ME AND…the passing of a good friend

Hazel Louise Murdock Riddell passed away on June 27, 2015.  She was 94 years old.  These were my thoughts on the day of her funeral.

 

I lived with my father-in-law Dave and my mother-in-law Hazel while my husband Dave was in Vietnam. It was during that time that I discovered what a remarkable person Hazel was. Mr. Riddell worked in Pittsburgh during the week. Neill was busy with school and his band. So most evenings Hazel and I ended up alone in the living room watching TV together. In particular, I remember watching the evening news with her. The struggle for Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation played out before our eyes. And so many issues. Hazel had plenty to say about those things. And then we’d see news footage of fighting going on in Vietnam, complete with the body count. The number of U.S. Military personnel who’d been killed that day. It was – and I use this word to the full extent of it’s meaning – horrible.

Hazel suffered real pain over these numbers. Partly, I’m sure because her own son was over there in harm’s way. But also because she totally disagreed with the war. I didn’t like to see her so upset. So I suggested we not watch. Hazel responded as if I had proposed an act of treason. In her mind, I supposed I had. She slapped the palm of her hand down onto the wooden arm of her chair and said, in “No, sir!” No matter how painful, it was our duty to watch, in order to be well informed, because only then could we hold and offer a valid opinion on the war. I sat there in admiration of her intelligence and strength. And to be perfectly honest, I was pretty much afraid of her.

In December of the year Dave was in Vietnam, I was getting ready to bake Christmas cookies to send to him. His favorites were filled with fresh fruit. Including grapes. The problem was, out in California, Cesazr Chavez had called for a nationwide boycott on grapes to support his efforts to organize migrant workers. I knew Hazel would have a fit if I brought home a bag of grapes. So before going shopping for ingredients, I asked her advice. Make the cookies without grapes? They wouldn’t be nearly as good, She thought for a moment and then said, “Buy the grapes. It’ll be okay because they’re for cookies going to a soldier fighting in Vietnam. We just won’t eat any of them.” Sure enough, the left over grapes went into the trash.

That was when I understood her. The matter of the grapes was just a little thing. But to Hazel, every little thing you did added up to who you really were.

There were moments of happiness while I lived at 1265 Fort Park. Dave had written home from Vietnam that he’d like to have a dog waiting for him when he came home. Of course, my father-in-law Dave and Hazel said yes. Dave had requested the dog be a Newfoundland puppy. I had never had a dog and Hazel set about training me on how to train a dog. Use one word commands. Be consistent. If the dog is disobedient, get off your butt and do something about it right away, Most importantly, never strike a dog. Thanks to Hazel’s guidance, the puppy, Babe, grew up to be a wonderful pet.

There are many other stories I could tell about that year, but they are for another time.

Dave, made it through the war and came home. I moved out of 1265 Fort Park into an apartment with him and we began our life together for the second time. Years later, after our kids, Katie and Aaron, had been born, Dave seemed very worried and said, “I don’t anything about raising kids.” I had to laugh at what came into my mind. “Use one word commands. Be consistent. If they are disobedient, get off your butt and do something about it right away, And never strike them.” If I say so myself, Katie and Aaron have grown up to be wonderful adults.

Hazel was an intelligent, feisty, well informed, and very generous woman who was a good companion to me during one of the most difficult times of my life. As she was through out the many years that followed. I owe her a huge debt of gratitude.

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ME AND…Memorial Day

The list of those in our family and those among our friends who have served in The United States Armed Forces is long and begins with Dave’s grandfather, William Murdoch who served during WW I. Fortunately, for me, the list of those I knew who made the ultimate sacrifice is very short.

Captain Eric Zigler died in an airplane crash June 30, 2008. He served in Japan, Germany, and flew over 300 hours in Iraq, He was piloting an F-16C jet over the desert north of Nellis Air Force Base Nevada, where he was attached to the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron. His mission was to put the jet through its paces in a simulated “dog fight.” Apparently he lost consciousness while engaged in a maneuver that caused him to experience 8-9Gs. He was married to Dave’s God daughter née Sarah Kotte. I did not know Captain Ziegler very well, but did know he was an outstanding officer and an excellent husband and a wonderful father to Anna.  I was deeply saddened upon hearing he had died.

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The last causality of the Vietnam War.  That is how I think of My-ca Le.

I met My-ca when he was five years old. I became acquainted with his father Daniel Le when I took a free lance writing job. Mr. Le and his family had fled Vietnam at the end of the war. He was writing a paper about the “boat people” and their experiences in refugee camps. I was engaged to check grammar and syntax. He would bring the work to my home and pick up the corrected pages a few days later. Before one of these visits, Mr. Le. called and asked if it would be okay to bring along his wife and their two sons. Of course it was.

Much to my surprise, I discovered that the older son, My-ca, was going to be in my kindergarten class that fall. In spite of the language barrier, My-ca and our son Aaron, who was about the same age, immediately became good playmates. From then on, My-ca was a regular visitor to our home. Dave and I were invited to social gatherings hosted by the Lees.

