Getting to the Top of the Best Seller List

Written in October, 1996 for WWA Essay Round Robin

Less than ubiquitous writer, but voracious reader that I am, I’ve always watched the ups and downs of the latest books on the various best seller lists and wondered how they got there, what made them stay there for so long and why some didn’t get there at all. But the latest way to get to the top of the New York Times Best Seller list was both surprising and disturbing.

For years I’d watched with interest, the writing career of Jacqueline Mitchard who writes a column for the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel. Among other things, she’d earned a living at writing for many years in Milwaukee and Madison publications. Being a local writer I often pulled for her and was happy to see her byline show up more often and in a wider variety of places. I felt sorrow when she wrote of her husband’s death and understood when she wrote of the trials and triumphs of being left to carry on with several small children.

So I was quite delighted to read that her first fictional effort had been picked up by a major publishing house and the reviews were promising. Each week I checked the Sunday paper and watched for it to appear on the New York Times Best Seller List. I read a short blurb that the book was up to number sixteen, or maybe it was twelve. Good show, Jacqueline!

Then I read that it would be declared number one the week of October 6. Wow! Then I heard why. Seems Oprah Winfrey loved the book so much she picked it to be the first one featured on a monthly televised book discussion segment of her daily talk show.

And yes that is great. Oprah is a class act. Not only has she reached her goal in the fitness and weight category, she has also restyled her show to address positive issues. Recently, she was disturbed to find out that fewer and fewer young people are reading, so she decided to do something about it.

Hence, the once a month book discussion segment of her show; and Jacqueline Mitchard’s book, “Deep End of the Ocean” was her choice as the book to discuss. Once that announcement was made, the book which had started to decline on the best seller list, quickly shot up to number one.

I couldn’t help but wonder what Jacqueline Mitchard was thinking and feeling. It must be absolutely wonderful to have a book published. Fabulous to have your book show up anywhere on the New York Times Best Seller List.

But I couldn’t help but wonder if this took a bit of the joy out of it to know that a plug by someone is what really took it to the top rather than the book itself. I can’t help but think this must take the wind out of her sails a bit.

Not only did it make me feel a bit sad for the writer, but it also made me wonder generally about who we listen to and why. I have no qualms about listening to Oprah Winfrey. She is sensible, kind and wise. But where will this end!

While I’m happy that someone is having a positive influence by prompting people to read more, I also worry when a celebrity can wield so much power over what we do and why.

Meantime, I, who never buy hard cover books and seldom read best sellers until long after they have dropped off the lists, plan to go out right now and buy the book so I can be ready for the Oprah book discussion show later in October. In this case, I think I know a good thing when I see it.

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Favorite Books

Written in  October, 1997 for WWA Essay Round Robin

The writer, Jacquelyn Mitchard, challenged the readers of her “The Rest of Us” column in the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel to list their ten favorite books. The impetus for this challenge came from two things. First, Oprah Winfrey had listed her favorite books in a recent Life Magazine article. Secondly, Mitchard was probably moved to action by the fact that Oprah had picked “Deep End of the Ocean” as her first book club discussion book. Regardless, the idea seemed interesting and made me think of the books that have impressed me.

First of all, its impossible to pick just ten books. I’m always enthralled with whatever I just finished reading. For example, I just finished The Paperboy, by Peter Dexter. Its been along time since I read such an understated, undefined story. Dexter just barely explained what was going on, not like the latest in the inter-generational dysfunctional family tales of woe crowding the best seller list. But what a story! I know it was great because I did not want the book to end, because it kept me riveted to the page, I didn’t want to miss the tiniest detail. And yet, I had to stop several times to think: what is he saying, is this what he means, ow wow.

So, I had to pull myself away from what I’ve read recently and think about it over the long haul. What books do I remember, return to, recall with sad or wondering feelings. So here is my list. And this is not a definitive list. It probably would be a slightly different list than I have drawn up a year or two ago. After all, we do become different readers as time goes on. So here’s where I am today.

