What do you live for?

Toward the end of the novel I just finished, Clock Dance, by Anne Tyler, the character, Ben, poses this question to the main character, Willa. Though Willa doesn’t answer directly or immediately, I thought it was an excellent question, for everyone, not just that character.

Therefore, I pose this question to my readers: What do you live for? I expect no answers, but I thought it a pertinent question to ponder on this lovely August afternoon.

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Regrets??

Frank Sinatra used to croon a song titled My Way. One of the memorable lines in the song is: ‘Regrets, I have a few, but then again, too few too mention.’ And I always think, yeah, that’s about right. Most people I know who are lucky enough to be part and parcel of the American middle class are pretty comfortable. We might change a thing or two about our lives, but I think for most of us there are only a few things we might do a different way, should we be given that chance.

But every once in a while I hear someone say I have absolutely no regrets. I find that astonishing. I also call bullshit. No regrets whatsoever? If you have a conscience at all, you have regrets, don’t you? If you’re honest about all your mistakes, both small and large, then you have some regrets, right? Or even if you face the facts about how things in your life didn’t turn out quite the way you imagined they would. I regret telling a fib the other day, which I justified to myself because I didn’t want to hurt a friend’s feelings. I should have just told the truth. But I was a coward.

The other day, I celebrated my birthday, number 68 for me. I have trouble with birthdays. For some reason I usually feel restless around my birthdays, and I have a tendency to reflect on my regrets. They may have been few, but when the time came to begin another trip around the sun, sometimes I got stuck on the regrets.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I feel very fortunate and grateful to have lived 68 years with my body and psyche still in fairly serviceable shape. And I’m at peace with most of the choices I’ve made in my life; those choices the cobblestones, hard, sometimes uneven, and occasionally broken, that have paved my destiny.

Gratitude and peace, the gratitude and peace I feel sitting out back watching the birds flitter and my garden grow, even if it’s a little weedier than I’d prefer, while Yogi lies at my feet, on his best behavior for one tiny bite of whatever I’m eating. I know that gratitude and peace are slippery things. Daily life and the resulting chaos and noise barge in to our little zones of comfort. The little earthquakes of life when I had a young family have now been replaced by other little earthquakes, the bugs and critters eating the garden produce before I can pick them, (those goddamn raccoons got my sweet corn AGAIN!), the clogged-up drains, broken washing machines, pesky pond weeds, a barn in need of attention, all remind me that any feeling, maybe particularly happiness, peace, and gratitude are never allowed to just be for too long.

I think the restlessness around my birthdays has something to do with the fact the older I get, the more I realize how fleeting time and happiness really are. It feels harder and harder to hold onto both. Plus, sometimes, for whatever reason, I don’t always feel like I’ve earned my life. I just reread that sentence, and I realize it probably doesn’t make much sense to anyone but me. But it is what it is.

Those silly regrets often nagged me on birthdays, but not this year. This year I decreed my birthday as a day for peace and pardon and absolution. I refused to be aggravated, even though there were a couple of reasons to do so (the complete and utter disaster of the new birthday cake recipe I tried, for one), and found comfort in the beauty of the day, the gentleness and love surrounding me. So today, three days past my birthday, after I gave up and surrendered to the raccoons and used a machete to hack down the remains of the devastated sweet corn, I baked myself another birthday cake, my old tried-and-true recipe from 1951, the “Starlight Double Delight Chocolate-Peppermint Cake.” Happy birthday to me….

Back to North Main Street

A couple of days ago I went back to my hometown to visit my cousin, who’s recovering from surgery. She and her husband live a few miles outside town. Afterward, I figured I’d drive around a bit, since I hadn’t done that for several years. So I took vegetables from my garden, a casserole, biscuits, homemade jam, and a few other items, and headed that way. Although there had only been a half inch of rain overnight, the creek at the edge of town was full and threatening to spill over its banks, like it often did when I lived there. My cousins and I talked, laughed, caught up on our families, and enjoyed each other’s company. They gave me a big bag full of mysteries, their favorite genre, to read. While we were talking about books, my cousin mentioned the title of the book she had finished the day before, Where the Crawdads Sing, which I had also just read. And we both hated the ending! We laughed, and remarked about great minds thinking alike.

