CHOOSING WILBUR

Michael Caine as Dr. Wilbur Larch  (Wikipedia photo)

Michael Caine as Dr. Wilbur Larch (Wikipedia photo)

CIDAR HOUSE RULES, novel by John Irving.

CIDER HOUSE RULES, novel by John Irving

Many years ago, before my dad’s Alzheimer’s distracted my mom’s writing, and then her own dementia stopped the writing altogether, she had an idea for an adult short story. Prior to that, she’d written children’s stories and poetry.

The idea for the story grew out of an actual event, a hurtful situation caused by a member of the family, and it had nagged at Mom for a long time. She wanted to write it just for herself—to sort it out and get it off her chest, like writers sometimes do—but in case it was ever accidentally found, she wanted to use a fictional location and names for the characters.

Many of the writers in my classes use books of baby names, search telephone books for name ideas, or read headstones at cemeteries.  Another way to study names for characters is read a lot of stories and novels.

Author John Irving’s books contain a variety of fictional characters’ names: Garp, Egg, Owen Meany, Piggy Sneed, etc. One of my favorite Irving novels, CIDER HOUSE RULES, features Dr. Wilbur Larch’s orphanage for children whose mothers did not come to him for abortions, but ended up abandoning their babies after giving birth.

One of the babies who was unsuccessfully adopted several times had been named Homer by Dr. Larch. As an adult, Homer helped choose names for other orphan babies, so the book is full of names. One charming practice at the orphanage is Dr. Larch reading aloud to the orphan boys each night, and closing with this tribute: “Good night, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England.” I suspected Mom would choose one of the female characters’ names for her story, and if her story had included a male, she might also have considered the name Wilbur.

If I had a son, I would not name him Wilbur. But through good writing and story telling, I have appreciation for the name. In E.B. White’s 1952 classic, CHARLOTTE’S WEB, the barn spider’s friend is Wilbur the pig.  Wm. Joyce’s book, A DAY WITH WILBUR ROBINSON, is about a twelve-year-old searching for a pair of false teeth. And then there’s Wilbur Wright, co-inventor and co-pilot of the first successful airplane.

Even though the dementia has erased the story Mom wrote and the search for alternate names, I close this post with a tribute to her: “Good night, you princess of Kansas, you queen of kind living and gentle lessons.”

On my walk near the Garden of the Gods yesterday, I saw children with their pet pig.  His name?  Wilbur.  Their advice:

On my walk near the Garden of the Gods yesterday, I saw children with their pet pig. His name? Wilbur. Their advice: “Don’t get too close. He’s hungry.”

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Filed under Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Kansas, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, special quotations, writing, writing exercises

DOUBLE DOG DARE

Excuse me...double dog dare?  Really?  (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

Excuse me…double dog dare? Really?  I don’t think so.  Sounds like a dare a cat would make.   (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

JUNE: the Ancient Romans named this month after the goddess Juno, the patron of marriage—think “June bride”—and June also comes from the Latin word “juvenio” (referring to young people). Juvenile is an excellent way to see the special day of June 1st: DARE DAY.    Not D.A.R.E., the Drug Abuse Resistance Education for students, and also not the first Saturday in June when Dare County, England celebrates its Dare Day.

June 1st DARE DAY is for daring someone to do something risky.   The dare can be heightened by the “double dog dare,” and the highest degree of challenge is the “triple dog dare.”   Whatever that means. The specific rules and consequences are up for grabs, embellished for effect, but often the outcome is dangerous or out-of-character behavior. Which is a good reason why the goddess Juno was also responsible for looking after the well being of women and girls…who might be “dared” to do things they don’t want to do.

When I was growing up, one of the things that got my mother quickly involved was to hear children “dare” another child to do something.   Mom equated dares with the acts of bullies and cowards who prodded others to do something against their best interests.   I remember one day when she overrode a double dog dare by sending me to my room to sort out WHY I had thought making such a challenge was a helpful thing to do to anyone.

At its personal best, DARE DAY on June 1st can be a day to challenge yourself to take a risk, meet a goal, or make yourself do something you’ve been meaning to do but keep putting off.

Michael Jackson wrote this about taking dares: “In a world filled with hate, we must still dare to hope. In a world filled with anger, we must still dare to comfort. In a world filled with despair, we must still dare to dream. And in a world filled with distrust, we must still dare to believe.”