The Social Contract by Robert Ardrey: Probably the first close-to scientific non-fiction book that really impressed me with the larger picture of how we, humans, have come to be and more importantly, where we are going. Robert Ardrey is probably rolling over in his grave at how the world is turning out.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway: A super colossal metaphor for life and its struggles, this short but engrossing book left me exhilarated and worn.

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner: The most perfect friendship/relationship story one could ever find.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler: Probably my very favorite contemporary writer, Tyler has the gift of taking a character’s warts, exposing them for all to see and yet keeping them sympathetic and likeable.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: No doubt, one of the best stories ever told, some say perfect in its construction and character development. No wonder this is the only thing Harper Lee ever wrote. How would you ever follow something this good.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown: The true measure of a story is the emotions it brings out in the reader, attested to by my tears. This book put into perspective what it is to be an American, a fact of which we cannot always be proud.

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Sallinger: The coming of age book that cannot be topped. Though told from a male point of view, there is a little of Holden in us all and I never tire of reading parts as the mood hits.

Cider House Rules by John Irving: This unique writer gave me a new perspective on the abortion issue and I will read it again.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: This is what literature is really all about. This tiny book puts all the blockbuster, 1,000 page family sagas to shame with its attention to detail and power of expression.

The Fixer by Bernard Malamud: A captivating book, Malamud was known for his stories about struggle and hope. The style of writing is poignant, his characters touching, their lives .

Like Mitchard, I also chose an eleventh book.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith: The first time in my young reading life (about fourteen) that I recall loving a book so much I did not want it to end.

But then, isn’t that how it always is.

 

 

 

Pittsburgh is not the Pitts

Our family’s trip to Pittsburgh for Jeung Hwa and Andrew’s October 4, 2014 wedding proved to be other-worldly on several levels. My first exposure to Tami’s “file” was upstaged by the almost famous sandwich, the schizophrenic Garmin, a $12.50 Manhattan and the girl in the blue dress.

Thursday arrival: Expecting Pittsburgh to be a rusty and dilapidated old steel town, what a pleasant surprise to find a fully transformed and vibrant community steeped in history. Pennsylvania must be loaded with rock judging from the multitude of stone buildings and homes seen everywhere. Built on the convergence of three rivers (Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny), city streets and freeways twisted and turned in a dizzying maelstrom of sights and sounds. More about the circuitous travel later.

This was my first introduction to Kent E Boy’s Deluxe Driving Service and Tami Girl’s Make-The-Most-0f-Your-Time Tour Guide Service. Both are highly recommended and much appreciated. We jumped in right way, first visiting The Strip. The foreign feel of the outdoor street bazaar offered everything for the hard core shopper and pure heaven for the devoted people watcher. It only took a few more minutes to find Primanti Brothers, highlighted in Tami’s “file” as a go-to lunch destination.

famous sandwichTheir “almost famous sandwich,” was developed by three brothers in the 1930’s to serve the mobile population of truckers, miners and quarry workers who ate on the run. It’s made up of two slices of thick white bread filled with your choice of meat (I had pastrami), sour kraut, lettuce and tomato, onion, if requested and stacked with three or four rows of French fries right in the middle of the sandwich. The counter man plunked it down on our table, sort-of wrapped in waxed paper. At least four inches high, I nibbled around the edges until it was small enough for a bite; the other half went home for supper.

 

Kent scoped-out every bar near our hotel, seeking the just-right place to watch the Packer game. The sports bar atmosphere is not my thing, so what a pleasant surprise when the chosen bar was quiet (we were the only ones watching a football game). There Kent pursued his dream of shepherding my induction into the Football Fan Hall of Fame. I guess I’m an anomaly in this hard core football family; so I began learning key phrases (“what’s the spread,” “coughed up the ball,” “shoestring tackle,” “shaken up on the play,” “momentum is a fickle woman”). Mark, Kate’s boyfriend, gave the best explanation of “sacking” and the “line of scrimmage.” Leave it to an engineer. The $12.50 I paid for one Manhattan was well worth it since we were able to talk and hear each other. Good job Kent E Boy!

