So, there’s plenty of sadness when our parents and grandparents die. It’s not only missing them, but also the gut-wrenching efforts of clearing through their belongings to see what to keep, what to give away or what to simply toss out in a large black trash bag. You know the drill. But, it doesn’t make it any easier to do it when the time comes.
I’m currently in the process of clearing out my parents’ home, since my dad passed away and my mom has moved into assisted living. I’m not only finding things that were theirs, but also things that belonged to my grandparents–on both sides of the family. Yesterday, I spent hours digging through a box of photos, disintegrating scrapbooks, souvenirs, letters, a travel diary and even a script for a play. I was overwhelmed with nostalgia and gratitude for the loving grandparents I had and the chance to learn about their younger years, before I knew them.
Talk about a trip down memory lane! I don’t know if this will interest a single other person out there, but I thought I’d share some of the sentimental treasures I unearthed. 🙂 As a writer, I can’t help but think these will be a part of a book one day! I’ll keep you posted.
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“I’m a witch,” Missy chants—red curls poking messily from her black pointed cap. “I need a wand.”
She snaps a twig from a leafless branch. Perfect.
Her costumed group reaches a spooky darkened house. Missy stops.
A friend tugs her arm. “We only stop for lit porch lights.” Cobwebs litter the deserted porch. Owls screech. Missy shivers.
“Come on.” Missy ignores.
“We’re leaving.” They really do. Missy stares.
A nearby chorus of “Trick or treat!”
A cauldron! A real witch’s house! It could hold potions. Missy moves.
Inching closer, squinting.
“MEOWWW!!!” Missy screams.
The cat dashes. Missy laughs.
After my dad passed away last year, Mom decided to move into an assisted living facility near my home. She wanted to be as independent as possible, and not be “right on top of us” in my house. It’s been a tough transition for all of us, in some ways. But I’ve also had the opportunity to grow my extended family through the fascinating friends Mom has made in her new home.
One of those new friends is Betty. Betty is 96 (turning 97 later this year) and still volunteers at the Mighty 8th Air Force museum in Savannah on a regular basis. She shared the story of her younger years with me recently, and we decided to make her story into a children’s nonfiction book. Here are some highlights:
She was a part of a top secret project (Ultra) during World War II.
I wasn’t even aware that Americans were a part of this code-breaking effort. Like many other Americans, I watched the movie about Alan Turing a few years ago, and learned that researchers at Bletchley Park in England cracked the German Enigma code. It turns out, that was only part of the story. Betty was a part of the “rest of the story”. She worked with other Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) in Dayton, Ohio to build machines that we used to break the German Navy Enigma codes. Apparently, the German Navy added extra rotors to make the codes more difficult to break, and the British needed our help. Betty’s work on the project was so secretive, even she didn’t know the importance of the work she’d done until 1995 when she received an award from the National Security Agency (NSA). You can see the one remaining machine built by Betty and other WAVES at NSA’s cryptologic museum at Ft. Meade.
Betty was a National Swim Champion. Betty swam competitively during her teen, college and even Navy years. She won several National swim titles, but never realized her dream of competing in the Olympics as both the 1940 and 1944 Olympics were cancelled due to the war.
She met famous people. Betty swam with future movie star, Esther Williams when they were both teenagers. Ms. Williams’ Olympic dreams were also thwarted by the war. In addition, Betty had the chance to meet Orville Wright, of the famous Wright Brothers. Mr. Wright asked for permission to meet Betty after reading an article about the young Navy WAVE defending her swim title. One of the world’s greatest visionaries chatted with young Betty about her own dreams. She also remembers drenching Mr. Wright’s shirt when he gave her a hug, as she’d just climbed out of the pool. It’s a meeting she’s never forgotten. Interestingly, that newspaper article almost got Betty in major trouble. Her swim coach didn’t go through the proper channels to secure permission for her to compete, and since she was in the Navy, her commander wasn’t happy! When the next championship rolled around, her swim coach knew exactly how to secure permission the right way.
When the Navy began recruiting women into active duty, Betty wanted to do her part. She was raised to hunt, fish, swim and even solder wires with her father. It wasn’t in her nature to sit back and let the men go to war.
I recently interviewed Betty about her experiences during the war and looked through photo albums with her. It was such an honor to have her share her story with me. It felt like I was interviewing living history. I’m polishing up the manuscript of her story, and hoping to get it into the hands of a publisher! I’d love to see kids inspired by her story too.
This used to be our spot. On dark nights when the moon was full, we’d dash past Rachel’s feet and scurry up this tree. Full moons were always the best—especially when drifting clouds made it look like cheese. Sometimes, on nights like this, we would reminisce about the pranks we’d pulled or the ham we’d snitched from Rachel’s sandwich when she left it unattended for a minute. She loved us anyway. Even when she called us “her little stinkers.” Some nights we just sat, and rubbed our necks together.
I remember the day Rachel brought us home from the rescue in a cardboard box. She’d only planned for one cat, but ended up bringing us home together. Last week he stopped eating. When Rachel walked in the door with the empty carrier, I’d paced and paced. “I’m so sorry,” she’d said. Where was he? When would he be back?
Tonight, I sit alone. One, in a spot made for two. My purr is stuck somewhere in my chest. I wonder if it will ever come again?