My-ca was a beautiful little boy. Quiet, of course, because of the language difference. He did participate in Show and Tell and became a quick learner. The boys in class liked him because he didn’t shy away from rough and tumble play ground games and he could run faster than any of the other boys. Even though most of them were bigger that he was. It made me smile to see his thick, dark hair flying as he darted here and there. After my work for Mr. Le was completed and I had taken a different job, I lost contact with the family.

On July 23, 1982, Dave woke me early in the morning and told me he’d heard on the news that My-ca had been killed in an accident. In the midst of our shock, we realized we had a problem. How to break the news to our son Aaron. Dave took on that sad task, behind the closed door to Aaron’s room.

The accident was that infamous and controversial helicopter crash that took place during the filming of TWILIGHT ZONE THE MOVIE.

In the scene being filmed, actor Vic Morrow was supposed to carry two children, played by Renee Shin Yi Chen, and My-ca Dinh Le, across a river with a helicopter bearing down on them. The movie footage of the scene suggested that John Landis had ordered excessive explosives for greater effect and the helicopter to fly lower than usual to increase the drama. The explosion ripped the tail rotor off the helicopter and sent it into a downward spiral. The wash from the larger blades whipped the air and water into a frenzy. Vic Morrow managed to hold onto Myca, but lost his grip on Renee. He was trying to rescue her from the swirling water when the helicopter fell into the river killing all three,

Dave and I attended My-ca’s funeral. At the front of the church, which was resplendent with flowers, the coffin looked so small. A sad reminder that we were there to bury a young, innocent child. A real boy who had survived the real war in Vietnam and made it to America. Only to die in a recreation of what he had escaped. The irony was too painful.

For many years, Dave and I visited My-ca’s grave on Memorial Day. In those moments I put aside everything about his death and thought of the quiet, little boy who could run faster than any of his classmates. His thick, dark hair flying,

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My condolences to the families and friends of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. And to those men and women who did so, my never ending  gratitude.

ME AND…Swimming with the Sharks.

 

The whole crazy adventure began with a commercial on TV promoting a variety of events under the title L.A. Live at the Convention Center. Basically they were auditions to become contestants on non-scripted/game shows. The one that interested me was SHARK TANK. I’d been a fan of the show for years. In case you’ve never watched it, entrepreneurs seek investments in their businesses from billionaires, a.k.a. The Sharks. The billionaires are very smart people and can smell the weaknesses in a business like blood in the water. They are merciless in questioning the investment seekers.

I didn’t have a business. I didn’t have a product. I didn’t even have a prototype! And, of course, I didn’t have a patent. No proof of concept sales history. No data on margins or the cost of acquiring customers. All things The Sharks would ask me about. I’m at a loss to explain it now, but not of that phased me. I had an idea for a great product.

Dave was off playing golf so I thought, why not? I dressed and stopped at the drug store to buy the things I needed to make a prototype of my product idea. I was very excited while I made the long drive into the city. Upon arriving at the Convention Center, I immediately went to the auditorium where two of The Sharks would listen to and question people seeking investments. They were due to appear in about two hours. I sat on the floor beside the metal doors. First in line. I assembled my prototype and then practiced my pitch. When I felt I had that down pat, I played games on my iPad.

Quite a crowd had lined up behind me and, when the doors opened, there was a lot of pushing and shoving. Fortunately my first in line position put me half a step in front of all that. I dashed down the aisle and got the front row, center seat. That, along with my red blouse and white hair would make me hard to miss.

Daymond John and Mark Cuban took the stage along with Sam Rubin, who would call on people to make their presentations. Each time Sam Rubin looked for a new presenter, I practically came out of my seat waving my hand and saying Oooh and Ahhh! Finally he called on me.

I strode, as professionally as possible, up to the microphone and held up my product. I’d glued one of those travel tooth brushes onto the inside of the cap of a travel size bottle of mouth wash. The toothbrush dangled in the mouth wash liquid. But first I held up a regular travel toothbrush.

I said, Mr. Cuban or Mr. John, if you needed to clean your teeth before an important meeting, you wouldn’t want to use my toothbrush, would you?” They laughed and exchanged questioning looks.

I said, “It’s mine and I wouldn’t want to use it either because the last time I did, it was after I’d had tacos for lunch.” I threw the toothbrush on the floor. Both Sharks laughed. Then I held up my toothbrush and mouth wash combination. “But this toothbrush has been soaking in mouth wash since I the last time I used it. It’s clean and fresh. Ready to use.”

At this point, they could have excoriated me. But they didn’t. Mark Cuban asked me how long I’d been working on my product. I looked at my watch and said, “A couple of hours.” That got a laugh. I’d seen Shark Tank often enough to know they could turn on a dime and tear me to shreds. But they didn’t. Mr. John suggested I apply for a patent and then contact toothbrush manufacturers or mouth wash manufactures to find out if they’d be interested in adding my product to their line. They said the process of getting the patent is expensive, but they liked my idea well enough to suggest I give it a try.

That was it. No life changing deal. Not that I had expected one. But I knew what The Sharks must have known immediately. I was not a business woman. But I was sad that my career as an entrepreneur was over so quickly.

