Saturday, December 14, 2013

G3 - Growing

GROWING: A crone keeps growing emotionally and intellectually. Right now I am spending a lot of time thinking and reading about relationships, both those with people around us and those on the other side of the curtain. I want to understand what makes relationships work. I am also interested in learning about meditation.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's home at Cross Creek

Marjorie and Me: A Relationship

     In April of 1938, The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was published, and the next April it won the Pulitzer Prize. During the fall of 1964, The Yearling saved my life. I was twenty-two going on fifteen and had just begun to teach English in a high school said to be the roughest in a city with several. The kids were only a few years younger than I, and many were far more experienced in worldly matters.    

    Armed with the love of literature and well-founded in English grammar, I marched into that classroom with confidence. Instructional periods were seventy minutes, and the kids were grouped according to ability. The longer time was great for the better students, but I had one bunch with severe disabilities, barely able to read or write. Totally unprepared for such a group, I panicked. What was I supposed to do with these kids for so long? Just the year before I had fallen in love with The Yearling, and I began to read it aloud. I remember how Joe, almost my age, twice my size, and dressed always in filth, would ask each day as he came in, “You going to read about the bear, Miss Hoover?” I assured him I would read if he worked hard. For twenty minutes I attempted to teach the rudiments of the English language. Then guilt-ridden, I reached for the story. Other novels followed. Mostly I stood at the back of the classroom as I read, my gaze going often to the door. What would happen if someone important came in and discovered I was wasting time?

      Finally, in January, I attended a teachers’ meeting where an expert teacher of English said from a high stage, “Be sure to read aloud to your students, even those in high school. They need to hear the beauty of language.” I could hardly keep from shouting!

       My admiration for Rawlings changed into what I have somehow come to think of a relationship last December when I visited Cross Creek, her home in rural Florida. My two daughters, their children, and I were driving to Disneyworld. The girls watched the little ones play on swings on the grounds while Paul, who was nine at the time and who wants to be a writer, and I went inside. We were both enthralled.

Cross Creek

       If you don’t know how Marjorie came to own Cross Creek and how living there led to The Yearling, you should read her autobiographical account with the same name as her home or at least watch the movie, not totally true to the story, but close. Hoping the citrus grove would support her writing habit,  Rawlings bought the place, including a house that had been assembled by connecting three tiny buildings  with porches. Built from cypress and pine, the dwelling is plain, simple, and open for cross ventilation. There is a great article about Cross Creek in the Florida section of American Author Houses, Museums, Memorials, and Libraries, by my sister, Shirley Hoover Biggers, published by McFarland.  With money from one of her early short story sales, the new owner had the first indoor bathroom added. She celebrated by putting ice and soda in the tub, a tray of glasses on the sink, roses in the stool, and inviting the neighbors in for a “gala social event.” She also screened in the front porch where she wrote, her typewriter resting on a roughly made table.

Orange Trees at Cross Creek

      After the trip, I read a book of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s letters and a biography. She loved company, just as I do. So far none of my writer friends have achieved the fame of those who slept at one time or another in the narrow handmade bed found in her guest room. Still, I don’t think she could have enjoyed Margaret Mitchell, Robert Frost, or even Thornton Wilder more than I enjoy my friends, writers and others. Maybe I should reconsider that statement because Gregory Peck, who starred in the movie version of The Yearling, also visited.

        Paul and I were thrilled by our tour of Cross Creek, him clutching a newly released edition of the author’s beautiful picture book, The Secret River, one even the tour guide hadn’t yet seen. I came away with some brochures and a ticket that I later had laminated. It is green and has an ink drawing of the house. When I hold that piece of paper in my hand, I can experience the house and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings again. I just discovered that she died exactly 60 years ago today, December 14, 1953. It interests me that I couldn’t seem to get this blog entry written yesterday, but that it came quickly on this memorable date.  As I mentioned in an earlier entry, my friend Beverly was right when she told me relationships don’t end with death.

With my grandson, Paul, at Cross Creek.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

G3 - Growing

The Human Spirit

GROWING: A crone keeps growing emotionally and intellectually. Right now I am spending a lot of time thinking and reading about relationships, both those with people around us and those on the other side of the curtain. I want to understand what makes relationships work. I am also interested in learning about meditation.

