Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Youthful Snow-filled Memories

            As I drove from my home just outside of the village of White, Pennsylvania to my sister’s home in Indian Head for Christmas, I began to recall the many times I had driven it in the snow. The twisting road called Poplar Run was always beautiful. The snow hanging heavy on the bare branches of beech, oak, and maple, making lacey patterns that often glistened in the sunlight and even in the headlights of the car. The most beautiful sight of all was the young pines that had been planted on a steep slope. It was as though they had horded much of the snow and wrapped themselves in a thick white quilt. They are now old and sparsely needled, but then, they were in their prime, full and heavily covered in their dark green needles. They would pop into view as I would make the turn and suddenly, they were there, a feast for the eyes. It was beauty almost beyond belief, the darkness of the needles contrasting with the new-fallen snow.
            It was a sight I always enjoyed, even as a child, riding in the back seat of my parent’s car. My view was sometimes hampered by my position in the backseat, but it was always enjoyable. Other roads that my dad, Carl would drive on allowed different memories. I can recall having to press my face against the car’s window and look upward to see the sky over the top of the drifted and plowed snow.
            My dad hated to be late. One morning we tried three different roadways to get to church during a snow storm. The roads were slippery and snow covered. When we pulled into the parking lot of the white clapboard Clinton Church of God, they music was playing and the congregation was singing a hymn. Dad told us to get back into the car and he drove us all home. I’m sure that God wouldn’t have minded, but Dad was a stickler for being punctual.
            This year, snow has been scarce and almost nonexistent, so to play in the snow, I must revel in my memories of snow ball battles, sled riding, and the cold wintertime beauty that remain in my mind.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Endless Supply of Characters

            After thirty-five years of working as a nurse, I have obtained a nearly endless supply of characters and plots for stories. I write fiction about a retired homicide detective from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but none of his dealings come close to the memories that have accumulated inside my head over those years on the job. The thing that aimed my thoughts back to those memories is a necktie.
            It was given to me by a fellow worker named Nancy. Nancy manned the switchboard. She was a buxomly blonde, pleasant and well-spoken. The switchboard was centrally located and was in an area that was nearly devoid of phones. It was easier for me to answer calls in the switchboard itself than for me to move to another area to find a phone. I became friends with all of the operators, but this memory and the tie was from Nancy.
            When I entered the “communications room” one evening, I mentioned that the blouse that she was wearing was nice. It was black with splotches of colors in a deep yellow, a dark green and violet. The darkness of it enhanced the blondeness of her coif. When I complimented the blouse, she replied, “This old thing. I hate it.”
            I said, “It looks very nice on you.”
            Again she snarled, “I’m going home and throw it away.”
            “Why? It’s a pretty blouse.”
            “”If you think it is so pretty, I’ll go home, wash it and you can give it to your wife,” she replied.
            I knew that I wasn’t going to get anywhere arguing, so I made the call and Shot as I departed, “I still think it’s a nice blouse,” and hurried away.
            It was Christmas and I always bought a small gift for the different operators, especially once I knew their likes. I can’t remember what I got Nancy that year, but when I came into the switchboard, she scooted her chair back and pulled out a long thin box, covered in bright wrapping paper and a large bow.
            “”Here, this is for you,” she said. Her face was transformed by a sly smile. She watched, the smirk growing larger as she watched me unwrap it. It was a tie made out of the material of that blouse. As a nursing supervisor, I wore a tie for the many occasions. The patients, families, and staff seemed to like it and I have nearly one hundred ties still in my arsenal.
            When I wore it for the first time and Nancy saw it, she swore and said, “It makes a nicer tie than it did as that old blouse.”
            Nancy is dead now and I only pull that old blouse tie out once a year to wear it in memory of her and the story. I usually wear it on New Year’s Eve. I wore it to church yesterday, to celebrate the upcoming New Year. That was for you, Nancy.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Silence Isn’t Always Golden
            When I woke this morning still tucked beneath my blankets and warm and I lay there in the darkness, the house seemed unnaturally quiet. It was Christmas morning and there were no children and no wife to chase the silence away with laughter and excitement. It was just me and the cat, Willow.
            When my wife Cindy was alive, she was so much more eager to get at the presents that were wrapped and were circling the Christmas tree, like pioneers’ wagons warding off an Indian attack. Many times we’d gotten to bed after wrapping those gifts only a few hours before, but that didn’t matter. She was more excited that the kids. If they hadn’t wakened by five a.m., she’d sing and bang into walls or find some way to make loud noises to arouse the sleeping children.
            It wouldn’t be long until the squeals of delight of our kids saying, “It’s Christmas. It’s Christmas,” would join with ours. Amanda, Andrew, and Anna would head into the living room to find that the Christmas tree lights were lit and many times, there would be some kind of Christmas music playing.
            The first things to be emptied were the stockings. Every small gift inside had to be wrapped in bright paper. It was a flurry of paper bits until every treasure had been discovered. Once that was accomplished, Cindy would distribute the gifts until each child had a stack of gifts piled beside them. It was time to unwrap. Again the blizzard of shredded paper filled the air.
            One thing that we did learn was to place all wrapped clothing into large white trash bags secured with a bow. When the kids finished opening toys and other gifts and the discarded paper wrapping was gathered, they could open their bags of clothing to see what was lurking inside. It was easier and safer to do this with the “unexciting” clothes than to search the mountain of paper bits looking for socks or underwear.
            This morning, the tree is lit and gifts still surround the tree, but the silent anticipation of the family coming to my house has replaced the explosion of excitement of Christmas morning.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas Remembrances