I would have enjoyed the social entree that goes along with being a successful business woman. I’ve known many successful business people and I love talking to them. Not about business. Business scares the heck out of me. But, whatever it is that makes people successful in business, also gives them a very unusual take on life in general. As the saying goes, “It’s fun to pick their brains.”

I said, “Thank you. For your time.” And went back to my seat.

I’d taken off on that morning on an impulse and without expectations. Yet I felt weirdly satisfied.  And elated.  I called all my friends during the drive home and told them about my adventure.

 

ME AND…a very posh party.

For an account leading up to this blog, see my post from two weeks ago, “How the Other Half Lives.”  May 6, 2016

At the appointed time, Dave and I, along with about a hundred other people, gathered in the lobby of the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Dearborn, Michigan. My knee length dress, aubergine crepe, with sequin trim made me feel glamorous. Well worth the extra money I’d spent on it. Strappy, high heeled sandals and a petite, novelty handbag completed my outfit. Or should I say ensemble? I’d had my hair done in the hotel salon. Dave looked handsome in his suite. The lobby glittered with friends and family dressed to the nines.

A ripple of excitement ran through the crowd as the concierge announced that our cars had arrived. Thirty-nine limousines! Parked three by three under the hotel canopy and down the street as far as I could see. He, and other hotel employees, guided us through an orderly departure. As Dave and I waited for our turn, I heard a ruckus. One of the guests, the president of another country, complained loudly that his car couldn’t get through to pick him up and, no, he would not walk to where it hovered at the end of the line of our cars. I noticed the singer/song writer Neal Sedaka pacing back and forth near the doors. I assumed he was waiting for a car as well. Getting our people into the limos took some time. Mr.Sedaka continued to pace and look at his watch. The president continued to raise a fuss. I feared an international incident. Finally, Mr. Sedaka informed the concierge that he didn’t want to risk being late for his show and that he was going to walk to his car. The concierge apologized profusely. Mr. Sedaka gave him a no-problem shrug and went on his way. Class act in more than one way!

Lovett Hall stands on the grounds of Greenfield Village, a nineteenth century, small town created by Henry Ford from antique buildings and houses. Although a newer building, it’s design fit perfectly into the surroundings. I particularly liked its pillars and windows on the outside and the wooden floors, beautiful, curved stairway, and the many tiered chandeliers inside. Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres were served in the reception area while all of the limos dropped of guests. Our host and hostess and the guests of honor greeted us.

After about an hour, we were invited to go upstairs and into the main ballroom and dinning area. It was stunning. Wide plank, wooden floor. Tall windows framed by elegant draperies. An abundance of flowers and candles for center pieces. We took our places at the tables. A small army of servers brought out trays laden with covered plates. The aroma of the food made me hungry. I became aware of a server behind me. I heard the clatter of a plate slipping of the tray. Then I felt a warm ooze sliding down my back. In an instant, a supervisor appeared offering frantic apologies. Two uniformed women mopped my back with cloth napkins.

I grabbed his hand, squeezed it, and said, “Listen to me! I do not want a scene. Understand?” He nodded. I released his hand. “Thank you. When these ladies have done their best, I’m going to the lady’s room. I need someone to walk very closely behind me.” He nodded and issued orders. I looked at the women, “Is the worst of it gone?” They fussed for another moment. Finally I said, “Let’s go.” I managed to walk all the way across the ballroom, in front of hundreds of people, without anyone noticing my predicament.

Once in the restroom, I took off my dress to survey the damage. The women with me offered to use slightly dampened hand towels to further clean the back of my dress. Once that was done, they carefully held my dress under a hot air hand drier. Except for a few odd looks I received from women surprised to find me sitting half naked on a lovely, wing back chair upholstered in a floral print, no was aware that anything out of the ordinary had happened. Not even Dave, who, upon my return, asked where I had been and pointed out that I’d missed dinner. The supervisor came to me and said Lovett Hall would pay to have my dress dry cleaned and asked if I’d like to have dinner. I declined, complimented the women who had helped me, and thanked him for not making a scene. Then I requested a dessert.

The entertainment for the evening included a family history film written, produced, and directed in Hollywood. Can you say special effects? Very clever and funny. An orchestra took the stage and Michael Buble put on a great show. He invited our host and hostess and the guests of honor onto the dance floor. And then he invited everyone else to dance while he performed old fashioned love songs. It was very romantic. So was going out onto the balcony for a breath of fresh air and to see the view of the village. Antique building lighted up from the inside. Flickering gas street lamps. Beautiful!

Late in the evening, we called for a car and made our way to the hotel. I wasn’t ready to sleep. I went up to the top floor lounge, asked for a soda, and settle at a table with a view of the Downriver, the gritty location of massive factories and the families of skilled laborers.  I’d grown up there never thinking I’d have a chance at putin’ on the Ritz – even for one night.  Great fun while it had lasted, but, in the morning, I’d be on a plane back to reality.  No regrets because, as Dorothy famously said, “There’s no place like home.”

