Saturday Song: Both Sides Now by Judy Collins

Last week, I heard on National Public Radio that Judy Collins and Steve Stills from Crosby, Stills, and Nash have just released a new album together. At one time years ago, they were even romantically involved, according to the report. This song was mentioned, although I doubt it’s on the album. I enjoyed listening to it in 1967 when it came out. It was on one of my first eight-track tapes when I was growing up in Arizona and played many times on a Tucson radio station. Enjoy, and have a great Saturday.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

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Thursday Book Feature: The Summer Before the War

The Summer Before the War

by Helen Simonson

Copyright 2016

In 1914, Beatrice, a spinster, arrives in an English country village to teach Latin at a grammar school. Although some citizens are skeptical about a female Latin teacher, she is able to make a few friends. Then World War I breaks out, and everyone, including Beatrice, is caught up in the effort to support the troops.

This book has several sub-plots that bring out the injustices of English society during that time. Soon after war breaks out, a group of refugees from Belgium arrives in the village. When one girl is found pregnant, the residents arrange to send her away. When Beatrice tries to help her, she is shunned. In the grammar school where she teaches, a gypsy boy who is bright with a serious interest in learning is not allowed to take a scholarship exam because of his family’s heritage. As a result of the war, lives and limbs are lost, and the book’s ending is happy and sad.

Despite the seriousness of the war and closed-mindedness of certain characters, parts of this book made me laugh. The sadness caused by loss of life as a result of the war moved me nearly to tears. The Summer Before the War made me thankful to be living in today’s world with modern medicine and more liberal views, even though some people still look down on minorities and those less fortunate than ourselves.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

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Saturday Song: I Feel the Earth Move by Carole King

In the summer of 1971 when I was ten years old, my father and I traveled from our home in Tucson, Arizona, to Sheridan, Wyoming. Grandpa Johnson passed away the winter before, and Grandma needed Dad to help her with the family business, at least for the summer. Johnson Novelty sold coin-operated machines such as jukeboxes, pool tables, vending machines, and video games to businesses in Sheridan and the surrounding area. We ended up moving to Sheridan a couple of years later.
That summer though, memorable events included a rodeo parade and a picnic in the mountains where an adult family friend and I discovered a cave. There were also numerous trips to bars and other establishments where Dad repaired and serviced machines. Of course I was too young to go into the bars.
I also spent many happy hours in the shop with a couple of girls down the street who were my age. We listened to music on a jukebox and played games. Pinball and bowling were two games where I had marginal success despite my limited vision.
The song below was one of many we played on the jukebox. Although I couldn’t understand what it was saying, I loved the beat. This version has a cool drum rift at the end that my younger brother Andy would have loved playing along with on his drum set when he was a kid. Enjoy, and have a great Saturday.

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

Memoir Offers Insights on Death

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematory

By Caitlin Doughty

Copyright 2014.

 

This author, with a degree in medieval history, a star of the online video series, Ask a Mortician, shares the first few years of her experiences working in the death industry. She starts with her first job as a crematory operator in San Francisco, explaining in detail the cremation process and how she was the one to do the actual cremating. She also describes going with another employee to collect bodies and observing the embalming process.

She then talks about how she eventually moved to Los Angeles where she attended a mortician school and became certified. After another job collecting bodies, she gained employment as a funeral director. She also shares her disillusionment with embalming and other techniques used to make a corpse look natural before a viewing. She suggests taking responsibility for what happens to you when you die.

She also talks about her life growing up in Hawaii and how she took an interest in death after seeing a child fall from a second-story balcony of a shopping mall. She touches on the history of death and how other cultures deal with it. In the end, she relates the details of her grandmother’s passing. Her story begins in the morning at the San Francisco crematory and ends at night in a nearby cemetery.

Because of my experiences with death over the years, I was fascinated by some of her stories and horrified by others. Despite the grimness of the subject, I found myself laughing at some of her anecdotes.

When she described shaving a corpse for the first time, I was reminded of the time I saw my late husband Bill’s body at the nursing home before he was taken away. Shaving him was far from my mind, as I stroked his hair and talked to him for the last time.

