The Tornado

Grief is the great leveler,
like a tornado
destroying indiscriminately
everything in its path.
It blew my house down.
It took away my appetite
and my sleep.

It makes me cry in public
when I least expect or want to.
It’s affected my relationships
personally and professionally.
It left a gaping hole in my heart
where I continue to bleed out.

But life goes on
whether I’m ready or not.
Society expects me to carry on and
go to work,
shop for groceries,
pay my bills,
do my laundry,
and talk to people.

When all I really want to do
is go to the highest rooftop
and shout out at the top of my lungs,
“Didn’t you hear me?
My dad died!”

Written by Susan, June 2011, in memory of
her beloved father, Donald (1926-2011)

The Ghosts in Dad’s House

I walk into the Tahoe house my Dad lived in for 26 years and the first thing I notice is how quiet it is.  A house that once held two lives is now home to none and it’s eerily quiet.  Mom passed away 14 years ago, but Dad stayed and had 12 more great years before he had to move into assisted living at the age of 82.  The house has been quiet for 18 months now and my job is to pack up the family valuables and bring them home for safekeeping.

The second thing I notice inside the house is that my Dad’s ball caps and jackets are hanging on the coat rack near the front door.  I’m thinking he’s just gone to the store and will be right back.  I unpack my stuff in the guest bedroom and I can hear his footsteps in the hallway, but then I realize it’s only my imagination.

I, too, lived in Tahoe and was very close to my parents during the 13 years I lived here.  We spent a lot of time together and had a lot of fun.  It wasn’t all good though; my Mom died in this house after a two-year battle with lung cancer.

Everywhere I look and everything I touch brings back memories. I go through every cupboard and closet and pack up anything that holds meaning. I take down the family photos hanging on the walls and wrap them in newspaper.  I take the griddle that my Dad cooked potato pancakes on, his specialty.  I take the relish dish that my mother used to serve sweet pickles and olives at Thanksgiving for 40 years.  I take the rolling pin my mother used make her perfect pies.  And her meatloaf pan – God bless mom’s meatloaf and tater tots.

I look at the bar and think about all the years my Dad and I used to sit there sipping a cocktail before dinner while we played backgammon for fifty cents a game.  We were very competitive and many an expletive were exchanged.

After an exhausting day physically and emotionally, I try to sleep, but I can’t stop thinking about Mom and Dad and all the memories in this house and the tape just keeps looping in my head.  Even though my Dad is still alive, I feel really sad that these two lives have come to an end.  At least the two lives that lived in this house.  I start to cry and then I hear my mother’s voice in my head.  She says, “Don’t be sad, we had a lot of fun and I don’t want you to be sad.”  That’s just enough to comfort me to sleep.

It comes as somewhat of a surprise that my Dad was a pack rat or a “hoarder,” as we call them nowadays.  He was a very neat pack rat and had an orderly method to his madness, but he was still a pack rat, nonetheless.  I found four (count ’em, four!) five-lb. bags of sugar in the pantry and wondered what single man needs that much sugar?  This is undoubtedly the trail of a man who grew up during the Depression – he loved a good sale.

He was an avid golfer and saved every golf course score card for 12 years and rubber banded them together.  I guess he thought he might need them someday.  I found two Playboy Magazines from 2007 (he was 81 years old).  I took the little plastic file box that holds my Mom’s 3”x5” recipe cards, including her meatloaf recipe.  I took two music boxes that belonged to my grandmother, and my dad’s piggy bank from when he was a little boy.

I found the family silverware, my Dad’s college yearbooks from 1949 and 1950, and the three-tiered candy dish my grandparents used to fill with candy for my two brothers and me when we visited.  I took the Velkommen Danish flag that I bought for my half-Danish Dad at the Scandanavian Festival in Modesto many years ago.  We loved to joke and say, “Velkommen…now go Hommen!”

I’m overwhelmed with grief and sadness and have to sit down and cry, as I feel the pain of what it’s going to be like when my Dad passes and he’s gone forever.  It’s debilitating now, so I can’t imagine what it will feel like when the time actually comes.

Written by Susan
Copyright September 2010

Why Do Cows Moo?

Sitting here with Dad in Bodega Bay listening to the cows “moo,” I asked him, “Hey Dad, why do cows moo?”  He did something that he’s never done before.  He paused and said, “I don’t know.”

Now, you have to understand that my father is one of the smartest men on the planet and he always has an answer for everything.  I was surprised that he didn’t know the answer to this one, but I loved the fact that he cheerfully admitted he didn’t know the answer. He said it with a certain sense of puzzlement and curiosity, which ultimately propelled me to look it up online.

