The Little Pyromaniac #TuesdayTidbit #Memoir #Inspiration

Abbie wears a blue and white V-neck top with different shades of blue from sky to navy that swirl together with the white. She has short, brown hair and rosy cheeks and smiles at the camera against a black background.

Photo Courtesy of Tess Anderson Photography

 

 

The Little Pyromaniac

By Abbie Johnson Taylor

 

I remember the day my five-year-old brother Andy was arrested for arson. On a warm Wyoming spring afternoon in 1974, when I was twelve years old, my parents and I were in the garden behind our house. While Mother and Dad prepared the soil for planting, I studied seed packets of peas, corn, and tomatoes. Even with my limited vision, I could read the labels and make out the pictures. I imagined how they would look and taste on our dinner plates.

My food reverie was interrupted by the distant sound of sirens. “I’ll bet those are fire engines,” Dad remarked.

A little while later, I heard the phone ringing in the house. “I’ll get it,” I offered, dropping the seed packets and hurrying toward the back door.

In the kitchen, breathless, I picked up the receiver. “Hello.”

A brusque male voice said, “Could I speak to Mr. or Mrs. Johnson?”

Alarmed, I said, “Yeah, just a minute.”

I dropped the phone and hurried outside. “Mother, Dad, there’s a guy on the phone who wants to talk to one of you.”

“I’ll take it,” Mother said, putting down her shovel and wiping her hands on her slacks.

Curious, I followed her into the house and waited to see what I could find out. Of course, I couldn’t glean much from her end of the conversation.

“Hello. Oh, my God! We’ll be right there.” She slammed down the receiver and rushed past me out the back door.

I hurried after her and heard her say to Dad, “Ed, we need to pick up Andy at the police station. He was playing with matches near that abandoned shack at the bottom of the hill when it caught fire.”

After they left, I wandered aimlessly through the house, letting my imagination get the better of me. Although my little brother was a pain in the anatomy, I loved him and hated the idea of him being handcuffed and tossed into a jail cell. What if they locked up my parents and came after me?

A knock sounded at the front door.  My heart pounding, I hurried to answer, fearing the worst. But it was only Carrie and Shelley from next door, who were close to my age. Andy and I often played with them.

After I invited them in and explained the situation, Carrie, the older of the two, said, “Maybe you should call the police and find out what’s going on.”

“Yeah,” Shelley agreed.

Call the police? That was the last thing I wanted to do. “But I don’t have the number,” I said, hoping that would be a good enough excuse.

“Call the operator, and she’ll connect you,” Carrie suggested.

“They can’t arrest you for calling them,” Shelley assured me. “You’re not committing a crime.”

That made sense. Although their presence comforted me, I still felt trepidation, as I made my way into my parents’ bedroom and picked up the receiver on Mother’s side of the bed. They stood eagerly in the doorway while I made the call.

The same brusque voice answered. “Sheridan Police Department.”

I was tempted to hang up but managed to babble, “Hi. I’m looking for Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. They should be there with Andy Johnson.”

“Oh, yes, they’re here,” he said. “They’re filling out paperwork. Who’s this?”

“I’m Miss Johnson. Thanks.” It was all I could think to say, and I hung up.

When I relayed our conversation, Carrie said, “See? There’s nothing to worry about.”

“Yeah,” Shelley chimed in. “They’ll be home soon.”

A little while later, we were in my room, drinking Coke and listening to music when I heard the station wagon pull into the driveway. I hurried outside, Carrie and Shelley at my heels. To my relief, Andy climbed out of the station wagon, and I hugged him. “I love you. Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” he answered with a grin. “They put me in a jail cell.”

“Oh, no!” I cried.

“Weren’t you scared?” Shelley asked.

“No, I found a rotten peanut butter sandwich.”

“Ugg!” I said. I’d always hated peanut butter and never cared for peanuts.

“Did you eat it?” Carrie asked.

He shook his head.

Dad, removing Andy’s bike from the trunk, said, “Now, you’re going to stay off this for a week, do you hear?”

Andy’s face fell. “Yeah.”

That wasn’t the only time he committed arson. Once, with the help of another neighbor girl his age, he set fire to his basement bedroom. Fortunately, Mother put it out before it could do much damage.

Another time, when Andy and I were in his room, he picked up a lighter, held it to my face, and flicked it. It hissed, but that was all. “It’s empty,” he cried, as I hurried away, screaming.

I don’t know what turned him around, but Andy eventually outgrew his fire fetish.  However, in elementary school, he exhibited some behavioral problems. Through the years, he had other brushes with the law, most of them alcohol-related.

But he now has a P.H.D. in physics and lives in Jupiter, Florida, with his own family, where he teaches at a private high school. Perhaps he ignites, in his students, a spark of scientific interest.

THE END

***

The above true story appears in the summer issue of The Writer’s Grapevine, which can be downloaded here. I was inspired to write it while taking a class from Glenda Beall, who blogs here. She prompted us to write something about a family member, starting with the sentence, “I remember the day when…” I hope you enjoyed reading this.

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If you haven’t already done so, please subscribe to my email list to receive my twice-yearly newsletter and other announcements. This is a one-way announcements list, meaning the only messages you’ll receive will come from me. So, you can rest assured that this list is low-traffic. Send a blank email to:  newsfrommycorner+subscribe@groups.io  You’ll receive a confirmation email. Reply to that with another blank message, and you should be good to go.

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New! Why Grandma Doesn’t Know Me

Copyright 2021 by Abbie Johnson Taylor.

Independently published with the help of DLD Books.

The cover of the book features an older woman sitting in a wicker chair facing a window. The world beyond the window is bright, and several plants are visible on the terrace. Behind the woman’s chair is another plant, with a tall stalk and wide rounded leaves. The woman has short, white hair, glasses, a red sweater, and tan pants. The border of the picture is a taupe color and reads "Why Grandma Doesn't Know Me" above the photo and "Abbie Johnson Taylor" below it.

Sixteen-year-old Natalie’s grandmother, suffering from dementia and confined to a wheelchair, lives in a nursing home and rarely recognizes Natalie. But one Halloween night, she tells her a shocking secret that only she and Natalie’s mother know. Natalie is the product of a one-night stand between her mother, who is a college English teacher, and another professor.

After some research, Natalie learns that people with dementia often have vivid memories of past events. Still not wanting to believe what her grandmother has told her, she finds her biological father online. The resemblance between them is undeniable. Not knowing what else to do, she shows his photo and website to her parents.

Natalie realizes she has some growing up to do. Scared and confused, she reaches out to her biological father, and they start corresponding.

Her younger sister, Sarah, senses their parents’ marital difficulties. At Thanksgiving, when she has an opportunity to see Santa Claus, she asks him to bring them together again. Can the jolly old elf grant her request?

***

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In the Garden #OpenBookBlogHop #TuesdayTidbit #Poetry

Image contains: Abbie, smiling.

Welcome to another edition of Open Book Blog Hop. This week’s question is: “Do any of your characters garden? Or keep houseplants? How about you?”

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Neither my characters or I have really taken an interest in gardening. In fact, the few house plants I had didn’t last long. Once when my supervisor at work gave me a plant as a gift, and I showed it to my mother, she said, “Why don’t you let me take it? You’ll just kill it.”

Naturally, I was surprised when, after Mother’s passing, Dad brought me one of her poinsettias, saying, “I think she’d want you to have this.”

When I tried to explain that plants didn’t usually last long in my care and told him what Mother had said about me killing a plant, he said, “Bullshit!”

With advice given by a friend of Mother’s who had a similar plant, I tried, but the plant only lasted six months. To my credit, it was the longest I’d ever had a plant.

That having been said, when I was in my tweens, we lived in a house with a garden. One year, we grew vegetables, and I loved watching Mother water them and eating them after they were harvested. Believe it or not, I was one of those kids who liked vegetables, especially if they were cooked.

The following poem was inspired by a memory of my parents first attempting to plant those vegetables. It appears in my collection, How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver and has since been revised. You can click the link below to hear me read it.

 

In the Garden

by Abbie Johnson Taylor

Copyright 2011

There are no trees, just an expanse of dirt.
While Mother and Dad work, I sit on the steps,
with limited vision, study seed packets of peas, corn, tomatoes,
read the labels, gaze at the pictures.
I’m only twelve.
Little brother Andy, five,
is riding his bike around the neighborhood.

In the distance, sirens wail.
“Sounds like fire engines,” says Dad.

In the house, the phone rings.
I hurry indoors to answer it.
A male voice asks for my mother.
I rush outside, call her to the phone.

“Oh my god! We’ll be right there,” she says.
“Ed, we need to pick up Andy at the police station.
He was playing with matches near the shack
at the bottom of the hill when it caught fire.”
The garden and I are abandoned.

 

in the garden

 

How about you? Do you or any of your characters garden or have house plants? You can either sound off in the comment field or click here to participate in this week’s hop and read what other bloggers have to say.

 

New! Why Grandma Doesn’t Know Me

Copyright 2021 by Abbie Johnson Taylor.

Independently published with the help of DLD Books.

Front cover image contains: elderly woman in red sweater sitting next to a window.

Sixteen-year-old Natalie’s grandmother, suffering from dementia and confined to a wheelchair, lives in a nursing home and rarely recognizes Natalie. But one Halloween night, she tells her a shocking secret that only she and Natalie’s mother know. Natalie is the product of a one-night stand between her mother, who is a college English teacher, and another professor.

After some research, Natalie learns that people with dementia often have vivid memories of past events. Still not wanting to believe what her grandmother has told her, she finds her biological father online. The resemblance between them is undeniable. Not knowing what else to do, she shows his photo and website to her parents.

Natalie realizes she has some growing up to do. Scared and confused, she reaches out to her biological father, and they start corresponding.

Her younger sister, Sarah, senses their parents’ marital difficulties. At Thanksgiving, when she has an opportunity to see Santa Claus, she asks him to bring them together again. Can the jolly old elf grant her request?

***

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A Compelling Adventure Story of Forgiveness #Friday Fun Reads

Things You Save in a Fire: A Novel

by Katherine Center

Copyright 2019.

 

What Amazon Says

 

From the New York Times bestselling author of How to Walk Away comes a stunning new novel about courage, hope, and learning to love against all odds.

Cassie Hanwell was born for emergencies. As one of the only female firefighters in her Texas firehouse, she’s seen her fair share of them, and she’s a total pro at other people’s tragedies. But when her estranged and ailing mother asks her to give up her whole life and move to Boston, Cassie suddenly has an emergency of her own.

The tough, old-school Boston firehouse is as different from Cassie’s old job as it could possibly be. Hazing, a lack of funding, and poor facilities mean that the firemen aren’t exactly thrilled to have a “lady” on the crew—even one as competent and smart as Cassie. Except for the infatuation-inspiring rookie, who doesn’t seem to mind having Cassie around. But she can’t think about that. Because love is girly, and it’s not her thing. And don’t forget the advice her old captain gave her: Never date firefighters. Cassie can feel her resolve slipping…and it means risking it all—the only job she’s ever loved, and the hero she’s worked like hell to become.

Katherine Center’s Things You Save in a Fire is a heartfelt and healing tour-de-force about the strength of vulnerability, the nourishing magic of forgiveness, and the life-changing power of defining courage, at last, for yourself.

 

My Thoughts

 

With plenty of riveting action and compelling dialog, this book was hard to put down, especially close to the end. According to the acknowledgements, the author’s husband, a firefighter, helped her with the book.

Two ironies struck me. First of all, most firefighters I’ve met have been nice. But these firemen can make a new crew member’s life miserable, especially if that crew member is a woman.

Also, there seems to be a rule, written or not, that firefighters can’t become romantically involved with other firefighters. Cassie and the rookie are aware of this but eventually no longer able to deny their attraction to each other. It’s interesting to see how they get out of the awkward position in which this places them.

I also enjoyed learning some things about firefighting I hadn’t known before. The ending is satisfying, and I’ll definitely read more of this author’s work.

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By the way, for those of you who use the National Library Services for the Blind and Print Disabled, The Red Dress is available for download from their site here. Thank you for reading. Stay safe, happy, and healthy, and may you always have positive experiences.

New! The Red Dress

Copyright July 2019 by DLD Books

Front cover contains: young, dark-haired woman in red dress holding flowers

When Eve went to her high school senior prom, she wore a red dress that her mother had made for her. That night, after dancing with the boy of her dreams, she caught him in the act with her best friend. Months later, Eve, a freshman in college, is bullied into giving the dress to her roommate. After her mother finds out, their relationship is never the same again.

Twenty-five years later, Eve, a bestselling author, is happily married with three children. Although her mother suffers from dementia, she still remembers, and Eve still harbors the guilt for giving the dress away. When she receives a Facebook friend request from her old college roommate and an invitation to her twenty-five-year high school class reunion, then meets her former best friend by chance, she must confront the past in order to face the future.

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In the Garden (Poetry)

Image contains: Abbie, smiling.

On this, the last day of National Poetry Month, here’s a poem that appears in the spring/summer issue of Magnets and Ladders, which is produced by Behind Our Eyes, (BOE) an organization of writers with disabilities.

Another version of this was published in my collection, How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver. You can click on the Play button below to hear me read it. I hope that as we move into May, you’ll still take time to read a poem or two now and then. Poetry is meant to be enjoyed year round, not just in April.

 

In The Garden

 

There are no trees, just an expanse of dirt
with steps leading down from the yard.
At the age of twelve, while Mother and Dad work,
I sit on the steps,
study seed packets of peas, corn, tomatoes.
With limited vision,
I read labels, gaze at pictures.
Five-year-old brother Andy is out riding his bike.

Sirens wail in the distance, come closer, are silenced.
“It sounds like fire engines,” says Dad.
After a while, the phone rings.
I hurry in the house to answer it.
A male voice asks for my mother.
I rush outside, call her to the phone.

“Hello,” she says.
“Oh my god! We’ll be right there.”
She slams down the receiver,
returns to the yard, me in tow.
“Ed, we need to pick up Andy at the police station.
He was playing with matches near that shack
at the bottom of the hill when it caught fire.”
I’m abandoned in the garden.

 

 

My Books

 

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

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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

We Shall Overcome

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Five Firemen

Image contains: Abbie, smiling.

How many firefighters does it take to change the batteries in three smoke detectors? Five, at least that’s how many showed up when I called and requested assistance with this task, being visually impaired and vertically challenged. Here in the United States, it’s recommended that we change batteries every six months after moving our clocks forward or backward to conform with daylight savings time.

When the five firemen arrived in their big yellow truck, I welcomed them into my home. One or two of them said they remembered me from the last time I’d called them about this. After replacing batteries in my smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, they offered to do a home safety inspection, which I didn’t think was a bad idea.

They asked me if I use a barbecue grill and about my other cooking habits. I told them that I use the microwave, stove, and oven very carefully and that if I were to use a barbecue grill on a regular basis, they would get a lot more calls to this address.

After the five firemen scoured the house and detached garage, they came up with several recommendations, assuring me these were only suggestions and that they wouldn’t check up on me. I can’t help wondering, though, what would happen if I were to have a fire caused by a clogged outside dryer vent, one of the problems they found. Now that’s scary.

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Note: the above is my entry for the 2019 Blogger Bash Blog Post Competition. This year’s theme is “five.” If you’re a blogger, there’s still time to enter. Click here for more information.

 

My Books

 

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

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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

We Shall Overcome

My Other Links

Visit my website.

Like me on Facebook.