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Archive for the ‘creative non-fiction’ Category

SUZY Q Dancing in the Window

Our little family of four made the move back to Germany when my dad was reassigned there for three more years. I’m certain mom was glad to be back in familiar territory with her family some distance away but at least on the same continent. Not long after our arrival, my first little brother arrived.

We were technically in Base housing but not isolated or walled off from the city in general. There were five or six large concrete buildings one behind the next that had six apartments on each side and there were two sides to each building with a floor below for storage and a floor above each side that help maids quarters and a playroom at each end. The top floor and bottom basement that had storage units for extra personal things were the only floors that connected the two sides. Each apartment I believe had three bedrooms and one bathroom. There was no outside play area provided.

Mom holding my sister’s hand to keep her in the photo, Aunt Helga and one of her sons sitting in front of mom. Perpetual cigarette in hand. I took off my glasses for the photo

Directly across the street were rows of barracks facing us. Single GI’s lived there or those without families or without families along.. They worked odd shifts so they were there infrequently and stayed to themselves.

My little sister loved to dance and thought she was quite good at it. She didn’t even need music. I think she had her own music playing in her head. She was always happy and carefree with more energy all of us combined. Mom had her hands full and was in a chronic state of overwhelm so my sister just ran. She would sneak out and mom could do nothing till I got home from school as she had a newborn to requiring constant care.

I came in from school one afternoon to see mom staring across the street at the barracks across the street. The GI’s were looking up at the top of our building, which was almost a mirror image of theirs. Mom asked me to go upstairs to the 4th floor where the playroom and empty maid’s quarters were located and see if my sister was playing with the neighbor kids up there.

As I walked into the playroom, I saw my sister up on the wide window ledge with the windows open, dancing. She thought she was entertaining the troops and her friends, having the best time ever. She waved at the GI’s as they held their collective breaths. My heart stopped.

I may have only been 7 but I knew an accident waiting to happen when I saw one. Somehow, I managed to calmly talk her down without incident and took her home. As a hyperactive two year old, listening was not what she did well.

I was just grateful that my sister came down when asked. Probably one of the few times in her life she did as she was told. I wish that was the last time she was in that window or that someone had the foresight to put bars on them but I never saw that happen.


From my heart to yours,

Marlene Herself

SUZY Q: Her Name

Dad called her Suzy Q all the time though that was not her actual name. Sue was her middle name. I asked him once what the Q was for. He said it was for questionable. I think the question was mostly what she would get into or up to next. Right from the very beginning with her first toddler steps, it was apparent my sister was a pistol and born without the fear gene. Tiny toy pistols were exactly what Santa got her for her first Christmas.

We celebrated it in Colorado Springs. Dad was reassigned to Fort Carson after he got back from his tour of duty in Korea. He found a little house for us to rent and part of the rent was refinishing the floors. After sanding the floors and putting fresh finish and wax on them, mom would set the two of us on an old GI wool blanket and drag us across the floor to polish it. The polishing was done once a month and it was our favorite activity. Mom developed a very strong back and arm muscles dragging us around.

Mom had to keep my sister in jeans and a t-shirt all the way back in the 50’s. Sis was not still enough to keep dresses intact. Rough and tumble, into everything, mom ran herself ragged trying to keep her out of danger and mischief.

Keeping an eye on sis

If sis was no longer interested in eating the soup we had for lunch and mom refused to remove the bowl, sis would turn the bowl upside down on her head letting the soup drip over her face and clothes. Quite pleased with herself, she cared not one whit about the spanking that followed. Food was not something that we were allowed to waste, no matter how bad it tasted. Mom was not much of a cook and groceries were not plentiful. There were plenty of spankings but she would just strap on her toy gun belt with twin pistols and charge on.

bowl on her head

On that same Christmas, I received a doll. Only one gift each, it was quite precious to me. I came home from first grade after the holiday and could not find my doll. My one-year old baby sister had somehow managed to get the doll past our mother and take it outside, tossing it in an open sewer pipe. Fortunately, she had only tried to bury it, not dismember it. She told us in what words she had that she didn’t like the doll. It had to go.

We were only there six months, then it was off to Fort Riley, Kansas for another six months before his next tour of three years in Germany. Oh, what fun my sister was going to have there.