Pondering the human spirit makes me grow. Because I just finished reading The Book Thief, my thoughts were full of that miraculous spirit when I went to church this morning at the beautiful, old Presbyterian church I can see from my writing room window. I love attending services in a structure built in 1894 and used as a hospital and morgue after Chandler’s cyclone of 1897. I cherish experiencing that timeworn building as I hear Joyce Newby’s piano preludes, medleys that enrich my soul in a special way. Today Joyce, who sings like an angel, added even more to my experience, but I digress.

I am writing about the Human Spirit, and I’ve decided to capitalize the words. Reverend Newby began his message this morning by reading an anonymous piece that he said was left on his desk. Among other things the selection contained this quote, “I asked God to make my sick friend whole. He said, ‘Her spirit was already whole when she came into the world. Her body has always been temporary.’”

I began to think about how a spirit comes into the world whole, but how it is required to grow. Some spirits, like the spirit belonging to Liesel, who steals books, grow quickly. Others take longer. My spirit is slow to grow, but I am glad to say it has not stopped yet.

My slow spirit went through a real growth spurt when I read The Book Thief recommended to me by my friend, Helen Newton, who said, “It’s for those who love words and the human spirit.” Helen recommended it last summer, but I only recently had the priceless experience of listening to the audio version. I am ever so glad I got to hear the story, because like all poetry it is better aloud, but I am also glad I have a print copy, because I plan to mark countless passages. 

Death narrates this tale about a young German girl during World War II. Sounds pretty grim, doesn’t it? However, the word that best describes the book is triumphant. In fact, I am leaning toward deciding that it is the most triumphant book I’ve ever read.

The conquering spirit is a familiar theme in literature. Of course, Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl comes to mind as does my longtime favorite, The Yearling, a novel that helped me survive my first year of teaching. I’ll tell you more about that lifesaving experience later. Right now I want to talk about something Penny Baxter tells his son in that book, “You've seed how things goes in the world o' men. You've knowed men to be low-down and mean. You've seed ol' Death at his tricks...Ever' man wants life to be a fine thing, and a easy. 'Tis fine, boy, powerful fine, but 'tain't easy. Life knocks a man down and he gits up and it knocks him down agin.”

Sometimes I don’t even wait for life to knock me down. I fall of my own accord, collapsing in a heap of my own ridiculous making. I’ve mentioned before how much I love Our Town by Thornton Wilder. In that play the Stage Manager says, “Whenever you come near the human race there’s layers and layers of nonsense.”

Reading The Book Thief pulled me out of a period of nonsense. Someone told me the book was too sad to read. I am sorry for anyone with that attitude. Death tells the reader what is going to happen before it happens. I had already decided, even before the narrator admitted it, that Death’s telling us in advance, served the purpose of helping the reader bear what had to happen during the ravages of war. However, I would have read the novel anyway even without the softening of the blow because of the beauty of the words. To tell the truth, at first I thought that Death’s voice was a bit overdone, but Death quickly won me to his side. 

Last week during a school visit, a child asked me, “Do you like death?” I knew she was really inquiring why many of my books have a death either in the story or alluded to in the story. I talked to the group about how all of us die and about how I think Western society is wrong to try to separate life and death because they are so totally intertwined. I told the girl that I am not afraid of death or of talking and writing about the experience that can make those of us who witness it grow more than almost anything else.

In The Book Thief, Death says of Liesel’s papa, “He was tall in the bed. I could see the silver through his eyelids.  His soul sat up. It met me. Those kinds of souls always do—the best ones. The ones who rise up and say, ‘I know who you are and I am ready. Not that I want to go, of course, but I will come.’ Those souls are always light because more of them have been put out. More of them have already found their way to other places.”

I won’t reveal the last line of The Book Thief, but I will tell you it proves that the Human Spirit  is stronger than death. I will also say I hope my soul is sitting up when death comes for me.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

G3 - Growing

What I've Learned from My Grandson About Writing

GROWING: A crone keeps growing emotionally and intellectually. Right now I am spending a lot of time thinking and reading about relationships, both those with people around us and those on the other side of the curtain. I want to understand what makes relationships work. I am also interested in learning about meditation.

Paul and his younger cousin Will at the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

      My grandson, Paul Coleman Sain, is only ten years old, but I’ve learned a lot about writing from him. Paul decided over a year ago to become a writer. However, my first writing lesson from him came when he was only in the first grade. I had just brought him some new Captain Underpants books. He took the first book and eagerly began to read aloud. When I no longer heard his voice, I looked up to see him turning pages. I asked why he had stopped reading his book. He frowned at being distracted. “I’m reading in my head, Nana,” he said. “It’s a whole lot faster!”

