No, you can’t. (Higher)
Yes, I CAN! (Highest)

Occasionally, we walked “uptown” to the bank, passing the thrift store, which fascinated me. I thought it was a combination antique store and fine dress shop.  Also en route was the home of the Purple People Eaters.  My overweight, matronly grandmother sang the song and danced right there on the sidewalk for me.  It was years before I realized the building was actually a dry cleaning establishment, painted purple.

Grandma carried the filling station’s bank deposit bag in her big pocketbook, which also held mints and pennies for me.   We stopped at the florist to say hi to some relatives and at the bakery for sugar cookies.

With all the fun Grandma orchestrated, I still got bored one time.  I was in “that mood,” the one where it seems that all is wrong with the world.  Grandma knew how to handle the situation.  She put me in an old work shirt of Grandpa’s and handed me a paint brush.

“Come outside,” she said.  On the back stoop, she’d placed an old wooden child’s chair on a spread-out newspaper. “Go to town, Luanne,” she said.  I worked hard for a long time, painting that chair, which seemed so big

When my mother picked me up after work that day, she laughed.  “Mom, you had her do the same thing you made Don do to keep him busy!”  Even today when I feel “at odds,” this example keeps me working, moving forward through the doldrums.

Grandma did her chores while I was at her house.  She cooked and baked and ran errands, which were all on foot or by bus, as she didn’t drive.  I helped her and learned at her elbow.  She ironed my parents’ clothes, too, while I played at the kitchen table and sang with her.   She didn’t waste our time cleaning too much, but everything else got done—and done well.

She devoted a half hour to herself every day, watching As the World Turns while I “napped” beside her on the couch.

Mostly, though, Grandma doted on me and made sure I could learn and use my imagination.  She sat me on her lap and told me stories “from her head.” Her attention wasn’t fragmented by a cell phone or computer.  She limited her telephone and TV usage.  She was completely there in the moment with me each day.

Can we say the same today for our children and grandchildren and the children we babysit?


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir

10 Areas for More Research

February is almost up, and I still have much left to research for my book.  I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by it all, so I thought I would sweep the rest into a list and gradually make my way through it this spring.

These are some remaining areas for research:

Contemporary photo of the junior high I attended

Contemporary photo of the junior high I attended

1.  Collect photographs of the buildings of my life: houses we lived in; schools I attended; places I went to for extracurriculars, such as the library, art center, and ballet studio; local parks; my great-grandfather’s farm; and stores, malls, and shopping centers.  I felt that this stuff would be readily available, but the truth is I’m  having a difficult time finding the majority of this material.

2.  Draw “blueprints” of our houses

3.  Glue several photographs of each main character on character boards so I can see the evolution in looks/aging and fashions and hair styles for each character.  For my grandmother’s life before I was born, search for fabrics such as she wore

4.  Draw maps of each neighborhood I lived in

5.  Study more about the trash industry in the sixties–teepee burners, city dumps and landfills, scrapyards and junkyards

6.  Study more about German immigration to the Chicago area in 1890s and the situation of German immigrants in Chicago and its suburbs through WWII

7.  Collect photos and research telephones, TVs, and radios we used over the years.

8.  Same as #7 for our cars and trucks and boats.

9. Research an area of interest for each main character.  For example, for my grandmother it could be sewing or clothing design.

10. Research all the little weird things that my kids wouldn’t know about.

 Examples include Fizzies soda tablets which we melted on our tongues

and rat fink rings

If you’re wondering how I plan to use the results of my research, I hope it will do double duty.  For example, research stimulates my memory.  When I see a photograph of a place I used to know so well, I think ahah, right, now I remember that window was there to the left of the door.  The other benefit of research is to check my memories to make sure I remember things accurately.


What research, if any, do you do for your writing?  Do you have ideas for new research?


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Research and prep for writing

That Little House

By the time we moved to Crockett Street, it was our 4th residence, and I had just finished 4th grade.

Dad had built our previous house himself, a beautiful pink brick ranch, but the house cost too much to keep up.  It must have disappointed my father to leave behind the house he had put his heart into.  I don’t remember his feelings–or my mother’s–about the move, though, because I was caught up in my unhappiness.  It felt to me as if every time I started to get comfortable in a new school and new neighborhood, we had to move.

That’s when Dad decided to build a house we could take with us when we moved.

In the actual photo, you can make out a double rainbow
arcing down from the upper left.

It was a playhouse he erected at the rear boundary of our backyard. The eight-by-ten foot edifice was created out of old boards and roof tiles Dad re-purposed, sided with yellow siding he had scrounged from an empty lot.

Inside the playhouse, Dad built a bench on two sides and above those, up at the ceiling, the rafters formed long wooden pockets.  Up there, we stored secret agent supplies like decoder rings and invisibility raincoats and private notes listing the boys we liked, but eventually those things became irretrievable as the wasps set up nests and when Dad periodically removed those, the spiders took over.

Over time we discovered that during the summer the little house was too hot.  Within minutes we’d end up hauling the little table and chairs out onto the grass because we couldn’t bear to stay inside.  In the winter, the air was as icy inside as it was outside, but the snow and ice couldn’t get in, so we’d sit on the benches in our snow pants and stocking caps and play Candyland.  Our fingers froze as we pushed our tokens, but then we’d pull our hands back up into the sleeves of our jackets until it was our turn again.

After a while we lost interest in the playhouse and started walking up to the plaza for something to do.

The house still stood at the back lot line, a fading reminder of my childhood, until we discovered a new use for the little building.  When I entered junior high, boys were no longer just names on a list or our stinky younger brothers driving their trucks through muddy dirt piles.

My friends and I loved sleepovers, but with the playhouse we had a place to sleep and entertain friends without being actually inside our own houses.  Some of our first get-togethers with boys happened in that playhouse.  While it was all innocent fun ;), I’m pretty sure my parents thought I was still playing board games with my girlfriends.

While we lived in that house, Dad bought a piece of lake property on the shallow weedy end of the lake.  When we had to move to a new house, Dad strapped the playhouse onto a borrowed flatbed truck and hauled it out to the lake where we dubbed it “The Changing House.”

Inside we stored stretched out bathing suits, Styrofoam floaties, and boat cushions.  Daddy long leg spiders set up residence in there, too, wrapping everything in webs so that when we wanted to use something we had to make sure our hands were dry enough to wipe them clean or the webs would adhere to our skin until we jumped in the lake to clean off.

One night when I came in from a moonlit row with friends and needed some mosquito repellant, I caught my twelve-year-old brother in the little house  with the fourteen-year-old girl next door.  The playhouse was now in the hands of the “new generation.”


I tried to do some online research about the history of playhouses, but I haven’t had a lot of luck so far.  One problem is that the term “playhouse” is used so often for a theatre.  There are also a lot of websites about making playhouses for children today–and that makes me happy that the playhouse is alive and well.

Playhouses are related to forts and treehouses.  Somebody had built a treehouse out by the dump which was behind our house, but it wasn’t my personal space like the playhouse.  Long before the playhouse came into my life, forts were important to my childhood, so I hope to write next about forts.


This post is thanks to  Sarah Cedeño‘s comment on her own blog when we discussed my father’s bomb shelter.


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Research and prep for writing