On June 1st, if we have no personal challenges or dares to give ourselves, we can choose one from Jackson’s list above. Or we can send ourselves to our rooms to think quietly until we create our own personal and positive dare.

Who would dare a kid to try to push over a huge boulder in the Garden of the Gods?

Who would dare a kid to try to push over a huge boulder in Colorado’s Garden of the Gods?

What if someone triple dog dares you to pierce your eyebrow?

What if someone triple dog dared you to pierce your eyebrow?

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Ooops!

It would be a mistake to hire a 4-year-old to be your carpenter.  Cute, maybe, but still a mistake.  (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

It would be a mistake to hire a 4-year-old to be your carpenter. Cute, maybe, but still a mistake. (Pictures by Marylin Warner)

 

 

Using the wrong fork is  embarrassing, but it's a minor mistake.

Using the wrong fork is embarrassing, but it’s a minor mistake.

 

Texting and speeding and driving the wrong way is a serious mistake.

Texting or speeding and driving the wrong way can be a very serious mistake.

Years ago, before my dad’s Alzheimer’s and my mother’s dementia, they were included in a tour of one of the 3M facilities. When I asked how they’d liked it, my dad told me details from a businessman’s perspective. My mom’s perspective was different.

She remembered ACM—the initials of Acrylate Copolymer Microspheres—from the tour. She nicknamed them “A Creative Mistake,” and they became an inspiration.

In 1968 3M intended to create a super strong adhesive for the aerospace industry. But there was a mistake in the plan, and the end result was an incredibly weak product.  Years later, the reworked mistake became Press’n Peel, a low-tack, reusable pressure-sensitive adhesive.  The final name was of the product was Post-It notes, which became very successful.

Writer Oscar Wilde said, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.”  Or as my mother and I would have paraphrased it: Post-It is the name of mistakes that became successes because somebody didn’t give up.”   We agreed Post-Its should be a standard tool for writers, to stick on pages needing better ideas and corrections…and also serve as a reminder not to give up.

Some mistakes have tragic consequences, and I certainly am not making light of  life-changing, heart-breaking mistakes. For this post, however, I salute the discouraging but not serious mistakes we all make that can be redeemed or redefined if we don’t give up.

Mary Pickford, an early motion picture actress and one of the pioneers of Hollywood, became a co-founder of United Artists film studios. Along the way, she faced many problems, and this was her advice. “If you have made mistakes, there is always another chance for you. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”

I can’t resist concluding with a “mistake” made by a man who decided to shoot an armadillo. (Can’t you see “mistake” written all over this already?)   He didn’t realize how tough the hide was, and the bullet bounced off the armadillo and hit his mother-in-law. She wasn’t seriously hurt, but this reminds me of something my mother often said: “Some mistakes require a whole lot more than just saying ‘Ooops’ to fix them.”

armadillo

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WHAT CAN’T BE BOUGHT

four bills

 

 

 

 

How would you vote about the face that should replace Andrew Jackson's?  (Money pictures by Marylin Warner)

How would you vote about the face that should replace Andrew Jackson’s? (Money pictures by Marylin Warner)

I was in elementary school when “play money” became popular. Not just because of the game of Monopoly, but also because of the packages of miniature paper money of all denominations and plastic circles painted to look like quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. The packages could be purchased (with real money) at all kinds of stores, and one newspaper reported that Playing House had been replaced by Playing Bank.

About that same time, I was given a $3.00 bill.   Funny money.   There were two different versions: Lucille Ball of “I Love Lucy” was pictured on one; the version I was given had W.C. Fields’ picture, and beneath it were the words “A Sucker is Born Every Minute.” The adults thought it was funny; I didn’t get the joke. There wasn’t even a denomination printed on the funny money, so what was it worth?

My mother  just smiled said that money was only as good as the good it could do and the necessary things it could purchase.  I asked her who she thought should be pictured on real paper money. We talked about it and decided on Helen Keller, because she knew first hand that many things were much, much more important than the things money could buy.

Since 1928, the face of Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the United States, has appeared on the $20 bill. Currently there’s a big push to change that. Women on 20s would replace Jackson with a woman by 2020, 100 years after women were given the right to vote.

Online responses have so far listed these four historical women as favorites: Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, and Cherokee Nation Chief Wilma Mankiller. If these are the final choices, I’d vote for Wilma Mankiller because Andrew Jackson signed and enforced the Indian Removal Act which relocated Native Tribes to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). It was a horrible “removal” of tribes and families, so I’d like to see Jackson “removed” from the $20 bill and replaced by a Cherokee Nation Chief.   But that’s just my opinion.

This is one of the many times when I wish my mother’s dementia would fade away and she could tell me what she thinks.  I can guess, but not be certain, that she would wonder why no one is voting for Helen Keller.   I think she’d say that many things are much more important than money, and we need to remember that.

Two of the finalists from the responses so far.

Two of the finalists from the responses so far.

Some of the numerous women proposed to replace Jackson on the $20 bill.  (These pictures from NBC news)

Some of the numerous women proposed to replace Jackson on the $20 bill. (These pictures from NBC news)

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BUTTERFLY McQUEEN KNEW THE TRUTH

One of the posters for GONE WITH THE WIND (Wikipedia)

One of the posters for GONE WITH THE WIND (Wikipedia)

 

 

 

Playing the part of Prissy, the talent Butterfly McQueen admits the truth. (Wikipedia picture)

Playing the part of Prissy, the talented Butterfly McQueen admits the truth. (Wikipedia picture)

My favorite story about my mom at a movie happened months before my older brother was born. Mom was five months pregnant with David, and miserably uncomfortable after eating a salad that included onions, radishes, cucumbers and beets (she said she’d been craving fresh vegetables).  Afterward, she went to an afternoon matinee of the reissued GONE WITH THE WIND.

Twice during the movie Mom offended the people sitting in front of her. The first time was during the powerful scene at the Civil War-ruined plantation, Tara, when a starving Scarlett O’Hara is on her knees in the garden, digging for something to eat. She holds up a turnip and swears: “…If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill—as God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!”

It’s a dramatic turning point in the movie, but as Mom told me many years later, the timing was horrible. Scarlett’s turnip wasn’t as gaseous as Mom’s lunch, and her stomach chose that moment to groan and produce a very loud, smelly belch. Mom said, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” and the couple waved their hands in front of their faces.

But then later, it was the actress Butterfly McQueen, playing the show-stealing part of the slave Prissy, who admitted the truth when Scarlett told her to help Miss Melanie with labor and delivery. In her emotionally distraught scene, Prissy cries out, “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ babies!” At this point, my mother couldn’t help laughing, and she said out loud, “Amen to that!” The couple in front of her got up and moved.

And the truth of the matter, according to my mother, is that very few of us know about “birthin’ babies” ~ and we know even less about raising them. But love saves us, so we do the best we can and figure it out as we go along. But when she said that, she smiled and added with absolute certainty that it was also very much worth the effort, and she wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

This post is a Thank You to my mom, for her humor, her faith, her kindness, love and steadfast goodness, and her openness to making mistakes and sharing embarrassing stories. The dementia has made her forget the wonderful differences she’s made in the lives of so many people, especially children, but I remember.

Happy Mother’s Day, dear Mom, as well as Grandmother’s Day, Great-Grandmother’s Day, and all-round Great Woman’s day!

Helen Allingham's 1872 "Hanging the Washing, a Beautiful Spring Morning"

Helen Allingham’s 1872 “Hanging the Washing, a Beautiful Spring Morning”

 

Jan Zotelief Tromp's "In the Fields with Katia" (1892) shows a true working mother.

Jan Zotelief Tromp’s “In the Fields with Katia” (1892) shows a true working mother.

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SIT A SPELL

Painting by Vincent Van Gogh

Painting by Vincent Van Gogh

 

 

My grandmother's dining room chairs were all hand carved.

My grandmother’s dining room chairs were all hand carved.

In addition to being royal thrones and pieces of architecture and sculptures on display, for the most part chairs are practical, useful, and common pieces of furniture. The basics include potty chairs, high chairs, lawn chairs, folding chairs and rocking chairs.  If you want to make an elite statement, the Chippendale chairs continue to be the popular, collectible and outlandishly expensive choices.

Times change, and tastes in chairs—and thinking—also change. As Jean Kerr wrote, “When the grandmothers of today hear the word ‘Chippendales’, they don’t necessarily think of chairs.”

My mother and I have always loved chairs of all kinds. One of my favorite expressions I heard her say, as well as my grandmother, an aunt, and several older neighbors say, was “Come on in and sit a spell.”   What I loved best about the invitation was the word “spell.” Of course it meant to sit awhile, but to me it also cast a spell and became something magical. Being with friends, sharing conversation, ideas, and cookies with iced tea, hot tea or coffee created a special moment in time.

Which is why, for me, the best spell-casting chairs are created by hand. And to make these four chairs below extra special, they are all from the children’s section at the Chapman, KS library when I was there recently. To my way of thinking, when you combine excited young readers with happy, creative chairs, you create magic.  As author Stephen King said, “You can’t deny laughter; when it comes, it plops down in your favorite chair and stays as long as it wants.”

giraffe chairTiger chair bird chairZEBRA chair

 

 

 

 

As H.Jackson Brown Jr. wrote: “A true friend encourages us, comforts us and supports us like a big easy chair, offering us a safe refuge from the world.”

This first week of May, I hope we’ll all be aware of the gentle rocking chairs in our lives, the given-new-life hand-painted chairs, and the true friends who encourage, comfort and support us, offering safe refuge from the world.

Our favorite chairs, hand painted for us by our daughter for our anniversary.  "Picasso" chairs with messages on the seats: (left) "It takes a long time to grow young."  And (right) "Everything you can imagine is real."

Our favorite chairs, hand painted for us by our daughter for our anniversary. “Picasso” chairs with messages on the seats: (left) “It takes a long time to grow young.” And (right) “Everything you can imagine is real.”

 

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FRIED DANDELIONS

Excellent dandelions to fry, without the

Excellent dandelions to fry, without the “violet” weeds.

More good dandelions for frying, but not with the bee.

More good dandelions for frying, but not with the bee.

When I was growing up and looked forward to something in the future, my dad would remind me not to wish my life away, but enjoy today and make the most of it.

He was right, bless his heart, but today I can’t resist telling you to look forward to—and also prepare for—three special days. Stay with me here; there will also be a recipe for you gourmets with a hankering for an unusual yellow delicacy.

Here are the special days at the beginning of May that you might want to circle on your calendars: May 1st and 2nd are Dandelion Days; May 3rd is Garden Meditation Day; and (drum roll, please) the first Saturday in May is World Naked Gardening Day.  If you want to combine celebrations and spend May 2nd and 3rd meditating in your garden while also contemplating your navel, go for it. I’ll focus on Dandelion Days. Classis cover: Dandelion Wine

Many years ago, Ray Bradbury wrote a novel titled DANDELION WINE. In this story about the simple joys of small town life, the main character, Douglas Spaulding, has a grandfather who makes dandelion wine. He packs the joys of summer into every bottle. (There’s more to the plot, but I don’t want to have to give a Spoiler Alert.)

My mother has never been much of a wine drinker…and never a wine maker. But she knew that, for me, dandelions were the happiest sign of spring. I was the child who picked lots of dandelions, arranged them in jelly glasses, and left them on window ledges and tables around the house. I was also known to rub the blossoms on my hands and face to make “beautiful” yellow circles. (I was just a child, okay?)

She and I didn’t make Dandelion Wine, but we did concoct a recipe for Fried Dandelions.

~ Gather a lot of fresh (never sprayed for weeds) dandelions with firm yellow blossoms.

~ Remove stems, wash blossoms and set aside in cold water.

~ In a saucepan, combine chopped scallions (or leeks), and a handful of chopped walnuts or pecans with enough olive oil or melted butter to coat the bottom of the pan. Saute on medium-high heat while you shake the excess cold water off the dandelion flowers and then roll them in flour or corn meal.

~ Toss them into the pan. Add pinches of sea salt,  shakes of pepper and dill weed, and sprinkles of sugar and paprika. My mom added a little garlic to almost everything, but it’s optional if you’re not big on garlic. Add other spices you like. Stir the concoction in the olive oil or butter on higher heat until the blossoms look crispy and/or your mouth is watering.

~ Serve hot. Preferably with cold iced tea. If someone won’t try your fried dandelions, even if you offer Ranch Dressing on the side, say, “Yea! More for me,” or ignore them. They probably will also stick up their noses at other spring delights, including Garden Meditation Day and Naked Gardening Day. You can’t please everyone.

This delightful recipe is a springtime gift to you from Mary Ibbeth and her daughter Mayno. We both wish you a very happy, gourmet May Day…and entire month.

Stars of Bethlehem, another underappreciated

Stars of Bethlehem, another underappreciated “weed” ~ the flowers are supposedly medicinal, but the bulb bases are poisonous. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

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Filed under Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, gardening, memories for great-grandchildren