She was tired after a few hours, so I bid my adieu with hugs all around, and headed back to town. On Facebook a few weeks ago, someone posted a video made by a young man whose father claimed my hometown as his, too. The video, taken by a drone, offered a brief, birds’ eye view of my childhood town. I enjoyed it, though I wondered why there was footage of ‘the hill’, the south end of town, the square, churches, railroad, and some of the farm and swampland surrounding it, but nothing from the north side of town, where I grew up.

I began my tour with a slow drive around the cemetery at the top of the hill, where many of my family members are buried. I walked around, then weeded and cleaned up debris around my family’s graves, thinking about my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who are buried there. I blotted a tear or two while memories tumbled over and over in my mind. Then I continued my tour.

Beside the cemetery is the old high school, flanked on the other side by my elementary school. The elementary school was pretty new when I attended, and it clearly had had some additions, but it still appeared to be weathering the years well. Past the elementary school, ‘the hill’ had many lovely homes, more than when Mom and Dad lived there. They sold the house where I grew up and moved up to Allison Avenue in 1978. I drove past that house, their dream house, the beautiful home they both treasured, and lost when the bank, of which Dad was once a board member, foreclosed on his business and their house, all thanks to a close family member.

The brick house where my aunt and uncle lived, the original ‘house on the hill’, looked to have weathered the years well. It had been enlarged, with a new porch replacing the tiny one that used to front the house. My uncle’s prized rose garden, which held more than 120 varieties when I was a child, was gone. Those roses required a lot of care and time, so I imagine the new owner long ago gave up and plowed them under.

Driving down the hill, past my old church, the First Church of Christ, at the bottom of the hill, I turned left to see that part of town. The south side of town was still picturesque, and reminded me of a classic small town, on lots with decent sized trees, complete with neatly mowed yards, and flowers flourishing around most of the houses; all places with families living and caring for them. A few houses even had those used-to-be-requisite picket fences.

The town square was home to a mixture of small businesses: including a restaurant, some sort of sporting goods store, a hardware store, and a drug store, along with a small museum, the VFW, and the post office. There was still a gas station on the corner. The bank, sedate and secure-looking with its façade of Briar Hill stone, was still located on Main Street beside the gas station. I parked and made a quick stop into the local grocery across the street from the bank. Some of my FB friends occasionally post some of the store’s specials, and I figured out from the postings that the store was struggling to stay open. But, what an eye-opener inside; it looked like the photos on television of store shelves right before a hurricane, or a store in a third world country. The shelves were mostly empty. Four packages of ice cream were the only inhabitants of the large ice cream freezer. Random other shelves held a half- dozen boxes of jello, five loaves of bread, and a produce section that I can only describe as sad. I bought my water and told the cashier to keep the change.

I got back in the car and turned the corner to Railroad Street, to drive past the buildings where my Dad had his business. He worked there for 55 years. He bought a portion of the business after my uncle died, and owned it for eighteen years before his death in 1989. I fought back tears as I drove past. He was so proud of that business. Everything was always kept neat and painted, a place for everything and everything in its place. On Wednesday, the weeds in the empty lot next to two of the buildings, where Dad stored some of the used farm equipment he had for sale, were taller than the building on the left. That building now houses some kind of auction business; thriving apparently it was not. A man wearing a wife-beater and dirty jeans sat on the step outside the auction house, idly smoking a cigarette. Another man wearing a white t-shirt and faded, gray carpenter pants came out of the door, inching his way around the smoking guy, trying not to spill the large, overfilled trash bag he was carrying. After he finished his task, by dumping the bag on the ground next to smoking man, he looked up and I found myself staring at him. He was five ten or so, with several days’ growth of beard. I nodded at him, and at the other fellow, who had looked toward me by then as well, and kept driving, albeit slowly. The building right beside it was for sale with a phone number taped to the front door. Both buildings apparently have not had much care for years. The paint was peeling, and the windows so filthy that I could not even have peered inside; though I imagine doing so could have been even more frightening. I kept thinking of a line in aTodd Snider song: “Stuck between hope and doubt, it’s too much to think about.”

