Love Writing? Try:

For anyone who loves to write, and benefits from input from other budding authors, I highly recommend

This online community of writers provides opportunities in most genres: poetry, short fiction, creative non-fiction, memoirs and more. The folks in this group are generous in their time and kind in response to each others’ latest posting. I “met” them nearly 4 years ago and have enjoyed getting to know people from around the world, from Texas to Australia, they quickly become friends and family.

Come on in–the water’s fine.



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A Secret Santa Story

A Secret Santa Story
The Secret Santa deal most offices embrace at Christmas has never struck me as anything more than the gift exchange we did in grade school. Back then, the teacher put the names of the kids in a bowl, and we chose a name randomly. I honestly can only remember one gift from those days. In third grade, Miss Marrow had made a huge difference in my life. That was a tough year for me. Miss Marrow knew this and went out of her way to be kind. She encouraged my reading and allowed me to actually take books home. I met Winnie the Pooh that year and the characters from Wind in the Willows. So, since I knew Santa would not bring many gifts, I had high hopes for the gift exchange. We were to spend no more than $.50 on our gifts. In 1960, $.50 bought neat stuff.

I remember carefully choosing something for whoever’s name I’d picked and wrapping it using ribbon to decorate the package. I waited with excitement to receive my gift during our class party having seen whatever I had chosen had put a big smile on the recipient’s face. Miss Marrow handed me my gift and my young heart sank. My family had little extra money. The steelworkers had been on strike for months and any extra that Dad earned hauling coal or doing odd jobs for other families went to my sister. She was in her last year of nursing school and her books cost so much extra, she needed the money. However, as in most places, even the kids from pretty poor families knew kids from really poor families. I knew Hazel Birchess and that her family could not afford even $.50. When I opened my gift to find a pair of socks, I knew my face had not lit up. Socks! What kid wants a pair of socks when everyone else had puzzles or little stuffed animals or toy trucks or coloring books? I looked up and saw Hazel watching my expression. I gazed back at the socks and realized they had lace around the tops. A tomboy to the core, I didn’t wear lace anywhere on my body if I could help it, but I understood to Hazel the pink socks with white lace were beautiful.

“Thank you, Hazel,” I said.

Then Jill Martin, one of the town’s rich kids yelled, “Look! Twana only got socks!”

Poor Hazel’s face flamed red. I moved my chair closer to hers and said, “I like these. Know what is neat about socks?”

“No, except they keep your feet warm and when they don’t have holes in them, they feel soft,” she answered.

We might have been poor and my socks often had holes in them, but my mother’s tidy soul made sure she mended the holes. I felt sorry for Hazel. I guessed her mother who worked hard because her daddy got drunk and couldn’t hold a job didn’t have time to mend socks for her kids.

I grinned at Hazel and said, “Yeah, they do keep my feet warm, but they also can be hand puppets.”
I slipped them over my hands and one spoke in a squeaky voice, “Hey, Janey! I heard Mickie Mouse has a new girlfriend!”

My left hand answered with a lisp, “No, sir! Minnie is his true love.”

For a few minutes I made up a play featuring my right hand and my left hand covered by pink socks. Hazel’s laughter and giggles made me happy I had done something so silly.

When I left the room that day, Miss Marrow drew me aside, “I have a little gift for you. Put it in your bag and don’t let anyone else know.”

I ran to my room when I got home and ripped the paper off Miss Marrow’s gift. She had given me a book. I hugged it to my chest and thought many thanks toward my teacher.

I know I had many other gift exchanges through my years in school and even in college, but that year is the clearest. I suspect it’s not so much because I was so disappointed by the socks, but more that I managed to be kind to a kid no one had much time for.

I rejoice that I never have had to be a Secret Santa. Cheap candy or smelly hand lotion are tough items to turn into an impromptu play. Today, though, I saw a Secret Santa with the soul of the real guy, or maybe one who keeps God’s gift to the world as central, can make a real difference.

Most of us have been so sad over the past days, knowing in a little town in Connecticut, twenty children are not giggling over their toys from the gift exchange. Adults who are heroes won’t exchange Secret Santa gifts. These thoughts accompany me everywhere.

I needed to have blood work done at a lab in the kidney specialist’s office. I had put it off for several days just because I was tired of needles and being poked. I had an appointment with another doctor on the same street, though, and made myself go up to the lab.

When I walked in the door, I subconsciously noted how warm and happy the room seemed, not the norm for labs in my experience. I took my seat and handed Pamela my paperwork and saw a sign from her Secret Santa.