            While I was wrapping some gifts that I had bought in Christmas paper, I became hungry for Kentucky Fried Chicken. I am not sure if I had a yearning for it or thought of Christmastime for my grandparents Edson and Anna Beck. They were in their mid-eighties by this time and what to get them for the holiday became a problem for my wife Cindy and me. Mom said when she helped Grandma clean their bedrooms they still had clothing in their cellophane wrappings from the stores, tucked into the dresser drawers.
            They reached the age when Grandma didn’t decorate the house for Christmas any longer. Gift buying for them became more and more difficult, until I learned that they liked Col. Sanders’ secret recipe. After that, it was easy. I would go the Connellsville, Pennsylvania restaurant and buy a bucket of chicken with all of the fixings about a week before Christmas day. It was a gift that they enjoyed and that they used. Because they ate so little, they dined on it for entire week. We never found any chicken tucked away in cellophane in any drawers.
            We also began to buy a Christmas tree for them. Not one of the large ones, but the ones that were about fourteen inches high and sold with a few decorative bulbs already on it. That would be their Christmas display. Granddad would water it and keep it in the basement after the holiday and when spring arrived, he would plant it in their back yard.
            My brother-in-law bought my grandparents house when they died and has remodeled it. He occasionally complains about the pines in the back yard. There must be ten of them that have grown to be quite large and overshadow his garden.
            In another posting, I may share the Nativity set that I bought for them. Grandma kept it up all year and claimed the coveted spot on top of their T.V.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Nothing to Sneeze about

            I woke this morning with a stuffy head and sneezing. It reminded me of my grandfather Raymond Miner and his distinctive sneeze. The sound of his sneezing was almost as quiet as he was, but it would sound like he said “Er-rassole.”  My brother and I were always amused hearing him. I can’t remember my grandmother sneezing, but I guess it is the unusual ones that we remembered.
            Sybil, my mom’s wasn’t unusual, but she tried to stifle it and would sneeze into the cleavage of the blouse or dress that she was wearing.  I guess that I sneeze much the same way, only I sneeze into my elbow bend or into my shirt front. Some people have told me that stifling a sneeze is dangerous and that I could collapse a lung. I tell them, when I feel a sneeze coming on, I push all of the breath out of my lungs, so there is nothing for the sneeze to force out.
            I am a three sneeze person. Each time that the urge hits me, I know that the first one will be followed by two more. Most people I know sneeze twice. A rare person will sneeze once. My granddad Miner was a solo sneezer, but memorable because of the sound.
            Walking hand in hand with sneezing are those who blow their nose. Some just give a soft zephyr sound while a few others would put the angel Gabriel to shame. My uncle Dale was a person who would pull out his dark blue, work handkerchief and honk loudly into it.
            I’ve know ladies who have carried lace edged or embroidered, dainty-looking handkerchiefs. They were scented and were used to ward off offensive odors by daubing at their noses. Their kerchiefs were pulled from pockets, purses, or from the edge of a long sleeve and put into service. Much of that has gone the way of the Dodo and today they are replaced by boring white Kleenex or other brand names. The manufacturers market the tissues in “designer” boxes, but once they are pulled out, they are just softer, plain pieces of paper; toilet tissue on a “more refined” level. Once these tissues are used, they're tossed into the garbage or wadded into a ball and stuck into a pocket, to later shred in the washing machine. No longer are our handkerchiefs treasured, washed, ironed, and used when we sneeze. No longer are these lovely items passed from one generation to the next as memories of our passed loved ones.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Wear and Tear

