Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Radio: A Christmas Story

    Copyright © Linda Goodman 1989

            Christmas was a heartbeat away.  Dressed warmly in my frayed winter coat and hat, my hands snug inside and old fur muff, I waited patiently in line to talk to Santa Claus.  The line of chattering children seemed endless, and I knew that I was just one face amid this sea of hopefuls.  Was Santa such a genius that he could remember what all these children wanted?  And the children of the day before?  And the day before that?

            I had decided not to confuse Santa with a long list this year.  After all, whenever I did that, I got only some of the things on the list.  And usually the things that were omitted were the things I wanted most.  And so this year, I was going to ask Santa for just that one thing that I wanted more than anything else.  And that one thing was a radio.

            Of course, my family already had a radio.  But it was a huge console radio that sat in the living room, the same room as the television.  Whenever I would turn that radio on after school, my mother would protest, "Now, Linda, you know that I watch The Guiding Light at this hour.  So, turn that thing off, now, you hear?"  Or if I turned it on after supper, my father would inform me, "Linda, Walter Cronkite is on the television, and I have got to know what's going on in the world.  Turn that thing off, now."  I thought that if I could get Santa to bring me a small portable radio for Christmas, I could take it into my bedroom and play it whenever I wanted and never again have to hear the words, "Turn that thing off!"

            At last it was my turn to sit on Santa's pudgy knee.  I looked up into his twinkling eyes that sat atop rosy cheeks surrounded by a cottony white beard.  He looked just like my picture book.

            "Hello, little girl," he greeted me.  "What is your name?"

             "Linda,"  I replied.

             "Linda, have you been a good girl this year?"  he queried.

            "Oh, yes sir!"  I attested.  (Of course, there had been the ordinary, everyday indiscretions.  But everybody knows that they don't count).

            "Good.  And what do you want Santa to bring you this year, Linda?"

            "A radio,"  I replied without hesitation.

            "And what else?"

            "Nothing else.  All's I want is a radio!"

            "Well, then, ho,ho,ho!  We'll see what Santa can do about that."  Then he reached his hand into his bottomless bag and brought out a ring for me.  As he did that, a bright light exploded in my face, and I could hear my mother saying in the background, "I’m sorry, I don't have any money for pictures today."

            Then my mother took me by the hand and we began our long walk home.  As we walked, I asked her if God was anything like Santa Claus.  She replied, “Not really.  God is more like a loving parent.  His love is unconditional and self-sacrificing, though sometimes hard to understand.  I sure feel mighty lucky to have it.”

            Home was about a mile away, and it was the coldest day of the year.  By the time we got there my fingers were purple.  But my poor mother, who went without cap and gloves so that we children could have the things we needed, was practically frostbitten.

            We entered our apartment building and hurried up the stairs to our apartment.  As we pushed open the door a great wave of heat rushed out to greet us, and it felt good.  But we knew it wouldn't be long until that heat was unbearable. 

            We lived in an apartment building that was heated by a huge furnace in the back, and that furnace had only two settings:  off and on.  Once it was turned on in October, the temperature would reach ninety-five degrees in a matter of minutes and stay there until late April.  In the dead of winter, I used to open my window and hang my head outside for relief.  But whenever I would complain, my father would say, "Now, Linda, you ought not to complain about the heat.  Why, many's the time when I was a boy, back on the frontier (my father always referred to his boyhood home in Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains as the frontier), that I like to froze to death.  My ten brothers and sisters and me used to sleep in one room huddled around a coal burning stove just to keep warm at night.  You wouldn't complain about the heat, Linda, if you knew what it was like not to have any."  

            My father  had been born in a little coal mining camp in Virginia City, Virginia.   In order to help support his family, he had gone to work in the mines at the age of fourteen.  He was there only a few years, though, when he saw a good buddy killed by a falling rock.  It was then that he decided that he "could think of better ways to die."  

            From there he embarked upon a series of occupations.  He had his own newspaper column for a while.  Then he was a gander dancer for the railroad.  During the Great Depression he was hobo, then a forest ranger for the CCC.  After that, he went to work in the "scorching hot sands" of the foundry in Richmond, Virginia.  That's where he was when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  As soon as he heard the news, he walked off his job and marched straight to the Navy recruiting office and tried to enlist.  He was turned down due to high blood pressure.  Upon seeing the disappointed look on his face, the recruiting officer consoled him, "Don't worry, Bub.  The army'll take you."

            My father didn't enlist in the army.  He didn't have to.  They drafted him.  At the age of thirty-seven, he became Private Theodore Alexander Wright.

