A Girl Scout Troop’s Adventures Abroad in 1949: Part 3 of 3

Come along as Barb Gilbertson experiences the “branching point” of a lifetime. To read Part 1, click here. To read Part 2, click here.

By Barb Gilbertson

Ten days on board a ship!  What a beginning to our three-and-one-half-month adventure.

The SS Samaria had been a luxury liner but was converted to a troop ship during World War II, and then after the war converted back–somewhat.  We slept in a dormitory type room…15 in one room!…but what did we know and what did we care? We were young and healthy and thrilled to be on this trip.

We loved the food, the attention of the waiters, the other young people on board, the movies, the tea on deck, playing shuffleboard etc….all in between our studying currency of the countries we were to visit, French idioms, etc.

We thought it hilarious when during a bit of inclement weather the tea cups slid off the cart on which they were piled..out on deck…right into the ocean!  We were not similarly amused when the same storm produced within some of us that dreaded malady “seasickness”.  However it was short lived.

We were met at Tilbury Docks, where we disembarked, by our pen pals from the Girl Guide Troop from Faversham, Kent. We spent some days in their homes, two of us to a home, and then camped with them nearby and then on to London where we stayed in the Girl Guide Hostel.  

We were escorted around by another group of Guides, seeing all the London sights: Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, St. Paul’s Cathedral..which in 1949 was still surrounded by rubble from bombings, the changing of the guard, the Tower of London, London Bridge etc. At this time the current Queen Elizabeth was Princess Elizabeth, her father, the King, still alive. We got to have a glimpse of her on a trip to Buxton when she and Prince Philip were being driven through the city and waving at the people…including us!  This was all very heady stuff for high school girls from the United States.

Lady Baden Powell

One of the most exciting things that happened  for us while in London was going to the apartment of Lady Baden Powell, the widow of Lord Baden Powell, the founder of Boy Scouting; she herself having started the Girl Guide movement.  We 12, along with various BBC radio people all squeezed into her elegant apartment to be interviewed and to have tea.  Because her husband had been knighted, she was granted housing for life in Hampton Court Palace.

Then across the channel to the continent and the remainder of our trip in Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, France and Germany…camping or staying in hostels and always interacting with Girl Guides from each place.  In Adelboden, Switzerland we stayed for 10 days in the International Girl Scout Chalet along with girls from several other countries.

In Brussels–the girl in the big hat is Ginette, our inspiration.
the Girl Guide Chalet Adelboden, Switzerland.

Once our indefatigable leader Emily got started, she took six more groups to Europe in the ensuing years.  I was on the first two and they shaped the rest of my life.   How very glad I was that I joined Senior Girl Scout Troop One as a Freshman in high school.

©  2021  Barbara Gilbertson

Barbara Gilbertson grew up on the East Coast; met her husband on a trip to Alaska visiting a Girl Scout buddy.  He was from Eau Claire, Wisconsin so that explains the past 41 years in Wisconsin. But prior to that they lived in Minnesota, New York, New Jersey and Alaska..again. Barb holds an Associate Degree from Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York. Widowed since 2009 after 52 great years, she continues to travel, most often by ship and train.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Girl Scout Troop’s Adventures Abroad in 1949: Part 2 of 3

Come along as Barb Gilbertson experiences the “branching point” of a lifetime. To read Part 1, click here.

By Barbara Gilbertson

“You know, Bill…she will never be the same” …my mother said to my father as they assembled with hundreds of relatives, friends and interested townspeople from nearby Manchester, Connecticut in the Hartford Railroad Station to bid goodbye to the ten Senior Girl Scouts and their two leaders who, after two years of preparation, were taking a train to Montreal where they would board a Cunard White Star Liner–the SS Samaria, recently converted back to a luxury liner from having been utilized as a troopship.  The date was June 10, 1949.