From my heart to yours,

Marlene Herself

SUZY Q Introduction

Two months after my fifth birthday my mother came home from somewhere. I don’t remember her being gone but I do remember her placing the baby in my arms. Somehow in my mind, that baby was a gift for me and she was mine. We were living in a tiny flat above Leo’s market across the street from my father’s family while he was doing a tour of duty in Korea. My sister was already several months old before he ever met her.

Kindergarten school photo.

Our mother had been very ill during her pregnancy. I tried to take care of mom when she was too ill to do the dishes or pick up a bit. A lot of her illness may have been about missing our dad or a lot of homesickness. We left Germany before my sister was born and my father’s family was not particularly pleased that we were part of his life. The rest of her illness was because there was apparently an RH factor involved and my sister needed complete blood transfusions after she was born.

Waiting for delivery

There was also not much in the line of groceries in our house or even in my grandparents’ house for that matter. Times were tough and tight with lots of tension all around but that baby made everything feel better. Of course living above Leo’s market helped a lot. I would smile and be rewarded with a treat or carry up something we needed.

In my best apron taking care of mom

This new baby was mine to care for and love. I learned to feed her and watch her when mom put her out on the porch in her pram for fresh air. Mom said babies needed fresh air no matter the temperature outside. She would be bundled up with only her fingers and face sticking out. I would come home from Kindergarten every day to take care of my baby. My baby sister was my first child.  As she grew up, I made it my responsibility to  keep her safe, entertained and hopefully out of the trouble her curious mind always seemed to find.

Pleased as punch with my baby.

That day began a journey that spanned more than 60 years. We are and have always been each other’s friend and adversary on occasion. No one realized what an adventure her life would take us.

Let the story unfold.

From my heart to yours,

Marlene Herself

The Voice Returns

I’m a bit on overload this month clearing and sorting while the rain continues to pummel down. At least it’s no longer snow and ice. Bear with me please. In the meantime, the long ago promise of another story.

Part 2

Maddie was agitated and frustrated. What the heck was Public Relations and how was she supposed to be of help to this firm? The Temp service had sent her over to work for an undetermined amount of time and after a week, she was still a fish out of water. She didn’t know what she was doing and it was becoming more obvious the two women who owned and ran the company didn’t know what they were doing either. Thank goodness it was Friday!

Maddie was in a hurry to get out of the parking lot and onto Riverside Drive towards home after another mind numbing day. She and her husband had free tickets to the Pasadena Ice House Comedy Club. Maddie could really use a laugh after the day she’d had and pulled out a little too fast cutting off another car that seemed to be in as big a hurry as she. She waved behind her apologetically. That curve was hard to see around. Just after pulling out, she was first in line for the stop light with the angry man just behind her. She could almost hear him swear at her as the light finally turned green. Maddie put her foot on the accelerator and started to move forward when she heard it loud and clear. PUT YOUR FOOT ON THE BRAKE! But the light was green she thought. Again it came louder this time. PUT YOUR FOOT ON THE BRAKE NOW! So Maddie did.

Looking into her rear-view mirror, she fully expected Mr. Angry and Impatient to drive right over the top of her car. It was in those milliseconds that a flash of white passed in front of her and she heard the most horrendous sound. Looking over at the lane to the right of her and just a half car length ahead she saw the very large woman in her small Ford Mustang flop over sideways like a rag doll and come back up. The white delivery truck had struck her door with full force. No brakes on his vehicle had been applied. His big truck had pushed the Mustang all the way out of her lane. Maddie knew she had to be dead.

When things stopped for a few seconds and the lane was quiet and clear, Maddie drove across the intersection and pulled up to the curb on the other side. Mr. Angry continued on as did as much of the traffic as possible until the police arrived. Maddie waited till they came to talk to her. She was going to be late getting home but she was alive. Why?

When the police came to get her statement, they asked if the truck driver had gone through a yellow light. “Absolutely not” Maddie stated! Our light was green. Maddie couldn’t explain to the policeman that they’d had a green lights for seconds already and why she had not gone. Maddie made it very clear that the truck driver had gone through a clearly red light on his side and was going so fast he was a blur to her.

Big white truck

Big white truck

small Ford Mustang. No competition.

small Ford Mustang. No competition.

