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Monday, December 22, 2014

My Favorite Christmas Memory

This post is part of 'My Favorite Christmas Memory' blog hop, organized by Cherdo and JuneBug. 

Look around, read the posts, enjoy the memories.  I suspect there will be a log of laughter, smiles
and, maybe, some misty eyes.

**   **   **
Mine has been a wonderful family.  Loving, certainly, smart-alecky at times (children and parents), enjoying each other.  I never doubted that my parents had my best good at heart, though I wished from time to time that I could adjust their notion of exactly what that entailed.  We enjoyed Christmas, the carols, the decorations, the reason for the season. Mom and Dad deplored the shops that put decorations out before Thanksgiving.  Mom has some pithy things to say now about the pre-Halloween Christmas decorations.  But that's another story.

We went to Christmas service, whether at midnight (when we were older) or with the laughing, chattering throngs mid-morning.  It was always good.

Santa ate milk and cookies, left a thank-you note in handwriting that was similar to Dad's.  Once he tracked ashes from the fireplace across the rug. Mom was not happy.

But what about my favorite Christmas memory?  That was a tough one...

And then I was down in my basement fiddling with the laundry and I happened to see a purse on a hanger.

It is a Coach purse, made when the company was still owned by its founders, who went into leather goods by way of baseball gloves.  It has a sturdy shoulder strap, elegant (and sturdy) pure brass buckles and clasps and zippers.  It's numbered...and it is very old.  I haven't carried it in years, it needs a good saddle-soaping and some TLC, but I will never give it away.  It is a symbol and an affirmation.

Christmas of 1990 was a difficult one.  My grandmother had died, my sister had moved to Japan and I was paying all the rent.  It was hard going.  My employer had closed its offices in Philadelphia and I had spent some months out of work. I found another job at a pay cut, I had double the expenses, and money was very, very tight.  And I needed a new purse.

When we move through trying times, we tend to fix our attention on things that are not the actual cause of the problem.  My financial difficulties, my family worries (Grandpa, in his late 90's, was doing poorly after Grandma's death), my frustration with the new job...  All crystallized into the notion that my purse was worn out (it was) and needed to be replaced, and I simply could not afford to do so.  I could not afford a great many things, and it was hard.

All of this was in my head, you understand.  Stiff upper lip and all that.  I was far more fortunate than many that year of 1990.  Counting my blessings led to an impressive total.  I was properly and appropriately grateful. 

...So, Christmas morning, 1990 found me at my parents' house with two less people than usual.  My brothers and their families were out of state and would be coming by after Christmas.  My grandmother's chair was echoingly empty, and my sister, who could always be counted on to liven things up with her humor and knack for finding what made people happy and doing it for them, whether they wanted it or not, was half a globe away.

I gave out my presents, opened the ones given me, chatted with my grandfather, and listened to the music.

...And then Mom handed me a package.  "Here is your last present," she said.

It was a fair-sized package, wrapped with her usual style.  A box...

I pulled the tape away (my family always says, "For  heaven's sake, Diana, would you just OPEN the thing???") revealed the box, and frowned down at it.  Plain brown box.  I lifted the lid...

Sitting in some tissue paper was a rich brown Coach shoulder bag with gleaming brass hardware.  It looked like something you would find in a fine tack room.  A Coach bag.  Big enough to hold all the stuff that I carried with me, redolent with the smell of fine leather.

A Coach bag.

I took it from the box, smoothed the strap with shaking fingers.  And then all the worries, all the self-pity that I had resolutely fought, the stiff upper lip I had shown people, telling them that all was fine with me, they didn't have to worry - all melted and ran down my face as tears.

Mom was watching me, smiling quietly.  "Do you like it?" she asked.

"It's...beautiful," I said.  "Beautiful."

"I noticed that yours was worn, and your father and I thought we would get you a really good one."

That Christmas gift was far larger and more complex than a purse that I had secretly yearned after, the lack of which had served as a sort of symbol for the difficulties I was facing at that time.  It served to confirm that I would be cared for, one way or another, whether or not I was in difficulties.  It made me realize that I could trust those who loved me to, well, love me.   And, sometimes, unspoken wishes were granted.

That was twenty-four years ago.  The bag has been well-loved and is now retired.  I think I may take it out, give it a good saddle-soaping, and carry it for a while.  More immediately, I will finish this post (I am writing this on December 21), get in my car, and drive the 250 miles to my mother's house and do my best to make this Christmas, the third since she was widowed, a warm and happy one for her.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Thought for the Moment: Discipline

A sometimes unwelcome truth...
I stumbled upon this image while thumbing through various ones trying to find something for a book cover design I was working on.  It made me pause and think.

Slow and steady wins the race…haste makes waste…Measure twice and cut once…

They all refer to our need to refuse instant gratification.  To allow the wine to age, to permit the flowers to grow, to let a relationship deepen.  In my case, referring to my writing, it was very hard not to give in and shoot for that ‘Holiday Release’ when I knew jolly well that the book simply was not ready.

I’m older than I was (ten minutes older right now than when I started jotting my thoughts for this post) and I have learned a thing or two despite my best efforts to the contrary.  Around late September of this year I sat back, looked at my ‘Holiday Release’, lowered my head and advised all who were concerned with the book that it simply was  not ready, and needed to be pushed back at least four months.  Everyone was charming about it, and while I still felt the itch to get that wonderful book cover I’d put together out to be seen, I knew I had done the right thing.

Guess what?  I really had done the right thing.

·     The book cover was scrapped and a far better one designed.

·     With the pressure off, I found that the storyline itself was deepening, growing more complex and tighter, and setting up for a really good (I think) finish in the third volume of the series…

·     …which, incidentally, was being pushed toward finishing by my work on the second volume.

The entire effort is far better than it was in September.  And once again I have to concede that impatience is best restrained and time, in matters of creation, is generally an ally.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Celebrations December 12, 2014

It's celebrations Friday again, and time for the Celebrate the Small Things blog hop, a brilliant idea conceived by Viklit .  Every Friday we post about the things that have happened that are worth celebrating, however small.  It's fun, free, and makes  you think - and there are some wonderful bloggers who participate. 

Today I'm kicking back and enjoying the season.

There are all sorts of things about this season that I like:

the end of the 'blast furnace' heat that seems to come in July and August.

falling leaves (to really like those, I need to celebrate a willing neighbor child who will rake leaves for me)

And for the rest, some images:

You *are* wearing your slippers and have your (chose 1) cat on your lap, dog at your feet, main squeeze in your arms...

They left out the cognac!
The difference between 'hot cocoa' and 'hot chocolate has been discussed.  I prefer 'hot chocolate', but if either is brought by a smiling loved one, then I am happy.  I do, of course, eat the whipped cream (if any) first.  A jigger of cognac helps matters, too...

Ah!  The snowplow is com-  Aaack!  Run!!!  **WHOOSH!**

Ideally, this last is a view out the window.  ...although after a nice day of making snow-angels in the snow, watching the dogs romp through the drifts, and seeing that your local municipal snow removal concern has managed to (a) remove the snow without (b) destroying your mail box or (c) blocking your driveway with icebergs that will require dynamite to shift, it is pleasent to bundle up and sit on front step and watch the snow.

...though, for myself, perhaps I will look at this scene out my picture window while toasting my toes by the fire and sipping hot chocolate.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

What are you celebrating?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

IWSG December 3, 2014 - Riding the Riptides

The Insecure Writer's Support Group

The first Wednesday of the month is the time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. This is the once-a-month blog hop started by Alex J. Cavanaugh .

IWSG = Insecure Writers' Support Group (click for the link).  We share our insecurities and support each other with empathy, sympathy and  practical suggestions. 

Visit the site - and visit the co-hosts:

Heather Gardner, T. Drecker from Kidbits, Eva E. Solar at Lilicasplace, and Patsy Collins!

Dodging a Curve-ball

I am working on a story set in Paris of 1834.  I mentioned it before, recently.  One of the characters is a seven year old boy named Larouche.  At the start of the story, he has found a home and some employment as a stable boy in an Inn in the Montparnasse area of the city.  He has become friendly with a medical student named LeMat, who encourages Larouche to come to lectures with him.  While  Larouche is waiting outside the Hotel-Dieu, the big hospital in Paris, he witnesses a knifing, and, being street-smart and good-hearted, tries to  help the victim.

It is not going well...

     No one was paying attention to the man on the ground. Larouche ran forward, paused to stare at the spreading stain beneath him.  Blood!  "Shit!" he breathed, dropping to his knees beside the man and putting his whole weight on the man's arm.  He could see red welling up, below his shoulder, soaking the shirt and spreading on the pavement beneath the wheels of an approaching carriage.
     There was too much blood.  Larouche clawed the cap from his head, clapped it on the wound, and leaned on it again.  It was not enough: the fabric was sodden.
     "Help!" he shouted above the sound of hooves.  "Anyone!  Bring me some cloth!"

It worked fairly well.  ...and then my problem stepped in as the street-smart little boy, over his head, gets the help he asked for:

     "Here," said a voice above him.  "Use this."
     Larouche took the folded length of cloth, drew back from the wound long enough to set the wad in place, and leaned his full weight on it again.
     He saw a pair of boots before him. 
     "May I assist?"  The quiet voice made Larouche look up in time to see a man nod to one of the bystanders and then drop to his knees beside him.  Intent, dark eyes above a strong nose.  Arched eyebrows and a humorous mouth now pursed thoughtfully as he eyed the unconscious man and then turned to Larouche.  "What is your name, young man?"
     Larouche frowned at the bloody sleeve.  The flow seemed to be lessening under the pressure of the cloth.  He looked up at the man.  "Thank you, Monsieur," he said.  "I'm Larouche.  Are-are you a surgeon?"
     The man's mouth eased to a smile.  "I am.  My name is Larrey.  Help should be arriving shortly: I requested it before I joined you."  He watched for a moment and then sat back on his heels.  "You seem to have an aptitude, M. Larouche.  In fact, you seem to have saved this fellow's life.  I'll stay here with you and assist if you feel I am needed."
     Larouche raised his eyes and found himself relaxing and returning the smile.  "Thank you, Dr. Larrey," he said.  The man on the pavement moved.  "C-can you see if he will be all right?" 
     "I will show you what to look for, Dr. Larrey replied.
That isn't a bad scene, if I say so myself, though it is very new and needs to be tweaked and repetitious words removed.  It follows nicely with what I knew about the boy, Larouche, after writing about him for several years.   

The issue that arose, that I am writing about, has to do with the new character's name and history and its effect on the story.
Dominique-Jean, Baron Larrey
Larouche was near a  hospital when an emergency came up.  He needed help, and so I sent a doctor his way.  I knew a little about Dr. Larrey, so I put him in.  And then I learned a whole lot more.

Dominique-Jean Larrey was Napoleon's Surgeon-General.  He revolutionized battlefield medicine.  His humanitarian work with all wounded earned him unanimous respect.  He is credited with being responsible in part for what ultimately became the Red Cross.  He was fearless, humorous, a father of several children, a devoted husband who died at nearly eighty within two days of his sweetheart, whom he married before he became famous.  He stood off a mob of rioters during the 1830 riots when he was the Surgeon-General of Les Invalides, the big French Veteran's hospital.  Indefatigable, kind, approachable...  And he was in my story.


Dr. Larrey stepped into my story and became a sort of catalyst.  He approved of Larouche, who in his turn admired the students of Medicine.  And who, incidentally, idolized Dr. Larrey.

     LeMat put his glass down.  "Larouche, do you know who it was that assisted you, gave you a tour of the Hotel-Dieu, and liked you enough to invite you to visit him at Les Invalides?"
     "He said his name was Dominique Larrey..."
     LeMat shook his head.  "That is right.  Baron Larrey is a Commander of the Legion of Honor, and he was Bonaparte's Surgeon-General.  He was wounded at Waterloo.  He is now the Surgeon-General of Les Invalides.  …And I think he is one of the finest men in France."
     "Oh."  Larouche digested this and then raised his slightly frowning gaze to LeMat.  "D-do you think he was just being nice?"
     "He was certainly being nice," said LeMat.  "To himself!  Don't sell yourself short.  You're a remarkable boy and you'll be a good man.  Now excuse me while I drown my envy in another half-glass of wine!  A private session with Baron Larrey!  I could grind my teeth with envy!  Say!  Do you suppose he would let you bring a assistant?"

All well and good, except...

The story was set in my mind, and had been for some time.  And I had thrown myself a curve ball.   The possibility for change and deepening of the story were there and very obvious.  It would involve disturbing those securely written parts.  I am facing what-ifs and let's-try-this.

Would things change very much?  it could be a lot of work!

Well, yes.  And it could deepen the story.  Frankly, from what I read about Dominique Larrey, the presence of  a true hero like him could only make the story better, if I did my work right.

...and I did say, most recently, that I wanted to be the best writer I could, didn't I?  Isn't that what we all want to be.  The best, not necessarily the most rested or leisurely?

Then I guess I'd better get cracking.