Senior Girl Scouts at Hartford leaving for Europe 1949
Senior Girl Scouts at Hartford leaving for Europe 1949

We girls had worked tirelessly for two years to earn the necessary $550 for the three-and- one-half-month trip that would take us to England, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Germany and France.  Most of our fathers earned $2000 to $3000 a YEAR so $550 was a considerable sum, and of course, none of their mothers went out to work. We Girl Scouts picked apples, potatoes, tobacco; washed woodwork, washed dishes, had bazaars, big spaghetti dinners, sold cookies and BABYSAT.  Babysitting rated were 25 cents before midnight; 50 cents after.  So, by June of 1949 we were ready to go.

This all started two years earlier when our leader Emily took us on a two-week hiking trip on the Long Trail in Vermont, part of the Appalachian Trail. We slept in lean-tos or under the stars.  I was 14 that summer.  We had with us a Girl Guide from Belgium, who had been the tent mate of one of our members at an International Girl Scout Encampment in Pennsylvania just prior to our trip. Artie was the delegate from Connecticut; Ginette was the delegate from Belgium. Artie invited her to come along on our hiking trip.  Ginette was 17 and an absolutely delightful young woman with whom we all fell in love.

Girls sleeping under the stars, somewhere on the Appalachian Trail

About halfway through the trip at one of our nightly campfires she suggested that we think about making a trip to Europe.  She would help us.  The more she talked, the more excited we got about the possibility so once home, Emily called a meeting of all our parents and presented the idea.  Would they let us go?  Every parent thought it was a wonderful opportunity if we could raise the money.  Thus began the two years of preparation and finally our departure date had arrived.

We were a phenomenon and quite well known all over town. It was only four years since World War II had ended; no one in our town was traveling anywhere!  

We got out of school two weeks early and returned two weeks late.  We lived with families (to whom we had been sending CARE packages) or camped with Girl Guides from other countries and spent one week at the wonderful Girl Scout/Guide Chalet in Adelboden, Switzerland.  We observed war devastation in London, particularly and some in Germany.  We did stay a few days in the International Student House in Paris just before we caught the same ship back home from Le Havre.

©  2021  Barbara Gilbertson

Barbara Gilbertson grew up on the East Coast; met her husband on a trip to Alaska visiting a Girl Scout buddy.  He was from Eau Claire, Wisconsin so that explains the past 41 years in Wisconsin. But prior to that they lived in Minnesota, New York, New Jersey and Alaska..again. Barb holds an Associate Degree from Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York. Widowed since 2009 after 52 great years, she continues to travel, most often by ship and train.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Girl Scout Troop’s Adventures Abroad in 1949: Part 1 of 3

For the next three weeks, come along as Barb Gilbertson experiences the “branching point” of a lifetime.

What are branching points? The events that leave your life forever changed. A branching point may come about by choice or by chance; it may seem terrible at the time but turn out to be the beginning of a wonderful new phase. In my memoir writing workshops, I emphasize branching points because that’s where “the plump fish of memory are lurking,” to quote James Birren. Where there’s a branch there’s a good story–one that reveals something about your character.

When asked to write on a branching point, Barb shared these stories with the participants in “Remember to Write”, sponsored by the Monona Senior Center in Spring 2021.

By Barbara Gilbertson

I was just starting high school and heard about a Senior Girl Scout troop that met on Monday nights at the Congregational Church. Should I join? I had loved being a Girl Scout…but in high school? I decided to give it a try. It was a decision that would affect my whole life and for which I would always be thankful. Every week I hiked the mile up to the meeting of Troop One and then back home…for the next four years!

Our leader Emily was a dynamic 37 year old woman who loved to hike and camp and she had a car…a Model T Ford named Henrietta that transported us many times to the beginning of a hiking trail. None of our parents were hikers or tent campers and many did not own cars. This was all new and exciting stuff.

Emily with her car, “Henrietta,” adventuring in Appalachia, 1940

In upcoming posts, follow along as scouting takes Barb and her friends to Europe, thanks to “Manchester’s Extraordinary Scout Leader” Emily!

In Brussels, Barb’s troop visited the famous “Mannekin Pis” statue (look closely above the girls.)