            After the war, my father came back to his mountain home.  Virginia City had become a ghost town, so he settled in Saint Paul.  There he married my mother and had four children.  Once he had a family, he started thinking about financial security.  That is what made him decide to leave the mountains and accept at job at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia.

            And that is how we came to live in this rundown apartment complex.  I can still remember the look on my mother's face when she first saw the apartment:  she was delighted.  After all, she had never had indoor plumbing or electricity before.  Now there was water at the turn of a faucet and lights at the flick of a switch.  Minor annoyances, such as the occasional cockroach or rodent, could be overlooked, because life in general was much easier.

            While my father had the job that brought home a paycheck, my mother had the job of making that paycheck stretch from week to week.  I can still remember watching her work up her weekly budget on Sunday evenings.  "We're riding a bicycle now instead of walking,"  she once said, "but it's still uphill all the way."

            Sometimes when my mother and I would go shopping downtown, I would catch her gazing longingly in the windows of the dress boutiques that we couldn't afford to even go into.  And that would make me wonder if perhaps she might have been better off if we had stayed in the mountains, where it seemed like everybody we knew was poor and she wasn't reminded so often of the things that she didn't have.

            To be honest, though, there were lots of people in our neighborhood who were worse off than we were.  Charlene Miller, for instance.  Her husband had taken off one spring morning and never returned.  Now she was raising six hungry children by herself on welfare.  Charlene just happened to be in our apartment that afternoon that my mother and I got back from seeing Santa Claus.

            "Mr. Wright,"  she was complaining, "It just doesn't seem fair.  Here I am able to work and willing to work, but I can't find a job that will pay me enough to hire someone to take care of my young’uns while I'm working.  Why don't those politicians up in Richmond or Washington do something to help people like me, who want to help themselves?"

            My father’s reply stayed with me for a long time.  "Now Charlene,” my father chided, "You know that the politician is the friend of the rich man.   He doesn't care about little folk like you or me."

            Two weeks later, it was Christmas Eve.  My mother sent me to bed early, just in case we were the first stop on Santa's trip.  But I couldn't sleep because I couldn't stop thinking about the radio that Santa was going to bring me.  I was imagining how much fun I was going to have turning it on to WGH AM and listening to the top forty hits.  Or I could even put it on the talkie station and listen to tales about the folks down in Mount Airey.

            Then a chilling thought occurred to me.  What if I was the last stop on Santa's trip and he ran out of radios before he got to me!  Sleep was impossible now.

            At about one o'clock in the morning, I could stand it no longer.  I quietly got out of my bed, tiptoed across the floor, cracked my bedroom door, and peered into the kitchen.  The plate of cookies and glass of milk that I had left for Santa were empty, a sure sign that he had already come and gone!
            "Mama," I hollered.
            "What?"  she answered sleepily.
            "I have to go to the bathroom!"
            "Well, all right,"  she assented.  "But don't you go anywhere near that tree, now, you hear?"
            I did as I was told.  I didn't go anywhere near that tree.  But she didn't say I couldn't look, and look I did.  There, illuminated by the Christmas tree lights, was a box with the letters RADIO emblazoned across it!  I had gotten it!  I had gotten that radio!  I started to dance a little jig, but then I remembered that I was not supposed to know yet.  So I returned to my room and fell into a peaceful sleep full of blissful dreams.  For the first time, I really did see sugar plums dancing in my head.

