Linda Lenzke’s “Dispatch from the Hideout” Covid Journal

Ball diamond closed due to COVID. We didn’t know how to keep ourselves safe so we tried everything under the sun.

In response to my call last week for your reflections on the COVID19 pandemic–and call to submit your journals, etc. to the Wisconsin Historical Society’s special collection–I received this comment from Linda Lenzke, an occasional contributor to True Stories Well Told.

“Read installments (22 total) from my ‘Dispatch from the Hideout’ series for the Wisconsin Historical Society COVID-19 Journal Project, begin with the most recent which includes links to the entire series from newest to oldest.” 

Please do! And ponder…

Tell me, what are you reflecting on, as we navigate this season of “anniversary thinking” about the start of the coronavirus pandemic? See guidelines for submissions to this blog, here.

© 2023 Sarah White 

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3 Short Years Ago, We Went Down the Rabbit Hole

By Sarah White

Three years ago this week, the world as we knew it stopped.

We all plummeted down a rabbit hole, I felt every bit as unmoored as poor Alice, snatching a pot of marmalade as she tumbled past, and, discovering it emptied, placing it back on another passing shelf.

My mother had recently enrolled in hospice care, her health failing. She lived near me in an assisted living facility. For us, the usual activities of daily living became as elusive as Alice’s marmalade. Every day I tried to solve last week’s — yesterday’s — last hour’s — problems for her. It’s still too painful for me to write about. But the day is coming when I will.

Did YOU write about the pandemic? You will find some essays on this blog, collected in the months that followed, as I dealt with my writers’ block by interviewing other personal historians about their COVID responses.

Over time, other COVID stories began showing up in my writing groups. Just search “COVID” on this blog and you’ll find some of them.

The Wisconsin Historical Society began asking people to record their experiences in journals, to be donated to their collection at a future date.

Today, The Wisconsin Historical Society is asking for your COVID experiences. Click here to learn how to donate your items (if you are a Wisconsin resident, that is.)

Here is how the WHS describes this collection’s intent: “Every story is important. The Society is seeking individuals and organizations from all walks of life, different backgrounds and cultures. Perspectives from a retired couple or school-aged child are just as important as those from front-line health care workers. Teachers or supervisors could also make this an engaging group project!”

My neighborhood diner, March 2020… one image from my collection of photos in my COVID journal.

And hey, I would like to hear from you as well. What are you reflecting on, as we enter this season of “anniversary thinking” about the start of the coronavirus pandemic?

See guidelines for submissions to this blog, here.

Please stay well, safe, and grounded. The pandemic is not over.

© 2023 Sarah White 

Posted in Call for action, Sarah's memoir | 1 Comment

Happy International Women’s Day!

This morning I invite you to revisit a post I published here on March 8, 2012, about my personal connection to International Women’s Day.

January 21, 2017: Women’s March, Madison, Wisconsin. Photo by Me

As we honor women today, I encourage you to support women’s rights. When women thrive, we all rise!

  • Sarah White
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Barbecue Bellbottoms

By Marlene Samuels

Marlene Samuels on the day she received her Ph.D.

It was 1980 and although I’d been in the Ph.D. program for one week, I spotted him on day one. His good looks and muscular physique were total contradictions to that academic “geek” stereotype. Without a doubt, I was smitten. Our first year we’d had five classes together and most days, we waved to one another from our library study carrels. Occasionally, we’d see each other in the library coffee shop. When that happened, one of us approached the other asking, “Mind if I join you?” Those encounters resulted in coffee breaks that far exceeded our intended thirty minutes.

Both of us had full-time jobs while completing coursework at an extremely competitive university. We also hoped to maintain a social life, hardly an easy endeavor. Dating anyone whose aspirations weren’t aligned with our own was nearly impossible. Could we expect them to comprehend the stresses grad students faced? Also, there were budgetary constraints. Sure, neither of us was destitute but neither were we in the market for Michelin-star dinner-dates.

Our long-anticipated summer break was one week away. “Any chance you’d be up for barbecue dinner with me, maybe Tuesday?” Don asked as our statistics seminar was dispersing. “There’s this place I’ve been going to since high school and amazingly, it’s as good now as it was when I was a kid! Besides, it’s probably equidistant from each of us.”

“Sounds fantastic!” I said, desperate not to sound as giddy as I felt about his invitation.

