From the Tuesday morning writers:
COA’s “Memoir Writing Group” meets on Tuesdays at 10 to write together, to read any writing done at home, and to socialize. A core group has been writing together for quite a while, but we welcome anyone. Each week we write together from prompts, and we have another set of prompts to stimulate writing as ‘homework” if inspired. There is no obligation or requirement to write from memories; some people write fiction, poetry, mysteries, or work on their books-in-progress. We do not criticize or correct anyone’s writing.
New Englanders revere them. When we are near them we close our eyes and inhale.
Lilacs aren’t just another pretty flower. Home to robins and moths, they are symbols of perseverance, tolerance, and renewal. They come in many sizes and colors, and can be pleasingly shaped by humans with tools, or left wild and rampant. They must be planted with roots intact to cause them the least possible stress; requirements include sunlight and careful pruning, and they love sweet soil and clean air. Some bloom in early spring, others later, after a dormant period. They thrive when integrated with other species, but if crowded they will reach upward. They are hardy and can endure drought, pests, and mildew.
We are like the treasured lilacs. We, too, provide sanctuary to those who need us. Our success and beauty are results of our determination and tolerance. Many factors nurture and shape us. We exist in a variety of colors, and grow to different heights and shapes, yet are capable of sharing common ground, living in harmony with others. Each of us experiences dormant periods, when we regroup and gain strength; but our successes won’t be consistent, nor will they be the same as those of our neighbors. If our roots are intact, if we are nourished in a favorable environment, we can become beautiful. If suppressed, we will strive to reach above our setbacks, perhaps as high as the stars.
We will bloom only when we are ready, and we are here for a short time. We hope that when we are gone, others will remember our brief beauty and will look forward to our replacements.
Recently, one of the prompts suggested for writing at home was “I walked into the Maverick Bar in Farmington, New Mexico …” Three writers, Trudy Cohen, Laura Hooley and Lucy Mueller, wrote from this same prompt; two are totally fiction and one is based on truth. Can you tell which ones are fiction?
The Maverick Bar
I had spent a long day driving through the high dessert. Not many gas stations, only bumpy roads, no place to stop for lunch, but good country radio stations to break up the monotony. But I was tired, my eyes itched and my head ached from the combination of boredom and hours of paying attention to the road. So it wasn’t the best decision (but seemed like the only decision) that had me stepping into the Maverick Bar in Framingham, New Mexico, on a Friday night. I had to get something to eat before driving another hour to the motel I’d reserved in Flagstaff.
“MAVERICK“ in neon red sprawled out across a saguaro cactus on the sign even though nobody seemed to notice that there aren’t any cacti like that around here. The place looked decent enough from the parking lot that was filled with pickups of every make and model plus a few antique cars. I started to wonder if there was some kind a rally or car night on Fridays but soon had all I could do to focus when I opened the door and released the noise of music and talking plus the smell of beer and cigarettes. It was loud and overwhelming as well as dark! Breathing through my mouth and squinting, I slipped into the dark room and tried to get my bearings.
A large group stood around the bar in the back, a small cluster of young men hovered around the pool table to my right and tables spread out across the room. Most tables had people sitting around; a few in the center were empty. No one noticed me, and I couldn’t quite catch a good look at any face. Smoke wafted through the air and felt like a veil drifting around. Slowly I made my way to one of the empty tables, sat down and sort of shrunk down in my chair. A waitress appeared. She was thin, wispy and spoke in a husky voice, “What’ll it be, honey?’ I ordered a beer and asked what the kitchen could provide. “Only chili, hot chili. Looks like you need it,” she sighed.
The beer slid down quickly; then another, to calm down the chili. The haze seemed to get denser, the noise became a hum, and the tension from driving all day started to melt from my shoulders. I looked up for the first time and surveyed my surroundings from a different perspective. Everyone seemed to be pretty peaceful, almost floaty-like. Perhaps they all had too many beers? And then they all looked familiar, yes, really, like that guy at the next table. He sure looked like my former neighbor back in Houston. And the waitress really did look like my great aunt Mable. My mind must be playing tricks on me, but then a voice said, “Hi Lucy. How’ve you been?” It was George, my old friend the dentist. He looks great and seemed to have grown taller than when I saw him last. But then, I hadn’t seen him in years. He’d been dead since 2008. And then I saw Shelly sitting at the bar looking over at me smiling and waving her glass in a toast. She died suddenly a year ago in January.
