Tuesday, January 5, 2021
I met a friend for lunch recently and we got to discussing really crappy jobs we had when we were young. She's a bit older than I, but many of the jobs available to teens and college students didn't change much from when we were both young. Her most disastrous job was at was a popular fast food restaurant at $1.69 an hour. Turned out she was allergic to one of the food ingredients and not only bloated up terribly but ended up covered in little spots. I said "did you look like one of those sesame seed buns" and she started choking on her drink (she knows better than to tell me these stories when we're eating).
I worked as an elf.
And got fired. Yes, that's on my author's bio for The Book of Barkley, but is not a tale I've told most of you.
You see, in college there was a company that hired students and homemakers looking for part time work to do "product demos". You know, those annoying smiling people who try and assault you with a spray of Calvin Klein "Narcissist" as you walk through the cosmetics section at Macy's. Or those friendly people with food at grocery stores. "Sure I'll try your hickory smoked bacon but be advised I'm shopping with my identical twin so she'll probably be by for some too."
The pay was much better than minimum wage so it was a popular job and not everyone got hired. I applied. The choices though, for my first job assignment weren't great. A Mr. Peanut Costume, handing out nuts (oh please please please dear god no), more of the perfume thing (I LIKE rejection) or wait, this is perfect! An elf at Santa's Workshop at the fancy department store! All I had to do was wear the elf costume and help keep the kiddies organized while they lined up to sit on Santa's lap for a photo. I got picked for one reason only. Flaming red hair and bright green eyes. Elf material if there ever was one. Plus it was double minimum wage. Woo Hoo!!
The problem was the costume. Scooped neck Elf Dress, Elf shoes, plastic Elf Ears. All too small, especially the dress. We found bigger shoes, probably boy elf ones, but I was stuck with the dress. They usually hired petite students to be the elves, but there were a sucker for the hair and eyes, overlooking the fact that I'm tall, with a generous bustline. But I squeezed into it. Some parts didn't exactly squeeze into it well and were sort of on display and being tall, the skirt was rather short.
Don't picture a female Herbie the elf.
Picture a green hooters waitress with really pointy shoes.
But I really needed the extra cash for college and flight lessons. So off I went, having fun with the kids, chatting with Santa (who was VERY jolly that day). It was all kinds of fun, and I collected enough money to pay for more education.
Until I got fired.
For you see, I was called to come in the next morning and canned as an elf, with an abject apology "It just wasn't suited for you, we've got an even BETTER position for the rest of the week, we're so sorry, here's your apron".
Apparently some of the Mom's complained that
(1) I was distracting Santa
(2) (and I quote) Elves do NOT have bosoms!!
So much for my elfin career.
The next day I was standing in a grocery store handing out hot dogs wearing an apron that said on it, in big letters "Have I Got a Wiener for YOU !"
Today, I have Dr. in front of my name and a paycheck that is more than my needs. It took a lot of years, of sweat and blood to get there. But when I'm out and about and see some kid dressed like
(1) The Statue of Liberty
(2) A Slice of Pizza or
(3) An Egg (yes, last weekend at a local new restaurant)
standing by a business in the cold, dancing or holding a sign. .
I give them a friendly wave, a kind word, or if I can, go inside and give that place my business, AFTER I tell them what a great job their employee was doing out there, wishing they were anything but a dancing egg, but while they had to be - they were going to be the best dancing egg on the planet.
Because that's what becoming an adult is all about, doing the job that needs to get done for you or your family.
Still, I wish I had the Weiner apron now.
Friday, December 25, 2020
Christmas has arrived. Our gift to the house was a new mattress but "Santa" brought a bunch of fun stuff for us to open.An assortment of candy and chocolate (and the BS button still has us cracking up).
Star Trek socks (and yes, there is a red pair for Monday mornings)
A Duck of Justice T shirt - Seriously you have to go to the Bangor Police Dept. Facebook page to get the story about the duck, which was detailed in the best selling book by one of their detectives (The Detective in the Dooryard by Tim Cotton )
KaBar Shark Bite - actually legal to carry here.
You can't have too many journals.
Something to keep my husband entertained on the weekends. Found at a shop in the UK.
Hot dog tea diffuser and some new teas.
Slippers for my husband and a new winter nightgown and bath products for me from Toadstool Soaps (Etsy Shop I just love).
Cross for the wall made out of railroad spikes.
Lorelei has to check out each item.
