Betty Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

A bottle of White Diamonds perfume
next to the last paperback you were reading,
left on your crowded nightstand
with something as completely random
as a piece of junk mail
serving as a bookmark;
a Coca-Cola in the fridge,
half-full—
“an accident waiting to happen,”
as Dad would say;
a half a pack of cigarettes
with the lighter inside,
every book written by Lori Copeland and Kathleen Woodiwiss,
a hutch filled with Coca-Cola memorabilia.
So many reminders
of the things you enjoyed in life
remain,
their disuse telling the story that
even though you don’t live here anymore,
your memory does,
for it is protected from the elements of decay,
even as it is preserved in the minds
of those who knew you best.

Sweet Little Nothings

Always make your past self jealous chocolate

When Sarah went back in time,
she faced herself at age 17,
but the young Sarah
didn’t recognize the older Sarah.
The older Sarah,
now Sarah R.,
wanted to tell the young Sarah
that it would be 20 years
before she figured it all out.
She wanted to tell her not to wait—
to do what she’d missed out on the first time
all those years ago,
until she realized that to change a minute
might change everything.
Had her child not been born,
she could’ve done just that,
but she had to let then Sarah B.
find her own way—
just as she had.
This old Sarah who was the young Sarah
looked her way once more,
& the newer but older Sarah saw
a gleam of admiration in that brown-eyed girl
she once was.
And it was then
that the 37-year-old Sarah
suddenly remembered
seeing a woman who looked like her
all those years ago.

 

It’s Still a Wonderful Life

BLOGBADGE_0320GRA

I miss the days of quiet libraries rather than media centers and The Baby-Sitters Club series before they became graphic novels; I miss the B. Dalton bookstores in the mall, sitting on the floor in the corner, reading the Berenstain Bears until my parents finished their shopping.  

I miss the days when that could be done without worry.

I miss browsing Blockbuster with the non-confrontational request to “Be Kind. Rewind,” of waking up to Bob Ross and Mr. Wizard, of talking on the telephone with my best friend, Jessica, watching T.G.I.F. together on ABC.

I miss writing book reports at the kitchen table and thinking all I had to do was work hard and be good and everything would come to me.  

I miss handwritten letters and birthday cards in the mail with a 10-dollar bill inside and the tactile experience of ripping the paper off a gift rather than reaching inside a gift bag.

I miss simple math and spelling bees and Pig Latin.

I miss the compartmentalized cafeteria food, where to taste it was to (perhaps) solve the mystery.

I miss the days of wearing pinafores with black patent leather shoes, of glittery jellies and bows made of neon shoelaces, of Barbie bubble baths with the bubble gum pink bottles of Salon Selectives shampoo.

I miss the park when it didn’t seem so hot; I miss the stand-up merry-go-rounds that made me think of a pinwheel trolley.

I miss the early mornings when I’d be half-asleep, helping my dad deliver newspapers.  

I miss walking across the street to the filling station with my mom, where we’d buy Nestle Alpine White candy bars and dark Milky Ways.

I miss the grandparents who are no longer here and my mom who is here no longer. I miss the aunt and uncle I knew as a child, when I didn’t know there was a difference in being related by blood or marriage because, to me, they were both family.

I miss eating homemade pecan divinity and red pistachios.

I miss running down the driveway in bare feet to fetch the local newspaper, looking through the TV Guide insert to see what science fiction movies were coming on.

I miss the news that was so blessedly short—when life seemed so much longer than it was. I miss the days before reality TV when dialogue was memorable. I miss when photos were a surprise. 

I miss the days when adulthood seemed like this thing that could never possibly happen to me, even as I saw the baby pictures of myself in old photo albums.

I like to think I was born in the perfect time—without social media or cell phones, only being granted these marvels when I was old enough to handle an instant audience, eventually finding my voice in the blogosphere, my shyness having matured to introversion.

And matured I have.  

I have seen the inside of a soup kitchen and the outside of a coffin. I have experienced a person being born and seen a person die—the first, a great big shout out into mortal life, the other, a whisper into life eternal. I have lost my faith in church and found it in the God who is everywhere.  

Now I’m the mother, the wife, the writer who has proven herself to herself, and, in small measure, to others. I am the baker, the homemaker. I am the scholar who went back to college after the time for living the college life had passed; I come home not to roommates but to the family who waits up for me.  

Now I’m the one snapping shots of my child in various stages and poses, reading the nursery rhymes that are darker than I remembered, playing board games without reading the rules. I am the parent who was able to give my daughter a dollhouse—the one thing I always wanted but never got—only to find that she, like me, like us, love our electronic devices.  

So many evenings, I am in my office, she, her bedroom, and my husband, the living room. It is at times like these that the sound of my typing, the music from her Kindle, and the noise from the television come together and let us know that we are still here—just off the hallway that connects us all.

Written July 2019 and published in the March/April/May 2020 issue of Bella Grace magazine.

Sweet Little Nothings

We're all stories in the end just make it a good one! chocolate

Her life began as a brief birth announcement,
followed by a series of Owen Mills poses,
blurry candids,
& unfocused, jittery videos.
Then there was the grainy color newsprint photo in The Patriot Press
of her holding up a certificate
& wearing a medallion
for placing first
in a Constitution calligraphy contest.
For many years,
that was akin to her 4 touchdowns in 1 game.
She never got a write-up in the arrest records,
for that was a legacy she didn’t want to leave;
rather, she lived up as a subject
for several human-interest stories—
as the girl who sold 6701 Girl Scout cookies
because of a YouTube video
that turned those processed disks
into decadent desserts;
as a college graduate who crowdfunded her way
into creating an endowed scholarship
for creative writers in memory of her sister,
whose memoir, Lessons from Mother Goose,
gained notoriety posthumously;
in her silver-haired, golden years,
as a woman who made old tee shirts
into rag rugs for the homeless,
in memory of the brother she’d lost to addiction,
whose inward riches had turned to outward rags.
And then she finally told her own story
by writing her obituary,
for she always had to have
the last word.

I remember Mom

5

Rota, Spain, circa 1985

I remember drawing fruit pictures as “presents” for Mom when she was in the military. (Watermelon wedges were my favorite.)

I remember making Mom ashtrays out of the black bases of 2-liter Coke bottles.

I remember Mom & me walking across the street to the Majik Market when we lived on Malibu to get a Nestle Alpine White candy bar.  

I remember reading Encyclopedia Brown with Mom at the Summerdale outdoor flea market, where she & Dad sold lamps & lampshades for Grandma & Grandpa York. We would stay in the LaQuinta Inn on Saturday nights, so we wouldn’t have to drive all the way back to Pensacola & all the way back to Summerdale the next day.

I remember getting bubble gum in my hair & Mom using peanut butter to comb it out.  

I also remember the smell of “No More Tangles” that Mom would use to comb through my stringy hair which she always insisted be curled for school pictures.

I remember when there was a dust-up at my high school because of an issue I had with one of my teachers. When my principal, Mr. Bill Slayton, wouldn’t listen, that’s when Mom banged her hand on the desk (I heard this secondhand) & said, “My taxes pay your damn salary!”

I remember being so annoyed when Mom & Dad would be watching a football game & suddenly scream, “Get him! Get him!” at the TV. 

I remember when the outlet went out in Mom & Dad’s room, & Mom watched TV “long-distance” (as the power in the other bedroom across the hall worked).

I remember the time we were on a mini-vacation when Mom & I were in cahoots to get Dad to wake up at a reasonable time (like before afternoon), & I set all the clocks forward three hours. It wasn’t until we were at Publix later in the day that Dad happened to see the clock & made a face, saying, “Hey, that isn’t right.” I couldn’t help myself & burst out giggling, confessing my deception.  

I remember Mom always complaining that Dad & I were on the same wavelength. (Especially when it came to food, & we wanted to go out for Mexican.)

I remember Mom telling me that you never stop worrying about your kids, no matter how old they get.

I remember Mom wishing she’d gotten a picture of Sharon before she was buried.

I remember Mom telling me that Grandma & Grandpa Booker had always treated her just like a daughter.

I remember Mom saying how embarrassing it was when Grandpa Booker hung her underwear on the line.

I remember when Mom & I went to a Mitt Romney rally & Jon Voight approached us from behind. (He actually touched her shoulder!) Mom & I were stunned speechless (it seemed our brains had temporarily shut down). And we’d made fun of Lucy for years for being starstruck!

I remember how Mom would send Dad out for Cokes, cigarettes, or thin crust Pizza Hut pizza with beef & onion right after he got home from work.