       Now, you might not understand how that statement relates to writing, but it does. I’ve always kept my writing projects in my thoughts as much as possible even when not working. However, Paul’s words about his “head” began to have new meaning for me when I started this blog at the same time I also started a new novel. How could I find time to compose a blog? I do it, of course, in my head. A blog post is short, short enough to create “in my head” while I walk. All I have to do is head for the computer as soon as I get back. “It’s a whole lot faster!” 

      The next lesson involves not sharing too soon. Soon after Paul began his book, a graphic novel (a manuscript with pictures) called Diarrhea, he began carrying about a big pile of papers, not stacked evenly. “Don’t look at this, Nana,” he said when he left his masterpiece near me. “It’s not ready for anyone to see it yet.”  I told him I had seen all the diarrhea I cared to see, but I also realized the validity of his reluctance. A writer should not share his or her story until it is truly polished. I must confess, though, that I did peek at Paul’s project, just the last sheet. I was pleased to see the label “Eplog” at the top of the page.

Writing is not Paul's only interest.

      Paul has also taught me about the financial side of the business. After he announced his intention to become a writer, he informed his mother that he was not going to be the same kind of writer Nana is. Thinking he might mention the graphic part of his work,  Ginny asked what kind he planned to be. “The rich kind,” he said. I like the way the boy thinks, and I’ve observed that he is on the right track.

       For instance, not long after beginning his magnum opus, he employed his cousin Will to help write. Will was only in kindergarten at the time and formed his words rather slowly, asking each time how to spell what he was trying to say. Paul was overheard admonishing his employee, “Will, if you can’t work faster we are never going to make any money.”

      When we moved into our present home, four-year-old Paul immediately dubbed my writing room “the pencil shop.” Because it is connected to the living room by glass doors, the pencil shop has been a favorite play spot for all seven of my grandchildren. About a year ago, Paul put a sign on my office door that read, “Paul’s Book Company.” This time it was his smaller cousin, Elizabeth, whom he took into the business. They spent most of one day making picture books. Elizabeth not old enough to write, did only pictures. She also acted as salesperson, selling the books done by both of them to me for pennies, nickels, and occasionally dimes. Paul took all the money for his work and half of what Elizabeth earned. At first, I thought I should protest on her behalf, but I didn’t. After all, it was his establishment. My publisher certainly never gave me half of the profit. Maybe the boy really is going to be the rich kind.

     I wish I had known the last lesson I learned from Paul a long, long time ago. I decided at six to become a writer, but I did nothing about it for years and years. I believe Paul might well achieve his first publication long before I did because he has already learned what I didn’t know until I was in my forties. When some creators of children’s books came to Oklahoma to help raise funds for tornado victims, two of Paul’s heroes, Dav Pilkey, Captain Underpants, and Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, were among them. It’s been a few years since Paul read the Captain underpants books. Many of those stories he had  read aloud on the school bus to other students, but Paul still has the books. He got them all out and sort of caressed them before going to hear the men speak.

      After the presentation, Paul had books autographed and got to talk to the writers. Dav Pilkey told him that he believed Diarrhea could be a best seller. He went home that Friday night and worked on his project until 2:30 a.m. He learned at ten that the interaction with other writers is vital for getting those creative juices flowing. Things might have been a lot different for me had I known earlier.     

Grace does not plan to be a writer. However, she wrote her first book at six. She stopped halfway through the story to say, "Nana, I got most of this from a movie." I assured her we could call the piece a "retelling." I can assure you that had Grace's story fallen into the hands of a certain Oklahoma publisher along with nearly 5,000. dollars, we would have been told the book was the first step in a very successful career. 

Elizabeth who often claims to be a kitty, but that is a different post.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

G1- Gratitude

 “Come on-a my house, my house a come on.”

GRATITUDE: A crone feels gratitude. I’ve always been quick to list my many blessings. However, for some reason lately I’ve begun to feel intense gratitude. Really feeling the gratitude has made a huge difference in my outlook. Sometimes while I am out on my walk, I lift my arms and say, “Eternal Spirit, Mother, Father, God, Thank you.” Then I call out those things that fill my soul with thanksgiving. I mostly do this when there is no one about to hear, but if I am overheard, it won’t matter. It is hard to embarrass a crone.

