Feedback Fun: Boxes in the Closet #4

3d coffinFor the next few months I will be sharing bits of my works-in-progress. This month I’m featuring “The Boxes in the Closet”, a memoir of my parents’ love story set during World War II. The book has four “voices” – first person in my voice in the Introduction and Epilog; a narrative written in third-person; first person in the voice of my father Armond; and first person in the voice of my mother Lois. The “bits” I’m sharing are all opening paragraphs of chapters or sub-heads in chapters.

This is because I want reader feedback. Opening paragraphs are always the most important. Without a good opening, many people won’t read the rest. That’s the question I’d like answered – would you read on?

Here are Chapter Three’s opening paragraph and first paragraph of a first person narrative:

Chapter Three:  Caskets to Roads

In 1937 Armond was 19 and in common with many adults as well as teens, could not find steady work. Although he had gone back to school for a short time after returning from his railroad adventure, he quit a year before graduation in order to go to work to help support his family. The only job he could find was as a janitor and apprentice carpenter in a casket factory. He didn’t like the work, but he figured a casket factory was safer than other jobs – after all, just as many people were dying during the Depression as they had before.

and

Armond: The Ditch Digger Poet

I didn’t like leaving home and my mother, even though I was almost 21. That sounds like I was a mama’s boy, and it is true that I loved my mother, but the reason I didn’t want to leave her was because she took care of everyone, but no one took care of her. I had tried my best. Now it seemed like the best I could do was leave. The CCCs paid $30 a month, and $25 of that would be automatically sent to her. Twenty-five dollars bought a lot of groceries. The thought of that $25 made me feel good, like I was at last helping put food on Mother’s table, even if I would not be there to help with all her other chores.

Thank you for reading. I’d love to know if you want to read on.

Feedback Fun: Boxes in the Closet #3

Nels Bruseth0001For the next few months I will be sharing bits of my works-in-progress. This month I’m featuring “The Boxes in the Closet”, a memoir of my parents’ love story set during World War II. The book has four “voices” – first person in my voice in the Introduction and Epilog; a narrative written in third-person; first person in the voice of my father Armond; and first person in the voice of my mother Lois. The “bits” I’m sharing are all opening paragraphs of chapters or sub-heads in chapters.

This is because I want reader feedback. Opening paragraphs are always the most important. Without a good opening, many people won’t read the rest. That’s the question I’d like answered – would you read on?

Here are Chapter Two’s opening paragraph and first paragraph of a first person narrative:

Chapter Two:  In the Shadow of White Horse

Seventy-five miles northeast of Seattle, thirty miles northeast of the small town of Arlington, and about five hundred feet of elevation into the Cascade Mountains, is the even smaller town of Darrington. Nestled amid thousands of acres of dense forest, Darrington is encircled by the unruly Sauk, Suiattle, and Whitechuck rivers, and six thousand feet overhead looms the town’s ever-present snowy guardian, White Horse Mountain. It was, and is, a wild, rough, and beautiful place.

and

Lois: The Postmistress’ Daughter

I guess I was kind of spoiled. In Darrington I was almost like a celebrity, and so were my folks. We knew everyone in town and everyone knew us. It was an idyllic life. I knew times were supposed to be bad, and I knew Mums and Daddy worked hard, but in Darrington you didn’t need much money, and everyone worked hard. I was happy.

Thank you for reading. I’d love to know if you want to read on.

Feedback Fun: Boxes in the Closet #2

Retro toned rural railroad tracksFor the next few months I will be sharing bits of my works-in-progress. This month I’m featuring “The Boxes in the Closet”, a memoir of my parents’ love story set during World War II. The book has four “voices” – first person in my voice in the Introduction and Epilog; a narrative written in third-person; first person in the voice of my father Armond; and first person in the voice of my mother Lois. The “bits” I’m sharing are all opening paragraphs of chapters or sub-heads in chapters.

This is because I want reader feedback. Opening paragraphs are always the most important. Without a good opening, many people won’t read the rest. That’s the question I’d like answered – would you read on?