ME AND…Mother’s Day

1952. Lincoln Park, Michigan. People from all over the country and from all over the world lived there. The fathers, drawn by the opportunity to work in the automobile factories or the huge plants that supplied them with steel and thousands of car parts, worked hard through their various shifts. The mothers generally stayed at home to cook, clean, and raise kids. The men and women worked hard during the week, partied on Friday and Saturday nights, and took their kids to church Sunday morning.

One Sunday in May, Mother’s Day to be exact, my sister Sheila came home from spending the night with her friend Jane and announced she was going to go to church with her and her family. I begged to tag along. Sheila said, “Okay. Hurry up and get dressed.”

A huge crowd filled the sanctuary. We had to sit in the balcony, but we were lucky enough to get seats in the front row. This was back in the day when businesses, that could afford it, advertised they had air conditioning. Signs on their doors proclaimed, “It’s Kool Inside!” The church had no such sign on its gothic revival door. The heat from all those bodies crammed inside and from the many lighted candles rose to the rafters, carrying with it the scent from the dozens of floral bouquets that decorated the altar. It was hot in the balcony. My hat and gloves made me even hotter, but taking them off was unthinkable. I wished we would go, but that was unthinkable, too.

I folded my arms on the railing and rested my head on them. I looked at the congregation, noticing how many “old” ladies were present. The preacher mentioned them and said a special bus from a retirement home brought them to this service. He asked the women to stand. Everyone gave them a nice round of applause. Then he launched into his sermon, which was about Mary and mothers and their sometimes painful sacrifices. I struggled not to fall asleep.

The next thing I knew, Jane tapped me on my shoulder and said, “Do you want to go?”

I thought, Thank God and followed her and my sister toward the aisle. No easy matter since we had to climb over feet and dodge around knees. No one else got up to leave. I thought, that was odd. The three of us didn’t go out the door. Instead, we walked right up the center aisle of the church. When we reached the altar, Jane turned around to face the congregation. Sheila and I did the same. I had no idea what was going on.

The preacher asked if there were any mothers or grandmothers in the congregation who didn’t have a son or daughter who would be coming to visit them that day to give them a special Mother’s Day hug. The women with their hands up, were invited to come forward. They were paired with one of the kids. My memory of my “mother” includes white hair and a blue suit. As instructed, I wished her a happy Mother’s Day and gave her a big hug. The preacher then asked the kids to promise the’d remember to wish our “mother” a happy Mother’s Day every year hence forth and to mentally send her a hug. The “mothers” promised to remember every Mother’s Day that there was a child sending a special hug to them.

I was nothing if not an obedient child. So much so, that I kept my promise for years I often wondered if my “mother” remembered to remember. I could only hope so. I’m also a bit slow on the uptake. It wasn’t until I was a mother myself and my children were about ten years old, three decades after my experience in the church, that I woke up and wished my “mother” a happy Mother’s Day, sent her a mental hug, and then realized there was a good chance, that she had died. I sat up and blinked furiously to keep back tears. All told, the white haired woman dressed in her blue suit probably occupied about a half an hour of my conscious time – out of three decades! Yet I mourned her. And I was going to miss my little private ritual.

Then I thought why? Why not continue to wish her a happy Mother’s Day and send her a hug? Where ever she might be. And why limit myself just to one mother who didn’t have a child close by to give her a hug? Why not send out Mother’s Day greetings and mental hugs to all mothers? You can laugh if you like, but it was a cosmic moment for me. I was happy I could continue my little private, if somewhat altered, ritual.

So, another thirty years has gone by. I told you I was slow on the uptake. I figure it’s pointless to keep my ritual private. So, here’s to all you mothers who don’t have a child near by to give you a Mother’s Day hug. And here’s to my own mother, who is beyond my physical reach now.

To each and every one of you, I say “HAPPY MOTHER!S DAY!”

ME AND…How the oher half lives.

Once upon a time, an invitation to a party came in the mail. A calligrapher had written our address in an old English style. The weight of the paper used for the envelope and the thickness of the document inside were beyond anything ever issued from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I’d been expecting it because “people” had called me to verify my address. I opened it carefully, not wanting to make a ragged edge on the expensive keepsake.

The invitation, a booklet really, bore engraved text and beautifully reproduced photographs having to do with the purpose of the party. The envelope also contained an RSVP card and a stamped, addressed, return envelope. Since the party was going to be in Michigan, another card politely asked if I’d like help with making travel plans. Flights, hotels, and cars. I filled out the RSVP card indicating two will attend and checked the box beside “yes” for help. Since Dave would be traveling for work the week before the party and arriving from Chicago, I’d be flying on my own. Not a problem, but I thought the “people” might help me schedule my flight with others flying out of LAX. It’s always nice to have a friend to talk to during the flight. I had wanted the hotel where other guests would be staying so I could make reservations for us there, too.

Silly me.