“Your floors may not be clean, but your room is happier. Your Secret Santa

I looked at the room more closely. The walls were a lovely lavender color; the many notices skillfully pinned over interesting scrapbooking paper looked great. Despite the vials and tubes and needles, the small room offered comfort and peace.

“Did your Secret Santa paint your room?” I asked.

Pamela lit up. “Whoever it is did that. Can you imagine? He or she moved all my furniture and painted this in my favorite color, then prettied up my notices. When I came in yesterday, here it was!”

Tears filled my eyes as I saw such a magnificent gift. Someone had given up a weekend to undertake the task. In doing so, whoever it was didn’t just make Pamela’s life sweeter, but gave a gift of comfort to everyone who will go in to have blood drawn.

We’ve all heard the adage: “the gift that keeps on giving”. When I saw the huge smile on Pamela’s face and then those on her co-workers’s faces as she shared my response, I knew the Secret Painting Santa had done that: given a gift that will keep on giving.

So, to whoever this person was: thank you.

Thank you for making Pamela happy. Thank you for making a room that causes fraught emotions seem sweeter and safer. Thank you for showing an understanding of what a meaningful gift is. Thank you, Pamela, for understanding what it means to accept a gift gracefully.

And, belatedly, thanks, Hazel, for the pink, laced-trimmed socks. You taught me a special lesson and it has stuck with me for over fifty years.

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“There’s No such Thing as Free iTunes”

I carefully went to the bottom of each offer and found the minute “No Thanks, I’m not Interested” button. I pushed it and was instantly transported to ANOTHER offer. All I wanted to do was claim a free $25.00 iTunes card. I have learned to be careful of trying to claim free stuff over the years. I thought I had their number, though in this little gem. I followed my brilliant husband’s observation, “Yep. They have a huge, red submit button. In teeny, tiny black letters beneath it is ‘No thank you.'” How many people get roped in to getting Nextflix or ezines just because they do not read the small print?”

Well, I read the small print. I read it carefully. I even evaded the “Be in the Drawing for a Free iPad!” bit. Honest. Then what do I see in my email? I had just enrolled in an ezine for “women who had lost their OOMPH’–or words that were far earthier. I followed the “If you think you have enrolled in error” directions and deleted that ezine and another I just don’t want to think about. It is humbling to know I, a veteran English professor, still missed fine print.

I thought I had learned that lesson 38 years ago in Biloxi, Mississippi. I thought I had learned “There’s no such thing as free lunch” as Robert Heinlein put it. We were really hurting for money. Cliff made an okay salary as a second lieutenant in the Air Force. But on our trip from Ohio to Mississippi, the newly re-worked engine on the 1964 Oldsmobile Cutlass, threw a rod exactly 500 miles from home and 500 miles to Cliff’s very first active duty assignment.

That was a test of our new marriage and our relationship. We didn’t have close to enough money needed to repair the car, and we believed the mechanic in Goodletsville, Tennessee had given an honest estimate. Finding the money to pay for the car’s repair proved difficult. My parents had just paid for a wedding. It wasn’t an extravagant affair, but it still hit their pocketbooks. Cliff’s folks were dealing with college loans for his siblings. The best we could come up with was to rent a car and drive to Biloxi and figure out how to deal with the Olds after Cliff had reported in.

We aren’t sure how, but Cliff’s father got the money together and wired it to us. But that was a weekend and Cliff had to report early on Monday morning. The garage stayed open long enough to take the check and give us a lift to the airport so we could rent the car. The big, bad world just got crazier then. We tried the economy rentals, and not one of them would let us hire a car for a week even though we had the cash to pay for it. We did not have a major credit card, so, “Too bad, newlyweds!

We went to Hertz as a last, desperate shot. Their prices were higher, but at least they took Cliff’s orders, called Keesler AFB, and were assured Cliff was indeed a commissioned officer due to report on Monday. We handed them a wad of money (monetary wedding gifts), they handed us keys, and we drove to Keesler in the hot, muggy southern heat of August in the deep south.

The saga of the Olds went on for years. Someday when I have recovered from the PTSD that I reel from just at the mention of that car, I may write about it. The flashbacks are fearsome.  But our big concern was how to repay his father. We were fairly sure he had borrowed the money from his sister, Margaret, but we never knew that for certain. If he had, we also knew she might not demand interest, but she had ways of making his life uncomfortable. We didn’t want him to have to deal with that any longer than possible.  So, big chunks of his bi-weekly pay went back to Ohio. It took a year to re-pay Dad Biram. We lived frugally, indeed, and continued to baby the Olds along.