It became clear to Maddie that if the truck had hit her, she was eight feet closer and would most likely not have survived. If she had not pulled out in front of Mr. Angry and Impatient, he would have been first in line at the light. He may have gone quickly as the light turned green.

They would not tell her the other woman’s condition but Maddie was hopeful. Drinks at the Ice House once they got there that night did little to assuage her anguish. Why did she hear the Voice and not the woman in the car next to her? She just couldn’t make sense of it.

The next week, Maddie ask the Temp service to transfer her somewhere else.   She needed life to make sense.

Does life make sense to you?

From my heart to yours,

Marlene Herself

The Voice

Since I’m overloaded with moving right now, I’m filling in with a writing assignment I did for class. I don’t get any feedback to find out if it’s awful so you get to suffer through and feel free to critique. I promise to let you know when I know what gives with the home purchase. This is a major lesson in patience. I have none and it shows.


Seven year old Maddie had been outside playing for an hour while the little ones took their nap. She wasn’t allowed back in until they were awake in case she made too much noise. Mom was taking a nap with them and waking her could be disastrous. Mom needed the nap more than the 2 toddlers and another baby on the way.

Maddie was hoping enough time had passed because she was thirsty and bored outside all alone. All the other kids had already gone back to their own homes. She quietly opened the large front door that led to the six interior apartments. There were 2 apartments on each floor with housekeeping rooms on the fourth floor that ran the entire length of the building to the other side where there were six more apartments. Downstairs a basement filled with storage lockers ran the full length of both units as well. Both sets of units had a large playroom at either end. The kids rarely played up there because there was nothing they could really do without making too much noise.

Stepping into the foyer, Maddie started for the stairs that led to her first floor unit. That’s when she noticed movement and heard someone call to her. Turning toward the basement steps, she saw a man dressed in a nice brown suit and a hat. Odd attire for someone in the storage area. Maybe he was lost. Again, he call to Maddie asking her to come down and answer a question for him. Maddie took a step forward to ask what he wanted. He waved her on down. He seemed nice enough and Maddie was always told she lived in a very safe place. She took a second step forward when she heard it. A voice she didn’t recognize said to her, “he means to hurt you; RUN!” Maddie looked around for where the voice was coming from but saw no one. Thinking herself silly, as her mother often called her, she reached for the handrail to go down. Again the voice warned her with more intensity this time. Then something happened that just couldn’t. A breeze in the closed basement blew the man’s jacket open. Inside the top jacket pocket was the handle of a long knife.

Maddie didn’t waste another second. She ran to her apartment door and banged on it loudly. No one answered and she was afraid the man would come up the stairs and take her down there. She banged one more time and still on one came to open the door so Maddie ran up. She ran all the way to the top floor and across the building, then down the stairs coming out the other side through that front door. All the while she was terrified because no one saw her or heard her run. She was afraid she would see the man outside but there was no sign of him anywhere. She stood outside for what felt like an eternity, shaking in disbelief. What had just happened?

Finally, she could wait no more and tried one more time to go home. Opening the front door to the building ever so carefully and quietly, Maddie looked inside to see if the man was still there. No sign of him by the door or in the basement. Maddie ran to her front door and knocked again. At long last, mother opened the door and she ran in. Her heart was still racing as she tried to tell her mother what happened. Mother thought she was being foolish but when dad came home they reported it to the police anyway. The police looked around the building but there was no sign of any strange man in a brown suit with a brown hat in the area. The police said if he had been there at all, he was probably long gone and Maddie shouldn’t worry.

Maddie never told her parents or the police about the voice that warned her. They weren’t really listening to her anyway. Maybe she had just imagined it. Maybe she was as silly as her mother said. That’s what she thought; until the next time she heard it.

In Search of the Real Santa Claus

In Search of the Real Santa Claus

I’m going out on a limb here and telling you a true Christmas story. I think this was the catalyst for my deep and abiding love of the Christmas season.

I was six, living in Colorado Springs. We had probably not been stationed there more than a few months but I remember being in the first grade there. I also remember being bone cold walking to school in my pink wool coat, leggings, and hat.

I took this in the mall before Thanksgiving

I took this in the mall before Thanksgiving

Dad had returned from a tour of duty in Korea and my baby sister was just learning to walk on the hardwood floors my parents had refinished for a reduced rent. I loved the area as a stream ran close to our house and I would sit for hours listening to it burble.