      When I was a little girl, Rosemary Clooney, aunt of George Clooney, sang a song of invitation about her house. Evidently she felt about her home the same way I feel about mine. I’ve never loved a dwelling as much as I love the one on 9th Street.   

       We bought the property in the fall of 2006 and moved in on our 5th wedding anniversary, September 21, 2013, J. C. having spent every weekend for a year working on improvements. Shortly after the move, he took on a job that kept him in Kansas most of the time for a few months, so I spent quality time alone with the new digs. On one of his visits back, he brought me a gift, a big stone with the words “Heron House,” carved into it. I adore the heron weathervane that sits atop my special room, but I thought naming the house seemed a little pretentious, considering the place’s many scars. The stone stayed, though, and the name has stuck, especially among my writer friends.

      One thing I did during my first days was to give a dinner party for several good friends from college along with some of their spouses. Most came from Oklahoma towns, a couple from Texas, but none of them had seen where I now lived.  Almost every one of the woman said some form of “This house is so you,” upon stepping through the front door.

         They were, of course, exactly right! The people who built the dwelling, nearly two decades before my birth, most certainly would have denied the truth of my belief that this house has been waiting for me, always, but I know what I know. Oh, sure, others have lived here, and people will be here after I am gone. Maybe the house was built for them too. I hope so. I want only people who love these walls to own them.

          It wasn’t love at first sight, not on my part, at least. I do like to think the house had its proverbial cap set for me. I am grateful J.C, who has more of an artist’s eye than I, saw what I couldn’t, how stripping layers of paper from the walls,  pulling down the ceiling –to- floor drapes , getting rid of the carpet that covered righteous, old oak floors would change everything. Very soon, I began to fall in love, and I knew at once the colors I wanted for the walls. I knew, too, that the side porch, once-screened now glassed, should be my writing room. From my desk, I can see the picturesque church we attend, observe comings and goings at the post office, and look out at the world from three directions.  

         Don’t misunderstand, I loved the old farm house where my children grew up, loved it so much, in fact, that I am now unable to drive down that road again. I could never be happier than I was in that house, and also understand I’ve always enjoyed having company. Something, though, about my present home reaches into my soul, and that something also demands people.

         A couple of years ago, I had a bigger version of that 2007 college gathering. That second time,  forty-five senior citizens broke bread together. Even more came to our house for the high school reunion, celebrating 50 years since J.C. and I graduated together a few blocks from here. There are Christmas parties for the Oklahoma Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a few chili suppers for our church, book-launch parties, and lots of other get-togethers.

Eating Soup

       During the first week of October, Oklahoma SCBWI put on a conference for 100 people in Chandler.  On the night before, around twenty speakers, staff, and key volunteers gathered for dinner at Herron House. Six of those guests spent the night upstairs. On the last Sunday in October, the house hosted a birthday party for writer Patti Bennett’s 85th birthday. In between, there have been lunches for friends, family gatherings, and at least three overnight visitors. All seven of my grandchildren, ages 3-10, love to play upstairs, where they recently created a spook house, bringing up an important question.

         Is Heron House haunted? No, not in the way my grandchildren were trying to replicate. Are there spirits here? Definitely! I especially feel them in the dining room, and they are not necessarily former  residents. When I sit with my writer friends discussing our projects, I sense a connection with others who have loved words before us, others who have thrived on the company of like minds. Using the bowl that belonged first to my grandmother and then to my mother to serve food to my family, I feel the strength in the hands and in the souls of those two women. Sharing a meal with precious friends from other days, I am aware that some bonds last longer than breath lasts in bodies. I never noticed such witnesses before moving here. Old houses, like old people, know things, and neither wants to be lonely.

Patti Bennett, Birthday Girl

         I am grateful to the people who built this house, the husband who saw its possibilities and who worked so hard on it, and, of course, to God for the chance to be part of its history. Undoubtedly, something of me will always be on 9th Street.