When Doughty described picking up bodies at hospitals, nursing homes, and people’s homes, I thought of the two people from the funeral home who came to pick up Bill. Soft-spoken, the woman assured me they would take good care of him. When I asked about arrangements, the man said someone would contact me. You can learn more about my experiences with Bill’s death in My Ideal Partner.

When I started reading this book, I was afraid of death, and I still am. I didn’t think Caitlin Doughty could explain what it’s like to die. Nobody really can. Once you find out, there’s no way to tell others.

My brother, a physicist, once said that when you die, you simply don’t exist anymore, but what is that like? When pets die, they are said to have crossed a “rainbow bridge.” Christians believe that when you die, you see Jesus and are reunited with loved ones passed.

I would like to think that when my time comes, I will cross a rainbow bridge and be reunited with Bill, but what if that’s not the case? What if you’re aware of what is happening to you after you die?

What if Bill heard the last loving words I said to him including my promise to see him on the other side someday. What if he knew he was being wrapped in a shroud, strapped to a gurney, transported to the funeral home, and placed in a refrigerator?

Both my parents were cremated. What if they felt the pain of the flames, as their bodies were being burned until there was nothing left but bones?

If you or your family chooses to have a viewing, necessitating an embalming, what if you feel the instruments cutting into the artery on your neck and into your abdomen to drain blood and other internal fluids and infuse chemicals that make you look more natural? Of course lying in a grave for eternity could be boring but certainly better than burning or being stabbed.

I hope I don’t die for a long time, and maybe when I do, someone will know something. In the meantime, this book is a great start to understanding what can happen to your body after you die.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Little Apartment in the Big City

Thanks to Ella for inspiring this. In her post, she talks about moving to a different location and starting a job in a place where she knows no one and has to prove herself. This is daunting for anyone but can be complicated by a disability. In what I’m about to relate, some names have been changed to protect privacy.

In 1987, Fargo, North Dakota, was large compared to my home town of Sheridan, Wyoming. A music therapy student, I was accepted for an internship in a nursing home there. Although I was anxious to be on my own in a new place, I felt some trepidation, as my parents and I drove into the town late one Sunday night in August after being on the road for twelve hours. I was comforted by the fact that my parents would stay with me until I found a place to live and got settled and that my internship wouldn’t start until the middle of September.

We found a motel near the freeway where we spent the night. The next morning, Dad bought a local paper and a city map. He scoured the classified ad section for apartments. After making phone calls and arranging to see a few that he found, we checked out of the motel and ate breakfast before beginning our home hunting adventure.

Because of my visual impairment, it was important to find a place within easy walking distance to the nursing home where I would work for the next six months. We had no luck. The apartments were either not affordable, too small, or didn’t meet my needs for other reasons.

A few hours later, discouraged, we were driving aimlessly, looking for a place to eat lunch when Mother said, “Oh look, there’s a senior citizen high rise like the ones in Sheridan.”

“It’s a little too far for her to walk to the nursing home,” said Dad.

“They probably have a minibus like the one in Sheridan that could take her,” said Mother. “They could also take her to the grocery store.”

“She doesn’t want to live with old folks,” said Dad, as he pulled into the parking lot.

I was thinking the same thing but said nothing. As we walked into the lobby, Mother said, “There’s a bulletin board, and it says which apartments are empty. It looks like there are several.”

In the office, we spoke to the manager. “You really don’t want to live with old folks, do you?” he asked.

Were my thoughts being broadcast to the world? “She’ll be working at Red River Care Center,” said Mother. “It’s a little far for her to walk so maybe your minibus could take her.”

“Our van only takes people shopping and to medical appointments,” said the manager. “Besides, this facility only serves senior citizens.” I was relieved, but where would I live?

After lunch at a nearby McDonald’s, we found several other apartment buildings that weren’t designated for senior citizens, but none of them had vacancies. “What about downtown?” asked Dad. “You could take the bus to the Red River Care Center.”

“Yeah, why didn’t I think of that?” I said, feeling hopeful. “When I went to that stupid rehab center in Topeka several years ago, I learned how to take buses.”