I remember Mom getting really pissed whenever Dad would take the entire bag of chips to work instead of putting what he would consume into a separate container.

I remember one of the few times Mom cooked, & she put sweetened condensed milk in the mashed potatoes.

I remember Mom telling me that she told Dad before she married him that she didn’t cook or clean, so he couldn’t complain.

I don’t remember Mom ever getting her own cup of ice.

I remember I always had to have a Coke for Mom whenever she came over.

I remember Mom & I always trying to get Bernadean to make her chocolate rolls.

I remember Mom saying she didn’t believe in whipping because that had been her parents’ answer to everything.

I remember Mom wearing her zebra-pattered bathrobe & house shoes that she stepped on the backs of in the car with me praying we wouldn’t get stopped.

I remember Mom & me sharing Tami Hoag, Sandra Brown, & Lisa Jackson books. 

I remember how much Mom hated “The Twelve Days of Christmas” song.

I remember how much Mom loved Hank Williams, Elvis, & The Beatles.

I remember all of Mom’s unfinished projects (like the sewing machine she never used), as well as her endurance for all of Dad’s random research projects.

I remember when Mom & I went to a Daughters of the American Revolution meeting, & I was about to doze off from boredom.

I remember Mom’s patriotism.

I remember Mom always getting on to me for not driving with both hands on the wheel.

I remember when we went to Jerry’s Cajun Café, & Mom made such a big deal out of my softshell crabs looking like a tick, I couldn’t eat them anymore.

I remember Mom flipping out whenever cheese was on her sandwich or yelling from the passenger seat, “Tell them hot fries!” (or “thick shake” for thick milkshake), whenever Dad was in the drive-through (which would get him all flustered).  

I remember when Mom & I joined the Mormon Church, & we would have the missionaries over for dinner appointments. 

I remember Mom & me driving around Cantonment to spy on Sister Wade (who monopolized the missionaries).

I remember how much Mom didn’t like Relief Society because it was so domestic. (How to fold fitted sheets really took the wedding cake.)

I remember giving Mom my novel, “Because of Mindy Wiley,” to read on the Greyhound bus on the way back from Sidney, Montana, where I nannied for 3 girls.

I remember Mom & I were always declaring that Jeffrey Hunter was the best-looking man ever—with Dad arguing that it was Tyrone Power.

I remember when our cat, Brie, had kittens on Mom’s stomach.

I remember Mom keeping vigil over Brie (who suffered peritonitis), comforting her till she died.

I remember when Punky, our dog, was dying; Punky wouldn’t come in out of the cold, so Mom put a blanket on her & sat with her for a while.

I remember Mom always dreamed of moving to Wyoming.

I remember Mom & I were always quick to let Dad know when he was wrong about something; I’d immediately ask Google to prove our case—if nothing more than to remove that smug look off his face.

I remember Mom sending Dad & me to Albertson’s to buy Bit-o-Honey because she had an addictive personality & would get on “kicks.” She also really got into watermelon & popcorn.

I remember how thrilled Mom was when she knew I was going to have a girl & name her Hannah.

I remember Mom was always so excited to see Hannah, calling her “Hannah B!”

I remember Mom coming to my house on Heirloom Drive immediately when I was freaking out because Hannah would not stop crying.

I remember all the times Mom would come by my house on Heirloom & hang out before picking up Dad; we’d talk & enjoy Hannah, maybe even watch a couple of episodes of “Wings.”

I remember Mom getting Hannah started on the “Smack Quackers” routine.

I remember Mom sitting with me in the hospital when I was so ill & couldn’t stop throwing up.

I remember all the times Mom took me to school & work when she was tired & didn’t feel like it.

I remember Mom weaseling her way out of most of the driving when we went up to Uncle Bill’s funeral.

I remember Mom often joked that her funeral better be held in the afternoon, so Dad would come; I know she knows better now.

I remember Mom.

I remember . . . 