“Ahh, that’s right, the quarter’s over Monday. Celebrating Tuesday is brilliant!” I added, then obsessed about how dumb that must have sounded.

“Excellent, why don’t we meet there at 6:30? Parking and traffic after 6:00 is a breeze. Did I mention it’s casual?”

“Are you a clairvoyant? I was just about to ask you.” On my way home, I’d convinced myself he probably thought I sounded like a moron.

All week and weekend, I agonized over what to wear. I selected outfits, laid them on my bed, changed my mind, then picked new ones. Invariably, I returned to what I’d chosen first but, it was complicated. What if it’s hot? June in Chicago can be hot and humid. What if it rains? What if the restaurant is overly air-conditioned or there’s none at all?

 With one day left, I settled on a chic, casual outfit: a cotton-knit pink and white striped midriff top that revealed the slightest portion of my naval besides, it looked fabulous with my Navy-style bell-bottom pants in crisp summer white. I’d accessorize the ensemble with platform sandals in fuchsia plus a matching straw handbag. Hadn’t I seen this exact outfit in May’s Glamour Magazine?

I slid behind the wheel of my Volkswagen Beetle feeling exceptionally sophisticated. My timing proved flawless and I found parking one block from the restaurant. Don was already in the lobby waiting for me when I arrived. He’d checked in with the hostess who seated us at a banquette against a wall of the expansive dining room.

Huge slabs of ribs, three types of sauces, pitchers of sangria, sides of baked beans, coleslaw, and french fries appeared before us like magic. Don had described the place as casual, however every table was set with a white tablecloth and white napkins. What an odd choice, I remember thinking, given the menu. We ate with our fingers, savoring the “finger-lickin’ good” food, and delighted in the fiddle and banjo players roaming among the diners. 

The food was amazing yet incredibly messy. But Don was the true delight. It was impossible to avoid smearing sticky barbecue sauce on my cheeks as I gnawed the ribs so any time he looked down to manage his own meal, I rushed to wipe my face with my fingers-tips and my fingers onto the napkin lying across my lap. It was critical for me to be prepared in case Don reached across the table to hold my hand, Why risk waiting until the end of the meal for staff to deliver their promised lemon-water bowls and clean napkins?

Sensing we’d attained maximum satiation, waiters cleared the table then delivered two finger bowls — a half-lemon floating in each, plus two fresh napkins alongside. I was immensely impressed. Once we’d cleaned up, waiters cleared the table again and left the bill. “How about we split the tab?” I offered, proof of my independence.

“Why don’t I get this one since I picked the restaurant, right? You can pick the next place then you’ll get the tab. Fair?”

“Sure, I’ll go for that. Thanks!”

Don settled the bill and then asked, “Any interest in a quick ice-cream-shop stop?”

“That does sound perfect.” I was elated by how well the evening had been going until, that is, we made ready to leave and reached for our napkins. Don placed his on the table. In the lightning-bolt moment of my year, I thoroughly understood why only a total lunatic would wear white pants to a barbecue joint. And clearly, I was one.

There was no napkin on my lap for me to place on the table. Where was it? I looked on the banquette without luck. Then I spotted it on the floor under the table. To my horror, it became clear that sometime during dinner, my napkin had slid from my lap. Throughout our meal, my constant fingertip wiping had been decorating my adorable white bellbottoms. We left the restaurant and to my relief, Don walked behind me. Mortified, I carried my handbag low in front of my thighs. 

“I had a great time but so sorry I’m going to have to pass on the ice cream,” I mumbled. “Uh, I just remembered I have a final to study for.”

“Really? I thought the quarter ended yesterday?”

I’d aced all my finals yet despite my academic brilliance, I never did get my turn to choose the restaurant and pay the bill for a second dinner date with Don.

©  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.  (

Posted in Guest writer | 2 Comments


By Virginia Amis

I sometimes think about what happened on that winter day in 1966.

The day’s air stung my ten-year-old cheeks even though I’d bundled up with a hat and scarf.   I stood on the sidewalk, facing the front door of our bungalow, watching my mother mouth words without sound, giving me the message she wanted me to understand.  Baby was nearby, so she did not want to open the door and let in a cold draft.  She must have thought her instructions were simple enough.

