Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Rescue

When my daughters were little, and when they were teenagers, I told them, I promised them, that no matter what, if they needed me to come get them and bring them home, from little girl sleepovers or beer-pong parties I would be there for them always.
Well they aren’t little anymore and they have outgrown beer-pong but the need for the ride home with no questions asked is still on the parent's list of promises.

I had to rescue one of my kids last week. It was not from a simple sleep-over or a game but from a third world country where, she never should have gone, but went anyway.

This is a young intuitive woman who exhibits a very sensible gut-sense. Her perceptive qualities are amazing. She did not want to go but went because she believed she had to. Once there she felt trapped in a very dangerous anti-government situation. She called within hours of her arrival.

“Mom, I want to come home,” she said, “I do not feel safe.”

Twelve hours later she flew out. When the wheels of the plane touched American tarmac she cried.
With $452.63 charged on my Visa, I rescued her. There was no greater feeling when she walked through the door than to know she was home and that I, and my credit line, had a hand in her safety. It's a good thing I didn't have to fly to where she was, because my never-renewed passport is forty years old.

Monday, May 28, 2012

On This Day

It was Memorial Day, 1984, and for some reason it seemed important to my husband and me that we fly a flag on the day which honors America’s fallen soldiers. We had been living in our house for six months, obtaining a flag for the pole out front was low on the list of things to do. But on that morning I remembered we did indeed have a flag, a huge one that would be perfect. It was given to me by my father and laid at rest under sweaters and quilts at the bottom of my cedar chest for over a decade.

The flag had actually belonged to my father’s mother, presented to her graveside, folded and tucked into it’s perfect triangle, after being ceremonially removed from my grandfather’s casket in 1949. I was a year and one day old when Pop died. The flag had never been unfolded since.

At first I thought using Pop’s flag might be disrespectful. But I checked with a friend who knew about such things and he said flying the flag would be an honorable thing to do.

William Oliver Munn, ‘Pop’, had been a doughboy, in the war to end all wars. Miraculously he returned home unscathed to raise a family. Each of his three sons served in WWII, by then wars were being given numbers.

So it was on that Memorial Day morning I called my eighty-five year old grandmother and told her we were to hoist pop’s flag.

“Take pictures,” she said. Her voice cracked.

We unfolded the flag carefully so as not to touch the ground with it and clipped it to the line. I stood back, camera in hand, ready to capture on film the touching moment for my grandmother. Slowly my husband pulled the line, raising the flag with its 48 stars, to the top of the pole. Then, as we were told to do, we lowered it to half mast until noon.

It was a warm and windless Memorial Day. I wanted to see the flag fly, but it lay limp against the pole. I raised the camera and spoke to my grandfather for the first time, “How about a breeze pop?” And, as if his hand had swept across the sky, the trees rustled. The flag unfurled.

I snapped one picture, then set the camera aside, overcome by the moment. I am as convinced now as I was then that Pop heard me, and for a moment blew the breath of life into the folds of the cloth that had covered him in death.

The breeze diminished, the flag rested at peace until noon, when it was raised to the top of the pole. It is a beautiful flag, Old Glory, a special flag that came to life in honor of an old soldier after being buried at the bottom of a cedar chest.


On this Memorial Day we are flying Pop’s flag again. Over the years we’ve flown it many times and when, as the song says, the ‘day is done’ we fold it into a triangle and place it back in the cedar chest with the flags of my father, Robert Munn Sr., Navy, WWII - my Uncle, Walter Allen Munn, Army, WWII - and my father-in-law, Guido Pianta, Army WWII. Sadly, too many flags to choose from now.

But, this day is not only about a collection of flags that have draped the dead. As noble and as honorable as that is, Memorial Day, as my husband’s cousin said, is not only about those below the ground but about those above the ground as well.

 On this day and every day, let us honor that.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

My grand-dogger

            Just the other day I saw something that at first seemed amusing, then disturbing, and to my friend Emily, (I’ve changed her name), it looked down-right practical; a stroller for pets. If you’re out for a brisk three mile walk and you want to take along your petite pooch, with legs the size of toothpicks, a pet-stroller might be in order. A dog house on wheels gets your Taco Bell Chihuahua inside the restaurant but if he speaks you’re out the door. Management is not kind to children who bark.