I circled back to Main Street and headed north. Across from the Methodist Church, an old lady sat on her porch, knitting. One of several cats with her on the porch jumped on her lap as I drove past. She responded by shooing it off and waving her cane wildly in the air to emphasize her point. The cats scattered; then placidly resettled themselves. Just north of the church the landscape began to change. At first it was just that the houses did not seem to have been cared for with the kindness given to the houses south of the square. But each block brought more weeds and neglected houses. My grandmother’s house, the last house on the west side of Main Street, and across the street from ours, didn’t look too bad. The paint was peeling a bit, and the yard could have used a mowing, but flowers still flowed from baskets hung across the front porch, just like when my grandma lived there. Along the north side of the porch, blue morning glories still climbed the trellis, also like when my grandma lived there. The brick house directly across the street from Grandma’s had deteriorated substantially. The roof was crudely patched in a few places, some of the bricks were missing, and the yard was filled with children’s plastic toys and trash. Directly across the little side street, which never had a name, was the house I grew up in on North Main Street.

I cried. It was much worse than I anticipated, so much more dilapidated than the last time I saw it a few years ago. The beige house with sagging, mud-brown shutters, situated at the side of the double lot, had a scruffy yard that looked as though it hadn’t been mowed for weeks. The house was rundown and completely unremarkable. Compared to the well-kept, homey places on the south side of town, I thought it looked lonely, made worse by the five rusted-out vehicles sitting in the driveway and in the yard.

The garage, which at one time was a small barn that occupied a corner of the original farm back in the late 1800s, was in poor shape. The windows on the bottom floor were boarded up with weathered plywood. The sole window in the attic no longer held any glass. How many times did I sit up there reading? It was one of my secret hiding places. I used to hustle up there during my sibling’s unhinged rages, to escape the shouting. The paint had peeled on the garage, revealing a half-brown, half dark-green exterior. How many times did I repaint it during the summers? The garage doors were bolted shut, but it looked as if they could never be opened anyway. They were partially buckling, and the bottom of the doors seemed to have some sort of green mildew or mold making a slow crawl up the rotting boards. The side of the garage, facing the alley, still held our basketball backboard, minus rim and net. I thought about the hours I spent standing out there attempting to shoot baskets. For some reason, I thought of the day after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It was a raw November day and I remember spending part of the afternoon standing out there, feeling sad, thinking about our country and our loss, and shooting baskets. Weirdly, I can still remember how silent the neighborhood was, and how that ball sounded that cold, dreary day, the different sounds the ball made bouncing on the little pad of blacktop, against the backboard, and the wall.

I was always proud of the fact that we lived on a double lot. We always had room for the neighborhood baseball, football, and badminton games. But a couple days ago, that double lot did not seem nearly so expansive. The garden Mom tended to so lovingly was only a rough patch of weedy grass. I suspected it hadn’t been a garden for years. The swing was long gone from the sagging front porch. The flat rocks that I gathered the summer I was ten, and carefully placed in just the right spots under the large pine tree that stands sentinel beside the front porch, so that I could have a place to sit under that tree, were surprisingly still there, no longer neatly stacked, but scattered and tumbling every which way. Behind that tree at the side of the house away from the side street, was a privacy fence, in roughly the same condition and color as the shutters. I found myself wondering why they needed that bedraggled-looking privacy fence. Were the neighbors that nosy?

I drove around the block slowly several more times. Memories of my life in that house came flooding back. My parents got married in 1934 and that house was my grandparents’ wedding gift to them. My Mom’s parents bought each of their three daughters a house when they got married. I always thought, then and now, what a gift! A house!

My parents added the family room, a bathroom, and closet at the front of the house before I was born. The family room was paneled in varnished pine, all the rage in the 1950’s. The closet was lined in cedar and I remember it always smelled like mothballs. It was where we kept our out-of-season clothes and Dad’s rifles and guns. He hunted when he was young, but after he came home from the war he never hunted again. So his guns were stored at the back of that closet. The only time he ever took out a rifle or two was when he used to take me or my brother out somewhere in the country to shoot empty aerosol paint cans. I know, I know, that’s a terrible, extremely non-ecological thing to do, and I would never do it today. But it sure was fun spending the time shooting with my Dad in 1959.

In the kitchen of that house Mom and I baked scads of chocolate chip cookies. We danced together to my records in the family room and we talked about everything. Dad and I spent hours in the living room talking about politics.