I stare at the same moon. I sit in the same place. But nothing is the same. Not anymore.
I’m sure all moms can remember a time when the random kindness of a stranger mattered. Maybe it was it the cashier at the grocery store playing peek-a-boo with your restless toddler so you could check out. How about the teenager who held open the door as you were struggling through with your double stroller? All of it matters. But when your a special needs mom, it really matters. I mean, really.
You see, we aren’t immune to the dirty looks or irritated sighs from people. We’ve endured the rude comments about our child making noises. So when strangers are kind–even go out of their way to help, it’s huge. I’ve seen stories in the press lately about employees at theme parks going out of the way to help kids on the spectrum who become overwhelmed. And yes, when your child is on the spectrum, even good things can cause a meltdown. Things they’ve begged for, talked about constantly, and looked forward to for months. Why? Because when that big moment finally gets here, it’s just too much. It’s overwhelming. And when they can’t process all of that stimulation, even if it’s something they’ve wanted, they can shut down.
Adam Levine gets it. So does the young lady who portrays Snow White at Disney. And the employee at Universal Studios. And, I’m so glad they do. But there are so many more people out there who still don’t get it. I’d love for people to do some research on the autism spectrum, Tourette’s, OCD, ADHD, and all kinds of “invisible” causes of behavior that might look like simple tantrums. Then, you can be one of those people showing kindness. And it matters. So much. Thanks for taking the time to read!
I’m thrilled to announce that our Georgia nonprofit, Superhero Success Foundation has been established. Through this IRS approved charity, we can create exciting children’s books featuring superhero characters that just happen to have special needs. Through the organization, books can be donated to children’s hospitals, camps for special needs kids, schools, and more.
Already, we’ve been asked to provide books for the campers attending Camp Trach Me Away this June. This will give the kids at camp a chance to see a character in a book who also has a tracheostomy tube in his neck–but also happens to be a superhero!
Our board of directors is looking to our next steps, such as creating a website, a logo, and drafting a mission statement that matches our articles of incorporation and by-laws. Overall, we hope to break barriers in children’s book publishing through creating amazing characters, who just happen to have special needs. Our first book, Jeremiah Justice Saves the Day has exceeded our expectations, thanks to the amazing talent of illustrator Rashad Doucet. We are so excited to share this book with the world and start making a difference in kids’ lives!
Thanks to the amazing Tara Lazar and her guest bloggers, I’m happy to say I completed StoryStorm 2019 with 30 ideas for stories. If you have any interest in children’s publishing, I highly encourage you to subscribe to Tara’s blog here. You won’t be sorry!
Now, to get busy turning these ideas into actual full blown, developed stories…
But, you’ve got to start somewhere, right? Wish me luck!
In July, I lost my dad. He was always one of my biggest cheerleaders, even when I didn’t give him much to cheer about–especially during my high school years. Sometimes, it was embarrassing how much he’d brag about me to anyone who would listen. But I’d give almost anything now to hear him brag about me. What I’d give just to hear his voice one more time. He was especially proud that I was writing books. I still cry every time I think that he won’t be around to see Jeremiah Justice Saves the Dayreleased. He helped raise funds on Kickstarter to make it happen.
My dad was 82 when he died, so on some level I knew he wasn’t going to be around forever. But when his death came, it was sudden and unexpected. It left so much unsaid–at least from my perspective. I had so much I should have thanked him for. I started wishing right away that I’d called him every single day from the day I left for college, just to tell him I loved him.
This isn’t new advice. Just like when you’re a new parent, and you hear from countless people, “Cherish every moment. They grow up so fast.” We hear from our friends who’ve lost a parent, “Don’t take them for granted. They won’t be here forever.” But advice like this is easy to throw off as a clichés. We think, “Yeah, yeah. I know.” But let’s face it. We really don’t know. We don’t know how fast our kids grow up until they’re gone. And we don’t know how fast we can lose our parents, who’ve been there for us our entire lives until that moment. And, we’re busy. Raising kids is all consuming and leaves us exhausted half the time. Being a caregiver for elderly parents is physically and emotionally challenging many times. Believe me, I get it. But, it still doesn’t make the clichés untrue.
So, here’s my two cents for today. Don’t think, “Yeah, yeah. I know.” Pick up the phone and call your mom or dad. Or both. Tell them you love them and you appreciate the sacrifices they’ve made for you. You’ll be glad you did.
Happy Fall Everyone! I came across this fun writing contest on author Susannah Hill’s website. See rules here. Basically, it asks for you to write a short Halloween story in 100 words or less. It took me exactly 100! You also have to include any variations of the words cauldron, shiver and howl in your story. My entry Surfside Halloween is posted here. Happy reading, and if you’re so inclined…writing! 🙂
On my first Florida Halloween, my mood was foul. When I heard the night’s plans, I let out a howl.
This night was for shivering, costumes and hayrides—not shorts or flip-flops, and definitely not high tides.
Halloween wasn’t about surf and sand—but trick-or-treating, with candy in hand.
This felt more like a trick than a treat; a cauldron of disappointment, despair and defeat.
When the full yellow moon revealed glowing eyes, I jumped back in fright, and yelped in surprise.
A tiny black kitten rocketed ’round the bend. I’d lost old traditions, but gained a new friend.