The town that built me


Mom – I see her beauty in my little sister


“I know they say you can’t go home again.” (From The House That Built Me by Miranda Lambert)

The next line says, “I just had to come back one last time.”

And I did.

My memories begin in Sheffield, Illinois. The earliest one is of me leaning over my baby sister and promising her I would take care of her. We lived in a house behind the tavern where our mother worked as a bartender and cook. I was being protective of my sister because there was a fire beginning on a line coming toward the house. Everything must have turned out fine because we lived there for some time after that.

I only remember one doctor from those days. His office was almost downtown and as far as I can recall, was actually a house. One fall day I decided to trek from Kewanee to Sheffield and check out the museum.

A little backstory: After living in Tucson, Arizona for over five years from 1983 to 1989, we moved back to Kewanee. I began writing in Tucson and I was itching to go back to where I grew up to take some pictures and write.

I drove around and saw that the downtown looked familiar. I drove past our houses – the one behind the tavern and the one on Atkinson Street. From there I went past the school, then headed back toward town.

At the museum I was glad to see that they had at least one whole room set up to replicate the doctor’s office. Well, who’s to say it was exactly the same? As a kid I remembered the toy room and the front desk where the nurse took our information. Ah, and the lollipop jar.

I was in the doctor’s “office”, writing and snapping pictures when I heard someone behind me. “What are you doing?”, she asked, arms crossed and a suspicious look in her eyes. This was the museum’s director or whatever she was called.

I told her this was my doctor’s display, he treated me, my sister and mother. She wasn’t impressed. In fact, she told me I wasn’t allowed to write anything or take pictures.

I was too flabbergasted to protest much, and she wouldn’t leave me by myself so I recorded what I was seeing in my head and when I got to the car I wrote down what I remembered. The woman stood in the front window, arms still crossed, her face still a scowl.

What she didn’t know was that this same doctor came to Kewanee shortly after we moved from Sheffield to tell our mother he could no longer treat her. Mom was heartbroken and scared out of her wits as she called out after him to please stay with her as her doctor.

Mom had been recently diagnosed with Scleroderma and the doctor had no clue how to deal with that, so he left her – and us.

I didn’t go “back home” that day to make trouble or dredge up bad memories. Nor did I intend to smear the man’s name or reputation. I simply went there to solidify some childhood memories and I met up with someone who tried to stop that, whether she realized it or not.

I know the song says that some say you can’t go home again. I say you can – even if it’s only so far.

Thursday, February 14, 2019



Finally, that hug


This isn’t the shirt in the dream, but it’s close enough

Before going to bed each night, I pray for protection while I sleep and in my dreams. Ever since I started doing that I haven’t had nightmares or mildly bad dreams, and my sleep cycle is returning to what I consider to be normal.

Last night I had a dream I hope to always remember. It was so utterly special to me that I didn’t know whether I should write about it or keep it hidden in my heart.

I don’t know how the dream started. All I remember is it was his shirt I saw first. It’s an off-white with a collar and blue widely-spaced stripes.

I didn’t even look at his face; I knew it was him. I put my arms around him and he put his arms around me. His hug was strong and warm. I felt safe again. He was no longer bent over and weak, he was amazingly healthy – and content.

As the dream went on, I asked all kinds of questions. Had he seen her? Yes. Him? Yes. Did they sit around and talk like when they were here? No, he said. They all went their own way – they had things to do.

I think I understood all of that, and eventually we got separated in a room full of people whose faces I don’t remember. I do know I finally asked if he’d seen Clint, but someone else asked him that question. The answer came back – No.

I don’t know how much credence I should give to this dream, other than that hug was as real to me as the last one we shared. That’s what I will tuck away inside my heart until we meet again.

Prayer. It’s a powerful thing.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

What did you want as a child?


This column ran in March, last year. I really did have it all, and I appreciated it.

“I think life experiences are different for people who know what they want as children.” (Bell Hooks)

There was a writing prompt I read the other day that got me thinking. “The most ridiculous thing I believed as a child was….”