During my slow circles around that block I kept thinking about my life in that house when I was a child. I remembered the pocket doors between two of the rooms downstairs and how fascinated I was by those doors. The doors just went into the wall! I thought about the first step right above the landing going up the stairs that you had to avoid if you were trying to listen to discussions downstairs. My brother’s room was at the top of the stairs. I always avoided it at all costs. Mom and Dad’s room was the first door on the right. We didn’t have any heat upstairs and they always kept that door closed. That room was freezing in the winter. But Dad liked it that way, said he slept better, snuggled under his electric blanket. My room was at the other end of the short hall. It looked out over the front yard. I could look out at what I referred to as my tree-house, a few boards nailed together and tacked onto a large low-hanging limb of the tree beside the garage. I could look out at the garden, Mom’s flowers, my swing-set, and the concrete link-log fireplace, composed of aggregate cement, and painted a dull, matte red. It went together just like Lincoln Logs and I remember how excited Dad was when we got it, though Mom wasn’t. She couldn’t understand why anyone would want to cook outside if they didn’t have to. It didn’t get used often, though occasionally Dad and I would grill a few hamburgers or toast some marshmallows.

I thought about sticky summer evenings spent catching lightning bugs and playing flashlight tag with the neighbors. I remembered chasing my little dog, Dottie, around and around that house. I chased her and she chased me until one or both of us were too tired to continue our game. I thought about the summer I graduated high school, 1969, and the great flood that July. I thought about spending the remainder of that summer sleeping on an air mattress in the sun room of my aunt and uncle’s house, and working at my uncle’s business, cleaning hundreds and hundreds of muddy machine parts.

That house has not been my house for fifty years now, and Wednesday it seemed the sort of place where the future could never be better than a weak recycling of the past. I had seen enough. It was time to go back to Skinner Road, to the home and life I have today. The ache that began pulling at my head when I started my little tour had progressed to a dull pounding. Stopping before I turned onto the bridge to head out of town, I reached into my purse to search for something to ease the pain, but all I came up with were two baby aspirins stuck together at the bottom of the bottle. I figured those aspirins would be like throwing a fistful of sand into a passing wave, but since it was all I had, I gulped them down with a sip of water.

I enjoyed growing up in my hometown, population around 800 in the 50’s and 60’s. I loved my hiding places: in the attic of the garage, under the bridge that crossed the creek, and my very favorite, up on the hill where my aunt and uncle lived. There was a spot up there, behind their garage, a fold nestled between two hills, where the meadow grass grew tall, and I spent many a lazy summer day of my childhood reading, staring at the clouds, and daydreaming. I loved school and most of my teachers, all my friends and classmates. I loved sledding down my uncle and aunt’s hill, the best in town, which nobody but me and my brother were ever supposed to use, but we all did. I loved going to the movie theater, and then running home in the dark with my friend Loretta after we saw a scary one. I loved small-town trick-or-treating, going to Brownie meetings, and playing with my Barbie dolls and my dog. I loved spending cold winter days drawing detailed pictures of buildings during my I-want-to-be-an-architect-when-I-grow-up phase. I loved going to the bookmobile once a week during the summer, and reading everything I could get my hands on. I remember 4-H, Church Camp, and piano lessons, though none of them fondly, and I recall the joy of playing my trumpet for hours. Years later my Mom would say that for awhile, she never thought I would get any better, though was so relieved when I finally did because I was pretty horrible and the sounds were painful to hear for quite some time. Though she never, ever said anything negative at the time. My parents were the best; kind, loving, and always supportive.

There is a well-known saying that ‘you can’t go home again.’ And that’s sure true, especially when the home you wistfully remember no longer exists, though I know for certain that once upon a time, it did.

Milestones

Milestones – we all have them. 16th, 18th, and 21st birthdays are memorable ones, followed far too quickly by celebrations for 30, 40, and so on. Anniversaries are big too. 1st, 10th, 25th… if you’re lucky they just keep coming. A milestone that nearly everyone looks forward to: retirement. When that day finally arrives, if you’ve acquired a comfortable stash of cash you likely have plenty of ideas how you intend to spend it. But if you’re like many new retirees without comfortable cash reserves, you realize that that you will need to budget to stay within the realms if your pension, and dip into savings for ‘emergencies’ only. The monthly treat of going out to dinner with friends is downgraded into once-a-month coffees. But that’s okay. After all, you don’t have to go to work anymore.