They were all there. All my loved ones, neighbors and friends. Some had been mavericks in life and some far from it, but they were all there in Farmington, NM…
Walking into the Maverick Bar in Farmingham, NM
by Trudy Cohen
There had to be a convenience store, gas station, restaurant. . .any place where Margo could get some water, or anything to drink; eating would be a big plus. She'd been driving for hours on a straight, asphalt road in the middle of a New Mexican desert with only cactus, sun and blue sky for scenery.
As the sun began to sink behind far away mountains, she saw neon lights in the distance. Her mood brightened a bit, but she had to be careful. $300,000 in stolen cash was hidden in the trunk of her 2019 red Cadillac convertible. The car alone, would raise eye brows in this part of the world. She'd have to stay under the radar, but how? All she had was the clothes on her back; a black cocktail dress with very little back, actually, and strappy 6” heels on her feet.
As the building came into view, her hopes sank. A few rusted pickup trucks and an old Toyota were parked in front of the Maverick Bar, the most rundown building she'd ever seen, and she'd seen a few.
She tied her long red hair back with a rubber band, made sure her Smith & Wesson .38 was in her hand bag, and she got out of the car. In the bed of one of the trucks she found an old flannel shirt and put it on, although it wasn't much of a disguise. She took a deep breath as she walked through the door. She almost laughed when she saw the interior. The only thing missing were fly strips hanging from the ceiling. An old Native American man stood behind the bar, to Mexican laborers sat with bottled beer, and a couple of younger men wearing baseball caps played pool in a room off to the side. Margo took a seat and asked for water. She put a $20 bill on the bar, and was rewarded with bottled water, but no change. She drank so quickly it leaked from the corners of her mouth. She had to stop to catch her breath before finishing it.
She was so intent on quenching her thirst, she didn't hear one of the pool players come up behind her until he placed his hand on her shoulder. Shocked, she almost fell of the bar stool when he said, “Hi Margo. How was your road trip?”
Machines and Their Owners
by Laura Hoolay
Joseph was on a mission, and when he was on a mission Emily tended to let it run its course. Their fifty-four-year long marriage was, she felt, both art and science. Each indulged the others’ quirks and minor whims, making sure to avoid any disrespect. They carefully navigated any rare conflict that arose. Now, at eighty-nine years old each, there was nothing much left to cause disagreement.
The focus of Joseph’s worry was his obsessive desire to find a happy home for the few pieces of old, used bakery equipment languishing in the basement. In the early sixties they had purchased and run a thriving bakery in northern New Jersey. Emily smiled as she remembered handing cookies to the children; eager noses pressed up against the display case for a better view of the treats inside. Her memory still held the scent of the bakery. They would arrive early to start the bread dough, loading huge bags of flour and other ingredients into the large standing Hobart mixer. That started, she would make coffee and straighten the lobby while Joseph stood at the work table, endlessly rolling out croissants and bagels, and filling cannoli and tarts. After that he would move on to cake decorating. She teased him about his skillful, light touch as he fashioned beautiful, ornate wedding cakes for every bride in town. Emily had cherished the bustling activity of the shop as she visited with customers who became lifelong friends.
A recession in the late 1980’s hit the bakery hard. Crowded out by a shifting real estate landscape and big box stores, Joe and Em reluctantly closed down the shop. Serving coffee and a few muffins to the dwindling customer demographic wasn’t worth the workload. Neither of their children had shown the least interest in the business, preferring more trendy careers and urban lifestyles. Joe and Em understood. They sold off most of the store fixtures, but Joe had kept the Hobart mixer, the large industrial oven, and a few baking racks. “We can sell them eventually;” he had said. Em privately believed his attachment was more sentimental than fiscal. So the equipment moved with them when they retired to Vermont, and now stood rusting and gathering dust in the basement.
At Emily’s urging, a granddaughter helped Joe list the items on eBay, Craigslist, and various other selling sites. Joe was not interested in replying to buyers’ questions, feeling uncomfortable with the “sight-unseen” nature of social media. He wanted to choose just the right buyer; someone who intended to use the equipment and not just scrap the metal for a few hundred dollars. The ads didn’t yield much, just a few looky-loos whose idle curiosity took up too much of Joe’s time and raised his blood pressure. They didn’t need the money, Emily assured him. Careful lifelong investing had left them a comfortable nest egg. “That’s not the point;” he insisted. “Those machines are part of our life, our history. They have to go to someone who will use them to rebuild our dream into their own.” At that point, Emily understood his state of mind, his reluctance to end a chapter of life that she had put aside long ago. The equipment symbolized so much more to Joe than she had realized.
The quest then shifted to an all-out effort by Emily. Quietly, she spread the word at church and in all of her circles, seeking a buyer. She was eventually introduced to a young family, new to the area, who wanted a business opportunity that would allow them to homeschool their children. She spent time with them to assure herself of their true commitment level, and helped them find a realtor who would locate a storefront near their home. All of this was done without Joseph’s knowledge, and Emily felt guilty about hiding her actions from him. She admitted to herself with some annoyance that Joe’s approval of this deal would only come about if he himself initiated it, so she convinced the young couple to approach him as if they had never met. Quite the deception, she thought to herself, but done with loving intent.
Six months later, on a sunny Saturday morning. Joe and Emily drove the few miles to the next town. They found parking right in front of the new bakery, and were pleased to find a ramp at the door. Em was overwhelmed as the familiar scent of baked goods filled her senses. They were greeted enthusiastically by the young couple and then Joe, without asking, headed directly into the kitchen to inspect the operation. He and the younger man discussed the machinery intently, talking shop and comparing notes. Emily was relieved to hear the young man eagerly accepting all of Joe’s advice and tips. They returned to the storefront, shaking hands, each with wide grins. A new friendship had begun. Emily and the young couple exchanged winks and fed cookies to the children.
by Trudy Cohen
Brenda never forgot her youth as a starving actress. In those days she would strive to become the character she played. Things have certainly changed.
She dressed for the day, first placing a bra over her head, because the back was fastened with a safety pin. Her underpants were clean (she insisted on that) although the elastic no longer served a purpose, and they hung below her buttocks in a nylon gap. Jeans were well worn, and dirty. Socks had holes, but her boots kept her feet dry with the help of Duck tape, securing the soles in their correct position. Her coat, a man's camouflage hunting jacket, was two sizes too big. She put on two hats, one a tight knitted cap, the other with ear flaps and a chin tie, went over it. Tattered gloves and a moth eaten wool scarf completed the ensemble.
The snow had melted and refroze, making it almost impossible to use the shopping cart in which she kept her belongings. She opted for a child's red plastic sled on which she put a blue tarp, blankets, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, thermos of coffee, and other necessities she would need for several hours in the cold.
She left the storage shack, she used part time, walked passed the late model Lexus parked in the driveway, and knocked on the kitchen door of the house in front.
“Is Simon ready?” she asked without greeting.
“Yup. He's had his breakfast, been walked and ready to go”, came the reply.
Simon, a medium sized dog of various ancestries, met Brenda with wagging tail. The man handed Brenda his leash and the two of them walked toward Broad Street and County Road. Traffic was light as usual, which would give her time to set up. Not too windy, and the sun was out, but still cold enough to ensure some sympathy; especially for Simon.
She put his thread bare coat on, spread out the tarp and blanket and sat at the intersection waiting for the first handout. It came in the form of a man, unhappy about feeling obligated, but give her $2.00 “for the dog”, he said. Three cars followed, nothing. Another car in which a gray haired lady gave her $10. “God bless you”, Brenda said.
The next four hours netted Brenda $425.00. She was stiff getting up, but it was time to move over to Cedar Avenue and Rt. 40.
Simone got up stretched, and sauntered along, with wagging tail. After a 15 minute walk, they reached Rt. 40, and Paul's garage and gas station. She used the restroom, and gave Simon water and a snack. Brenda paid cash; Paul liked that.
Brenda put down her tarp and blanket at the intersection and prepared to eat her sandwich. Middle class women where the most generous. And she made a good haul for the next few hours, as women came and went to the nearby mall.
“Time to go”, Brenda said to Simon. He knew the drill, and they began walking back home. One lady stopped her car, got out, picked her way through slush in high heels, and gave Brenda $20. Brenda battered her teary eyes and said “God bless you” as the lady hustled back to her car.
When Simon and Brenda returned, the Lexus was still parked in the same spot; a welcome sight. Brenda knocked on the kitchen door, gave Simon back to the man, plus $50.
“See you tomorrow, weather permitting”, she said.
She entered the shack, removed her outer ware, washed her face, removed the black substance from her teeth, changed into lace Bali underwear, a soft, blue, wool sweater, black slacks and leather ankle boots. She combed her air, grabbed her tan cashmere coat, and headed to her Lexus. She noticed she had chipped a nail. She'd have stop on her way home to have it repaired at the salon.
Our prompt for the group Reminisce Writing Group on Tuesday morning that I used to write about was “Why your favorite movie is your favorite movie”
The Sound of Music is my favorite play/movie as it correlates to my life.
Maria von Trapp wrote several books of her life and one of them became a play and then a movie. I went to see the play, The Sound of Music at a theatre in Boston with my sister and her husband when I was 20, alone and single. Sitting there enjoying the performance the nuns from the Abby in the story started to sing a song. “Climb every mountain, forge every stream, follow every rainbow until you find your dream”. My sister leaned over to whisper to me “that’s your song”.
When I met my husband Bruce, it was love at first sight for us. When he proposed I said yes right away then had some apprehensions or “jitters” I guess that’s what they called it back then. I went to visit a local Catholic School where the nuns taught and where I went to learn to play piano. I was very familiar with them and wanted some advice. Mother Superior took me into the chapel to pray and as we prayed, I cried, she handed me her large white hanky and said, “now you go home and God will tell you what to do.” I felt better after that visit, washed the hanky to return to her along with a letter saying I was sure I should marry Bruce. We were married the following year on a Valentine’s Day weekend in 1965.
We spent our honeymoon in Stowe Vermont skiing. We visited the Trapp Family Lodge and their gift shop. I bought one of Maria von Trapp’s books. She was at the shop that day and I had the pleasure of meeting her and of her signing my book.
Out of the Mouth of Babes
by Lucy Mueller
When my children were small, their father and I got away as often as we could and left them with devoted baby-sitters, usually a young couple from our church. Some years we joined my sister and her husband in Mexico camping on the beach and visiting Mayan ruins. We would bring back small gifts (perhaps as bribes), but the kids always appeared to be clean, comfortable and happy when we returned and looking forward to presents.
The only gift I remember bringing back probably came from New Orleans or another American destination, not from Mexico. It was a plastic wand filled with liquid, sparkles and shiny stars that floated magically when the wand was shaken. With a flourish, I pulled the wand out of my suitcase and gave it to my eight-year-old daughter Laura with these instructions: “This is a magic wand! Wave it back and forth in the air and say, ‘Abracadabra! Sis Boom Bah!’ and your wish will come true.” Without hesitation, nor a smile, Laura took the wand swished it through the air, spun around just for good measure and said, “Abracadabra! Sis Boom Bah!” Then she tapped the wand on my shoulder. “I wish for a better mother!”
Since then, I’ve tried harder.
One day I'll. . . .
by Trudy Cohen
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. OK, I am a procrastinator, I'm lazy, and I have no self discipline. I admire people who are ambitious, take on difficult challenges, and are courageous. That's not me. I look for the easy way out, short cuts, and the simplest way to get the job done. I've known people who have set very high standards for themselves, and met their goals. I applaud them.
I often say to myself, one day I'll take a cruise to Iceland and Greenland. I'll get motivated, and lose 20 lbs. I'll read “A Tale of Two Cities”, I'll wash the windows. Hummm. I argue with myself for 15 minutes before I finally get in the car and drive to Claremont to the supermarket. I can't get to church on Sunday morning any more. Once upon a time, I wouldn't miss going to church or helping with coffee hour and pot luck dinners.
So, what is my problem? I don't have one. I'm actually content, and exceedingly happy doing what I want, when I want, and if I want. No responsibilities, except to my pets: Pierre, Serena and Taffy. One day I'll get my novel finished, however. Yup, and I'll start going to church again, too. Yeah, sounds good. Let me think it over some more.
by Joan Chandler
Ages ago, when I was younger, I succumbed to pangs of hunger;
Although I’d run and walk about, a diet wasn’t talked about.
I wasn’t wise, I didn’t think, as down my throat flowed food and drink;,
Did I see my good health retreating? Nah, I just kept overeating.
After years of careless gobbling, no longer running, mostly hobbling,
I’ve now the wisdom of a sage, and lucky to have reached old age.
Delectables I used to eat resulted in two aching feet;
Delicious bacon, biscuits, cheese have settled in my hips and knees.
I confess to being a chocoholic, but now I eat it, then get colic.
My lower back pain doesn’t let up – I sit down, but I then can’t get up.
Every morning, it’s hard to dress; I eat more food from all the stress.
In my spine, I have a crick, so now I use a walking stick.
Against these things, a war I’m waging, to counteract this thing called aging.
The pool, the weights, the exercise bikes – I’ve tried them all with no luck – yikes!
I’ve swallowed everything that’s edible, so now my plight is inevitable.
Could you take the Wi-Fi out of Dunkins so Mom will talk with me? She says I can use my tablet and watch a video but I want to talk to Mom. She buys me a strawberry donut with pink frosting and I even get hot chocolate like she promised but then she doesn’t talk to me. I miss Grammy taking me there. She and I played hangman and talked.
Santa, would you move my Grammy near me? You remember, Mom and I moved a long way from her. Mom said it was a good business opportunity for Mom. I don’t know what that means and when I tried to ask Mom, she was too busy on her laptop doing business, she said. You remember, Santa, Grammy took care of me when I lived near her. I could wear my jammies to her house and make pancakes and read stories before we got dressed. We made cookies a lot and visited her friends in the nursing home. They read me stories. Now I have a nanny who takes care of me cuz Mom is away for the business opportunity. Mom says we can skype Grammy but it just isn’t the same. I miss her kisses on my face when I get flour on it. We were silly a lot.
Santa, could you make Mom take me to the mall to get my picture taken with you? Then I can ask you if you got my letter ok. I want to put our picture on a card to send to my friends. Mom says we could take a selfie but it just isn’t the same thing Santa. You get it, right? And I could bring Elf. You remember him Santa, you brought him to me last Christmas. He chewed a home in Mom’s cashmere sweater.
One more thing, Santa. My friend Emma has a mommy who is sick. She lost her hair and wears a funny hat. Do you think I could go there to live because they eat dinner together and Emma’s mommy doesn’t like Facebook? They watch videos together and talk. Emma’s mommy reads to her before bed and they eat raisins and yogurt for a snack. Emma said they were making gingerbread cookies tomorrow. When I asked Mom if I could invite them over, she said she wouldn’t know what to say. I said; “How about Hi?” She didn’t look up from her tablet.
Could you bring me another doll house? Mom gave mine away when we moved cuz she said I was five and too big for it, but I’m not. But don’t worry Santa, I play with the one at the gym while my nanny goes to yoga. So I’ll be okay til you can bring me another one. Could you bring me books too cuz Mom didn’t move those either? She said I could use my Kindle but it’s not the same. I like to turn the pages. I really like the pop-up ones and the ones that have the doors to open. Grammy and I used to pretend we didn’t know what was behind the doors, but we did Santa. We were just being silly.
Malik in my kindergarten class says there is no Santa but I don’t believe him cuz my teacher says Santa lives in our hearts forever. I wasn’t sure for a while though, Santa, cuz Mom sure has forgotten, I think. She got us a plastic pink tree with a thing that spins and the tree changes color. I miss the smell of the tree we had. Grammy and I went to a big parking lot and bought it. We laughed at the man who tried to tie it on top of our car. Mom says decorations are tacky. I miss the ones I made in child care and painted with Grammy. Mom says we have pictures of them. She says I will get used to the new way of Christmas. I don’t think so, Santa, but I will try.
When I sit on your lap, remember to say “Ho Ho Ho” and give me a candy cane cuz I am going to give it to Malik and tell him there is a Santa. Elf and I will see you soon.