An Invaluable Legacy

8 08 2017

There is a tremendous emphasis these days on income. How much money you have and what you do with it has become a benchmark of success. As if money could be the precursor to happiness. As if your bank account equates your level of contentment. As if those with little money ought to be miserable.

I don’t deny that lack of money can make life difficult, especially for a family with children whose very existence require a decent income to sustain them. But more to the point, the richest people in the world don’t necessarily have a corner on the happiness market. Yes, those whose income is either non-existent or very low have a much harder life than the middle-income range, but here’s the thing. The most giving and kind-hearted people are often those who have the least.

These bold statements come from personal experience.  As a child, my parents were poor. Were it not for the twelve cows my dad milked for income and which provided milk and butter for us, the meager six acres of asparagus he grew, and my mother’s skillful negotiations for ‘sale’ prices on cases of dented canned sauerkraut and other vegetables, we might likely have starved. Potatoes mashed alternately with apples, kale, sauerkraut and spinach became an every-meal staple for us. Never did either my mom or dad talk about our poverty. Never once did I hear either of them complain, argue, or in any way indicate our lack of income. I wore my cousins’ hand-me-downs, as did my brother. We were always clean, always loved, and always expected to be respectful and well-behaved. Dad made a game of going to a Saturday sale, waiting until the very end when the auctioneer would pile various things into boxes and sell them for a quarter. Often those boxes yielded treasures, things Dad could fix up and use, or fix up and sell at the next auction. He took childlike delight in the money he earned in the process.

I remember vividly the generosity my parents practiced. There was always room for one more at the dinner table, and they shared as though they had more than enough. Often Dad went to the bank to borrow against the next year’s crop because the frost or drought took this year’s. His first priority the next year was to honor his commitment to pay back what he borrowed, even if that meant we got no profit.

And here’s what I learned from all that. I learned that being honorable is a great virtue. I learned that kindness can save a person from despair. I learned that generosity is possible, even when there is next to nothing to share. I learned that we are all equal on this earth if you measure equality in terms of integrity and strength of character. I learned that loving your fellow man is an active verb, something you show in a visible way. And I learned that hope is the one word we all need to hold on to. My parents did that. Their hope and their strong faith carried us all those years ago. What a legacy.


Landscapes of the Past

23 06 2014


My brother and I named the area of trees and bushes at the back of my father’s farm The Jungle. We were kids, and the world was an exciting vista awaiting our discovery. I spent hours wandering by myself through this magical place, my imagination running wild. Pretending to be lost in the myriad of streams and trees, my heart would pound as a delicious sense of adventure kept me looking for wildflowers and tracks of mysterious creatures. We had heard of wildcats back there, though we never saw one. There were insects and baby turtles and snakes interspersed with the plants. The river was just a short distance away with its bounty of rainbow trout and salmon. That larger body of water fed these tiny streams I followed and sustained the vegetation around me.

The fields of the farm have long since gone to seed. Where the house once stood there is a charred area surrounded by weeds, though the trees shading the side of our home still stand sentinel. Two of the trees are bare, long dead but still upright. My brother and I walked the farm a few years ago as part of a trip to pay homage at the graves of our parents. It was, in our eyes, a memory tour, a visit to our childhood. So much had changed.

That trip verified that nothing stays the same. Maybe it’s our memory that’s at fault, the events of the past being shrouded in this cloak of happy times that preclude the hard things. When you revisit, truth replaces memory and changes the images that were there. Regardless, I choose to hold on to the magic I felt as a child, allowing one memory to weave into another to create an endless stream of recollection.

Four years have passed since we revisited the farm. If I close my eyes, I can envision my young self there again. The pasture where our old sway-backed horse grazed isn’t fenced now, but I can see him there, lifting his head as I walk by. He shakes his mane, pauses a moment, his liquid brown eyes gentle on me. He lets out a soft whinny and goes back to doing what horses do best, being content to nibble at the grass of the field. I wave and walk beyond his world to my own, that magical Jungle of my childhood. And I lose myself in memory.

The Next Big Thing – A Challenge

18 02 2013

Washington farmland

Washington farmland

My good friend and fellow writer, Joe Roper (aka J.R. Roper) has tagged me in the Next Big Thing Blog Hop. Scary, but here it goes. Joe has written a trilogy, Treasure Hunter Tales, and has several short stories out there waiting for publication. I’ve been privileged to help in the revision process of Treasure Hunter Tales, and I can tell you first-hand that Joe has a good series going. Any day now he’ll get an offer from an agent.

So here is my part of the challenge: several questions about my latest book, The Last Good Summer.

1. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Believe it or not, it came from an improv session with a very talented presenter, Mary Jane Pories, who had us conjure up a character, and then become that person. Mine was Will Thompson, a seventy-something farmer in Washington state. My personal memories of growing up on a farm in small-town rural Washington helped a great deal with details of country life and quirky personalities.

2. What genre does your book fall under?

I think it would be considered literary fiction.

3. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

That’s a tough one. I have such distinct images in my mind as to what Will Thompson and Romy Smithfield look like that it would be a hard call.

4. What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A terminal brain tumor prompts a young woman to start over by moving west, where she becomes a catalyst in the lives of several unique characters living in a small town and forms relationships she never dreamed she’d have.

5. Will your book be self-published, or represented by an agency?

I’m hoping to obtain representation for the novel. Self-publishing might be an alternative down the road if my book isn’t picked up by an agent.

6. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About six months for the original draft, but several months beyond that to get it to a place where I feel it is nearly ready.

7. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Since the story is mainly character driven, I’d hope to be compared to Lee Martin, though his stories are much darker and more complex than mine. His stories are set, for the most part, in midwestern farm country, a similar setting to that of Washington.

8. Who or what inspired you to write this story?

I think it was a combination of the character development done through Mary Jane’s workshop and the title, which was suggested by my friend Marcia Veldman. The story grew out of those two things.

9. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The story is set in the 1970’s and will be relatable for those who lived in that era. Many people who have either lived on a farm or had relatives who owned one will appreciate the landscape I’ve built into the story. It’s a real-life kind of plot with a bitter-sweet ending, but that’s life, isn’t it?

Wow, Joe, this was quite a challenge! Next on the agenda are:

Cristina Van Wieren, who is writing a YA book about a young person trying to adapt to gender confusion. Her honest, yet tender handling of a difficult subject will help parents understand their struggling child, and will hopefully create more tolerance in middle school settings.

Sarah Schmitt, a talented writer whose stories lend themselves to the world of magic and are geared to the YA audience. Lots of twists and turns in the series she’s working on. No one falls asleep on Sarah’s watch!

Andrea Dunn-Sosa, whose book, Connected, is still in the working stages but addresses the premise of how each person’s action can have an effect on another and can change the course of that person’s life, either for good or ill. It reminds me of that six degrees of separation theory, and is reminiscent of Olive Kittridge.