The first year of retirement is amazing. You get to enjoy, really enjoy every single season. You pay particular attention as summer passes into those autumn days you have always loved, with the golden and red maples all around. You’re excited about the first snow flakes and revel in the silence of a snowy, winter’s day. You’re downright gleeful as spring greens right before your eyes, and the earth bursts into bloom, as if one could ever forget that spring follows winter. You sit outside on a sunny summer’s day with a book and a cool drink, and allow yourself the simple luxury of stretching tight muscles and letting the sun warm your face. And all that year there is that delicious thrill of no more rushing to be anywhere you don’t really want to be. You have no constraints; you can come and go as you please. Oh, sometime near the holidays, you might feel a little melancholy. You wonder about how everyone is getting along without you; you wonder about what is happening and feel a little strange about not knowing what’s going on. You may even miss those god-awful meetings. If a winter day arrives and you’re feeling a little low, you might wonder, however briefly, if everyone else in the whole world is having a good day doing whatever it is they are doing. You know that not all of them are having great days, but still….

After a year or so, you settle in to retirement. You do nothing that you don’t want to do; you never rush. You sip your morning coffee on the patio; walk your dog down the road, enjoying the countryside, hike new trails and old. You occasionally see a friend or friends for coffee. How quickly now, in retirement, the days slip away, a handful at a time, with you barely noticing them. The days fall into a predictable, but pleasant rhythm. Your children and grandchildren seem busier than ever, busy, busy, busy, and everyone, everyone envies you not working. Hmm, if only they knew. Nevertheless, you’re content and life is good.

Maybe you, like me, are mostly a half-full kind of person. The heck with that half-empty crap, you always think positive. But you’re facing a birthday or perhaps even a big high school reunion, say your 50th, dead ahead, and suddenly you feel rather sad. You look at photos of the people organizing that reunion and you realize that they are all old… and you really didn’t think you felt or looked that old, until you saw them. So you begin to wonder how people really perceive you. Does the world see the image you have cultivated, whether it is true or not?

And then, for some reason you can’t put a finger on, time feels like it’s running on low, like a gas tank hovering somewhere between a quarter-of-a-tank and the E. Me? Who once considered (very briefly) having Carpe Diem tattooed on my butt. Oh the irony. Me? The one that talks about living in the moment and mindfulness… Yes, that me. I fervently hope this melancholic feeling is fleeting.

Maybe it’s just my birthday later this month. I’ve never been a birthday-bash type person, which many people just don’t get. How could anyone not love birthdays? This one isn’t a milestone, but it still feels daunting. I’m pretty sure it’s because of the reunion on the horizon in September, that big 50 milestone. Fifty years ago, I graduated high school.

In addition, fifty years ago, this past July 4, my little hometown was devastated by a flood. I’d graduated high school, so I was supposed to be an adult, but I didn’t feel like an adult until that flood. It changed my parents’ lives, and it changed mine, not the least of which was forcing me to decide not to attend my first choice college, and instead attend a public university that was more affordable for me and my parents. The summer of 1969 is indelibly etched into my memory, more than any other.

I turned eighteen the summer of 1969. Later this month I’ll be turning 68. People often say that they don’t know where the years went. I know where they all went. I lived them, and I remember them all: the good, bad, happy, sad, indifferent, and frustrating. It’s just that I can’t believe that fifty of them really have passed. If I ask myself, “How did I get here?” I know the answer. It’s just that sometimes reality leaves me feeling adrift.

Okay, enough of this. I only allow myself the occasional bout of feeling sorry for myself. So I plan to work outside a little more, shower, watch the All-Star game, hopefully sleep well, and wake in the morning to birdsong, sunshine, and a clearer mind. Therefore, my body and soul are in dire need of music. So I’m heading to my Spotify playlist. I think I’ll begin with K.T. Tunstall’s version of “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”

Well, what do you think????

Sleep

When I was a kid I slept like a rock. I played, or went to school and came home and played. By bedtime I was ready to go to sleep, even if I didn’t want to go to bed. And I slept, usually all night, with the exception of an occasional bad dream.

When I was growing up, I remember how my grandmother often talked about the difficulty of sleeping. She often claimed “not to have slept a wink all night”. If my Mom or anyone else questioned her, she might say that she had slept “an hour at the most.” I would never have challenged my grandmother’s veracity, but I was skeptical. How could it be difficult to sleep? Why didn’t she just close her eyes and go to sleep? That always worked for me.

After I grew up and became a mom, I learned to sleep like a cat. I was a stay-at-home mom for ten years and I didn’t want the kids to wake Todd because he was the one who had to get up and go to work. Consequently, I was the one who got up with the kids when they were young, jumped up and raced to nurse, soothe, rock, or walk their discomforts away. Things got better when the kids grew older, of course, and I slept better for a number of years, though I never again slept the way I did when I was a child. 

