Ice Cream “Sundays”

By Suzy Beal

Full of excitement, we pile into the station wagon and head the six miles into town. We seven kids do everything together. There are no neighbors close by so we depend on each other for everything; entertainment, adventures in the forest, chores, and even picking out the switch with which Mom is going to spank us. It is impossible to do anything private or independent from the others. We never get to choose anything for ourselves. I know that getting a choice means a kind of freedom that my parents, with seven children, can’t afford to let us have, but on Sunday afternoons this all changes.

It’s crowded, the car is warm and the windows foggy.  Mom and Dad seem at peace with each other. All my brothers and sister are laughing and making jokes.  The anticipation of an ice cream cone at Richmaid’s fills me with excitement. Will I choose the same flavor as last time or will I try something different? We each get to choose our own favorite flavor or try something new. It is the best experience, because we get what we want without sharing.

I stare at the list of flavors beside the little window where the ice cream cones come out: chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, rock road, pistachio, licorice. The pressure mounts as everyone calls out their order. Dad always orders pistachio and Mom chocolate. Tom orders licorice, Hank, chocolate, Carl, chocolate – my turn is next. Oh, what do I want… too many choices!   Once I ordered licorice because my older brother did and I hated it, but it was too late to change and I had to wait until next time. Dad doesn’t let us change our minds once we call out what we want, so I need to get it right the first time. Strawberry is my favorite, but sometimes in a moment of madness I call out another flavor.

I holler out, Strawberry!

Mom orders strawberry for Jan and vanilla for Conrad, but little Frankie just gets licks from her cone. I lick mine round and round in circles. The thick, sweet ice cream fills my tongue in scoops. The rich strawberry flavor delights and when I come across a partially frozen strawberry, I chew it slowly so the pleasure will last.

Dad drives leisurely through town, ending up at the Nye Beach turnaround where we park and watch the Pacific Ocean and the surf coming up on the beach. Mom loves this sight, so this is where we come.

This is the same spot where Mom brings us sometimes during the summer when it’s so hot at our home up the river. The northwest wind blows hard in the summer and it sends the sand scudding across the beach. It stings our legs as we run to the ocean. We are only allowed to go out in the surf up to our knees, but that’s enough. It only takes a few minutes for the ocean to turn us blue. It’s so cold.   If we are very brave, we lie down in the surf.

On these Sunday evenings everything seems right with the world, everyone quietly eating their ice cream. The only sounds we hear are the ocean rolling onto the shore and the sea gulls crying out for bites as Mom throws to them pieces of her cone. She throws the pieces onto the front of the station wagon, so the sea gulls will come close and we can all see them fight over the tidbits.

On the way back home Dad stops at the gas station to fill up the station wagon, so Mom will have gas all week. Mr. Peters comes out of his little office to fill the tank. Mom told us that Mr. and Mrs. Peters don’t have any children, but wanted some, so we are always to be nice to them. Mr. Peters leans in Dad’s window to say hi to us. A thought rushes through my mind. I could go live with them and be an only child and all the choices would be mine!

The six miles back home up the river road is dark with no street lights. Mom starts a game in the dark: “I’m thinking of a number between….” or “How do you spell…?”

There isn’t much room in our lives for special wants. We share all our toys. We all eat the same food, play the same games, but on Sunday afternoon we get to select our own special flavor of ice cream. For me the freedom of choosing for myself is more glorious than that special flavor.

© 2018 Suzy Beal

Suzy Beal, an occasional contributor to True Stories Well Told, has been writing her life story and personal essays for years. In 2016 started studying with Sheila Bender at  “She has given me the courage to begin to submit pieces for publication,” says Suzy. I’m 72 years old and live in Bend, Oregon.  I was born on the Oregon Coast in Newport.  In 1961 when I was a teenager my parents took all seven of us siblings to live in Spain on the island of Mallorca.  There my dad and brothers built a sailing boat onto which we moved and sailed the Mediterranean.  We later moved to the Caribbean and lived and sailed from St. Croix.”