So then I Googled, “why do cows moo,” and there were some interesting responses.  The standard answers were that they’re just communicating, they want to be milked, there’s another animal coming, they’re expressing themselves, etc., but here are some other online answers:

·      Because, if they made the sound of a carrot the rabbits would eat them

·      Because woof, meow, neigh and squeal were already taken.

·      Because they have a hard time getting their tongue around their mouths to say the sound “N.”  If they could we’d know they are not trying to say “moo,” but really trying to say “Moon.”  Few people know the cow is actually from the moon, and they migrated to earth to bring us tasty cheese (the moon is made of cheese).  Hence the rhyme “…the cow jumped over the moon.”

·      95% of a cow’s gas comes out when a cow moos, so a moo is partially a form of burping.

·      Because they can.

·      Because the sheep already had dibs on ‘Baaah’ and the pigs had dibs on ‘Oink.’

·      Because they can’t say “AFLAC!”

·      So Old McDonald would have a song.

·      To get to the other side.

·      It is definitely because they want fooooood.  But the ancient farmers got tired of the cows asking for fooooooood so they continued to beat them.  The cows being the smart alecs they are decided to change it to mooo instead.  Then the farmers got tired of beating the cows so they just gave up.   Pretty soon it was all but forgotten, but then I uncovered this secret from the Government, along with the fact that Abraham Lincoln was actually a Yettie and it was the Yettiesburg address instead of the Gettysburg address.  But that is a story for another time.

·      Moo is short for “moon”, and cows like to jump over it when nobody is watching.

·      Because they can’t type with their hooves.

·      Because in “Cowese,” “Moo” means “Pull my finger.”

·      You’re just jealous because you can’t moo.

·      So they can be herd.

Written by by Susan in Bodega Bay, CA
© 2010

Ode to Creme Brulee

12 Reasons Why Creme Brulee is Better Than Sex

1.             It’s pure and matter-of-fact in its simple form.

2.             It’s warm.

3.             It’s creamy.

4.             It’s sweet.

5.             It’s crusty on top.

6.             It’s a guaranteed good time.

7.             I can’t catch anything from it (except calories).

8.             It’s always satisfying.

9.             I can have it when I want it.

10.          It lasts longer than 10 minutes.

11.          It doesn’t have any baggage.

12.          There’s very little cleanup afterward.

Written By Susan
Copyright 2004
All Rights Reserved

Bird Voyeurs

Birds and herds
of cows
and mule deer
grazing freely

Downey woodpecker
upside down
Antelope squirrel
right side up

Golden eagle rests treetop
hiding his wingspan
House finches
at home singing

Black-billed Magpie
cries yak yak yak
Junco sporting
his black hood

Coopers hawk flies low
Red tail screaming loudly
blue sky ceiling and
river flowing west to east

Mallards know their way
Remote rangelands
offer silence to the soul
Heartbeats ringing.

Written by Susan in Nevada
Copyright January 2003
All Rights Reserved
Thanks, Rick!

 

I Am a Writer

Ah, to be a writer.  What does it take, and how do you know if you have it?  When do you cross over from being an aspiring writer, to a real writer?  When do you become comfortable calling yourself a writer?  Can you look someone in the eye and say with confidence, “I am a writer!”?

I am 42 years old, and I have been writing since I was a child.  I still have the first poem I wrote when I was 7.  It was about flowers.  I now have an entire six-foot shelf of 3-inch binders containing my writings for the past 35 years.  I have chronicled my life by writing poetry, prose, journal work and essays.  By the simple measure of time and space, I guess you could call me a writer.

I also belong to a book club, a writers’ group, and the National League of American Pen Women, all of which meet monthly.  In the book club we get together because we like to read good literature.  The writers’ group meets to share its writing, to network, and to support each other.  The Pen Women is a professional group of artists, musicians and writers, and I am proud to be included.  Judging by my mere associations, I guess you could say I am a writer.

It is, of course, every writer’s dream to be published.  We tend to measure our success by whether or not we have been published, and we spend a lot of time and energy working toward this fantasy.  I have my share of rejection letters, but my own personal dream of getting published finally came true, and I am happy to say that I have been paid and published several times.  So I suppose by most industry standards, getting paid and published would be the mark of a true writer.

