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July 30, 2012

Life was good (and fun) when....

In today's newspaper, I read an obituary about a wife and mother, survived by her husband of many years. The obituary stated that her husband "survived to cherish her memory." That struck a chord with me, as I do indeed cherish the memory of my departed loved ones. It also served to remind that cherishing can be a daily affair in  present tense and in present company of loved ones. 

Part of this blog's purpose is to address getting along with grief broadly--as fact of life, work of the heart, an ongoing art and science. We cannot separate how we live in the present from "getting along with grief." What we communicate now to, with, and for our loved ones makes a great difference. One of the best antidotes to grief is to live fully and consciously cherish what is in our life and remember what has been good about it to now. Donal Mahoney's delightful slice of life does just that. I hope it will inspire you to write and record your good and happy memories with loved ones, as well.

What did the cows think?

Behind the Barn with Carol Ann

By Donal Mahoney

Back in 1957, kissing Carol Ann behind the barn in the middle of a windswept field of Goldenrod with a sudden deer watching was something special, let me tell you. Back then, bobby sox and big barrettes and ponytails were everywhere.

Like many farmers, Carol Ann’s father had a console radio in the living room, and every Saturday night the family would gather ’round with bowls of ice cream and listen to The Grand Ole Opry. It was beamed “all the way” from Nashville I was told more than once since I was from Chicago and sometimes wore a tie, so how could I know.

On my first visit, I asked Carol Ann if the Grand Ole Opry was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir of country music and she said not to say that to her father. She suggested I just tap my foot to the music and let him watch me. Otherwise, I’d best be quiet and say, “Yup,” “Nope,” or “Maybe” if asked any questions, which she didn’t think would happen. No need to say much more, she said, and after a few visits, I understood why.

Over time, I learned to tap my foot pretty good to the music because when I’d come to visit, her father would insist I have a bowl of ice cream with the family. I liked the ice cream, but not so much the Grand Ole Opry. I’d been weaned on Sinatra in the city. Big difference, let me tell you.

But back in 1957 kissing Carol Ann behind the barn was something special since we couldn’t do much more until I found employment. Only then, her father said, could we get married. I found no jobs in town, however, for a bespectacled man with degrees in English.

Still, I always found the weekend drives from Chicago worth the gas my Rambler drank because kissing Carol Ann brought a bit of heaven down behind that barn, especially on summer nights when fireflies were the only stars we saw when our eyes popped open. It was like the Fourth of July with tiny sparklers twinkling everywhere.

Now, 55 years later, Carol Ann sometimes mentions fireflies at dusk as we dance behind the cows to coax them into the barn for the night. I’m still not too good with cows despite my John Deere cap, plaid shirt and overalls, which proves, she says, that all that kissing behind the barn in 1957 took the boy out of the city, but not the city out of the boy.

“Hee Haw” is all I ever say in response because I know why I’m there. It’s to keep tapping the cows on the rump till we get them back in the barn so we can go back in the house and start with a kiss and later on come back downstairs for two big bowls of ice cream.


Donal Mahoney worked as an editor for the The Chicago Sun-Times. His poems have been published in The Wisconsin Review, The Kansas Quarterly, The South Carolina Review, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Commonweal Magazine, Catapult to Mars (Scotland), Public Republic (Bulgaria), Revival (Ireland), The Istanbul Literary Review (Turkey), The Camel Saloon, and Dead Snakes, among others. Read more of Donal's poetry here.  See Donal's previous post on this blog here.

Photo by Ysabel de la Rosa, all rights reserved.

July 22, 2012

A Tribute to the Father of Science Fiction

Ray Bradbury changed the world. With words. Changed and opened lives, minds, futures. With words. Poet Russell Salamon offers this beautiful tribute to the man who was a father to a 
host of readers, writers, and deep thinkers.


Ray Bradbury, High school photo

Unfinished Eternity

by Russell Salamon
In memoriam: Ray Bradbury

The body wore out working
the mind until the very last moment,
and the pieces of future lie strewn
on the workshop floor. Oh, those lovers,
those children of light, the star children
headed for Mars, those imaginations
fired up by Ray Bradbury, Ron Hubbard,
Robert Heinlein, those smoke filled
volcanoes cooking molten starfire--
something is different now that the
minds have printed their footsteps
in the path.

The unfinished eternity has picked
up blueprints and the planets wait;
winds of space wait for a fleet of minds
launched from books, visions wait
for the exodus. The future is planted,
minds blossom in the pull of moonlight.
We run after you, bodies still breathing
your sentences.

People who know, love your open
eyes which see into early nowhere
of new time, the soft gleam of nothing
under moonlight falling on dreams,
the sea currents rippling on our skins
with senses of saplings and grass winds
and smoke rising from a chimney where
you thought and spoke and visioned,

and envisioned, and saw again the
hands of Mankind opening to take
your senses into their senses
of light, reading the million colors
of a free mind like dense musics
of wet seacoasts. You left a dense
free land for the occupying forces
of love and life.
Poem, copyright Russell Salamon, all rights reserved.
A prolific poet, Russell Salamon is the author of eleven books of poetry. His work has appeared in Passager, Sunstone, Uncommon Ground, Daybreak, The Listening Eye, Saint Petersburg Russian-American Anthology, Peckerwood, Puckerbrush Review, Retooling for the Renaissance in the Third Millenium, Riverside Quarterly, Trace, and Dare, among others. He serves on the editorial board for California Quarterly, published by the California State Poetry Society. He has been a featured reader at many venues in California and New York, with one reading in London. In California: Moonday, Beyond Baroque, Autry Museum of Western Heritage, Mission Viejo Public Library, Laguna Poets, Bakersfield Art Gallery, San Louis Obispo, Riverside, Mission San Louis Rey, Moondog, among others.

July 12, 2012

Remembering a Father

A beautiful poem about a special man.

I’ll especially remember you for the
Tenderness in your smile
For the gentle way you showed your strength
And your courage in the face of trial.
I’ll especially remember the compassion that you’d lend
To those who needed your understanding
And for the hurts you helped to mend.
I’ll especially remember you for the concern
You would show to the lonely and the forlorn
Giving them love, when emptiness was all they knew.
I’ll especially remember the way you loved us
With all your heart and soul
Beaming with pride over your children.

Poem copyright Marie Toole, all rights reserved.
Marie Toole is a Brooklyn girl, born and raised in Bay Ridge and the middle child of three sisters. She lives in the warm south in Delray Beach, Florida. She scrapbooks for her six grandchildren and loves being in the kitchen cooking and baking their favorites along with them. An avid reader who loves writing, she now has time to pursue what she loves most, after retiring from the travel business. She is a member of FanStory and has had many poems published in Prune Juice, Writing Excellence, and The Messenger, among other publications.

July 4, 2012

A Father of Service, A Dad of Smiles

 Debra Ayers Brown's piece is a slice-of-life jewel. It reminds us of the treasure we miss if daily pressures and general stress take over. I wanted to post this story on the 4th of July also because Debra's dad, Delmar Ayers, was a Navy gunner for the United States. He represents a host of men who survived unspeakable events to then come home and become good, gentle fathers to many a child. It's a transition and transformation we too often take for granted--just as we often take for granted the price paid for our independence by the sacrifices of people whose names we will never know. For caregivers, Debra's story will likely strike a chord. How important it is to find the grace note of humor in the midst of the trying circumstances of new responsibilities. And it's important to remember we're never too old to add some style to our lives!


By Debra Ayers Brown

After Papa’s stroke, he lived to watch the Braves on television. Nothing changed when my elderly parents moved in with me. Nightly, Papa planted himself in his recliner I’d bought for his comfort and placed in front of the TV. My mom sat on the sofa with the remote control in hand. That’s when the trouble always started.

“Papa,” Mom shouted to her hard-of-hearing husband, "the Braves are ahead two to—”

“What?” he yelled back.

“Two to nothing.” She motioned with her fingers.

“Just tell me what the score is,” he said, squinting at her.

“I’m trying to tell you,” she snapped. “They’re up by—”  She held up two fingers, but it was no victory sign because Papa still couldn’t understand.

I wanted to scream: their arguing drowned out the loudest sports announcer as the Braves made another run. The saga continued as Mom held three fingers in the air and yelled, “The Braves just made a run! Can’t you see anything?” She hit the buttons on the remote and changed the channel.

Papa was fighting-mad now.

Mom turned to me. “He’s deaf and blind,” she said. “I don’t want to watch the game, but I have to because he can’t see.” She searched for another show. “Why watch a stupid ballgame when he’s—”

“Stop!” I said. “I can’t take this every night.”

“Well, Papa can’t see the television, and he won’t listen to me.” Mom continued with a list of Papa’s faults. Of course, he heard every one of those.

“I can’t see the scores,” he said, “and she wants to complicate it.” His hands flew around, mimicking her earlier gestures, and finally collapsed back against his seat with a sigh of disgust. “All she has to say is Braves three, Chicago nothing.”

