Category Archives: memory

It Was All a Big Misunderstanding by Steve Hagood

I experienced a nightmare the likes of which only a middle-aged man can understand, and somehow, by the grace of God, I survived.

I went shopping with my lovely wife, Jenni, to Victoria’s Secret. I know women think that that should be a dream come true, but I’m here to tell you, it’s not.

Deep down, all guys know they’re perverts, but we don’t really want anybody else to know this. Walking into Victoria’s Secret is like a crack head walking into a crack house. We enter the store like there’s going to be Victoria’s Secret models walking around in bras and panties. It’s never like that though. It’s more like finding a thong in the laundry basket and learning it’s your daughter’s. Awkward and embarrassing.

Jenni and I were at the mall – I must have been there to get a pretzel or something – when Jenni remembered that she had a coupon for a free pair of panties.

“Let’s run in there and grab these real quick,” she said.

“Okay,” I said, with dread. I had done this before. I knew there weren’t any scantily clad Victoria’s Secret models in there. I knew it was a store full of my daughter’s thongs.

We entered the store and Jenni went to the panties bins. In a normal store, I’d help her find what she was looking for to hasten our departure, but I wasn’t about to go digging through a bin of women’s panties, in public, in front of a store full of women. I already felt like the women in the store thought I was a pervert, I wasn’t about to give them evidence.

And then a thought occurred to me. The previous Christmas we had found a pair of Detroit Lions sweatpants for my daughter there and she had really liked them. I wondered if they had anything new that she might like for that Christmas. So I wandered, looking for Detroit Lions gear.

Before I knew what was happening I found myself standing outside the changing room, just as a lady was exiting. The look on her face screamed, “STRANGER DANGER!”

While totally innocent, I was the pervert hanging around outside the changing room in Victoria’s Secret.

I hustled back to Jenni’s side, my face burning with embarrassment.

“Where have you been?” she asked, not looking up from the bin.

“I…um…”

She looked up to my face and shook her head. “Just stay with me, please.”

“Okay,” I said, “Are you ready to go?”

“Not yet,” she said, looking around. “I want to find a pair of yoga pants for Chelsea.”

We found the yoga pants, but Jenni wasn’t sure which size to get. I could help with yoga pants, they were like sweatpants. It was the perfect opportunity to redeem myself, and maybe earn a cookie before we left the mall. I thought I could find someone in the store about the same size as Chelsea, and ask her what size she wore.

So, I started scanning the other shoppers.

I found a clerk about the same size as Chelsea, just as she turned around and caught me checking out her legs and butt.

Again, I was innocent, but probably not getting a cookie.

“Can I help you?” the clerk asked, her eyes drilling into my skull.

I stammered, “I…um…you’re…my wife…Jenni!”

Jenni turned to see the angry clerk and me with an embarrassed look on my face. “Why don’t you go wait for me out in the mall?” she said.

I thanked her for her mercy and exited the store, looking at nothing but the floor the entire way.

It was the last time I’ve ever been in Victoria’s Secret. Jenni and I now have an unspoken agreement that she will not go in there when I am with her, and I…well, I don’t really have a side to the agreement. I’m just not allowed to go in there anymore, which is fine with me.

Steve Hagood is the author of the newly released Cold, Dark Places from Indigo Sea Press, as well as other novels and short stories. To learn more visit his website http://www.stevehagood.com

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That Time I gave Blood by Steve Hagood

bloodPeople are going to die if you don’t give blood, or so the Red Cross would have you believe. I might buy it if they didn’t make it so damn hard to donate. What an ordeal it is.

The last time I gave blood went something like this:

I started off with the book. Have you seen the book? It contains all of the eligibility requirements for donating. This book, if you aren’t aware, is your chance to fess up and say, “I don’t qualify to donate,” and slink away with your tail between your legs. Trust me, you will be tested on the material in the book and you’d better have the right answers. If you don’t, you’ll be rejected. There is nothing more embarrassing than being rejected from giving blood. They’d rather have people die than take your blood. We don’t understand this though, because nobody actually reads the book. Everybody sits there and pretends to read the book while trying to determine how long they have to pretend to read it to get away with not reading it.

After I finished not reading the book, I put it down. This silently notified the one person who was actually working that I was ready. She knew that I hadn’t read the book, but she didn’t care because she knew that it would catch up with me. She waved me over with a look that said I was bothering her and took me behind the cardboard “privacy” wall.

When she got me behind the cardboard she took my driver’s license and asked me to verify my name and address, which I got correct. One for one. Then she asked me to confirm my gender, so I stood up and dropped my pants. She said, “I’m going to need more than that.

Then she took my finger, wiped it down with alcohol, and took out this nasty little spring loaded needle. I swear she smiled as she put it on my finger and POW!

Oh. My. God! It was, without a doubt, the worst pain I have ever felt in my life. And then this sadistic woman, who I’m pretty sure moonlights as a dominatrix, squeezed my finger to get blood out of it. By the time she put a band-aid on my finger it had its own heartbeat.

I wanted to punch her in the face, but didn’t. So, I hadn’t been rejected yet. Next came the questions.

She started me off easy. “How are you feeling today?”