A few weeks later, another impressive envelope arrived. It contained my prepaid airline ticket. I was embarrassed. When I’d indicated I needed help with my travel plans, I hadn’t meant I needed money for a airline ticket. This one was for first class! No way I could have afforded that. Also included were details about a car and driver that would pick me up at my house and take me to LAX. A car and driver would pick me up at Detroit Metro and take me to the hotel. Reservations made and paid. The Ritz Carlton in Dearborn. Gratuities for all of this prepaid.

I called Dave. Should I clear up the misunderstanding and return the airplane ticket? Should I cancel the Ritz and make a reservation at the nearby Motel 6? He suggested I relax about these things and enjoy them. He didn’t have to say it twice!

Since my travel expenses had been paid, I decided to buy myself a new dress for the night of the party. I actually needed a whole new wardrobe for hanging out at the Ritz, but that would have been going overboard. I found a dress I loved and didn’t beat myself up about paying a little more than usual for it.

The morning of my flight, a limousine with a uniformed chauffeur arrived. Being very independent and used to doing things for myself, it was a real treat to have my bags carried to the car and the door opened for me. Unfortunately, the car arrived too early in the morning for my neighbors to witness my departure. It was lovely not personally slugging it out with L.A.’s notoriously bad freeway traffic. However, I did find it a bit lonely in the back seat behind the glass partition. I wondered if the people around me thought someone famous was inside the car, which had been polished to perfection and gleamed in the light of the rising sun. Skycaps jumped into action when the limo pulled up to the curb. I had enough sense to wait for the driver to open my door. I tried to look important as I emerged. I stood by with as much dignity as I could present, with my five foot nothing size, during the processing of tickets, luggage, etc – pretending my “new status” was the norm. Such fun! The VIP lounge, flying first class, and not having to wait to disembark were grand, but the topper was arriving at baggage claim to find another chauffeur – this one holding a sign with my name on it. Something I’d never thought I’d experience. And there were plenty of witnesses. Again the treat of not having to struggle with luggage or fight traffic.

Upon arriving at the Ritz, I discovered guests had been flown in from around the country and from the UK. So many, in fact, that our party occupied almost all of the hotel’s rooms. Dave arrived a bit later and, once he’d changed from his business suit into his business casual clothes (I refused to bring his cut-off blue jeans shorts, which he thought appropriate anywhere,) we went to the buffet / lounge the on top floor. The Ambassador Bridge to Canada and the skyline of Detroit were lighted up. The whole room was filled with people I’d met briefly over the years and people about whom I’d heard stories for decades.

Ordinary folks with deep ties to Scotland. A pub like atmosphere reigned. Loud. Crude. Terribly funny. And finally, very sentimental. Dave was right in there with them. It was great fun to watch him. It wasn’t often he had a chance to cut loose among his own. We stayed until the wee hours of the morning. No matter. We could sleep in. Order room service. Perhaps call for a car and driver to go out for a bit. Then dress for the party. It was an other worldly way of life.

Our host and hostess, who hadn’t hadn’t been seen yet, would have been amused by my Alice in Wonderland reaction to all this. Both of them came from middle class families and had worked very hard for their amazing successes. (They’re on the Forbes 500 list, south of Bill Gates, but north of the mid point.) Except for the things they can afford to do, they’re very down to earth people. Stories of their generosity were exchanged.  Many involved helping young people get educations and find careers.  But my favorite was about a man on his way to do a job for them.  He called to say he’d be a bit late because his truck had broken down.  He was going to call for a tow and he’d be there as soon as he could.  They told him to sit tight.  The’d take care of that.  Before long, a young man from a car dealership arrived with a new truck!  A gift.  So he could get going and do his job.  I was looking forward to seeing them at the party.

Ah, yes, the party. But I’ve exceeded my word limit. You’ll have to check back (in two weeks because I have a special Mother’s Day blog for next week) to read about the president of a foreign country being P.O.’d by the logistics of getting everyone to the ballroom, a rock star who had to wait for his car, the surprise entertainment, and me ending up with gravy down my back.

EARTH DAY – Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, and Recycle

REDUCE: I drive a hybrid car thereby reducing my consumption of fossil fuel.
REUSE: To name just one, I wash and air dry Zip Lock storage bags (a trick I learned from my sister Sheila) so I can reuse them.
RECYCLE: The usual – I recycle paper, plastic, and glass.
REPURPOSE: I’m not into repurposing such things as a water bottle into a rolling pin or repurposing an old sweater into a tote. To save myself from a fail in this category, I’m going to take the opening pages of my novel and use them for this week’s blog. Repurposing!  Kinda of a sneaky cheat, I know, but I’ve been sick and slept most of the day. I did not work on my blog, but I don’t want to disappoint my loyal fans who check in every Friday.

My novel began with my imaging of Nancy Drew at 62. Please do not think of the matronly Louise Fletcher of MURDER SHE WROTE. My character came of age in the 1960’s. She and her generation were very much into…well you know all that. She, and the Baby Boomers, are inventing new ways to be senior citizens.  The Nancy Drew franchise is still prolific annd profitable.  No way they would let me use their character’s name! My amateur sleuth’s name is Carolyn Quinn. In the Latino population of Southern California, her last name is pronounced like the word keen. My tribute to Carolyn Keene, the pen name of all the authors who write Nancy Drew stories. I hope you enjoy the opening of my novel THE SECRET IN THE AVANT GARDE PAINTING.