Here are Chapter One’s opening paragraph and first paragraph of a first person narrative:

Chapter One: Going Somewhere

Armond Delos Pearson was a skinny kid of seventeen in 1935, just beginning his growth spurt to his full height, which one day would be almost six foot two. Despite his fancy name, he was from a working class family who’d been dirt poor even before the Depression.

and

Armond: Riding the Rails

It was a day in late spring 1935 that I kissed Mother goodbye and told her I was going off to look for work. I didn’t tell her where I was going to look. She gave me some bread and cheese and a couple of dimes, and didn’t ask.

Thank you for reading. I’d love to know if you want to read on.

Feedback Fun: Boxes in the Closet #1

Wedding Day portrait0001For the next few months I will be sharing bits of my works-in-progress. This month I’m featuring “The Boxes in the Closet”, a memoir of my parents’ love story set during World War II. The book has four “voices” – first person in my voice in the Introduction and Epilog; a narrative written in third-person; first person in the voice of my father Armond; and first person in the voice of my mother Lois. The “bits” I’m sharing are all opening paragraphs of chapters or sub-heads in chapters.

This is because I want reader feedback. Opening paragraphs are always the most important. Without a good opening, many people won’t read the rest. That’s the question I’d like answered – would you read on?

Here’s the opening paragraphs of the Introduction, in my voice:

Introduction: The End

After our parents died, Mom first and Dad two years later, my brothers and I cleared out the house they’d lived in for 45 years. Their deaths were not unexpected – Mom was 87 and Dad 94. To die at 94 cannot be called a tragedy. It is a triumph. But it is also an emptiness.

I would not have called my father a sentimental man – he was a realistic hardheaded businessman who liked to discuss (we won’t call it argue) politics, economics, business – you know, topics for “real men.” Yet in his bedroom closet, way in the back, we found scrapbooks of memories and boxes full of his letters to his brothers, nephews, and old army buddies, as well as battered notebooks full of written musings about life, love, romance, babies, art, poetry, nature, religion – what he would have categorized aloud as “mushy.”

Thank you for reading. I’d love to know if you want to read on.

The Consequences of Children’s Literature

My passion for stroies started earlyHere’s another story from a “Making History” class participant. We were discussing arts and entertainment in the 1940s, and she wrote about reading Little Toot by Hardie Gramatky, a 1939 classic children’s book about a courageous little tugboat, to her four year old son. It became his favorite book, and he demanded that she read it nearly every night for over a year. “I guess it’s true that literature has great power,” she said, “because he was fascinated by boats from then on. In fact he made them his life’s work – he’s now the captain of a ferry boat.”

As you can see from the photo on this page, my mom read to me, too. The Poky Little Puppy, which is about a puppy who learns how and when to dig holes under fences, did not have as dramatic an effect on me. Or did it? I do like to dig holes under the fences too, only they are metaphorical holes and fences. What’s behind those fences people erect to keep others from finding out the truths they’d rather keep hidden? I know how to dig the right holes … Ghostwriters are like that.

What did your Mom or Dad read to you when you were young? How did that book affect you? Or … what are you reading to your children or grandchildren right now? Leave a comment and share.

The Little Toot story and many more are in my book “Making History: how to remember, record, interpret & share the events of your life”, based on the classes I’ve been teaching since 2000. Memoir writers, biographers, historians, genealogists, fiction writers, and more, have found this book extremely useful to bring color and life to their books and family histories. Check out sample chapters and reviews on my website. Or buy the book here.

An Alternative History of Margarine

Creamy Oleo in a TubWhen I teach my class “Making History” I tell the participants that nothing is too trivial to make a good story and show the flavor of an era. For instance, here’s a story shared by a participant during a discussion of food in the wartime 1940s.

“Margarine was white and looked like a lump of lard,” she said. “It came with a yellow color capsule that you broke into it, to make it look like butter. It was one of my jobs to stir the yellow into the margarine. I hated this job because my older brother told me an elaborate and dirty story about that yellow capsule. He said the margarine factories paid their workers to go to the bathroom in special jars, which they filled the capsules from. It saved money, said my brother, and it was their patriotic duty to go to the bathroom to make margarine capsules. I was only seven, and my brother was ten, so I believed this ridiculous story. I believed it even when my mother told me he was lying. (He got in trouble for it, too.) Every time I had to stir in the color I felt sick to my stomach, and I certainly never ate any margarine. Even today I prefer butter. There are some things worse than fat.”