Nowadays, in my late 60’s, I often can’t go to or stay asleep. I toss and turn for a long time, but eventually I go to sleep. However, more and more in the past few years, I suddenly wake after a few hours, and I just cannot go back to sleep. Now I remember my grandmother’s words, and I understand what she was talking about. It is only seven in the morning, but it feels more like noon. I’ve been up since three, again. I have tried reading, writing, and channel-surfing. For a time I drank chamomile tea until I realized I was allergic to it. Then I switched to drinking warm milk with cinnamon and vanilla. I’m not allergic to warm milk, but it usually doesn’t help either.

I woke my husband often in the early days of my insomnia, but I have since become pretty practiced in the art of silence. I have figured out how to avoid the creaky, groaning spots in our floors. When I accidentally woke him he would encourage me to just clear my mind, close my eyes, and sleep. But it never quite seemed to work for me. Unfortunately, in the last few months, he too has developed insomnia. These days it often seems like if I not having trouble sleeping, he is. There has been no need to sleep like a cat for many years, but I can’t seem to shake the habit. I can’t remember the last time I slept like a rock. Oh, REM sleep, where art thou?

The quote that comes to mind is Hamlet’s: “…to sleep –to sleep, perchance to dream….” But the heck with dreaming. I just want to sleep all night. Maybe tonight….

Another senseless shooting

It’s happened again. This time it is not here in the United States, but in far-away New Zealand. The alleged shooter posted an 87-page White Supremacist Manifesto, filled with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments. One report I read stated that he considered Donald Trump a hero. I don’t know whether or not that is true, but sadly, it would not surprise me. 

This morning I saw no calls for “thoughts and prayers” in my Facebook feed. Many of the people I attended elementary school, junior high, and high school with almost always post such sentiments when white people are the victims. I had stopped ‘following’ many of these ‘friends’ anyway, though I occasionally checked their posts to see if they ever had anything to say of merit. The reason I stopped ‘following’ them is simply that they more and more often posted memes about being ‘Proud to be White’, ‘Proud to be Christian’, and suggesting in no uncertain terms that these memes should be shared to prove one’s Christianity or whiteness. One woman, a childhood playmate who grew up two blocks down the street from me, posted this morning that God was punishing the Muslims who were murdered yesterday because they insisted on worshipping “a false God and the wrong religion”. So I dropped her and more than a couple dozen ‘friends’. I knew they weren’t really friends at all, but I used to enjoy catching up on how their lives were going. 

 Reading the posts of these far-right conservative acquaintances on Facebook makes me think of a tribunal of the flat-earth society, getting ready to roast the uppity astronomer who had the nerve to suggest that the Earth might not actually be flat. I keep asking myself: Were the majority of the people I attended school with always this small-minded? If so, how could I not have noticed? Was it simply because I was naive and young? Or was I just too busy racing across the stage of my life, madly whirling and twirling, bowing to any and everyone, always trying to please everyone but myself, that I wasn’t really paying attention to what my friends were thinking about people whose skin wasn’t white like ours, or whose religion wasn’t the same as ours? And they all love Trump.

Sometimes I wonder if maybe life is all half-lies and half-truths, and maybe wisdom is simply the ability to recognize the difference. If so, perhaps I am finally on the way to wisdom, although I fear it might still be quite some time before I arrive. In the meantime I am fraught with confusion as to why anyone could possibly continue to support Donald J. Trump.

Moving On

I’ve always enjoyed writing stories. I guess that’s pretty obvious since I have a blog. Once upon a time I was an English major, so it helped that I liked to write. While English was the subject I most loved, my second favorite subject has always been history, particularly American History. My interest in history hasn’t waned, but the longer I live, the more fascinated I’ve become with family history and genealogy. I’ve researched both sides of my family on Ancestry and Family Search, and I have learned volumes. Of course there are dead-ends, but I’m still finding clues, which fuels my desire to keep trying. 

Before I began my research I knew that my great-grandfather on my mother’s side, Jasper Brink, served with the Union Army during the Civil War. During the course of my research I learned that Jasper was part of the regiment, which was sent by then Ohio Governor Tod to quell a rebellion over Conscription in Holmes County, Ohio, in June of 1863. It was the only battle in Holmes County during the Civil War. Family rumor, most of it via my Dad and Uncle Fred, was always that my great-great-grandfather on their side, Sam Kinsey, was one of the leaders of the rebellion that day, and the fact that he had done so was cause for family pride in his leadership and, simultaneously, shame that he fought against the Union.