 

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CHAPTER ONE

“I think something bad has happened to my daughter.”

Rewind a moment. The ringing of my new land line had startled me. The number was supposed to be suppressed. I hadn’t given it to anyone except my father, Andrew Quinn, and his housekeeper, Esther. He was eighty-seven and frail. Reason enough to answer the phone, even if it somehow turned out to be one of those annoying telemarketing calls.

I scrambled from my lounge chair on the patio and hurried into my bungalow. Mocha, my foster dog, dragged herself to her feet and followed me. I whispered a one word prayer, which was a short sentence with the words run together. My cheat. Being a non-believer, I allowed myself that when circumstances turned dire.

“Pleasedon’tletanythingbewrongwithQuinn.”

By the time I reached the desk in my office, the answering machine had picked up. After the beep, a woman’s voice came on the speaker. Familiar. But I couldn’t quite place it. Worried about her daughter. Was it wrong that I felt a moment of relief? And to wonder’ how she had gotten my land line number?

As I lifted the receiver, I did a little wiggle dance to relieve the pain in my lower back caused by a protruding disc at L5. In spite of my best efforts, lately, the passage of time was taking a toll on my body. I hated the aches and pains that came with being seventy-two.

Damn. Damn. And double damn.

I picked up the phone, interrupting the “record a message” function, and said, “Hello. This is Carolyn Quinn. May I ask who is calling?”
The caller said, “I’m sorry. I should have identified myself. This is Sandy Vandagriff. I saw you jogging with a huge dog on the boardwalk at Turquoise Cove this morning.”

“Do I know you, Sandy?” My tone wasn’t friendly. As a young girl, I’d been a local, minor celebrity in the town of Corona del Sol. The Beach Cities News, which covered the ocean front communities of Orange County, had dubbed me an amateur sleuth. A nick name I had come to hate. It didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out where this conversation was headed. I rubbed the lower, left side of my back.

“Yes, you know me.” she said, “At least you did before you left Corona del Sol.”

“That was forty years ago.” I sighed. During my four decade absence, I’d come back as often as I could to visit Quinn, but I’d avoided going out in public. I didn’t want to be drawn back into my long ago life of solving mysteries. And, in secret, I dreaded meeting one person in particular in a chance encounter.

“Yes,” she was saying, “A long time ago. I was Sandy Williams back then. We were in the same homeroom class at CdS High.”

“Sandy?” I croaked. She and I had been good friends. A mental image of her came to me, looking suspiciously like her yearbook picture, Thick, wavy, shoulder length, brown hair. Large brown eyes. High cheek bones. A wide, friendly smile. The bruised, swollen, bloody face of a similar looking young woman replaced that image. Her missing daughter? Beaten, raped, and murdered? A shiver passed over me. I didn’t want any part of it.

Damn.  Damn.  Double Damn.

REPURPOSED: Opening pages of my novel have been turned into a blog. Maybe I will try making a water bottle into a rolling pin or an old sweater into a tote.

ME AND…”Let me root, root, root for the home team.”

April 15 is Jackie Robinson Day. So, in honor of his achievements, on this day, my subject is baseball.

The 1957 World Series:

When we moved from Lincoln Park, Michigan to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, it didn’t take long to discover that the whole town was baseball crazy. Our family often went to County Stadium to watch the Braves. I got to know the players. The great pitchers Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette and, of course, right fielder Hank Aaron. I liked second baseman Red Schoendienst because his name was fun to say and I even tried bratwurst on a bun instead of the traditional hot dog. I mention these things as an indication of my lack of sophistication as a fan of the game. In 1957, the Braves won the National League Pennant and faced the New York Yankees in the World Series. That, as they say, was a game changer.

At school, all classes were suspended and TVs were brought into every room. Teachers gave lessons related to baseball. When the games came on, all books and supplies were put away. The games were great. My classmates and I cheered or booed depending on how the plays went. The games weren’t over at the end of the school day, so as not to miss too many plays, I ran for home as if going for a stolen base. Before the series Yankee manager Casey Stengel declared “We’re going to Bushville to play ball.” When the Braves won the seventh game and the World Series Championship, the Milwaukee Sentinel ran the banner headline “Bushville Wins!” Our family went to a lot of games right up to the time we moved back to Lincoln Park. I loved every minute of it, except that County Stadium could get awfully cold at night. I blame the town, the Braves and the weather for giving me Baseball Fever.