“I don’t know,” said Mother. “You might have to change buses and…”

“Maybe not,” said Dad. “If you get an apartment downtown close to the transfer point, then you’d just have to take one bus. Let’s go take a look.”

We found the city bus transfer station which was right next to the greyhound terminal. “Now you know where to go to catch the bus home for Christmas,” said Mother, as we parked in the lot between the two bus stations.

The holiday season was farthest from my mind, as we entered the city bus center. To my surprise, the gentleman behind the counter was very helpful. When we told him I was looking for a place to live downtown in the hope of having easy access to work, he said, “Oh yeah, if you live close to here, you’ll just take one bus to the Red River Care Center. In fact, there’s a building a few blocks away that might have an opening. It’s an old hotel that was converted into apartments. It’s called Grant Street Place.”

We found a pay phone, and after locating the apartment building’s address and phone number, Dad called and made an appointment for the next day. We then found another motel room.

The next morning at 9 a.m., we arrived at Grant Street Apartments, a six-story structure located on a busy downtown thoroughfare. In the lobby, a woman greeted us and introduced herself as Becky, one of two managers. “We have a lot of young people here,” she said. “There are also quite a few older people. We all look out for each other.”

The two vacant apartments were an efficiency and a one-bedroom. I liked them both, but the efficiency only had a couch that folded into a bed, and I didn’t want to mess with that. Since the rent on both apartments was about the same, I chose the one-bedroom.

The rooms were small but usable. There was a combination living and dining room with a kitchenette, a full bathroom on one side, and a bedroom on the other. The kitchenette had a sink, microwave, two-burner stove, and small refrigerator with freezer under the counter. The main room and bedroom had light gray carpeting, and the bathroom had a white-tiled floor. The apartment overlooked an alley so although there wasn’t much of a view, there wasn’t much street noise, either. It was simply furnished with an armchair, end table, and dining table with lamp in the main room and in the bedroom a double bed, small table, and wardrobe.

My apartment was on the fourth floor, and the basement contained a huge laundry room. All the machines were coin-operated, and I could use them easily despite my limited vision. The basement also had a beauty shop which I frequented several times during my stay.

The building had two elevators: one in the back that tenants could use independently and one in the front that was the old-fashioned kind operated by Andy, a fellow who also picked up our garbage three days a week if we remembered to leave it outside our doors. Mailboxes were located inside the rear entrance near the self-service elevator.

The next few days were a blur of activity, as we got settled in my new home. The first order of business was to get a phone. Once that was working, Mother arranged for a cleaning service to come every other week while I was at work. Dad set up an account with a local taxi company. My parents paid for both these amenities. Since utilities and cable television were included in the rent, the only expenses I had to worry about were the phone and groceries.

We found Leeby’s, a small grocery store a few blocks away, and a supermarket called Hornbacker’s, easily accessible by bus. Buses ran every hour during the week and every two hours on weekends.

My parents stayed in the apartment with me, Mother and me sleeping in the bedroom, and Dad sleeping on the floor in the main room. On Friday night, they left on their long drive back to Sheridan. Once they were gone, I was truly on my own, but I was excited.

Before I left Wyoming, I was given the phone number for the North Dakota commission for the blind in Grand Forks. I called them, and a mobility instructor came and helped me with some routes my parents and I worked out. She also gave me phone numbers for a couple of people involved in blind bowling groups in the area. I phoned them and enjoyed bowling twice a month, and I met some nice people. This was one of few good things about that city.

At first, I rarely used the taxi. It was easy to take the bus to and from the nursing home where I worked 40-hour weeks. On Saturdays, I took the bus to Hornbacker’s and did my weekly shopping. Since I didn’t have to be at work until eleven on Wednesday, I often walked to Leeby’s early that morning if I needed a few things.

Life in my little apartment wasn’t always a bed of roses. Although the building was well maintained, and most of the neighbors I met were nice, the people above me often played loud music and had parties. I called the security officer late at night when it happened and complained to the manager, and the noise subsided for a while but started back up again.

