Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Book review: The Serpent Bearer, by Frank Say

If you love delving into mystery, murder and the occult, Frank Say’s The Serpent Bearer is well worth while. Using New Orleans to full and realistic advantage, Say introduces Sydney Monroe, her grandmother, her sister, and the Saintclair family as fully developed and relatable characters.  The young and gifted Sydney tells the story; the uptight grandmother (whom we somehow instinctively love) is the one who volunteers Sydney’s psychic services to the mysteriously troubled Saintclairs.

Say is a wonderfully descriptive and atmospheric writer, and his dialog flows with natural ease. In The Serpent Bearer, he deals with the occult as a natural phenomenon – nothing particularly spooky about it. Say, in fact, goes into some well-researched detail on shamanism and psychic dreams.

This second title in the Lake Pontchartrain Mysteries is certainly as involving and suspenseful as his first. Where The Serpent Bearer differs from the dark and other-worldly Nine Lives is that it’s more sympathetic (a la Ray Bradbury) and less horrifying (a la Stephen King). But it still gets you. I must mention here that the cover, featuring original art by Laura Sprunk, is quite striking.

There is a caveat, a big one, which has nothing to do with Say’s masterful story telling. I was wary at the outset when I had to order the book through Lulu, a vanity press. Sure enough, trouble started on the front flap of the dust jacket: a paragraph cut off mid-sentence. The entire narrative was fraught with misused words, misspellings, and punctuation errors. One chapter abruptly ends in mid-sentence just as the sisters are about to try giving a pitifully frightened little dog his meds. If I hadn't been reading it so late at night I would've called Frank to find out what happened! An editor is credited on the opening pages. Where was she? Didn’t Frank get a chance to look over a galley proof before the book went to press? There’s no way his master’s thesis was presented in such a state!

I will certainly continue to follow the Lake Pontchartrain Mysteries. But I gotta tell ya: Frank Say’s talent deserves better treatment.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Hey! I’M the housekeeper around here!

Yes, Husband did a super job keeping it all together while I recovered from my facelift. He cooked, he shopped, he washed dishes, did laundry, and vacuumed. And he was very good-natured about it – especially considering this incapacity was all my idea.

So it should be no surprise that, in the process, he learned what it takes to keep a household running. And he was not only appreciative, he was a bit appalled. So he decided that henceforward he would help out by doing the Wednesday laundry.

But I didn’t want the help.

From Day One I was trained for housekeeping. That’s the story of women of my generation. Whatever else we became in life, we must also – and without fail – be consummate housekeepers. Yes, my mother held advanced degrees, as did her mother before her. But that was no excuse NOT to have a pristine house.

And I’m good at it. I’m fast, efficient, thorough, and I know stuff: fabrics, products, techniques. I have a schedule; a system. Giving up the Wednesday laundry destroyed my rhythm. What would a man know about sorting clothes? His mother wouldn’t have taught him. It wasn’t man’s work. Besides, she had a daughter. Husband can’t even wring out a wash cloth and hang it up straight!

So I protested. I whined. I vociferously pointed out that I was best at this, I enjoyed it, and he’d done more than enough already by providing a house in the first place. All those long hours of stressful work and miles upon miles of commuting. Let me do my thing! Good grief, what else am I good for? My Social Security barely pays my share of the groceries!

But no, he wanted to do this. He wants to help. Sigh.

So I let it go. I didn’t even watch him sort or peer over his shoulder at the washer settings. I went to Walmart. I came home with ingredients for several baking projects and had the time to use them. I even picked up his favorite mixed nuts for being such a good and considerate husband. All in all, it was a really satisfying day.

So thanks, Dear. I appreciate the help.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Saint I Could Never Be

Just read a touching story that made me wonder what I would do in such a situation. It was a letter written by the mother of a 3-year-old autistic girl to the stranger who sat next to them on a plane.  It was a blog by Shanell Mouland in the Parent section of Huff Post.

“I sat Kate in the middle knowing full well there would be a stranger sitting next to her for the duration of this flight. I had to make a quick decision, and based on her obsession with opening and closing the window shade, I figured she might be less of a distraction if she sat in the middle.”

She recalls holding her breath while the entire Temple basketball team streamed past. She watched hopefully as several grandmotherly types came on, but all moved passed. At length a man with a briefcase and all the accouterments of corporate power took the empty seat – just the opposite of anything she’d hoped for.

“The moment you sat down, Kate started to rub your arm. Your jacket was soft and she liked the feel of it. You could have shifted uncomfortably in your seat. You could have ignored her. You could have given me that look. You did none of that. You engaged Kate in conversation. The interaction went on and on and you never once seemed annoyed.”

She recorded bits of the conversation. I could only shake my head and marvel. Yes, I’ve had some encounters. I babysat an autistic 4-year-old boy once when I was in college. Total nightmare. My mother fostered a mid-aged autistic girl for several years and they remained in touch. I was obliged to contact her decades later in keeping with my mom’s will. She definitely hadn’t improved.

Let’s face it: I even have problems with normal kids. Of course I love my children and grandchildren, but I’m simply not a person who relates well with the young. Fortunately my wonderful daughter (the oldest) revealed her superior mothering instincts and administrative skills as a toddler. She took it from there.

So I don’t know what I would’ve done in that kind man’s place. I hope I would at least be civil. I would understand and sympathize – even admire the poor mother. After all, I do come from a long line of ministers, social workers and educators.  But I could never have talked and played with that child the way that man did.

Thanks goodness for the saints among us.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Facing the New Year

2014 is being faced with a new face. Literally. 

When all is healed I may even look better than my profile pic, which was taken five or six years ago.  Wattles are gone, my chin singled, heavily hooded eyelids now as taut as a teen’s. In short, everything was done as promised by Lifestyle Lift.

Yet even now, nearly a month after the procedure, the skin of my face, neck and scalp can barely tolerate touch. Yes, the bruising has all but vanished and the swelling recurs rarely and only momentarily, but the incisions still burn and itch. This is a much more serious undertaking than I’d figured.

And despite rather promising results, I have to ask myself:  why would such a strong, healthy person voluntarily go under the knife? Routine household tasks exhaust me. I take several naps a day. I look like a character in a Tim Burton cartoon. I probably won’t leave the house until Superbowl.

There may be another reason healing is so slow. Very much on my mind is where I was last year at this time: a shabby Motel 6 in Santa Rosa, CA, spending as much time as possible at a hospice where my sister was succumbing to cancer.  

I arrived New Year’s Eve after a frantic 3-day drive from Houston. I was with her through her birthday on January 3rd, but didn’t make it before her death on the morning of the 4th.  

There followed a couple of weeks in a daze of arrangements and sorting through the few worldly possessions in her tiny mountain cabin. My sister’s friends and neighbors were very kind and helpful, but my own kith and kin were thousands of miles away. Phone calls and emails were very limited in the remote and rugged altitudes. While I have many grateful memories of the place, it’s the weight of grief and loneliness that haunts me now. It will pass, as it always does. And so will the pain from this surgery.

It is, after all, a new year. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

How Our Mail Carrier Became My Christmas Angel

December 14, 2013

Dear Postmaster,

I feel you should know our mail carrier has always been extremely conscientious, but now her caring and pride in her job has actually made her the instrument of an out-and-out Christmas Miracle. 

It’s the time of year when your staff is busiest, but not wanting to leave a package needing refrigeration in the pick-up box, she came to my door hoping to deliver it personally.  That decision marked her as my personal angel.

I’ll explain.

Knowing I’d be having surgery last week, I’d made every attempt to gather gifts for my grandchildren well in advance. Alas, 3 items didn’t make it in time, probably because that vendor used UPS! Furthermore, the surgery (actually, let’s face it, an unconscionable Lifestyle Lift) proved way worse than expected. I’m not permitted to heft anything heavier than a remote. Let alone wrap presents. The whole mess was on an upstairs table and I couldn't do a thing about it.

Then suddenly there was our mail lady with an armload of Swiss Colony standing there wondering why this woman who looked like she’d been smacked by a Mack truck was crying and thanking God for her.

As soon as she understood my situation, she immediately swung into action, trotting upstairs to collect the gifts and promising to handle everything. Only a few hours later everything was packed, stamped, and ready to go that very day!

I don’t know if the Post Office gives awards for miracles, but it’s important to me to tell you what this mail carrier means to us. She’s a shining example of professionalism that goes above and beyond in any occupation.

Mary O. Fagan

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Blessed Thanksgiving to All

"The First Thanksgiving" (1915) by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris

Friday, November 22, 2013

Where were you on November 22, 1963?

Okay, so a whole lot of you weren’t even born yet…

But I remember vividly the shock and disbelief. It was my junior year at Central Michigan University. I was strolling along the corridor of the student union looking for an empty study alcove when a guy approached me. It was someone from the popular and overpopulated Play Production class whom I did not know well. Actually, he was in a social strata well above mine, so I have yet to know why he singled me out.  His eyes were dazed but intense as he stopped me with a hand to my shoulder. “President Kennedy has been shot,” he said simply.

I froze, staring at him. It was like the news had dropped from the ceiling and struck me in the face. We clutched arms for a moment; then he moved on.

Left standing in the middle of the hall as the students flowed around me, I watched as the news slowly caught up to them. It wasn't long before everyone began scattering to the various TV rooms to watch a heavy-eyed Walter Cronkite explain what little was known at that point.

Of course I've been following all the retrospectives of this horrific event, but this memory didn't strike me until my step-bro posted his impressions as a 12-year-old on Facebook. The flurry of comments that followed, each one a brief memory of where they were when the news hit, brought it full front and center.

I’d like to hear yours.