The Living Room

Monday, November 11, 2013

G1 - Gratitude

Oklahoma Writers' Hall of Fame

GRATITUDE: A crone feels gratitude. I’ve always been quick to list my many blessings. However, for some reason lately I’ve begun to feel intense gratitude. Really feeling the gratitude has made a huge difference in my outlook. Sometimes while I am out on my walk, I lift my arms and say, “Eternal Spirit, Mother, Father, God, Thank you.” Then I call out those things that fill my soul with thanksgiving. I mostly do this when there is no one about to hear, but if I am overheard, it won’t matter. It is hard to embarrass a crone.

With my son, Ben Myers

With good friends Judge Mark Barcus and Teresa Miller

On November 7th, I was inducted into the Oklahoma Writers’ Hall of Fame. It was a fantastic evening. Woody Guthrie was also honored that night, pretty neat to share a program with such a legendary figure. If you don’t know much about Woody Guthrie, a man who wrote 3,000 songs and fought fearlessly for the downtrodden, you should go to the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa.

Nora Guthrie was there to accept her father’s honor. It was a joy to meet her and to hear Will Kaufman, who is a Guthrie scholar and who performs Woody’s songs between telling the audience about the amazing Oklahoman. Another pleasure was listening to renowned author Michael Wallis, known as Oklahoma’s ambassador to the world, speak about Woody and about a Tulsa landmark,  Steve’s Sundry, Books and Magazines, about to close.

With Nora Guthrie

My son, Dr. Benjamin Myers, introduced me and gave me the pin, making me an official member of the hall of fame. Ben’s introduction was much more eloquent and moving than my speech, but I don’t have a copy of that. For lack of having something better, I am sharing my words of acceptance below.

 Thank you, Ben. As a mother, I have to tell the group that Ben got in this afternoon from Wheaton College near Chicago. They flew him there to speak to faculty and students about his poetry, mostly those poems in his second book, Lapse Americana.

And thank you to the Center for Poets and Writers for this wonderful honor. I hope all of you in the audience know how lucky Oklahoma is to have Teresa Miller and her organization, creating a culture for book lovers that is not common in other states. My sister, who lives in Memphis and who is also a writer, says Tennessee has nothing to compare with our center.

I write for children, so, of course, I am going to talk about children’s literature. If you don’t like children or if you never were a child, you might want to take a restroom break now. Perhaps I should also explain now that, as a category, children’s books include those written for teenagers, as are many of mine.

First, I’d like to clear up two common misconceptions about children’s literature. Right after my first book, Red-Dirt Jessie, came out, more than twenty years ago, someone said to me, “I don’t know much about writing, but I might know enough to write for children.” WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. It is harder to write for children. Have you seen how quickly a kid will close a book and pick up a video game?

Some people think children’s books are written to teach lessons. It strikes me as odd that no one ever says, “I want to write a novel to teach adults about divorce, or wasted lives.” Why then do people say they want to write to teach children to share or teenagers to stand up to bullies? If you want to teach morals, volunteer to teach Sunday school. Often lessons can be discovered in a children’s book, but if the lesson is the purpose, the book will be terrible. Children’s books, like those for adults, are written to share the power of story. People who write for children, like those who write for adults, need to write the story demanded by that power, the story that already exists in the universe and that wells up inside the writer

Story is one of the two most powerful forces in the world, second only to love.

We write for children because children understand the power and magic of story, know it better than anyone.   When my youngest child was small, she became very attached to her Bert doll. Her affection may have begun partly because the doll was given to her by her adored older cousin and partly because she recognized Bert from Sesame Street. Very quickly, though, Bert himself became an authentic person to her. He could not be put in an uncomfortable position, could never be left home alone. Bert had to be treated like a real person.

Finally, I decided I needed to talk to her about the doll. “Anna-Maria,” I said when she was about five, “you know Bert is not real, don’t you?”

“Yes,” she said quickly, “I know he isn’t real, but he is going to pretend to be real all his life.”

It was not long after that conversation that Anna-Maria told me one evening when I was tucking her into bed, “At night I tell stories in my head, and no one can hear them except Bert.”

Children understand the power and magic of story.

A few years ago, shortly after my book, Assassin, told in part from the viewpoint of John Wilkes Booth, came out, I met a girl at a book signing. She was a pretty child with long red hair, and she told me she was in the 8th Grade. When she gave me her book for an autograph, she leaned in and whispered, “I knew Lincoln had to die, but I kept hoping for a way out.”

I knew Lincoln had to die, but I kept hoping for a way out! Such, my friends, is the power of story.