Star Trek pizza cutter.
Mike Rowe's Safety Third mask with Mr. BillRailroad War book (out of print so really worth finding a copy)/
Dr. Who Peter Capadi Series. I remember when he was first cast and so many people said "he's too OLD to play the part". Let me tell you something, the ladies who watch Dr. Who found him VERY sexy and great in the role.
12 Caliber Flashlights
Santa sticks to his aviation roots. Love the "left rudder" "right rudder" socks.
Lorelei ignores her toys to latch on to her Gabe to the Rescue stocking cap.
There was also some much-appreciated snow gear from my in-laws, True Blue Sam and my mother-in-law Susan, and a sweater (which I'm wearing as it's about 12 degrees outside).
Wednesday, December 23, 2020
Christmas was like that as a child, the build-up to the big day, shaking the presents under the tree, many which had been rigged with marbles or rocks inside to throw us off. Mom would make a couple of different types of cookies every few days, something new to taste and try with a plate set aside with a sample of everything to eat after the Christmas meal.
It's not just Christmas - there are many events in our lives we anxiously await. The birth of a baby, a holiday, a wedding, awaited with great longing, then suddenly over, vanished as if an illusion.
I spent Christmas Eve and day some years back with neighbors who let the kids open the gifts on Christmas Eve. They didn't go to church so Christmas Day was simply watching sports while the kids played non stop video games. I appreciated the invite but it felt no more like Christmas than the 4th of July.
We would always fall asleep too soon, and wake before the sun rose with that flaming stare of quiet curiosity.
Dad does not wish to celebrate Christmas as anything more than the quiet communion in his home with the minister in celebration of Christ's birth. By his choice, there has not been a tree for a traditional Christmas celebration since my Mom died over 30 years ago. The aluminum tree and color wheel were packed away, never to be seen again though my husband found one of our own at a yard sale before we were married. In the years before Dad remarried, there was neither light nor breath in that house for my Dad and he just wanted Christmas to be over with, once my brother and I were out of the house.
Many a night I flew on Christmas Eve, eliciting a chuckle from the crew chief when he glanced up at the Cockpit and saw my Santa hat as we prepared to depart. We were only anxious as to the day and time until we were aloft, then like seaman have probably felt since time began, we settled down, finding the true Peace of God and Earth somewhere over 35,000 feet, finding the storms and turbulence, not as some heavenly punishment for our selfishness in wanting to be home but rather a gentle rebuke to curb an impatient heart.
The recorded weather data that we'd confirm receipt of, instead of Delta and Echo and other letters of the phonetic alphabet were Dancer and Prancer and such. On more than one Christmas Eve, my copilot would confirm Information "Santa" received and we'd made our final descent, not to a city where loved ones awaited, but simply a hotel room with all the ambiance of a dental lab, it's emptiness bringing that quick sharp sting that I could taste in my mouth as I opened the door.
There, I would sleep like a soldier in the field without shelter but for stiff, cotton sheets, waiting to wake up to the fight and the firing.
It was a story of a baby, one not born of passion or pleasure but one born so that more than a Mother's suffering in his birth would be eased until the end of days. It was a story of forgiveness we often can't receive from man, but that is His promise in eternity.
Rather than wish that Christmas was here, I'm going to wish it would wait, that I can savor this time of quiet peace, the smell of warmth, the laughter of my husband, and the hearkening of a family of angels who calm this impatient heart with a touch as soft as a caress.
- L.B. Johnson
Wednesday, December 9, 2020
Writer Shed Stories, Vol. 2 edited by Award-Winning Author and former author in residence at the Chicago Hemingway House David W. Berner is a brilliant anthology filled with poignant stories that will touch your heart, uplift your spirit, and possibly change you for the better. The writing is exceptional. - Amazon Vine Reviewer N.N. Light
http://amzn.to/2HmN33b (My story - lessons on loss is the last in the book).
Thursday, November 26, 2020
Thanksgiving isn't the same with both Mom and my brother gone. But thinking of that got me to smile with a memory from a Thanksgiving long ago. Mom had read somewhere that cooking the turkey in a bag would render the turkey very juicy. Except she missed the part about low temperature and the type of bag. So Mr. Turkey went into the oven in a Safeway paper shopping bag, pop-out timer side down.
As he roasted, the juice and grease pooled in the bottom of the bag. When the timer popped, "turkey's done" it popped THROUGH the bag, releasing all the hot grease onto the burner.