©  2021  Barbara Gilbertson

Barbara Gilbertson grew up on the East Coast; met her husband on a trip to Alaska visiting a Girl Scout buddy.  He was from Eau Claire, Wisconsin so that explains the past 41 years in Wisconsin. But prior to that they lived in Minnesota, New York, New Jersey and Alaska..again. Barb holds an Associate Degree from Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York. Widowed since 2009 after 52 great years, she continues to travel, most often by ship and train.

Posted in Guest writer | Leave a comment

Did You Say Something?

By Patricia LaPointe

It started during my childhood.

“Mom, Dad, look. I got all A’s this term!”  Silence and a blank stare or a quick change of subject, often to something I hadn’t done right.

I loved to write.  Mom said it was a waste of time, adding “What makes you think anyone will want to read what you write?” I would have preferred the blank stare or change of subject.

I hid my writing.

Pat LaPointe, high school graduation portrait

After my husband, children and I moved three hundred miles from my parents’ home, I decided I would finally go to college. In spite of raising four young children, I received all A’s and made the dean’s list nearly every term. After trying several times to talk about this several times on long distance calls with Mom, only to be met with silence, I gave up mentioning it.

I hid my scholarly achievements, kind of…..

Because on a whim, I decided to send a copy of my grade report to my parents. No response. Sometime later, I asked Dad if they ever received it. He said yes, it’s on the end table in the living room. I didn’t ask if they read it. Why add insult to injury?

There were no congratulations when I graduated college or when I was accepted into a Ph.D. program.

All through my college years I had discussed classes and teachers with my children. They would remember to ask me what grades I got on exams or what new projects I was working on.

While was in graduate school, my daughters spent a lot of time with my mom and sister. Without first asking me, my mom and sister would take them shopping for clothes. If I acted surprised and perhaps a little angry, Mom said “Well you’re too busy with whatever…!” I was not.

Soon, I began to get the same disinterested response from my daughters as I had from my parents: silence and a change of subject. When I published my first book, it too was not acknowledged by my daughters, parents or siblings.

Again, I hid my writing.

I could understand my parents’ reaction. They had not gone to college or had careers. It was difficult for them to accept that I’d be so different. But, to this day, I do not know what my Mom and sister may have told my children that would have made them respond in this way.

I continued to hide who I am from them.

Last week, I met my grandson’s girlfriend, Maggie, for the first time. She is getting her first job as a social worker. I was surprised to learn that she knew about my earlier career as a psychotherapist. We sat with my two daughters, Julie and Samantha at Julie’s kitchen table as we talked. Minutes after we began sharing our experiences discussing clients and best places to work, Julie, in a huff, rose from her chair slamming it noisily into the table, and busied herself filling her dishwasher. Samantha joined her there and they began discussing their plans for the day, in voices louder than mine and Maggie’s.

Apparently, Maggie hadn’t yet been told such conversations were not permitted when my daughters were present. I have no doubt that Maggie and I will never speak about this again in my daughters’ presence.

©  2021 Patricia LaPointe

Pat LaPointe, editor of Changes in Life, a monthly online women’s newsletter, is contributing editor of the anthology, The Woman I’ve Become: 37 Women Share Their Journeys from Toxic Relationships to Self-Empowerment. In addition, she conducts writing workshops for women — both online and onsite. Pat’s essays and short stories have been published widely. Currently, Pat is completing her first novel, forthcoming late 2021.

Posted in Guest writer | 1 Comment

Join me and Story Circle Network for “Refresh Your Expressive Writing Skills”, 4 Thursday afternoons in June

I have a new workshop offered by Story Circle Network starting June 3rd, titled “Refresh Your Expressive Writing Skills.” We’ll talk about writing effective sentences and paragraphs, review the most common grammar problems, and brush up on essay writing skills.

Does that sound dry, dull, deadly? Fear not, I will do my utmost to make grammar as fascinating as life itself. We’ll be studying some short essays published on Brevity as examples, and creating our own work to share in class.

For a preview of what might be touched on, check out these posts from the last few weeks. I’ve been posting a few writing tips along with essays written by participants in a previous version of this workshop, “Basic Writing Refresher” offered by Madison College last fall. You can find those posts here.

If you are interested in signing up for the upcoming workshop, click here.

