Okay, I’m retired and have time to read. I also have time to keep lists, so I made one and kept track of the books I read during 2016. Looks like I read around 56; I may not have finished a few boring ones. I know, I know, it’s a book a week but for some reason it seemed just right. I always have a book going; when I finish one I start the next one. Only one was a reread: East of Eden by John Steinbeck, read the first time about fifteen years ago. I enjoyed it as much this time as the first time, absolutely a classic. If you’ve missed this one, visit your library soon.
Not to bore you with details, I will share the titles of the BEST of the year, not in any order. Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. (Soon to be a movie starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda) Also his trilogy Plainsong, Eventide, and Benediction. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman, The Whistler by John Grisham, A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows, The All Girls Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg, Walk Me Home by Catherine Ryan Hyde, and the Jeanne Dams Dorothy Martin mystery series.
I hope this will help you find some good reads during 2017 and especially hope you will comment with your favorite titles of the year. I’m off to start my new list with the first book being a collection of short stories by P.D. James. Happy New Year!
Indiana authors Dale Glenn of Bloomington and Wini Frances of Washington shared a space with me yesterday at South Knox Elementary’s Christmas craft show. Being retired educators we share more than our love of books. Dale wrote a coming of age novel set in Decker, Indiana, while Wini pens early reader books featuring mice as the main characters. My middle grade mystery/fantasy novels fit the needs of many parents and grandparents shopping for pre-teen readers. The hours from nine until four passed easily, as we had the chance to visit with a lot of unexpected friends. Those dear folks you go for years without meeting, but when you do, it’s “old home week” with fond memories to share and updates on family. Band members faithfully served us lunch, checking on us often. I slipped away from our area long enough to buy cinnamon rolls and a Christmas tree ornament from one of the many master crafters. I was amazed when I learned that over two thousand shoppers attend this annual event. This is a spectacular fund-raiser for South Knox and I must say “Bravo” to the ones who started the whole business. It’s the third year for Dale and me, the first for Wini. We laughed at Dale’s innovative mop-poster-stand, but it worked. Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you’ll buy someone a book this year.
The last summer morning. Hints of color are announcing themselves in the treetops, promising cool days. I carry my oatmeal to the front porch and watch steam rise from the lake. No more warm swims for a long time. A kingfisher, planning a feast of small fish, scolds from the woods. I hear long-overdue machines and voices of men as they clear brush along the road. A neighbor’s lonely calf bawls for its mother. My porch is a combination of summer and fall, summer pots waiting to be emptied, pumpkins already in place. I cut some roses for my sunroom and fill a tiny pot with purple blooms for the kitchen window. In two hours it will be fall with its three months of splendor. The hottest summer on record, I hear. Not so good for my tomatoes. Corn is disappearing from the fields as if vacuumed by a giant sweep. I recall the highlights, my visit to a cool Wisconsin island, the girlfriend vacation on a Florida beach, grandchildren staying with us for weeks. Ah, the cooking, the stories, the county fair. I tuck it all away in my heart and thank my creator for allowing me to live in Indiana where the seasons are so breathtaking and welcome. Hoosier poet, James Whitcomb Riley, said it all when he penned “When the Frost is on the Punkin’.” I encourage my readers to find and read it; it’s so easy on the Internet, you know. Happy Autumn!
My advice to young brides is to find some girlfriends. Even in the best marriages, girlfriends are as essential as air in a happy woman’s life. They support us when our men don’t understand. They hold us when our mother dies or our child is sick or our teenager is in trouble. They help paint nurseries or illustrate children’s books and travel miles to signings. My girlfriends and I have cheered for each other’s children in school events, carried in casseroles and cakes in times of sadness, babysat, dogsat, housesat, and hosted showers for each other’s grown-up youngsters about to marry or become parents. We travel together to the beach, finding our ways through airports, navigating rental cars in busy cities, sharing condos and seafood platters. We take bus trips to dinner plays and musicals, while fussing over the seating and air conditioning and musing how our husbands would simply hate the whole business. Who else would dress up with you for Halloween or be part of a comedy routine you created or wear silly hats to meet authors at your book club’s annual dinner? Or meet for lunch at a moment’s notice or discuss favorite books with you or sit with you at the hospital while waiting for results of a test or while you waited for a loved one to die. Or come to help sew costumes or offer to run your car through the car wash just before a funeral. My girlfriends and I laugh, cry, and pray together. We sit through movies sharing popcorn and tissues, marveling at the new luxury reclining seats. Some of us have been friends since high school, some since college, and the newer ones we have added as they appeared in our lives. We don’t always agree on politics or religion, but we agree how quickly the journey of life is passing and the beauty and wonder of our amazing children and grandchildren. Girlfriends have the uncanny ability to show up when you need them most and know exactly what to do. When a crisis occurs, phones ring, texts fly, and these superheroes arrive to help. Some of our girlfriends have passed but we carry them in our hearts. May God bless these strong women. The Ya-Ya Sisters have nothing on us.
The lawn needed mowing but the golf clubs called. It was a hot, summer day when a neighbor snapped this picture and sent it to the local paper. We mused over the article and life’s decisions. Little did anyone know it it was probably his last chance to play golf or his last time to mow the yard. Only days later his obituary appeared in the same paper. He taught school on Friday, got up to play in a golf tournament on Saturday but passed away instead of an aneurysm. He was 54.
I think of him of Father’s Day. I think of all he missed by not being able to retire and take those long-awaited trips with Mom. It was 1967 and he didn’t know about computers, microwaves, or cell phones. He missed the moon landing and walking my little sister down the aisle. Mostly, I regret that he didn’t get to meet his grandchildren. How proud he would have been when first grandchild was crowned Miss Knox County and later received a degree in optometry. I bet he would have carried her picture in his billfold. I can imagine him bragging to his friends about his grandson in pharmacy school. Being a former athlete, he would have delighted in my sister’s kids excelling in sports. His last grandchild inherited his artistic ability. I see him in the grandkids and they ask about him. It makes me sad on Father’s Day that he missed so many of life’s joys. I’m always glad when it’s over.
Attention, Booklovers! While visiting my niece in Colorado Springs, my sister and I took the baby on daily walks. We often passed these British-style boxes, which I thought at first glance were for mail. Actually, they are for book exchanges. What a splendid idea! When you finish a book, just slip in into one of these boxes near your home and hopefully find one you’d like to read. The top shelf held children’s books, the lower half for adults. According to my sister, these boxes are also common in her son’s neighborhood in Boise. What a great idea! Avid readers often read the same books and share favorite authors. My book club reads mostly best-sellers with a sprinkling of classics and biographies. Some readers save every book for their own shelves, while others, like me, keep only favorites and pass on the rest. However, I don’t see these working in our small community, since we can borrow books at our community library, on the honor system, keep as long as we wish and return with no worry of overdue fines. Actually, kids who roam the streets would probably have fun desecrating these tiny shrines to literature by stuffing a dead cat or other disgusting item into them. Not to mention the fun of spray painting the f word onto the little roof or twisting off the swinging door. I’m not being a pessimist, my friends; these are the acts I witness at the local community center. How fortunate are the book lovers who live in these lovely neighborhoods with tree-lined streets and cul-de-sacs. They are the ones who would benefit from these clever book boxes. I’m still glad I live in the country, where I can make a five-minute run to the library, or simply whip out my Kindle. But it is a splendid idea.
When I was a child, medicine hurt. Scrapes and cuts were first rinsed with alcohol, then dabbed with merthiolate. In case you’re not familiar with this dark red antiseptic containing mercury and sodium, which has since been banned by the FDA, it burned like Hades! If that didn’t do the trick parents and teachers dabbed the wound with iodine, also pain intensive. Even oral medicine was so putrid, I wept each time it was poured into the tablespoon for my strep throat. In a brave effort to comfort me, my grandpa said “Oh, it can’t be that awful” and took a swig from the bottle. His eyebrows hit his hairline and I swear I saw smoke blast from his ears. Once my small cousin was the unfortunate victim of a “finger in the car door” incident. I still shudder as her grandmother and mine insisted that she dip it into a jug of turpentine. “The best thing for smashed fingers,” they said in unison. It took a thousand pounds of grandmas and aunts to hold little Cheryl down for the finger treatment. But it did no good to fight the system; they were big – we were little. Today, a child’s cut or scrape is sprayed with first aid mist, which they find cool and soothing. Then a happy band-aid is applied. Of course it doesn’t hurt when taken off, in contrast to ours which took skin with it. And splinters in bare feet. What kid doesn’t remember thrashing about the bed while her dad, with a firm grasp on her ankle, dug into the bottom of her foot with a needle? Today when kids get splinters, adults agree: just leave it alone; it’ll work itself out. It was scary to be a kid in my day.
A loose tooth? Just tie it to a string and fasten it to a door knob. Slam the door and she won’t feel a thing. Yeah, right. My dentist wouldn’t even use Novocain when he drilled our teeth. “It’s not so bad,” the adults said. “Just for extractions” said the masochistic dentist, who looked a lot like depictions of Satan. When a child choked on a fish bone at our family’s annual fish fry, the adults forced the child to eat several slices of white bread to “push it down.” Once that didn’t work and little Larry was flopped screaming onto the tabletop, his mouth held open while someone probed his throat with tweezers for the offending bone. I didn’t eat fish for twenty years. There was even a time when burns were thought to be best treated with hot water – as hot as you can stand. Oh, the pain. Now a splashy cold bath for a child’s burn. I’m glad times have changed. No wonder all kids thought of running off and joining a circus in my day. I won’t even get into corporal punishment and how every adult had the right to whack us, no questions asked. In fact, if your parents found out, you got it again. We came through childhood and I suppose it made us tougher. I developed a slight stutter, while a lot of my friends chewed their fingernails or wet their beds. But we made it and have mountains of happy memories. But I’ll always ask: What was with the pain??