Hmmm. For me, there wasn’t just one.

I believed there was an evil elephant and giraffe who danced in a closed room in our house in Sheffield. This was the first house I remember, the one on the highway and behind the tavern where Mom worked as a cook and bartender.

I believed God lived in the Sheffield water tower. If you wanted to talk with Him you had to climb up there and if He didn’t want to talk with you, He slid banana peels down so you couldn’t get there.

I believed, like Stephen King says, that books were a uniquely portable magic and the stories would take me away whenever Life got to be too much for a kid.

I believed adults (teachers, Mom, aunts, uncles and neighbors) would protect us from bad things. For the most part, that was true.

I believed racism was one of the stupidest things – ever. I didn’t even know what it was called, but I knew when I was ordered to have nothing to do with a sweet grade school classmate that I would do just the opposite. Sure, I got scolded for it, but I didn’t care one bit.

I believed Mom when she told me I’d go blind for reading too much. But I didn’t stop; I just made plans to learn some other way to get my stories as soon as my sight began to fade. Hasn’t happened yet.

I believed, from a teen’s viewpoint, that I would marry someday and have a mean husband who wouldn’t treat me right, and that I would drown my sorrows by drinking lots and lots of wine. I must have been reading the wrong books and listening to the wrong gossip because that never happened.

I also believed, at around the same time, that my dad desperately wanted to meet his almost grown-up daughter and that he waited and watched outside the high school so he could see what I looked like. I sat in the library, looking out the windows and imagined him in one of the parked cars. He was never there but that didn’t stop the hope that one day he would be outside, anxious to see me.

I believed if I did work outside the home I would be in the same job until the day I retired. Wow, was I wrong about that one.

I believe that the quote above is worth reading more than once. As a child I wanted to marry, have a family, a job I love, and be able to read as many books as I wanted. I knew what I wanted as a child and I have all I need as an adult.

Belief. It’s a powerful, wonderful thing.

That damp carpet


Answers were slow in coming today. Actually, they haven’t yet arrived.

I suppose I should have left my shoes on, then I wouldn’t have known.

Last night while getting ready for bed, I slipped off my shoes and as I headed past the bathroom sink I immediately noticed my socks had suddenly become cold or wet.

They were wet, though I think not-quite-damp is a better word. They were giving me a warning that the carpet wasn’t dry. And, honestly, it should be. Always.

Since I try to turn my thoughts off before bed, I was wondering how that was going to happen if I had a new worry. Gary would have known what to do, but my go-to place is Facebook.

I was told it could be a seal around the toilet. Or it could be a leak in a pipe. I can fix neither of those problems even if I knew which one it was. (Please don’t let it be both.)

Gary was the one who wanted a partially-carpeted bathroom. He did it for warmth on the floor, and to help me not to fall on slick tile. I wish now we had gone with slip-resistant throw rugs.

I didn’t realize I would have to be put on a list at the plumber’s (no call-back today, and I called them at 7 a.m. when they opened), and no reply (yet) from someone I am sure could at least let me know what I’m dealing with.

Last night I tried to make sure that every time my mind turned to the carpet, I would pray. That’s all I can do, and it’s the best thing I can do.

Sure, I might have to go upstairs earlier than normal tonight – there’s a bathroom upstairs – but that’s not so bad. At least I have an alternative.

I’ve learned that counting my blessings really does push negative thoughts to the side, then behind me. Tomorrow’s another day, and maybe there will be good news to report.

Just about anything’s possible, right? You bet it is.

Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019

Reading through 2002


Gary, Clint and me

I learned a lot by reading through 2002.

I’ve started many a journal throughout the years and I didn’t realize there was one that was complete. Oh, maybe a day or two went by with no entry but 99% of the year was written down.

Lots of emotions came over me when reading what happened 16 years ago. That was the last year we saw our son, Clint.

