School Memories

The following poem is a triptych. It’s based on an art form that involves drawing three related pictures on three canvases side by side. The three sections of a triptych can be placed side by side in poetic form or one below the other in paragraph form. I was inspired to do mine in paragraph form after reading a diptych at http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/diptych-my-bracelet . A diptych is like a triptych except it has two sections instead of three. Now, here’s my triptych.

 

SCHOOL MEMORIES

 

1

 

The three-story red brick building gleams in the sunlight. On the front lawn stands a jungle gym, no swings, no merry-go-round. There can be nothing with moving parts for children might get hurt. Because of my low vision, I fell and scraped my knees many times while playing kickball on the cement play area. One girl with good eyes hurt her back when she fell off the jungle gym. Now, the cries of children fill the early fall morning air. The bell’s peel silences the din. We sixth-graders hurry to get in line so we can march into the building and begin our day.

 

2

 

On a foggy day with rain predicted, the yellow school bus pulls up in front of another red brick building with a playing field in back. I was never much for sports, never attended games, didn’t even try out for cheerleading, having been told, “You can’t do this because you can’t see.” I hated gym, math, science, home economics. I couldn’t throw a ball to save my soul, tell you the sum of an equation, or explain chemical compounds, couldn’t even sew. I could play the piano and sing, entertained during study hall, performed in the glee club and orchestra but didn’t earn grades where they mattered. Now as an eighth-grader, I emerge from the yellow bus, resigned to starting another day in junior high.

 

3

 

Several red brick buildings cluster together: a main classroom building, a science and agriculture building, a gym, and a separate building containing an auditorium, swimming pool, smaller gym, and classrooms for music, art, ROTC and other subjects. Not required to take home economics and P.E. or too much math or science, I flourished in English, literature, and other subjects I liked. Wanting to be in theater like my parents, I acted in plays, participated in the speech team, won several awards. I wanted to be a singer, was awarded second place in a talent competition, was given a standing ovation, as I marched across the stage to receive my diploma. Instead of telling me I couldn’t do it because I couldn’t see, they said, “Let’s figure out how you can do it, even though you can’t see.” Now, on a frosty September morning, my footsteps on the board walk climbing the hill resound with joy, as I approach the remaining years of my public education.

 

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author

 

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Remember When…

Do any of the items in this poem ring a bell? Please feel free to share your memories below.

Morning Story and Dilbert

dilbert

Close your eyes and go back… Before the Internet, or the MAC…
Before semi automatics and crack…

Way back. I’m talkin’ ’bout…

Hide and seek at dusk. Sittin’ on the porch, The Good Humor Man, and Red Light, Green Light.

Chocolate milk, Lunch tickets, Penny candy in a brown paper bag.
Playin’ Pinball at the corner store. Hopscotch, butterscotch, doubledutch, Jacks, kickball, dodgeball, Mother May I? Red Rover and Roly Poly.

Double Dog Dares! Hula Hoops and Sunflower Seeds, Mary Janes, Banana Splits, Wax Lips and Mustaches. And running through the sprinklers.

The smells of outdoors… and lickin’ salty lips.
Watchin’ Saturday Morning cartoons like Fat Albert, Road Runner, He-Man, The Three Stooges, and Bugs. Or back further… 
listening to Superman and The Shadow on the radio.

Catchin’ lightening bugs in a jar, Playin’ sling shot.

Remember when around the corner seemed far away… and going downtown seemed like going…

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Remembering a Loving Grandmother

Today would have been Grandma’s birthday if she were still alive. I’m not sure how old she would have been, but I remember her 90th birthday celebration during the earlier part of this century. It may have been the summer after my mother passed away in 1999.

We rented the Historic Sheridan Inn, and relatives from Colorado, California, and Utah converged on our town in Wyoming. We also invited many friends who lived in the area. The party included food, live music, and of course picture taking and lasted well into the night. The next day, my uncle and aunt hosted a barbecue at their home. It was a great two-day bash and Grandma’s last big birthday celebration.

In 1973, my family moved here to Sheridan so my father could take over the family’s coin-operated machine business after my grandfather died. For a couple of months until we found a home of our own, we stayed with Grandma. I enjoyed sleeping with her in her double bed and waking up in the morning to her radio. I was twelve at the time, and the local talk program bored me. I once asked her why she listened to the news, and she said she liked to know what was going on in the world. Her attention to current events rubbed off on me. Now, when I wake up in the morning, I tune my radio to NPR so I can hear state and national news.

Grandma became a fixture in our lives when we moved to Sheridan. We visited her often, and my brother and I occasionally spent the night with her. She gave us our favorite foods: macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, hamburgers. I loved her potato salad and Boston cream pie. She rarely made a fuss when we yelled at each other or made a mess. Dad once told us that when he was a boy, she made him eat everything on his plate, but she never did that with us. She seemed to enjoy making her grandchildren happy.

Grandma’s back yard had a swing set that brought us hours of pleasure along with the jukeboxes and games Dad kept in the shop that he would later distribute to restaurants, bars, and other establishments. There was also a picnic table, a glider, and several comfortable canvas chairs. When out of town relatives visited, we congregated there for a barbecue. A jukebox was rolled out of the shop for entertainment, and after eating, we kids danced and listened to the music while the adults talked and drank, and Grandma talked and drank right along with them.

Grandma wasn’t fazed by my visual impairment and supported me in my endeavors. My grandfather was a musician so she liked the idea of me being a singer. When I was in high school, she bought me a guitar and arranged for me to take lessons. When I sang and accompanied myself on the guitar or piano or performed with a choir, she always said the music was beautiful.

When I decided to study music therapy in college and work with senior citizens, she was all for it. After completing a six-month music therapy internship in Fargo, North Dakota, I moved back to Sheridan and found an apartment and a job in a nursing home. Since the apartment had no washer or dryer, I often went to a Laundromat a block from Grandma’s house and visited her. She seemed to enjoy hearing about the music and other activities I did at the nursing home and even had ideas.

Once after I received a written reprimand from a supervisor who claimed she couldn’t work with my visual impairment, I showed Grandma the paper. She took one look at it and said, “Hey! Who is this bitch?” She rarely used colorful words and admonished us when we were kids not to use them so it was all I could do to keep from laughing, but I had to fight back tears as well because those words illustrated her undying love.

Grandma also didn’t like it when words were used incorrectly. Her biggest pet peeve was saying a particular food was healthy instead of healthful. Fortunately, she never saw me buy Healthy Choice frozen dinners at the grocery store.

When my late husband Bill proposed to me in 2005, Grandma was skeptical, especially since I wasn’t sure I wanted to marry him. To make a long story short, in three months, I changed my mind, and she was behind me all the way, remarking that he had it bad for me. She also supported my decision to quit my day job and write full time. My wedding was held in her back yard.

Grandma died in January of 2006 after being hospitalized with pneumonia. At the same time, Bill suffered his second stroke, and he was already partially paralyzed as a result of his first. I regret not spending more time with Grandma in her last hours, but I think she would have understood if she were aware of what was going on around her. AT her graveside service, another big family event that took place in July around the time of her birthday, I sang “Amazing Grace” with no accompaniment of any kind. To hear me sing the song the way I did back then, go to https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15213189/amazing%20grace.mp3 .

What do you remember about your grandmother?

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome  and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver  and That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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A Park for All Seasons

In the summer of 1973 when I was twelve, my family moved from Tucson, Arizona, to Sheridan, Wyoming. One day, Mother took me and my younger brother Andy to Kendrick Park to play. We spun on the merry-go-round, catapulted down the slide, and swung higher, higher, higher with the help of Mother who pushed us. I fell off the swing when it was pushed too high, and I lost my grip on the handholds. Afterward, Mother bought us ice cream at the nearby stand, a chocolate malt for me and a fire stick cone for Andy.

Across the road was a footbridge over Big Goose Creek. We crossed it and stood on the opposite bank, tossing stones in the water. Fascinated, I watched with my limited vision, as rocks soared, then spiraled down to land with a loud splash. This was something we never did in Tucson.

The next day, I got a sense of how small Sheridan was compared to Tucson when I asked Mother if we could play at the same park where we went the day before. She laughed and said, “Of course. It’s the only one there is.”

Through the years, we also enjoyed concerts at the band shell and swam in the pool. My parents and brother played tennis on the courts. As a teen-ager, I walked through the park and up the hill to the high school. When we got a male Irish setter named Clancy, we often took him for walks in the park. Sometimes, Dad drove through the park, letting Clancy run alongside the car, his ears flopping in the breeze, his red fur coat gleaming in the sunlight.

Now, both parents are gone, and my brother lives miles away with a family of his own. I still live here in Sheridan, not too far from Kendrick Park.

I still buy ice cream and attend concerts at the band shell. Instead of throwing rocks in the creek, I walk alongside it on a cement path that winds past houses, a soccer field, and a senior apartment complex. It was here that I came up with the inspiration for two poems from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver: “Ducks on the Sidewalk” and “A Spring Constitutional.”

Sheridan now has other parks. Whitney Common is nice. I walk through there from time to time on my way downtown from the YMCA or to the library. It’s a walking park with a playground, fountain, and small amphitheater.

Thorne-Rider Park has a baseball stadium where the local VFW team plays every summer. My singing group has occasionally performed the national anthem to start a game and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the fifth inning stretch. There are two or three other parks and even one for dogs, but I’ve never visited them. No other park holds the same memories that Kendrick does. What do you remember about parks in your community?

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcomeand How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver and That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

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Eight-Track Memories

Thanks to author Bruce Atchison for inspiring this post. When I was eight years old, Dad gave me an eight-track player for Christmas. Because of my limited vision, I was delighted at how easy it was to use, just slid the tape into the slot and pushed it in and the music started playing, no messing with records and needles. The tapes didn’t need to be turned over, and as long as I left one in the machine, the music kept playing until I got tired of hearing the same songs and wanted something different.

Once I became familiar with an album, I usually listened to it from beginning to end. After the last song played, I pulled the tape out of the player before it started at the beginning. I was intrigued by the fact that although the machine was called an eight-track player, the tapes only had four tracks, each track containing several songs. There was no way to navigate between songs, but I could push a button to move from one track to the next. If I had a favorite song on a particular album, I often navigated to the track that contained the song and waited for it to come around.

One of my first eight-track albums was Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. One of my favorite songs on this album was “El Condor Pasa.” When I was twelve, I discovered that I could sing my favorite songs and accompany myself on the piano. I sang “El Condor Pasa” in this fashion at a talent contest. I didn’t win, but the experience launched my junior high and high school singing career.

A couple of years later, my younger brother Andy took an interest in playing the drums so needless to say, we formed our own band. At first, Andy didn’t have a drum set so he used an old paint can and a chip of wood for a drumstick. Because Mother wouldn’t let him bring the paint can into the house, we pretended the front porch was a stage. Andy found another wood chip for me to use as a microphone, and I stood on our imaginary stage, holding that chip to my lips, and singing. My only accompaniment was Andy banging away on that old paint can. It was crude but exhilarating. Years later, I wrote a poem about this experience, and you can click below to hear me read it.

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15213189/when%20star.mp3.mp3

The eight-track machine wasn’t the only way I listened to music. After we moved to Sheridan, Wyoming, and my father took over the family’s coin-operated machine business, we had a jukebox in our home. Again, because of my visual impairment, I was delighted not to have to mess with a record needle. I just pushed a couple of buttons. The desired disc was deposited onto the turntable, and the needle positioned itself. Because the print in the display window was too small for me to read, I memorized the button combinations that would play my favorite songs. Andy and I spent many happy hours with our friends around that jukebox.

I never pursued my dream of being a singer, but I continued singing and playing the piano through high school and college. When I decided to go into music therapy, I learned to play the guitar. For fifteen years, I worked in nursing homes and other senior facilities, and part of my job was singing and accompanying myself on the guitar or piano. My music was a comfort to many people during that time.

When I got married and started writing full time, my husband Bill, who fell in love with my voice, asked me to play and sing for him from time to time. After he became paralyzed as a result of two strokes, my music was a comfort to him as well. When he died, I sang “Stormy Weather” at his graveside, accompanying myself on the guitar.

Now that Bill, my eight-track player, and the jukebox are gone, I listen to music on compact discs and cassettes. I don’t care for a lot of today’s popular music but enjoy listening to my favorite songs that were popular when I was growing up. My taste has expanded to include classical music and jazz.

Most of my singing is done with a women’s group called Just Harmony. We perform at conventions, parties, and other venues. Some of our music is accompanied on a keyboard by our director. Other songs are sung a capello. Every once in a while, though, as you’ll hear if you click below, I’ll sit down at the piano and play and sing one of my favorite songs.

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15213189/bridge%20over%20troubled%20water.mp3.mp3

How did you listen to music when you were growing up? Was there a song that highlighted a pivotal moment in your life?

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

Reliving

Last week, I read an interesting story in The New Yorker, “The Relive Box” by T. Coraghessan Boyle. This is a fantasy tale about a father and his teen-aged daughter who use a machine to relive their past. They can pick a year, date, and time and watch themselves in their memories on a screen. They can freeze, fast forward, and rewind images as if they were watching a video.

This got me to thinking about what moment in time I would like to relive if I could. That moment would be during my wedding to my late husband Bill on September 10th, 2005. The event took place in Grandma’s back yard, adjacent to a busy street, but as I stood at the altar with Bill, I didn’t hear the traffic, although cars continued to rush by as if seventy people weren’t gathered there to witness a life-changing event. As we held hands and said our vows, neither of us had any idea that Bill would suffer a stroke four months later that would paralyze his left side and that I would care for him at home for six years before his death.

The following poem illustrates this moment. It will appear in my collection, That’s Life: New and Selected Poems, to be published by Finishing Line Press.

Life Change

On a sunny day, a strong breeze

lifts hems of dresses.

Balloons, tree branches sway.

Framed by an arch of pink and purple flowers,

as traffic rushes by,

we stand before those we love,

look deep into each other’s eyes,

say, “I do.”

If you could relive any moment in your life, what moment would that be?

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