So, when I received a “free gift” in the mail if only I went to Mobile, Alabama to view property, I talked Cliff into it. In my dewy-eyed innocence, I thought even if we only won the electric skillet, I could sell it at the base Thrift Shop for a few dollars. And who knew? We could win the television or even (God Please!!!!) the new car.

Yes, of course, it was a time share deal. We barely had the money to pay for gas to get to Mobile, and that was when gas was $.60 a gallon. But, Cliff, bless him, despite warning me of my impending disappointment, took me over to Mobile. The tour was lovely. Mobile Bay is a beauty spot on the Gulf Coast, but we couldn’t afford a bucket of sand there. The guy who showed us around saw in a glance we were not the pigeons who were going to make his day, but he did scratch off the foil revealing what I had won.

Let’s just say I don’t think that perfume was truly Parisian. Within three miles of leaving the resort, I felt nauseous from the fumes–and I had not opened the bottle. We stopped at the first road side rest, threw the elegant purple bottle away and I washed my hand several times.

Cliff never uttered an “I told you so.” He never even repeated the free lunch line. But I learned from that. I have never thought I won Publisher’s Clearing House. I have never bought a lottery ticket. Heck, when Cliff came home and said his next assignment was to England, I didn’t believe that until we were on the plane with a hundred other Air Force families headed for RAF Mildenhall, England.

So, I’m not the sucker anymore. I am really careful about suspiciously wonderful offers in my emails. But, I had spent money on iTune cards and gone through the complicated process of using them on Cliff’s iPad. We were in Ohio and the sequels to the books I had were not available in Ohio. Since I  could not find there and could not give an address to Amazon,  I caved. I went electronic. For lowering my severe standards about ebooks, I guess I felt iTunes owed me a $25.00 gift card.

I should have known. Still, the card will come by FedEx which will not please my Postal Service Employee husband, but it will come. And I also know, that despite all my lessons in how not be the newest sucker or the dimmest mark, I still will find items I “ordered” in my email for the next week.

I think back to the Oldsmobile and the hole it put our early financial life. We called it The Gopher–after the cartoon series “The Go-Go Gophers.” That name arose from the fact that we sang “go-go” at every light and stop sign, never knowing if the car would take off or not.

That was the original scam, I see now. My father-in-law assured us the body of the Old was good and in 1974 Ohio, that was not always the case. In fact, my father had sold us a little Ford for $1.00 and it ran beautifully, but the body was rusting away. One memorable time while driving 55 mph down Ohio Route 7, Cliff handily caught the fender as it peeled away from the body. So having a car with a solid frame and body was aces,  and Dad assured us it wouldn’t take much to get the engine right. If Dad had one fault, it was his loving to tinker with cars. He’d had his eye on the Gopher for several months and assured us it would be a snap to get the engine running.

I adored that man, and he was hard-headed and cynical about most things.  He rarely let anything get by his radar. Yet, that car suckered him. I should have seen the signs all those years ago. No one is immune to “free lunch” deals.

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A Rose by any other Name…

A Rose by
Any Other Name

I have railed against my unusual name forever, it seems. My hate
affair with my name began when my little brother couldn’t pronounce it. His slaughter of “Twana” became the family nickname: “Tawny.” I
actually preferred this bastardization of the strange five letters constituting my given name on my birth certificate. Someone else had similar difficulty with “Twana” and produced, “Twana Tweeze.” My father often called me that, the imp of fun darting in his eyes since he knew I’d respond with furious intensity, “My name is TWANA. You gave it to me, why don’t you use it?” I may not have liked it much, but I began defending the integrity of its pronunciation almost as soon as I realized my name didn’t blend in. It stuck out like an exotic hibiscus among the mundane roses of my peers’ more common names.

Born in December of 1951 into a sea of little girls who had dead-boring names like “Mary Jo,” “Linda Kay,” or “Becky Lou,” my parents really loved the small, unusual name they engraved on their miracle child’s life. No, I do not jest. They called me “our miracle baby.” Mom had given birth to my older sister eleven years earlier.  Despite trying diligently for another child, Mom hadn’t conceived and carried to term another child for ten years, although she and Dad wanted more kids. Then, one slip on the back steps, and nine or ten months later (the timing is iffy…just goes to show that nothing in my life from the very beginning would go easily), poof! Mom gave birth to me. I often teased her, “You know, Mom, other kids were found under a cabbage leaf or brought by a stork. Saying I arrived because you fell down the
back steps just doesn’t have the sweet innocence of how we find babies.”

