Tag Archives: mom

Words Like Raindrops – Revisited

Nov 21, 2014

So I was sitting around yesterday having a really bad day, trying to recapture the feeling of something that would make me happy again. I was at work, and all around me I heard the sound of typing. Not only did it settle me, it reminded me of this blog post that I originally wrote more than three years ago. I thought I’d resurrect it today for you….

My mom, very little brother, and me

My mom, very little brother, and me

Last week in my blog about Goals, Guilt, and Writer’s Remorse I mentioned that I have a daily word count goal of 2000 words. To me that seems like a modest goal, but I had a few comments from people about how amazing it was that I could write that much in one day. I’ve been thinking a lot about that, trying to get a handle on what it is about words that allows some people to be more speedy or prolific than others. I’m sure there are a thousand different answers to that question, as many answers as there are writers, in fact. But one of the conclusions I came to involves an old fashioned skill that I was forced to learn in eight grade: typing.

To me the fascination of typing began in a deep, emotional part of my childhood. My Mom was a secretary. Old school secretary. She was also a single mother raising two kids without a lot of money. There were times when I had to hang out in her office until she could take me home or find someone to watch me. This was, of course, made a thousand times easier by the fact that she was the secretary of the elementary school that my brother and I attended. Hanging out in her office was what a bunch of kids did while waiting for their parents. I, of course, loved it. Most of all I loved and was fascinated by the sound of her typing.

My Mom typed like the wind. She typed like the rain. This was the mid-80s we’re talking about. She had one of those old electric typewriters with a ball of letters thing in it. The sharp drumming of words being struck onto paper at a thousand miles per hour filled me with a sense of peace and amazement in a world that was shifting under my feet. Sometimes I would stand where I could watch the letters spilling out through the raindrops of keystrokes just to see the miracle of words being created. As technology advanced she moved to a word processor and one of the old clicky keyboards, but somehow the magic continued. My Mom could produce words as fast as I could read them.

© Photocritical | Dreamstime.com

© Photocritical | Dreamstime.com

That was the key. I used to insist on writing all of my stories with pen in a notebook. My handwriting deteriorated the longer and faster I wrote, but I was convinced that it was the only way to keep the flow. Because I couldn’t type for beans. Well, eventually I reached the point where I knew that wasn’t going to cut it. I had to learn to type like my Mom. I had seriously old fashioned typing classes using manual typewriters that looked and smelled like they came from the 1960s when I was in eighth grade, but it wasn’t until I was in college really that I got serious about typing.

Mario taught me to type. I was working as a teacher’s aide in the special ed department of my old high school. We had a Mario typing program that we had the kids use when they had some free time. I took the discs home after school for a while and buckled down. The idea of the program was that you, as Mario, had to hit the right letters or numbers to defeat the bad mushrooms, or whatever they were, that came at you with increasing speed. At least I think that’s how it worked. I played that game for hours! And I got really good at hitting the right key without looking at the keyboard. I did not, however, learn to hit the right keys with the right fingers. To this day if a typing purist were to watch my hands while I type they would probably have a coronary. But it gets the job done.

I can now type at the speed of my thoughts. Well, maybe not that fast, but pretty close. Certainly far faster than I can write things out by hand. It comes in incredibly handy when I’m in the throes of a particularly deep scene. There are times when I start typing so fast, when the ideas and images and dialog are coming so fast, that I forget I’m even typing. I’m just creating. I also have Word set to auto-correct all of my typical stupid misspellings. So off I go, thoughts spilling out onto paper at miracle speed!

My Mom passed away ten years ago this last April after an eight year battle with breast cancer. I will never be able to type as fast as she could. But when I sit down at my computer with my relatively soft and quiet keyboard and really get going I can feel a hint of her and her rainstorm typing. The sound of my keys reminds me of her, just like the image in the mirror as I get older bears more and more of a resemblance to her. She didn’t live long enough to see my silly scribblings turn into pages and books that people actually want to buy. But I know that she’s proud of me nonetheless, sitting up in Heaven typing miracle words like raindrops.

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What I Learned About Love From Bill Cosby

Aug 30, 2013

BillWhen you think of Bill Cosby, you might very well think of Jell-O Pudding Pops or Fat Albert or Temple University (if you’re from Philly) or even some of the most hysterical comedy routines of the last quarter of the 20th century. I’m sure you think about The Cosby Show. That’s certainly what comes to my mind. But along with that, indeed, because of The Cosby Show, when I think of Bill Cosby, I think of love.