This story and many more are in my book “Making History: how to remember, record, interpret & share the events of your life”, based on the classes I’ve been teaching since 2000. Memoir writers, biographers, historians, genealogists, fiction writers, and more, have found this book extremely useful to bring color and life to their books. Check out sample chapters and reviews on my website.  Or buy the book here: Making History on Amazon.

And share your own stories (leave a comment here, for instance). What foods did you hate as a child? Why? How do you feel about them today?

Long Hair

Grey Hair Texture For Background

Here is another story from my past that I shared in my recent class “Making History.” This one is from the seventies.

My Long Hair

I remember when I cut off my long hair. It was 1973, after my first child was born, and I felt that I needed to look more maternal. I was pretty young then, and I felt totally unqualified for my new role. How could I remain my radical hippie self, prone to political tirades and singing Country Joe & The Fish or Jimi Hendrix songs with gusto, when I had to change diapers and rock my baby to sleep to “You Are My Sunshine” instead of “Purple Haze”?

So I cut my hair short, close to my ears, and I used curlers and wore bangs. I traded in my John Lennon style granny glasses for more conservative ones with black frames. I bought a pink suit and a paisley blouse and went to church with my mother.

This phase lasted about a year, until my daughter began to sleep regularly and talk in two-word sentences. Unfortunately this was long enough for photographs to be taken, which still exist even though I ripped them out of the photo albums and stuck them in a box now labeled “old pics” and hidden in the hallway closet.

I guess I felt I had to become my mother in order to be one. I’m glad I found out this was not true.

Today my hair has gray streaks, but it is long.

Do you have a story about your hair? Please share!

Impetuosity

Wedding Day portrait0001March 20th will soon be here. This date has significance in my family because it was the day my parents got married. As you can see from the photo, their wedding was not a typical one of tuxedos, veils, and bridesmaids. This is because theirs was an impetuous affair, hurriedly arranged. It’s always been one of my favorite stories about my parents, so I’m going to share it here. I hope you enjoy it too.

My parents met when my father Armond was in the CCCs in 1938, and my mother Lois was in high school in a tiny mountain town north of Seattle. They were not romantically involved at the time. Armond was focused on getting into college, and had little time for girls. Lois was interested in Armond, but accepted that she had no chance with him. But she made sure she got accepted into the same college he did, in 1939.

But in 1940 Armond was drafted into the Army, and Lois quit college to get a job in Olympia, the state Capitol south of Seattle. They remained just friends. Although Armond and his army buddies would often come down from Fort Lewis and take Lois and her friends out dancing, this was the extent of their “dating.” Times were uncertain, and Armond felt it would be unfair to get serious with anyone until he got out of the army. Lois was disappointed because she still harbored a secret crush on Armond, but managed to get over her disappointment. It wasn’t like there weren’t plenty of other soldier boys to date. When Armond left for San Francisco and then overseas in late 1941, the extent of their intimacy was a kiss on the cheek.

While Armond was fighting, Lois did volunteer war work and then joined the Marines in 1942 (a story in itself). They kept up their friendship via letters. (We have many of these letters, because they saved them.) The letters do reveal a growing level of romantic interest on Armond’s part, although it was hinted at only, never overt. For her part, Lois kept her letters to him friendly, although in her letters to her mother she did reveal that she was conflicted over her feelings for Armond and her feelings for the other boys she dated, especially one named Bob, who like her was stationed in Philadelphia. Bob had asked her to marry him more than once, but she hesitated. She wasn’t sure if she was reading too much into Armond’s hints in his letters – was it possible that he felt the same way about her as she did about him? Maybe she should pass up Bob, although she was very fond of him. Or maybe she should accept Bob’s proposal and give up on a man who kept her guessing about his feelings. And of course there was the uncertainty of War. No one knew what would happen.

Then Armond was wounded in July of 1943. At first no one expected him to survive. When he did come back home in early 1944, she was stationed in Philadelphia, and could not visit him in the hospital in Spokane. She was still dating Bob, who was a persistent fellow and kept asking her to marry him. Lois did not know how badly Armond was wounded, and he was unsure if he would remain disabled and unfit for marriage. Their letters reflect their mutual confusion over the relationship and where it might go, or even if they would ever see each other again. After all they had not seen each other since 1941, and they had never been romantically involved anyway. How could they know if a romantic relationship would work?

