My Favorite Family Holiday Vacation

In 1970 when I was nine, and my younger brother Andy was two, we were living in Tucson, Arizona. At Christmas that year, it was decided that Mother, Andy, and I would spend the holiday in Denver with Mother’s relatives while Dad visited his family in Sheridan, Wyoming. I assume this is because my parents couldn’t agree on one place to spend Christmas. Looking back, I can’t imagine why we couldn’t have seen both sets of relations, since Sheridan is only about an eight-hour drive from Denver, compared to the mileage between Denver and Tucson.

This was my first Christmas away from home, and I was worried about Santa finding us, but Mother assured me that he would come to Denver. I don’t remember how Dad got to and from Sheridan, but Mother, Andy, and I flew to and from Denver. Grammy and Granddad, as we affectionately called my mother’s parents, had recently moved into a new house they’d built on a hillside. It was a split-level home, and I found it fascinating.

From the garage, a set of stairs led to a door which opened onto a hallway. On the left was a bathroom and on the right was Granddad’s study. Straight ahead was a large family room containing a couch, several chairs, a TV, and a piano. A sliding door led to a patio beyond.

To the left, another set of stairs led to an expansive living and dining area and kitchen. More stairs led to yet another level containing three bedrooms and a bathroom. The master bedroom, where Grandad slept, had its own bathroom. The room where we slept had a set of double decker beds plus a crib for Andy. Mother and I utilized the bunks with me on the bottom and her on the top. After living in single-level homes in Tucson for years, despite my limited vision, I loved this house with all its stairs.

My mother’s brother Jack, his wife Sharon, and their children, Kelly and Bill, also lived in Denver. Kelly was my age, and Bill was Andy’s, so we always enjoyed playing together. We spent Christmas Eve at their house, then returned to Grammy and Granddad’s house and went to bed. In the middle of the night, I woke up and realized we’d forgotten to hang our stockings. Where would Santa put our gifts? I roused Mother by banging on the top bunk above me, and she sleepily assured me that Grammy and Granddad had taken care of that. I eventually went back to sleep.

Sure enough, in the morning, it was apparent that Santa had indeed found us, as evidenced by the full stockings in the family room. There was no fireplace, no chimney, so how Santa got in will always be a mystery. My most memorable gifts that year were a set of large print multiplication flash cards and an alarm clock with “Wake up, Abbie” printed on the front. Andy got an inflatable dummy you could use as a punching bag. I think it was called Socko.

Mother had other relatives in Denver, mostly uncles and aunts, who came for Christmas dinner, along with Uncle Jack and his family. Kelly showed me a similar alarm clock she’d received with “Wake up, Kelly” printed on its front.

After about a week in Denver, we returned to Tucson where we found more presents from Santa waiting: a bicycle for me and a little red wagon for Andy. A few days later, Dad returned from Sheridan and brought me an eight—track player. I’m pretty sure he brought something for Andy but don’t remember what that was.

We visited Grammy and Granddad’s house many times over the years as children and adults. After my grandparents passed, Uncle Jack lived there until his death. Now, someone else is lucky to have this wonderful home.

What was your most memorable family holiday vacation? Please share it, either on your own blog with a link to it here or in the comment field below. By now, Christmas has come and gone, and I hope this holiday was filled with memories for you.

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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

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Review: The Sins of the Mother

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The Sins of the Mother

by Danielle Steel

Copyright 2012.

 

At age seventy, Olivia, a successful CEO of a hardware and furniture company, is still going strong. However, after her husband passed away years earlier, she feels guilty for working when she should have been around for her four children, now grown with lives of their own. She tries to make up for her neglect every year by scheduling an elaborate family vacation.

The book opens with such a vacation, a cruise in the south of France on a luxurious chartered yacht. Everyone has a great time and then returns to their separate lives. The book ends a year later with another family vacation in a rented chateau in France. In between time, Olivia’s older son’s marriage falls apart, and he falls in love with a younger woman. Her younger son is forced to come to terms with his son’s homosexuality. One of her daughters, a struggling writer, finally gets a book and movie deal and falls in love with her agent. The other daughter, a music producer in England, having been estranged from the family for years, finally comes home when tragedy strikes. Then there’s Olivia’s affair with her company’s attorney, a married man.

The Sins of the Mother was featured on BookDaily a few days ago, and I decided to splurge and buy it from audible now instead of waiting for my next credit. I’m glad I did. The narrator did an excellent job of giving each character a different voice. It’s always fun listening to an audiobook with a good narrator.

This book reminded me of Dallas, a primetime soap opera I watched as a teen. However, there’s no wheeling and dealing or deception or betrayal, no one accused of murder or other serious crimes. That’s one thing I liked about it. Another is that everything gets resolved in the end, and everyone’s happy. In the last episode of Dallas, J.R. Ewing, evil CEO of a powerful oil company, kills himself, convinced the world would be a better place without him. There’s none of that here. If you just want to read a heartwarming story about a family whose members put aside their differences and come together, The Sins of the Mother is just such a book.

