First Outing After the Pandemic

By Pat LaPointe

I’ve never felt more excited about going out. Nineteen months inside.

“OOH, my black stilettos. I can hardly wait to wear them again.”

Shoe: “I shouldn’t care. If you want to break your neck, it’s your choice”.

Me: “Well, you don’t need to be rude.” Why am I talking to a shoe?

Shoe: “Not rude. Realistic. You chose those “stilts” over my comfy, memory foam, rubber-heeled, particularly chic and beautiful tan flats once before. Really. Think about the last time you made that choice.”

Me: “You are always bringing that up.”

Shoe: “Duh. Remember? Memory foam?”

Me: “I thought that was just to help me walk more comfortably.”

Shoe: “You can be so clueless sometimes. Are you forgetting the snapping sound your right ankle made when you fell? The painful ride to the emergency room? The nasty-smelling cast that was put had to wear? Or how your leg began to itch so bad you were using a hanger to get under it and scratch? How about how you had to go up and down the stairs on your butt?”

Me: “Must you remind me of every detail?”

Shoe: “Memory foam.”

Me: “Yea, right.”

Shoe: “So, put those shoes on.”

I put them on.

Shoe: “Now, walk across the room.”

Me: “I don’t know what’s your point, but I’ll do it anyway.”

I wobble across the room, trip on a rug, and hear my left ankle snap

Shoe: “Told you so. Remember to bring only my right one when you leave for the emergency room.”

“Wake up, Pat. We are going to be late.” Shouts my husband. How long have you been asleep in the closet?”

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Zaidie Envy

By Marlene Samuels

I grew up in a community almost entirely devoid of old people — those who might be considered “grandparent” age. My understanding of “grandparent” was so totally confused and distorted that the concept and title resulted in endless disappointments during my young life. Oddly, most stemmed from my best friend Ruthie and Ruthie’s Zaidie (grandfather).

In all fairness, my sheltered life and limited exposure to the world beyond our “shtetl-like” St. Urbane neighborhood of Montreal had informed my convoluted beliefs. My brother and I had no grandparents. Well, actually that statement is somewhat ridiculous because, of course, we did have them but never knew any of them. They’d all been murdered in the Nazi death camps during World War II.

Two distinct populations made their homes in our old neighborhood: Québécois French laborers and Jewish Holocaust survivors. And just like my family, the survivors who’d emigrated to Canada after being liberated from the camps had been denied visas into the U.S.A.

Ruthie Whitefish was my “bestie” from the time we were old enough to walk and talk. We had more than our girlfriend interests in common. Her family was a mirror image of mine: her dad was from Poland as was mine and Ruthie’s mom was Romanian just like mine. And Issey, her brother, the same age as mine, had also been born in a D.P. Camp (Displaced Persons’ Camp) in Germany exactly like mine. Only one feature of her family was dramatically different: Ruthie had her Zaidie.

This bearded, highly pious, old Jewish man was the epitome of what I believed was a Zaidie. To us children, he appeared beyond ancient — Moses incarnate. In view of my current advanced age, I’m fairly certain the man couldn’t have been older than sixty-five at most.

Ruthie adored Zaidie and Sylvia, her mother, catered to him constantly. In fact, all members of the Whitefish family felt honored that the old man was a boarder in their flat. Just as wonderful: he was thrilled to be living with the family. He adored the children and treated them as though they were his biological grandchildren. On weekdays, when Ruthie arrived home from school and her mom was still at work, Zaidie eagerly waited my best friend.

As soon as she walked into their flat, she headed into the kitchen. There, at the kitchen table, Zaidie could be found studying his Hebrew texts. And there, on the table across from him, centered on the bottle-green glass plate, sat a butter and raspberry-jam sandwich he’d prepared for my “bestie,” crusts removed! And next to the plate? A half-glass of chocolate milk.

On my lucky days, I was invited to go home with Ruthie and on those lucky days, Zaidie placed two plates, two sandwiches, and two half-glasses of chocolate-milk on the table. “Sailboats or boxes?” He asked Ruthie without variation. He held a long breadknife over one of the sandwiches after he’d removed the crusts.

“Today, I want sailboats! Don’t you remember, Zaidie? Yesterday,” she announced, “was boxes.” Zaidie nodded, rested the blade atop the sandwich, cut it in half on an angle, then in half again. His creation: four triangle-shaped mini-sandwiches. Next, he turned his gaze toward me. Again, his knife hovered above a sandwich. “And you, ziese kleine Maydalah (sweet little girl), sailboats also?”

“No, I like boxes.” But looking back, it really made not a bit of difference to me since I was beyond ecstatic watching him create my butter and jam boxes.

Yet whenever I’d been so lucky to have been included, I’d also been plagued by an indescribably intense jealousy. Besides Zaidie making after-school snacks for Ruthie, the two of them played games together — checkers, tic-tac-toe, hangman—and they worked on her homework. The old man also took Ruthie and Issey to matinee movies on Sundays. Sometimes the three of them took the streetcar to St. Catherine’s Square and even to the top of Mt. Royal Park to feed the ducks.

More than anything, I became desperate for a Zaidie of my very own. No longer did I express interest in a dog or cat. I had evolved! It was a Zaidie for whom I longed in no uncertain terms — an old man who might live in our house and do all the things with me that Ruthie’s Zaidie did with her. It was the one thing I wanted more than anything else in the whole world.

What I could not know was that none of our survivor parents’ parents had made it out of Europe. Consequently, the Jewish Federation of Montreal had established a program similar to foster care but instead of a program for children, it was for those rare elderly survivors who’d lost everyone. Jewish families were given cash stipends for providing room and board in a family environment to those elderly. And that was precisely how Ruthie Whitefish got her Zaidie. He arrived at the Whitefish’s home just about the time Ruthie had begun to walk and talk and he never left.

One particular Sunday, Ruthie and Zaidie were headed to see the newly released movie, Lassie Come Home. I’d not been invited to join them. And it was on that exact day I knew the time had come. I burst into my mother’s workroom, shouting above the noise of her sewing machine. “Mom, Mom, I have to talk to you! It’s important!”

“What is it? What’s happened?” She shouted back, her feet still working the machine’s heavy pedal.

“Mom, you know that Ruthie has a Zaidie, right?”

“Of course I do.”

“Why does she have one but we don’t?”

“Have one of what?” Mom asked. She didn’t understand what I was asking. “A Zaidie, that’s what! Why can’t we get one of them? He could live with us and do the same kinds of things with me that Zaidie Whitefish does with Ruthie? He could live in the extra room next to our kitchen!”

Mom was rendered speechless. I truly believed that Zaidies (Bubbies, too) were religious old Jews who came to live with Jewish families in extra rooms, did fun things with the resident children, and possessed quantities of books all in Hebrew.“Mom, Mom, did you even hear what I said?” I was shouting at her.

“Let me talk to Daddy about this. We’ll see.” She whispered, staring through her workroom window onto the street.

I waited for my mother’s response. But I never did see. During the last decade or two of my life, a period when so many close contemporary male friends have morphed into grandfathers, I’ve finally realized that for most of my younger life, I actually suffered from a serious case of “Zaidie Envy”.

© 2023 Marlene Samuels

Marlene holds a Ph.D., from University of Chicago. A research sociologist by training, she writes creative non-fiction by preference. Currently, she is completing her book entitled, Ask Mr. Hitler: A Memoir Told In Short Story.  She is coauthor of The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival, and author of When Digital Isn’t Real: Fact-Finding Off-Line for Serious Writers. Her essays and stories have been published widely in anthologies, journals, and online.  (

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Asking Your Support for the New Birren Center for Autobiographical Studies

From time to time you’ve seen me post here about the Guided Autobiography method developed by Dr. James Birren. It’s the best-kept secret for enriching your life, in my opinion, not to mention an effective and enjoyable way to get your life stories down for friends and family to enjoy…maybe for centuries to come.

Let’s take a moment to consider Dr. Birren’s significance. He was one of the pioneers in the field of gerontology. In 2003 he founded the Birren Center for Autobiographical Studies at UCLA with Cheryl Svensson, Ph.D. and a small group of close associates. After Dr. Birren’s death in 2016, Cheryl became the director of the Center.

Here’s a short (:59) clip from 2015 of Dr. Birren answering Cheryl’s question, “What is your most important learning in life?”

I began teaching Guided Autobiography following the curriculum Dr. Birren laid out in his book, Telling the Stories of Life through Guided Autobiography, a decade before I learned that there was a community of Guided Autobiography Instructors and a certifying body. Now, I have found a collegial home among the GAB Instructors, and have given back to it by offering marketing workshops for GAB Instructors, drawing on my past career in marketing.

But the Birren Center lost its academic home when UCLA decided to absorb it into its gerontological research programs. Cheryl has continued the Birren Center’s work, but to become sustainable, the Center needs to reorganize as a nonprofit organization.