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Not Enough Time

By Kaye Ketterer, performed at “First Monday, First Person” salon for memoir writers recently. When Kaye read her essay, I encouraged her to share it with readers of TSWT.


I have no time to write a story.   I’m busy. I have Easter baskets to make, packing to do for a 3-week trip, and a book to make for my granddaughter. After I write the book, I need to take it to my friend who will translate it into Spanish.  I also go to the Y three times a week and take care of my granddaughter, Elena every Tuesday. When my son or his wife is sick, I help by taking Elena to child care in the morning and fetching her at the end of the day.

Those are just the “extra” things that need doing.   There are still the household chores of cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry.   Oh, and then there are the que of books to be read.   I take long lunches and read while I eat and sometimes for another half hour when I’m done eating. And what about the cotton rug I’m crocheting, and the locker hook table runner?   They are my winter projects and they’re not done yet!!

I have friends I want to have over, friends I’m going to have coffee with, and friends I go out to a dinner with.   The Oscars are over and there are even more movies I want to see now! My piano always needs practicing for my weekly volunteer gig at a nursing home, and every once in a while I like to scour local thrift stores for any “new” music they may have.

Why aren’t there more hours in a day?   I just can’t do it all!   I have no time to write a story!   Besides there is nothing to write about anyway.

© 2018 Kaye Ketterer

Kaye lives in Monona, Wisconsin, and keeps her country roots close to her heart. Along with writing, her interests include music, traveling, children, and the elderly.


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Happy International Women’s Day on March 8th!

Most years since starting this blog (seven years ago!), I have commemorated International Women’s Day with a post. I don’t know why the United States hasn’t embraced this holiday to the extent Europe and Eurasia have, but I hope that’s changing, #MeToo movement and all.

Today I revisit an essay by Leigh Hyde that I originally posted on International Women’s Day, 2013. “Who Do I Kill” explores her coming to feminism in the 1970s. Read on!

If you’d like to see the women’s movement thrive, please consider making a contribution to One Billion Rising or  Half the Sky, organizations that use the power of media to ignite the change needed to improve the lives of women and girls worldwide.

  • Sarah White
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Missing the Point

By Sarah White, October 2017

I think I just missed the point—again—of an assignment for a class. (This time, the assignment was for my Big MFA Adventure.) This makes the third time.

Funny, the first two times were in art classes, where I thought I had natural talent that meant I could trust my hunches. And now it’s happened again, only this time in my new field of study, writing creative nonfiction. Another field where I thought I had natural talent.

The first time was in 1972. I was a junior in high school. I was taking an art course that finally interested me, because it was applied, not a study of history or theory. In this class we would create commercial art—advertising designs, album covers, and such.

For this assignment, the class was given a perfume named 4079 and asked to design a package for it. I chose a computerized typestyle and a palette of yellows and greens inspired by sunlight dappling through leaves, intending to emphasize the contrast between the random-number name and the natural environment the perfume’s light, fresh smell evoked for me. The teacher gave me a D. “You totally missed the point,” he said. He expected (and the other students produced) something sleek and futuristic, machined and shiny. I missed the point.


Eight years later, having finished a journalism degree, I was taking art classes part time at a technical school to fill in what I missed in college about composition, design, and materials. This class was basic illustration, and the assignment was about perspective: “Produce a black and white drawing that shows you understand how to represent three dimensions on flat paper.” I chose for my subject outer space, with a spaceship-sized pair of pliers speeding toward the picture plane.

The earlier assignments had been product illustrations, and I carried over to this new assignment my enjoyment of rendering different surface textures. I lovingly illustrated the detail of the pliers, its knurled handles and serrated gripping surfaces. I surrounded my realistic pliers with planets in various sizes, to indicate its enormous scale.

The teacher gave me a D. “You totally missed the point,” he said. “Perspective reveals itself through scale, through seeing the size of one thing compared to another.” This is what the painters of the Renaissance discovered, that lifted their compositions far beyond the iconic representations of those who preceded them.

Space is the one place where we do not know the size of anything. Yes, my pair of pliers was rendered in perspective—you could tell its orientation in the space it occupied. But was it six inches long in a sea of planets the size of marbles and peas, or was it the size of a football field in a sea of asteroids? There was no telling. I missed the point of the assignment again.


And now, I fear I’ve done it again. Assigned a research paper for the MFA program I’ve just begun in Creative Nonfiction, I proposed an alternate to the topics offered by the professor went own way, producing essentially a sales piece on the attractions of ghostwriting. As I began to read the papers produced by my fellow students, in which they industriously explore the academic and professional concerns of writers of serious creative nonfiction, my heart sank into my gut and twisted there. I’ve totally missed the point again. The professor will probably give me a D.

  • Sarah White

p.s. In fact, I hadn’t missed the point, and when grades were issued–I got an A!

Posted in Sarah's memoir | 3 Comments

Pails and Pollywogs

Bang, bang, bang, tap, tap, tap

“Hey guys, Mom is making something.”

We race for the stairs to the basement.

“What are you making, Mom?”

“Be patient.” She has large Maxwell House coffee cans on their sides and is putting a hole in the sides with a nail and a hammer. She strings a wire through the holes and leaves a loop. “There, now we have berry picking pails.”

We kids grab the pails and head out. With thoughts of pies in our heads, we take the path along the slough. There, the huckleberry bushes grow in abundance. This is the spot we found last year when Mom showed us how to pick huckleberries. She grabbed a limb loaded with berries and stripped it off into her hands. The sound of the ping, pinging of the berries filling our pails soon dims as the pails fill. The younger ones stuff their mouths with handfuls of sweet ripe berries, but we older ones know huckleberry pies are on the horizon.

On this hot summer day we head for the slough. We place our brimming pails on the path, take off our shoes, roll up our pants and wade out into the mud flats. The tide is out. The cool mud seeps between our toes. Our feet make a sucking sound as we pull them out. “Hey, stop that,” as a blob of mud hits me. I grab a handful and throw it at my brother. He tries to get out of the way, but he can’t jump because his feet are stuck in the mud. We are sitting ducks. Everyone is a target.

Back home we hose off each other. Showing Mom our full pails, “Dump them into the water in the sink.” The green berries and leaves float to the top and Mom skims off these. Huckleberry pies for dinner tonight!

Left to right: Henry, Mom with Baby Frank, Carl (in front), Dad with Conrad, Jan (in front), Tommy (in back), and me with our dog.

Just before school starts in late August, Mom calls out to us. “Go get your berry pails; we are going to pick blackberries, so I can make jelly.” Mom’s blackberry jelly is legendary.

Mom pulls a long plank out of the garage and tells the older boys to bring it. The youngest is in a baby buggy. The rest of us go behind her single file along the county road to her secret place. She holds the plank up on its end next to the black berry patch and lets the plank fall into the middle of the patch. She steps up on the plank jumping up and down as she walks along to the end.   “Okay, come on carefully and line up on the plank.” We take turns standing guard over the baby and walking out on the plank. We feel like pirates. It’s scary out on the plank, but thoughts of Mom’s jelly turn our minds to filling our pails.

“Everybody off.” Slowly we back off the plank. Mom pulls the plank out. We move further along the patch. She repeats the process. With our pails full we head home. That night she surprises us with blackberry cobbler for dessert. “But, Mom, will there still be enough berries for your jelly?” She smiles.

Several days later we kids are walking along the county road to visit Dad. He is working at the boat shop a mile from our house. There are large puddles alongside of the road with pollywogs just beginning to form their hind legs. We need to catch them, but they slip through our fingers. “Hey, somebody run home and bring our berry picking pails,” shouts my older brother. I run back to the house. We figure out how to hold the pail just so, so the water slides into the pail bringing the pollywogs with it. Our pails filled with, soon to be frogs, we run home with water sloshing against our legs. The pails are lined in a row on Dad’s workbench. We check them daily, but two days later we discover that our ducks have made a nest and laid eggs. Pollywogs forgotten, we watch the nest each day.

“What’s this mess?” We hear Dad holler out. We run to the basement. On his bench the five rusty berry pails are reeking with dead pollywogs. Wide-eyed we look at each other and race back upstairs.

© Suzy Beal

Suzy Beal, an occasional contributor to True Stories Well Told, has been writing her life story and personal essays for years. In 2016 started studying with Sheila Bender at  “She has given me the courage to begin to submit pieces for publication,” says Suzy. I’m 72 years old and live in Bend, Oregon.  I was born on the Oregon Coast in Newport.  In 1961 when I was a teenager my parents took all seven of us siblings to live in Spain on the island of Mallorca.  There my dad and brothers built a sailing boat onto which we moved and sailed the Mediterranean.  We later moved to the Caribbean and lived and sailed from St. Croix.”




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A writing prompt from “Your Life as Story” by Tristine Rainer

My Amazon order history tells me I bought Your Life as Story: Discovering the “New Autobiography” and Writing Memoir as Literature by Tristine Rainer in 2004. That makes it about the oldest book in my “write your memoir” library, and I’d say it’s the most well-thumbed, sticky-noted, annotated book in that library as well. It is one of the most complete sourcebooks for writing about a life–in a way that meets the standards of literature–that I have come across.

I remember how daunted I felt when I first read it–an experience akin to being a first grader in a one-room school, listening in on the sixth-graders’ lessons. More than half went over my head, but the less-than-half that stuck was helpful. I just kept working with an exercise or two from Rainer’s pages, then reading the book again, then working with another exercise or two, until I began to feel I understood what she was getting at and could not only apply it in my own writing, but teach it to others.

A highly useful element of Rainer’s approach is her “Nine Essential Elements of Story Structure,” which align with the narrative arc described by Jack Hart in Storycraft and the story structure recommended by Jon Franklin in Writing for Story. The nine elements will probably be familiar to anyone who has studied writing fiction. They are:

  • BEGINNING: Initiating incident, problem, desire line;
  • MIDDLE: Struggle with adversary, Interim pivotal events, precipitating event;
  • CONCLUSION:  Crisis, climax, realization.

Rainer is also excellent on portraying yourself and others. If it’s your story, you’re the protagonist, its hero no matter how flawed. The supporting characters around you fall into roles as allies, antagonists, villains. I think it was Rainer who gave a name to those complicated relationships we have with people who love us, but want for us something different than we want for ourselves: “beloved adversaries.”

I am particularly fond of Rainer’s insistence on “the telling detail,” the use of observations about an individual’s gestures and behaviors as opposed to adjectives that (whether intentionally or not) pass judgment.  “If you call a guy pretentious and uptight, it’s an open and shut case, but if you give details about him… a reader can come to that conclusion,” she writes. To identify specific gestures and behaviors to work into your writing, she offers an exercise she calls How to be… — “Make a list of gestures and indicative behaviors as if you were writing a how-to guide for the impersonation of the character you wish to describe.”

I like to combine this with the brainstorming technique of clustering (some call it mindmapping) to first get some ideas on the page, then turn them into Rainer’s “stage directions” for portraying that character. Here is an example, describing an entertaining restaurant owner I met in Vernazza, Italy.

Pick a character who will appear in your memoir and have a go at this technique–I think you’ll find it challenging but fun.

If you want to deepen your skill as a writer of memoir, autobiography, biography, creative nonfiction–even fiction!–get yourself a copy of Your Life as Story and get started on what I think you’ll find a satisfying long term relationship with Tristine Rainer’s writing advice.


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Do You Want to Dance?

Thank you, Deb, for responding to my plea to “Throw me somethin’, Mister,” with a true New Orleans tale!

By Deb Wilbrink

Joanne and I arrived at Bourbon Street. We were teens come to the Big Easy on false pretenses of scouting Tulane University, but actually there to experience Mardi Gras.

Deb Wilbrink in high school–a year of transformation

Chaos was Queen of the Quarter. People ebbed and flowed in the blockaded streets like a river, in costume, en flagrante, and in their cups. We stopped in front of a stage erected in an intersection, where a glamorous burlesque dance competition was in progress. I had never heard of drag queens, but I was seeing and meeting my first ones tonight! Joanne and I ogled as the dancers elicited screams of delight from those all around us.

A couple of guys in cowboy hats invited Joanne and me into a bar for a drink. Would my fake ID pass? I was fifteen, Joanne was fourteen, and our student IDs stated eighteen, the legal drinking age in 1971. The darling bouncer waved us in with a smile; I was in a bar for the first time. Over a beer, I learned that “my” cowboy, redheaded, long-haired and bearded Calvin, was a student at the University of Arkansas. He was flirting with the waitress. When I excused myself to the restroom, I discovered what was under the drag array of one of the customers. Returning to my seat, I watched Calvin continue to flirt. When the waitress receded, I asked him with concern, “Don’t you know that’s a man?” Now, probably Calvin did know, but he expressed great surprise.

“Let’s get some food,” he suggested. He led us into an alley, up two flights of tight winding stairs, and into a small room where supper was being passed around: free soup and sandwiches. The soup was thin but hot, and I was hungry. A preacher walked to a small stage and offered thanks for the food. He went on serving more of the Gospel. Calvin jumped up, cursed, threw his sandwich and fled toward the door. What in the hell? I wanted that sandwich! But we got up and followed him. “You can’t bribe me to listen to that crap,” said Calvin, as the four us plunged down the stairwell and erupted into the night.

A sign across the alley and a shill cried “Seven beers for a dollar!” This time the stairs to heaven went down. Seven 8-oz. beers came on a tray and we happily bottomed up more than a few trays of them. The juke box prompted Cal and me to promenade around the floor; it was my first two-step. As we paused for another round, a hump-backed dwarf wandered over. “Do you want to dance?” he asked me. I could not refuse.

There was a reason for dancing. Music greatly moved me! Yet, I was a nerdy bookworm without any chance of being asked to dance. Suffering not only as a wallflower, but as a feminist who risked asking boys to dance—and inevitably was always turned down—had inspired a promise. I had vowed to ALWAYS ACCEPT any invitation to dance. To my own and others’ amazement, now I was dancing with a man half my size, and he would join our group of revelers for the rest of the night.

I would have another dance, this time at a true dance hall on New Orleans’ West Bank. Women in hairdos stacked like beehives—or hanging like the aftermath of tornados—clung to men in boots as they gracefully twirled to the sounds of country and Cajun and zydeco music.

Suddenly, a man appeared at my side. “Do you want to dance?” He was not my type: too old, hair slicked back, a drooping black mustache, encased in a vest and pants made for romancing. “Yes,” I said. “I don’t know how to dance,” he confessed as he pulled me onto the floor. Surely he was being politely humble. We reached the center of the floor and stopped. “So, where are you from?” he asked, clutching my hands. It dawned on me that we were not going to dance. He continued to make small talk in the center of the dance floor. I suffered though this “dance” with what must have been a foolhardy man. In Louisiana, I came to know, dance meant something in and of itself. Unlike back home, it was not a means to meet or even to touch a girl. It was an art form. If you had not had the grace to learn the steps before you said “Yes”, well then, the Louisiana men would swiftly set you down again against the wall.

Adventures and their revelations came fast and thick that evening. But as the dawn approached, our gang drove to a nearby bayou. We stumbled over the downed trees and through the brush to swim naked as the sun rose. I felt baptized. It was a beginning. How many firsts were mine at that Mardi Gras? First skinny-dip, first homosexuals, first bar, first parade, first serenade, first charity food, first two-step, and more. The Big Easy also showed me for the first time a society of tolerance and acceptance. It took some lies to get there. But for the first time, I freely explored the infinite paths of what it means to be human, what it means to be me. The Dance was just starting.

© 2018 Deborah Wilbrink

Deborah Wilbrink is a ghostwriter and owner of Perfect Memoirs. She is also writing her memoir: Coming of Age in the Sexual Revolution. She is also the author of Time to Tell Your Personal & Family History, which I reviewed on this blog in 2016.

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