Posted in writing workshop | Leave a comment

Expressive Writing: Part 3 of 3

I have a new workshop offered by Story Circle Network starting June 3rd, titled “Refresh Your Expressive Writing Skills.” We’ll talk about writing effective sentences and paragraphs, review the most common grammar problems, and brush up on essay writing skills.

As a warm-up, I’m offering a tip or two and publishing an essay by a participant in a previous version of this workshop, “Basic Writing Refresher” offered by Madison College last fall.

Week 3 Effective Writing Tips from Sarah

Here are a few common errors I see as an editor that don’t have to do with sentence- or paragraph-level mistakes. These are problems with a writer’s thinking, not technical craft, that are particularly relevant to writing reminiscence essays.

Muddy message: This problem is as common as the common cold—and often presents as two story ideas wound together, trying to find their way into two separate essays. The easiest way to spot this problem is to try summarizing what you’ve written in outline form. Often you will find two ideas that are quite sound–they just need to be clearly separate, not one muddy melding.

Unclear timeline: A writer must control the reader’s experience so that each action and reaction of the story is clear in relation to the overall timespan covered. All the details in an essay must cohere, moving the reader from one bit of information to the next. To signal time order, use words like before, next, later, first, second, third, when, while, then, finally

The always and once: Attempting to put memories in writing brings up the difference between those that set a stage, and those that contain action. “We always ice-skated in winter,” is a stage-setter. You can create a perfectly agreeable musing on the sensory pleasures of ice skating in winter without ever introducing a story element, but readers typically expect somebody to explicitly DO SOMETHING, something out of the ordinary, remarkable, something that complicates the “always” and requires a response. That’s what makes story. “Once, while we were ice skating, my brother fell in and I decided not to save him, since he was so mean to me.” Now that is a “once” that follows “setting the stage” with real action, with much at stake!

Sarah Nankivil wrote the following essay in response to the the prompt: Write a how-to article.

Travel to Thailand

By Sarah Nankivil

If you’re looking for a travel adventure, consider the former country of Siam, now known as Thailand. It’s no longer a 3-month journey like in the movie classic The King and I–it’s just a quick flight up and over the North Pole and down to the opposite side of earth. The flight may seem long, but with several meals, your own tv screen, and a spa-like atmosphere, 17 hours later you may be wondering “so soon, already?!?”

Thailand is extremely affordable, especially when compared to Europe. On average you should budget around $70 per day for hotel, food and transportation. Street food is Thailand’s treasure, offering unique experiences like fish ball noodle soup, chive and fish dumplings, satay, and Thai-style deep fried donuts for $2-$5 per meal.

Thailand is a land of smiles, perhaps because its population is 83% Bhuddist. The followers of Buddhism don’t acknowledge a supreme god; instead they focus on achieving enlightenment, a state of inner peace and wisdom. The universal language is eye contact, and a smile. If you say hello in Thai, “swa-ti-kah,” then be prepared to be immediately swept away in a lightning round of 21 questions–probably with someone younger, either currently or recently in school, who is delighted to practice their English and hear about an American’s experience in their country. Being older and perhaps maternal-looking, I discovered a smile made me a conversation magnet, always starting with the “ so what you do in Thailand ?!?”

Learn a few key phrases before traveling for what is important to you BUT install the Google Translate app on your cell phone. Hello, goodbye, please and thank you are essential, and can be customized for your own needs, like, “kafae kab khrim pord (coffee with cream please)”.

Technology will make everything easier, creating a more positive experience. You will want to have cellular service, by buying a SIM card abroad for around $20 or purchasing an international service plan for around $70 a month. Some very useful apps include Google Translate, something for currency exchanges, Grab for food, and Uber for local transportation. Use Rome2Rio for transportation options city to city, Trip Advisor for what to do, and Airbnb for places to stay.

Once there, ask locals or other tourists what they would recommend for places to visit or eat and things to do. But consider one person may give a donkey ride a one star for their unruly behavior, while someone else may give the same experience five stars for being fun, festive, and unique, so be sure to read the reviews behind the ratings.

Before making travel plans check out www.travel.state.gov for current safety conditions abroad. Remember to enjoy the process and make the journey part of the adventure.

©  2021 Sarah Nankivil

Sarah Nankivil is an accounting professional spending more time with numbers than words.  But even numbers have a story to tell, and can be an inspiration.  She is a graduate of UW Madison, lives in Mount Horeb, and spends as much time as possible exploring by foot, bicycle or horseback, locally and across the globe.

Posted in Guest writer, writing workshop | Leave a comment

Expressive Writing: Part 2 of 3

I have a new workshop offered by Story Circle Network starting June 3rd, titled “Refresh Your Expressive Writing Skills.” We’ll talk about writing effective sentences and paragraphs, review the most common grammar problems, and brush up on essay writing skills.

As a warm-up, I’m offering a tip or two and publishing an essay by a participant in a previous version of this workshop, “Basic Writing Refresher” offered by Madison College last fall.

Week 2 Effective Writing Tips from Sarah

Sentence skills! Who thinks about them? And yet, how confident are you in your sentence-craft?

Here are a few of the most common errors I see, as an editor:

Failure to use parallel sentence structure: Parallelism is when words or sections of a sentence that are similar in function have similar grammatical forms. By balancing the items in a pair or a series so that they have the same kind of structure, you will make the sentence clearer and easier to read. Sentences that are not parallel are awkward to read and sometimes unclear. Nonparallel: My job includes checking the inventory, initialing the orders, and to call the suppliers. Parallel: My job includes checking the inventory, initialing the orders, and calling suppliers.

Fragments: Every sentence must have a subject and a verb and must express a complete thought. A word group that lacks these must-haves is a fragment. There are several kinds: Dependent-word fragments lack a complete thought. Example: “Jane walked all over the neighborhood. Trying to find her cat.” Easily fixed by joining the two sentences with a comma.

Run-ons: A run-on is two complete thoughts that are run together with no sign given to mark the break between them. Some run-ons have no punctuation at all. These are called fused sentences. Example: “The car stopped suddenly I spilled soda all over my shirt.” Easily fixed by adding a few connecting words –“The car stoped so suddenly that…”

Other run-ons have a comma, but a comma alone is not enough to connect two complete thoughts. These are called comma splices. Example: Joe told everyone to be quiet, his favorite show was on. Easily fixed, using one of three common tweaks:

  • Use a period and capital letter.
  • Use a comma plus a joining word (such as but, or, and, so, yet).
  • Use a semi-colon.

A final tip: To turn on your “sentence sense,” read what you’ve written aloud! This activates your natural language skills that come from speaking English.

Lorriann wrote the following essay in response to the same assignment as Betty Merkes’ essay last week: Write a personal essay drawn from life experience.

Networks

By Loriann Knapton

Author’s note: The essay reflects my thoughts and my mom’s memories of similar newspaper columns in her hometown paper. The Jen Kvidt and Martinius Kvidt families are real people and relatives of my mother’s. I created names of columns and other people, and imagined the events mentioned, to illustrate how these local news items were crafted.

Long before Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter were born; before Email, Messenger, or the World Wide Web were conceived, there existed critical social networks for the masses. These networks were as popular, as reliable, (or not), and as critical to sustaining human connection as any social media platform today. People called it the local newspaper.

Unlike major city newspapers, which focused mainly on national and state news with perhaps a society page with funeral and wedding notices tossed in, the rural weekly included news of specific interest to the community. Current local farm market prices, local disasters such as a barn fire or car accident, the baseball score of the American Legion baseball game, information on an upcoming church social or 4-H meeting, obituaries, hospital admissions and police reports often completed the bulk of the weekly paper. While some national and state news headlines might be printed, the primary purpose of the local rural weekly was to update community members on local events.

For example, in my Mother’s hometown, a small farming community in northern Minnesota, a column entitled, “Local Happenings” or something similar, (the titles sometimes changed depending on how creative the columnist was feeling that week.) was a beloved staple of the weekly newspaper. The columns were the first thing everyone turned to when the paper arrived in Wednesday’s mail with its content often the highlight of conversation at the dinner table on Wednesday evening.  

Far more popular than the weekly headlines or world events, the local news column was written by a community member, usually an older local farm wife with no children at home, to which people would submit their items of interest in the hope that their “news” would find its place in the local happenings section of the weekly. “Mr. and Mrs. Jens Nelson, visited the home of Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Kvidt last Saturday night for supper,” one paragraph might read, “after a delicious meal of swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, and Alma Nelson’s blue ribbon lingonberry pie, the men beat the women at whist two games out of three.” Other important information included notations on births such as “Mr. and Mrs. Alden Johnson welcomed a healthy baby girl on Thursday November 12, a much welcome addition after five boys. Mother and baby came home from the hospital last Thursday and are doing well”; engagements, “William Johnson and Lillian Nelson are delighted to announce their upcoming nuptials planned for later next spring after the crops are in.” or family visits from out of town such as, “Mr. and Mrs. Martinius Kvidt, hosted their daughter Anna and son-in-law Peter, all the way from Fargo, last weekend to help Martinius celebrate his 78th birthday. A special dinner was served for eight guests on Saturday night, including Mr. Kvidt’s favorite poppy seed cake.”

The local news column found in small town newspapers everywhere was an edited version of daily life. It kept isolated rural neighbors in touch by allowing them to focus on something outside of the grind of daily farm life while helping them celebrate the simple joys of living. The column kept neighbors up to date with each other’s lives, provided diversions from long summer days, and even longer cold winter nights, and gave folks something to contemplate, celebrate, or criticize, depending on their perspective.

In this writer’s humble opinion, Twitter and Facebook have nothing on “Local Happenings” or the rural weekly. In fact, technology aside, today’s instantaneous social media may not even be as effective. Because these days the ability to contemplate, celebrate, and criticize is available with one simple quick click. No thought or editor required.  

©  2021 Loriann Knapton

Loriann Knapton recently retired from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction where she served as a child nutrition consultant and trainer. Although unpublished, she has been none the less a writer all of her life, starting with silly rhymes and short stories in grade school and moving on to countless poems, personal essays and eulogies for family members and friends.  In retirement she is delighted to finally have the time to work on completing a memoir of growing up on the “wrong side of the tracks” in the 1960s with a disabled dad. 

Posted in Guest writer, writing workshop | Leave a comment

Expressive Writing: Part 1 of 3

I have a new workshop offered by Story Circle Network starting June 3rd, titled “Refresh Your Expressive Writing Skills.” We’ll talk about writing effective sentences and paragraphs, review the most common grammar problems, and brush up on essay writing skills.

As a warm-up, for the next three weeks I’ll offer a tip or two, and publish an essay by a participant in a previous version of this workshop, “Basic Writing Refresher” offered by Madison College last fall.

Week 1 Effective Writing Tips from Sarah

How much thought do you give to composing a paragraph? It’s something we often do without a second thought, but that could benefit from a little conscious appreciation. With solid paragraph skills, our essays become much stronger.

A well-crafted paragraph starts with a topic (a controlling idea), contains supporting sentences that layer in details and evidence, and concludes with a sentence that wraps up what’s been said, driving home the point of the opening sentence.

A good essay does the same.

An essay begins with an introductory paragraph that advances a central idea, or thesis, that will be developed in the essay. This paragraph often includes a preview of the major points that will support the thesis, presented in the order they will appear in the essay.

Supporting paragraphs follow, making points that advances the thesis, paragraph by paragraph.

A concluding paragraph summarizes the essay by briefly restating the thesis, perhaps recapping the main supporting points. The conclusion should serve as a “bookend” to the introductory paragraph.

Betty Merkes wrote the following essay in response to an assignment to use these paragraph and essay skills to write a personal essay drawn from life experience.

The Saga of My Tin Music Boxes

By Betty Merkes

Over the years, I have been collecting tin music boxes to keep at my office. I have found them at garage and estate sales, and resale shops. I have received them as gifts, and I have also purchased a few. Whenever and however I received a new keepsake, I would  bring it to my office and add it to my collection.  Many visitors that came to my office commented on how nice they looked and how they added a personal touch to my office. My collection has grown quite extensively over the past 25 years.

It is now time for me to start thinking about retirement.  In my case, I say jokingly, “symbolically my retirement will be a kicking and screaming affair”.  But to start this inevitable process, I have gone to my office, packed up a few music boxes  at a time and brought them home.  This was accomplished over quite a few weekends with the help of my granddaughter.

WHAT, you ask, did I do with all these wonderful souvenirs now that they are at my home?  ANSWER,  I had glass shelves installed on both sides of the beam in my living room.  With the shelves installed,

WHO, you ask, would help me put all the keepsakes on the shelves?   ANSWER, two of my grandchildren did.  We grouped them by their theme.  However, some of the music boxes were too tall to fit on the shelves.

HOW, you ask, did I solve this dilemma?  ANSWER,  I put the taller ones in different places around my condo.  As my daughter and her children were leaving, she nonchalantly looked up at the shelves and said, “they sure would look terrific if a string of lights were put behind them. That would really set them off”!

WHAT, you ask, should I do now?  ANSWER, the coronavirus was now taking hold,  but I visited Michael’s  website, ordered three strings of lights, and used their curbside pick-up.  Now that I have the lights, I knew I could not put them up myself.   Physically I could not go up and down the step ladder that many times.

HOW, you ask, should I handle this new quandary?  ANSWER,  my grandson came over and intertwined the lights behind and around the music boxes.  The lights really made the music boxes sparkle!   “Whew”!   I thought I was done.  As my daughter and grandson were leaving, my daughter asked, “is there any way to put an outlet about four inches from the ceiling so the cord would not hang down the wall”?–I really must discourage my daughter from constantly coming up with new ideas.

WHAT, you ask, can I do about the cord hanging down the wall in plain sight?  ANSWER, it had to wait a few months, but I engaged a handyman, who put in a new outlet five inches from the ceiling.

Now let me reveal two wonderful shocking surprises.  I counted my keepsakes.  On each side of the glass shelf I had 13 music boxes. My lucky number has always been the number 13. I patted myself on the back and jumped up and down.  I sat down to recover from the shock and physical exercise.  Then I walked around my house and counted the rest of my souvenirs.

WHAT, you ask was the total number of keepsakes that I have?  ANSWER,  I have 42 music boxes.  Again,  I patted myself on the  back and jumped up and down. I sat down to recover from the shock and physical exercise. I knew I was on the right track.  The number 42 was my late sister’s favorite number, and she used to say, “42 was the answer to any question”.

I know the numbers are just a coincidence, but I am content with all my efforts.  Now when I retire, I will be able to lounge on the couch, eat bon-bons and look up and see my lovely legacy.

©  2021 Betty J. Merkes

Betty is a widowed senior citizen living in a condominium on the far east side of Madison, WI.   She has been on the Board of her condominium for seven years.  It was not in her plans to remain on the Board this long, it just happened and with no end in sight!   

She has been employed at the same company for 42 years at the end of April.  It is a small company, and she wears many hats.  She is the unofficial office manager.  She is the receptionist, bookkeeper, supervisor of the subscription database. She handles many miscellaneous jobs, even defrosting the small office  refrigerator.  She has a lovely office where she had all the beautiful tin music boxes from the accompanying story. She is tentatively planning to retire in about 18 months.  She wants to sit on the couch with her legs up, look at her tin music boxes (especially when those tiny strings of lights are on) and eat bon bons!  Boy, is she a dreamer!

She enjoyed going out and doing different activities with her friends but this has been temporarily delayed   due to COVID.  At home she enjoys doing word puzzles while watching TV. She has many different house plants that constantly need “tender loving care,” which she is happy to provide. Her grandchildren come over quite often and she enjoys the company of four of them who are senior teenagers with approaching maturity. She loves kidding them about just about everything. Her life is full, and she is grateful for all her blessings.

Posted in Guest writer, writing workshop | Leave a comment

Next Avenue Published My Essay!

My mother in her Happy Place, Olbrich Gardens.

While I was pursuing my Big MFA Adventure, learning to write a commercially-publishable book and build my platform to resemble that of a commercially-publishable author, we were encouraged to submit for publication. It didn’t matter what we submitted–book reviews, articles peeled from our book research, personal essays. The goal was a byline.

As a result, starting in late 2018 at the beginning of my second MFA year, I undertook a “100 Rejections Project.” Simply put, you celebrate rejections as necessary steps on the way to your dreams.

I began studying what kinds of small magazines (print or online) published the kinds of things I like to write. I began submitting–book reviews, articles peeled from my book research, personal essays. And guess what! I got more acceptances than rejections! Here we are 2-1/2 years later, and I still haven’t hit 100 Rejections yet.

My biggest “win” occurred a few weeks ago when a personal essay was accepted by Next Avenue, a national journalism service offering news, advice, information, and stories curated for people over 50, produced by Twin Cities PBS (TPT). This is “big” not just because of the reach of the platform (over 70 million!), but because it was my first personal essay to be published.

The essay incubated in me for more than a year, then spilled out in an hour on New Year’s Day. I read it to my First Monday, First Person group, and liked how it felt. I decided to submit it to the New York Times Well section and to Next Avenue. Never heard back from the New York Times, but immediately received a reply from the Next Avenue Health and Caregiving editor.

“I like the essay a lot. Would you consider adding a couple of expert voices to it?” A couple of phone calls, a couple of hours weaving in the interviews, chase down a photo… look Ma, I’m a Journalist! Published in a national platform! Which is really a family tribute, because my mother and father were freelance journalists, published in national magazines, in their day.

And now, without further ado, I invite you to read:

In Life’s Last Chapter, What Matters? A Room With a View.

Posted in Sarah's memoir | 1 Comment

Memories of “Little Brother”

By Patricia LaPointe

Writing outside, a memory floats away and lands on a wind chime. It attaches so strongly that it clings to the words on it, creating an imprint: Nick Romito, 1951-2016

Although he was less than three years younger than me, I always referred to Nick as “little brother.” It is the many memories I have of our life together that come to mind.

The toddler who couldn’t quite pronounce my name. He called me Paprisha.

The little boy who would ride his hobby horse as he looked out the window, waiting for me to come home from school. And the day when his horse was too close to the open closet door, and his vigorous rocking caused him to sail into the hanging clothes.

The little boy who could play outside for hours and return home without a speck of dirt on him.

The little boy who sat patiently when we played school and I taught him the alphabet.

The pre-teen I comforted when Dad missed his Little League games.

The teenager creating many garage bands he was sure would succeed.

The teenager who would walk to my work and take my car without telling me.

The young man who railed against our mother when she threatened not to attend my wedding.

The young man who nearly died of meningitis while in the Marines.

Sitting in a waiting room for hours when the 40-something man underwent triple bypass surgery.

Supporting him through two divorces from women he tried to “save.” Reminding him that he wasn’t “Mighty Mouse” coming to save the day. Finally, he found a woman, Mary, who saved him.

Picking up the phone and hearing him ask “Have you heard this one?” Followed most often by a “dirty joke.”

His arms around me as we said our last goodbyes to Mom and Dad.

Holding his hand, telling him how much I loved him, as I watched the lines of his heart monitor go flat.

Closing his big, brown eyes when his soul had left his body.

And how I wished he had been there to see me reach under his body in the casket to retrieve pictures, placed there by a woman who nearly ruined his marriage. I couldn’t let her be with him, dead or alive. How he would laugh at the image of me, on my toes, saying “sorry Nick” and almost knocking the casket off its stand.

This story could not have been about just a memory or just a loss. This story of my “Little Brother” is not one without the other.

©  2021 Patricia LaPointe

Pat LaPointe, editor of Changes in Life, a monthly online women’s newsletter, is contributing editor of the anthology, The Woman I’ve Become: 37 Women Share Their Journeys from Toxic Relationships to Self-Empowerment. In addition, she conducts writing workshops for women — both online and onsite. Pat’s essays and short stories have been published widely. Currently, Pat is completing her first novel, forthcoming late 2021.

Posted in Guest writer | Leave a comment