About a month ago, I was out to dinner with my brother and sister-in-law. Kristine mentioned that she had never watched The Cosby Show. Stewart and I immediately launched into “Oh, you HAVE to watch it” and “It’s so good!” and “It’s the best tv show that has ever been produced”. We went on to relate our favorite Cosby moments to each other across the table: the time that Denise tried to make the shirt for Theo, Bill Cosby’s explanation to Theo, using Monopoly money, of how much life costs when you’re a young person living on your own, Sondra singing mopey songs when she broke up with Elvin, the episode guest-starring Danny Kaye. We remembered so much, even though we hadn’t watched the show in more than a decade.

Well, thanks to Amazon, that has changed. I’ve been watching The Cosby Show again from the beginning, and I tell you, my heart has grown about five sizes.

Bill Cosby was not only funny, he had (has) a unique kind of integrity that I don’t see on tv so much these days. The Cosby Show was firmly about family and for families. Lots of shows on the air today are about families, but Cosby was different. The kids could have attitude, yes, but they were not consistently rotten, nor were they smarter than the parents. Cliff and Clair Huxtable were not always right, but they were always the Mom and Dad, with capital letters. The show taught values in a way that I don’t see on tv now. It wasn’t preachy, it was so, so funny. But the humor didn’t come from wild or wacky situations, it came from the little things that we have all experienced in our own families and therefore identify with.

The Cosby Show was a great show, but for me the lesson of love goes much deeper than that. Continue reading

The Comfort of Childish Things

Jun 19, 2012

Tomorrow is the birthday of someone who is very special to me.  He’s my oldest friend.  He knew me from the day that I was born.  He watched over me through my earliest years, was my shoulder to cry on all through my less than perfect childhood.  He moved with me several times, even lived in the dorm with me in college.  He has been the truest friend that a girl could ask for.

I’m talking, of course, about Bear Bear.

Bear Bear was a gift to my mom at my baby shower.  He was hand-made by a wonderful woman who was a friend of our family.  She made bears for so many children who were in her family or connected to her family.  Each one was unique.

Bear Bear is a polar bear.  I have it on good authority that he was fluffy and white at some point before I loved the fuzz out of him.  He came with a pair of blue farmer overalls, seeing as I am a Farmer and all.  That’s how I first knew he was a boy.  He used to have soft moleskin ears and feet, but I wore through that fabric a long, long time ago.

I used to feed Bear Bear Cheerios by stuffing them behind the black leather patch that is his nose.  I seem to remember that it bothered me that he didn’t really have a mouth.  I took good care of him though.  Bear Bear had his stuffing taken out and was thrown into the washing machine twice when I had lice in elementary school and once when I was older, although I can’t remember why I washed him that time.  He’s on his fourth batch of stuffing.

When I felt like I was too old to be sleeping with a teddy bear, I converted Bear Bear into a pillow.  I could get away with having him in my bed for at least another ten years using that strategy.  But then the fabric he was made of started wearing very, very thin.  I knew the time had come for him to be just a decoration on my bed.  And there he sits to this day, when I am almost 38.

There’s something about our favorite toy or stuffed animal from childhood that stays with us forever.  Those things are called “security” blankets and the like.  It’s such a wonderful thing to thin of an item of such innocence filling us with security.  They’re like a piece of our parents, our parents before we realized they were human beings with flaws, that we could hold onto when we were scared.  It’s amazing to think that such a simple object could work so powerfully on our piece of mind.

My brother Stewart had a blanket.  It was a Winnie-the-Pooh printed blanket that he called “Goggie”.

For the record, that is smaller than a dish towel

Stewart used to chew on Goggie.  He must have started chewing when he was teething.  Goggie originally had a satin border and was the size of a standard baby blanket.  That’s before the chewing started.

Over time Goggie shrank.  First the satin band came off.  Then the remaining edges grew ragged.  My mom cut off the ragged bits, but Stewart kept on loving and chewing.  Goggie went through several trimmings and grew more and more threadbare.  After a while you could barely see the Winnie-the-Pooh designs anymore.  But Mom would still find him tucked under Stewart’s pillow when she went to change the sheets on his bed.

Then came the day, I think Stewart was in high school, when Mom and I found Goggie in the trash.  Well let me tell you, we weren’t having any of that!  I fished Goggie out of the trash and handed him to Mom, who said, “I guess it’s not cool to have a Goggie anymore.”