Armed with newly attained knowledge and an abundance of family stories, I decided to write a novel about that rebellion and its effect on my ancestors. A year and a couple of months into it, I thought I was finished. I asked one of my best friends, a retired history teacher, to read and critique it. She gave me an abundance of thoughtful, constructive criticism. A few months later, a literary agent, though she did not wish to represent me, generously took the time to make numerous suggestions to improve my manuscript. So I tore the book apart, added, subtracted, and rewrote it… rewrote some more, and so it continued.  

While I’ve continued to rewrite this book, which is actually my third one, I tried to work on other projects. I wrote a fourth book, and am about half-finished with a fifth one, but I’ve been stuck on that one for months. When I woke up Sunday morning I decided: enough already. It was time to put thing to bed, once and for all. So, four years to the day after I originally began, I declared myself finished with my historical novel, Fizzled. It’s time to move on.

Fizzled chronicles events leading to that Holmes County battle on June 17, 1863, between local Copperheads and Union troops. My story depicts the effects that this civil insurrection, and the war itself, had on two Civil War couples. Fizzled is narrated in alternating chapters by four characters: Jane Brink, who is forced to run their farm alone while her husband is at war; her husband, Jasper, a Union soldier who serves in one of the Ohio Regiments that is sent to restore order at that fort; Anna Kinsey, Jane’s best friend, who struggles with her conflicting feelings about Conscription and the war; and Anna’s husband, Samuel, a farmer, dreamer, and pacifist, who is persuaded to help lead the Anti-Conscription fight against the Union army that June day. This fight was later dubbed the Battle of Fort Fizzle, primarily because it ‘fizzled’ out after that one brief skirmish, hence the title.

I never met any of the people in my story. But the family anecdotes I grew up with and the stories I’ve learned researching them make me feel like I knew them. I have no photos of my great-great-grandparents, Sam and Anna Kinsey, who both emigrated from Switzerland. But I know that Sam was a dreamer who longed to travel and see the world, and was never happy being a farmer. Anna came to America alone as an eighteen year-old, with little except the rocking chair her parents gave her as a farewell gift. Unfortunately, I do not have any photos of them, but Anna’s rocking chair has a permanent spot in my family room, and Sam’s corner cupboard graces my living room. I do have a couple of photos of the Brink’s, natural-born Americans whose ancestors hailed from Sweden, Denmark, and England.

As I ended this novel that’s been part and parcel of my life these past four years, I glanced at a photo of the Brink’s on the porch of their farmhouse, the snaking branches of an overgrown bush creeping around the left side of the house. Jane’s thriving kitchen garden, next to the porch, fills the right side of the photo. The Brink’s were an impassive-looking pair, probably in their late sixties in the picture, her white hair pulled back into a low ponytail, without any attempt to pretty herself for a photograph. I was always told that she was proud to be a farm wife, and was not fancy or vain. In the photo Great-grandpa Jasper sits straight on a wooden bench with a newspaper on his lap, his bifocals perched on the end of his nose. Great-grandma Jane, to his left, nestled in a wooden rocker, is knitting.  Neither of them is smiling, though they don’t look unhappy either, but as if they were ready to get back to what they were doing as soon as the photographer finished.

Jasper’s hair, sticking out from his bowler hat, is curly and uncombed. His heavily creased face is adorned with an equally wild beard. The photo is black and white, obviously, so I can’t tell if his eyes are truly as green as I’ve always been told they were. He was quiet, my Grandma Loverta always said, though sometimes funny and always kind, a farmer who loved to fiddle and dance. Grandma said that her mom, Jane, was a strong woman who could cope with anything thrown her way. One of Jane’s rocking chairs, though not the one in that picture, graces my living room next to Sam’s cupboard. 

After I decided to officially declare Fizzled a wrap, my hope was that the writer’s block I seemed to be suffering would end. And, lo and behold, the past couple of days, the muse decided to come back and visit again. The words just flowed. Perhaps my conscious decision to end one project let my unconscious open up. My newest project is a historical mystery and I even figured out who I am going to have commit the crime. Oh, happy day. Sometimes it’s just time to move on.

I have not sold any books yet, and I realize that the odds are against me ever selling any of them, but I’m going to keep trying. And I’m going to keep researching and writing… because I’m not getting any younger, and I still have so many stories to tell.