The postcard in my hand is so old I’d expect it to be worn and frail and downright unimportant. It’s not, though. It’s one more amazing golden star resting among years of memories. Life and love that I’ve discovered again in a bin in the basement.
The cowboy doing his day’s work on the back of a jack rabbit still cracks me up. Cristy’s words touch my heart, make me laugh and warm my toes. Long flowing letters from Lynda fill my heart with joy. I chew on my bottom lip and take a deep breath reading love words from a lover long gone.
For days now, I’ve been walking from the warmth of my home, across the driveway in the rain and into the dank basement. Each trip, I grab one more plastic bin full of flashbacks to carry into my study.
I’m in no hurry as I bend over and pick up a memory, one at a time. Photographs, loosely tossed among letters and proclamations and typewritten resumes and newsletters. Handwritten postcards and Christmas cards and birthday cards, sympathy cards.
Bent or broken picture frames, some empty, others as if they just fell off the shelf. Drawings by young children and more than a pair of white leather baby shoes.
Sure, I have picture albums. They sit on my bookcase. They’ve been sitting around on my bookcases for years. We look at them on occasion, friends and family. And, yes, I have thousands of jpgs and pdfs and pngs in folders all over my computer. I print them out often enough.
But the bins, that’s where the real treasure lives. What draws me into the bins is not the written word or the color on the postcards, the letters, or the drawings. It’s the love stretched across the years from one hand to another.
I’m afraid that all of our easily computerized ‘stuff’ could be depriving us of a future full of overflowing boxes and bins in the basement. We need to hold those sentiments in our fingers, in our hands, as surely as we need to hold a book bound by stitching in our lap.
So, today, before I completed this story to you, I wrote a letter to someone dear to me. I’m going to lick that stamp and stick it in the top right corner of an envelope and send it off. And then I’m going to print off this page, sign it and put it in a new book for someone to pick up years from now when they’re going through bins in the basement. Maybe it will be me.
Are you missing that feeling of having a letter in your fingers, or a postcard from paradise? Send me your address. I’ll send you one. From my hand to yours. Who knows? We could start a trend.
It’s amazing to me how my day, the day that I had planned, can change in the blink of an eye. When I awoke this morning, I had no idea I’d be writing about strangers I haven’t even met. To you. Readers and writers all, we’re open to new experiences. We have to be.
Travel and travelers are a rich and tasty source of stories and poetry, surprising delights in all the five senses. It’s always been that way, for travelers and writers everywhere. I know it certainly rocks my boat.
Today I bring to you an opportunity to meet someone new, to learn something new. Perhaps, gain a new perspective about my world. Perhaps about yourself.
I’ve been part of an international travelers organization for many years.
Because of this partnership, my life has changed in more ways than I ever imagined. In 2013, I spent a spring week, sleeping evenings in a small home outside Paris, thanks to the generosity of a couchsurfer I met online. A quaint place with windows overlooking a quiet little road, a brief and leisurely train ride from the City, a walk meandering through the Farmer’s Market and in and around several little shops along the road, through a public park full of children laughing, flowers blooming, trees of green and the aroma of French pastries on my tongue.
I spent a week in Morocco. We walked through the hot sun during the day, into the shaded and cool medina full of music, food and trained snakes at night. After which we traveled over the High Atlas Peak Mountains in a rickety bus to visit 3 days in the Berber desert in Mimoune’s family home. Mimoune’s family communicated with me through Mimoune, the one English speaking family member to translate for all of us. By the end of my visit, having savored fresh bread baked daily in a clay, fruit and vegetables that grow on their spring fed and irrigated land, they invited me to stay and be a special guest in Mimoune’s sister’s wedding. Sweet Moroccan tea lingers on my lips.
In Coventry, I learned all about Snooker and ‘Bowls’. I sipped tea each morning from dainty china cups and wandered along the countryside with my friend Tim who had visited Napa years before.
In the Yucatan, I net Carmen’s young daughter, stayed in their beautiful home, armed myself with travel tips for the best local places to visit, to eat and linger and I learned that folks who need care can go to the medical clinic in the evening, after work, any working day.
In Belgium, along the Meuse River, I was treated to Belgian waffles and thousand of beers in one place, not to mention new friends who have now come to visit me here in U.S. bringing with them even more of that delicious Belgium chocolate.