Mom and Dad had decided early in their marriage to give any offspring
unusual given names since Dad’s surname of “Brown” littered the hills, dales, runs and hollers of that part of Ohio. Five John Browns lived within two miles of his mailbox. They had not come to this determination without precedent. Dad’s own mother had named her daughters “Goldeena” and “Isabelle” so they weren’t clumped in with the Marys, Maisies, and Janes. My older sister’s lovely name Americanizes the French pronunciation “Angel”, named for Dad’s mother, an immigrant from Belgium.  I loved her name and even though it wasn’t common for her peers of baby boomers, she rarely had difficulty with someone mispronouncing it. She says she lived with the usual idiocy of other children massacring her name: one classmate inverted “Angel Mae Brown” to “Devil June Red.”  I suppose no matter what our name is other kids will find ways to jeer at it.

I recognize Mom and Dad’s reasoning. That did not mean I embraced
it. When people ask about my name, I grin with fierce intensity and explain, “Well my maiden name is ‘Brown.’ Mom took one look at me in my crib and decided my homeliness meant I’d never get a man and therefore get married and thus changing my dirt common surname. So she dubbed me ‘Twana.’ I, however, did indeed marry, and due to an eagerness to shed ‘Brown’, took my husband’s surname, ‘Biram.’ I felt
I’d outsmarted Mom. I realized within weeks of marriage, however, I now had to spell both my given name and my surname, as ‘Biram,’ with its innocent five letters caused more nomenclature anarchy in my life. The correct pronunciation is ‘Bye-rum.’  People usually go with ‘Beer-am’.”  Then I stop, and pause in my little rant before I add, “Yep. Seems like the Good Lord just wanted me to stick out in any crowd since ‘Biram’ is the Anglo-Saxon version of the original ‘Byrum’ brought over from Normandy with William the Conqueror and his crew of language-slaughterers; it means ‘One who goes down to the cow byre.’ That designation makes me wonder if these Byrums had come to the British Isles as common farmers. Now, however, the name is anything but common.”

I must admit after I’ve decimated anyone who might have just
innocently asked, I ponder my response. I often see that I’ve launched a
metaphoric nuclear missile rather that a kinder tiny rock from a slingshot. Most of the time, I don’t have time to ameliorate my reaction as the person I’ve just dazed with my vigorous silliness either has run the other way, or is backing carefully in another direction, family members collected and protected from this crazy woman, Twana Biram.

When I feel mellow, though, my answers to queries about “Twana” intrigue rather than terrify.  I smile and say, “I was named after an
American Indian missionary to her own tribe, Twana Hawk. My parents had met her and heard her story of faith while attending Camp Meeting (a hallelujah-praise-the- Lord-come-to-Jesus gathering of like-minded Christians out at Hollow Rock). Mom and Dad found her words and work so inspiring, they gave tithe money to support Twana Hawk for many years as she spread the Gospel to her own people. Mom said after meeting Ms Hawk, ‘If I ever have another daughter, I am going to name her ‘Twana.’”

That is actually the truth of how they chose my unusual name.  Years ago, while I struggled with very painful life events arising from my refusal to play it safe and keep my mouth shut about an unjust cause, I became extremely depressed. I swallowed my reluctance and started seeing a shrink. After several weeks of working with me, he finally said, “You know, your unique name helped form your personality. From a very early age, you began fighting for recognition and rejecting attempts to turn you into ‘ordinary.’ You fight for causes because
your psyche has fought for the integrity of your name—which you have demanded others accept—since your earliest memories. You are unusual, interesting, intriguing, and uncommon largely due to being named ‘Twana’ in a time when most parents gave their children names that demanded little. ‘Twana’ demanded much.”

To be honest, this guy never came close to my real pain, and since
I was smarter than he was, I misled and misdirected our sessions so that I never gave him a chance to really help me. However, that one observation felt like a blow to the head by a two-by-four plank. I have spent much of my life daring the bullies of the world, be they hulking cousins picking on much smaller kids on the school bus, or calling out a group of social studies teachers for their hypocrisy, or carrying signs in anti-Viet Name marches, or facing down a southern magistrate in the middle of the American south for his blatant bigotry.

I have managed to get post graduate degrees during my middle age years through sheer stubbornness and anger at the injustices posed for
“nontraditional” adult women.