But for me, what really defines a writer is the simple and basic need to write.  It is a primordial instinct.  I write because I was born this way.  I write because I have to.  Not for money or notoriety, and not for the accolades.  I write whether anybody reads it or not.  I carry a pen and paper with me at all times, and my only goal is to keep writing, and maybe perhaps improve.  Writing defines me, and I express myself best through the written word.  Writing is my past, my present, and my future.  Writing is also my friend.  Because I can’t imagine my life without writing, I guess I must be a writer.

Written by Susan
Copyright 1999, All Rights Reserved
Published in the Tahoe Daily Tribune
March 8, 2003

The Walking Wounded

If we could see the wounds we bear
that we have carried with us in this life,
we would see a trail of blood
and the red drips that hit the pavement
below us as we walk on.

We would see the holes in our hearts,
left there by the greedy takers
who abandoned us after they were done
taking the love we had to give.

We would see our faces awash in the tears
that we’ve shed year after year
from the loss, disappointment, heartache
and deceit we have been forced to bear.

We would see our hands,
left dried and callous
from the worried wringing
we have endured over the years.

We would see our feet,
the same feet that carried us
mile after mile
through this life of uncertainty,
blistered
because we trudged on dutifully.

We would see all the scars
left on our skin
from the accidents
and the not-so-accidents,
pieced together in a tapestry of pain.

We would see our backs,
broken down from years of abuse,
and from the time we’ve spent
carrying our own burdens.

We would see our tired minds
which have turned to mush;
tired from trying to make sense of it all.

We would see our eyes,
left hollowed and dazed
by the horrific sights
to which we have borne witness.

We would see our inner child
whose needs were never met,
but who continues to play,
naively and idealistically.

We would see our breasts,
no longer believing in the old adage,
‘hope springs eternal,’
for we have nearly given up.

If we could see the wounded,
we would see the sad souls
who have been left black and blue
by the beatings of this life,
but who continue to walk on
despite the hurt.

Written by Susan
Copyright 1999, All Rights Reserved

Thanksgiving 1998

The sun was shining brilliantly as my Dad and I drove down Highway 49 toward Groveland, where we’d be spending the holiday weekend with family. We couldn’t have been more thankful for the fair weather on this holiday, considering the fact that the last two weeks had been overcast and gray.

We looked for a place to eat along the way but, because it was Thanksgiving Day, most of the restaurants were closed. We continued south through the gold country, passing through such quaint towns as Sutter Creek, Jackson, San Andreas and Angels’ Camp. By the time we got to Sonora, we were pretty hungry.

We found a restaurant that was open, a cute little Italian place. We parked the car, walked inside and sat down. I noticed that there were a couple of other tables with customers who turned their heads to look at us. It was one of those moments where you instantly feel out of place and you know something’s off, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.

Despite our intuition, we sat down at a table. Our server was a young boy who cheerfully said hello and wiped our table. His mother brought us each a glass of water in styrofoam cups. (Hmm.) I smiled and said, “So, what’s good to eat?” The boy replied, “Well, we have turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes.” I said, “Oh, we don’t want that, we’re going to get plenty of turkey and stuffing tonight, right Dad?” Dad smiled, and agreed. I asked for a menu, but the boy just look kind of puzzled, so I said, “Do you have any sandwiches or anything like that?” The boy shrugged his shoulders, and said “Yeah, I guess we could make you a sandwich.”

After a quick glance over at my Dad, I looked around the room and noticed that several of the patrons were staring at us. I also saw a refrigerator full of beer and wine, and brought it to my Dad’s attention. “Well, at least you can get a beer or a glass of wine here, Dad.” The boy looked at me again, and asked me what I wanted to eat. In a last ditch effort, I said “Do you have anything else to eat?” He said “no.”

There was a long pause until I looked at my Dad and said, “Well, I think we’re in the wrong place, so I guess we should be going.” I smiled at the boy as I grabbed my leather jacket and my purse, and asked “Is there any other place to eat in this town?” Once again, the boy said “No.” So we thanked him, wished him a Happy Thanksgiving, and got up and walked out as the customers watched with great curiosity.

It wasn’t until we got outside, that we noticed the easel on the sidewalk right in front of the door. In bright and colorful chalky letters, it said “THANKSGIVING DINNER FOR THE HOMELESS AND LONELY.”

This true story was written by Susan
Copyright 1998, All Rights Reserved
Winner – 2nd Place Prose Competition
NorCal Letters Competition
National League of American Pen Women
South Lake Tahoe Branch

I Would Tell Them

Cigarettes killed my mother.  She got lung cancer after smoking for 52 years.  It took her two years to die.  Two years is a long time.

My doctor tells me that the life expectancy for the average woman today is 78 years, and that if I take good care of myself, I can expect to live that long, problem-free.  My mother was 68.

