Fifty years ago I said yes.

On July 29, 1967, I said yes to marriage at 19 hoping it would change my life, not realizing the immediate change from Miss to Mrs. was only the beginning. Fifteen months after that wedding day Laura was born. 

By then I could predict the future of my marriage but hoped fatherhood would bring him around. Four years later I put Laura in the back seat of my Dodge Dart and headed down Route 23 from Detroit back to Huntington, WV. I had my child, our clothes, the sewing machine, my sanity, and her future. We sang “Take Me Home Country Roads” with John Denver while I drove.

Laura was beside me as I searched to find a way in the world.

Many times I’ve been a good example.

Other times I’ve been a dire warning. 

In her current situation Laura is leading the way. It’s the way of a single woman with a good job in a good company with good insurance. Even with all this goodness, her upcoming surgeries require a level of planning and organization that rivals a mid-sized home improvement project. Advanced paperwork, filing with specific providers, getting on the schedule with doctors and facilities. She is building her list of resources, learning what to expect, and working to make the process easier, mentally and physically. I have become her research assistant.

Today is my day to do research on reconstructive surgery after a double mastectomy.  I’ve watched a UCLA webinar led by Laura’s surgeon, and learned about implants, “flaps” and what determines whether an immediate or delayed reconstruction is the best route. The webinar was led by one of the doctors referred to handle her case. Access to this information helps me be a better support person, and eases my motherly mind. I’m miles away but can connect with her caregivers through the UCLA site. Comfort.

I feel fortunate that she has included me as she searches to find a way through the cancer treatment maze. I’m finding my place and am glad to be seen as an asset and not a liability.  As a single, working mom, Laura fell into the latchkey category during many of her school years. Now I have the chance to do the things a “stay-at-home” mom could do. Feels good.

Daughter beside me

then

Mother beside her

now

The Gift of Defining Moments

When Melvin and I moved from Atlanta to Alleghany County, my plan was to retire from work and spend my time writing. Melvin had shifted into retirement mode the day he said goodbye to Kirk-Rudy in 2007. He ditched the suits, stocked up on Carhartts, and started car-building and ham radio projects. By the time we moved to Alleghany, he was a full time retiree. I was a harder sell on the idea of “just writing” in my retirement. I kept seeing things to do, ways I could contribute to the community.

I had decided that after one last project, (the Working Writers Workshops in May) I would put aside the organized, multi-tasking event organizer side of life and opt for days nestled on the porch reading, writing, and getting lost in thought. Fortunately I was poised in that direction when March and April turned life upside down, and May brought a tsunami that would change the future.

In the last four months I’ve had some serious stomach issues, (ulcers) which brought about a personal reality check and refocus, which brought about my retirement from active involvement in community service projects, followed by a renewed dedication to my writing  and the support of our growing literary community. After nudges from my writer friends and mentors, there it was…a revival…a coming home to the things that bring joy into my life.

April, 1969. Detroit. Ages: 6-months, 21 years.

1972 Camden Park, Huntington, WV. Ages: 4 years, 25 years.

The new plan was just getting underway when I picked up the phone on a Wednesday night in mid-May and heard my daughter say, “The test came back. I have cancer.” It was one of those life-as-you-know-it will-never-be-the-same moments, right up there with the day she was born…a defining moment in the mother/daughter relationship.

Life now revolves around trips to Los Angeles for support, writing about the experience, and supporting local writers and community projects of the Alleghany Writers creative writing group.

In the spirit of mother/daughter relationships, here’s a memoir, Snoop. I will  be reading it at the upcoming Voices of Alleghany open mic night. Our usual meeting place is the Alleghany Library, but Miles Realty has offered to host our event in July due to a scheduling conflict at the Library space. Voices of Alleghany is open to the public and all are invited to  hear the writers and poets of our county read their work. Thursday, July 20, 7pm, Miles Realty, 555 S. Main St., Sparta.     Come to read, come to listen, come to support!

Snoop

The minute I pulled opened the dresser drawer I knew someone had been snooping. Sweaters that were folded with the precision I learned from three high school summers of retail had been jostled from their right angle positions in an attempt to reach the blue pocket folder holding all my money and personal papers. There were only two other people in the house, one of them a four year old with neither the strength to pull the heavy drawer, nor the shrewdness to cover her tracks. The other person was my mother.

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The Wonderful “What If?”

When I started writing fiction I found it so exciting to take a real situation and ask the question, “What if?” The fact that I could take something that really happened, change the sequence of events, sprinkle in a few new characters…and poof…it’s a new story.

Different, unique, totally fictitious. That was the premise behind the short story I’ll Keep You Safe. 

In 1996, Melvin and I spent two weeks in Alaska with a 36 ft. sailboat as our home. We loaded our provisions and water, then sailed the Kenai Peninsula for the experience of a lifetime. It was late-summer with barely two hours of  darkness that wasn’t really dark. We anchored in coves of crystal blue water, picked up floating glacier chunks to fill our freezer, and ate fresh-caught salmon for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Especially memorable was the four hour crawl through dense fog using only our instruments and charts. No visibility, just the latitude and longitude, and confidence that we knew our jobs and trusted each other to reach through the mass of white dampness and into the bright blue sky on the other side.

Then came the stretch of bad weather that forced us to tuck into a lagoon at the end of Taroka Arm. Three days of rain and a radio that was out of range for Coast Guard transmissions. Nothing to do but sleep, read, and watch the wildlife, mainly the parade of black bears that made regular trips along the shoreline looking for berries and fish.

Our anchorage at Taroka Arm. The white spot in the water is our boat.

That black dot on the shoreline is one of the black bears that paraded past our boat every day.

When Melvin decided to go ashore and hike to the top to get a photo of our location I stayed behind. Yes, he encountered a bear. Yes, there was a confrontation. But all passed with only a mild measure of drama.

So, my writer’s mind kicked in and asked, “What if?” The result is the story below. It was published in the 2011 edition of the Scratch Anthology.

I’ll Keep You Safe

He starts to slip—ten feet, now another five. He thinks of Janie. She begged him not to make this hike. Sharp edges of rock rip through his jeans, into his knees. Gravel digs into his hands as his fingers grip for something solid. He’s lean and strong but still can’t get his footing—every surface crumbles beneath him. A torrent of rock cascades from above. It bounces off his body, but shatters his equilibrium. He falls sideways, tumbling, plummeting down the steep incline.

Janie scoots her seat cushion across the deck to avoid the sun’s shadow on her notebook. She’s done her quarter-hour check, and has spotted Kip’s red jacket moving up the cliff. The shiny splash of red nylon in the distance lets her relax and focus on her writing. Grabbing for the binoculars, she pans the terrain one more time. Yep, there’s my man. I’m back to work. Satisfied that Kip is safe, she turns her attention to an accurate description of their remote location, determined to capture every observation on paper.  Continue Reading

I’m With Ya Sista

I was an only child. The good news….no sharing required. The bad news….no shelter from my mother’s storm, no partner in crime or close confidant. That’s why my high school years were so important. I found my tribe at Saint Joseph Central Catholic High. Our class of 68 students. The girls who would become my best friends and the boys who would taunt, ignore, flatter, and do all those things high school boys do. Never threatening, never menacing, just the best boys ever.

On Monday I will attend the funeral of one of those tribe members, Abby Moran Robinson. I’ll drive to Columbus, Ohio, for the service. But I won’t travel alone. I’ll meet another bestie, Kathie Grant Catlin, half way and we’ll travel together. Because that’s what we do. Share the load, offer support. Be family for one another.

That’s the way it is now with my classmates. Between the phone calls, the emails, Facebook, and the Yahoo group managed by Linda Kemper Daniels, classmate wrangler extraordinaire, we have a network that keeps us in touch. There are big reunions and mini-reunions, all designed to keep the connection strong.

 

Just Push Play was published in the Freckles to Wrinkles Anthology in 2006 . My mother and aunt never assembled a VCR, but I’m guessing if they had, it would have looked and sounded like this.

Aunt Pauline, Aunt Ceil, and mother, Anne. The three amigos.

Just Push Play

Sylvie wasn’t on the porch. It was Helen’s first clue that something was wrong. Half the fun of these weekly outings was whizzing around the corner at the last minute to find Sylvie pacing the length of the porch staring at her watch. Some days she’d be standing in the driveway ready to run to the curb. Sylvie would rather be late for Sunday Mass than late for Bingo.

Helen rolled up to the curb and honked, but there was no response.

“Probably dropped dead from a heart attack,” she muttered.           “Damn fool.”

She swung the big Buick into the driveway, rocking to a halt just short of Sylvie’s garage door.  She threw the strap of the portable oxygen tank over her shoulder and, with an arm stretched out to the fender for support, teetered around the car and up the sidewalk.

A blend of Aqua Net and Shalimar sifted through the front door screen to greet her. Helen looked inside to see Sylvie poised in front of the television, decked out in a lime green polyester pants suit that barely camouflaged her pear shape, and sporting a crisp new updo that showed off her Clairol blonde. She was talking to the TV screen in a heated conversation, making her point with a wagging finger edged with the shiny red of a fresh manicure.

“They’ll put you in the home if they catch you talking to the TV like that,” Helen said walking through the door.

Sylvie waved her sister inside with the other manicured hand, never taking her eyes from the screen. “Look who’s talking,” she shot back. “You hardly get around on those gimpy legs. If anyone’s bound for the home, it’s you.”

“Yeah, but I’d rather be crippled than crazy.”

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Prompting the Imagination

The January 19th meeting of the Alleghany Writers was a confirmation that there is a genuine interest in building a writers community in Sparta.  We had returning writers, a few new writers, and some emails from other writers confirming that they plan to come in future months. Email me if you want more information on the group or to be added to our mailing list. coppertopcollins@gmail.com.

This month there was poetry, sharing online resources and the decision to move to the Alleghany Library beginning with the February 16th meeting. The library is located at 112 Atwood, in the same building as the Sparta campus of WCC, and the Blue Ridge Business Development Center. It is big, and beautiful, and a wonderful space for writers.

Doug showing the best thing to do in a library…….read.

There was also announcement of upcoming events. Details coming this spring.

New River Poetry Competition – Call for entries in early April. Awards Finale, May 13, 2017

Working Writer Poetry & Writing Workshops May 12 & 13

On the program at each meeting is the “prompt” exercise. Someone provides an opening line, or a situation. Writers are encouraged to take that prompt and see where the writing takes you. Attendees are invited to read their piece at the next meeting, but there is no pressure to read if it’s not your thing. There is a three minute limit for readings and we set aside time for discussion.

At the December meeting we decided on this prompt:

It’s dusk. You stop along the side of the road to look at the scenery.

You hear a tap, tap, tap that seems to be coming from the woods.

You see a pine needle path that leads in the direction of the sound.

This is my tap, tap, tap story –

Sunset Adventure

We took the interstate to the auction, but came home on the back roads. After a weekend of work we deserved a scenic drive to relax. The late afternoon sky was predicting a beautiful sunset, and it was time for a stretch and a rummage through the back seat basket. Lou and I made so many of these road trips we had developed a habit of the sunset snack. If there was a scenic place to stop and watch a sunset, we would celebrate it with a rest and a nibble.

Lou backed in the truck and dropped the tailgate. He headed to the woods for a pit stop and I pulled out the basket of snacks.  I stretched a tea towel over a section of the back and pulled out the cheese and crackers, thankful for how the wrapped sleeve of biscuits and the wax covered cheese made for a mess-free set up. A tin of smoked oysters finished the menu. I pulled out a couple of wine singles from the cooler and considered our sunset nosh to be ready.

Lou was back quicker than usual. His face had a puzzled look, and he kept turning around to the woods as he walked forward.

“Did you hear that?” A thread of fear laced through his question. I turned around to see that his faced matched his tone. In the year we had been dating I rarely saw Lou in a situation he did not dominate, so this was an unfamiliar scene for me.

“That tapping,” he said. “Did you hear it?”

“Sorry. I was setting the table. Didn’t hear a thing.”

“It was a tapping sound. Like metal on metal. A click. I couldn’t tell if it was random or a code.” Lou’s voice carried the suspense of someone imagining the plot of a paperback thriller coming to life on a wooded roadside.

“Code?”

“Yes, code. Like Morse Code. I think I recognized a word or two.”

I took in this new side of his personality. Excited over a rare find at an estate sale? Sure. But I never thought of Lou as someone interested in investigating sounds on the wind.

I handed him the bottle of wine and held mine up for a toast. After the ceremonial clink I asked, “So, do you want to end our weekend with a little exploring?”

Apparently my city dwelling, luxury loving boyfriend was more adventurous than I had imagined. He took a long sip of wine, and turned towards the woods. “Follow me,” he said, reaching his hand back to grasp mine. “Stay on the pine needles. That’s the path in.”

As we entered the cluster of trees I began to hear the sound. Very faint, so faint I wondered how Lou had even heard it. But he was right. There was a tapping, and it did sound like code.

The level path led to a steep drop off, opening up to a view of the valley below. Lou pointed to the large pine tree growing into the hillside on our left. That’s where we saw him, perched on rock surrounded by a clump of roots from a fallen tree. He had a radio in one hand, and was tapping out Morse Code with the other. After a moment of surprise on both our parts, he waved us over. We learned that our phantom tapper was a ham radio operator trying to make a last few contacts for National Parks On The Air, a celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the National Parks Service.

Our drive home was filled with stories of Lou’s fascination with amateur radio. Summers with his grandfather, learning Morse Code and talking with people across the county and around the world. I listened as he shared, knowing that our relationship had taken a step forward. All because I was willing to go down a path in the woods in search of a tap, tap, tap.

 

What’s Your Soup?

I love the process of preparation in advance of a snowstorm. The beer, the wine, the milk, the bread, the movies, the frozen pizza.  All the “usual suspects.”

Some put on their long johns and boots, grab the sled and saucer, and head out to do the things in the snow that make adults feel and act like children. Others stock up on books for long sessions of suspended reality in a comfortable corner. And there are those who line the sofa for a group TV binge on something new or an old favorite.

However you make the most of a snow day, one this is certain. You must have soup!  

Yesterday I made bean with ham, potato, onion, and carrot. I’m thrilled that it tasted pretty close to the classic Campbell’s Bean w/Bacon, and not so thrilled that I didn’t pay closer attention when measuring the ingredients. Never was one to follow the recipe like it was a science formula. I prefer to use the ingredient list and directions more as a “suggestion.” Therefore, nothing ever tastes the same, except for the cornbread recipe which I have memorized.

So, what kind of soup did YOU make today?