            Emily thought the stroller brilliant because to her there is no difference between rearing a child and raising a pet. To me, potty training and paper training are two different things.

            When my daughter Becky was a baby, I mentioned how cute she was spitting out her first mouth-full of Gerber’s Oatmeal; Emily was heartbroken when she had to switch from puppy-chow to dog-chow. I was offended; they were two different species for goodness sake. How could anyone love a dog as much as a baby?

            When I had my second child, Rachel, Emily bought another puppy and a cat. Our house was full of babbling babies, bottles and Weebles; Emily’s was wall-to-wall newspapers, a litter-box, yips and hisses.

            Once my daughters became old enough to play with the dogs, and by then two cats, the comparison of rug-rats vs. ankle-biters ceased. The whole, talking and treating a pet like a child issue sort of left my psyche until my now grown daughter’s fiancĂ© proposed, presenting her with a beautiful diamond ring and the cutest little miniature-dachshund on the face of the earth. I proudly proclaim that until the wonderful title of grandmother is bestowed upon me I have Hitch.

            I call him my grand-dogger.

            At work when pictures of grandchildren are passed around by proud grandparents it takes every bit of restraint I have to not blurt out how cute Hitch looks fetching and carrying a full sized Frisbee, or how sweet he is curled up in my lap, or how big he has gotten; all 8 lbs. of  wiener-dog adorable energy. When my boss expounds on the intelligence of her beautiful granddaughters or shows me the latest matching outfits she has bought them, I can’t resist sharing my latest Hitch purchase; the little green dish with tiny dog bones on it, and a natural-fleece lined zebra-print raincoat, with a hood. I must admit there is something about a natural-fleece lined animal-print article of clothing for a dog that seems so wrong, but it’s cute, how could I resist.

            Yes, I have become one of those nauseating people who talks about a dog like it is a child. When my husband and I watch Hitch, I call it babysitting. When I hold him, I sway back and forth and pat him, like I gently patted my babies.

            My husband, who thinks the only good-dog is a big-dog, and ours weighs over a hundred pounds, speaks to Hitch like he’s a toddler. To him, every other small dog is defined as a yipping little tangle of dog-hair at the end of a mop handle, but not Hitch.

            “The little guy had personality,” he says, and I must say, I do agree.

            So until, and if, my daughters have actual children I will be one of those obnoxious people who follow every one of your cute grandchildren stories with one about my grand-dogger. Did I tell you I went back to that store to see if they have any of those strollers left? No, well okay then, enough said.

Friday, May 18, 2012

It's the one

 “Did you ever come to a fork in the road? What did you do?”

A few days ago this was a question asked by Betsy Lerner, writer, literary agent, wife and mother, on her blog; http://betsylerner.wordpress.com/,  a ‘must read’ for anyone who considers themselves a writer. I posted an answer that day, and a couple of comments, which were relevant but did not touch on one incident in my life which, when I think about it, or tell the story, sends shivers up my writer’s spine.

This is a true story. I mean really, it would not fly as fiction. No one would believe me and I would feel foolish coming up with the premise. So, here it is, for anyone who is interested, my fork in the road, ‘ah-ha’ moment, message from my mother and wink from God. And what did I do? I paid attention. How could I not?

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon, house clean, laundry done, husband playing golf, time for a nap on the couch in my bedroom. I turned on the TV, nothing like a little Connecticut Public Television to lull me to sleep. Perfect, a special about the life and career of Mark Twain. I figured I’d be nodding off in two minutes. Problem - the program was interesting. I got into it.

Seems that after Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) wrote Huckleberry Finn he set the story aside. Five years later, after a few trips up and down the Mississippi, he decided to revisit Huck. The rest is publishing history; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn became an iconic American classic.

When the TV program came to an end, (it was part one of a two-parter), I was disappointed. I really wanted to see part two. Scrolling the program line-up, not there, I checked on-line to see when it would air, no luck. I couldn’t find it anywhere. Since I had spent an hour watching TV during my fifteen minute power-nap, and was no longer in the mood to nod off, I was at a loss as to what to do with the rest of my afternoon?