Children know the power of story! And it has been my privilege to share that power with older kids through nineteen novels, and I will share it with little ones for the first time next fall when my picture book, Tumbleweed Baby, is published by Abrams Books. I was born in west Texas, and my oldest brother told me always that he pulled me from a tumbleweed. My family left west Texas when I was six months old. Growing up in central Oklahoma, I had no idea what a tumbleweed looked like, but that same brother, fifteen years older than I, had a record called “Tumbling Tumbleweed.” I would sit outside his bedroom door and listen to that song. I suppose I knew I had not really been found in a tumbleweed, but I was a child who lived under story’s power. As I listened I would think, “Those are my people.” There are two or three true things about me in Tumbleweed Baby , so I lightly refer to the story as my autobiography.

I am grateful to the family that pulled me from that tumbleweed and taught me about love. I am grateful too that I learned early about the power of story.

The writer of the Biblical book of Joel was not talking about the power of story when he penned these words, but he could have been.

Joel 1:3
“Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children and their children another generation.”

The Center for Poets and Writers is all about the power of story, and we who write for children are all about telling the children.

With Michael Wallis, Teresa Miller, and Nora Guthrie

With long-time friend Marilyn Hoover

Friday, November 8, 2013

G-1- Gratitude

I Remember Mama

GRATITUDE: A crone feels gratitude. I’ve always been quick to list my many blessings. However, for some reason lately I’ve begun to feel intense gratitude. Really feeling the gratitude has made a huge difference in my outlook. Sometimes while I am out on my walk, I lift my arms and say, “Eternal Spirit, Mother, Father, God, Thank you.” Then I call out those things that fill my soul with thanksgiving. I mostly do this when there is no one about to hear, but if I am overheard, it won’t matter. It is hard to embarrass a crone.

Mama at Eight

I borrowed this title from a very old movie, based on the book, Mama’s Bank Account.
Today is the anniversary of my mother’s birth. I should always list her first when I list my blessings. Both my mother and my mother-in-law were women with extraordinarily   strong personalities. I plan to write about my mother-in-law, Rose Myers, soon, but I am not sure I will ever write about Mama. How could I ever hope to contain her with words?

I know my siblings feel the same way. However, they have always helped me, so they didn’t refuse my request to write about our mother on her birthday. They even abided by the word limit I gave them. Their names are above their memories. 

L. D. Hoover

         Nobody could have asked for a better Mama. Loving. Strong. Smart. Determined. Words that describe her before and after she gave birth to me when she was a few weeks shy of 42. I was by far the youngest of eight.

Mama, nobody ever called her mother or mom, was a true Oklahoma woman. She started with nothing and finished with little more. She gave all she had to us.

On the 106th anniversary of your birth, we honor you, Mama. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

However, as the youngest -often called “smart-aleck”- I have a few questions:

Why did you never believe it was safe for me to go near any water even after I became a certified water safety instructor?

Weren’t you really half Jewish and half Italian? Why else would you have been cooking more than I could possibly eat and being so worried when I showed interest in a girl?

Where did you get that amazing radar for which the military would have paid millions? It could sniff out beer or perfume at a million miles! It could even tell I “had something going” with a woman you saw only when the two of us were on a television talk show.

Why did you drive my car to Oklahoma City and back to Chandler with the emergency brake on? I had to try to fix the brakes on the day man landed on the moon.
I failed.

Why did you refuse to let me learn guitar when I was a teenager because it “would lead to bad things,” only to buy a guitar and try to teach yourself to play it when I was grown?

I think I know. It’s because you cared so much. It’s the same reason you borrowed $400 dollars from a high-interest loan company so I could pay for college the second semester. The same reason you told me to use your charge account at Hellman’s Department Store when clothes were needed for a special occasion.

Mama’s decisions were not always welcomed and not always right. But there is no question they were made based on the same love and strength that made her such a remarkable Oklahoma woman. They were shared by our loving Father, Ross.

They are the values that flow through all of their descendants.
Happy Birthday, Mama!                                                                        

Linnie Hoover Howell

The dictionary defines the word as a female human parent.  Three short words to describe the woman who, if not the most important person in one's life, is certainly right up there near the top. The dictionary doesn't begin to tell what that word means.

My Mama could never have been Mother, Mom, or any of the other titles some use to identify that female human parent. She was simply Mama to her seven children and two of her grandchildren. Even her husband (Daddy) called her Mama. She was born Cecil Eaton on November 8, 1907, in Indian Territory, only days before Oklahoma became a state. Today is the one hundred sixth  anniversary of her birth. My sister, The Crone, chose this date and method to "remember Mama."

I have very few family memories before about sixth grade. One of them is when we were living in Cashion and Mama had some or all of her teeth extracted. I remember being up late with her and applying hot cloths to her jaws, which I now know was the wrong treatment.  My next clear memory of Mama is when she and my infant brother came home from the hospital.  Perhaps both those events stand out in memory because I knew she was in pain. In later years, the alleviation of Mama's pain was of major importance in the lives of her family.  There were hard years at the end of her life, for her and everyone who loved her.

The years between the beginning and the end were memorable, filled with laughter, tears, and much love. Mama could laugh like no one I've ever known. She gave it her all. She could worry and cry with the same vehemence. When we heard Mama scream in the kitchen, we didn't know whether she was injured or thought she had salted the gravy twice. We depended on her and she also depended on us. A typical remark was "kids, I've lost my purse," which would set us all to finding it.

All her adult life, Mama loved her "kids" above all else. She managed to always have available what we most needed.  There was  good food, warmth, clean clothes, and an abundance of love. Mama was a true blessing to all of us.  If our own descendants can say the same for us then we will have succeeded in paying her the tribute she deserves.

I love you Mama; see you later.

My parents, Cecil and Ross Hoover

Shirley Hoover Biggers

 Texas morning, 4-12-42: Our dear Anna’s birth at home: Mama allowed me (almost six) on her bed near her to eat lunch Daddy’d prepared. 1943, Dolly with closing eyes under Christmas tree. Annual yellow Easter/birthday dresses. Rationed brown oxfords/pink anklets from Mrs. Reeves’ Stonewall store… 1946 church Christmas program - yellow sweater Mama let me unwrap early. Cream-of-wheat, Cashion’s frosty mornings. Fried chicken, okryroast’nears, flaky-crusted pies! White eighth-grade-graduation dress. Deer Creek HS schoolbus delivers ravenous me home to waiting beef/gravy over mashed potatoes. Surprise clock-radio (pink) left at my dorm room. Navy suit for first teaching job interview. Tan maternity outfit mailed to Florida for first pregnancy. Mama's merciful train journey to St. Louis after my second childbirth. Pink layette/baby shoes sent to Memphis, welcoming our youngest. Granddaughters’ birthday cards, dollars enclosed. Affectionate relationship with my Charlie, recipient of her Collector’s Avon bottles.                                                                
Thanks, Mama.

Twenty-two years separated Mama’s first and last son. She painstakingly reared seven children. I’m fifth-born, first girl after her first daughter’s infant death. I wonder: did this create my bond with Mama, beginning with my umbilical cord, surviving the clipping of her silver cord? She died on the eve of her firstborn’s sixty-fifth birthday, consummate mother to the end. Calling Ann Ramona (dead sixty-two years), Mama, semi-conscious but well-pleased, had lately mused:  “Four boys and four girls.”  

 A paraplegic her last decade, Mama lived at home. Daddy helped her until his death, their children always, and professional caregivers. She rejected invalid. Forever industrious, she’d devotedly tended house and family. So two sons made Mama’s kitchen wheelchair-accessible; she traveled to Memphis weddings, twice  more for extended stays.
Charles observed that Mama, resources limited, somehow spoiled us all, including ten grandkids.  She’d have delighted in #11, her beloved baby’s son (Daddy’s namesake); would've cherished the latest great-grandchild, Her own namesake.

Oklahoma evening, 9-26-92:  Since 1958 I’ve lived far away but remained close to birth family. From Memphis I arrive at my unconscious mother’s hospital room.  To dress her bedsore, the nurse soon orders family out.    Linnie and I see the others off - returning, learn Mama has slipped away.  Waiting beside her body, I say, “I believe Mama knew I got here.” [The bond]  “She always waited for me to come.”  Sweet Linnie replies,“And you always did.”  

A representative memory, 1989:   Wearing a housecoat, Mama on her motorized cart models a Dutch cap she’d requested from our Holland trip. Indomitable.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Our Town/Chandler
(Photography by John Calvin)

GRATITUDE: A crone feels gratitude. I’ve always been quick to list my many blessings.
However, for some reason lately I’ve begun to feel intense gratitude. Really feeling the gratitude has made a huge difference in my outlook. Sometimes while I am out on my walk, I lift my arms and say, “Eternal Spirit, Mother, Father, God, Thank you.” Then I call out those things that fill my soul with thanksgiving. I mostly do this when there is no one about to hear, but if I am overheard, it won’t matter. It is hard to embarrass a crone.