The 1968 World Series by guest blogger Dave Riddell:

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While watching the Jackie Robinson biopic I was struck by how long I’ve been a baseball fan. Growing up in the post war Detroit downriver area my team was naturally the Tigers. With my father and grandfather we passionately followed our team by newspaper, the radio and afterward by television. Although the Tigers last won the World Series in 1945 that was not in my memory. My experience with the Tigers as a lad and later as a teenager and young man stretching through the decades of the 1950s and 1960s all seemed to be with losing, mediocrity at best. Yet I persevered through those years with my father and grandfather, supporting players like Ray Boone, Reno Bertoia, Jim Delsing Fred Torgenson and nameless others with never a whiff of a championship. By 1967 I was married and drafted into the Armed Forces, Vietnam bound. The 1967 Tigers were a good team and nearly won the pennant; but I was too busy to follow closely and by 1968 I was in Vietnam as a ranger with the 25th Infantry Division. There was no television or newspapers to inform me of the Tigers ascent that year, so I was surprised when they won the pennant and went to the World Series against the Cardinals. I spent most of my time in the field running missions and was barely aware that the Tigers had fallen behind and were in danger of being eliminated early. Then they started to win. By the time game seven miraculously arrived I was out of the field, exhausted and back in Cu Chi basecamp at last. I looked forward to getting cleaned up and listening to the game on Armed Forces Radio. But Vietnam was 11 hours ahead of St. Louis time, making the game’s broadcast in the middle of the night. I fell asleep promising myself I would get up in time. Hours later I was awakened by the sound of mortars landing with a thud somewhere in the night. The realization that the game was on came crashing in and got me running to the TOC where the radio was set up. Flares from the basecamp perimeter lighted the way otherwise the camp was dark and quiet. By the time I got there it was the 7th inning and Jim Northrup was at bat. The Tigers were behind but with a timely hit they might take the lead. Mickey Lolich could shut the Cardinals down the rest of the way. It occurred to me that at this moment my father and grandfather would be watching on TV back home. All Northrup had to do was beat the great Bob Gibsen. The rest is history as they say. Northrup hit a fly ball that Curt Flood misplayed, the runs came home. We had the lead and two inning later, the victory. All those years of waiting for this miracle and I’m thousands of miles away when it happened. Go figure. Now wide awake, I wandered alone in the dark, celebrating in silence for the home team, the champions, my Tigers.

Little League:

One of my favorite connections to baseball was watching our son Aaron play Little League.  Dave had practiced skills with him and he was good, if I do say so myself. There was a great picture of him sliding into third base on the front page of the Irvine  World News.  One summer he took batting lessons from Angel great Rod Carew. Aaron had the habit of stepping slightly forward when swinging at the ball. Rod Carew laid down in the front of the batter’s box and told Aaron not to step on him when he swung the bat. Priceless! That same summer Aaron attended Dodger baseball camp with members of the team as coaches. Tommy Lasorda came out for the closing ceremonies and gave an inspiring speech. Aaron played winter ball and was on a team with boys two years older than he was. Proud to say he held his own. It was a sad day in our house when he said he was giving up baseball for surfing. I believe his Little League experiences were good, but there was something very special in his voice when he talked about surfing. I couldn’t argue with his choice. Now I have our grandson Calum in Little League. He won MVP after one of his games.  Watching kids play Little League ball is just as much fun this time around.

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Aaron Riddell

 

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Calum Foley

Dave and I took Aaron and Katie to many games at Angel Stadium.  In  addition to Rod Carew, I was a particular fan of Reggie “Mr. October” Jackson.  I dreaded the nights Mike Witt was scheduled to pitch.  The Angels always seemed to lose when he was on the mound and I was in the stands.  I had two rules when we went to the games. First, no one was allowed to criticize my behavior no matter how much I cheered or booed over this or that play – which I did a lot. I don’t remember the second rule.

There are so many more baseball stories I coulkd write about, but, for fear of having to go into extra innings, they’ll have to wait for another time.

 

ME AND…the trial of the century. (warning – for mature audiences only)

Did you watch The People v O.J. Simpson on FX? I have to confess, I was addicted to it, just as I was to the actual trial. The TV show featured a star studded cast. In some cases, their hair and make-up were frightening.  John Travolta’s eyebrows come to mind.  The writing and the acting were wildly uneven. Who knows if the “behind the scenes” events were even true? In the end, it didn’t matter. The show was the proverbial train wreck and I couldn’t look away.

It brought back memories of the hours, days, and months I’d spent (November 1994 – October 1995) watching the real life trial. As I cleaned, folded laundry, and made dinner, I learned about voidier, side bars, and DNA evidence, which was pretty new at the time. I used to joke that I probably could have passed the bar exam!  Of course, the trial was my main topic of conversation.  I plagued my friends by recounting the latest twists and turns in the courtroom.  There were plenty.

In the series, as it had been in real life, the characters of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were all but lost amid the drama among the attorneys and the circus created by the press.  In a news clip of a real life press conference early in the trail’s proceedings, Marcia Clark stated, “With all of the public sympathy for Mr. Simpson, we should not forget the fact that we have two young victims who were brutally slain.  Two young people whose lives stretched out before them with all of the possibilities that that entailed.”

A couple of years after the real trial ended, a personal experience helped me fully understand her words.  My cousin and I visited Mr. Simpon’s estate on Rockingham and Nicole Brown Simpson’s condo on Bundy.