Sweet Little Nothings

You are never too old chocolate

When she had a little girl,
she remembered what it was to be one—
swinging in the park while leaning back
with her hair brushing the ground
& the world going about its business
upside down,
drinking chocolate milk with macaroni & cheese,
watching Looney Tunes while laying on the floor
with her legs up against the wall,
reading Dr. Seuss & Mother Goose,
& singing “Old MacDoodle had some vowels,
A-E-I-O-U
(& sometimes Y).”
She played with things the wrong way
& the silly way,
made animal pictures out of Spirographs
& refrigerator masterpieces out of Spin Art.
But when she saw the Calico Critters dollhouse
with the Hopscotch Bunny family—
so much cuter than the Barbie Dream House
that she’d wanted once upon a time
at Pensacola Christian School—
she brought that house home
& made up scenarios for her daughter—
just as she had made scenes
out of cardboard boxes
& paper dolls out of newspaper for herself.
For her,
motherhood wasn’t reliving her childhood
but creating a magical one for her daughter.

A Light-Year of a Dark Mile

Shamrocke

When the world changed
from 6 degrees of separation
to 6 feet,
the longer this change
became a way of life,
the more that distance began to be
measured by time apart.
Children seemed to disappear
like caterpillars
into the cocoons of their homes,
their siblings their only friends;
but for the only child,
Mom & Dad
became their whole world,
other children,
a voice & a face on a screen.
FaceTiming with the grandparents,
whose hugs had become something dreamlike—
the spicy scent of Grandpa’s Clove gum
& wiry whiskers that felt like pine needles,
the intoxicating scent of Grandma’s Charly perfume
& powdery, rouged cheeks that left their mark—
began to fade into something indescribable.

Sweet Little Nothings

It's your call chocolate

She had grown up with Pat & Vanna—
witnessing the progression
of the turning of the letters
to the touching of the letters,
of Pat’s lousy jokes & receding hairline,
& the ushering in of the
lame-ass “crossword” category.
Through “The Wheel,”
she’d learned her alphabet,
then her spelling,
then the combinations of words
& the categorization of those combinations.
She’d learned to count in fifties & hundreds
before twos & fives
& that mispronouncing a word
could cost you dearly.
She’d seen snippets of every part of the world
& where they were located on the map,
so that she was curious enough to look them up
in Encyclopedia Brittanica.
She’d learned when to take chances
& when to play it safe.
When she became a contestant—
meeting these personalities
who’d lit up her living room
with their Fifties blandness—
it was like living her childhood dream
& connecting with a friend
that had grown up with her
without them even knowing it.
The money she won changed her life
but only because she used it
to change someone else’s.

 

Sweet Little Nothings

Laugh it off chocolate

She’d grown up in the less white-trash version of the Bundy family–
rather than coming home with “A fat woman walked into the shoe store” stories,
her dad would cuss for 30 minutes about the customers who’d cussed him out over the phone because they didn’t agree with their cable bill.
Rather than her mom sitting on the couch watching Oprah & eating bonbons all day,
she’d watched crime shows in bed,
drinking frozen Cokes with peanuts in them
all night.
Rather than her brother
playing with rubber women,
he’d come home & say he hated his job & his life or put a finger to his temple
whenever his girlfriend came over–
an Al Bundy in training.
But she was the Wild Card
(more of a card than wild)
who was known as
the Wednesday Addams of Malibu Drive.
She was the all-American gothic girl who loved
Girl Scout cookies–
back when they were called Samoas
& not the way less creative name
of Caramel Delites.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry from the Novel

mormoni

Had there been 12 places,
it would’ve been like The Last Supper,
but there were 16—
a perfect square full of imperfect squares—
a latter day First Dinner.

Her husband was a descendant of Brigham Young—
who had been a modern day Abraham
& whose descendants may not have numbered the sands of the sea
but the stars on the BYU sports teams.

The Urim & Thummim—
the seer stones that the Prophet Joseph
had used to translate the golden plates
& had been taken back by the angel Moroni—
had been placed in the Schafers’ backyard
that was like a shady, suburban wooded lot.
This Urim & Thummim glowed like breast implants
in each of Brother Schafer’s hands,
& of course,
Saint Tony had been the one to find them,
while Brother Schafer kept them safe,
being one generation
closer to Brigham Young.

What David found laughable,
Mother found laudable,
& it was as if the stones
were the eyes of an albino,
mesmerizing her.

What some would consider Tony & Kath’s dirty little secret,
I considered a wonderful little secret,
& what Kath did not show,
she did not have to tell.

Logline for Because of Mindy Wiley An Irish-Catholic girl coming of age in the Deep South during the New Millennium finds her family splintered when two Mormon missionaries come to her door, their presence and promise unearthing long-buried family secrets, which lead to her excommunication and exile.