Big Bro calmly said "Mom, the turkey blew up!"
After Mom took ill, there were other events. A time at the vacation cabin where Dad cooked pancakes. I'm not sure how he did it, but you could hardly cut through them. He gave one to our wiener dog Pepper, who took it outside and buried it in the sand along the shore. Big Bro threw another one in the fire. It didn't burn.
I can picture that as if it were happening now, the splash of sunlight on cedar, the memory, of the smell of wet dog and the taste of laughter, of where people have lived and will always.
Hygge. The word comes to mind, especially at Thanksgiving. It's a Danish word that roughly means eating and drinking and being together with friends, a feeling or mood that comes from taking genuine pleasure in making ordinary everyday things simply extraordinary. We don't have any such word in the English language, and life today seems to rarely accommodate such a ritual.
I can be insular, and driven. At work I take no quarter and am not intimidated by blood, death or bad hair days.. Yet at home, I am a caregiver, as my Mom was with us. Even when she was tired, she would make us homemade cookies and pastries to have after school or with our lunch. Shortening scrapped from its can, dough formed and rounded, rolled flat, and rolled up, carefully studded with fragrant spices and baked golden.
Dinner at the big table wasn't just on Thanksgiving. It was every night but TV Tray in the Family Room Night. But on those dinners around the big table, I can't recall so much of what we talked about or who said what, but I do remember the gathering, the smells of beef and fresh vegetables, of laughter, of stories from school, from work, a discarding of weighty thought and the simple gathering of those you love, for the nourishment of the soul. I can't recreate the exact moments through what I cook, or who I serve it to, but I still can remember how those simple meals made me feel, the redemptive power of the communion of those who love one another.
I hold those pieces of paper and feel the warmth, a woman preparing food for her family, for her friends, small hieroglyphs that tell me nothing but that someone loved us, scribbled messages that would not make sense to everyone but will never fail to be understood.
As I went out on my own, even when I didn't have a family of my own, there was a gathering, even if I just invited over my bachelor colleagues, put together a ham and some homemade mashed potatoes and the trimmings while we listened to music and actually talked about something other than our jobs. For it was the sharing and the care that was important, not necessarily what we ate.
She carried more than meals to the table, she carried us, with broken dreams and broken hearts, holding us together, even as she left us.
"You did good Mom," I say to an empty kitchen, the curtains in the window moving with the opening of a door as if breath. Then the curtains fall still, the room quiet as if this hushed little space is isolated in space, without time or dimension, hollowed whisperings of love and safety amidst the turmoil and fury of time. There is no light in the room now, but for one small kitchen candle, the flame standing sentient over the wick as I wait for the sound of steps on the porch.
My Dad's table will not ever be graced by all of us again, but it will be the inheritance of those who remain, few of them family by blood, but all of them family by acceptance. I hope that one day, long after I am gone, a small child will sit at it and say "tell us the story about when Great Grandma Grace's turkey blew up". . . .
. . and laughter will ring out again.
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
"WRITER SHED STORIES, Vol. 2, LOVE & SACRIFICE is a collection of short fiction, memoir, poetry, and creative nonfiction from authors all over the world. The aim of Writer Shed Press is to offer stories that leave lasting impressions, words that linger long after you've read them. WRITER SHED STORIES is published annually by Writer Shed Press and edited by award-winning author David W. Berner."
It is available now on Amazon and at independent bookstores.
Monday, October 5, 2020
Friday, September 25, 2020
Just an update here - still dealing with the staph infection in my leg. Two visits to the hospital since March and 5 weeks of antibiotics put a dent in it, but it's still not gone and the antibiotics have destroyed my gut to the point I'm not able to hold food down. Getting better but after I get done working I just don't have any energy for writing though I'm keeping the dogs entertained - Hugs - Brigid
Friday, September 11, 2020
Why does it seem that when we set out to do something, the actuality of it seems forever away, and when we're finished, we look back wondering how we did it at all.
Everything we touch, hold, use, or love---was once just an idea. Had the person who first envisioned that thing thought too keenly as to his or her chance of success, it may have never happened at all.
My writing started with social media, some short stories for friends, It was a way to unwind, a way to work through things that were painful, it was a way to view my life and actions as a third party, which sometimes is painful in its revealing of the past and past actions that weren't good choices.