            I babysat my granddaughter Hannah yesterday. She was wound up and wanted to do everything at once. Watch the television, building with the giant Leggo blocks, playing with Barbie dolls, look at the “Eye Spy” book, and eating. That kid has to have a hollow leg. An apple, a cookie, a toaster pastry, a cheese stick, several pineapple rings, and a beef stick followed each other into her gullet.
            While this was going on, the Everdry workmen were in the basement, trying to correct one last wet area in my cellar. Their jack hammer had the cat in hiding and Hannah clingy and staying close to my side. The workers finished their job, just before noon. I didn’t feel like cooking, so Hannah and I hit McDonald’s. She had the McNugget happy meal and I ate two fish sandwiches. I think that she was finally filled, because she didn’t eat her yogurt and we took that with us.
            I made a stop at my insurance agent to ask a question. Hannah saw their lollipop tree and had to have one. Lollipops must be like Jell-O, there’s always room for some.
            Although her belly was full, she was still wound up, and each time I used my phone, even though I don’t like using one, she would start to jabber and try to talk to me at the same time. I wanted to pull at my dwindling hair supply. I may sound like I don’t like sitting with Hannah, but that’s not true. I love her dearly. Sometimes it can be stressful.
            After her dad came home, I headed to a friend’s apartment to help her put a hook in her ceiling. She has a “hanging” Christmas tree and couldn’t attach the hook into the plastered ceiling. Mission accomplished, now onto the rest of my day. I attended the Mt. Pleasant Writers group meeting. It is a chance to learn a bit more about writing and share our labors.
            The Mt. Pleasant Library allows us to meet and to display our short stories in their lobby. Our writings are there for all who care to come in and read memories and poetry from and about the Christmas season. A late night meal and finally back home to plug in my Christmas lights and to start a fire in the wood burner before bedtime.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Ring Those Bells, Just Not in My Ears

            For twenty-six of the thirty-six years of my nursing career, I was a nursing supervisor. In the small hospital where I worked, I wasn’t only responsible for the nursing problems of staffing, complaints from staff, patients, and families, bed assignments, and problems with physicians, but all issues that occurred in the hospital. Every issue that impacted the patient became my concern and fell on my shoulders to resolve.
            One of the major irritations was the barrage of telephone calls. I have always hated talking on the telephone and will often put off making calls until I can no longer wait. It was almost a constant necessity that I use the phone. I would have to call for extra staff, cancel staff, or pass on information to patients about their next day surgeries. I would have to field calls of complaints, questions about medical problems, or taking phone orders from physicians for admissions or outpatient testing.
            Many times, I would walk through the hospital to talk with a person face-to-face instead of making the dreaded phone call. Part of it was the desire not to use the phone and the other part; I enjoyed the interaction with another person.
            All of these memories were stirred because of several calls that I need to make today. The reminders are on the desk in front of me and I am thinking, “Are there any that can wait, one more day?” I know that I am very much the opposite of those people today, who would almost die if they didn’t have their cell phones to their ears, but that is me.
            I never liked my voice on a tape recorder and that may be part of it. I don’t take a lot of selfies. I’ve never considered myself “poster-worthy.” Who wants to look at a Bizzaro world, Col. Sand

Monday, December 14, 2015

Just a short post today.

It’s Been a Busy Day

I was awakened by cramps in my feet at three-thirty a.m., finally deciding to get out of bed at five-thirty. I’ve been moving ever since. I posted my usual Christmas card on FaceBook and checked my e-mail. Messaging a friend, I made arrangements to meet Him and sell one of my books to him. I forgot until now, to post on my blogspot. Once I ate breakfast, I went to the basement to wash a load of clothes, empty the freezer to defrost it, and began to sweep and clean the basement. I thought that while I was downstairs washing and defrosting, I might as well clean the cellar. I’m taking a break and my daughter is visiting. I plan to get back downstairs and finish with cleaning for today.