I wonder if in Stewart’s mind the day he threw away Goggie was the day he became a man.  That must be the fundamental difference between men and women.  It would have broken my heart to get rid of Bear Bear, even into my 30s.  To this day if there was ever a fire in my apartment I would grab Bear Bear and the thumb drives that have everything I’ve ever written on them first.  Stewart willingly got rid of Goggie.  Maybe it was his declaration of independence.  Maybe by casting aside the innocent comforts of his past he was preparing to take life by the horns.

Psht!  Men!

I am a firm believer that we should all keep pieces of our innocence with us well into adulthood.  We might grow up, but we never outgrow the need to feel sheltered and protected.  In fact, the more adult I come the more I long to have someone as omnipotent as my mom was when I was a little girl to hold me and tell me everything would be alright.  Knowing that sometimes things are not alright is all the more reason to chew on your security blanket at night.

I still give Bear Bear a hug now and then when I really need it.  He understands.  He’s been my best friend since before I was born.  And Bear Bear is not alone.  I still have Goggie too.  It’ll make a great wedding present for his wife.

So how about you?  Did you have a cherished blanket or toy?  Do you still have it?

The Best Pick-Up Line Ever

Jun 15, 2012

I love stories of how people met.  There’s always something interesting in the chain of events that bring people together.  You never know how it’s going to turn out, but you can’t beat the story of how it all started.  They named an entire tv show after it: How I Met Your Mother.

Ironically enough, my favorite story of how two people met is the story of how my parents met.

It was Atlanta in the very early 1970s (probably ’71 or ’72?).  My mom was just about 30 and excited to be living in a big city.  She worked as a secretary at Rohm and Haas Chemical Company.  Mom always was very shy and sweet.  She was just so good in every sense of the word.  She was not the kind of girl who would approach a stranger or speak out.  She didn’t like to draw attention to herself.  I’m not like that.  I’m much more like my dad.

Dad worked for Champion Paper, in the same building as Mom.  He was just coming off of an unfortunate divorce.  His two sons, my half brothers, were living up in Ohio with my dad’s family after the stuff that went down with Dad’s first wife.  But Dad was always super charming and personable.  He was the kind of guy who would go out of his way for someone.  He did and still does like being the center of attention.  And he has no problem saying surprising things to strangers.

There was a small diner across the street from the building where my parents both worked.  As Dad tells the story, it was usually so crowded at lunch that you were lucky if you got a seat.  He had noticed Mom there before, noticed her in the building where they worked, and had wanted to meet her for a while.  But Mom was shy and she didn’t give him much of an opening.

One day at the busy, crowded diner it just so happened that Mom was sitting at the counter and there was an open seat next to her.  So of course Dad grabbed that seat.  He probably said a friendly hello to her, and she probably smiled shyly back.  And then disaster struck.

Mom was eating tomato soup.  For whatever reason, she dropped her spoon right on the front edge of the bowl.  In her attempt to pick it up she hit the lip of the bowl.  The entire thing went spilling all down her front.  Tomato soup everywhere!  Dad rushed to help her clean it up, as any gentleman would do.  He says that Mom was absolutely mortified.

So what did Dad do?  He smiled and said to Mom, “Looks like someone needs to take you out and teach you how to eat.  How ‘bout me?  How ‘bout Friday night?”

And Mom said … no.

Yep, she turned down a line like that.  But that didn’t stop my dad.  The ice was broken and he had his foot in the door.  He continued to talk to her in the halls at work whenever he saw her and sit near her at lunch whenever he could.  He kept asking and asking … until she eventually said yes.  They had their first date at a revolving restaurant in downtown Atlanta.  I was once driving through the city with my dad and he pointed it out to me.

Of course, the story doesn’t end there.  Dad being Dad, there was one minor detail that he forgot to tell Mom as they began dating.  In fact they were incredibly serious before he mentioned a thing about it.  But he knew he would have to say something, because they were talking about marriage.

As Dad explains, they were at the swimming pool in the apartment complex where one of them lived.  Dad finally fessed up and said, “Susie, I have something I need to tell you and it’s serious.”

To which Mom quickly replied, “There’s something I need to tell you too.”

Dad blinked and said, “Well okay.  You go first.”

Mom blurted, “I’m older than you.”

Grinning over the fact that she would think age was a big deal, Dad said, “I have two sons from a previous marriage.”

He says that Mom stared at him … then got up and walked away.  She walked around the corner and he thought that was it.  He thought he would never see her again.

But to his surprise, she came walking back towards the pool a few minutes later.  She said to him, “I always knew that I was  meant to be a mother, and if that happens sooner than I expected, then that’s okay with me.”