I must admit this isn’t the kind of book my late husband Bill would have enjoyed. He was into mysteries, thrillers, westerns, and science fiction. The more blood and guts, the better, as far as he was concerned. To learn more about our recreational activities and how I cared for Bill at home for six years after two strokes paralyzed his left side, read My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds.

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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 Art of Memoir

The Art of Memoir

by Mary Karr

Copyright 2015.

 

The author of Lit and other memoirs talks about the craft of writing such a book. She covers such topics as truth versus fiction, finding your voice, and how to deal with reactions of family members to what you write about them. She uses work by other authors to illustrate her points and provides an appendix of over a hundred suggested memoir titles.

I found it hard to get into this book, probably because I’ve already written a memoir, My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds, which will be coming out sometime this month. I only picked up Mary Karr’s book because a discussion of it was planned for a meeting of Behind Our Eyes, a writing group to which I belong. After slogging through two and a half chapters and skipping part of one, I decided not to finish the book. This might be more helpful to someone considering writing a memoir.

 

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

 

 

October 2015 Reviews

Talking with Kids: Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know about Blindness by Brian K. Nash. Copyright 2011.

In this short memoir, the author describes his experiences as a public speaker during the 1980’s to kids in a Kansas City elementary school during an entire day, starting with the first grade class and moving up to the sixth grade by the end of the day. He starts the book by relating how silly questions asked of blind people like “How do you brush your teeth?” made him want to educate others on blindness. He describes how he touched on different topics in each class including Braille, guide dogs, and adaptive devices. He relates anecdotes from his childhood he told the kids like the time when he was about six and tried cooking bacon on the stove and got distracted by a phone call from a classmate and burned the bacon like any sighted kid would do. He describes the kids’ fascination with his Braille watch and talking calculator and how they enjoyed playing with his guide dog when he allowed them to do so.

He also describes eating lunch in the cafeteria with several teachers and the school social worker. During the meal, he related more anecdotes like the time when he, as an adult, was barbecuing outdoors and got distracted by the antics of neighborhood dogs like anyone with good eyes might do. This amused everyone except the social worker who told him that his blindness wasn’t funny, that he acted irresponsibly, and that she hoped he would be a better role model for the children. At the end of the book, like any sighted guy, he expresses regret that he neglected to get a particular female teacher’s phone number.

My late husband and I have each given presentations on blindness to children of all ages but never for an entire day as Brian Nash did. However, I gleamed some ideas I might use the next time I’m asked to give such a presentation. For example, when Nash was asked how he could tell the difference between candy bars when he ran a vending stand, he gave the teacher a $5.00 bill and asked her to buy a bunch of candy bars from a nearby machine. He then demonstrated to the children how he could tell one bar from another by its shape and size. He gave the candy to the teacher to be handed out later. I wish I had the forethought to do something similar years ago when a kid asked me how I could tell the difference between a bag of potato chips and a can of pop.

I recommend this book to anyone curious about blindness, especially people like that social worker who have such blatant, negative attitudes about disabilities. Brian Nash has written several children’s books and one other adult nonfiction book. To learn more about him and order his books, go to http://www.dvorkin.com/brianknash/ .

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Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. Copyright 1945.

This modern classic novel gives us a glimpse into the lives of an English Catholic family during the earlier part of the 20th century between the two world wars. The family lives in a country estate called Brideshead, and the older son’s name is also Brideshead. There’s also a younger son, Sebastian, and two daughters, Julia and Cordelia.

The story is told from the viewpoint of an outsider, Charles, who befriends Sebastian at Oxford. Sebastian turns out to be an alcoholic, and when the family tries to confine him for treatment, he disappears. Charles leaves the university and becomes an artist, traveling all over the world, marrying, and having a couple of kids.

Ten years later, he meets Julia on a ship returning to England. She’s also married, but they have an affair that lasts a couple of years until they decide to divorce their spouses and marry. Then Julia’s father dies after a long illness, and she tells Charles she no longer wants to marry him because he’s not of her faith. In the prolog and epilog, the military has commandeered Brideshead during World War II, and Charles, now an officer, returns with his company.

I found this story intriguing and sad. Since this is a classic, I hate to say anything negative, but the narrative is often bogged down by too much description and back story and not enough conflict. I must admit that because of this, I dozed off once or twice while listening to this excellent recording of the book produced by Hachette Audio and narrated by actor Jeremy Irons. If I wasn’t curious to see why the Brideshead estate held such significance for Charles, I probably wouldn’t have finished the book.

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Lost and Found in Cedar Cove by Debbie Macomber. Copyright 2013.

This is actually a short story that is part of the Rose Harbor Inn series. I downloaded it from Audible, but it’s also available on Kindle. Several months after widow Jo Marie opens her bed and breakfast in the fictional town of Cedar Cove, Washington, she makes plans with her handyman Mark to build a rose garden.

While they’re outside looking for the perfect spot for it on her property, her dog Rover wanders off. Jo Marie is devastated. She lost her husband in Afghanistan, and now her dog is gone. The ending is predictable, yet happy.

Some might argue that this tale doesn’t have enough conflict. This may be true, but who says you have to have a lot of conflict in fiction? There’s enough in the world as it is, and I think it’s nice to escape to a place where lost dogs are found in a timely manner.

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Come Home, My Heart by Phyllis Campbell. Copyright 1988.

Susan, an obstetrician, loses her vision after a brain tumor is removed. She is left to cope with sight and career loss plus reactions of her fiancé Eric who thinks she should let him and his mother take care of her. She refuses to do this, and after going through a rehabilitation program, she moves to a poor rural community in Virginia where she works as a social worker at a medical clinic. The remarkable ending nearly moved me to tears.

This is a sweet story. However, although the author is blind and did a great job portraying Susan’s feelings after she loses her vision, I found her portrayal of sight loss and adjustment to be unrealistic. Take for example a scene in the hospital. After Susan’s surgery to remove the tumor, she receives a visit from Ann, a counselor from a local agency that serves the blind. The reader learns that Ann is also totally blind, but she doesn’t appear to use a cane or dog. It seems to me that Susan would hear the cane tapping or rolling on the floor or the jingle of the dog’s harness as Ann walks into the room. She would also hear the cane bumping against things as Ann tries to find a place to sit or Ann telling the dog to find a chair. However, Ann just walks into the room and sits down as if she were fully sighted.

I was also disappointed in the way the author skims over Susan’s rehabilitation which takes approximately six months. It’s bad enough to lose vision you once had, and it takes a lot of courage to leave familiar surroundings and travel to a place unfamiliar to you when you can’t see. I would like for the author to have shown more of Susan’s struggles with adapting to the rehabilitation center’s way of life, learning to walk with a cane, read Braille, and prepare a meal. She could have created more conflict by having Eric continually badger Susan to leave the facility and marry him. I realize this would have made the book longer, but it might have created a better story. As it is, Susan appears to breeze through the program with flying colors and little contact with Eric, and the social worker position at the rural health clinic seems to fall right in her lap.

I also have a hard time believing Susan’s acceptance by virtually everyone in the small community where she works after her rehabilitation. It’s probably true that some people may wish to unveil their problems to a blind social worker, but there should have been a few nay sayers. Granted, one man, not realizing she’s blind, asks her what kind of doctor she is when she trips over a patient on the floor during an emergency, but he’s the only one. When I worked in a nursing home, one of my many bosses couldn’t work with my disability. Something like that would create more conflict and make the story more interesting. It also would have been nice to show Susan interacting with others in the community besides the patient involved in the emergency and her family, the staff at the clinic, and the nearby handyman and his family.

It’s nice once in a while to escape to a world where everything’s easy. Unfortunately, the harsh reality is otherwise. It’s hard to get back on your feet after losing sight you once had, and even in the 1980’s, it was hard for blind people to find work. However, despite the book’s downfalls, Come Home, My Heart is a heartwarming tale to be read during the holiday season since it ends with a Christmas miracle. For more information about Phyllis Campbell and her books, go to http://www.phylliscampbellbooks.com/ .

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Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

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Dad and Wanda

Dad didn’t like cats. Mother attracted them like a magnet so needless to say, we had several of them when I was growing up. The first feeline I remember was a stray we called Mother Cat, even though she didn’t have a litter. We were living in Tucson, Arizona, and I was about eight. Mother Cat was gray with tiger stripes.

Soon after Mother Cat arrived, another stray showed up at our door, very pregnant. Mother took pity on her, named her Rosemary, and the cat had three kittens in my baby brother’s closet. Mother thought two of the kittens were males and one female so she named the boys Howard and James and the girl Wanda. When we later took them to the vet for the first time, we found out that Howard and James were also females, but the names had stuck by then.

James died, and Mother Cat walked off one day and never returned. Mother took Rosemary to the local humane society. Through the years, Howard and Wanda stuck with us. Howard was gray with tiger stripes like Mother Cat, and Wanda was white with black spots.

When Wanda was old enough to understand relationships between humans and feelines, she picked up on Dad’s dislike of cats and decided she didn’t like him, either. The following poem which appears in the spring/summer issue of Magnets and Ladders is written from Wanda’s point of view. It illustrates how she expressed her dislike of my father. For a rare treat, click below to hear me read it. This link will be available for a limited time.

FROM YOUR FORMER FEELINE HOUSEMATE

 

I’m the one she put to sleep

when life’s pain was too great.

You told her you didn’t like me.

Maybe it was a guy thing,

but the feeling was mutual.

 

She insisted on calling me Wanda,

thought I could be a witch

so as far as you were concerned, I was.

 

I peed in your shoes at night

then stood by in the morning when you put them on.

The look on your face was priceless.

You swore and threatened to throw me twenty feet.

Believe me, if I could have,

I would have done the same to you,

right out the second story bedroom window,

then stood on the sill and watched you fall.

 

When you brought that big, red dog home,

I hated you even more.

I could no longer pee in your shoes

because the dog slept next to the bed

so I peed on your favorite love seat.

Imagine your shock

when you sat down with the latest issue of The New Yorker

to discover a wet cushion.

 

After many years,

we’re reunited in the hereafter,

you, her, me, and that big, red dog.

Oh well, I’ll have to make the best of it.

Hmmm, I need to pee.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver