Angel Unaware

When our kids were eight and ten, and I was much younger and thinner,

I developed a back problem and my doctor ordered a month of bed-rest in an attempt to avoid surgery. It didn’t work and I was incapacitated several months.

We needed help!

So, I looked in the classifieds to find a housekeeper. A few days later, a Cadillac stopped at the curb, and then our doorbell rang.

After asking if she had the right place, the black lady in the white uniform waved and her transportation drove away.

What kind of housekeeper was this? The uniform didn’t surprise me as much as her… uh… chauffeur.

She said he was her boyfriend, and my imagination went wild.

But, her smile lit her eyes. She had a cocoa and peaches complexion, and her joyful spirit gave evidence to a good heart. And we needed her desperately.

I went back to bed and she went to work. Tim (ten) and Joy (eight)followed her from room to room. They were fascinated. She had them spellbound is a better description.

Clementine Banks won our hearts that day as she cleaned our house from top to bottom, did the laundry, and lifted our spirits although the road ahead looked dreary.

During the next eight months, Clemmy came once a week, always with a smile that put a twinkle in her eyes. She told me about the hardships she had faced in Mississippi. She’d been a hairdresser. But California didn’t recognize her Mississippi cosmetology license so, she was cleaning houses. And doing a great job for us at a time when we needed her.

The kids loved her. I loved her. And Dan was glad to have her help. We paid her for her work and she did a good job, but more than that she became a friend and opened our eyes to a world we didn’t know much about.

Then, one day I realized I had recovered from my surgery and could begin doing the housework again. And, we never heard from Clemmy again. I tried to call her but the phone was disconnected. She left our lives as suddenly as she had appeared.

I’ve often thought that we may have entertained an angel unaware although she looked like an ordinary person. A little more beautiful than most. A little more joyful than most. And willing to do her job better than most.

I’ll never know if she came from the Heavenly Realm appearing as a mortal, or if she was just an ordinary person willing to serve, and God blessed us with her during our time of need.

Best Grammar Resource

By the time I realized I wanted to be a writer, I knew how to string words into sentences to make statements and ask questions. I knew where to put the commas for clarity. But, I was immersed in daily conversations with a six and eight year old, I forgot some of the rules.

Mom-talk includes a variety of words pulled into action with no time to worry about nouns, verbs, dangling participles or split infinities.

So, when I joined the creative writing class and heard mention of Strunk and White Elements of Style, I bought the little red paperback. I still have it. Although I didn’t use it often, when I did I could find the needed information by turning a few pages. That little book gave me confidence to submit my work and stayed by my side through the publication of several children’s stories plus a number of articles in newspapers and magazines including the San Diego Union, Denver Post, Woman’s Day, and Parents Magazine.

I had published twenty nonfiction books for kids before I even thought about the Chicago Manual of Style. Most of my publishers had their own style sheets and a copy editor to put it in force. But then, I landed a contract with the University of Nebraska Press and the Chicago Manual of Style was part of the deal.  So, I bought the 956 page hardback.

By this time, my little red Elements of Style was so old, I assumed it was obsolete. I loved that 70 page Elements of Style that seemed to put everything I needed within easy reach. However, searching for information hidden in a thousand page print volume is time consuming, frustrating, and downright irritating.

Then, while attending the OWFI writer’s conference this year, I spotted a new edition of Elements of Style. I came home and searched Amazon.com to see if it was real. It was. And, it has 436 customer reviews, 349 five star ratings. And, CMS most recent edition, 44 customer reviews, 33 five star ratings.

I pay attention to Amazon customer reviews. Obviously a lot of other writers knew something I didn’t. Elements of Style, our partnership’s back on. But, our relationship may never be the same. I’ve discovered a new grammar information source. Google is fast and easy. Type a question into the search box and the answer’s on screen in a couple of seconds. This is good! (But a little risky. You get several hits, some of the info can be wrong. You’re the judge!)

More About the Skunk

My story, Little Mistake was fiction, mostly.

The facts were: Somehow, a black and white kitten strayed from the nest and ended up the skunk’s den. My dad rescued the kitten, but a newborn skunk became an orphan in the process, and our mother cat allowed the stranger refuge in her nest.

The kit nudged a kitten aside, and her tiny nose detected nourishment. Momma Cat welcomed her, licked her clean, and made room at the table.

By tradition, my little brother and I took turns choosing a kitten from each litter born on our farm. It was my turn, and I picked the skunk. I did allow Little Brother to play with her some. But I chose her name without his input and called her Magnolia.

He was a little disgruntled that I kept  sole ownership of the prized pet. And, although I don’t remember the squabbles, I’m sure there were many.

My dad must have grown tired of living in a one-skunk, two-kid household because one day he found a way to even things out.

As Daddy drove home that afternoon, he had to stop while a mother skunk marched her litter across the road. After Mom Skunk disappeared in the weeds along side the road, Daddy jumped out of his pickup and snatched the last one in line. Fortunately, he made it back into his truck, and home, without incident. And that’s how we became a two-skunk, two-kid family that summer.

Our skunks didn’t spray. I don’t know if it takes some maturity to get the job done or they didn’t feel the need. However, people who came to our farmhouse didn’t know that, and the sight of two skunks in the yard kept all visitors in their cars until the skunks were in the barn. Once a visitor felt safe enough to exit, he or she wanted assurance that the path back to their car would be scent-free.

Much to my mother’s delight, people with this attitude included my paternal grandmother. She had the habit of entering without knocking, but that changed when the skunks took residence in our yard. After that, Grandma sat in her car until the path was clear and she was welcomed through the door.

The summer of the skunks… ah, what memories! Seeds of imagination planted so long ago. It hasn’t happened yet, but someday I may have a character steal the last baby skunk as the line marches across the road and into the brush. I’m not sure what should happen in the next chapter –Supper alone in the barn and a tub of tomato juice?

And, Grandma? She was my Grandma!. Even in my imaginary episodes, she’ll be safe.

Write What You Know

I received a lot of advice after I decided I wanted to be a writer. I welcomed it and learned how to use it as I traveled my path toward publication beyond my column in the East San Diego Press.

I joined a creative writing class for beginners and one of the first things I heard was, “Write what you know.” So, I did.

I wrote about a mama cat and a mama skunk with errant offspring that made a switch. I’ll never forget the look on the instructor’s face when she handed my manuscript back to me with her critique. “It’s a good story, but no one will ever believe a thing like this could happen,” she said.

Later, she told the class, “If you believe in your story, stick to it.” So, I did.

I based my story on personal experience. I knew kittens and kits could get mixed up and that the mama cat would adopt a baby skunk.

I wanted to write children’s stories, and be published in children’s magazines. Another piece of advice came my way, “Shoot for the stars.” Send your manuscripts to the best publications first. So, I did.

Several weeks later a letter came from Highlights for Children. I almost forgot to breathe when I read the first line, “We like your story, and want to publish it.”  Several months later, Highlights sent me a hardbound copy of the magazine that had Little Mistake by Deanne Durrett, illustrated by Anthony Rao. (Thank you Anthony Rao. I love the illustrations.)

That treasure occupies a special spot on my bookshelf.

The idea for my first published childen’s story was born on an ordinary day that became special when I discovered a black and white kitten had gone missing.

If you’d like to know the rest of the story, please visit my Web page:   http://www.deannedurrett.com/magnolia.html

Monday Morning Blah!

It’s Monday morning and I’m dragging — no motivation and no enthusiasm. While mulling this over this situation and trying to find some way to trick myself into productive mode, I remembered the research for my Dominique Moceanu bio. Dominique was the youngest member on the US Women’s Gymnastics Olympic Team in 1996 — the year they won the gold.

The noted women’s gymnastics coach, Bela Karolyi had many years experience when he came out of retirement to coach the US team. While observing hundreds of high-level gymnasts who had trained in his gym, he “recognized a set weekly pattern in which energy and concentration levels peak on Friday and Saturday and reach their lowest points on Sunday and Monday.” He scheduled the team’s workouts following this pattern.

Ah-ha! Why didn’t I remember this before today? I’m not sure Karolyi’s observation applies to writers the same way it does gymnasts. But, it sure offers a good excuse for me to take it easy on Mondays.

Oh, wait! I don’t have any evidence that Friday and Saturday are productive days for me. For that matter, I don’t have any evidence that my high production happens on any set day of the week.

I think my lows are more closely related to the sting of criticism and rejection. My highs come from encouragement and praise; a few kind words from a reader or a good review. And, now that I’m writing novels, my production reaches the peak on days my characters spring to life in my head and act out the story, revealing their secrets. How can they have secrets from me? I create these characters. They’re figments of my imagination. Secrets?

Still, the joy of it all hoists me to the mountaintop and I produce, confident I can finish the 90,000+ word tale and they will help me tie up all the loose ends. It can happen any day, even Monday, but probably not this Monday.