Twenty minutes earlier she’d sent me on a mission in our Pittsburgh neighborhood, handing me several small envelopes she told me were thank-you notes.  On them were written names in her lovely script.  No postage needed; I was her stamp.  She could have given the job to my brother, older by nearly two years. But he was unreliable.  The last time she sent him to Johnny’s neighborhood store to buy bread five minutes before closing, he argued for three of those minutes that he’d never make it on time.  He didn’t and we did not have toast the next morning.    

“Take these to all the people whose names are on the front,” she’d said to me in our warm kitchen.  I knew them all.  It was a small neighborhood.  “Knock on their doors and hand them to whoever answers.”

My mother was proper, always writing thank-you notes for any gift or kindness received.  She made us write them, too.  None of my friends had to write them.

I set out on that gray morning feeling important for the mission trusted to me.  At each house, I knocked on the door and waited for someone to take my delivery.  It was a simple task to complete until, at three of the houses, no one answered the door.  I went home, knocked on our front door and telegraphed my message to my mother by waving the three envelopes in the air and shrugging.

I thought I understood her response, mouthed through the window in the front door.  “Put them in the mailbox.”  She said it twice.  I can still see her mouth exaggerating the words.  She even pantomimed how that would look, pretending to slide the notes inside.  I nodded and set off to complete my task.

At the end of the street, the blue mailbox waited.  I dropped the cards inside and returned to my mother’s kitchen.

“How’d it go?”  she asked me.

“I did what you said,” I told her.  “I dropped the last three in the mailbox.”  The hot chocolate in the pan on the stove smelled good.  I hoped I could have some. 

“You what?”

I froze.  The tone of her voice signaled warning.  “It’s what you told me to do.”

She placed her hands on each side of her face, now twisted in horror.  “I told you to put them in the mail slot, not the mail box!  The mail SLOT in each front door.  I can’t believe you mailed them!  They don’t have stamps or even addresses!  They are going to lay in there, never be delivered!  I said mail SLOT!”    

She turned away and I tried not to cry.  A moment before I’d felt so pleased with myself.  I couldn’t wait to goad my brother about my success in completing the mission as I sipped on my hot chocolate reward. “See,” I had planned to say, “I can finish a job.” But all pride had vanished.  I sat lower in the kitchen chair, dripping snow boots on the linoleum below me, my cold chin on my chest.  I wanted to disappear.  I really didn’t care if the notes stayed in the mail box.  Who cared about stupid thank-you notes anyhow?  My only concern was how long it would take for my mother to tell my brother and other siblings how I could not do anything right.  I could hear her voice in the living room doing just that and my older brother’s laughter in response.

Several decades have passed since that winter morning in 1966. Since then, I have enjoyed a successful career as a litigator representing many clients in difficult cases.  My reputation for attention to detail and organization has brought them to my door.  People appreciate that I listen closely. 

I listen because I want to understand. Understanding is important.  I don’t ever again want to misunderstand.

©  2023 Virginia Amis

Ms. Amis has published stories in Perspectives MagazineReminisce Extra, 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022 Scribes Valley Publishing Anthologies, Beyond the Norm, Where Tales Grip, and Story Harvest, Linden Avenue Literary JournalFor Women Who Roar, several Writing It Real Anthologies and in   Her characters are inspired by family, the extraordinary people she has had the pleasure to meet and by the beauty of natural surroundings near her Pacific Northwest home.  

Posted in Guest writer | 2 Comments


By Joshua Feyen

The Moth is a storytelling event-based non-profit founded in 1997 in New York City by friends who missed the feeling of sultry summer evenings in the South, where friends would gather to spin tales while moths swarmed the light on the porch. Local groups across the US host Moth Storyslams, theme-based events where ordinary people are welcome to put their name in the bag and, if chosen, tell a 5-minute true story on that evening’s theme. Storytellers are scored based on the content of their stories, their storytelling abilities, and their resonance with the evening’s them. Joshua participated for the first time at the Madison Moth in December 2022. The theme that night was Anniversaries; here is his story.

Josh Feyen on stage at the Moth, High Noon Saloon, December 12, 2022.

I was so disappointed with Wisconsin voters when they approved a 2006 state amendment to ban same sex marriages. I had been working to encourage people to vote “No” so if I were to find a mate, we could get married in my home state.