People said "you need to write a book" and I put it off with the inevitable excuse of "after retirement". Part of it was (insert Dr. McCoy voice here "Jim - I'm a doctor, not a writer!") But honestly, the thought of actually writing an entire book was beyond daunting; it was flat out frightening. Not just that people wouldn't like it, but whether I could actually DO it.
But I sat down and wrote Saving Grace. Not because "all the cool kids are doing it" but because it was in me, and if I didn't let it out, it would wither and die, as would some of the memories it bore. As well, telling my story as an unwed teen birth mother, if there was just ONE young woman who made the decision to give her baby up for adoption in lieu of abortion, by reading my words, I knew it was worth every bit of work and worry.
That it touched so many close to me, especially my recently widowed Dad, who sat holding my hand during 34 hours of hard labor, made the risk work it. And when it too, went number one I made the decision to donate THOSE sales to animal rescue, a choice I've never regretted. Since then, there have been 3 more books, all best sellers, all the proceeds still going to animal rescue both hear and in the UK.
My parents fell in love as teenagers. World War II interrupted their wedding plans but they wed on his return from England, so many years later. A lot of the airmen overseas and the women left behind, took up with others, the relationship not withstanding the time and distance. Dad certainly had a score of beautiful women present opportunities to him, from what my uncles who served with him said. But he came home and immediately married my Mom, after years apart.
He himself, tells few stories of those times. All I have of those lost years is a stack of letters, carefully held together with a ribbon.
I wrote of that in Book Two: Saving Grace
" There underneath the photos lies a stack of letters. Mom and Dad wrote to one another for four years while he was overseas, not returning Stateside once during that entire time. Reading them feels a little like eavesdropping, as you can almost hear the words as they formed---heartfelt, intimate. I opened one; it was just one single page, and I thought of the way their day stopped at the brink of it. In these letters bridging the time and distance they had to be apart, there was talk of how much they missed one another; of how their families were faring; of good coffee and how Dad missed vegetables from the farm; of burning heat and a cold on the field that would murmur to your very bones. There was playful affection, there was unstated passion and stated promise. Some was in Mom's flowery script, the rest in Dad's meticulous, indomitable hand. "Is everyone there well?" Mom would ask, and Dad would reply that they were, though some were now only well beyond Lamentations."
Barkley waiting for his dad to come home
Dad never imagined that he would not come back, he never told himself that they would not be married, would not have children, would not make a life. Even in times of great battle, he held the final prize in his hand, never doubting that it would come to be.
He watched over that dream as our Father in heaven watches over us, his creation shaped out of the primal absolute that contained nothing and all, knowing we are equally as capable of being ruined and being saved, but believing we will be saved, as to believe anything else is to perish.
We all have our dreams, just as we all have our fears. My husband was, and is, a gifted musician, a prodigy as a youngster. He performed with a symphony orchestra in Austria before he was 18, offered a scholarship to study music.
He wanted to be an engineer.
He still plays, well enough to make me cry. But his passion is creating---inventing things out of form and void, and steel and noise, things that touch his brain and his heart---for what the heart holds becomes our only truth.
What he said was his regret was. "that time in my 20's I spent $5 on hair tonic to grow hair from the bald barber", and he chuckled.
What he said he was most happy for surprised me, until I understood what it means.
Dad had a wonderful marriage with my step-mom in his later years. We all thought the world of her, and he genuinely loved her. But as he nears his end days, it's the photos of my Mom that have come out of drawers and sit on the table by his bed. So I was at first taken aback when he said "I'm glad I loved and lost Gracie" (my mom)
But it was not because he was the one that physically remained after she died, but because he was glad that he had followed his heart, not his good sense. Because if he had not, she would not have become the one he had to grieve over, because he chose to abandon the idea of them.
Abby, our senior rescue with her new Dad
So as you look around your life this day- think to things you'd like to hold onto, picture flesh and blood, wood or glass, cat or dog, paper or plastic. Do not think about all you will risk to get it. Do not think about how long it might take, or even if it will be what you expected. Do not think about what happens if you get it and lose it one day. Do not ask if others will like it--- but only that you will like it.
I look at a photo of my parents on their wedding day. Dad in uniform, my Mom wearing a beautiful dark suit. They look both innocent and immortal, even if slightly amazed to be saying those vows. Best friends since sixth grade, they were in their mid-twenties before fate was such that they could be joined.
Close your eyes and dream your dream---then make it real.