“I’ve said that about a hundred times—”

“Stop,” I repeated. “Just stop.”
The next day, I made an appointment to have Papa’s eyes checked. We knew there wasn’t hope for his hearing because he’d damaged his ears as a Navy gunner in the war. But maybe there was a chance for improved vision. He’d been diagnosed with cataracts, but that doctor hadn’t thought surgery was worth it for someone of Papa’s age. I could only hope this doctor wouldn’t think eighty-three was too old. It would be worth it for him to see better for a week, a month, or forever—however long forever might be.

Sure enough, the new doctor said to me, “I think we can get him where he can see the scores.” He smiled at the thin man with the broad shoulders sitting before him with his back straight in the chair, blue-veined hands resting in his lap.

In a few days, we rolled Papa out to my car after a two-hour stay at the surgical center of the doctor’s office. We left the office armed with eye drops, a prescription, and a pair of large black sunglasses to reduce light sensitivity.

That night, Papa rested his eyes. But he was back in front of the TV the next day. By the time I arrived home from work to take him to his follow-up appointment, he was already seeing a lot better.

“Has this TV always been this good?” he asked as he leaned over to put on his shoes. Mom smiled. “And it will be even better when we get your other eye done in two weeks.”

“But now,” I said, “we have to hurry so we won’t be late for your follow-up appointment.” I rattled off the list of things I’d asked them to have ready.

Papa headed to the bathroom. Mom moved toward the kitchen. Pills rattled as Mom thrust Papa’s prescription bottles into the Ziploc bag. The toilet flushed in the hall bathroom.

“Mom, we need to already be in the car.” I tried to control my temper. “We’re going to be late.” My nerves bristled. I’d had to rearrange my schedule to fit the appointment in. Mom moved behind Papa as he put one foot in front of the other and held on to the wall for support.

“Where’s your walking stick?” I asked, searching searched high and low before finding it at the bottom of the stairs.  Dad grabbed it and shuffled to the car while an October sun radiated against a cloudless blue Savannah sky. He struggled with the seatbelt as Mom shouted instructions from the backseat.

I was exhausted by the time we pulled out of the driveway and made our way through lunchtime traffic to get to the doctor’s office across town. About halfway to our destination, Papa said, “At least I got a good pair of sunglasses out of the deal.”

I smiled, thinking only that Papa would like the oversized black shades they provided to wear after surgery. I glanced in his direction. What?

“Papa, you’re not wearing the right sunglasses. We can’t go without them.” I jerked the car around at the next left turn and headed toward home.

Mom leaned up and around the front seat. “Papa,” she cried. “You're wearing Debbie’s expensive Calvin Kleins!”

Indeed, Papa was wearing my splurge buy—my Calvin Klein sunglasses. The ones I saved for special occasions or trips to tropical locales. I never considered wearing them every day.  I was too rough on sunglasses … I scratched lenses … and I lost them.

Apparently, my loss was Papa’s gain. He sat up straight and grinned at me.

“These are nice,” he said and repositioned the designer sunglasses that, even stretched, missed his ears by a good inch-and-a-half.

I shrugged, thinking, “At least they are UV-protective.”

One afternoon when I returned home from work, I climbed the stairs to my bedroom. Mom was right behind me. Papa, fresh from his shower, was making his way to his bedroom. I didn’t want to startle him as I watched him from behind. My dad, clad only in his white BVD underwear, had towel-dried his graying blond hair so it stuck out in every direction. His rail-thin legs and bony bottom wobbled from side to side in the hallway.

“Papa,” I said and giggled.

“You’re home." He turned to me, grinning, and touched his hand to the side of the sunglasses he was proudly wearing.

“Papa,” Mom gasped. “You've got Debbie’s expensive sunglasses again.”
I grinned back at him and said to Mom, “Don’t you know nobody should come between a man and his Calvins?”

And I realized it was true. If my sunglasses made Papa happy, what was the harm?
Now, my prized Jimmy Choos would be another matter.

Text copyright Debra Ayers Brown, all rights reserved. 

Debra Ayers Brown is a writer, humorist, blogger, magazine columnist and award-winning marketing professional.  Her stories have been published in Guideposts, Woman’s World, Liberty Life Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Chocolate for Women, and Not Your Mother’s Book, among other publications. She is a University of Georgia honor graduate and earned an MBA from The Citadel. "Proud
momma" of daughter Meredith, Debra lives near Savannah, GA., with her husband Allen and mother Sara. Visit her website here.