Now, we are raising funds to launch the Birren Center as a nonprofit organization. Will you help us?

Guided Autobiography instructors–and everyone who wants to receive training in this field–will be the primary beneficiaries of this new membership organization. But think of the lives touched by these instructors–there are now over 600, all around the world.

  • Students, who find in these workshops a supportive environment for reflecting and writing on life’s big questions and branching points;
  • Their families, who receive the stories written in these workshops–a priceless gift;
  • Their communities, where the diverse stories weave a tapestry of greater social connection and empathy.

To pay the start-up costs for launching the Birren Center, we are conducting a fundraising campaign to raise $15,000 to establish programs and services many of our GAB Instructors asked for in a recent survey conducted by our Board of Directors, of which I am the secretary.

Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Birren Center.
Click here to give.

Thank you in advance for your generosity. No gift is too small to help us fund the new website and communication channels, course offerings, and publications we envision.

  • Sarah White
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Three Strikes

By Kurt Baumann

This is the second in a two-part post about Kurt’s life of prayer. To read the first, click here.

When I was twenty, I was in a hotel room, thinking about how to end my life.

The past hour, that day, I thought about committing suicide. Here I was, living on Welfare and Food stamps, managing to scratch out an existence, not able to face being arrested for a crime that I never committed.

When did it start? When did my problems began to surface? When I was born? When I was picked on and bullied in school? When I was abused by my parents? When I entered the Army and washed out after six weeks? When my mother made it clear that she wasn’t going to support me or couldn’t handle my abusive father, who she divorced and wanted out of her life? When I literally ran away from my abusive father who was going to hurt me because I caused a farming accident?

During this time, I was going through what I refer to as “The Three Strikes.”

Strike one was in two parts. The first part was my being arrested for shoplifting $1.07 worth of food. After twenty years of living, I didn’t know how to take care of myself, I never had a job, and my parents handled all the money I earned. Luckily, my old high school social worker came through for me and talked the police into giving me a fine. That meant I had to I go back to confront my father, who stole it from me, demanding that he give me the money. I earned it when I was in the Army. Though he was stubborn about giving it back to me, a Sheriff’s deputy had a little chat with him, he sent it to me, and I was able to pay my fine.

The second part, I’m not proud of. A fellow tenant at the hotel where I lived was mentally retarded.  I hung around with him and sexually took advantage of him. He told people what we were doing. Practicing homosexual activity, back in the mid-1980s, was inviting people to kill you. My social worker got hold of me and asked me about it. I didn’t think it was anyone’s business—but you’d be surprised how many people made it their business. Looking back, my shoplifting and manipulating the tenant had something in common. I was hungry for something —and took something that didn’t belong to me.

Strike One left me with a police record and a rumor that I was a deviant.

Strike Two began about ten p.m. on a Saturday night in March.  I was on my own for only eight months and there were places in town I hadn’t seen yet. Walking down a street, without realizing it, I scared two important people. One house I apparently walked back and forth in front of and made the occupant, an old lady, nervous. The police wouldn’t have paid any attention to her, but she happened to own the hotel where I was living.

The second house I stopped in front of had a ceramic rabbit that I looked at. I want to make it clear that I never left the sidewalk and just stopped for a minute. That’s all I did. That was my crime. The house belonged to a police detective who was running for mayor. Apparently, I found out later, he had received a phone call telling him that if he won the election, he’d be killed. He saw me staring at his house, and looked me up to see if I had a record. I did. Well, you know what they had here, don’t you? They had a kid, arrested for shoplifting, who hated cops and couldn’t stand the fact that a cop was running for mayor.

The first I knew about it was when, a few days later, the police detective and his partner came to question me. It seemed to be about a walk I had taken that night and if I hated cops. When they left, I was very confused. On a hunch, I looked up the police detective’s name in the phone book and went to the address listed. I asked him the truth about why he and his partner visited me. He told me about the phone call. I told him that I didn’t even know who he was outside of the campaign posters. We left on good terms—or so I thought.

Strike Three was where I’m the bad guy. It’s hard for me to admit. I like to think my intentions were innocent. All I wanted to do was ask a girl out for a date—and I wound up scaring her. She was a library assistant, a high school junior who was pretty, quiet, wore a colorful jacket I thought was artistic, and seemed to like books. She was someone I wanted to get to know.

Unfortunately, I never had a date in high school, and outside of watching television, I didn’t know how people asked each other out for dates. I tried to talk to her a couple of times, but she didn’t seem interested. I rehearsed what I was going to say. I walked up to her and said my line trying to act cool.

In the middle of my delivery she said, “I think you’d better go now.”

I got angry and replied, “Why don’t you just tell me to buzz off.”

She got mad and stomped off and then I got mad and stomped off. I swear that’s what happened.  I didn’t find out until later that about an hour before her boss, the Library director, called the police. Apparently the police detective, the one running for mayor and who thought I made the threatening phone call to him, phoned my social worker. You know how word of mouth can exaggerate a story, like the guy who catches a five-pound fish, and it gains ten to fifteen pounds in the telling? Well, he was told that there was some trouble with me in the elementary library and that it involved a girl. Want to guess what story came out of that?

He got ahold of me and questioned me. That is, if you call “reading me the riot act” questioning. I had never seen him like that before and it really scared me. Before he left, he told me “that if I wound up in prison, [the inmates] would eat me up.” From his tone of voice, it sounded like he was going to help make it happen. I was afraid the police would be there any minute—but I couldn’t be arrested and jailed for a crime I never committed and for a crime that never was committed, I just couldn’t.

Out of desperation and fear, I prayed to God for all I was worth. Emotionally exhausted, I fell into a heavy sleep and I heard a voice just before I woke up that said:

“It’s not how many times you get knocked down that count, it’s how many times you get back up.”

All of a sudden, I felt angry. I felt strength I never had before, and I’m not going to take this. No one, but no one, was going to take me without a fight. I had a talk with the Library director, saying to her:

“I understand that there was a phone call made concerning me.”

She said that there was and I had really upset the Library assistant. She talked for a few minutes, then I talked for a few minutes. In the end I apologized for the trouble I caused. I went to see the detective. He gave me a big buddy pat on the back and said to me:

“You are not going to be brought up on any charges. We only ask that you don’t do the same thing again.”

With prayer and God in my corner, I could face anything. With His help, I might have had three strikes—but I scored a home run.

Soon after that, I started attending an Outpatient Therapy program. Every day for nearly three years, I would board a van, go to a Mental Health Center, and get the help I needed. Over the years, through trial and error, I confronted my problems, applied myself, and I got my life together. It also opened my eyes to other people who, like me, were going through similar problems. I actually found a place, a world where I belonged. Through the years, I tried to help where I could and started to really pray to God and try to live as He would have wanted me to live. I admit to doing some sinning.  

During the mid-1980s, though I was living on Welfare and Food stamps, I became part of my community–I volunteered in a nursing home and joined the local community theater. Every year, the theater put on Christmas shows with the local talent, and I participated by doing a reading. Those were great years. I also lived in a group home, worked in a sheltered workshop, got my driver’s license and my first job, working as a dishwasher in a bakery. I also lived on my own and learn how to support myself, paying rent, groceries, income tax, and other bills.

Over the years. I became part of my community and part of my church, helping out where I could. It was an ordinary life, but I loved it. It was important to me to have an identity, in a place where I was well thought of and belonged. I learned about being laid off, filing unemployment, get hired at other jobs, get fired from jobs, keeping jobs, and learned how to survive. I also moved to other places in town. Sometimes I fell on hard times and needed God’s help to see me through.

Now it has gotten to the point where I am living in a homeless shelter. He has seen me through to this point and I pray He always will.


We now return to Kurt’s “Handle with Prayer” liturgy.)

Though it would be a few years before I began to pray, each night I started praying regularly, I prayed for various people I thought could use God’s help. Over the years, I put down, added, and edited various groups and causes. Some were in my Usual Liturgy for a short time and some I still have.

This is who I currently pray for: My family, my church fellowships, certain leaders and celebrities, friends, and the people in the helping professions who have assisted me along the way.

The final page is where I sum up.

I ask God to watch over the people who I prayed for in My Usual Liturgy. I ask Him to protect them from

  • Satan and the Demons
  • The Entity (my own personal Demon)
  • The Evil in the night and Terror that comes with it.

I ask God to watch over the people who I prayed for in My Usual Liturgy.
I thank God for the Blessings he gave to me this day and for what I was able to accomplish.I pray that He forgives me my sins and helps drown the Old Adam inside me.

Into His hands I commend my spirit thank Him for listening.

I thank Jesus for the Sacrifice He made and when I see Him that he finds no darkness inside me that my raiment is as white as snow and my name is in the Book of Life.

I ask that God and Jesus never give up on me, that the Holy Spirit work within me, and they always be with me.

Before I say Amen I say: “You take it easy.”