And that, my friends, is the kind of person my mom was.

Granted, the love story turned out to be more of a tragedy.  My dad cheated on Mom and left her for a younger woman.  Then he took his sons, the boys my mom had taken into her heart as her own from the moment she heard about them, back.  You never know how the story is going to end.  Mom died of cancer in 2001 and one of those sons, my brother Kelly, died last month of cancer at age 41.  As I sat by Kelly’s side in the hospital last month I imagined how happy they would both be to be reunited at last.  Maybe Mom can take Kelly out and teach him how to eat.

How I Became A Writer

Feb 13, 2012

Here it is, folks!  In honor of ORIGINS Blogfest (a fabulous idea created by DL Hammons which hundreds of writer/bloggers are participating in today) I present you with my origins story – how I became a writer.  Or rather how I knew I was a writer.

I’ve included the one sentence version of the story in many a bio I’ve written:  I have been a writer since I was 10 years old and realized one day that I didn’t have to wait for the teacher to assign a creative writing project to write something.  But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Three year old Merry & her Granddad

I was in third grade.  It had been a rough couple of years for me.  My dad had walked out on us when I was 6, we moved halfway across the country to live near my Mom’s family, my Granddad (who had become a beloved father figure) had passed away very suddenly of a heart attack, and when my dad remarried he took my two older half-brothers (his sons from his first marriage) away to live with him.  Trauma!  I was struggling in school that year too.  It sounds so silly to an adult, but my best friend from second grade had been put in a different classroom than me.  I also had to learn long-division, which nearly killed me.  Everything pretty much sucked far more than your average ten-year-old deserves to have things suck.

My third grade teacher was Mr. Morley.  I adored him.  One day we were given a creative writing assignment.  I don’t even remember what we were supposed to write, but I ended up writing a story about a girl who made friends with and probably fell in love with a wasp (yes, a wasp) named Michael Greer.  Now Michael Greer was a boy in my class that I had been in love with since he kissed me in first grade.  This was the first instance of me making a character out of someone I knew.  I’m sure it was also the first time I used fiction to express and work through my emotions.  There was probably some deep psychological meaning to the fact that I would write a story about myself falling in love with a wasp (I was and still am to this day completely terrified of wasps) named after a boy I had a crush on.

Well, when we did these creative writing assignments in third grade we generally read them aloud to the class after they were graded.  I still remember Mr. Morley asking to speak with me at recess.  He was very tactful about saying that while he liked my story he didn’t think I should read it aloud.  I knew what he was talking about and agreed.  Thank you Mr. Morley for helping me to dodge a bullet that would have meant third grade social suicide!  I loved him even more.

Young Merry coming up with ideas to write about

But this first critique of something I had written got me to thinking….  I had written a story and enjoyed the process of writing it, and even though I had handed it in to the teacher it hadn’t been read aloud like the rest of the class’s stories.  So that meant that not everything I wrote would have to be on display for my class.  And if I could write something for a class that then wasn’t shared, who was to say that I couldn’t then just write something for myself alone to enjoy?

That’s when I started writing.  Granted, I didn’t do it a lot, just every now and then.  Until something else coincidental and wonderful happened when I was in fifth grade.  My Mom took a job as the secretary of the elementary school that I attended.  When she was cleaning out the office she found a bunch of old school supplies that no one wanted.  One of these items was a small spiral-bound three-subject notebook.  I asked if I could have it.  She said yes.  For the first time in my young life I had in my possession the tools to write as much as I wanted.  This was a notebook that wasn’t earmarked for schoolwork.  It was mine to do with as I pleased.  I believe I wrote another story in which a boy in my class who I had a crush on fell in love with me.  And I think there was some time-travel involved too.  Either way, the tide had turned.  I was a writer.

I have boxes and boxes of spiral-bound notebooks with stories I started, ideas I’ve had, and boys I’ve had crushes on.  I suppose I was always meant to be a romance novelist at that.  Those notebooks lasted up until I got my first computer.  I have a few ancient floppy disks with stories on them (that may never be able to be recovered).  Nowadays I have a flash drive with everything I’ve written for the last five or so years.  But really, it all goes back to those heavy, obnoxious boxes of spiral-bound notebooks that I’ve lugged from apartment to house to apartment to state to state for the last 25 years.  And yes, I still have the original notebook.

I was born to be a writer.  It’s as simple as that.  And I’ll be a writer until the day I die and then some.

[Medieval Monday will return next week as I begin an exciting new series on Awesome Medieval Technology!]