The management had a contract with an exterminator who came every six months. Because of his process of ridding the building of rodents, all cupboards, closets, and drawers had to be emptied. The night before he was scheduled to come, I took clothes, dishes, and other items out of my drawers, cupboards, and wardrobe and laid them on every available surface except the bed. When I came home from work the next day, I put everything back. This was time consuming, and because I never saw one rat, mouse, or termite, I didn’t think it necessary. For the first time, I considered not staying in Fargo after my internship ended.

Late one night, the fire alarm rang, and as we gathered in the lobby, there appeared to be no security personnel or managers in sight. The fire department arrived and found nothing so we returned to our apartments.

Winter came and with it, extreme cold, twenty-foot snowdrifts and freezing rain. One morning during a particularly bad storm, my supervisor called and told me I didn’t need to go to work. I was relieved since the local radio announcer advised against unnecessary travel, and I wasn’t sure if I could get a cab. It was nice having a snow day. After that, I used the taxi more frequently, but since Dad often talked of walking to and from school in such conditions as a kid, I wasn’t sure how he would take the higher cab bills. I needn’t have worried.

In December, I was given two weeks off for Christmas and went home. In January, my parents drove me back to Fargo. On the morning I was to return to work and they to Sheridan, it was 40 below zero. Dad went out to start the car, returning a few minutes later to say, “Dead as a doornail.”

My parents planned to drop me off at the nursing home on their way out of town. Instead, we walked to the nearby terminal and caught the bus just in time. “God damn, it’s cold,” said Dad, as we slogged through the snow from the bus stop to the nursing home. “How the hell do you do this?”

“You’ll see when you get the next taxi bill,” I said.

Several hours later after the car was fixed, they stopped by the nursing home to say goodbye before leaving town. “Don’t worry about the cab bill,” said Dad. “It’s too cold for walking.” I was relieved.

One day, my supervisor said, “I don’t think this internship is working out.”

This was a shock since I thought things were going well, though I had difficulty keeping up with the paperwork, and it took me longer to complete other tasks. I was tempted to tell her that I didn’t like her cold city and would be only too glad to go home, but I wasn’t a quitter. When times were tough, Dad always told me not to let bastards get me down. Close to tears, I said, “I’m sorry you’re not happy with my progress so far, but if you’ll give me another chance, I’ll try harder and hope to do better.”

She gave me a second chance, but I could tell she didn’t think it would work out, and it didn’t. For the next three months, I did my best, but it seemed that almost everyone including my supervisor was against me. Others in our department were cold and came down on me for minor infractions, and one or two nurses snapped at me. The only things that kept me from giving up were the residents, who appreciated my music activities, and the love and support of my parents. My little apartment downtown became a place to which I was glad to retreat at the end of the day and a refuge I hated leaving in the morning.

The staff at the nursing home weren’t the only ones with frozen hearts. Because I was only getting so much from Social Security per month and no salary from my internship, it was hard making ends meet at times. One day when I tried to cash a check Mother sent me, the bank teller said, “There isn’t enough in your account to cover this so I can’t do it.”

At the bank in Sheridan, the employees knew me. This would never have happened. I was relieved when the manager at Leeby’s agreed to cash the check.

In March, the six months of my internship were up. My overall grade was a D. I was anxious to get home, but one of the nurses who supported me asked me to sing for her wedding in April. The day after the nuptials, I was on the bus to Sheridan.

In May when the lease on my apartment was up, Dad and I returned. By then, even the apartment manager’s heart appeared frozen, although the weather was warm. “You didn’t vacuum,” she said when she inspected my apartment. “We won’t return part of your deposit for that.” Dad and I loaded all my earthly possessions into his station wagon, drove away, and never looked back.

It was a depressing six months, and perhaps I should have felt defeated, as we left town, but I did not. I took Dad’s advice and didn’t let those North Dakota bastards get me down. Despite the D grade I received in my internship, I became a registered music therapist. Six months after I moved back to Sheridan, I found a job in a nursing home where I worked for fifteen years. In the earlier part of this century, I met my late husband Bill through a magazine. The rest of the story is in My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds.