Friday: Seeing and riding the Monongahela Incline (one of two remaining from the original 15 built in 1870’s) was our history lesson of the day. It was also the first adventure in conquering the circuitous routes necessary to get from one place to another in this town built on three rivers. Our drive from hotel to rehearsal dinner, hotel to wedding and hotel to reception each had some eerie similar qualities. Karleen’s Garmin changed its mind mid-ride, throwing her meticulously planned route into disarray. Once it called the same bridge by three different names. It said turn left but the intersection had a soft left and a hard left. Which one? Taking the wrong one put us on a freeway going in the opposite direction of our destination. We became accustomed to leaving extra early since no telling how long the drive would be!

But the real mystery was why did we have so much trouble getting to the chapel but could so easily get from the chapel back to our hotel? Gay (Andrew’s mother) told how she, a Pittsburgh native, could see exactly where she wanted to go but spent 45 minutes going around and around to get there.

Oops! Almost forgot. There was a wedding! Friday night rehearsal dinner at a neighborhood Italian restaurant. Great food. We felt honored to be included and appreciated the introductions and speeches by family and members of the wedding.

Saturday’s wedding ceremony was held at the Heinz Memorial Chapel on the University of Pittsburgh campus. We finally got parked thanks to that very nice policeman. The chapel does two weddings each Saturday with a nine month wait list and can only be booked by alumni, employees and donors. This was so special. The architecture intricate; the stained glass windows unique; the acoustics sublime making the wedding march majestic. Andrew memorized his vows. Jeung Hwa read hers.

Family 4Saturday night reception at the Children’s Museum also at University of Pittsburgh began with hoers devours delivered by wait staff and an open bar; a violinist strolling the room (on a dare, I asked him to play Margeuritaville, he declined); dinner started with soup, salad, one of three choices of entre and ended with wedding cake. This was a totally classy event. Black tie was a nice touch.

But when the DJ started, I was transported back to Wisconsin for a regular down home wedding. All the usual stuff: throwing the bouquet, getting the garter, special dances with parents. The young folks went wild with multiple versions of Macarena-type line dancing. I could tell they’d done this before. They were having a really good time.

But I was concerned about the girl in the blue dress. She was a sturdy girl whose hemline was far too revealing. When she raced at Nascar speed from her table to the dance floor in bare feet I was worried; would anyone survive a potential crash? Maybe the all night open bar wasn’t the best idea.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip. In spite of our travel travails (half our flight was cancelled the night before departure), we came out good. I was impressed by the different navigation methods worked out by Kent and Tami and Karleen and Paul. A stellar job of knowing who does what and knowing where each person’s strengths lie. That’s a good thing.

My thanks to family who hauled me around like an a-list celebrity. And best wishes to Andrew and Jeung Hwa who weren’t “sacked,” though there was “a flag on the play” as they “marched down the field” demonstrating “a nice hold” and making good use of Andrew’s “home town advantage.”

Plain and Simple

Published in Book Lovers Magazine, April, 1998

OUR VERY OWN PLAIN AND SIMPLE BOOK DISCUSSION GROUP

Our book discussion group, established in February, 1995, lives up to its name: it’s plain and simple. We just wanted to enjoy books and book talk with no pretensions. Over our three years together, we have gained and lost members, formed some loosely followed rules, and evolved into a comfortable, supportive and productive group.

From the beginning, we voiced general agreement that there would be no undue pressure to perform as exemplar book critics, reviewers or analysts, only that we would enjoy each others company and opinions, literary and otherwise. We began simply with two, then three members and have now grown to six. We consider this a good number since that offers everyone a better chance to express their views and has produced more in depth discussions.

Whenever we lose a member, as a group, we discuss and decide whether to invite someone new in and who that would be. So far, we have easily come to consensus and our joint decisions have resulted in a cohesive and solid group.

With a mix of ages, professions and life circumstances, members range in age from the mid thirties to the mid fifties, include two nurses, one former attorney, now a bread shop owner, one physician, one social worker and one corporate trainer just returning to her career after being a stay at home mom for several years. Four members are married, one is engaged and one divorced; four are mothers, one with grown children, and three with school age children.

We meet at varying times and places, with flexibility being the key, due to everyone’s demanding work and home schedules. The next date, time and place is decided at the end of each meeting with everyone bringing their calendars along to be sure they will be free.