Yesterday, I went to church, then I drove to the art museum in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. It was another good meeting doing critiques on other writer’s works. In gentle and sometimes humorous prodding, we try to improve the presentation suggesting word changes, punctuation, or change in order of paragraphs to create a better work. We greeted a new member and hopefully made her welcome.
In the evening, I drove to my daughter’s church. It was the Christmas program for my granddaughter Hannah. She dressed like a Christmas gift as a part of the play, sang with the junior choir, and spore a recitation. All in all, it was a good day.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Work, Work, Work

            So many tasks have been pulling in every direction. Each time I think I am getting somewhere I find another chore that needs done. The kitchen floor needed swept and mopped, so I did it. I think that the cat causes all of the dirt. She and I are the only ones at home and I certainly didn’t make all of that mess. Well, it’s done for now. While I cleaned the floor, I washed and dried the rugs. Now, that room is done for a little while.
            Yesterday, I packaged and stored the first batch of venison jerky and put the second on to dry. I waited for the first batch so that I could send some to my son and his family in Amarillo, Texas. I wrapped all of their gifts, took them to Going Postal, and mailed them out. I made a stop at Brown’s Candy Kitchen To send a box of chocolates to some friends. The price of the candy wasn’t cheap, but the postage was almost two thirds of the price of the chocolates.
            I burned the paper trash and hung out the venison cornucopia for the birds and wild critters around my house. Each year, I hang the rib cage of my deer in a tree at my side yard after filling it with scraps of tallow, unusable meat bits, and fat from the butchered venison. It helps the feathered and furred critters survive the winter.
            Today is much the same sweeping and dusting the living room and doing the bathrooms. I might even make my bed. I really should change the flannels. They don't smell fresh anymore.
            I have to make some food to take to a Christmas party. It is a little difficult when the host suggests that you bring desserts, but no sugar. Maybe I’ll take a bag of lemons. Just kidding Sally, I do have something in mind.
            I need to hit the barber shop sometime today. My hair looks so shaggy and long when I first get up, I look like the wild man of Borneo. I wonder how I can be so busy and retired. When I was working I had a wife and kids to do some of the chores inside the house and I took care or the chores outside. Now, like a brazier, I do double duty.


Monday, December 7, 2015

Grinchly Day

            Yesterday, when I woke I was in a bit of a down day. I had a sore stiff neck because of a pulled muscle. After brushing my teeth and shaving, I moved to my closet to choose a tie to wear to church. It was the beginning of December and I wanted to wear one of my Christmas tie, but wasn’t really in the mood. Flipping through the selection, I found a tie with the Grinch wearing his Santa hat and coat. That would do and placed it on the ironing board.
            I woke about four thirty a.m. and went to the kitchen to start the barbecue meatballs for the meal at a writers meeting later in the day. Into the Crockpot went the bags of preformed meatballs, the bottle of sauce, and to doctor it up, I added about twenty-five restaurant packages of sauces brought home from Abby’s, Wendy’s KFC, and local Chinese eateries.
            As I sat in church, that Grinchly feeling began to ease, even though the sore neck remained fairly constant. I was less crabby by the time I left the service.
            I stopped at a local bake shop to buy a loaf of fresh bread for the Christmas party to go with the meatballs. While I was there, I was my usual pleasant, convivial self as I handed out business cards to the customers and the cashier. I explained that I was a writer and had three books published, sharing that they were mysteries and that I had a BlogSpot. They both seemed interested. As I placed my bread in the car, I noticed my book bag in the back seat. I pulled out all three to show them what they looked like. I sold and signed the three different books to one lady and the cashier, six books total.
            After the meal, many of us read short stories or poetry, sharing our thoughts with the other writers. It was a time for me to mingle, sharing smiles among friends and talented people. More of my grumpy attitude slid away.
            I made it home in time to brush my teeth and drive to the evening services at church. Again, I was blessed with a scriptural sermon and an evening to relax with fellow friends and Christians. By the time I got home and settled for the night, the grump had nearly disappeared. How blessed I am to have those wonderful people in my life.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Remarkable! I stopped at a local bake shop to buy a loaf of fresh bread for a Christmas party/ writers meeting/ pot luck meal. While I was there, I was my usual pleasant, convivial self when I handed out my business cards to the customers and the cashier. I explained that I was a writer and had three books published, sharing that they were mysteries and that I had a BlogSpot. They both seemed interested. As I placed my bread in the car, I noticed my book bag in the back seat. I pulled out all three to show them what they looked like and made sales. I sold and signed the three different books to one lady and the cashier, six books total.