And then I met him, we dated for a year, and moved in with one another. In 2010, we  signed Wisconsin’s domestic partnership registry. It’s not the same thing as a marriage license, but in the eyes of the state and our witnesses, my two brothers and my partner’s best friend, it marked an important day in our relationship.

That summer we invited 200 people to celebrate a wedding without a marriage license, but we had one hell of a party. To this day people tell us, sometimes in hushed voices during other people’s weddings, that OURS was the best one they’d ever attended.

But the anniversary that’s most significant came as a bit of a surprise. In June, 2014 while driving home from work on a Friday afternoon I heard the news that a federal judge had struck down Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage immediately making gay marriage possible in Wisconsin. In the same breath, however, she said that she would stay her own ruling in the next week, closing the opportunity to get married in Wisconsin. So there was a bit of urgency to get married for those who were prepared.

That evening we watched news coverage of same-sex couples at courthouses across the state get licenses, and then get married. We would have gone to our own clerk of court, but my birth certificate was safely tucked away in a safe deposit box and the credit union had closed for the day.

The next morning was clear and warm, the perfect day for a wedding and we decided to get married. We drove to the credit union, we and got in line behind a lesbian couple also needing to get into their safe deposit box. While waiting, staff members told us that they had pulled in extra people to expedite access to boxes. Paperwork in hand, we went to the courthouse where joined a makeshift party in front of the courthouse. As we approached the courthouse we saw shoppers from the adjacent farmers market brining  flowers to couples also planning unplanned weddings. As we approached the entrance,  a 10-year-od boy looked up at me, said “Congratulations” and handed me a bouquet while his parents beamed at us.

Getting a marriage license is perfunctory, but even there I felt the energy of celebration. The staff were jubilant and efficient, and marriage license in hand, we stepped onto the sunny courthouse steps.

Judges, court commissioners and justices of the peace were milling around offering on the spot weddings. We asked two friends to marry us, and while waiting for the couple before us to say their vows, my husband’s sister joined our little party. She couldn’t attend our family wedding and rushed to the courthouse to be a witness. The five of us stepped to a quiet corner on the plaza and Judge Langford cited a few lines from the court decision from the day before. We exchanged our rings, again, this time for real.

On saying “Husband and husband” a group of people we didn’t know clapped and cheered. A small band played a tune, and someone handed us a plate with a piece of cake and volunteer took photos offering to send them to us later that day. After the activity of our wedding quieted down, we watched a few other couples get married and clapped when they were announced. Now a newly minted couple, we decided to go home, and as we walked away I spotted a couple coming up toward us, and I gave them the bouquet of flowers to help them mark their next anniversary.

© 2023 Josh Feyen

Josh Feyen was raised on a farm in southwest Wisconsin, went to college in Milwaukee, lived abroad for four years on three continents, and now finds himself with stories to tell. In the middle of 2021, Josh set about writing 50 short memoir stories in his 50th year. Today, the main focus of Josh’s 50 in 50 writing journey is to share what he’s learned with his four teenage nieces and nephew. Josh lives in Madison, Wisconsin. Find his other blog posts for True Stories Well Told here.

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Travels with Taste Part 2: Reflections on the Greatest Little Travel Company You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of

By Sarah White

This post is the second of a two-part series in which I reflect with Cathy Fleming, founder of Viaggi di Gusto (“Travels with Taste”) on how she found the best work of her life—and how we might take part in it. In Part 1, I interviewed Cathy. Now, let’s talk my experience traveling in Italy with Cathy in Fall 2021.

The other day, I was asked for my honest opinion about travel with Viaggi di Gusto by a prospective customer. His questions got me reflecting on my experience in Fall 2021 on the “Best of Italy” tour. That led to some reminiscing about my 20-year relationship with Viaggi di Gusto, the brainchild of Cathy Fleming, whom I’ve known since the mid-1980s.


In the early 2000s, Cathy and I were both eager to find the best work of our lives. We began meeting for coffee and mutual support. I was exploring personal history; she was looking for a professional pursuit that would allow her to reconnect with her love of Italy. A milestone birthday propelled her to found a company offering small-group travel experiences. (See my interview with Cathy for that story.) As a result of being there at the birth, I feel like a godmother to Viaggi di Gusto.

What did I tell that prospective customer? In a word, GO!