 

What do you remember about your first time on your own after college? Tell me about it in the comments field.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

 

Review: The Paddy Stories: Book One

The Paddy Stories: Book One

by John Justice

Copyright 2016.

 

In Philadelphia in 1947, eight-year-old Paddy Flynn, who is blind, has lost his father as a result of World War II. He is then orphaned when his mother dies after a long illness. He spends time in a children’s home where he befriends a Japanese boy, who teaches him Judo, so he can stand up for himself when confronted by the home’s bully. He also develops a special bond with Lucy, another resident at the home.

Meanwhile, his uncle and aunt in Oakland, California, go through proceedings to adopt him. Once those arrangements are made, Paddy is sent to them by train. Along the way, he relies on the kindness of strangers, who travel with him most of the time. In California, his uncle and aunt, having no children, welcome him with open arms and treat him as if he were their own son. He eventually looks upon them as if they were his parents.

He adjusts to life with his new family, and by some miraculous twist of fate, he’s reunited with Lucy, but they are separated, temporarily, at the end of the book when Paddy is sent to the California school for the blind in Berkeley. The book also contains sub-plots involving other children and staff at the home in Philadelphia, but their stories end more happily than Paddy’s does.

When I first ran across this book, I thought it was for children, but further perusal told me otherwise. It tells the story of a little boy, and parents could read it to their children, but there are scenes that might not be appropriate for younger readers.

I met this book’s author, John Justice, through the Behind Our Eyes writers’ group, to which I belong. This book was produced by David and Leonore Dvorkin of Denver, Colorado, who are also helping me get My Ideal Partner published online. Leonore is quite the publicist. I probably wouldn’t have known about John’s book if she hadn’t mentioned it in almost every email message she sent me regarding my book.

I was prepared for a horror story about a poor little blind boy, beaten and taken advantage of in a society that held little respect for persons with disabilities, but I was pleasantly surprised. Even in the children’s home, where I expected a “Miss Hannagan” like in the movie, Annie, staff and other children were friendly and helpful. I was amazed when a nun showed up at the home and offered to ride with Paddy on the train to Chicago, where a local church formed a network of volunteers, who rode with Paddy in stages the rest of the way, until he reached his destination.

Of course no story would be a good one without conflict, and there’s plenty of that here: one bully at the children’s home, another on the train, and a third in California, not to mention the California school for the blind’s policy that all students must be residents at the school during the week. Paddy, though, is not one to be considered a poor little blind boy. When his mother became ill, she instilled in him the importance of being independent, knowing she wouldn’t be able to care for him much longer. He takes everything in stride, and although he cries himself to sleep in the California school’s dormitory at the end of the book, there’s a glimmer of hope. I’m looking forward to seeing what Book Two will bring.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

 

 

Review: The Dance House

Note: I’ve decided to review books as I read them instead of doing them all at once. This will make my life easier, and the additional posts might attract more readers.

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The Dance House: Stories from Rosebud

by Joseph Marshall III

Copyright 1998

 

Since Joseph Marshall was the keynote speaker at this year’s annual Wyoming Writers conference, I decided to read one of his books. The Dance House contains short stories and essays about Indian life. The stories take place during the earlier part of the 20th century. In “Oliver’s Silver Dollar,” a young Lakota Sioux, speaking little English, is sent to a mental institution where he stays for thirty years because of a misunderstanding over one word. In “1965 Continental,” a white sheriff persecutes an Indian man because he believes he stole a fancy car. Other tales are about Native Americans surviving blizzards, dealing with whites who discriminate against them, and sharing wisdom and traditions with their grandchildren. The title story deals with the aftermath of a law allowing white men to claim Indian land. This collection also contains essays about Indians’ heritage, culture, and dealings with white oppressors.

The stories in this book took me back to times and places I hadn’t explored much since I was a teen’-ager in Mrs. Wright’s English class at Sheridan High School in Wyoming. If she were still teaching, I’m sure she would assign this book to her students. We all should read books like this to understand how we, as a nation, did a disservice to Native Americans by forcing them onto reservations, placing their children in government-run boarding schools, and commandeering their land. Remember that Indians were here before any of the first settlers came to this country in the 1600’s.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems