Love Arrives

By Suzy Beal

This is the 16th episode of a travel memoir that is unfolding, one chapter each month, here on True Stories Well Told. Stay tuned for more of the adventure as teenage Suzy’s family moves to Europe, builds a sailboat, and takes up life on the high seas circa 1961. Click here to read the earlier episodes.

Notes from Mom’s letters to her sister Margaret – July 14, 1962

Young Tommy has a shop featuring Majorican paintings, ceramics, crystal and wood carvings. Has done well enough, but keeps branching out.  Just published a little paper ostensibly to give out information for tourists, but it seems to be filled mainly with advertising.  He’s also doing a bit of wheeling and dealing in real estate.

Hank has just arrived in England aboard the yacht “Trenchemere” skippered by one of England’s top sailing men.  We met him when we were in Puerto Andraitx.  In May he asked if Henry would like to sail up with him, learning to sail on the way.  Of course, Hank jumped at the chance, and spent several weeks working with him, getting the boat ready. Yoiks, this kid has a chance of meeting all kinds of people. The skipper, Bobby Somerset, is the brother to a Lord, and several of his friends in England, Lord this and Lord that have invited Hank to stay with them.  There are also some people from Scotland whom we met here who have asked him to visit. We had several letters from him in Gibraltar, where they were for several days, and he has apparently had a grand time sailing.

Suzy, too is managing to keep busy.  Goes to work at 8AM at a little pension, serving breakfast till eleven.  Then she goes and works in a beauty shop till seven in the evening.  With the wage scale here, she’s not exactly getting rich, but it means clothes and spending money, anyway.

Carl sold one of his paintings to an American who is here waiting for his boat to be finished.  He thinks Carl should be having art instruction and has offered to have Carl live with them in Madrid and go to school.  We’re not quite ready to give him up and feel that he’s not yet ready for formal instruction.

The little guys spend all day down on the beach and in the water, when they aren’t riding around on their bicycles.  It’s certainly an ideal place from their point of view.  And not the least of the attractions is the fact that the ice cream men come by twice a day, so we always get hit at one time or another. But, luckily, the cones are measured according to how much the child is clutching in his grubby little paw. 1 peseta, 2 pesetas, etc. A five peseta (about 8 cents) cone is a luxury indulged in by only the most affluent. With 23 children in our house and the one next door, you may be sure the ice cream man is always stopped by one watchful child or another.

One good result of this venture has been that the girls are taking an interest in cooking, which they didn’t ever seem to have time for at home.  They have been preparing dinner in the evenings for us and doing a bit of baking.  Jan just brought in a big platter full of donuts.

 

Standing in front of the mirror in my bedroom, while getting ready for work, I brush my hair.  Who is this person looking back at me?  I don’t feel like an American, do I look like a Spanish girl?  I want to look Spanish, so I put my hair up in a moño (twist).  I want to speak the language without an accent, and I want to fit in. How can I do it?  My jobs require my speaking Spanish, a little French and English as I work with the tourists.  I want them to think I’m a Spanish girl.

I’m in love. Juan shows me how he feels. Even though we can’t tell each other many things, I know when he reaches for my hand or puts his arm around me he feels the same way. My Spanish is getting better, and he tries to learn words in English. We laugh. Dancing is our favorite pastime. We can be close without raising eyebrows.

The blood rushed to my cheeks as he advanced with his hand out for a dance.

He enclosed me in an embrace. I suddenly forgot how to dance and stepped on his toes.  What could I say? No words came. He pulled me closer, I thought, to help me get back my footing, but I knew differently. No words only movements. The music was fast, but we weren’t keeping up, we didn’t care. With our hands together and his strong grip on my back, I wanted the music to last forever.  No words, only a smile and a leaning of his head to touch mine. An aroma of soap and his smooth skin on my cheek. No words, only being. Amor.

I worked at a pension, which was a small hotel that served breakfast for no added charge. It had twelve rooms for guests and they hired me to prepare the breakfasts. The continental fare included fresh croissants, hard rolls, coffee or tea, jams, and fresh fruit. I didn’t have to make the croissants or rolls. We purchased those from the local bakery. The part I liked best was making perfect butter balls by scraping a small curved knife across the butter. I served these with the croissants and rolls.

After cleaning up the breakfast room, I went to the peluqueria (hair salon) to work in the afternoons. Catalina’s oldest daughter, Antonia, owned the hair salon, and she gave me a job learning to wash hair and doing manicures.  It was an education in European styling for me. There were French, German, English, Danish, and Spanish women, all vacationing in Puerto during the summers. They made appointments to have their hair done, and I saw how each nationality preferred to wear their hair. I learned how to “tease” hair and make it into moños or puffed-up styles with short hair. I watched the young ladies put on their makeup before leaving the shop. I was learning how to wear makeup for the first time.

Summer stretched into fall and the tourists left. Puerto returned to the quiet little coastal town we now called home.

Antonia’s Peluqueria beauty shop. Antonia is second from right.

 

The weather changed and began to get colder.  Once the tourists left, we had the local club and bars to ourselves and we made the most of it. There was dancing every weekend at Brisas Bar, evenings of playing cards and watching “Bonanza” on the television at El Circulo. We didn’t have a TV or even know anyone who did, but the club had one we could watch in the evenings. There were fifteen to twenty of us ranging in age from twelve to twenty who met there in the evenings. We always went out in groups and never just as a couple because the Spanish girls needed chaperones. I guess I was lucky, because Mom always considered my brothers as chaperones for me.

© 2019 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 Suzy began studying with Sheila Bender at writingitreal.com.  Watch for new chapters of her travel memoir to be posted! Please leave comments for Suzy on this post.

 

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Debt, Repaid

By Howard Tanzman

 

I had just returned from my father’s funeral when the landline phone rang.

“Hello,” I answered.

“Are you Howard and is your mother’s name, Pauline?” the caller asked.

“Yes. And who is this?”

“I’m your cousin,” he replied. 

I didn’t know of any cousins on my mother’s side.

It was forty years after my mother died, and I now found out that she had six cousins I never knew existed. I don’t know why my mother had no relationship with them.  One of the cousins found me through Ancestry.com. He had everything, a complete history of my mother’s extended family, more than I knew.

My maternal grandfather

I learned these cousins were very close to Mom’s parents, my maternal grandparents. The six of them were born in Minsk. Sometime during World War I, maybe during the Russian Revolution, their mother died. Their father then left for America, leaving the six behind. Did he abandon them or plan on bringing them over later once he became a citizen? They don’t know. But what they do know is that their uncle, my maternal grandfather, brought the six of them to America.

It was the 1920s when immigration was difficult. It took time and money for my grandfather to get them here, and he did. They always remembered that. My new-found cousin sent me everything, including ship manifests from their voyage to America.

I met a few of the new-found cousins, technically second cousins, a year later at the unveiling of my father’s monument stone. I wasn’t sure what to say to relations I had never met. I filled in for them a few pieces of the missing family tree, mainly the name of my siblings’ spouses and children. We now exchange annual holiday greetings and are Facebook friends. 

Aunt Fannie

My mother was the youngest of five children. In some strange quirk of fate, the oldest, Aunt Fannie, outlived all of her younger siblings. By the 1980s, she was all alone. Her husband had died. She had no children.

She was poor, elderly, living in a deteriorating urban neighborhood. My father, perhaps too hurt by my mother’s death, did not have any contact with her. My wife and I wrote occasional letters to Aunt Fannie; we could have and should have done more. But we were busy with our lives, marriage, career, children.

However, Aunt Fannie was not abandoned. I learned that out of gratitude to their uncle– my maternal grandfather–the cousins took care of his oldest daughter, my Aunt Fannie, for the rest of her life. Debt, repaid.

© 2019 Howard Tanzman

Howard Tanzman is a retired I/T professional living in Chicago, Illinois. He travels the country visiting Presidential Museums and Baseball Stadiums; you can read about his trips at https://www.parkspresidentsandparks.com/

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A Very Fair Trade

By Howard Bowman

I remember the exact moment. It occurred on the South Branch of the Oconto River a few miles south of Chute Pond in Northeastern Wisconsin. I was pushing 70 at the time. He was on the long side of 40. He casts a fly beautifully I thought, watching from above on the path paralleling the stream below.

NOT Howard and his son fishing–this image appears in the Badger Sportsman March 10, 2014. http://www.badgersportsman.com/issues/back/2014-issues/2014-02/2017-01-03-brook-trout

Then I amended my thought: He can cast better than me. How many years have I taken my son fishing leading to this moment? Given his age and mine, what occurred in this reversal was precisely right, exactly as it should be. There is a progression in the nature of things that we cannot and—most of the time—would not choose to alter.

I added yet a further amendment my thought: On a good day, when my arthritis is not acting up, I can still cast that well or better, but those days are becoming fewer and fewer. In my prime I enjoyed being referred to as a “fish whisperer.” But that was “back in the day.”

Casting a fly is no small matter. Finding the right place from which to cast without alerting the fish. Keeping one’s balance on slippery rocks in a strong current. Anticipating how the fly will drift over where the trout is feeding. Choosing the correct fly. Managing the line, particularly in the back-cast phase of presentation. The athleticism of getting to the right place through the brush and marsh between the road and the stream. Having the grit to endure all manner of biting insects as well as being cold and wet. All these things, and more, go into a good cast.

My son has now mastered these things. Now it’s time for me to fish less and take more ease on logs by the side of the stream and observe. There is a sweetness to this new state of affairs. Rather than parent and teacher, I can just be friend and fishing companion. We are now fellow pilgrims treading in sacred places, for such is what trout streams are.

A couple of years earlier, I had a hint of what was coming. This earlier misadventure is chronicled as “The old man takes a header in the Brule.” The Brule in question is the Bois Brule, one of Wisconsin’s most beautiful rivers, a little east of Superior. This river is a “Mecca” for trout anglers throughout the Midwest and beyond.

The documentation of this event, published in the Fox Valley (Wisconsin) Trout Unlimited newsletter, describes me as a tired old man walking through strong current back to the Forest Ranger Station near Route 2 in the town of Brule. I was feeling proud of my catch from three quarters of a mile up-stream. Thinking to myself, Yup, the old man still has it, I took a head-first plunge into the icy Brule—drenching myself, my equipment, flies and not least my proud, dignified self-image as “Dean” of the trout stream.

The reader will recall the adage, “Pride goeth before a fall…” It seems that the last foothold before getting out of the stream hides a log. It further seems that perhaps someone (could it have been one of the rangers?) strategically placed it in this spot because there is a straight line-of-sight between the window of the ranger station high above and the Brule River below. While engaged in their paperwork, this arrangement could allow the rangers to find some amusement by watching hapless old men who forget the log is there.

It also seems, that this old man’s son caught a “knock your socks off” trophy Brown Trout the next day, making my catch pale in comparison.

As I walked back into camp, looking like nothing so much as a drenched “river rat,” I had no recourse except to report to my friends what had happened. It was a pretty sure thing that there were witnesses—and all could see my clothes, inside-out waders, fly-boxes and fishing vest set out to dry by the campfire. Better to just be preemptive.

But I digress, as old men too often do.

Since the moment of reversal on the South Branch of the Oconto River, I have learned several things of inestimable value from both my son and daughter: how to make a cook stove out of a discarded can in the woods, how to tie a soft hackle fly, how to start a campfire in cold rain, how to engage adversity and live bravely, how to find morel mushrooms in the Wisconsin spring, how to be generous, how to dance with abandon (OK, I really don’t have this one down), how to be in the moments we are given.

All in all, it seems a very fair trade to this old man.

© 2019 Howard Bowman

My spouse and I enjoy the “Madison scene” and learning how to creatively write through
workshops like Sarah White’s “Flash Memoirs.” Our location also enables me to enjoy
the nearby famed Southwest Wisconsin “Driftless” area trout streams. In the years leading up to retirement, I taught philosophy courses at Mt. Mary and other Milwaukee area
universities.

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A Love Story

By Ellen Magee

Thirteen years ago, during the Willy Street Fair, I was collecting signatures on a petition standing on the corner of Willy Street and Ingersoll Street.  My son’s childhood karate teacher, Master Fields, walked over and said, “Weeell, hello! Where have you been keeping yourself?” He walked over close, and put his arm around me for a sensual hug.  Master Fields is an attractive, muscular African-American man.  His skin is a radiant mahogany and he puts a lot into his dress; always a hat, jewelry, a cane and ethnic touches.

A typical scene at the Willy Street Fair, any year

Hugging him, I flashed back to first meeting Master Fields.  My six-year-old son Max and I entered Fields Self Defense School. At that time it was a storefront near the corner of Few and Willy Street.  Master Fields was very welcoming to Max and, it seemed, almost as eager to meet me. I filled out the registration form and paid his dues. I was still rebounding from a painful divorce and had recently moved to that neighborhood. Master Fields noticed our address was nearby and I soon found myself receiving visits from Master Fields, (Guy). He came over usually when Max was at his dad’s and always late at night.  We became sexual, but more important to me, I found I could express my fear and grief about my family situation and being single again, to this sensitive, kind, and patient man.  He was able to comfort me through many tearful nights.

I knew that Guy had been seeing quite a bit of Max’s after-school teacher and that she was involved at the karate studio as well.  At first I overlooked this because my emotional needs were being met.  But it wasn’t long before I could not tolerate knowing I was sharing this special man with someone else.  There was a tearful breakup and no further evening visits.

Almost twenty years later, at the Willy Street Fair, Guy’s obvious joy and excitement about seeing me stirred up the old feelings. I had always loved him and wanted a relationship with him. I just needed him to be monogamous. These feelings reminded me of the second attempt at a relationship I had made with Guy.

About five years after our first breakup, I invited Guy back into my life. He had just started teaching at Memorial High School and his karate school had relocated only a couple of blocks from our home at that time. He was as attractive as ever and seemed more confident, having a good teaching job. I had been dating during that time but found myself comparing subsequent partners with Guy. No one measured up–not even close.  I thought we might try it again. Late night visits resumed. He said he was “staying with a family helping the mother with her kids”.

One day I received a phone message from Guy. He was all excited about closing on a house. I never responded. I was furious. My hopes of a wedding, a monogamous marriage, and home together were shattered. I had not been part of his plan- only an afterthought.  I was in the process of moving across town, and refused any further contact.

 

Now here Guy was, at the Fair, after all those years, trying to pick me up again, wanting me to come for dinner in his home. Against my better judgement, I accepted his invitation.  His house was roomy but definitely had not had a woman’s touch for a long while. It was his dark man-cave. He made a masterful stir-fry dinner and as soon as we got up from the table, his hands began to clearly signal his intentions.

“Wait right there!” I said, raising my hands to push him away. “Don’t even touch me unless  you are willing to be monogamous and marry me. I have always loved you, but I want it all or nothing.” He sat, looking surprised. “Wow!  That’s a lot to think about!”

I left, feeling sad because I expected that to be the end of it. I also felt proud that I was finally successful in communicating my wishes and my boundaries. I didn’t think much about Guy for the next couple of weeks. Then he asked if we could talk, and said he would agree to marry me. “I’m getting to the age I feel ready to settle down,” he said. I was shocked but overjoyed.

 

That was thirteen years ago. We had been on-again off-again for twenty years before we got married in 2007.  We are both sharing “his” house now. There were quite a few years before it would feel like “our home”. There are still days there are too many guitars and amps cluttering up the living room, but I have recently carved out a “room of my own”, where I can sit in a clutter-free space and not be disturbed. We just celebrated our twelfth wedding anniversary in June, 2019, and all indications are that we are going to make it work this time.

© 2019 Ellen Magee

This photo of my husband, Guy and me is a fairly recent one with our dog, Snowball, (on the left).  We were married 12 years ago after a 20-year courtship.  We are both animal lovers and Guy usually carries a couple of dog biscuits in his pockets just in case. 

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The Things We Carried — To the Southern Foodways Alliance Fall Symposium

By Sarah White

With apologies to Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carrieda Vietnam war novel/memoir that I was reading while on this jaunt. Bold sentences are lifted from his opening pages and used as writing prompts.

Soleil Ho, restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, carried a laptop full of work to stay current on while away from her post, plans to catch up with her former partner in the podcast Racist Sandwich, and hopes of meeting up with friends. She also carried my phone number in her cellphone, because I’d offered her a ride from the airport to Oxford Mississippi, where this group was about to convene.