“Well, my finger hurts like hell, but other than that, I’m doing ok.”

“In the last 48 hours have you taken aspirin or anything that has aspirin in it?”

“No, but I could use one. Have I mentioned how much my finger hurts?”

“In the past 12 months, have you had a transplant such as organ, tissue, or bone marrow?”

Really? “Yep. Had a heart transplant last week. Sorry, I forgot to mention it when you asked how I was feeling today.”

“Have you ever had a bleeding condition?”

“Not until you shot me with that damn needle.”

Then she got a little personal.

“Have you ever paid for sex?”

Come on, this is a trick question. Every married man has paid for sex, and I’m not talking about prostitutes. Apparently, it’s worth more than we think because even after the sex stops, we keep paying.

“Did you spend three months or more in the United Kingdom between 1980 and 1996?”

You know what they’re looking for: Mad Cow Disease. Now I’m not a doctor, I don’t even play one on TV, but I’m pretty sure that if I had contracted Mad Cow Disease in 1980 I’d be showing some symptoms by now. And, when she asked how I was feeling I would have mentioned it.

“I have Mad Cow disease, and my finger HURTS!” Or maybe I would have mooed. I’m not real sure how it manifests itself.

“Have you ever been treated for Syphilis or gonorrhea?”

“Treated? Nope. I’m just letting it run its course.”

But get this, chlamydia, venereal warts and genital herpes are ok. I can’t have spent three months in England in the 80s, but genital herpes is ok. Can you imagine the poor guy who wakes up in a hospital bed after surgery and a blood transfusion to find out he contracted genital herpes while he was asleep? I’d like to see him explain that one to his wife, “At least I don’t have Mad Cow disease!”

“Have you ever had sex with another man?” And then they throw in the qualifier, “even once.”

I love that part. “Well yes, but it was only once, and I was really drunk, and I didn’t even enjoy it, very much.”

Now, since I haven’t had unprotected sex with another man who shared a needle with a prostitute in Africa while I visited England for three months in the 80s, and the sadomasochistic dominatrix behind the cardboard liked me, I was allowed to donate blood.

She passed me off to the bloodsucker who had me lie on a cot that was old when it had been used during the Korean War. She tied off my arm with a rubber hose and started to look for a vein to use. “It’s not very big,” she said. Apparently, she had talked to the lady behind the cardboard.

You would think that someone who does this for a living would be really good at getting the needle into the vein. You’d be wrong. If you’re lucky she’ll get it on the first try. If not, and you won’t be, she’ll blame you for not drinking enough water while she stabs you repeatedly. At that point, I just wanted to take the band-aid off my finger and tell her to take the blood from there.

Eventually, she got the needle into the vein and I deposited a pint of blood into a bag, saving up to three lives – if you believe the propaganda spread by the Red Cross.

After all this, you’re probably asking yourself why I do it if it’s such a hassle? Because I’m such a good guy? Nope, it’s because they give you cookies when you’re done. I’ll do anything for cookies.

 

Steve Hagood is the author of Chasing the Woodstock Baby from Indigo Sea Press. To learn more about Steve visit his website http://www.stevehagood.com

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Steve vs the Ice Dam by Steve Hagood

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January in Michigan. It’s that special time of year when we get Alberta Clippers, Polar Vortexes and snow and ice piled higher than a hippie at the hash bash. It’s the time of year that makes me wonder why my ancestors ever chose to settle in this God forsaken land.

Something else we get in Michigan in winter is ice dams. Ice dams come from the melting and refreezing of snow on the roof. A buildup of ice forms on the outer edge of the roof not allowing the water from melted snow to run off. The water that puddles behind the dam backs up under the shingles causing all sorts of problems with the roof, ceiling, and life of the homeowner.

Many years ago my young family was experiencing our first winter in our first house. I noticed that my gutters were filled with ice. I was young and dumb, and didn’t have Google to tell me that frozen gutters don’t lead to ice dams, so naturally I was terrified. I needed to clear my gutters!

The only problem, I didn’t have any idea how one goes about clearing ones gutters of ice. Remember, this was PI (pre-Internet). I could not go to You Tube University to learn how to do this the correct way. I had to figure this out on my own, like my ancestors who had decided to live in this damn place to begin with.

So, how do you break up ice? With an ice pick. But I didn’t have an ice pick. It was PI, but it wasn’t the stone ages, we had ice makers. We didn’t hack the ice for our drinks off of a block like cavemen. The closest thing I could come up with was a screw driver.

So, I climbed up my ladder with screw driver in hand to save my house, and by extension my family, from the dreaded ice dam. I started to chip away at the ice. And chip. And chip. And chip. I was getting nowhere. I needed to speed the process up. It was Saturday, and I had some serious TV watching to do. I thought I could sprinkle road salt on the gutters and melt the ice, but that would take longer than chipping with a screw driver. How else could I melt the ice? Hot water!

So, I climbed down from the ladder and went in search of a bucket. I filled a mop bucket with steaming hot water, returned to the front of the house and mounted the ladder. Ever so carefully I poured the water onto the ice-filled gutter and waited for the result. Not much happened. But…maybe…it was hard to tell. I climbed back down the ladder and headed off for more water.