In March 1944 Lois got leave to go home to visit her parents. Armond was still in the army hospital in Spokane. She wrote to him and told him the train stopped for two hours in Spokane; perhaps they could meet at the train station, just to say hello for old times’ sake. He applied for a half-day leave from the army, which was granted. But there was a mix-up on which platform her train arrived at, so he waited at the wrong platform, and although she went looking for him, she didn’t find him on time and had to rush back to catch her train. So they missed each other. Lois wondered if it was an omen.

Lois arrived in Seattle on Thursday March 16, 1944. Her parents met her and they drove home to the tiny town in the mountains, Darrington. On Friday, Armond went A.W.O.L. from the army, borrowed his sister’s car, and drove over the mountains, arriving in Darrington that afternoon. Lois was stunned to see him. They went for a walk by the Sauk River and he proposed marriage. She accepted. (Let’s hope they finally got to kiss.)

That same afternoon Armond and Lois borrowed her mother’s car and drove to Seattle to obtain the marriage license. Although long distance was expensive, there was no time to waste, so when they got back to Darrington Lois called her friend Lela in Olympia, and Lela got hold of the minister of the church she and Lois had attended there, who agreed to marry them on Monday. Armond called his 16 year old brother Gaylord in Spokane and told him he’d pay for his train ticket so one of his brothers could be his best man. Armond and his future father-in-law met Gaylord at the train station on Saturday and rushed to the store to buy Gaylord a suit. Everyone met in Olympia on Monday and Lois and Armond were married.

On Wednesday Lois took the train back to Philadelphia and Armond went back to the hospital in Spokane, where he was not punished for going AWOL. After not seeing each other for three years, and having never had a true romantic relationship, they started their married life by having less than a week together. It wasn’t until that summer that Armond was discharged from the army and joined Lois in Philadelphia.

I would call this impetuous. Yet they were married for 65 years.

Sharing History: Remember to Not Forget

1367007044Galeano-Children_of_webI love history. But it is sometimes difficult if not impossible to live with. So much cruelty, so many stupidities, so much greed, such indifference to suffering. The big stories that everyone knows, and the small stories that have been forgotten; equally important and equally discounted as “over.” Are they ever over? What can we do about the past today? How can we, who were not involved in the evils of the past, make sense of it, or make amends? Should we? Can we? Perhaps all we can do is remember.

This is why I love the books of Eduardo Galeano. If you have not yet read his latest book Children of the Days: a Calendar of Human History you are missing something magical, infuriating, inspiring, and activating.

Each day he gives us the truth of a story that was buried by the powers that were and that now the world has forgotten, but which should be remembered. Yesterday’s (November 19th) entry is about Joe Hill, the songwriter and agitator for workers’ rights, who was executed by firing squad this day in 1915 in Salt Lake City.

Don’t forget to remember the truth, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Galeano shows us why this is important.

Sharing History: Making History in the 90s

Making history trimmedI’m still working on my sequel to Making History by adding the 1990s, a busy decade. I’m looking for stories, so I hope you will share yours. This week I was writing about the changes in food during the 90s – yes, food changes over time. In the 90s the food business put a lot of emphasis into “healthy” products aimed at capturing a more health-conscious public. For one thing, that enormous generation of baby-boomers were now in their forties and fifties and had discovered that their health was not guaranteed to last forever. (There is a difference between knowing this in your head and experiencing it in your body – I’m speaking from personal experience.) So here are some of the new products introduced during the 1990s that were advertised as “healthy.” Do you remember any of these? Did you eat them, or feed them to your children?

  • Campbells introduces Cream of Broccoli soup
  • McDonald’s introduces McLean Deluxe, a low-fat burger (this was a flop)
  • Crisco offers Crisco Sticks (so you wouldn’t use too much?)
  • Life Savers starts marketing the holes (because they’re smaller therefore less sugar?)
  • Snackwell introduces low-fat cookies
  • Louis Rich offers Turkey Bacon
  • Lay’s advertises baked potato chips (not fried)
  • Dunkin’ Donuts begins making bagels
  • Pringles offers fat-free Pringles
  • Frito-Lay offers potato chips with Olean
  • and don’t forget Tofurkey, born in 1995

Everyone has stories about food, what’s yours?