The Rockingham estate was huge. In spite of the lush, neatly manicured landscaping, the place looked lifeless to the point of abandonment. Or was that me reading my preconceived notions into the blank windows? We saw the curb where the Bronco had been parked haphazardly. Behind the gate, a long, very wide driveway. Why hadn’t the Bronco been parked inside the gate on that big driveway? There was the call box the limo driver had used.   We saw the row of guest houses where Brian “Kato” Kaelin stayed. The mysterious “bump in the night” came from behind them. The bloody glove had been discovered, or perhaps planted and supposedly discovered, there. We took pictures of everything.

My cousin and I made the very short drive to Nicole Brown Simpson’s condo and stood on the front sidewalk for a moment. Passers by, probably local residents,  rolled down the windows of their cars, shook their fists at us, and screamed, “GO HOME!” We took a few steps up the sidewalk toward the gate. The area inside the privacy wall was tiny.  The massive amounts of blood that had covered the crime scene had been washed away, but the pavers inside the gate were still stained with it.  From the pattern, it was obvious where each of the victims had bled to death.  Shocking to say the least.  Those dark, amorphus shapes on the pavers drove home the fact  that two very real people had been brutally slain in that little, tiny space.  Sickened, I signaled to my cousin that it was time to go.

The Rockingham estate was recently torn down. A knife found in the rubble was tested and found to be unrelated to the murders. For me, all that remains from reliving “the trial of the century,” is a deep sadness. I cannot imagine what having all of this stirred up again must be like for the family and friends of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Lyle Goldman. I can only express my belated, heartfelt condolences.

 

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ME AND…thoughts during a power outage

 

The power is off in our community and my regular Friday blog is locked in the memory of my iMac desktop computer. I’m writing this substitute post on my iPad mini with the battery running low. So here I sit. In the dark save for a couple of candles and the glow from my mini screen. NO TV! Next to Dave and our dogs, one TV or another has been my most constant daily (and late night) companion.

I remember the first time I saw a TV. The year must have been 1947. I was four years old. Our neighbors up Market Street in Lykens, Pennsylvania shocked the whole little town by wasting money on buying one of the new fangled, impractical contraptions. Nonetheless, my mother was pleased, no actually honored, that our family was the first to be invited to watch a show. The Saturday Night Fights. I didn’t like the sound of that.

My mother, being a Pennsylvania Dutch woman, reacted the only way she knew how. We had a cherry tree in our backyard and Saturday afternoon, she baked fresh picked cherries into a pie to take to our host and hostess. She then put my big sister Sheila and me into the bathtub and scrubbed us until our skins glowed. We both had curly hair and I can still feel the hairbrush being dragged through my mop to get out every last tangle. Even though we weren”t twins, she put Sheila and me into starched and ironed dresses that were exactly alike. Next came black patten leather Mary Jane shoes and white anklets. She insisted that my father wear his suit. She wore her best wool dress and her most beautiful set of matching ear rings, necklace, and bracelet. Nylons with perfectly straight seams and black high heels.

We walked up the street with our heads held high. My mother carried her purse, although my father tried to tell her she’d have no need of it. He carried the pie under an immaculate dish towel. Neighbors peeked out from living room curtains slightly pushed aside. Looking back on it now, except maybe for the pie, we may as well been on our way to visit the Pope.

The TV screen was tiny. Thanks to the surrounding mountains, the picture was fuzzy. I hated watching the two men punch each other. Blood running down their faces. I was grateful when our hostess served the pie. After that, I fell asleep on my father’s lap.

As we took our leave our host asked me, “How’d you like watching TV?”

Barely awake. I said the first thing that came to mind, “I hope I never have to look at one again.”

I clearly remember the uproar that followed. My mother shouted, “Jean! You say you’re sorry right this minute. And thank you for inviting us.” I was too terrified to utter another word and took cover behind Sheila. That’s what big sisters are for, right? My father, not having the pie to carry home, carried me. I cried all the way down the street, using the shoulder of his suit as a handkerchief. My mother would have paddled me had she known! As we walked along he tried to calm her down and assured we wouldn’t have to move just because the gossip the next day would be all about how I had insulted the richest people in town.

Things happened pretty fast after that. My father received a job offer and we moved to Lincoln Park, Michigan. It was a community filled with women who stayed home and took care of kids and houses. The men worked on the “line” at Ford’s, Chevrolet, or GM. Or in one of the machine shops that supplied them. Thanks to labor unions the men earned good wages. Most families had a TV. Sheila and I went with our parents when they went out to buy one. Average screen size was 12-15 inches. My mother insisted on one that came in at 27 inches. It seemed like a theater screen in our tiny living room.

It was Saturday night. Lots of neighbors crowded into our front room to see our monster big TV. (Nary a suit in sight.) My mother served pop corn. Beer for the adults. Vernor’s ginger ale for the kids. The program we watched was Saturday Night at the Movies. Kirk Douglas in THE BIG TREES.  By then, I’d come to love TV, but I didn’t like boxing until Mohamad Ali.

The power has just come back on.  My TV has flickered back to life.  Just in time for Project Runway.  All is well.  But it was nice to have had a TV free, quiet moment.