Expect a smaller group than most tours—20 travelers max—and accommodations that are comfortable, but not sumptuous. Expect to be among enthusiastic travelers, many of whom have toured with Cathy before and some of whom have come to travel together. People become repeaters on Viaggi di Gusto tours. And expect variety—some days you’ll be with the group, sight-seeing or enjoying a wine-tasting or cooking lesson, but you’ll have plenty of unprogrammed days to fill on your own. I spent my free days on the Best of Italy ’21 tour pursuing my interests, like visiting favorite places in the Cinque Terre and renting a Vespa to motor through Chianti.

Pasta-making lesson from Nonna Ciana, Le Pietre Vive, Tuscany

Why did I, a traveler who’s been to Italy several times on my own and am confident in my language skills, choose to pay for a tour rather than simply do what I’ve done before? Because I have always admired the energy with which Cathy developed Viaggi di Gusto. I’d heard about her satisfied travelers and I wanted to taste the experience myself. Because the Best of Italy tour was going to places I loved, and so, offered the perfect mix of certainty and novelty. Because, being part of the first wave of tourists into Italy following the country’s stringent COVID lockdowns was bound to be intriguing. (And it was.)

Now, I am thinking about traveling in Fall ‘2023 and beyond, again with Viaggi di Gusto. Because, as Cathy says, “demand for travel in Italy is up, up, up,” I’m thinking Sicily, which is a bit less discovered.

Come with me! Use this form to let me know you’d like to keep in touch about this idea.

If you’d like to contact Cathy directly about planning your own travel, click here.

© 2023 Sarah White

P.S. That header image on my blog? That’s laundry on the lines in Vernazza, in the Cinque Terre, Spring 2008.

-Sarah White

Click here to read Part 1, my interview with Cathy about Viaggi di Gusto.

Posted in Call for action, Sarah's memoir | 1 Comment

Travels with Taste: The Origins of the Greatest Little Travel Company You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of

By Sarah White

So many people wish they could make a business out of doing a thing they really love. My friend Cathy Fleming does just that. This interview is the first of a two-part series in which I reflect with Cathy on how she found the best work of her life. In Part 2, I write about my experience traveling in Italy with Cathy in Fall 2021.

I was 23 years old and not sure what I was doing in college, studying art, especially Italian art history. A friend told me about an opportunity to work for a family in Assisi, Italy as an au pair. I just decided, “Okay, I’ll go do it for a year.” Soon I was there, teaching English to their children in the afternoons and studying at the University for Foreigners in Perugia in the mornings, going back and forth on the train. After nine months or a year, I left the family and did some independent traveling. I basically hung out in Italy and worked, between 1983 and 1986, with some breaks to come home and visit my family.

Cathy Fleming (top,center) with her Assisi family
Cathy (right) with her friend Tammy in Tuscany, 1984.

I know what happened next because this is where I came into the story. In 1986, I owned a small graphic design firm. I hired Cathy, newly returned from Italy. She worked for me for several years, then left for a work opportunity in Africa. She returned to the U.S. in 1991, settled in the Milwaukee area, and worked in marketing. Before long, she married and moved back to Madison.

After little Max came along, the years just flew by. When I was approaching my 40th birthday, Tim said to me, “why don’t you go do something special? Why don’t you go to Italy? Call those women you always talk about, that you had so much fun with. You go, I’ll stay back and take care of Max.”

That was before the Internet, so it required detective work to find her old friends, but she did. In July 2000, the three friends headed back to Italy for nearly a month.

We ate and drank our way through Italy and discovered all kinds of new things. And it turned out to be a few weeks of self-discovery, too, because I realized how interested I was in the producers of all that great wine and food, connecting with the local life.

Here’s where Cathy’s branching point came—the moment when everything changed.

After I came back, just talking about my trip with friends, people were saying, “I would love to do that. Maybe you should put a trip together so we can all go.” In the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to reconnect with travel and life abroad. I decided I should just do a trip. Then I started thinking about it as a business. I began doing research. Back then, a lot of it was still reading travel magazines, food and wine magazines—not everybody was online yet. I was reading and making notes and contacting people. Then I set up meetings and in 2002, I went on a research trip. I met with wine producers, olive oil producers, hotels. I came back and started putting all the pieces together. I started Viaggi di Gusto—which means “Travels with Taste”—and took my first tour group to Italy in 2004.