If you would like to read the rest of Kurt’s “Handle with Prayer” and see the “mind maps” that capture his evolving nightly prayer rituals, please email him at He would appreciate hearing from you.

© 2022 Kurt Baumann

Kurt Baumann lived in Beaver Dam from from 1983 to 2022, where he was involved in his community theater and church, and a contributor to his local newspaper. He now resides in Watertown. After working a variety of jobs for most of his life, he has retired to do some writing. He has written one book: The Written Works of Kurt Baumann.

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Handle with Prayer

By Kurt Baumann

This post is the first in a two-part series.

In one of Bil Keane’s Family Circus cartoons, Billy, the oldest son, is doing homework, and asks: “What is the greatest power?” Each one of the characters has a thought balloon that shows their opinion. Youngest son P.J. thinks of a thunderstorm, middle son Jeffy thinks of a supersonic jet plane, Daddy thinks of a mushroom cloud from an atomic bomb, and Mommy thinks of daughter Dolly, praying at bedtime, implying prayer. I’d say Mommy’s answer is the best one.                                                             

When I was about four years old, I remember bringing up the subject of prayer to my Mom and I think she found the Traditional Prayer Before Bedtime in a book of prayers. From then on, Mom sat at the end of my bed listening as I recited my Sunday School lessons, until I was Confirmed (my Lutheran church’s ritual passage into adulthood), kissed Mom goodnight, and went to sleep. These lessons helped develop a talented memory.  

    Every night, Mom listened to me as I prayed the same prayer:

 Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray the Lord my soul to keep

If I should die before I wake

I pray the Lord my soul to take.

In the last line, I unconsciously substituted “keep” for “take”, without realizing it. I hope God forgave me.

Growing up, my religious instruction began in a Lutheran Church.  Starting with my Baptism, three days after my birth, it progressed to going to Sunday school, every Sunday during the school year, and a church service with my family afterward. Sunday School was my favorite subject, because I was good at it. Summer school was held two to three weeks held, from 9:00 to 11:00, in the morning. People thought I had a gift, but I really excelled because the same stories were told, every year, and I never forgot them.  

After two years of Instructions, religious education that taught young people about the Lutheran faith and how to be good church members, I was Confirmed. After a public oral Examination, in front of the congregation, I was made a member of the congregation. Actually, a person was Confirmed, no matter how badly they did during the Examination.

I was allowed to attend Communion with my parents and expected to usher during the services. I remember, before my I ushered my first communion, Mom coached on me what to do, so that I didn’t make a fool of myself, which might reflect on her and my family. Subtly, I was taught that our denomination was the one and only—and all others were blasphemous sinners. 

I was a total fraud.

In hindsight, I didn’t really learn my prayer or lessons, as much as I parroted them. Reciting my memory lessons, like a human cassette recorder, was easy—but I didn’t learn anything. Although my peers were happy, I was fooling them and myself, with my talented memory and going through the familiar motions of my church.

The truth is, prayer and God didn’t mean much to me until later on.

Every night, after I talk to God, I include other people. I call this My Usual Liturgy. In a project for True Stories Well Told, I diagrammed text boxes, joined with lines of patterns of thought connecting with each other to illustrate it.

It is made up of

  • My Family
  • Fellow humanity
  • Faith Communities I’ve Been Part of
  • Celebrities
  • The “Please Watch Over List”

On the next page is My Family.  In the beginning they were the only people I had any contact with growing up. Over the years, through birth, death, and marriage the list grew. After variations of lists, it turned into the ones the ones who meant the most to me. I have prayed for them during my life.

The next post in this series is a reflection Kurt wrote about God’s role in his life and a continuation of The Usual Liturgy.

© 2022 Kurt Baumann

Kurt Baumann lived in Beaver Dam from from 1983 to 2022, where he was involved in his community theater and church, and a contributor to his local newspaper. He now resides in Watertown. After working a variety of jobs for most of his life, he has retired to do some writing. He has written one book: The Written Works of Kurt Baumann.

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The Birren Center is at it again! Third anthology open for submissions

Back in November, I announced the publication of the second anthology from the Birren Center for Guided Autobiography.

As of May first, the third anthology is open for submission. Note, to submit you must have taken a Guided Autobiography class, but the good news is there’s time to do that before the submission deadline of August 31. See my “Upcoming Workshops” on my website to find in-person and online options for taking Guided Autobiography this spring/summer.

The theme for Book 3 is “inspirational essays on the aging experience.”


1. Must be your original work on the theme of “the Aging Experience” 
2. Must be written in English
3. Length: 800-1,000 words
4. One submission per person
5. Must be received by August 31, BUT be aware that submissions may close early due to maximum capacity, so try to get it in early!
6. Include a 50 word bio
7. Must be not previously published or accepted for publication elsewhere. If your essay has been previously published, you must own the rights to it. It is your responsibility to make sure that you still own the rights to your work.

Submissions will be selected on the following criteria:

  • How well the work reflects the theme
    • The essay’s intent and ability to edify and entertain the reader
      • No excess profanity, graphic sexual content, or disrespect toward any category of persons

Here is the link to submit your essay:

There is a $3 submission fee to offset the cost of our subscription to Submittable.

To view a recording of a brief Q&A session about successful submissions to the Anthology, choose one of these options.

Video Audio only

(This Q&A was for Guided Autobiography instructors, but you’re welcome to view it.)

What’s all this about Guided Autobiography?

“The purpose of GAB is to help people see that memoir writing isn’t reserved for the rich and the famous,” said Cheryl Svensson, director of the Birren Center. “It isn’t just for people who are good writers. The act of writing down the story of your life belongs to every person, because every person has a story and every story counts.”

What Is Guided Autobiography? I’ve articulated it previously on this blog; see my post “Guided Autobiography: The Magic of Small-Group Reminiscence Writing.” This unique writing methodology, which takes place in small instructor-led groups that combine writing on prompts, reading, and exchanging feedback, unlocks insights that help us better understand our past experiences and make wiser decisions for the future. I know of nothing more useful than a compass when one is headed into the unknown. Your writing in a GAB workshop becomes that compass.

Writing produced from Guided Autobiography prompts bring together universal themes with the writer’s unique life experiences. The results can be very good reading, indeed. I hope you’ll consider pursuing Guided Autobiography and submitting your story to this Anthology or a future one. And I hope you’ll consider purchasing one of the published anthologies, to support the Birren Center and your own writing inspiration!

  • Sarah White
Posted in Call for action, writing workshop | Leave a comment

Ingratiating Mother-In-Law or Chutzpah Unleashed?

By Marlene Samuels

I’d been married for three years during which time my husband and I had been renovating our house almost constantly. Although a magnificent brick and limestone structure built in1882 complete with copper spires and massive leaded windows, it was unquestionably a fixer-upper. “But it’s got great bones!” Our realtor gushed during our final walk-through before we closed the deal.

 By then, I was nine-months pregnant, still working full-time and more exhausted than I ever might have believed any human could be. The entire first floor had been completed but for our dining room. The large formal room with fourteen-foot high ceilings, had yet to be painted. We chose dark hunter green, our favorite color. It also was reminiscent of so many places we’d dined in Italy. 

Before committing fully, we painted one-third of a wall, top to bottom, with our three chosen colors as per my architect brother-in-law’s recommendations. “Leave the paint swatches there for at least three days, five if possible. That should allow you to see what they look like during different times of day and in different weather conditions when the light changes.” Perfect advice that confirmed our first-choice color had also been perfect.

The next day, a Friday, our painters arrived promptly at 8:00 a.m. Gallon cans of our chosen color were lined up on the tarp-covered dining room floor and by 5:00 o’clock, the room was a rich hunter green. I sat down at the table in the freshly painted space. I recalled the intense flavors of Osso Bucco, fantasizing about a return trip to Italysome time in the not too distant future.

That Saturday, Hope, my mother-in-law, popped in to see for herself just how the room I’d raved about had turned out. Beyond horrified, she couldn’t contain herself. “Oh my goodness, Deary, this simply is way, way too dark!” She opined. “Frankly, I think you’ve made a terrible mistake. You must realize you’ll get totally sick of it in no time at all and never mind what your dishes or linens will look like in here. Did you even give that the slightest thought?”

Early the next morning Hope was on our front porch hammering on the door. Another woman — redheaded just like Hope, hung back in the shadows. I noticed that under her arm she carried three bundles of what appeared to be decks of paint store samples. I opened the door for them. “Marlene, this is Nadine. She’s a professional color consultant.” said my mother-in-law before announcing, “Quite frankly, I’m positive she’ll be able to help you.” 

What, indeed, was a color consultant I wondered as the two strode directly past me through our hallway and toward the back of the house into the dining room. They fanned paint color wheels across the dining table, pulled no fewer than five greens forward, and discussed the merits and underlying tones of each. They strolled back and forth to the windows as though I wasn’t home, all the while holding their selected paint chips at different angles in front of the different windows.