Every time I see a smoker in public, I want to take them by the hand and tell them my story.  I want to put my arm around them and let my heart do the talking.

I would tell them that they are victims, and point out that they have been seduced by a combination of peer pressure and alluring tobacco advertising.  I would tell them that I look at the tobacco companies as literal “drug dealers.”

I would also tell them how much I loved my mother, and how much I miss her.  How even now, after nearly two years, I still can’t believe she is gone.  Sometimes I feel like throwing a tantrum; like a two-year old, until she comes back.

I would tell them about my anger.  Not that I am mad at her, but more about how angry I am that I don’t have a mother anymore.  Especially what it feels like when Mother’s Day rolls around, or her birthday, or Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I would tell them that I am in my forties now, and as many before me had predicted, these are the best years of my life.  I have found myself, my calling and my writing.  Good things are happening for me, and I am finally getting it right.  Only she is not here to appreciate it, and she is not here to say, “I told you so.”

I would tell them about my friend Diana, whose mother died last year from lung cancer, the result of second-hand smoke.  Diana’s mother never smoked, but she married and lived with a heavy smoker for 32 years.  Diana already knows.

I would tell them how much I miss my mother’s friendship, our mother/daughter shopping trips and lunches together, and our talks on the deck.  I would tell them how much her husband misses her, and how much her children and grandchildren miss her.  They each have a story all their own.

I would tell them that the world has been slighted by her passing.  Because she was thoughtful, honest, selfless, loyal and sentimental, and because we need more like her.

I would tell them how I have carried on after her death, and that I have finally stopped crying.  But I would also tell them about the huge hole in my heart.

I would tell them, but would they listen?

Written by Susan, 1998
Copyright 1998, All Rights Reserved
Published in the Tahoe Mountain News, August 1998
Published in the Tahoe Daily Tribune, July 10, 1998.

Route 187

She had grown accustomed to the routine. As Nina drove to the office, she thought about the usual things: traffic, the weather, her plans for the upcoming weekend, and how she would endure another day typing for the attorney.  Lost in the details of her well-worn existence, she hadn’t noticed that her rear view mirror had suddenly grown dark.

Shifting from her daydream to the circumstance at hand, she noticed that behind her trailed a van driven by hurried teenagers following only a few feet from her bumper. Not one to give in to intimidation from other drivers, or anyone else for that matter, she casually sang along to the Top 40 hit on the radio, ignoring the nuisance on her tail.  After all, she was doing the speed limit in the slow lane, and if the van wanted to pass, there was plenty of room to do so.  She kept singing and they kept tailgating.

The van quickly swerved into the left lane, picking up speed to pass.  Continuing to sing along with the music on the radio, she looked to the left at the speeding van as it gained momentum.  The boys looked to the right at her car as they passed, and saw the young woman’s lips moving quickly and rhythmically. They assumed that she was cursing them, but she was only singing.

The male passenger drew the handgun from his waist, aimed and fired at her. In a split second, her world exploded as the bullet shattered the window.  It tore into Nina’s left shoulder and through her chest, resting on the inside of her lung.  Her car swerved onto the dirt shoulder and came to a standstill between the trees.

As the boys sped away, turning their backs on the tragedy that had just unfolded, the last few breaths of life began to pass through Nina’s mangled lung. She felt the warmth of her blood as it trickled down her arm and chest.  As her lobe filled with fluid, she coughed and gasped. She was lucid enough to know that she only had a few breaths left. A flurry of thoughts ripped through her mind. She knew she didn’t want to die, but mostly she worried about how her family would handle the news, and she grieved for them.

Down to her last breath, she heard the sirens as she began to fade between the darkness and the light.  She felt her chest sink, but it did not inflate again. She struggled one last time to breathe and as she gasped for air, her body jerked beneath the sheets.

Written by Susan
Copyright 1998, All Rights Reserved

Death Row

Trapped in a day job,
serving out a life sentence,
she began to feel the pressure
of the office walls closing in around her.

She watched the clock daily
with a keen eye,
marking time until the weekend
or even better, her vacation.

Ball and chained to the telephone,
she resented its very existence.
Everybody wanted something
and nobody ever said thanks.

She was troubled by the thought
of giving her life away
to a boss who always ignored her,
as if she were invisible.

But day in and day out
she did her duty faithfully
while the waves of boredom
surged over her in rhythm.

Oh sure, she had a good job.
It paid the bills and
sustained her routine existence.
But a good job wasn’t what she wanted.

She dreamt about freedom
and the luxury of spare time.
Of not having to be somewhere
every day, all day.

Time to think and write and create,
a chance to find herself
and live in tune
with the music of her soul.

She wondered what the purpose was
of typing
and filing
and answering the phone.

In the end she’ll have to ask herself,
Would she be remembered?
Had she made a difference?
Did she matter?
Was it worth it?

Written by Susan
Copyright 1998, All Rights Reserved

Raindrop Water Ballet

giant
rain
drops
bouncing
spraying
hundreds at a time

dancing
silver
fairies
rapid
rhythmic
no two the same

hailing
splashing
hitting
hard
and fast
white drops
against dark pavement

springing
leaping
hopping
prancing
jumping

fluttering
flickering
quivering
luminous
halo rings

pearly
translucent
beads
sparkle and
burst

twinkling
radiant
circles of splendor
gracing this earth

Written by Susan during a Tahoe rain storm
Copyright 1998, All Rights Reserved

The Sojourn

Her sight was suddenly blinded
by the glory of the sun.
She was taken by its glare
and paused to wonder.

Catching her breath,
she managed to freeze
for a moment’s time
the essence of her life
and its sensations
in a dream,
not as it really was but
as she wanted it to be.

Tuning out the issues that surrounded her
she wanted desperately
to create a world,
a time,
a place,
at least for an instant,
that she could crawl into and hide
to escape the disillusionment
and disappointment
of her recent days.

She built it herself,
a quiet world all her own,
with colors
and peace,
and music from her soul.

She reached down into her very being
and stayed there for awhile.
She began to think
and feel
and conjure up new dreams.

What a lovely time she had in that moment.
It could not last long enough,
she knew that.
But she had to grasp it
at least for an instant.

When it was over
she realized that no one
(not even she)
could ever take away the faith
that she had in herself.

Then, and only then,
was she able to pull herself back
to the world at hand.

Written by Susan
Copyright, All Rights Reserved
Published in the “Kokanee,” pages 31-33
1998 Fiction/Poetry/Essay Contest
Lake Tahoe Community College

The Seed

Nearly forty years ago
you planted the seed.
You were only twenty-eight
when your seed blew carelessly
in love’s wind.

You encouraged the seed to grow
and welcomed the planting
of this seed in life’s garden.
You planted it in the sun
and watched
as the roots took hold in this world,
reaching deeply down into the soil.

You watered the seed
and nourished it.
You protected it from the rain
and sheltered it from the heat.

You built a fence around your garden
to protect the seed
from the harsh realities
of nature and the universe.

As you tended to your garden
the seed grew and grew,
and finally began to bloom.

With your love, energy and devotion
the seed blossomed into a beautiful flower –
full of life
with a beautiful fragrance
and brilliant with color.
A one-of-a-kind perennial.

Its petals touched other
flowers in the same garden,
and some of the other flowers
began to plant their own seeds.

This flower stands tall and proud,
all on its own,
grateful to you – the farmer
for planting it,
nourishing it,
and giving it life.
So lucky to have grown in your garden.

Written by Susan for her mother on Mothers’ Day 1996
Copyright 1996, All Rights Reserved
Published in the “Kokanee,” pages 31-33
Winner 1998 Fiction/Poetry/Essay Contest – Lake Tahoe Community College

Illusions

I stepped confidently onto the snow,
to fall through
into the lake bed below.
Ice water up to my calves.
The snow gave the illusion
that it would support me,
but it didn’t.

Heading toward the end of the dock,
I sat down in the sunny spot
and threw my legs over the edge
to find the water’s illusion –
that there was not three feet of leg room
below the dock as I had imagined.
My feet instantly chilled
by the water’s reality.

As I sat on the edge of the pier,
looking beneath the blue green surface
into the depths below,
I thought I saw several footprints
on the bottom of the lake.
Heel prints and actual barefoot toe prints.
Could this be?
Could these footprints be left over
from the summer before?
Where kids swam and walked below the surface?

I could not imagine it –
that winter’s stormy days and nights
had not erased the tracks
of those who had come before.
Wouldn’t the waves have stirred
below the surface
to cover up the evidence?
It had to be an illusion.

Then I gazed toward the mountain
which reflected perfectly
on the still water below.
It looked like there were two mountains –
one for those living above the surface,
and one for the spirits who lived below.

Again, an illusion
that there was twice as much mountain.
And then I thought about my heart
and how it feels when it’s breaking,
and I wondered if love
might be the ultimate illusion.

 

Written by Susan at Fallen Leaf Lake, CA
Copyright 1996, All Rights Reserved