We tried not to have rules but after a time found that we were not focused enough, so did institute the bare minimum. Let’s call them guidelines. We chat for about fifteen minutes before starting the discussion and have decreed there will be no work talk, since four of the members work for the same organization.

Books are selected six months at a time with each member picking a book.   Guidelines include that the person suggesting the book will already have read it and thought it good for discussion. Also, the person suggesting the book gives a brief sketch of the author and has several questions ready to spark the discussion. We adopted an outline of discussion topics from Rachel W. Jacobsohn’s The Reading Group Handbook which has helped us lead a lively dialogue.

We have met for breakfast, lunch, dinner, in coffee shops, book store coffee shops, restaurants, a public beach house, one member’s back yard and each others homes. Food and drink usually are involved no matter where we meet, though a full meal is not the norm.

While we consider all types of books we have stayed away from current best sellers to avoid the expense of having to buy hard cover editions. We consider all types of reading and have sampled fiction, non-fiction, biography and self help books.

We’ve done some unusual things, such as, when reading a children’s book, member’s children were invited to join us. The discussion of Charlotte’s Web was definitely enhanced by the children’s unique perspective. For our December meeting, each member brought a children’s book to be donated to a community program.

It’s always a surprise which books prompt the most lively discussion. Invariably, the book we thought we didn’t really like produces fire and opinion we didn’t know we had. Also, it seems that as time goes on we are becoming more comfortable expressing individual opinions, no longer so afraid to hurt someone’s feelings by saying we did not like a book or did not agree with the author’s view. Instead, we are busy developing our own reading style and more ease in sharing opinions and ideas.

As time goes on, we are becoming more discerning readers and confidence is more apparent among those who joined saying their goal was merely to get into the habit of reading more.

All in all, the group has become a wonderful respite from the busy frenzy of life, a short few hours when we stop being someone’s wife, mother, sister, daughter, co-worker and just revel in the pleasures of being a reader. What a precious thing!

UPDATE: After moving out of the area in 2005 and moving back in 2013, imagine my pleasure when asked to rejoin this book group. As all groups evolve, so has this one. But most things remain the same. What a joy to reconnect!

Buck Shot Club

A shorter version published in The Lakeland Times, Minocqua on May 22, 2009.

Published in A Wisconsin Harvest, Volume II, WWA Press, September, 2013.

buck shot PrintingThe mythic power of the hunting camp, strong and enduring in north woods communities, became clear to me during the memorial service for my 89 year old father, in fall 2008. As each family member took their turn sharing memories of our dad, many funny and poignant stories were told. Among my most vivid childhood memories, I recalled Dad spending hours, days and weeks packing each year for what seemed like a very important trip to a place called “the shack.”

As his departure time drew near, our spare room was taken over by an ever growing pile of jackets, duffle bags, boots, socks and blankets, topped with boxes of ammunition and a gun tied into a canvas bag. Dad was never home on Thanksgiving, always off on this big and important trip. During that time, we waited anxiously for his phone call to tell my mom he’d “gotten one.” My eulogy noted how Dad, not a religious man, had become most comfortable with the Native American concept of spirituality, focusing on the interconnectedness of man and nature. I said I visualized him up in his north woods haven, on a vision quest, walking through the forest with Native American chiefs and medicine men.

From that, it was just a quick skip and a jump to the family’s consensus that Dad’s ashes should be scattered at his old hunting camp near Rhinelander. The clincher was when Mom stated Dad had told her this was his wish. I accepted the assignment and felt most capable since I’d moved three years earlier to Eagle River. We lived a mere half hour away, according to the map. Deciding I would do what I could to locate the shack, I optimistically took home the cardboard box filled with ashes. My father’s ashes. All that’s left of the Buck Shot Club. Fortunately, Dad had also kept a log of his long ago hunting adventures, which was invaluable in my search.