Kiese Laymon carried trepidation about what he would say to a group he anticipated would consist of mainly white, privileged foodies, for whom he would give the opening keynote from the porch of Rowan Oaks, William Faulkner’s home. Faulkner had been no friend to black people, he knew. A few sentences into his speech he looked up suddenly, took note of an elaborate chandelier hanging among the mini-lights strung around the side lawn. “A chandelier, really?” He then took off on an impassioned call for change that people would be talking about for the rest of the symposium. Unfortunately Soleil and I arrived late and missed it.

We did arrive just in time to take seats as Bill Briand, executive chef at Fisher’s at Orange Beach Marina in Orange Beach, Alabama scooped creamy oyster stew into our bowls, accompanied by spinach salad with creole-mustard vinaigrette and root beer-roasted sweet potatoes. The executive director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, John T. Edge, actually slid into the empty seat next to me. “I like to sit with people I’m not acquainted with,” he said. John T. carried good intentions, a warm heart, and the double moniker that southern custom allows.

What had Chef Bill and his crew carried, to prepare this delicious meal from a field kitchen set up on the side lawn of Rowan Oaks? What had the other chefs who served us breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the next 48 hours schlepped? Had they carried knife-rolls in their luggage, gallons of zip-lock bags full of herbs and spices? Had they drop-shipped foodstuffs from their provisioners? Were they carrying worries about whether the quality of what arrived would be a match for the expectations carried by the attendees?

What had Maneet Chauhan, the Punjabi pride of Nashville, packed to create a four-course meal and plate it in stacked tiffins, which were ours to carry home? What did she carry with her to create roasted sweet potato chaat, collard green and black-eyed pea curry, and pumpkin cheesecake gulab jamun?

The things we carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near-necessities were raincoats and umbrellas for the predicted heavy rain, shawls or sweaters for the chilly meeting hall, remedies for hangovers and indigestion from three days of chef-spotlighted meals and three nights of open bar. Some carried iPads, some a notebook. Those presenting carried the tools of their trade—this one a memoir marked up with sticky-noted pages for his reading, that one fears about A/V fiascos and a thumb drive loaded with his documentary film, that other one a sheaf of nametags on lanyards she would hand out to her oral history theater troupe Higher Ground when they arrived from Harlan, Kentucky. The arts were woven into the Symposium along with the serious inquiries into topics related to the Symposium’s theme of “Food Is Work.”

They were called foodies. Some left behind kitchens, others computers. Some left behind piles of work as cookbook authors, food writers, and critics. Some left behind ivory towers full of papers to write or grade. Grad students hoped to find a seat at the table of food studies. Professors climbed down from their lofty perches to speak in dense academese. Here, food wasn’t just food, it was  “contextualization of the narrative of southern food culture.”

What we carried varied by mission. Some of us were hoping to make connections and carried business cards eager to exchange. Some carried books they hoped to sell. I carried hopes that, as I talked about my Glory Foods book with everyone I met, someone would say, “I was just speaking with an agent who would love that, let me introduce you.”

Some carried nothing but the expectation of a good time. The jesters at this court were a pair of women from Charlotte who had been given tickets due to a foodie friend’s last-minute change of plans. The two wandered from talk to meal to performance, dazed by the heady blend of friendliness and eccentricity. We were all, even I, a poor wayfaring stranger from far outside this world, carrying intent to do what bright, curious people gather to do: learn, connect,  and enjoy.

 

I had a very good time. Every conversation started with “where are you from” and “what brought you here.” I enjoyed the reaction whenever I said “I’m writing a book on Glory Foods” and they replied, “I know Glory!” Enough people mentioned they had read my article on the start-up company’s first run at canning Glory’s greens in the summer issue of the association’s magazine to make me feel like I belonged. It was a glorious victory lap to mark the last dying ripple of my Big MFA Adventure.

My imagined scene with the introduction to an agent never happened, but enough connecting did happen to leave me optimistic that, with follow-through, my investment will be repaid. Now, join me in visualizing the scene, someday a few years from now, when I return with my co-author Dan Charna. We’ll be carrying  marked-up copies of our newly published book, ready for reading.

© 2019 Sarah White

 

 

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Dancing Words

By Suzy Beal

This is the 15th episode of a travel memoir that is unfolding, one chapter each month, here on True Stories Well Told. Stay tuned for more of the adventure as teenage Suzy’s family moves to Europe, builds a sailboat, and takes up life on the high seas circa 1961. Click here to read the earlier episodes.

 

In high school, back in the States, I wasn’t popular with the boys.  They never asked me to dance at our school dances.  Each time I hoped it would be different.  At these events, the boys chose a girl to take through the food line halfway through the evening.  The anticipation of being chosen kept me on edge.  Watching them pick the popular girls for partners, I wondered what made these girls so different from me.  When it became clear, they won’t choose me at all, tears started to fall.  I ran to the pay phone and called my Mom to come pick me up. What was wrong with me?  What did the boys see in the popular girls and how could I get it?  Then, as if by magic, things changed when we arrived in Puerto Pollensa, Mallorca, Spain.

It’s Saturday afternoon and two of my brothers and I are at Brisas Bar & Café with some local kids.  In the back of the Café there is an open air dance floor where everyone is dancing. There is a turntable with records piled high, where everyone can put on the records of their choice.   I’m never without a partner.  Most of the music is foreign to me, except the Beatles’ songs.  Sitting with my brothers, a boy approaches.  He smiles and puts out his hand.  I smile back and take his hand.  It is exciting to have his arm around me as we head for the dance floor.

My life seems to have taken a turn for the better, but old insecurities still lurk beneath the surface.  I wonder what this boy is thinking, but I can’t to ask him.  Does he want to dance with me because I’m an American living here?  Is he curious about me? Does he find me attractive?

It’s not enough to just smile and nod my head.  I want to know how to talk with him, but I can’t, and he doesn’t speak English.   I want to have the words to express my excitement and I want the words to be the correct ones.  I want to talk about my experiences and ask him about his.   My tongue gets tangled around words when I attempt to say something. He smiles kindly at my attempts to speak and he tries to help me.  It is so embarrassing I want to give up, but my family is not going back to the U.S. We are here to stay.   I have to keep trying.  However, the embarrassment of not being able to speak is so much easier to endure than the embarrassment of not being asked to dance at all.

My day often starts with our maid Catalina saying words to me slowly, so I can understand her. Comida food; lavar, to wash; limpiar to clean – and there is the difference between to wash and to clean.  One is to wash clothes or one’s body the other is to clean the house or the table top – that’s all great, but these aren’t the words I want to learn. I want the words of my life.  I’m fifteen and need to speak the language of a teenager, in Spanish.  I am so voiceless, so trapped by my inability to communicate.  Back home I could talk with everyone, but never got to dance and here it’s the opposite.

Soon, almost without knowing it, I can say a few things. Tengo quince anos.  I’m fifteen.  Soy de Oregon al norte de California.  I’m from Oregon, north of California.  Everyone knows where California is because of Hollywood.  There are about twelve of us that get together each afternoon, including two of my brothers.  One boy named Jose speaks some English.  Yo me llamo Suzy, my name is Suzy.  Como te llamas tu?    What is your name? Me llamo José.  He helps me to pronounce everyone’s name correctly. Each afternoon when we meet, new words sink into my vocabulary.  Quieres bailar?  Do you want to dance?  Si, Si!  Yes, yes!

Suzy, Juan, Angelines

Today Angelines, Magdalena, and Juanita walk to my house to pick me up.  As we walk back to town, they grab my arm and we go brazo a brazo arm in arm for our paseo, walk.  We walk past the boys where they are having their afternoon coffee at the sidewalk café. They call out and the girls giggle. I don’t grasp what is being said, but I understand the art of flirtation.  As interested as I am in meeting the boys here, I’ve also figured out that the Spanish girls want to meet my brothers, so we can all help each other cross this language barrier.  I teach them some English and they teach me some Spanish.  Having brothers has turned out to be helpful after all.

There is a custom here that brings all of us closer together.  Each day when we meet a friend we kiss on the cheeks.  It’s been so confusing for me to learn just how to do this.  Now, I think I’ve got it.  First you offer the left cheek, then the right.  The “kiss” goes out into the air, but the cheeks brush against each other. This has a much deeper meaning if the person you are “kissing” is of special interest.  I just need to control the blushing. Sometimes we greet with a handshake, but this is with a new acquaintance that we haven’t met before.   The “kiss” happens again as we part from each other at the end of the evening.  I love this custom.  I see Angelines blush when she and my brother Hank “kiss” good by.  This makes me feel more a part of the group.  Even Spanish girls blush in the company of the boy they like.  I begin to understand it is only our language that separates us.

We all sit down together at the sidewalk café.   We order coffee.   It comes in a tiny white cup.  It is dark and looks almost muddy.  I watch the girls put in one lump of sugar after another.  I follow their lead and put in two lumps.  It is sweet and smells wonderful.  The boys are smiling at us.  Juan is looking at me and the blood rush to my face.  He smiles.

Word by word, brazo a brazo, cheek to cheek, dance to dance, my life.

© 2019 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 Suzy began studying with Sheila Bender at writingitreal.com.  Watch for new chapters of her travel memoir to be posted! Please leave comments for Suzy on this post.

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Parallels

By Mona Jean Harley

It was 1972 in April, on a Sunday afternoon.  I was 7 years old.  My parents had taken a typical Sunday afternoon nap, and Mom had taken the phone off the hook so a call would not awaken her.  Occasionally the phone stayed off the hook long past the nap, until someone went to use the phone and realized there was no dial tone. Today was one of those days.

Unbeknownst to our family, my grandma from Florida (my dad’s mom) had been trying to call for several hours.  Not able to get through, she finally called my mom’s parents, my grandparents who lived two miles away.  Soon my local grandparents stopped over at our house, as they frequently did.

My younger sister and I were having fun playing house in the cardboard pop-up playhouse in the corner of the family room, with the painted brick and window boxes bursting with cheery flowers, and my older brother was perhaps reading the Sunday comics.  My grandparents were usually all smiles and talkative, but not today.  My grandma went to find my parents.  My boisterous grandpa quietly sat on a kitchen stool.  I remember something felt odd, different, that I didn’t quite understand, but at that age I didn’t think to question the mood, so my sister and I kept playing.

Grandpa, Dad and a brother about 1969

My usual happy grandma returned from talking with my parents and solemnly sat beside my grandpa.  She didn’t want to play with us either.  Hmmm. A little while later my dad came out and called us the kids  into the living room.

The living room?  We never used the living room.  It was only when Mom and Dad were having private conversations, maybe about Christmas gifts, or if company who we didn’t know very well came over.  I knew something was terribly wrong.

Dad choked out the words, “Grandpa Harley died,” with tears running down his cheek. His dad, my beloved grandpa. This is why my other grandparents were so somber.  Did I realize that then at age 7, or was it only in reflecting on this poignant time that I understood the tenor of that afternoon?

In a flash Grandpa was gone, having a heart attack while driving the car, minutes after kissing my grandma goodbye.  “That is how I want to remember him,” I heard Grandma say, reflecting on the goodbye kiss, as my parents, brother and I were leaving her house in Florida a few days later, to drive by the spot in the road where Grandpa had died, and then to stop at the funeral home to see his body.  My dad wanted to see both.

I witnessed my dad learning of his dad’s sudden death, complicated by a phone off the hook.  Eighteen years later I learned of my own dad’s sudden death from a heart attack, over the phone, from an unknown nurse at a hospital a few states away.  Several days later, I too, wanted to see the exact spot on the road where my dad had died in the car, railroad tracks that my sister was crossing as she drove my dad to the hospital.

The number of my memories I have surrounding my grandpa seems to far outweigh the total of all my other memories of my first seven years of life.  The event also has more parallels than I had even realized, with my own dad’s death, which perhaps has been the most significant branching point in my life.  My reflection on these events and the astounding parallels that had been hidden from my view, have connected me even further, years after their deaths, to two very significant and beloved people in my life.

© 2019 Mona Jean Harley

Mona Jean Harley was delighted to stumble across the “First Monday First Person” writing group in Madison Wisconsin in the fall of 2018, which has been a perfect space to become more fully inspired in writing and in paying attention to life.

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