I took stock of my life after hearing Dr. Big Dummy’s statement. I
suspect I probably would have been a socially aware hell-raiser even if Mom had christened me “Mary.” Still, I had to see the justice and insight Dr. Big Dummy had pointed out. That evening, I phoned my mother.

“Nu-lo.” Mom always sounded as if she were winding up a music
box when she answered the phone.

“Hey, Mom, I know this probably sounds stupid, but thanks for
naming me ‘Twana’ instead of Debbie or Jeannie or Barb,” I said. A long pause made me roll my eyes at the ceiling, wondering what the blazes I thought I was doing.

Then, “You’re welcome. I always loved that name.”

I can’t say that I have embraced being a Twana wholeheartedly
since I still have to spell out both names any time I meet someone new. I still trot out one of the two versions of how to say my names and what their significances are depending on how grumpy I feel when the conversation begins, or if the vibes seem truly interested.

I’ve only met two other Twanas in my fifty-nine years. One was a
check-out girl at a grocery store. We laughingly exchanged a short empathizing conversation. The other Twana made me believe life’s synchronicity astounded at times. The cosmos has a reason, Dr. Saga, and Mr. Gandhi, and Dr. Jung. One of the most amazing experiences of my life came via an historical aircraft, the B-17 Bomber, my husband’s all-time favorite planes. He did a twenty year career in the Air Force, and had wanted to be an aeronautical engineer from the age of
eight. He says deprecatingly, “I had to settle for just being an engineer
because I couldn’t spell ‘aeronautical’ when I applied to college.” He has always loved airplanes.

To my shame, I can recognize with any degree of accuracy only four
aircraft after that twenty year stint. But we fell in love with “The Aluminum Overcast”, one of a handful of operational B-17s. So, as a birthday gift a few years ago, I set up a trip to Spokane, Washington which culminated in his getting to fly as a passenger in this gorgeous silver bird. We got to the small airfield early to get photos without crowds of people around her. As Cliff explored the plane, I fell into conversation with two couples who were my parents’ ages. Boeing Aircraft had assembled the B-17s during WWII. As I chatted
with these lovely folks, one of them Betty , “We’re here for our friend over there. She worked on the assembly lines for four years during the war. She never got to go up in one, though, so our church has collected money to get her a ticket.” She pointed to a silver-haired pixie wearing one of the special jackets only available to the club composed of those who have flown in the AO. Her spry interest got her into
places no one other than non-crew member ever saw.

As she stepped with buoyant pleasure back to her friends, her
gorgeous smile a mile wide, I read her name tag. “Twana.” When I told her my name, she shook her head, “There just aren’t co-incidences in this life,” she laughed. “You obviously are my soul sister from another time.”

Tears stood in my eyes as I took in the wonder of her words. We belonged to an elite little group of women in the world who soared through life as “Twana.”

Then, just last week, I accidentally typed my name in the Google
Search. I have a number of listings and they make me smile, but to my shock, the first hit said, “Twana Tells.”

Huh? What had I told that made it Google-worthy?

Twana Tells, an up-coming DJ out of Atlanta, Georgia, is making my
name famous. Her show pulls in amazing ratings, and she doesn’t sound like a bad person. But…

Here is the kicker: all my life I have struggled, laughed, and
explained my name. I thought I hated it. I thought, “Boy, I wish Mom and Dad had named me just about anything else.”   However, I had a secret, deep-seated pride for this five letter name. I am not enamored of a disc jockey making the name famous—and popular.

So, I guess, “Vanity, thy name is Twana.” I didn’t have a clue
until now.

Juliet said it best:
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

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Winter Wander Land

Winter Wander Land

My husband and I both saw it at the same time.

“Good God! The River has a coating of ice!” I exclaimed.

“Wow. It’s been years since I’ve seen that. I remember my dad telling me that he used to drive across the River in the winters when it had frozen solid,” Cliff mused.

I shook my head in wonder,”My Great-Aunt Valeria told the story of how she followed her big brothers across one winter.  When she got to the West Virginia side, the edges weren’t frozen as solid and she fell in and got in trouble for getting wet.”