None of what I experience when I travel with couchsurfers can be found in a guide book.
I received a message this morning and am hoping someone out there might see an opportunity to help out a couple of folks from Mexico City. I don’t have a space to do so right now. Life for me is people, travel, writing, sharing, fun, helping. So I thought I’d pass this along. If you want to know more, please contact me.
From Rick Schmidt in Mexico City:
Here’s my situation: my wife will be studying at Dominican University for the month of December … she’s got room/board provided by the school. I will accompany her but need a room for a month. We tried airbnb and craigslist but no luck: either too expensive or too far away from San Rafael. I don’t need anything fancy, but need safe place to park car. I am quiet, clean and interesting conversationalist … having travelled to many parts of the world all my life, including the recent 12 years of attending conferences; my host would not regret having met me, I’m sure. If you have friends, acquaintances or just a suggestion, I would be very appreciative. We live in Mexico City and have enjoyed hosting CSers a few times in the past ten years. We have references and are homeowners ourselves so we know how to treat our environment. Thank you so much for any suggestion. Cheers….Rick Schmidt, Ana Cazares
Plutocracy: Government by the wealthy; a country or society governed in this way.
Democracy: System of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.
The plutocrats continue to dangle the carrot in front of us as we minions queue up to the polls. After billions earned off us have been spent to make sure ‘their’ guy wins. Wow. Yes, I do believe it’s us and them. And we’re losing. Look around.
For years, I was knee deep in politics, campaigning, believing it all. Seriously into it. For years, I didn’t vote. NOT because I was apathetic, not because I was a loser. Because I believe the game is over. This season is done. Not many marks to make on the ballot.
I’m not proud to vote. I’m not happy to vote. It’s a flashjob. I’m proud and happy to live to write about it. Thanks to our democracy, not to the plutocracy.
For most of my life, I’ve struggled with labels. I think I’m not alone in this.
Either I’ve been boxed in by others, or I’ve boxed myself into this label or that. I’ve been guilty of boxing others as well. Inevitably, at just the right time, if luck has it, the labels slide off into the muck and mire of true life. And when we are lucky, we get to choose our own silky ribbons instead of another unforgiving box.
“What genre do you write?” asks a writer when we meet for a glass of wine.
“Uh, well, I write fiction, poetry. Non-fiction. Sometimes, memoir, sometimes flash fiction, I’ve written a bit of creative non-fiction, some travel stuff. Once in a while, for kids,” I reply, pretty sure I haven’t supplied the politically correct answer.
“What about you?” I ask my new acquaintance.
“Oh, I write fantasy,” she answers.
Fantasy? Fiction? Is fiction fantasy? Fantasy is fiction? We‘re all making up stories.
Stories are one thing. People are another.
Conclusion. I am not a genre.
Define genre. A noun.
‘New Oxford American Dictionary’ at my fingertips: a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style or subject matter.
label attached to music, movies,novels, etc. giving way to discrimination, stereotypes, and prejudice.
While I was reading and thinking and writing and pondering, a friend called asking me to pick up and bring to her the pain medication she’d forgotten at home that she desperately desired. Yes, I know I’m labeling her as a friend. Let’s not get too carried away here. She couldn’t leave work; she was in a lot of pain.
I’m in the car, sitting at a stoplight, looking around. A truck heading into the intersection to my right catches my eye. Big dark maroon truck. I don’t know if it was a Dodge, or a Ford, or a Chevy. One word printed on the sides and the back screamed right at me:
D E F I N E
It was a sign. A sign, I tell you. How often have you seen something like that and not known it was a sign?
You may not know that I’ve been blogging off and on for years, may not have seen much of it. I don’t have millions of followers. Yet. Some of my older pieces I’m not really happy with any longer. Typical of most writers.
During the past few years, I’ve created and followed my own internal blogging labels. Genre labels. One page for poetry. This site for essay. This one for non-fiction. That one for travel stories.
So, loyal readers, soon, I pretty much won’t be doing that. I’ll be here. In one place. www.writerpaints.wordpress.com. If I change my mind later, I’ll let you know. If you want the addresses of the pages that have come before, just ask. I’ll be happy to pass them along.
My intention is to review the old posts on the other pages. The ones I don’t outright delete,
Before we met, long before he was my husband, when he was just a kid, Matt was a bat boy for the Cubbies. My heart often wanders to him during baseball season. He was the super baseball fan – stats, hits, runs, errors, he knew them all. Until the last inning when he shocked his fans. When he decided he wasn’t going to take another hit. He grabbed a foul ball and walked off, leaving the infield torn and wondering, even now, after years of tears.
Strike 1. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the USA.
If his heart was still pumping, Matt’d have a hard time choosing where to watch the game tonight. I can still see the picture of our oldest son, 6 weeks old, on the front page of The New York Post, October ’81 in his baby Yankees warm-up suit. ‘Still hate the Dodgers. Now the kids are San Francisco Giants Fans – Always October. Would he partner up with the guys? The youngest one, he definately inherited Matt’s sports fan genes. Glove in hand, they’d catch every minute – breathless for the win.
With our daughter? In her black and orange, cheering sparkling wet eyes on the game, sorrow in her heart, rubbing her abdomen, ever so gently, grieving for the baby we all thought would show up just in time for spring training. Struck out with no chance to suit up.
One out of 5 pregnancies ends in miscarriage.
Full Count – Homerun!
Giants take the lead! Everyone on their feet!! Cheers and beers!
Grab your hat. Grab your glove. Wait for the next pitch. And hold onto your heart.
Getting older has just made me dance a bit faster. I’m always ready for one more taste, a new touch, a new smell, a good mystery, a little more rock ‘n roll, a smear of bright paint or the sound of a fresh tongue. It’s part of why I travel, usually solo, meeting up with good friends or finding new ones who were strangers somewhere.
Early spring of ‘13, I boarded a plane headed to Asia, Africa and Europe. That trip, all one hundred and ten days and nights of it, was the latest twinkle in a string of bright lights that started – with Bruce.
After years of living or traveling most of the U.S., it was time for me to cross that international line. But where? Canada? Too close. Mexico? Not yet.
I was looking for travel inspiration when I landed on an announcement of Bruce Springsteen’s upcoming tour. I’m a huge Springsteen fan. I could feel my heart buzzing, looking down the list of cities and then landing on Bilbao. Bilbao, Spain. Well, that’s where I was going.
I arranged for time off the job, told everyone I knew where I was going and what I was doing. I was excited.
So, two nights before Thanksgiving, 2007, I left for Spain’s Basque country. Late night flight, dinner at midnight flying over who knows where. We had turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. A nice Chardonnay, a few walks up and down the aisle, a little nap and, voila! Just after breakfast, we were landing at l’Aeropuerto de Bilbao.
Stepping through immigration and security, returning locals and international lines were separated by red velvet ropes. A few folks just couldn’t get through fast enough, though, as I thought, would you like a little wine with that whine?
I grabbed some local currency from the airport ATM, and camera in hand, I walked out the revolving glass door into the sunny crisp air of Bilbao straight into a cab to the City Centre. I was a kid in a candy store. My Spanish/English dictionary was my new best friend.
“Perdone, por favor, dos ‘batteries?’” I asked the clerk, smiling politely.
“Miss, I speak English. What would you like?”
Exploring courtyards, plazas, alleyways, shops with their doors wide open, waterfronts in Bilbao and Donostia, San Sebastian, the second city I visited, grinning like a Cheshire cat.
I’d just boarded a train one morning from Bilbao to Donostia, I watched a young man, about my oldest son’s age, get up from his seat to come sit across from me.
“Excuse me, Miss, do you speak English?” Ferdinand asked.
“Si, I speak English, me llamo Kathleen,” I answered, nodding and smiling.
“You are American! My premier English conversation with American,” he replied enthusiastically.
Ferdinand announced he was ‘pleased to enjoy practicing English’ with me. We talked about Spain, the booming economy, giant construction cranes everywhere. He worked as a caregiver in an ‘Old Folks Residence’, plays piano, is an artist. We discovered that not only did he resemble my son, they
share the same birthdate. Sadly, he shared that he’d just left his parents’ home, ‘I’m gay, Kathleen, and my parents cannot accept me, even after five years.’
We truly enjoyed our brief 2 1/2 hours together on the Euskotren, our adióses a mix of good fortune and sadness when we reached the end of the line.
My soul soared through Donostia and Bilbao. Historic stone churches, cathedrals reaching to the clouds. Mass sung in Latin by a priest with the voice of an angel. Sunshine warmed my shoulders as I meandered along wide boulevards beneath bare trees stretching up from earth, fur-wrapped women chatting and window shopping, their leather high-heel boots clacking on the cobblestones.
Sweet, fresh pastries in what turned out to be the same bakery my good friend visited 30 years earlier. Porcelain cup & saucer, café sitting atop a tiny marble table as I scanned the local newspaper.
Scrumptious tapas, so many flavors and sizes and textures, in a wide assortment of bars, cafés and restaurants. Ordering from menu la Español, I was often laughingly surprised at what appeared on my plate.
One beautifully clear evening, rambling along the Donostia pier, I walked into a quaint seaside restaurant. It was early, no other diners at the time, the owner at the front was cheerful, talkative, welcoming.
Soon enough I was seated in a window seat, watching folks here and there in the small working marina across from me. Relaxing with a fine Cabernet, dinner arrived. Black ink squid resting on a bright ball of white rice, served by my own private English speaking waitress courtesy of the owner who had engaged me in conversation about, what else? San Francisco.
Oh, and I went to a concert. After ten days of warm and comfy hostels, a bit of rain, trams, trains, buses, jamón, pescado, cheese, vino, bread, bookstores, benches and museums. Yes, the Guggenheim, with a timely Special Exhibition of ‘American artists’. Ha ha. It was time to see the Boss.
The train to the concert was awfully quiet. Too quiet. I soon realized I was on the wrong side of the Nervión River, on the wrong train. Fortunately for me, two locals, a bit of English, and a little Español
put me on the right train. Jam-packed, fans of all ages, laughing, raucous, music blaring on a boom box. And I was right there with ‘em.
Cigarette smoke filled the arena. First stop, the bar. Excitement filled the air in voices from everywhere.
I met Kasa when I got to my seat, a quiet mid-40’s English speaking Japanese businessman sitting to the right of me. Several young and wild Spaniards in the seats front of me, an empty seat to my left. Perfect.
Kasa owns several Eric Clapton guitars he’s picked up in charity auctions, he’d attended every Springsteen show on the tour so far. We were so thrilled!
The show opened with ‘Radio Nowhere’, the Boss covered the stage. Kids in front, and me, jumping, screaming with delight. I turned to Kasa, who was grinning ear to ear, standing and tapping his fingers to the rhythm, wrists bouncing at the base of his thumbs, his brown
It was in the last few days of 1945, when Mr. Frank Shea was found cold and shivering one morning outside City Hospital. Pastor Dayton noticed Frank, helped him to his feet, and with the help of a nurse on her way in, they carried Frank off the sidewalk and into the hospital. 60 years old, skinny as a rail, Frank had a thin smile baring his broken soul, a deep strong voice, deep dark circles masking his jaundiced yellow eyes, and stringy dark hair hung over his forehead.
Cirrhosis, a result of years in alcoholism, take a lot of men like Frank, living hard. He’d moved to San Francisco long ago, soon after the big Quake. Work was aplenty then and he bit off a piece of everything ‘til he hired on to the Railroad.
“Frank, are you awake?” asked his nurse, smiling, “here’s a sip of water.”
Frank was dying. Difficulty swallowing, not eating, fragile, shallow breathing. Nurse Ginny knew it wouldn’t be long. No family noted in his chart, he was all alone. His head turned toward Ginny.
“That you, Nurse? Did I doze off again? You’re a blessing, you are, sitting here with me. Why in hell don’t you marry me, Ginny?”
The nurse chuckled, “If you and I were going anywhere at all, Frank, I’d jump at the chance. Talk with me a bit. About Gertie, you were talking Gertie.”
Nurse Ginny was about the same age as her patient. Short hair, curious hazel eyes, pretty, a few wrinkles here and there. She sat on a cold metal chair, leaning over to catch Frank’s hushed words.
“Gertie came to me just the right time when I was tired, lonely and in the bottle. My sister Susan wrote, wanting to know if I could put up her girl. I remembered her girl Gertie, from before I moved on out here. She was a cute little sprout then, when she first come to Susan after Gertie’s own Mama died. When Susan wrote me, Gertie was 19, she’d won a Beauty Contest, got herself a train trip out here.
“She sure wasn’t the little girl I remembered. All grown up, little spitfire with a golden heart. Some ‘o that gold rubbed off on me, ‘n I quit drinkin’, we fell in love and we got hitched up. I had a few years on her, ‘didn’t seem to matter,” Frank said, blinking his eyes, “’til I ruined it all, couldn’t stay off the bottle,” he went on, his eyes tearing up.
“One day, though, I never forgot. We were out to Ocean Beach. Gertie all snuggled in fur, pretty green chapeau over her dark wavy hair, hair so soft I could run my fingers through it like a breeze. Her eyes were just like yours, yes they were,” he said, peering into Ginny’s eyes.
“That was the day she told me we were having a baby. Oh, if I could only get those days back. Just one more look at that picture.”
Ginny smiled, “So Frank, you’re a father. Well, well,” she sighed, “What picture?”
“A stranger on the beach snapped it, with Gertie’s fancy camera. It was a day. Gertie carried that picture in her handbag every day from then on. Every day. Our picture.”
Frank sniffled, turned his head and he just dozed off.
Ginny sat there a minute, thinking over what Frank had said, wondering about his family.
She walked up the hall to check on her other patients. Twenty five year old Charlie had been a prisoner of war, captured at Wake Island, she heard, back to the U.S. only a few weeks now. He’d come in dehydrated, skin and bones, shattered left arm, likely from the rickets. He had rusty brown hair, bright blue lonely, searching eyes, it seemed, after long being lost in the camps. His sadness slowly melted away, though, as the Red Cross girls came in every day to cheer the troops. Maggie, he was sure sweet on her.
Maggie was sitting on the edge of Charlie’s bed when the nurse walked in.
“Nurse Ginny! We have news for you!” Charlie quipped, trying to raise himself to sit, impossible with his casted arm hanging from a rope and a chain.
“We’re getting married, aren’t we, Honey?” he piped up, looking up at Maggie, his hand around her waist, “I knew it the first day she walked in here, ‘kept coming back every day. It’s a happy day, Nurse! Soon enough she’ll be Mrs. Thomas and she can toss that Shea moniker right out the window.”
“Well, that’s wonderful news, you two. Maggie Shea, that’s a nice Irish name. You sure you want to give it up?” the nurse asked, laughing.
“Yes, Ma’am, I’ll always be a Shea at heart, my grand parents all came here from Ireland.”
“Well, lucky for Charlie they did. Have your parents met this young man yet?” Ginny asked, looking at Maggie’s hazel eyes, her dark wavy hair, pretty face, wondering about her last name.
“She was here yesterday. Mother thinks Charlie’s wonderful. Father, I haven’t seen him in such a long time. He was a drinker when I was little, my mother worried so, we moved across the bay. I know he’d be happy for me, want to walk me down the aisle.”
Ginny replied, “Of course he would. I’m looking forward to meeting your mother when she’s here again, before you go home, Charlie. Maggie, what’s your mother’s name?”
“Gertie,” Maggie said, reaching into her handbag, “Here, I have a picture, would you like to see it? My mother gave it to me on my 18th birthday from her handbag to mine. She never stopped loving him, she told me she just couldn’t sit and watch him killing himself.”
Ginny held that picture in her hand, looking into Maggie’s eyes, like her own, seeing again her beautiful wavy dark hair. She could feel her heart racing.
“Maggie, this is Ocean Beach, isn’t it? This picture looks a tiny bit older than you are.”
She was fingering the photo, a lump in her throat.
“Maggie, come with me a minute. There’s someone you need to see. Just for a moment.”
Charlie stared at the nurse.
“What’s going on?”
“We’ll be right back,” Ginny replied.
Ginny took Maggie’s hand in hers, gripping the picture in the other. Walking quickly and quietly, she pulled a confused and silent Maggie down the hall.
Frank’s door was pulled shut when they got there.
“Just a minute,” Ginny whispered to Maggie.
The nurse walked quietly into Frank’s room. She realized it was too late for Maggie, and too late for Frank.