His log described “The Buckshot Club,” founded in the summer of 1949 by him and five of his cronies who “wished to have a place of our own in the Wisconsin north country to hunt deer.” The log included maps, pictures and a definition of the property, described as “41 ½ acres, north of Rhinelander, just east of Hwy 17, in the Town of Pine Lake.” According to the map, the property was south of Mud Lake. shack 1949It only took that one 1949 Labor Day weekend for the men to construct the original 12’ x 20’ building with a lean-to roof. Two double beds in bunk fashion and a studio couch was enough for them to declare it slept six. It had a three-burner, bottle gas hotplate and was heated by an oversized, round, black oil space heater.

shack 1956In October 1956, an addition was added that doubled the building’s size. As a hobby printer, Dad had fashioned paper napkins with the Buck Shot Club logo. He took them up to the shack, laughing that it was “for the ambiance.” Dad spent 35 deer hunting seasons at the shack.

His comic description of his first forays into this unknown territory is best expressed in his own words: “When I became one of the six joint owners of the Buck Shot Club’s 40 acres and hunting shack in Oneida County, the group was not exactly experienced in basic and effective whitetail hunting methods……This would be my first time ever in the woods, so I was more liability than hunter. We saw deer but the wrong end and under a full head of steam. Many were the heart-stopping encounters with unseen deer that started with a wild crash! crash! crash!. Then tense silence. Within a few years, we found ways of getting standing shots at the front end of the deer and I became able to get around without having to blaze every other tree in the forest.”

On a more serious note, his awe for the beauty of the woods is evident: “Old logging roads were barely discernible, as were decayed and collapsed corduroy at swamp crossings. Deer sign was abundant and in some places the runways literally resembled well-used barnyard cattle trails which, if followed for any distance, would wind progressively deeper into the thick and all but impenetrable swamp. Some of the local residents called this area the BIG BUCK COUNTRY.”

As the years passed and he and the other men aged, they added and subtracted members and finally sold the property in 1984. I began to have serious reservations. So many years had passed, I doubted the building itself could possibly still be there. Condos or vacations cottages have overtaken the area, I reasoned. Progress, you know. I decided I’d be realistically happy just finding the location and hoped there’d be an appropriate place for his ashes. I visualized trying to reason with, pleading with a condo owner that an old hunter’s ashes would be a meaningful addition to their property.

So, with map in hand, on the last day of the 2008 deer hunting season we decided to take a little ride, driving south on Highway 17 looking for Mud Lake. We’d planned to turn onto any roads south of the lake and see where they led. Though not called Mud Lake Road on his old map, there now was a road sign. Oh Oh. Here’s the progress I’d been worried about. The concrete road was about a half mile long and then it became a gravel path. Just as the map indicated. Driving further on the narrow and ever shrinking trail, I was becoming disheartened when we came upon a driveway. There was a building. It looked somewhat like the shack but quite a bit larger. Could it be? How would I know for sure?

Trucks were parked in the yard and just as we drove in, a couple of men came out, carrying duffle bags and rifles to their vehicles. One man walked toward us and when questioned, said, yes, he was the owner. When our purpose was explained, the man said he’d hunted the area as a young man and recalled another group of men who hunted there each year. He especially remembered seeing deer hanging on a pole in the yard. The man said how he’d been happy when he and his hunting group had the opportunity to purchase the property. present shackThen he proudly pointed out his improvements, the front porch and the large addition he’d added to the back. The shack, if this was the shack, had doubled in size once again. As he heard more about my father and his hunting buddies, he looked puzzled. “Was one of them a printer?” he asked. Yes, we replied. “There are some paper napkins in there that say Buck Shot Club on them,” the man said as he waved his arm toward the building. That was enough for me! I’d found the shack!

After more discussion, the man said we could scatter the ashes on the property. I was elated. But as plans materialized, I realized I still didn’t have the whole story. I wanted to talk once more to the man in the woods. A call to the Oneida County Register of Deeds got me his name and I made another call. He filled in the rest of the story. The Buck Shot Club sold the property in 1984 to the man in the woods and his hunting group. On their first visit to the camp after the purchase, they’d found a letter, signed by each member of the Buck Shot Club, wishing the new owners as much enjoyment and great hunting memories as they’d experienced. Then in 2005, he took sole ownership of the property. Now my work was done. Well, maybe the easy part was done.

In spring 2009 we had a family camp-out on our property in Eagle River. Five of Dad‘s children, various in-laws and grandchildren gathered for the celebration. Mid-afternoon, we made our way to the hunting shack. As we nervously gathered, a general offer to say a few words was put forth. Then a Native American (Hopi) prayer was read:

I give you this one thought to keep
I am with you still
Ido not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not think of me as gone
I am with you still
In each new dawn
twoThen each sibling and their family took some ashes and walked around the property, saying their individual good byes. After the ceremony, everyone returned to our house for more of the north woods camp-out experience.       My father had a long, full life and knowing he’s resting easy in a place of infinite peace and comfort gives us a sense of completion. He was a strict parent who instilled a strong work ethic in all of his children. So, I think he’d be proud that I was able to finish this final job and do it right. I think he’d also be pleased to see how his children were able to come together, finish our family business and begin to build new relationships for the future.   In fact, we have a family camp-out planned for next summer that just might include another visit to the shack.

Best Benefits

“Identify what were the best benefits you’ve gotten from your family.” The question was being asked as a team building exercise during a work related training session. Most offered predictable answers.

“I got a good work ethic from my father.”

“My parents were very supportive and helped me get through college.”

As I was waiting my turn, I began to wonder what I should say. I wanted to be truthful, yet not sugar coat it. I went for substance.

“Even though I’ve done things my family didn’t understand or approve of and I’ve disappointed them, they never made me feel I wasn’t part of the family.” How’s that for reframing, I giggled to myself.

Later, I thought about the personal stories behind my statement. Little did the group know just how difficult it had been to reap the “best benefits” my family had to offer. For example, when I was a junior in high school, my dad asked me what were my plans after graduation. I told him I wanted to go to college. My high school counselor had been especially supportive. Dad had other ideas.

“Well, Slim. Just so you know. You’re on your own. I’ve got the two boys I have to think about and I have to help them with school or whatever they want to do.” As we talked further, I restated my wishes. Dad seemed driven to convince me otherwise.

“College is waste for girls,” he barked. “You’re just going to get married and have children anyway. I can’t help you, just so you know that.”

I did go to college. As I was making decisions and plotting the pathway of my life, mother was quiet, while Dad made his thoughts and feelings crystal clear. When it came time to pack and leave, I think my parents were in shock.

We’d had some heated conversations up to the day of departure and as I packed the car, Dad was clearly upset. He drove me from our home in Fond du Lac to the UW-Oshkosh campus, all the while not speaking. Once we got to the place I’d rented with another girl, he helped carry everything up the stairs to the tiny second floor attic apartment. Then we stood on the back porch to say good-bye. It was his last chance to save me.

“I just want you to know, I think this is crazy,“ he began. “You’re making a big mistake. Come on. Why don’t you just go get your things, we’ll put them back in the car and I’ll take you home.” I shrugged, turned and went into the house, slamming the door. He drove off in a huff. So much for the heartfelt tears, hugs and good-byes between parents and children I’d seen on TV.

It took me six years to get my bachelor’s degree because I worked throughout. Waitressing. Clerking. Student work/study. Sometimes two jobs at a time. When I went home on occasional visits my parents never asked about what I was doing or how I was doing. Mom made sure I had care packages to take back but there was no further discussion of the real issues.

Then I chose social work as a profession. Oh my. They let me know how they felt in both direct and subtle ways. My father was a police officer and he and I had very different views of people. I knew instinctively what it meant when he rolled his eyes and shook his head. Mother asked me how I could work with “those people.”

During college, I began searching my soul and making some unconventional decisions about my beliefs or non-beliefs. That discussion was especially difficult for my hat wearing, Lent observing, confession and communion receiving Mom.

Most people with traditional beliefs assume these decisions are an over-reaction to experiences of youth or are made without much information or thought. Mother had a hard time accepting that such questions had occupied much of my time; it’s only after years of thinking, talking, studying and reading that I’ve been able to find comfort in my decisions. Still, she assures me she prays daily for the salvation of my soul.

Next I married a man they didn’t approve of. Then I divorced him. Two more disappointments. While mother, the traditional Catholic was ashamed of the divorce (the first in our extended family), she was relieved I’d gotten rid of that awful man.

Having children was never interesting to me. Mother says fourteen year old me announced one day, I never wanted to have kids. I’d helped her raise my three youngest siblings and that was enough for me! Still, for years, I endured queries about children and that pressure was finally relieved when my siblings made Mom and Dad proud grandparents ten times.

So I’m their divorced (twice divorced actually), college graduated, childless, atheist (with a little Buddhism thrown in), social worker daughter. All in all, I’m not what they’d hoped for. While I was younger, this was hard since I always felt I was doing something wrong. But later, I took them off the parent-knows-all pedestal and realized they were flawed human beings struggling through life just like everyone else, including me.

What I learned from them and their judgments is to make up my own mind, to live my life and be the kind of person I want to be. I am sure I benefited from having to do things on my own; I know I appreciated my education because I worked so hard for it. When I finally finished my master’s degree (which I paid for myself), I really wanted my parents to see me graduate. I knew my request had to be direct and made in a way they’d understand. I prepared a script and made the call.

“I know I’m not doing something really important in your eyes,” I said in a casual, non-judging way. “But this is as important to me as having children is to you. So, I’d really like you to come to my graduation.” And they came.

That day my father said he was proud of me. The first and only time. And that was nice, I thought. But, wouldn’t it have been better if that had happened when I was a young girl or teenager, back when I really needed it.

I look back and see that they cared and were worried about me. I also see they had their own way of expressing their thoughts and feelings. While I disappointed them in many ways, I’ve always felt like a full-fledged member of the family and that’s good enough for me.

Long Live the Queen!

Honorable Mention in Florence Lindemann Humor Contest, Wisconsin Writers Association, April 2010.

Published in A Moment in Time, A Nonfiction Anthology, June, 2010.

I HAVE A KITCHEN BECAUSE IT CAME WITH THE HOUSE. So says the card taped to my refrigerator that pictures two smiling women standing in a 1950’s kitchen, complete with page-boy hairdos, ruffled curtains and not a single high tech appliance in sight. That caption speaks to my heart.

I don’t get it. Everywhere I look, there’s an excited buzz about cooking. The newest celebrity chef. The latest recipe. A state of the art appliance or the newest cookbook. Cooking actually gives me heart palpitations and an unsteady hand as I stand poised over pan or bowl, wondering if I should blanche or braise, mince, dice or chop.

When attending any bring-a-dish function, I’ve always opted for something from the deli or the bakery. Protection against possible meltdown, my contribution is chips and dip, dessert from the local bakery or deli-made potato salad.

So I completely surprised myself when I offered to bring deviled eggs to my book group’s salad supper. Maybe I’m coming under the spell of the kitchen god’s wife, I mused.

Making deviled eggs is like putting in a shift on the assembly line of cooking. Boil. Cool. Cut. Blend. Spoon. Very concrete. No guessing. At book group, everyone seemed to enjoy them. At least, I had an empty dish to take home and that’s all the success I‘d hoped for.

I surprised myself again last New Year’s. “I’ll bring deviled eggs,” I heard myself say. Maybe the euphoria of past success has gone to my head. Before I knew it, I was on the internet, searching for a final touch of class to enhance my deviled egg presentation.

For only $6.95 and shipping, I became the proud owner of a deviled egg dish complete with snap-on cover. Ah, the rush of contentment when it arrived Fed Ex a week before the party. Now, instead of lurking around the edges, I’m a full-fledged member of the sorority. Delivered from being the humble purveyor of deli and bakery goods to the high status of a true contributor, I’m now the queen of deviled eggs!

But let’s not get carried away. I’m from a long line of one hit wonders and my mother, not much into cooking, is the queen of cookies. This her grandchildren will attest, as they make a beeline for the plastic containers that fill her pantry shelves. And cookies is pretty much all she does.

So I plan to follow in Mom’s footsteps and honor her for the wise mentor she’s become. And everyone in my life has accepted the sad news that I have no plans of losing myself in the uncharted seas of gourmet creation. Satisfied with my small measure of success, I’m happy to bask in my deviled egg glory and simply enjoy it. Long live the queen!

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