The second bucket definitely made some head way with the ice buildup in the gutter. It would only take about another hundred and thirty seven buckets and I’d be back in front of the TV.

I mounted the ladder with the third bucket. I reached the top of the ladder and proceeded to swing the bucket from thigh level, where it hung at the end of my arm, up to pouring height, and lost my balance. The bucket flew from my hand and I flew off the ladder. The bucket went one direction and I went the other, landing flat on my back in the snow at the base of the ladder.

The air was driven from my lungs and I lay there like a fish out of water gasping for breath, and wondering if I had broken my back and if I’d ever walk again.

My eight-year-old son Ryan called over from where he had watched the whole scene unfold. “Hey, Dad?”

“What?” I managed between gasps.

“Did you get any of that hot water on you?”

Gasp. “No.” Gasp.

“That’s good,” Ryan said. “That would have hurt if you’d have gotten any of that hot water on you.”

Yeah. Lucky me.

Twenty minutes later I determined that I was going to live. I got up out of the snow and found my bucket. I then put it and the ladder back in the garage and went inside to watch TV.

Ironically, no ice dam ever formed. Google would have told me that iced over gutters don’t lead to ice dams and I could have avoided the whole disastrous event. Maybe if my ancestors had had Google they would have avoided moving to Michigan in the first place.

I’m now old and dumb, and I still live in Michigan. But, I live in a condo where someone else worries about ice dams. So maybe I’m not so dumb after all.

 

Steve Hagood is the author of Chasing the Woodstock Baby from Indigo Sea Press. Learn more at http://www.stevehagood.com

 

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A Day at the Beach by Steve Hagood

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My wife’s family decided they wanted to take a trip together a few summers ago. After much discussion, and making and changing of plans multiple times, they decided they’d like to spend a day at the beach. The beach they picked was on Lake Michigan. As we live on the other side of the state, it would be almost a three hour drive to get there. As fun as it sounds to travel across the state to spend a day with your in-laws, I really didn’t want to go.

My plan was to start a fight with my wife the night before the trip, and she wouldn’t WANT me to go. Fortunately, I’m an expert at picking fights, and I pulled it off just as I had planned.

So, bright and early the next morning I was in the car headed to the beach. Obviously, I had lost the fight.

I drove the car that included my wife, Jenni, who had recently had hip surgery and was still in pain, my daughter, Aley, who was eight months pregnant at the time, and my stepdaughter, Chelsea, who was fourteen-years-old. This was going to be a fun drive.

It actually wasn’t bad the first couple hours. It was straight west on I-94. As we were closing in on the state line I said, “Do we know where we’re going? What exit we’re taking?”

Jenni said, “No.”

That probably would have been good information to have before we left. You wouldn’t think that a lake that covers more than 22,000 square miles would have be hard to find. And you’d be wrong.

Jenni received a text message from her sister, who was ahead of us, and learned that we needed to take exit 33. I was in the middle lane of a three lane highway with exit 33 fast approaching. I also happened to be talking to Aley and I tend to… lose focus on my driving when I’m talking. Sure enough, before I knew it exit 33 went by in a blur.

All three of the women in my car felt the need to tell me I had missed the exit. Like I didn’t know.

“No problem,” I said. “I’ll just go to the next exit, turn around, and we’ll be back on track.”

It’s important NOT to show fear in this situation. They can sense fear.

The next exit was another four miles down the highway. Four miles is a long way when your driving is being critiqued by three women.

I made it to the exit, got off and back on headed east. I soon found, to my distress, that there is not an exit 33 headed east on I-94. How can there NOT be an exit 33 headed east, I wondered.

“Ok, no problem,” I said. “I’ll go to the next exit and get turned around again.”

As we approached the off ramp Aley said, “I don’t think you can loop around like you did last time, Dad. I think this is another highway.”

“We’re good,” I assured her.

I took the exit and off we went, headed north on Highway 31. My passengers pointed out that we wouldn’t have been driving in circles if I hadn’t missed the exit to begin with.  “Thanks for the tip,” I said, giving serious consideration to opening the door and jumping out of the moving car.

It’s funny how perspective can change one’s outlook. Just twenty-four hours prior I had not wanted to go to the beach. At that point I’d have sold my soul to be there.

Mercifully, an exit appeared and I was able to get turned around again. We merged back onto I-94, drove a mile, and there it was… exit 33. I took the exit, thus ending the debacle. Or so I thought.

Jenni was getting directions in real time via text message from her sister. She told me to go straight all the way.

“Straight until we hit the lake?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“All right,” I said, “I can handle that.” And then the road dead-ended, with no lake in sight.

Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” So I did.

The peanut gallery started up with, “Are you sure this is the right way?”

I had no clue if it was the right way, but I didn’t let on. Remember, you can’t show fear. Fortunately, God cut me a break. The road we were on wound around to the right and back to the left and there before us was Lake Michigan.

I parked the car and we found the in-laws. I then hauled about 100 pounds of crap, like a pack mule, across the sand to the spot that they had picked.

There were three boys in our group, ranging in age from 7 to 11. They were excited to be at the beach. They ran down to the shore, into the water and right back out. The water was frigid. And that was the extent of the swimming for the day.

My brother-in-law said, “How about we go get lunch?”

Go get lunch? I just drove two and a half hours and hauled a hundred pounds of crap across the beach, and he wanted to go get lunch?

He volunteered to go get pizza. When he returned, we found a nearby picnic table and ate. Then the gang decided to go shopping. It had taken longer to get to the beach than they had spent on it. Now they were going shopping.

Aley and I demurred and headed back to our stuff.

I sat back and started to read. Aley dug a hole and lay down with her swollen belly sunk in the sand.

Everybody at the beach sits facing the water. It is a beautiful site, but all the interesting stuff happens on the beach. So I did read, but hiding behind sunglasses I was able to people watch as well.

There are many interesting sights on the beach that day. Like the guy in the Speedo or the pregnant lady in the bikini – unfortunately that one was with me. An old guy slept nearby with his mouth open and his upper dentures resting precariously on his bottom lip.  A little boy cried bloody murder because he had sand in his suit, and was desperately trying to take it off while his dad yelled at him to not too. In his defense, if I had had sand in my suit I would have been crying too.

After everything that had happened, I did end up spending a fun and relaxing day at the beach with my daughter. When it was time to go, I hauled the 100 pounds of crap back up to the car, loaded it in the trunk and started for home.

We had been on the road less than five minutes when Aley said, “This doesn’t look right. I think we’re going the wrong way.”

 

Steve Hagood is the author of Chasing the Woodstock Baby from Indigo Sea Press. To learn more about Steve visit his website http://www.stevehagood.com

 

 

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Meditation Changed My Life

October Is National Domestic Awareness Month

In April of l970 and at the age of 22, I moved away from my parent’s home.  I moved to the Washington, D.C. area.  I worked for the Federal Government.  I was scheduled to start my new job at the Pentagon the day after my arrival in D.C. 

While my father, an officer in the U.S. Navy was stationed at the Pentagon, I previously worked there as well.  When his Pentagon duty expired, we moved to Toms River, New Jersey where I worked in the Public Relations office at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station, the site of the Hindenburg Airship crash.  I loved my job in Public Relations where I learned a lot about dirigible airships and the difference between their rigid structures and blimps.  However, at 22, it was time for me to leave home.  My plans were in order.

I was to move to D.C., work for a year at the Pentagon, then apply to a program which would send me to a U.S. Naval facility in a foreign country.  I wanted to move to Brussels, Belgium.  However, my plans changed almost immediately after moving to D.C. 

On my first evening in the area, I met Bob Bibb, my husband of 46 years.  He was a friend of my older brother, Danny, who worked and lived in the D.C. area.  Bob and Danny met while Danny worked as an undercover police officer at the inner-city Safeway store Bob, a trained meat cutter, worked during the evenings and on weekends.  Bob was also a full-time student at the University of Maryland. 

There had been a rash of armed robberies in the inner-city stores, and Bob’s store was one of the victims.  I lived with Danny and his small family for a few weeks after moving in April.  Bob was invited to dinner on that first evening, the day before my future was to unfold taking me to Brussels.  However, once I realized Bob was my future, I left the Pentagon and went to work at the Civil Rights Commission in downtown D.C.  My life changed dramatically during those first few months, and I was, in a sense, reborn.  It was, after all, 1970 and D.C. was Mecca for the anti-war movement.

Soon after meeting Bob, I told him a secret that I had kept hidden for sixteen years.  Bob was the first person I trusted enough to tell my secret. When I told, Danny, his wife, Ava, and my younger sister, Gail were present. 

Bob subsequently helped me schedule a meeting with a psychology counselor at the University the following week.  I will never forget that hour. 

I don’t recall what all I said during that hour as I cried my river of tears.  I do, however, recall how the male counselor never uttered a word.  He never asked a question, nor did he make any comments.  He sat silently and listened.  At the end of my hour session, he handed me a box of tissue then shook my hand.  He never invited me back.   Many years later, I learned that, in the early 1970’s, psychologists were only beginning to become aware of the crime of child sexual abuse.  They were only then learning how prevalent it was and how traumatic the fallout was for victims.  I now imagine the male psychologist I saw simply didn’t know how to respond, nor did he know what to do with me and the story I told.

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I was a victim at the hands of my biological father.  My first novel, Crack in the World, although not autobiographical, duplicated what happened to me.  Emily, my main character, becomes a victim of her pedophile father at age six, the same age my father began touching me.

When I walked out of the counselor’s office, I was struck by what didn’t happen.  As I left the office, I made the unconscious decision to internalize my experience and never talk about it again.  The counselor’s silence caused me to determine that what happened to me was inconsequential.  It didn’t matter.  I was grossly wrong.  However, I never again talked about it as the terrible thing that happened to me.  Instead, I climbed into a suit of armor and resolved that I was bigger than what my father did to me.  I made up my mind to ignore it all.

Twenty plus years later, when my mother died, my abuse came crashing through, and I once again found myself in the midst of its fallout.  I became clinically depressed and, once again, sought the help of a therapist.  This time, however, much had been learned between my first counseling session and my second.  My second therapist, a female, helped me tremendously.

Over the years, and on a conscious level, I managed to put what happened to me in perspective of my life.  That’s all a victim can do.  There is never closure.  That term closure is a mythical one.  Anyone who has experienced a similar trauma in their life understands the myth of closure.

Although I managed to accept my abuse on a conscious level, the abuse haunted me, leaving me burdened with internal agony.  That anguish manifested itself as dysfunctional behavior,  leaving me essentially unhappy.  I experienced mood swings which took me from extreme happiness to a dark place where I would question everything about my life.  I felt helpless.

Until about seven years ago, I had resolved to accept my unhappiness as my lot in life.  I reconciled that I was destined to carry around, what, years earlier, a male supervisor labeled as my excess baggage.  Although I never told him my story, he intuited my unhappiness when he said, “Maribeth, I don’t know what happened to you. However, I hope that one day you can unload all the excess baggage you carry around.  It makes me sad that you are so unhappy.”

I now recall thinking seven years ago; Maybe this is as good as it gets.  Maybe I will never be as happy as I would like to become.  While a part of me was ready to acquiesce, another part of me, the part I know as my warrior, decided to reject acceptance.  Instead, I began searching for a path toward happiness.

From all my life lessons, I had learned that happiness comes from within.  I knew no one person, other than myself, could help me find internal contentment or peace.  I had to help myself.  I had to find happiness on my own.  So I set out on a quest.  That is when I discovered meditation.

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I don’t meditate in the traditional sense.  I don’t sit in a lotus position, close my eyes and meditate.  I tried to learn that technique, but it’s difficult to master.  Instead, one day I ran into an audio program called Holosync.  Holosync is a product of the Centerpointe Institute located in Oregon and is the invention of Bill Harris, CEO of Centerpointe.

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Holosync is an audio technology designed to put a person’s unconscious mind in a deep meditative state.  The “technology soundtracks contain certain combinations of sine wave tones of precise frequencies embedded beneath soothing music and environmental sounds” (Thresholds of the Mind, by Bill Harris).   When listened to through stereo headphones, the stimulated brain creates new brain wave patterns.  In other words, the map of the unconscious mind is totally re-drawn.

An analogy can be made using the mental image of a poorly constructed road which contains many twists, sharp turns, drop-offs, dead ends and is inundated with huge bumps, and behemoth potholes.  With the use of Holosync, the brain is stimulated to repair the road, taking out the twists, sharp curves,  drop-offs and dead ends, while repairing the bumps and potholes to create a smooth, relatively flat surface.    The result is remarkable.  I would recommend Holosync to everyone.  In particular, I would recommend it to those who suffer from PTSD.  Certainly, extreme childhood trauma results in a perpetual state of PTSD. 

Along with Holosync, Bill provides his book, Thresholds of the Mind, which explains how Holosync works on the unconscious mind to undo that trauma, i.e., helps the unconscious mind put the trauma in perspective of “everything,” including perceptions.

Bill explains that the unconscious mind is where memories live forever.  Since the unconscious mind remains hidden from us, that part of our self-awareness remains oblivious to the reality of our conscious world.  Thus, it does not recognize time; i.e., it does not recognize that we grow up.  Instead, as in my case, my unconscious mind perceived itself as still the abused child and thus, still in danger.  So, all the behavior I practiced when I was a child and in danger, persisted into adulthood.  Because those behaviors are no longer necessary, those same behaviors became dysfunctional,  manifesting themselves as dysfunctional behavior such as unrealistic expectations, quick to anger and general dissatisfaction.

I’ve been meditating for over five years and am nearly through with the program.  Although I will finish it in five more lessons, I will continue to use the program to meditate.  In the meantime, my life has changed dramatically. 

In particular, I recall reading Bill’s words as he suggested that one day I would realize that I am truly happy.  When I first read those words, I was skeptical.  I assumed it was a marketing claim.  However, one day, as I drove to a work-related appointment, I realized and acknowledged out loud that I was happier than I expected I could have ever become.  I’m more tolerant and not quite as hard on myself.  I will always steer toward perfection.  However, now, I believe my aim is no longer the literal definition of perfection.  Instead, my aim for perfection is geared more toward improving my life versus actual perfection which we all know is unrealistic and impossible.

Recently I attended a function with my sister, Gail.   The group she belongs to asked me to talk about Holosync.  Later, one of the participants asked me a ton of questions.  She disclosed that she too was a victim of sexual abuse.  Her grandfather was the criminal.  She told me she was at a crossroad in her life where she had gone the distance on a conscious level to undo the damage.  She was ready for the next step.  I encouraged her to look into Holosync.  She did.  She is now a Holosync user.  She wrote me soon after she began using Holosync.  She told me she was feeling the positive effects and was grateful for my taking time to talk to her group and her personally.

I am happy I didn’t settle for as good as it gets.  I’m happy for my warrior spirit that inspired me to look and find the solution to my sadness.  Holosync not only changed my life, it saved my life! 

 

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The Grim Reaper in the Queen City by Steve Hagood

September. It’s that special time when the temperatures cool off, the kids go back to school, and football season starts. It’s my favorite time of year.

Last September, my wife, Jenni, and I traveled to Charlotte, NC to watch the Detroit Lions play against the Carolina Panthers. As it turns out, September is not fall in Charlotte, North Carolina where the average September temperature is 81 degrees with 73% humidity. I was born and raised in Michigan. I am a northern boy with thick skin and thick blood. 81 degrees with 73% humidity might as well be hell.

On the Saturday before the game, we went out to explore the city. This being fall (I thought), I was wearing blue jeans. I was also wearing a black Detroit Lions tee shirt and baseball cap. This would turn out to be a bad move. Walking around Charlotte, sweat streamed off of my head, down my back and into places better left unsaid. I don’t remember Andy Griffith or Aunt Bea sweating the way I sweated on that day.

I have to take a moment to tell you about Jenni. She is a wonderful person. A devout Catholic who teaches catechism two nights a week and aspires to be a nun after I’m dead. Ninety-nine percent of the time Jenni wears shirts that have a religious saying on them, or are from the Vacation Bible School she runs every summer. However, on this particular Saturday, she wore a concert shirt from the band Styx that happened to feature a picture of the Grim Reaper, rowing a boat across the river Styx.

As we explored the city, and sweated profusely, Jenni wanted to check out churches. There are over 300 churches in Charlotte and every one of them was locked, except for one. It just happened to be a beautiful, old, Catholic Church. The door opened to Jenni’s pull, and music emanated from inside.

“We shouldn’t go in there,” I said.

“They’re having mass,” Jenni said. “We should go in.” There has never been a mass she didn’t want to attend.

“GO IN?” I thought. We were not dressed for mass. I was sweating through my shirt and she was wearing a picture of the grim reaper!

But, before I could get the words out, Jenni was in the church and an usher was leading her to a pew about three-quarters of the way back in what I now saw was a very full church.

What could I do? I took off my hat, slicked down my sweat drenched hair, and followed.

We got to our pew just as the congregation was kneeling for the first time in preparation of communion. I obediently knelt next to the future nun.

Angry eyes descended on us from every angle. I tried not to make eye contact with anyone, fearing I’d be turned to stone. Jenni was oblivious. She was in her element.

I noticed that these were some very nicely dressed people. There were coats and ties and dresses everywhere I looked. And then there was us.

I whispered, “We need to get out of here!”

Jenni responded, “No. It’s fine.”

“It’s not fine,” I said. “You’re wearing the grim reaper!”

“I’ll cover it up when we go up to communion.”

I sighed and relinquished myself to my fate.

As I knelt there, I realized it was just about noon, on Saturday. That seemed like an odd time for mass. I grew up in the Catholic Church and didn’t remember ever hearing of a Saturday at noon mass. And, as I said, these people were very well dressed. They took their church serious down here.

The time finally came to go up to communion. I stood in line, head down intent on not making eye contact with anyone, while Sister Jenni hid the grim reaper between her boobs.

Somehow, we managed to get through the communion line without incident. When we got back to our pew and knelt Jenni whispered, “This is not good.”

“Ya think?” I said.

She picked up the flyer that she had received when we entered and pointed at the front cover. It said, “Funeral Mass for Charles Turner.”

I sighed. We had crashed a funeral. And one of us was wearing the GRIM REAPER on her chest!

“Let’s go,” I said.

“Wouldn’t it be rude to get up and leave?”

Before I could answer an old lady stopped at our pew. “Uh oh, here we go,” I thought. And then the old lady, probably Charles Turner’s widow, stuck out her hand to shake ours and thank us for coming.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Charles Turner while he was alive, but I swear, I’ll never forget him.

***

Steve Hagood is the author of Chasing the Woodstock Baby

follow Steve on Twitter @authorhagood

http://www.indigoseapress.com/Stiletto-Books–Crime-and-Mystery-Authors-A-H.php#Steve

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Where Were You When…..?, by Carole Howard

Those of us who were around at the time will always remember where we were when we heard about JFK’s assassination. I was in my dorm room, blissfully unaware of what was going on, until my raucous roommate told me how the universe’s axis had just shifted.  The man who would turn out to be my husband was in a small town in Senegal as a Peace Corps volunteer.  He had to figure out what the kid who spoke only Wolof was trying to tell him.  And it was the same with 9/11.  We were in Paris, in a rented apartment.  TV, yes, but no CNN.  We felt very cut off and extremely American.

I imagine most people don’t feel that way about hearing that Captain Sullenberger landed a plane in the Hudson River. But I do.

My husband and I were in an internet cafe down the block from our apartment in Accra, Ghana. If you’re visualizing a spiffy computer-filled and highly air-conditioned room, stop. There were internet cafes like that in Accra, but not the one in our neighborhood.   This one was very hot and mostly frequented by kids playing video games with very loud rap music as background. Its chief advantage was location.

We went every day after work. On that day, we “opened” the NYTimes and saw the news about Sully. We’re New Yorkers, so it was “our” Hudson River in “our” city in “our” country. OHMYOHMY. We wanted to talk to everyone in the place about it, but being the oldest ones and the only foreigners made conversation difficult. Thank goodness we had each other to share our amazement with.

I just saw the movie Sully, which I liked a lot. Plus I loved my mental trip to “our” internet cafe in Ghana. Without the rap music as background.

How about you?  Is there anything you associate with the particular place you were in when you heard about it?
Our Accra neighborhood

Our Accra neighborhood: This is our end of the street, in the morning, looking down towards “our” internet cafe.

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Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, a murder mystery set in Senegal, around the corner from Ghana.

 

 

 

 

 

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Wyatt Earp, Gone Again

Did you know the real-life Sheriff Wyatt Earp lived from 1848 to 1929 and was most famous for the legendary “Shootout at the O.K. Corral” in Tombstone, Arizona in 1881? And that some of his authentic escapades were used later in the TV show, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp which ran from 1955 to 1961? This blog post is about and dedicated to actor Hugh O’Brian who starred in the TV episodes. I was saddened to learn Mr. O’Brian passed away on Monday, September fifth at the age of ninety-one. He was in TV, movies and theater, but was also a dedicated and important philanthropist.

Many of you might not know that westerns were huge on TV in the late 1950s and 60s. I was a teenager and my parents and I would watch Wyatt Earp together as a family; something that has been almost lost over the ensuing years. My father was a big fan of westerns and we watched most of those shows and I still remember the theme songs from many of them.

Fast forward to the mid-1980s. I was in a restaurant in Montgomery, Alabama with friends and on my way back from the ladies’ room; I spotted a man I was sure I recognized. I returned to my table and asked my friends if they recognized him as well, but no one did. I couldn’t let it go. I had to find out, so I gathered up my courage and approached the gentleman’s table. Apologizing profusely for disturbing him and his friends, I asked, “Are you Hugh O’Brian?”

He smiled at me and said he was. I remember being very nervous, but I told him what a fan I was, and that my parents and I watched his show faithfully every week until the end. I even told him I remembered the theme song of Wyatt Earp. I could tell, he didn’t believe me, but was hesitant to embarrass me, so I offered to sing it to him, if he would forgive my singing. He, clearly, was enjoying my interruption and said he’d love to hear it.

I summoned up the last of my courage and began:

          “Wyatt Earp, Wyatt Earp,

          Brave courageous and bold.

          Long live your fame and long live your glory,

          And long may your story be told.”

Much to my surprise and shock, there was not only applause from Mr. O’Brian, but also from his friends, and from several tables of people nearby. I’m glad the restaurant wasn’t well lit at that hour (they dimmed the lights for dinnertime), because I imagine my face was appropriately scarlet.

With a somewhat shaky voice, I humbly thanked Mr. O’Brian for allowing me to interrupt him and his friends and went back to my seat. He was so gracious and I think he was pleased to still have fans after all those years. He was a gentleman both on and off the screen. That’s a moment I’ll never forget.

I don’t have a picture of Hugh O’Brian, but if you’d like to see what he looked like, click: his website is:

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.

Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Movement

On June 3 we began. In a minivan of all things. My brother’s minivan. I climbed in, smug, until I discovered I was relegated to the far back seat . . . the place for old women and little sisters. In this situation I’d like to think I was the little sister, but reality is, at forty-six years old, I was probably a little bit of both. The two men sat in front, of course, and the teens in the middle seats where they could plug in their “devices” and talk about how long the trip from Omaha to Wisconsin was.

This will be good, I thought, my chance to poke fun. My chance to laugh. My chance to point out that I’ve managed to raise three kids without ever owning a minivan. Ever. When our kids were little, we were Jeep Cherokee people. We’d cram three kids and two car seats in the back and commend ourselves for how progressive we were as parents.

jeep cherokee

Luggage? Inside the car? Hell no! It goes on top. When we need a diaper, by God, we will pull over for it.

But that isn’t really what I want to talk about.

We moved my mom from Wisconsin back to Nebraska. She had a lot of stuff. And I mean a LOT of stuff.

One woman.

One apartment.

One storage garage.

One 26-foot truck.

One trailer.

And it still didn’t all fit.

covered wagon

But I guess I don’t really want to talk about that either.

I can’t quit thinking about that minivan.

You know, when I climbed into that thing, and hiked to the far back seat, where I buckled up and stretched out . . . you read that right . . . I stretched out, all five-feet-two-inches of me. I dozed. I read. I watched Iowa blow by my window and marveled at all those wind generators they have going, wondering how many birds those things actually kill. Is it really as many as they say? And I studied my family.

My niece and my daughter sat in front of me, sharing music, laughing, moaning when I poked them with my feet (heh heh heh), and beyond them, in the distant front, my brother in law and my brother sat and talked and caught up with one another.

We don’t often spend time together in long chunks like this, and it was interesting to watch and listen and study them. I suppose some would call it wool gathering. If I asked the brilliant Anne Lamott of Bird by Bird fame, she would likely call it “feather gathering.” At least I hope she would, because I think she is cool.

bird by bird

And so I guess I gathered a lot of feathers . . . but not in the way you may think. Mostly, I think I got to see how my family interacts with each other. We were a hodge-podge mix of folks thrust together to help a woman who dearly loves her material possessions move them from one place to another. And as a writer, I gotta tell ya, it was fascinating to watch everyone’s responses. It was like if an entire parrot just popped all its feathers off right there in front of me . . . there were that damn many.

There is nothing of sentimental value in my mother’s possession. No childhood crayon drawings. No macaroni pictures. There are no old ornaments or family dishes or cherished linens.

My brother would carry a box to the truck and get his usual sideways smile. I can always tell when he’s going to say something sarcastic (which as it turns out is greater than fifty percent of the time) because of the smirk on his face. “These decorations bring back so many memories,” he would say. “I’m feeling very nostalgic right now.”

My mother, standing nearby in her Liz Claiborne, her hair perfect, her toes peeking out from her mules and painted just right would smile. “I appreciate everything you kids are doing. I really do. Can I get anyone a cold Coke?”

My brother in law would flare his nostrils a little bit and walk slightly on his tiptoes. He does that a lot, especially when he’s in a hurry. He kept quiet. The boxes to him were just that, boxes. To us, my brother and I, who were sort of sad our two sisters weren’t there to see the sheer lack of evidence of our existence in our mother’s possessions, the boxes were a betrayal.

What the hell, Mom? Where’s my high school wardrobe? Where’s the sleeper I wore when I was six months old? Where’s Flipper, my favorite stuffed dolphin? Was it too much to expect that you would carry these things around with you for eternity?

Evidently so.

I guess since we all moved out thirty plus years ago, life moved on for her, and the accumulation of what are now her possessions had become random stacks of boxes that hold little meaning to us.

Anger settled a bit, followed by resentment, followed by sadness. Where are those dang macaroni pictures we made forty years ago? Naturally, macaroni and construction paper just don’t hold up that well over time. And as for dishes? Who the hell wants to cook in a pea green or dark gold casserole dish for sixty years? The hipsters might find that cool and that is fine. But my mom can move on from this. I’m okay with that.

This, my friends, is life. As we loaded the damn truck, I resolved my feelings. One cannot expect a parent to continue to use the same salad tongs for seventy-five years. That’s in the Bible. I looked it up because I was pretty upset that there were no familiar salad tongs anywhere. Sometimes you need good ol’ Exodus to keep you on track. Thou shalt not use salad tongs nor dessert forks for more than thirty-seven moons. I’m not sure how long thirty-seven moons is, but even if a moon was a year, that still means my mom is due new salad tongs.

Where was I?

Right. Minivan. So this thing was comfortable. The middle captain’s seats the girls had were actual recliners. The kind your feet actually go up in. The only consolation I can give myself for this epic parenting fail on my part (i.e. never owning a vehicle like this) is that they simply didn’t exist when my children were young. They were boxy and boring and not at all sexy. But I will tell you this . . . when we did finally trade in our ten year old Jeep Cherokee exactly ten years ago, we all cried. Every single one of us.

Our cars now? Pretty nice, but no sentimental value. We’ve brought no babies home from the hospital in them. We’ve never been stuck in the snow with toddlers and complained that the four wheel drive wasn’t four wheel drivey enough. We’ve moved on.

Things are things. People are people. Feathers are feathers. Movement is movement.

Sigh.

Life goes on.

And now I’m thinking, at age forty-six, that I really missed the boat with the minivan thing. Dammit anyway.

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A Tree Grows in Warwick, by Carole Howard

Next week is Arbor Day. It doesn’t get as much commercial attention as, say, Valentine’s Day or Groundhog Day or Mother’s Day.  But it’s very special to me, and here’s why:

Back on Arbor Day 1980, when my daughter was in first grade, she brought one of those itty-bitty evergreen shoots home from school.  It was a scrawny little stick with some pine needles, maybe 6 inches tall, in one of those frozen orange juice containers, Minute Maid, I think.  We’d only recently moved from the big city to the country and, I’ll admit, it was thrilling.  And adorable.  (“Oh how cute.  She got a ‘tree’ to bring home from school.”)

With appropriate ceremony, we waited for a warm and sunny day.  We dug a hole and stuck it in the ground.  It didn’t take long, certainly not long enough for the glee we were feeling and our sense of the significance of the moment.  Maybe we watered it after that, but I honestly can’t remember doing even that.  Mostly we forgot about it, except for an occasional, “Honey, remember when….?”

IMG_4033Here it is now, complete with the former first grade planter herself (and her mom, aka moi).  Her daughter is now about the age she was when she brought home the seedling. Yikes.

Now, of course, I wish I’d planted 50 of them.  It was so easy.  It’s so beautiful.  No muss, no fuss……. and now a tree where nothing stood before.

Actually, many of our plantings evoke that same “Remember when….”  There’s the magnolia in front that I blogged about two years ago, or  the apple tree planted in memory of my brother, or the trees — a maple and a pin oak — under which my- daughter-the-evergreen-planter got married.  And on and on.

weddingHave you ever heard the Chinese proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The second best time is now.”

So … what are you waiting for?

 

 

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Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio,  in which Emily wanted more out of life than to be a good little Embassy wife in West Africa. She was expecting music, though, not murder.

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