 

Mother’s Day

Tomorrow will be my first white-rose Mother’s Day.

I let the tradition fade away, but when I was growing up, all the women and girls at our church wore roses on Mother’s Day. A red rose to honor a living mother, and white for the deceased.

My grandmother always made Mama and me rose corsages for Mother’s Day. Booger was talented and her corsages were lovely, created with homegrown buds from her prized bushes. One year, she brought me the usual red corsage but Mama received a pink one. Booger said it was pale because she was feeling “puny.”  She looked perky as usual to me. I think she might not have found enough red rose buds in her garden and improvised with pink and a little wit.

Do you have a Mother’s Day memory to share? If so, I can’t wait to see your comment.

Forever Friends

You just never know who you’ll meet on an ordinary day, could be someone very special.

Back in June 1969, Dan and I decided to have dinner at the Butcher Shop in Chula Vista and then go see a movie. When we arrived, the waiting line stretched across the parking lot. We kept checking our watches as we inched toward the door. Finally the maitre’ de came out, he had one table for four but everyone wanted tables for two. He made an offer, “Would any of you consider sharing a table with another couple?” We looked ahead and another couple looked back. Time stood still for a moment. The strangers looked okay and we had just about enough time for dinner before the movie. We nodded and so did they.

Neither of us had ever done such a thing before, and I don’t think we have since. As it turned out, we had a delightful meal with a delightful couple. The Butcher Shop brought us four glasses of Lambrusco with a half peach in the bottom (on the house) in appreciation for— well, we would have been willing to pay extra for the fine company we had that evening. We decided to go to the movie together… ahem… Bob and Carol, Ted and Alice was a little risque for the time.  Still, we agreed to meet again… and we did, many times. Shared lots of laughter and some tears. Played cards and boardgames and went out to dinner again and again. We went on week-end trips, and watched our kids grow up.

Life took some twists and turns along the way. Dan was transferred and we moved to Virginia, they came to visit. They moved to the desert, we moved back to San Diego. Then, Dan retired and we decided to move to Arizona and so did they. We were together again after keeping in touch through the years. And then, we moved back to our home state, Oklahoma. We still keep in touch through Facebook and email and meet half-way between Arizona and Oklahoma when we can.

I don’t know how many times our how-we-met story has been told, but here it is and I’m sure it will be told again.

Dan and I moved across country twice and half-way across a couple of three times. We traveled from the Canadian Border to the Gulf. We’ve met many friends along the way, most like ships passing in the night, friends for a time. For people who move as much as we have, forever friends are rare. We found Pat and Richard, but it wasn’t easy! I’m so glad we  agreed to share a table with complete strangers at a white-tablecloth restaurant on our way to the movies that evening!

 

‘Tween Us Gals

I’m not sure of the date, probably around 1971, but this is one of my columns. I didn’t select this one for the content, it’s the one that fell out. I think you can read it if you double click and get the larger image.

The Saved Album

Not sure how the blog works with a photo, but here goes. I opened Mama’s album this morning and found she had saved several full copies of the East San Diego Press and that the price doubled from a nickel to a dime while I was writing my column. Could it be the “added value?” No, just time to raise the price.

Here it is:

The Beginning

I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer until I was one. I didn’t know I could be a writer until the opportunity came my way.

My husband bought into a partnership that had just purchased a small weekly newspaper with big plans to turn it into an advertising rag. Fortunately, the old editor was still on the scene when one of the partners withdrew the operating funds and left town. The old editor kept the paper running while our lawyer managed our graceful exit. During this time, I discovered that I enjoyed working at the paper, so I stayed around.

One ordinary day, I overheard the editor say, “What this paper needs is some fresh, original writing.” I thought to myself, I can do that, and went home to write the first installment of ‘Tween Us Gals. It was on the his desk the next day. He liked it, and published it in that week’s edition.

The moment I saw my work in print, I experienced love at first sight and my blood mingled with printer’s ink. When the editor realized I wanted to be a writer, he told me I was too young, I’d have to do some living before I could hope to be much of a writer. But later on, after I’d written the column for several months, he told that one day I would write for the San Diego Union.

I thought he was crazy… well, that didn’t matter. He planted a dream in my head. And, within a few years, I had ed-op pieces in the San Diego Union, Denver Post, Virginia Beach Pilot, and some other papers plus a collection of magazine articles with my byline.

Now, a lot of years have passed and I’ve seen a lot of life. Enough to  know for sure that extraordinary things happen to ordinary people and it usually begins on an ordinary day. I have stories to tell and a lot to write about.