I distinctly remember thinking, if Mark Twain could breathe life into a five year old manuscript he had set aside, maybe I could do the same with mine, not that my novel would be anywhere close to an iconic American classic. I mean, about the only thing I have in common with Twain is that we both lived in Connecticut.

But, I missed writing. Life and all its responsibilities had convinced me that writing was a selfish act; as if the actual process, separating me from family and friends, fed some sort of singular needy-dream. Back then, life was a time of making memories for my children. I wanted them to remember my presence with them, not apart, writing essays about them. But my novel, a story about a young woman embracing change, and brave enough to step forward and dance alone in the unknown, was a good one and the writing not bad. Many of the experiences I drew on were personal, perhaps too personal, (a pitfall for first time novelists), so submitting and being rejected, might hurt a little too much; reason enough to let it sleep.  Rejection is a skin-toughener for writers. My hide was thick and I longed to write again.

In my office, at the back of a bottom file drawer was my 80,000 word first attempt at women’s fiction. In the mood to write, and inspired by Twain, I opened the file drawer. Here’s where things got a little weird.

Lying flat across the tops of the files was a colorful folder. I knew what was in it, a collection of tear-sheets my mother had saved of all my published essays and articles. I found it among her things when I cleaned out her house after she died. Maybe I’ll read a few of my successes, I thought, to inspire me to work on my book. Sitting on the floor I opened the file.

The first piece in the folder was the entire front page of the commentary section of the Hartford Courant, a local daily newspaper. Usually my mother cut the articles out and dated them but not this time, the only time, she had saved the entire first page. Down the right side of the page was an article I had written eight years before, shortly after 9/11, regarding the suffering American economy. In the center, above the fold, was a picture of Mark Twain. Yes, Mark Twain. I gasped, I actually gasped. Down the left side of the page was an article outlining and reviewing the two part CPTV program about him I had just watched only minutes before.

There I was, sitting on the floor, forgetting to breathe and stunned by circumstance. The presence of my mother in the room was as real to me as the air I was forgetting to breath. Gasping again I touched the picture, the sign. What was I being told?

I don’t believe in coincidences, I believe in messages and that my mother was standing over me. Was she telling me to get back to writing, any writing, or was she telling me to, work on your book honey, it’s good enough, it’s the one?

“I hear you mom,” I said out loud, “I get your message.” I started to cry.

I’ve done numerous rewrites on that book, am very proud of my effort and still love the characters and the story. Everyone who has read it loves it and has told me, ‘it’s the one’. It's not my only work, there's much more to my writing list now, but that I can’t get anyone in publishing to read my first-fiction love is disappointing but not a surprise. I keep thinking that eventually, if I just keep at it, continue to query, and to research better choices, the right agent and the right publisher will get my mother’s message, or a wink from God, and make To Walk Among Strangers a path chosen at the fork in their road.

Or... maybe someday, after I am gone, one of my daughters will be sitting on the floor of my office going through my things, and she will be wondering about signs and messages. Perhaps she'll come upon a colorful folder filled with what moved me enough to write or my manuscript and she'll remember how long and hard I held onto my dream. I will be standing over her, whispering a message, read it honey, I’ll say, it’s the one, it’s the one.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Not a resume

This is not a resume, it’s a revelation.

I have been writing for ‘forever’. I was published for the first time twenty-five years ago, over sixty-five articles and counting. I write a weekly colume for a local paper. I’ve written two novels, one memoir, about forty short stories and enough essays to paper the Sistine Chapel. I’ve spoken to writing groups and headed a couple. When I am asked what book on writing helped me the most I always, yes ALWAYS, mention Make Every Word Count by Lawrence Block. For twenty-five years I’ve been espousing that book. Write the name down I’ve told people, it will change your writing life…ah…okay BUT the book wasn’t written by Lawrence Block it was written by Gary Provost. I know who Block is but who the hell is Gary Provost.

Well he was the seventh son of a seventh son, the ‘writer’s writer’ he’s called. My apologies to the memory of a wonderful man who opened the writing door for me - so that it wasn’t slammed in my face by those who knew how to play the game and I did not. He died in ’95. May he RIP in the pages of all who have honed their art because of him.

A link to a piece regarding my parenting skills published on LHJ's Divine Caroline site.
Something that actually worked, how amazing.