Friday, December 4, 2015

When What to My Wandering Eyes

There was a time in history when a person could go out into a field where pine trees grew wild. They would cut one to bring it into their homes. It wasn’t quite stealing, but close. The trees were always fresher and cheaper than going to a lot to buy one. A friend was doing just that, accompanied by his wife to get an evergreen tree. Once he and his axe were clear of the car, she drove away, planning to return later to collect him and the newly acquired tree. So that the friend would recognize it was his wife, she was planning to flash the headlights of the car, then he would hurry back to the road with his prize and quickly load it into the car. The trunks of cars were larger back then and unless the tree was huge, it would fit in the car’s trunk with only the tip of the pine peeking out from a tied down lid. If the limbs were too large, the tree could be tied to the car’s sturdy steel roof for the short transport back home.
            It was cold that winter’s day and the man was warmly dressed in his red and black Woolrich pants, coat, and hat. Thick Woolrich clothing was the accepted winter and hunting clothing of that time period. Having cut the tree, he squatted on a bank above the road to watch for the return of his wife. When the headlights of an oncoming car flashed, he hopped down onto the roadway only to find that it wasn't his wife. The oncoming car had rolled over a bump in the road and the headlights only appeared to flash. He told me that the surprise on the driver's face was stupendous when he suddenly leaped into the road. Can you imagine driving along and seeing a man clad from head to foot in red at Christmastime, carrying an evergreen tree hop into view?
          When my wife, Cindy and I started our own home and our own tradition of Christmas and trees, one thing she insisted on was that the star topper had to touch the ceiling of our mobile home. Our mobile home had a vaulted roof in the living room in front of the windows. One of the live trees I brought home had a full bottom. It did reach the eight foot ceiling. The problem with the tree occurred because the bottom limbs filled more than half of the width of the trailer. All season long, while the tree was up, we had to skirt those limbs to move through the mobile home, but the star brushed the ceiling.
It was the last live tree that we had. Up until that point, my uncle Ted and I went together to get the tree for Grandma Miner and one for Cindy and me. When he died, Christmas wasn’t the same and I had no desire to drive to the grove of pines and cut a tree. That was the year we bought an artificial


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Double Your Pleasure

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of going out to hunt and later to visit PNC Park. The day started at four a.m. when I finally decided to get out of bed. All night long I was afraid that I’d sleep in and woke to check the time every two hours. At five a.m. my brother called and said he’d made a mistake. He changed the time to meet at his house by six fifteen. So I wrote my BlogSpot post, put my postcard on Facebook, ate breakfast, and got dressed with plenty of time to spare.
I made it to my tree stand by six forty-five, was settled in, and waited in the predawn light. When my eyes adjusted, I could see glowing in the moonlight some slender bare tree trunks looking every bit like skeletal remains rising from the darkness. Patches of lichen flickered blue-green. As the daylight grew, the titmice around me began their single note serenade, soon to be joined by the chickadees. The strength of the wind made the thick poplar at my back begin to sway, pressing against me like a lover seeking to cuddle and get warm. It was a bit disconcerting to feel the seat beneath me move as well.
Watching the area for movement, I could see the circular green briar leaves beneath me shaking and nearby pines swaying. Several branches near me began to make music like the bow of one branch drawing across the strings of another. Silently, two does strolled into view, partially concealed by tall weeds and partly camouflaged by their coloration. Because it was buck season, I allowed them to disappear into the thick brush.
I was constrained by time and left early to go home, shower, and get dressed to visit PNC Park with some friends. I dressed in my Col. Sanders attire and we made it in time. We were early and some of us walked around the outside until it was time for the tour. A lovely woman named Holly and her tall handsome male counterpart named Brice met us. They greeted us and took us through many of the behind the scene parts of the stadium: the service level, suite level, and club levels. Two parts of the tour that really impressed me and that I enjoyed were sitting in the Pirates bullpen and standing in the press box area looking out over the field. The views of Pittsburgh were tremendous from both areas. That is why the Pirates bullpen is on the third base line and not the first base side like the home teams in other parks. It was an impressive tour, ending up in the spacious and splendid club house of the park. Outdoor seats surrounded balconies where attendees could eat and watch the games from these lofty aeries
Our two tour guides were knowledgeable and courteous, although my one friend who is an avid Pirate’s fan did hit them with a few unexpected questions and one question for which they didn’t have an answer.
Once the tour was finished, we decided to stop to eat. We hadn’t eaten. On the return trip we stopped to eat at the Cracker Barrel. It was almost five thirty by the time I settled back into my house. It had been a long day. I was glad to be home after a long and wonderfully enjoyable day.