The following afternoon, my husband met me at the maternity wing of our hospital. Preoccupied with childbirth, paint colors couldn’t have been farther from our minds. It was Memorial Day weekend which meant an unanticipated sparsity of hospital staff and hence, no one on duty with the authority to discharge us. At last, after three days, I arrived home with our newborn in my arms. I eased myself into our oversized living-room arm chair and looked around. I’d been gone for a mere three days yet it felt like ages. Something in the house was off, but what? From my vantage point in the front room, I could see all the way through the first floor to the back room and which was our dining room.

During my absence, Hope and her esteemed color-consultant Nadine had our dining room repainted to light sea-foam green. For the following two weeks, my husband and I agreed to pretend we’d been reincarnated as rabbits and were eating our meals inside of a giant head of lettuce. Three weeks later, I’d regained some energy. My husband called our painters once again and once again, they arrived at 8:00 a.m. By 5:00 p.m., the room was dark hunter green. The two of us stood back and admired it yet again.

Sunday afternoon, my in-laws arrived bearing gifts, tea cakes and an office-sized urn of coffee. As they cooed over their new grandson, my husband set our dining room table. We moved into the room and took seats. I placed the platter of pastries in the center of the table while Hope filled mugs of coffee and passed them around. Task completed, she sipped her coffee. But as she gazed admiringly at the freshly painted walls, confusion spread across her face. Her raised eyebrows gave her a look of shock. After that, nothing pertaining to paint color was ever again discussed in our house.

©  2023 Marlene Samuels

Marlene holds a Ph.D., from University of Chicago. A research sociologist by training, she writes creative non-fiction by preference. Currently, she is completing her book entitled, Ask Mr. Hitler: A Memoir Told In Short Story.  She is coauthor of The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival, and author of When Digital Isn’t Real: Fact-Finding Off-Line for Serious Writers. Her essays and stories have been published widely in anthologies, journals, and online.  (

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Revisiting the “Flash” Form

I’m teaching a Creative Writing workshop for Madison College at the moment; yesterday’s lesson was on the “Flash” form — Flash fiction, nonfiction, memoir. The zoomed-in essence of Flash can be applied to any genre.

A student asked, “When did the Flash form originate?”

Google NGram Viewer shows “Flash Fiction” arriving on the scene in 1980, taking off in the 2000s…. (No results for “Flash Nonfiction” or “Flash Memoir”.) That’s good news, True Story lovers–we’re birthing a genre right here, right now!

So, what IS Flash? For a refresher, see this first post in a 4-part series I published here in 2018-2019. Follow the link there to the rest of the series, if you’re interested.

While there’s room for debate about some of the defining characteristics of Flash–How long is it? Some will say under 1500 words; I’d say under 500. Does it have to be scene-based, taking place in one uninterrupted run of time? Does it have to take place in one setting? Some would tell you that those moves take up too many words. If you’re trying to write a story in under 500 words, you need a tight focus.

I think all the pundits (who appoints you a Flash Pundit anyway?) would agree that Flash stories start at the flashpoint–the moment a conflict launches a story. there’s no room for preamble.

But above all, Flash must achieve something magical–a literal flash. In a few words, the story must convey an illuminating insight, a surprising observation, a provocation of thought.

Flash not only leaves you wanting more, but able to imagine what comes next for yourself, starting from where the writer dropped you off. The magic of flash comes from that collaboration between writer and reader, that allows the latter to extrapolate the fullness of the story.

With that, I’ll leave you to explore Flash, either on this blog or online. Flash Fiction Online is a great resource for seeing what fiction writers are doing with the form. We nonfiction writers can learn so much from fiction! And for great Flash in the nonfiction genre, you can’t do better than Brevity–the online magazine or the blo

If you’re doing long-form writing–I’m currently at the front end of what may be a more-than-100,000-word family history–there’s nothing like Flash for taking a break and having some fun!

Give it a try–and if you like the result, why not submit it for publication here on True Stories Well Told? Guidelines here.

© 2023 Sarah White

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Joyful Noise

By Pat LaPointe. This COVID-era essay first appeared on Story Circle Network.

“Please, God. Make them quit crying” was my prayer as one preemie twin would wail, and the other twin soon join her in her less-than-melodious sounds.

“Can’t you all quit yelling and fighting with each other for a minute?” was my plea the many times when my four girls were fighting. “I can’t even think.”

“Can’t you take turns talking? It just sounds like a bunch of noise when you all talk at once.”

These were the times, when my children were growing up, when I’d give anything for some quiet. If I knew then what I know now, I would have cherished those times.

The girls are all adults now with children of their own. It’s interesting that I could tolerate the grandkids yelling and their bursts of chattiness, giggles, and roars of laughter when they were young.

But now, when all must be quiet, it hurts. I long to hug and kiss the grandchildren. Phone call, texts, and the rare video visits are far from satisfying. And the quiet after these contacts is deafening.

And, for the first time in forty years of marriage, my husband and I are together all day and night. What we thought would be an opportunity to share more thoughts and tasks, has not happened. We each go to our home office and work all day. Silence is broken by: ”What do you want for dinner?” and “Did you feed the dog, turn down the heat, lock the doors?” Is it possible we’ve run out of things to say?

We can sanitize everything, wash our hands until they feel like sandpaper, and keep our social distance. But what we really want is sound, blissful sound.

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Tornadoes Made a True Story Lover Out of Me

By Sarah White

From April 3-4 1974, there was a super outbreak of tornadoes across the Midwest. Indiana, where I was 17 at the time, was not spared. While the tornadoes that ripped through Indiana had no literal impact on me or anyone I knew, that event became a turning point in my life.

At the time, I was working as a transcriptionist for an insurance firm in a suburb just north of Indianapolis. I had finished high school a semester early and had nothing better to do than earn money for my alleged future as a college student, although I had not decided on which college or even if I would actually go. But working got me out of the house and the paycheck allowed me to have considerably more fun after work than would otherwise have been possible.

My weeks looked like this: Monday to Friday, 8am to 4:30 pm, go to the faceless, nameless insurance company. Pick up a cassette tape from the supervisor’s desk; go to mine; insert the tape in the playback device, don my earphones, step on the pedal, and start typing. On these tapes were case notes dictated by insurance claims adjusters out in the field. We in the typing pool never saw them and they never saw us. We simply completed transcripts of their interviews with unfortunate individuals and placed them on the boss’s desk, then returned to our stations with the next cassette.

After work on Tuesdays, I would go to my fencing team’s practice at the YMCA, which happened to be next door to the insurance company. Other nights, I’d go foraging for fun down in Indianapolis with my groovy friends, two of whom were on the boy’s fencing team. Weekends, we’d go to fencing meets—sometimes to observe, sometimes to participate. I had no talent for fencing; I did it for the exercise I needed to rehab a broken ankle from the spring before. I liked the swashbuckling originality of the sport. Plus, even on a “team” one competes individually on the narrow piste—it was a sport with less opportunity to let teammates down than, say, basketball or softball.

One of the boys had a Super-8 movie camera and would bring it to fencing meets to film competitors in action for later study. It was not uncommon to see a violent sky in the late afternoon drives home from those meets. We caught more than one tornado on videotape, racing beside us across the wind-bent cornfields. We were 17. We were never scared.

The super tornadoes of April 1974 hit on a Wednesday. It was all over the news, but no damage occurred near Indianapolis. The girl’s fencing team was scheduled for a meet in Culver, Indiana, a two-hour drive north, that Saturday. One of the women who coached us drove the girl’s team to our meets. We headed north that morning on the road to Culver but were stopped by the National Guard outside a small town about halfway. “The roads are closed—too much damage ahead,” a guardsman said. “But we don’t know our way! We only have instructions for this route,” replied our coach. He waved us on.

What we saw next was truly surreal. All the images you’ve seen on TV, we saw along that highway—the topless houses with battered roofs set down a field away, the splintered trees, rootballs high in the air. The colorful litter of housing materials, personal possessions, store merchandise, as if tossed by a burglar. Most memorable was a truck held at a jaunty angle in the spreading branches of a battered oak beside the highway.

We made it to our meet. We made small talk about the destruction we’d seen.

Then began my next week of transcribing. Our claims adjustors fanned out across the Indiana countryside, responding to insureds’ requests. It was the adjustor’s job to downplay the damage, question the insured’s veracity, attempt to wiggle out of responsibility for the claim. It was the insured’s job to impress upon the adjustor the nature and severity of their loss.

I listened, typing along as story after story of what happened between April 3 and April 4, 1974 spilled out. I who had previously typed half-asleep, now typed mesmerized. Disembodied voices described what happened, demanded their due, defended their truth.

We were still transcribing storm stories when August came. I quit, having decided to join my groovy friends headed to Indiana University. I left the job, but took with me a love of true stories, well told.

© 2023 Sarah White 

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