I remember Great-Aunt Valeria quite well. She was as old as God, but more pugnacious, and she was stone deaf by the time I came along.  I know this because she sat in front of us in church and one Sunday, I dropped my doll on the pew before me. Aunt Valeria sat on that doll which squealed like a stuck pig. She, of course, couldn’t hear the commotion and became quite belligerent toward all the people laughing in her direction. The more she squirmed, the more the doll squealed. Finally, Uncle Floyd, her white-haired gnome of a spouse, ungently pushed her over and rescued my traumatized doll. I was a tyke, but I  knew enough to always fear Aunt Valeer (the hillbilly pronunciation of her name). I don’t think she ever really forgave me. I do remember her telling the story about walking across a frozen Ohio River. She was at least 40 years older than Cliff’s father, so it amazed us both that the wide river that fights its way to the Mississippi ever was shallow enough to freeze in the winter. Today, due to a series of locks and dams, the Ohio River is as wide as a motorway and quite deep.

As we drove past the town he’d lived in and both of us had attended school, Brilliant, Ohio, we gasped simultaneously, “Whoa! The Sand Pit has a covering of ice!” In our youth, when it seemed winters lasted longer with temperatures in the sub-zero degrees F, occasionally the Sand Pit would freeze several feet thick, and the town kids ice skated across that bottomless mini-lake.  No one really ever seemed to know how deep the Sand Pit was, but local legend says that the town hired divers one summer to plumb the depths of this place. I had to think of the search for Nessie when my friends told me about it.  After some days of diving, needing longer and longer air hoses, one diver shot to the surface so fast, he nearly got the bends (so he said). He also said something: something huge had swum past him, with an eye the size of a hub cap. No one really believed his story, but the librarian complained about the run on the “L” encyclopedia with pages dealing with the “Loch Ness Monster.” She whined, “All of them came back with dog-eared pages only about that silly Loch Ness Monster.”

As we sped west along State Route 7, I noticed the mounds of snow–it had snowed over 6 inches in the two days of our visit, but something seemed different about the snow.  It didn’t look the way  I remembered snow from childhood. Suddenly, I realized: the snow glistened, quite white and pure. I realize most folks would assume this is the nature of snow. But when we were children, Fifth Street, Brilliant, Ohio (the street  where my husband’s family’s home sat) had the highest pollution rate in the entire world. Yep. Fifth Street made world-wide news. Why the pollution? Steel mills, coal mines, electric plants, and chemical plants lined both sides of the Ohio River.  The economy boomed. Most families had a steady income from one of the industries; new cars appeared in drive ways and garages. The Ohio Valley provided jobs, raw ores, and steel for the world. These industries also meant that snow stayed white only a matter of hours before the coal dust and pollutants from the electric plants turned it a dull grey.

The fact that I saw white snow drove home the point: the industries had collapsed under the heavy fines levied by the EPA. New laws about pollution changed an entire region from prosperous to poor.  Coal mines closed because the natural veins of the area produced soft, heavy pollutant dust and smoke. The mills had relied on this cheap, easily moved ore. When the mines closed, the steel mills didn’t last long. The new restrictions mandated that hard coal be used, which necessitated changes in the whole internal system of pounding the coal into coke into purer, cleaner by-products. Many electric power plants closed under the onus of Environmental Protection Agency’s stringent new laws.

The farther we drove away, the more I realized how very different things in the Valley had become. I saw closed schools and stores, and noticed the terrible shape of the roads.  I also understood that the last two winters had restored the chilly winds and shifting snows, but these winters were not the same as when I was a child, learning to ice skate on the lakes deep in the woods.  I didn’t see children hurtling down hills on their sleds, shrieking in laughter.

The most telling place for me, though, sat back from the road as we wound our way up from the River toward Woodsfield, Ohio, where my sister and her family live. Each trip we  made when I was younger and going to visit my sister, I always looked for the abandoned house. Some family had left the lovely two-story home abruptly, I suspected. I made up hundreds of stories of how the house looked inside, of why the family had left. For many years, curtains still hung in the windows. Then, as happens to empty buildings, someone threw rocks to break the windows, ala It’s a Wonderful Life. Although my trips to Ohio became less frequent after I married, when we drove up State Route 78,  I still looked for the Abandoned House. Each trip revealed a new glimpse. The kitchen walls glowed a light yellow; a bedroom door hung on hinges revealing rusty walls with faint squares where posters or pictures had hung.   I cried a little the day I saw that the roof had caved in. I knew then that no one would ever live in that house again.

As we crept up the snowy, slick roads all these years later,  I realized I could see the shape of the house! The drifting snow had transformed that sad place into a winter show piece. I wondered: how will it look come spring?  I knew it would be an eyesore. I felt immeasureably sad.

Therefore, I decided to concentrate on the sheets of ice floating on the River. They cannot be mistaken for anything other than they are: thin, ephemeral glints atop a monster moving inexorably toward the Mississippi.  I took out my sunglasses and watched the snow, happy my great-niece, aged 5 will be the exception to my dreary thoughts of how children in the Valley have been deprived. She’ll drag out her little sled tomorrow, grab “Bubba”–her uncle–and they two will go to the bit of a hillside in my sister’s garden, and Jadyn will shriek with laughter, make snow angels, and only see pure white snow.

Oh, she knows about yellow snow.  That color snow hasn’t changed one bit since I was a kid. Bubba made sure his niece understood she wasn’t to touch yellow snow last winter. I grinned as I remembered a particularly nasty trick I’d played on my baby brother with yellow snow. The look on his face made the spanking I got worth it. The little tattle-tale.

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The Curious Case of the Common Cold

I feel like death warmed over.  If you’ve never heard that saying, spend some time in the Ohio Valley near Steubenville, Ohio.  It’s a common, cryptic observation used when people feel lousy.

Do I feel rotten because I am seriously ill? Well it feels serious, but the embarrassing truth lies in a personal weakness.  I actually weather serious physical issues pretty well.  I come of solid, sturdy stock.  When I was about 12, I watched my mother who’d just fallen down a set of over 20 concrete steps and sustained a terrible gash on her left leg, climb those steps with the aid of a neighbor.  He simply held the dreadful gash together as Mom made her way up the Stairs of Demented Laundry Practices.  That “gash” required 75 stiches inside the wound and 150 on the outside. Awful, you say? Absolutely! But it taught me the inner steel of the woman.

At 17, I visited my father’s hospital room after several frantic hours of not knowing anything except he’d been injured in the boiler room of Wheeling Steel in Yorkville, Ohio. (Yorkville, by the way, is the next town over from Tiltonsville, Ohio.  Anyone who loves poetry or football will get the reference to “Autumn Comes to Martins Ferry, Ohio” by James Wright, a famous poem that amazed me the first time I read I knew it captured a sense of my childhood and youth.)

Anyway, I had afterschool band practice, and the woman who provided my way home mentioned casually, “Sorry to hear about Paul.  Must have been a bad accident. Ambulance and everything.” I hadn’t heard anything.  I rushed into the house when I got there looking for a note of some kind.  Some indication of what had happened. Nothing. Nada. Zero. So I phoned my grandparents: no answer. I phoned a close friend and all she had heard amounted to the same nothing. I finally went next door.  All Mae Moore, one of the sweetest and most generous women that I knew, could only repeat the gossip.  She could tell me that Mom had run out of the house, pulling my brother with her and they’d peeled out of our gravel drive without a glance for other cars. That alarmed me. Mom’s driving had legendary status.

Finally, after two hours of worrying and impotence, she came slowly into the house. “Twana. I didn’t leave you a note, did I?”

Wow–that did not sound like Mom at all.  She never admitted she had neglected to do something obvious.

“Is Dad okay?” I asked.

“He will be.  He’s a strong man.”

The truth terrified me.  A pipe conveying superheated steam had burst, catching Dad in the chest. The weather, in the low 30’s F, meant he wore layers and layers of warm clothing.  Although he worked in the boiler house, he spent a great deal of time out on the landing and barge platform on the Ohio River, coping with incoming coal, and outgoing steel.

All those layers kept him from dying instantly, but they also absorbed the hot steam/water and kept the scalding fluid on his body.  He’d been shipped to the hospital in Martins Ferry–the place where Mom had given birth to us 3 kids.  When I finally saw him, a wire cage over his bed kept the sheets from touching his scalded body. He grinned at me, “Boy, the devil had me marked yesterday.  I’m good though. These ladies,” he gestured at the nurses, “are taking care of me.”  He’d already become a favorite.

He came out of that episode with minor scars, and no pain meds that I knew of.

S0–sturdy stock seems a bit of an understatement, huh?

I myself went through multiple surgeries on a destroyed ankle.  I’d slipped off a curb and shattered the blighter.  I rarely complained, although I discovered I am not a woman to get hooked on prescription pain killers. They gave me the personality of a rabid Tasmanian Devil. I snarled, I snapped, I lost my temper multiple times daily. Then one of the doctors happened to mention these rare side effects.  I might have turned into a witch, but I didn’t complain.  My husband nipped my self-pity in the bud when he observed, “You know the doc said on a bell curve, you’re in the tiny ‘worst that I’ve seen’ part.  If you’d slipped and broken your neck and had the same kind of odds, you’d be paralyzed and I would have to deal with a wife who couldn’t turn her head.”

Leave him to give me a dose of admittedly harsh reality, but a good reality check nonetheless.

So, when I say I feel like death warmed over, I expect most folk think I have a terrible disease, or have hurt myself again. Nope. I have a cold. My head hurts, my throat burns, my nose drips, my body aches from the coughing, and I can barely see my eye color due to the bloodshot whites and red swollen eyelids.

I think of the amazing surgical magic my orthopedist did on my ankle. I look at how long older people live and suffer because technology can take care of an array of treatments. I think of organ transplants and brain surgery, AIDS research, and controlling typhoid, malaria, and the Bubonic Plague.  Then I wonder: what’s the deal?  Why can’t they kill the common cold? Why haven’t they inoculations to prevent getting one?

I watched the aging film, Independence Day last night–how do the valiant citizens of earth wipe out the invading aliens? They use a virus–probably no more complicated than the common cold.  And didn’t the old The Day the Earth Stood Still  destroy the invaders with the common cold? 

So, I’m going to square my shoulders, brush my unwashed hair, change out of pj’s and face facts. There is nothing common about a cold.  It’s just a soothing name for a nasty bug capable of wiping out alien invaders. I’m ready, governments across the globe. I am strong. I am brave. I am infectious. Call me, heads of state, if an alien invasion happens in the next couple of days. I’ll happily sneeze on them and therefore prevent the use of nuclear weaponry.

Mom used to tell me, “You’ve plagued me all day.”

Little did she know, my body took that as a call to arms. When cold germs swarm, I usually do not fall ill.  When I do, though, I know my cold is the worst cold in the world and I should die from it–and come back warmed over.  That just makes me wonder. How does anyone know exactly how that feels?

Lousy cold, I grumble, selfishly ignoring my husband and sons who have far worse symptoms.  I’m just going to Google “death warmed over.” I know someone, somewhere has the details of how this is worse than a cold.

Excuse me while I sneeze.

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I Begin a New adventure

I activated my new Android smart phone yesterday.  I entered a realm of fascination, fear, and frustration. Whoa, baby! I read the booklets. I did the step-by-step process of getting Google by following my husband’s directions as he read them off the computer. So, I now know that I have an interesting list of credits to my name, including recognition for reading segments of a book published in the 1980’s. Wow. Thanks Isaiah, where ever you are!

However, success was fleeting.

I struggled to get a Facebook account set up because, hey, I want just once to see the cute little icon that indicates “mobile” under my status. I don’t want to stay stuck in the-er-last year.  When did this mobile stuff become so “gotta do it”?  I fall asleep (hypothetically because I don’t sleep well) and when I wake up, there’s a new wrinkle. Or handheld device that controls peoples’ every action, it seems.

I got used to the ubiquitous Blackberry when it became crystal to me that my husband had to have it up and running all the time.  I must admit that watching him answer email while we waited in line to view the Electric Light Parade at Disney World seemed excessive.  Still his is a tough business, so I am working at accepting that “thing” with the widgets and its sort of a phoneness.

Now my new phone? It’s way cool.  That’s because it looks like R2 D2 of Star Wars fame.  My son and I were on a high after immersing ourselves in the celebration of the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back. The celebration absolutely awed me. We got autographs, we got tee shirts (naturally), and we got to see George Lucas himself at THE MAIN EVENT.

So–not long after the furor died down, my son got an email about the ultimate droid phone. It’s a real deal android, with Artoo’s white and blue markings.  When it rings–or more accurately, when it is telling me someone wants to talk to me, I get Artoo squeals and beeps and raspberries.  As of today, I also have a voice telling me, “Number 888-555-1212 wants to speak with you.” That’s unnerving.

I also cannot figure out how to repeat actions, like the little video clips from the Star Wars films. Weird.  But that whole thing it says about being a phone I can figure out “intuitively”: don’t buy into that.  I consider myself an intuitive woman.  There is nothing intuitive about this whole process.

I’ll figure it out. I’ll bug my son until I do.  But, ya know, it is very cool to have R2-D2 right to hand.  I wish he were a bit bigger, because I’d love for him to open car doors and stuff.

The next adventure is how to figure out this site.  I really hope I haven’t written this in vain.

Hello, my name is Twana and I’m technically challenged.

And–may the Force or some other benign power (like God) be with you.

Scratching my head,


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