In an earlier post I talked about how much I’ve been influenced by Our Town, a play by Thornton Wilder. However, it is not the literary master piece for which I am grateful today. Rather it is for Chandler, Oklahoma, my hometown.

I am not the only one who likes living here. Lots of people like my son and daughter-in-law, both of whom grew up here and who lived for a few years in other states, have come home to Our Town after a time away.  Yes, I love Chandler; however, such was not the case when I first saw the place. In fact, I hated the town with the fury of a fifteen-year-old, dragged away from her comfort zone by a father who decided the family should move!

My class had always been about 20 people, my forever friends. In Chandler, some sixty strangers made up the tenth grade. Even more frightening, those kids came from vastly different backgrounds, some living in little more than hovels while others had fathers who owned banks. Being a reader, I knew, of course, about social class, but I had never seen it in action. With a couple of exceptions, my former friends had fathers who all worked for the same oil company mine did. Our families lived in the same company-owned houses. No one I had known experienced poverty, and no one had any real money.

 For a long time, I stayed on the edge of school life, living for the weekends when I might be allowed to ride the bus to Edmond, where I was picked up by a friend and her parents and driven west, home to Deer Creek. I could not remember ever needing to make a new friend and had no desire to start at fifteen.  Gradually, I began to reach out a bit. Before graduation, I had friends, was in class plays, worked on the yearbook, and served as an officer in two or three organizations. I had nothing against Chandler, but, still, I couldn’t wait to go home to Edmond for college.

 After living a few other places, my late husband and I moved to Chandler temporarily before our first child was born forty years ago. Before long, we had three children, born within four years. I was glad to live near my parents, who were a big help to me during those first years. When the youngest started to school, I went back to teaching.

Now we were entrenched in Chandler. Did I love it? Not really. I was never a joiner, never belonged to any sort of ladies’ group, could not be described as active in any church, was not inclined to enjoy lots of small talk, had no close friends other than the women with whom I taught for seventeen years. I was very happy during those years, and certainly, as my parents grew old and ill, one of their seven children needed to live nearby.  
Corner of 10th and Allison

However, my affection for Chandler became strong only when I left it.  After living as a widow for a few years, I remarried and moved east. I had assured my new husband I wouldn’t miss Chandler, especially since most of my close friends from teaching had relocated too.

Tulsa is a lovely city, but it wasn’t for me. After five years, we bought a house in Chandler. I could hardly wait to get here. Why do I love Our Town? As Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, “Let me count the ways.”  I have never been lost in Chandler, a big plus after wandering in Tulsa. I care a lot more about the people than I thought I did. I missed seeing familiar faces on the streets and in the stores.  I missed the feeling that if I had a real emergency, I could grab a phone book and quickly contact any of at least two hundred people who would come and help me. I missed knowing a pharmacist, like the one who came from around the counter to tell me he and his wife would pray for us when I, red-eyed, picked up the first prescription for Paul’s brain tumor. I missed the ladies in the Mane Event Beauty Salon, missed not needing an I. D. to cash a check.

I missed the history visible in our old buildings, the brick streets, and the historic homes. I also missed my personal history, the town where my three children had grown up, realizing  there were people on the streets, who would help them if in they were in need and who would also report on them should they be involved in the wrong activities.

I missed being able to go on my walks without constantly looking over my shoulder. I missed living in a town where I can drive until I am really old. Besides, by that time, my grandson Isaac will likely have exchanged his dinosaur fascination for car fascination, so he can chauffeur me to the grocery store.

Are there bad things about living in Chandler? I know there are, but I’ve forgotten how to list them.   Today on my walk, I met a couple from England, who were taking pictures of Our Town. When I was in high school, the idea that anyone from Europe would want to photograph Chandler would have amazed me. Now I understand. From time to time, I am going to write about Our Town and some of the fascinating people who live here.

Why don’t you buy the house pictured below? The yellow sign says “For Sale.” We would be neighbors. You could rent the little business location also pictured below and put in some unique shop, just across from the restored filling station seen reflected in the window.