            The next morning my mother gently shook me by the shoulders to awaken me.  "Ain’t you ashamed, you sleepy head?” she asked playfully.  “Are you going to sleep all day?  It's Christmas!"  she announced.
            I jumped out of bed and ran to the tree in the livingroom.  There were three packages there for me.  I decided to save the best for last. 
            In the first package was underwear.  Normally, I would have been upset to get underwear for Christmas, but, somehow, this year it didn't seem like such a bad idea.  " A girl can always use new underwear!"  I affirmed.
            In the second package was a gift I truly loved:  a set of Winnie the Pooh books.  "You know how I love to read!" I laughed.
            Of course, the next package had the radio inside.  I looked at my parents.  They were more excited than I was!  I put my hand in the box and pulled out its contents.  "A radio!"  I cried. 
            Then something strange caught my eye.  This was an unusual radio.  It had only one dial.  I turned the dial and a familiar childhood tune began to play:  John Brown had a little Indian.  It wasn't a real radio at all!  It was just a toy, a music box that played only one tune while small pictures of Indian children rotated around the dial.  Santa was either not very smart, or he was playing a cruel joke on me.
            In the afternoon, company started dropping by, and in the midst of all the Christmas cheer, I forgot about my disappointment over the radio.  In fact, I had no trouble enjoying the rest my Christmas vacation.
            But on January second, I went back to school.  The school was abuzz with chattering children talking about their wonderful Christmas gifts.  I noticed that the children who lived in my neighborhood faired about like I had.  But the children who lived in the rich part of town had gotten some fantastic gifts.  Joe Sam Delpino, whose father was a doctor, had gotten a bicycle that I had seen in the window of Miller's sporting goods for $150.00.  And Gloria Hempel, whose father owned the biggest and most exclusive department store in town, had gotten a color television!  I lied and said I got a stereo. 
            "You didn't get a stereo!"  taunted Gloria Hempel.  "Why, I bet Santa is afraid to go into your neighborhood after dark.  I bet you didn’t get anything at all."
            "How would you know?"  I retorted.  "What have you got?  A crystal ball?
            I was seething with anger, but I wasn't about to let anyone at school know that, and I managed to contain my hostility throughout the school day.  But by the time I got home I could contain it not longer.  I ran into my room, slammed the door, threw my books against the wall, threw myself on the bed and started sobbing
            Within seconds, my mother had marched into my room.  "What's going on here?  You know that I don't allow this kind of behavior in my home!"  she scolded.
            "Santa Claus is a politician!"  I screamed.  "He brought Gloria Hempel a color television, when her own daddy could afford to buy her three of them if he wanted to.   But me - I couldn't even get a lousy radio!"
            My mother stood there in stunned silence.  Then she turned her back to me and said quietly,  "Honey, this world is a rough row to hoe.  We just have to do the best we can."  Then I heard a sound that I had never heard come from my mother before.  It was a sniffle.  A sniffle?  My mother never cried.
            I grew up a little in that moment.  Suddenly, without being told, I knew that it was all a myth.  There was no man in a red suit flying through the air in a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer on Christmas Eve.  My mother had gotten me what she thought I wanted, and with precious little money to spare.
            I walked up to my mother, put my arms around her, and looked up into her tear-stained face.  She looked back at me with wet eyes, and I could see that she knew that I knew that she knew.  "I sure do love you, Mama,"  I whispered.
            And she cupped her hands under my chin and said, "We don't have much money, but we've got lots and lots of love.  And that make us the richest people of all."

            And that little toy radio became my most prized possession.  Today it sits on the dresser in my bedroom, where I keep it as a symbol of a parent's love for a child:  love that is unconditional and self-sacrificing, though sometimes hard to understand.  I sure feel mighty lucky to have had it.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Conversation with a Telephone Solicitor

©Linda Goodman 2011

            I recently read True Grit by Charles Portis.  I had seen both movies and was particularly taken with the 2010 version starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and the amazing Hailee Steinfield.  The book was even better.  I cracked up at the outlaws, who emitted animal or bird noises as greetings. I thought I might like to try that myself some time.
            Yesterday I received two phone solicitations ON MY CELL PHONE!!!
            Today I got another one.
            “Hello!” a male voice greeted me. “This is John Doe calling from the Bank of (supply name). I want to tell you about our wonderful new credit card.”
            “Cock-a-doodle-do!” says I, channeling an ancient outlaw
            “You are right to crow!” replied John Doe. “This deal I am offering your will change the way you do business.
            “Gobble, gobble!” I responded
            “No, no!” John Doe protested. “My friend, this deal is no turkey.”
            I barked like a dog.
            “Now you have it!” Joe Doe gushed.  “This deal is so amazing you will become as loyal to us as your faithful dog is to you.”
            I was so impressed with John Doe’s quick-thinking, clever responses that I finally listened to his spiel.  I figured I owed him at least that much. 
            I told him I did not want another charge card.
            He howled like a heart-broken coyote baying at the moon.
            I hope he calls back.

Friday, December 2, 2011

I Am Somebody

CD Review

Stories written and performed by Linda Gorham. $10.00, plus $2.00 shipping & handling.

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

            In the introduction to her life-affirming CD I Am Somebody, Linda Gorham shares that she is descended from many people, including a grandmother who loved plastic, a grandfather who was a Pullman Porter, and a father who lived by the mantra “proper prior planning prevents poor performance.”   

            Gorham was raised to be morally responsible.  It’s In the Book is a tribute to her father, who used that phrase to verify values.  A typical good daughter, Gorham did not buck her father’s standards until she was a teenager.  Using popular songs from the late sixties to good effect, Gorham decides to do her “own thing.” Ultimately, this leads her on a journey that culminates in a tender scene in which her father interrogates her future husband in an effort to assure himself that the man can be trusted with such a valuable treasure. Ultimately, secrets are revealed that make Gorham see family members in a new light.

            Dog lovers will enjoy Juno, Not My Dog, a touching tale of a pesky dog that gradually creeps into the heart of a child who claims to resent it.

            In Plastic Glory, childhood adventures in a house where everything is covered with plastic lead to a somber moment when a father returns from Viet Nam.  This story is as relevant to today’s military as it was to the military of the sixties and seventies.

            A Prince of a Man features Gorham as an independent, self-sufficient, strong woman who discovers that having a Prince Charming around can have its advantages. Clearly, a woman can be a feminist and feminine at the same time.

            In a clever parallel to the old story of the tailor who becomes obsessed with a piece of cloth, Sofa to Cotton is an ode to reducing, reusing, and recycling. Being environmentally conscious requires some thinking outside the box, but it is worth the effort.

            Realizing that life is short, Gorham ponders life’s treasures and dumps life’s garbage in Red Light Reflections.  Favorite line: “I can open my own doors, but do it for me, because I’m worth it!”

            I Am Somebody is a loving tribute to ancestors, family, and self. This CD is a verbal monument to Gorham’s heritage, and it encourages its listeners to begin building monuments of their own. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Note from Diane Edgecomb

Those of you who know storyteller Diane Edgecomb are aware of her devotion to the Kurdish people and the reverence and joy with which she shares their tales.  I recently received the email post below from her.  Please read it and assist her if possible.  The task she is undertaking is a daunting one.  Many hands will make the load lighter.
Linda Goodman
November 10, 2011
Dear friends,
It is with a heavy heart that I am writing to you about the situation in Van, Turkey where another major earthquake just happened.
Van and Ercis (area most hit by the first quake), Turkey form the hub where I begin all of my storytelling journeys among the Kurdish people. They have been rocked by major earthquakes. Another one happened today. This last Sunday I was at a meeting of the New England Kurdish Community. There eyes were hollow with sorrow and they do not even know how to reach out with their fund raising efforts. They are new immigrants and they also have no country of their own to support any efforts.
The community is decimated by the way the Turkish government has interfered with humanitarian efforts. In an effort to make sure it has absolute control over this region, Turkey delayed relief efforts offered from Israel and other well-equipped countries for six crucial days. Family members of my friends texted from under the rubble "I am here, I am here" until they finally fell silent.
I have worked with these resilient and wonderful people for over ten years and am going to be heavily involved in trying to raise funds as quickly as possible. Tents are arriving for the homeless, but can you imagine living in a tent during a New England winter? Winters in the Kurdish region are much more fierce. They need wooden houses and my friend, Memet who is in the area, of his own determination and sense of service is already building these structures in a tremor free zone. I hope that some among you will consider helping in the effort I need to launch. Any help in any way is so appreciated.
If anyone has ties to any religious or other group that supports humanitarian aid and would ask on behalf of this cause, please please let me know. I can go anywhere to speak, show slides, and invite the Kurdish community whenever they are available. It is such a horrible situation. And it seems that everywhere I turn there is a cruel reminder. Yesterday driving home I saw a billboard "Can you imagine not having a home to go to?" I again imagined and also imagined winter descending.
Please let me know if you have any thoughts or ideas or can help in anyway.
Diane Edgecomb
PS here was the latest news on what people are suffering in the Kurdish region of Turkey today, hours after the second quake ....
"Riot police in the Kurdish region fired tear gas and used batons to disperse protesters angry at the state's relief efforts after the second earthquake in eastern Turkey in three weeks. Rescue teams searched for survivors after the 5.7 magnitude tremor on Wednesday night heaped misery on the predominantly Kurdish region where many people died following a major quake on October 23.
"How can you fire pepper spray on people who have already suffered so much?" said Abdulrahim Kaplan, 32. He had gone to the crisis center for a tent when police began firing tear gas, he said. "Our people are freezing. We are sleeping outside -- all seven of my family," he said, complaining bitterly over the alleged unfair distribution of tents. "Some people take five tents, some 10 and others get nothing. This is wrong." Thousands of families are living in makeshift camps with temperatures falling to freezing with the onset of winter. The latest tremor cut power to the area.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Mama's Wreaths

By Julia Taylor Ebel with M. Joann Moretz

Published by Canterbury House, $10.95, www.juliaEbel.com

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

            This enchanting story poem is a loving tribute to the knowledge, traditions, and stories that richly infuse the North Carolina Mountain culture.

            Using the character of Joanie, a young mountain girl who wants nothing more than to make Christmas wreaths as beautiful as her mother’s, Julia Taylor Ebel guides us through the autumn and early winter seasons of a people who value character above wealth.

Ruled by the “I’ll be beholden to nobody” attitude that she learned from her daddy, Joanie will not rest until she can pay back the nickel (milk money) that her teacher gave her to replace the one that she lost. Particularly moving is the Lost episode in which Joanie, given the responsibility of delivering one of her mother’s wreaths, loses the money that she collected for it. Her resulting distress is caused by her knowledge that the lost money was to have been used for necessaries: flour, sugar, and shoes. When she finds the money, she experiences not only relief, but true joy:
not joy about the money
but joy about a job seen through,
about a trust kept,
about the smile I expect
on Mama's face
Making Christmas wreaths, we learn, requires skill, teamwork, and sacrifice. Listening to instructions is essential. Joanie hangs her own wreaths around her home, declaring that:
We may not have much money
 to spend for Christmas,
 but this is a Christmas house.
            Ebel credits Joann Moretz, who shared her memories of making wreaths in Watauga County, North Carolina, as her information source for this book. As a native Appalachian, I particularly appreciated Ebel’s simple black and white illustrations, which took me back to a time when life moved at a slower pace and Christmas was magic.  No expensive presents required: family and friends sharing the holiday spirit was the ultimate and most sought-after prize
          After the story’s end, Ebel adds information about the history of wreath making in the North Carolina Mountains and instructions on how you can make your own evergreen wreath. A study guide and book discussion starters are available on Ebel’s website.
            This book, recommended for ages eight through adult, would make a wonderful Christmas present for both young and old.  The young will delight in the intimate peek at a culture often taken for granted.  Adults will garner sweet memories of a time when Christmas was neither rushed nor expensive.  The book is one that children and adults can read together and equally appreciate. What better way to spend precious time and revel in the Christmas spirit?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Hidden Treasure at The Mountain Spirits Art Festival

            I have always preferred community theater productions to professional ones because I love being one of the favored few to witness a stellar performance given by an actor who is relatively unknown.  You know what I am talking about – that performance that is so convincing it consumes the stage and makes you forget that what you are watching is acting.

            This past weekend, I had that same experience at the first annual (hopefully) Mountain Spirits Art Festival at the Franklin County Library in Rocky Mount, Virginia.  In addition to painting, quilts, music, and regional authors, four storytelling performances were featured.

            I was one of the four storytellers.  The other three were Charlie Lytton, David Bass, and Linda Hartman.

            Of the other three tellers, the only one that I had heard before was Charlie Lytton.  I had the pleasure of hearing him share Appalachian tall tales at the Galax Book Festival, where he graciously invited me to share the stage at the end of his set. As a performer, I found him to be both charming and captivating.  As a person, I found him to be both a gentlemen and a generous colleague. I am truly enjoying my copy of his book, New River: bonnets, apple butter, and moonshine (The Raising of a Fat Little Boy). 

            I am happy to report that Charlie is not a one-story wonder. At Mountain Spirits, he shared a beautiful yet tragic true ghost story about the specters of two little girls haunting the Appalachian Trail.  I was left heartbroken by the image of these young giggling ghosts, seen by hikers on the trail from time to time. 

            David Bass, a dead ringer for Hal Holbrook, followed Charlie onstage to share a funny, endearing tale of Grandpa Hurt, who was so entranced with the new “horseless carriage” that he decided to get one of his own.  This well-researched and expertly constructed story made me appreciate modern times, where a simple twist of a key in an ignition will start a car. Bass certainly knows how to use movement, body language and facial expressions to enhance a story. I almost split my sides laughing at Grandpa Hurt unsuccessfully trying to crank his new car and get in the driver’s seat before he had to crank again.

            Linda Hartman was the only storyteller whose set I was able to watch in its entirety (I had customers wanting to buy my book during the others).  Linda actually became the characters in each of her stories, expertly changing her voice, body language, and facial expressions for each one. Watching her face progress from reluctance to surprise to downright delight as her character chewed a gooey substance from an unknown flower was pure magic. Her command of her voice was phenomenal. Amazed at her mastery of the stage whisper, I was so enraptured that I jumped several times when she pumped up the volume. Her stories were about the importance of listening and about courage in the face of dangerous odds.  The children attending were riveted to her performance.  Even the adults were captivated.

            Unfortunately, attendance at the festival was small, probably due to the unusually cold weather and competition from a Virginia Tech home football game. Library staff, though, seemed to enjoy the event and hope to have it again next year. Congratulations and thanks are due to the Franklin County Public Library for hosting this event.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dark Matter

CD Review

Written and performed by Lynne Duddy.  Musical soundscape by a cappella singing sensation Emily Post. Available from CD Baby (www.cdbaby.com/cd/lynneduddy)for $10.00 (CD) or $9.99 (MP3) 

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

            “Have you ever been afraid of the dark?” Lynne Duddy asks in the introduction to her powerful and thought-provoking CD Dark Matter. Her haunting, hypnotic voice then proceeds to guide the listener on a trip through the dark side, a journey filled with wonder, science, love, and more than a little mystery.

            The stories begin with an Amazon Creation Myth about an anaconda that introduces light to the world through song. Substance, we are told, comes from nothing and it takes faith to believe in this concept. That faith is the central theme of the stories on this recording.

            9 to 4 takes us to a cemetery at night, where a large, seemingly foreboding, stranger awaits. Can we trust without evidence of trustworthiness?  Can we have faith in our instincts? The shades of truth in this story are subtle, yet powerful.  I listened to it over and over, just for the beauty of the telling.

            Vera’s Story shares the history of Vera Reuben, the woman who in 1951 unlocked the mystery of stars rotating in spiral galaxies. Sadly, Ms. Reuben was born in a time and place where astronomers did not take women’s research seriously. Her work did, however, lead to the discovery of dark matter in the 1970’s.  Can we have faith in our destiny, even when society contradicts all that we hold dear?

            Lightning features two young girls whose fascination with lightning leads them to become “blood brothers.” This sacred moment taken in secret leads to harsh punishment and the revelation of an ugly truth. Can we have faith that all will be well, in spite of that truth?

            Into the Mist is a beautiful story about the misunderstandings between a woman and her dying father, and how those misunderstandings are resolved before it is too late. How sad to have such a heavy weight lifted so late in life’s journey! Can we have faith that our loved ones understand that harsh words are just old hurts turned hard?

            Lost and Found is a tale of stumbling upon an old memory on a country drive that spurs a quest for a missing piece of the past. Can faith mend a tear in our personal fabric?

            The stories on this CD are well-written and wonderfully told.  There are no breaks between stories, so listening to them feels like being at a concert. The musical soundscape provided by Emily Post is grand, but often threatens to overwhelm the stories. At times I felt that the music was competing for attention, when I would have preferred that it accent the stories.

            I fear the darkness, but at the same time I yearn for it. These stories helped me realize that darkness makes the light more brilliant, and I take comfort in that. Duddy tells us that we should “have faith that everything will be all right, and even if it isn’t, everything will be okay.”  I believe her.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Encounter With a Door Knocker

© Linda Goodman 2011

              In September of 1971, I had been married for just over one year, and I was four months pregnant with my daughter, due to be born during the same month that I would be turning twenty.
                At four months, I was just pregnant enough that my clothes no longer fit.  I was a full-time student who had just been dismissed from my part-time job because I was pregnant (yes, that was legal in 1971), and my husband was a full time musician with a rock band.  On a good week, he brought home $15.00 (I didn’t say it was a successful rock band).
                There was no money to buy maternity clothes, so my sister, who was heavier than me, had given me a pair of her elastic-waist pants. That pair of pants, coupled with a few of my loose fitting shirts, was the only clothing that I could comfortably wear. 
                At a late morning hour, I was attempting to clean my small apartment without waking my husband, who was still sleeping off a late-night gig. A knock at the door interrupted me, and I opened the door to welcome a well-dressed older woman who said she was doing visitation for a church down the street from my house.  In other words, she was a door knocker.
                “We’ve just started a Bible study at the church,” she announced enthusiastically, “and we want to invite everyone in our neighboring communities to join us as we discover the joys and blessings hidden in God’s word.”
                I have always enjoyed good Bible discussions, even when they lapse into arguments, which they often do. The time mentioned was good for me, so I told her that I would be delighted to attend her church’s study.
                “Wonderful!” she exclaimed, as she clapped her hands together with delight. 
                Then her manner changed.   She looked me up and down before continuing, “By the way, you do have a dress you can wear, don’t you?”
                “No,” I responded, “at this particular time, I don’t own a dress that fits.”
                “No worries,” she countered, “we’ll just get you a dress from the church thrift closet.”
                “Why is that necessary?” I questioned her. “Can’t women wear pants at your church?”
                “No!”  She was quite firm, almost militant, with her answer.  “We voted that women wearing pants and men wearing blue jeans will not be allowed to enter our church.”
                “Do you think Jesus would have denied church entrance to those people?” I wondered.
                “Jesus preached in the wilderness.” She informed me. “He wouldn’t expect people to dress up in the dusty desert.  You don’t have to worry, though.  I am sure that we have several dresses in your size in our thrift closet.”
                “I do not accept charity,” I insisted.  “I don’t need it.”
                “Well, then,” she countered, “You will not be able to attend our Bible Study.”
                “I can live with that,” I replied.
                 Suddenly she was livid. “I will never understand this younger generation!  All the women wear pants, even in sacred places like churches!  And all the men want to wear their hair long hair! It’s disgraceful!”
                “Now wait a minute,” I protested, thinking of my husband and his waist long mane of blond curls. “Jesus had long hair!”
                She glared at me.  “We don’t know that.  All we know is that the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 11 verses 14 and 15 that it’s a sin for a man to have long hair.”
                My mind processed what she said and I could not help but debate the issue. “Do you agree that Jesus never sinned?” I asked her.
                “Absolutely!” she affirmed.  “Jesus was God incarnate and the Bible says that he was without sin.”
                “Do you have a picture of Jesus in your house?” I questioned her.
                “Of course I have a picture of Jesus in my house!” she said proudly. “I love the Lord. I have a picture of Jesus in every room in my house.”
                “Does he have long hair in those pictures?” I inquired.
                She paused.   I could see panic racing in her eyes.  “Well, yes he does, but –“
                I stopped her mid sentence.  “So you have pictures in your house of Jesus sinning?” I demanded to know. “Isn’t that heresy?”
                She did not answer that question.  She stared at me for a minute or two and then very slowly and calmly she whispered, “Your husband is going to leave you. You will have to raise your child alone. May God have mercy on you.”
                And then she left.  I watched as she knocked on the door of my neighbor’s house and began her spiel anew.
                She was right about some things.  My husband did eventually leave me.  I did raise my daughter alone for the first eleven years of her life. God has indeed been merciful to me.  But I still will not attend a church that discriminates against people for something as ridiculous as the way they dress or wear their hair. I don’t believe that God would be there either.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Last American Gladiator

By Slash Coleman

CD Review

Available from CD Baby. $14.95 for the CD; Download MP3 for $9.95.

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

With his latest CD, The Last American Gladiator, Slash Coleman revisits his childhood and shares stories and songs that run the gamut from chasing impossible dreams to realizing his worst fears. His self-effacing delivery and captivating way with words entice us to come along with him on this journey. Enthralled listeners will gladly travel with him as he relives earning his degree from the school of hard knocks and gladly shares the wisdom learned therein.

The Last America Gladiator, the first story on the CD, extols the virtues of having to “wait it out,” as a young Slash schemes to become a gladiator and, simultaneously, get the attention of his third grade teacher, on whom he has a crush. This story delivers the best story quote I have heard in a while: “Every dream should come with a comma.”

Major League Pop Fly is a humorous yet touching tale of baseball, love, and “white man’s perm.” This story is followed by Perpetual Underdog, a dark tale of misplaced trust that almost destroys a family, set in a time where picking up hitchhikers was the norm. As a fan of the dark side, this is the story that settled in my head and traveled with me for days.

The Acquisition of Skipper highlights a clever use of “extreme marketing” at a flea market type event that ends with mom getting a hero and dad becoming a pirate. High School Musical features Slash as a football player wannabe who finds release in the marching band and wrestling, before realizing that he is his own worst enemy.

The CD also features two songs. Believe is an ode to faith in oneself. Flying Lessons is a musical celebration of living one’s dreams.

While I found minor problems with the sound in a few places, the stories are tightly written and memorable. Slash’s delivery is heartfelt and endearing. The responses of his live audience clearly show that they love his tales, as well they should. First and last, Slash Coleman is a gladiator. He knows his arena, and he is not afraid to welcome others into his world.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Quilt of Joy

By Mary Tatem

Book Review

Published by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group
ISBN 978-0-8007-3364-3
www.revellbooks.com $12.99

Reviewed By Linda Goodman

I met Mary Tatem at the Galax Book Festival in June 2011. She had brought forty books with her and had sold out completely within a day. That was quite a feat. Most of the authors there sold between five and ten books the entire weekend. Clearly, the public loves Mary’s Quilt series.

Quilt of Joy, Mary’s latest book, follows the same pattern as her earlier books. Each of its twelve sections spotlights a particular quilt pattern, followed by four stories that involve that pattern in some way. The first section, for instance, begins with a black and white illustration of a Pickle Dish Quilt, a pattern inspired by the cut glass dishes popular between the late eighteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The illustration of the Pickle Dish Quilt is followed the sweet story Sleeping Stitches, in which a man shows his true affection for his dog under cover of his pickle dish quilt, where he is unaware that his wife is listening; the nostalgic Quilted Protection, about Amanda, who wraps her most precious belongings in a pickle dish quilt before leaving home for good with her new husband; the heart-wrenching Ruined Quilt, which finds two girls becoming friends as they share the heartbreak of absent fathers;and Prisoner Stitches,set just after the Civil War, about a stubborn Confederate who refuses to pledge her allegiance to the Federal Government.

Each story is followed by a related Bible Verse, Mary’s thoughts on how the verse and story mesh, and a short prayer.

The stories come from various sources: friends, quilt festivals, quilting guilds, and seeds found in historical stories buried in quilt instruction books.

“When I see a quilt, I feel the tug of the past,” Mary states in the book’s introduction. “Before I begin a quilt I look through my cloth scraps, browse in a fabric store, and leaf through pattern books to plan and dream about the outcome I want to achieve. I find encouragement in knowing that when God created me, he planned me with even more care and foresight.”

This book will be treasured by those who long for comfort in trying times. I gave a copy to a friend whose husband had recently been diagnosed with a serious illness, and she said that reading its stories gives her hope and peace. I felt those same emotions as I read them. This is a good book to have on hand when life gets to be too much with us. Its stories make the reader believe that, in spite of life’s turbulence, everything will be okay.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Woman Who Sold Winds & Other Tales of the Sea

By Ralph Chatham

Reviewed By Linda Goodman

Available from
Curmudgeon Story & Whistle Works
email: Ralph.Chatham@verizon.net
$10.00 + postage

I was particularly excited to listen to Ralph Chatham’s CD The Woman Who Sold Winds & Other Tales of the Sea, not only because it boasts a story that Ralph’s telling presented to perfection at March’s VASA Gathering, but because it was not recorded using the usual professional route. The stories on this CD were recorded with Apple’s Garage Band and imported into iTunes, all standard software with Macintosh computers these days.

The CD begins with an introduction detailing how “compost heaps and pounding in tomato stakes” directly led to the narrator’s love affair with the sea. That love is clearly evident as one listens to Thar She Blows, a whale hunting adventure sprinkled with humor that is generously provided by a cantankerous captain. Humor also reigns in Ma’am Hacket’s Compost Heap, in which a first mate tries, in vain, to take charge when an ailing captain with a heightened sense of taste takes to his bed. Both of these stories are told with a thick Maine accent that can be difficult to understand if you are not familiar with it. Also, sea terms are used that may not be understood by land lovers. I found it helpful to listen to each story twice.

The crown jewel on this CD is the story that was told at the VASA Gathering, The Kelpie’s Bride. This haunting story alone is worth the price of the CD and more. Using a wonderfully deep and silky voice, Chatham flawlessly spins this love story of the beautiful and spoiled Constance and her step sister Sarah, a young woman whose beauty takes time and effort. Showcased is the Cinderella theme without the Cinderella villains. Constance and her mother, we are told, are not cruel; only indifferent. Enter a king who puts his true love’s happiness above his own, and fairy tale magic is made. I listened to this story three times just for the beauty of its rich detail and breathtaking images.

The Yarn of the Nancy Bell is a story poem about cannibalism at sea. The Nautilus and the P-3, a funny story about a cultural exchange during the cold war, was recorded live at a story slam held during the 2008 National Storytelling Conference in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Chatham should be proud of the 8.5 score he received.

The CD’s title story The Woman Who Sold Winds is set in Maine, where a witch uses her wares to convince a local captain to bet that his ship will reach Boston ahead of a foreigner’s. Adventure ensues, as the witch works behinds the scene.

With a disclaimer that I have no technical recording expertise whatsoever, I must say that I am impressed with the sound produced by Apple’s Garage Band, coupled with iTunes. I saw no difference between the sound quality of this CD and that of others I have reviewed (though my husband did). This CD would have benefitted from some editing on a few of the stories to eliminate stray um’s and ah’s and the like. There is also too much dead space between stories. These, however, are minor details and, since Chatham churns these CDs out one at a time, can be easily fixed for your listening pleasure. His telling of The Kelpie Bride is now on my short list of haunting stories. This story will lurk in my mind and inspire me to work harder at my own art. Such excellence makes me proud to be a storyteller.