I was flabbergasted to learn that Clint called several times that year. I totally forgot that. And lest I forget this: please, please get yourself a small planner or journal or whatever and jot stuff down! You WILL forget some things, some important things, but if you write them down when they happen, you won’t lose the memories.

Clint called during the morning of July 5. He and his then-wife Robin called on Sept. 25. Clint called on his birthday, Oct. 19 and again on the 25th. Robin called on Dec. 14 and the 18th. Clint called on the 20th and asked us to meet them in Peoria the next day.

We all met on the 21st. We gave Clint a Christmas card with cash in it, and that was the last time we saw him. He called on Dec. 31st to say he was “ok”. I’d have to find my journal for 2003 to see if I wrote that he called in March, but my memory says he did.

That’s what I would have forgotten – well, most of it – if I hadn’t written things down. There were some other things, like our sweet pooch Cujo passing away (and all of her problems before that happened), plus a double murder four blocks from us. I wouldn’t have minded forgetting that.

I’m not making the extra effort to find other journals because I’m in the process of creating other things. If I run across one, I’ll check it out but for now I’m happy to record what’s going on now.

Think about it, just don’t take too long. Memory is fleeting, and time flies.

Monday, Jan. 14, 2019

Snow what?


A snow storm on a different day

We used to joke in the newsroom about certain photos. These were most often the Fourth of July ones, maybe Hog Days now and then. The saying went, “If no one gets out to take pics, we can throw some in from last year and no one will know the difference.”

I’m using an old photo for this blog post because we’re getting about the same amount of snow and it could very well have been taken today. Except I no longer have that table, and the deck railing doesn’t look like that now.

It probably started snowing around 2 a.m. or so, and now it’s past 4 p.m. and still it’s coming down. I’ve swept off a teeny-tiny path on the ramp outside my front door but that’s as far as I got. I truly don’t see the upside in getting all dressed up just to stay inside all day. Jammies Day it is then.

Don’t get me wrong. I accomplished a few things. I did some writing, did the dishes, read some more chapters in a good book, watched some stuff I’d recorded. Oh, and took a short nap.

I’m also listening to the police scanner. I don’t know how they do it. Yes, I know it’s their job and all, but on a day and night like this you couldn’t pay me enough to slog through this weather to answer fights, arguments, fender-benders and whatever else is out there. Thank God there are people out there willing to do what they do.

While we’re inside our warm homes there are others out there doing their jobs – newspaper delivery people, mail carriers, medical staffs, ambulance drivers, and those who care for animals – willing to get their car stuck to see to it that a dog can get outside. And not only get outside, but get some much-needed cuddling, food and water.

The world is full of these kinds of people. The snow can fall all it wants but it’s not going to stop those who are determined to do what they believe they need to.

Thanks – to every one of you.

Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019

Zzzzz…there’s an app for that


I can hardly believe it. I’m actually (almost) sleeping through the night.

There are the usual early-morning treks to the bathroom, and it used to be almost impossible to get back to sleep but that’s changed too. I like that.

My messed up sleep pattern began a few years ago. Toss in age, pain, Gary’s health and mine, plus work and it’s not surprising neither of us could sleep like normal people.

Though I have to say, how can any of us say what is normal? We’re told to get eight hours of sleep every night but I never needed that much. Give me a good five or six – in a row – and I’m good for the whole day.

One of the first things I did was pray for protection while I slept, and for protection in my dreams. This is the first time I’ve ever lived alone, not even a cat or dog in the house, and I’m not going to lie – it can be scary. So, prayers first, then an app that helps me sleep.

I use the app Calm and it’s terrific. My favorite sounds are thunderstorms, especially with lots of wind. I also use Alexa thunderstorms which are good too.

For years I went to sleep with the TV on, the volume on low. That’s just too much light for me. I have a police scanner going all the time but it’s not a constant barrage of noise. I have to say, though, that if I am up in the wee hours, scanner traffic can get interesting.

Getting a good night’s sleep is doing wonders for me during the day. I hope it stays this way, because for the first time in ages I feel normal. You know, whatever that is.

Friday, Jan. 11, 2019