And I’ve been following you ever since. One thing that has amazed me is the number of repeat customers you get.

That has driven me to discover new places because they’ll share interests with me or places they want to go. I’ve had one couple travel with me nine times. There are others who have gone with me six, seven, eight times. They become friends. That’s been really gratifying.

Being a travel specialist means taking on a lot of responsibility. What is the most unusual experience you’ve had? Something surprising, challenging?

I’ve had maybe two or three occasions where someone needed to go the hospital. Those experiences with doctors were actually just great; they’ll see you anytime, like six o’clock in the evening, “come to my office.” I think the most unfortunate thing was a time I hired a driver for my group in Tuscany. He kept missing so many turns, getting lost, it was very weird. I finally figured out he was functionally illiterate. That was not a good situation.

I think it speaks to your grace under pressure that you got your group through that. That’s something I admire about you. Speaking of challenging experiences, how did your company fare during COVID?

That was a very confusing time for me. No one knew what to expect. I had to stay positive even as I canceled trips. I was worried about the people I’d worked with in Italy—a lot of them, the guides and chefs, lost their income. I offered some virtual cooking classes and virtual guided tours, but in those cases, I didn’t take any money. I sent it all over to the chefs and guides. But at least, for me, that was a way to keep prospective travelers engaged and interested in my services when I couldn’t actually offer trips.

I traveled with you on one of your first trips in Fall of 2021, when you could finally get back to business.

It was thrilling to be back. Remember how empty the Colosseum was? Now, the demand for travel in Italy is up, up, up. I’m scheduling 2023 tours and they’re filling fast.

Cathy Fleming, Rome, Best of Italy Fall 2021. That’s my first Aperol Spritz in the foreground.

It’s always been a dream of mine to take a group of writers to Italy. If I do, it will be Cathy I’ll ask to plan the trip. Travel isn’t the time/place for deep writing–there’s too much to do! But we can make use of the stimulation of new scenery and cultures to deepen our powers of observation and sense-making. Who’s coming with me? You, maybe?

To contact Cathy, follow this link.

To read Part 2, follow this link.

© 2023 Sarah White

Posted in Call for action, Sarah's memoir | 1 Comment

My Problem With the Universe

By Patricia LaPointe, originally published on Medium

What’s this? The universe sent me a gift?

There was supposed to be only one. The universe decided two would be better. Susan was expected. Jennifer was the gift. The universe must not have told the doctor, either. He was as surprised as I was.

Two tiny, pink beings. They fit in length between one’s wrist and elbow. Their personalities were evident from the day they came home. Susan was strong and demanding. Jennifer was more laid back. I wonder if, being the extra one, she didn’t want to complain. I hope she didn’t think we’d send her back.

Susan walked first. Jennifer “belly” scooted as she followed Susan.

I laughed when they called each other “Toozy” and “Jetchy.”

I laughed when they sat side by side in two potty chairs and congratulated each other for her success.

I watched as they held hands, walking into kindergarten.

I felt their sadness when they were placed in separate classrooms.

I tried not to laugh when I would find them hiding in a closet, eating cookies or chips so their sisters couldn’t have them.

I stood by quietly as they argued about possessions, friends, and bedroom space and threatened to harm the other’s toys.

I watched as they grabbed their books and headed for the first day of high school.

I just shook my head and smiled at the crazy outfits they created — arms of their sweatshirts wrapped around their waists, sandals in winter.

I swelled with pride over their academic achievements, both graduating at the top of their class.

I worried that the mom-daughter conflicts, so common with teen girls, would have ruined the closeness we once had.

I held them when the “perfect boyfriends” ended their relationships.

I was sad and proud when they each began developing their separate identities.

I waved goodbye to them when they entered their dorm on the first day of college.

I cried when each one walked down the aisle on her wedding day. I cried when they waved goodbye arm in arm with their husbands.

I was grateful for having two to “give away.” I cried because I missed those tiny, pink beings.

I was excited when they both gave birth. I wondered if my heart would burst with love as more and more little ones arrived.

I felt joy and pride as I watched my grandchildren grow into adulthood.

I appreciated it when Jennifer began hosting Christmas. Entering her home was like walking into a winter wonderland with her rooms full of delicate lights, gold garland, and the scents of pine and peppermint candy canes.

I was still grateful for my gift when the universe decided I’d had my gift long enough. It took that gift, my sweet, beautiful daughter, Jennifer, from me on December 5, 2021.

I cry for the children she left behind. And I wish the universe’s cruelty hadn’t affected them as well. I would indeed have taken it all on my own.

I may never trust the universe again.

©  2023 Patricia LaPointe

Pat LaPointe, creator of Share Your Voice, an online interactive community for all women. She is editor of the anthology; The Woman I’ve Become: 37 Women Share Their Journeys from Toxic Relationships to Self-Empowerment. In addition, she has conducted writing workshops for women — both online and onsite. Pat’s essays and short stories have been published widely in anthologies, literary journals and on @patromitolapointe. Currently, Pat is completing her first novel, forthcoming in 2023.

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Reverse Jacks

By Virginia Amis

We mingled in groups, some whispering, others laughing openly, then catching themselves.  The banquet room windows allowed a view of oak and spruce trees growing on undulating hills where paths wound and disappeared.  Someone remarked that the weather was beautiful on this chilly November day, especially so given the event.

I looked at the sky.  Clear, only a few clouds.  No rain.  There should have been rain.

“Everyone, everyone.”  She waited patiently for the crowd to quiet.  “May I say a few words?”  The woman who was shouldering so much grief stood erect before us, her bare muscular calves tensed to prevent her from falling, her lower back leaning on a table laden with photos and fresh brightly-colored flowers.  We politely took our seats at white-clothed round tables.  All of us, except one.  He was the only one I wanted just then.

* * *

Children playing with jacks, 1963. Source:

Growing up, we thought we had invented fun, playing for hours with simple toys on warm summer days.  One afternoon, my little brother and I competed against each other at jacks.  I was pretty good, acing onesies, twosies, foursies and so on.  I loved gathering them, holding them so tightly they left imprints on my palm.   My brother, not as good as me but just as competitive, played with fervor.  He liked holding on to the jacks he’d won, too.    

Weary from a morning of laundry, vacuuming and dirty dishes, Mother watched our sidewalk play from a webbed lawn chair whose straps pressed against her thin thighs, leaving crossroad imprints when she stood to check on another child who slept on a blanket underneath an oak tree.  My brother and I knelt in the soft grass, leaning over the sidewalk that served as our playing surface.  Bounce, snatch, bounce, again and again, until our knuckles were scratched and all the jacks were gripped in our small hands. 

“I used to be pretty good at jacks,” my mother said.  We looked up at her.  I thought she was joking.  We had invented jacks.

“Let me show you a different version.”  She rose from her chair and kneeled beside us.  We stretched out our legs and tolerated the interruption.

Taking the jacks into her hand, she bounced the ball and laid all down on the sidewalk, except one.  We gave her confused looks.  She tossed the ball into the air again and laid down another.  With the next bounce she laid down a third, continuing until all the jacks were on the sidewalk.

“Reverse Jacks!’ she beamed.  “You leave one behind each time you bounce.  When I was a girl, we said we were leaving them in heaven.”

My little brother could not wait to try, even though it was not his turn.  My mother chanted as he played.  “One. . .two. . .three. . .”  until his hand was finally empty.

“Your turn,” he said.

My chin quivered.  I shook my head. 

“What’s wrong?  Take your turn!” 

“I don’t want to leave any behind,” I yelled.  My mother made me apologize for my rudeness and for waking her sleeping baby. 

My little brother looked at me, confused.  “Then, I’m the winner.”     He scrambled to his feet and left to play ball with the boy next door who was calling him over the hedge.

* * *

As his wife spoke, I looked at my remaining siblings and they looked back at me.  We were probably all thinking the same thought.  There used to be more of us.  Now, three had been left behind.  Which of us would be left behind next?  Wiping away tears, I remembered how my little brother and I used to play jacks.  He loved reverse jacks.  I did not.

I did not want to leave any behind.

©  2023 Virginia Amis

Ms. Amis has published stories in Perspectives Magazine, Reminisce Extra, 2019, 2020 and 2021 Scribes Valley Publishing Anthologies, Beyond the Norm, Where Tales Grip, and Story Harvest, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, For Women Who Roar, several Writing It Real Anthologies and in   Her characters are inspired by family, the extraordinary people she has had the pleasure to meet and by the beauty of natural surroundings near her Pacific Northwest home.  

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