My dad's cousin Virgie made this ornament. Goes on my tree every year first.

My dad’s cousin Virgie made this ornament. Goes on my tree every year first.

Military families at that time were often struggling with a shortfall of income to expense. To make ends meet, we often got together at the end of the month with other enlisted military families to pool food resources to feed the whole bunch. Christmas was just not on the list of needs and I don’t remember having one before this one.

Six year old’s at school were all excited about Santa Claus. They brought me up to speed and I asked my parents about a tree. Well, dad decided to see what could be done. We piled in our beat-up old car with no heat and took a drive to the woods to see if dad could cut one down. How was I to know we couldn’t afford to buy one?

A peaceful Christmas

A peaceful Christmas

Dad got out his trusty pocket knife and went to work on a small sapling. It wouldn’t budge to the dull blade. I was heartbroken but too cold to complain. Heading back into the house my mom and dad went to un-swaddle my sister. As I stood at the dark door frame, there was a shadow to my right. I called out and asked my parents to come look.

There on the dark porch of our lonely little house, stood a good-sized Christmas tree leaning against the wall. No note nor another human around anywhere. Santa Claus had brought us our very own tree. I don’t think we even had a tree stand but mom and dad just looked at each other so perplexed that I could tell they had no clue where it came from. I was already an experienced reader of people so I was certain they weren’t putting on for my benefit. Santa Claus was re

I believed in Santa for the rest of my life. The Santa that lives in the hearts of kind people who know how to silently and anonymously reach out and give aid to a struggling family. Santa taught me that there was good in a world that is too often demanding and cruel. I didn’t need toys; I had a tree and the scent was luscious. For many years after, while my siblings were still young, I would sit with them in our room while we waited for Santa to come. Then we finally heard the tinkling of his bells way up in the air as he made his way to the top of our apartment building. No, we didn’t need a fireplace. Santa magically dropped the few items for us right through the walls.

These have all found new homes for the holidays

These have all found new homes for the holidays

My parents never knew who put the tree there but I found out later that there was a neighbor who tried to bring my mother a chicken to cook for dinner. Problem was, the chicken was still alive and mom didn’t know how to cook. She gave it back. They took it home, dressed it, cooked it and brought it back. There is good in the world year round and sometimes I call it Santa Claus.

Do you still believe?

May your holiday be everything your heart needs to be full.

Merry Christmas
From my heart to yours,
Marlene Herself

In Search of Creative Non-fiction

Writing class started again after a months break. Class has taught me many valuable lessons. The primary lesson, I don’t know how to do fiction. I’m not good at making up stories. If I get a prompt that I have no way to relate to, I sit for days trying to make something up and it turns out awful. What I can do, is take those tiny bits of memories and embellish them to fit the prompt. So it is with this story. Most of it’s as true as I can remember but the ending was added to fit the prompt. Today, I’ll share what I’m best at, telling bits of my life.

Are We There Yet?

The house was empty. The furniture and all our belongings had been packed and taken to be shipped to our new home. Even the car was gone. Little Jimmy was getting a bath by the mother’s helper when I walked in to check how much longer it would take.

That’s when the plan started to crumble. How could Margaret not see that Jimmy had spots all over his body? Running into the living room, I announced to my parents, “Jimmy has the measles.” Mom’s face went white and dad rolled his eyes. “Are you sure” they asked? Heck, I was only 9 but I knew measles when I saw them. “Go see for yourself” I shot back.

All I heard was panic coming from the bathroom. Jimmy was whisked from the bathtub, dried and dressed. Mom said no one was to mention measles to anyone. Not one word was to come out of our mouths. They dressed him in a jacket and put a hat with ear flaps on his head. As we sat at the NCO club waiting for the bus to take us to the Frankfort airport, mom gave Jimmy orange juice and said if anyone noticed the rash, he appeared to be allergic to it. They had to make the trip because all our beds and belongings were already gone. No way was she staying behind with 4 kids alone.

Once we arrived in Frankfort, another delay. A problem with the plane seemed to be the next hold up. So we were confined to one hotel room until another flight could be arranged. Finally, we were all on the flight. Jimmy was again dressed in the unseasonably warm leather jacket and cap. Once we were airborne, we couldn’t be left behind. There was some relaxation in the parents. Until…

Ours was green

Ours was green

We waited in New York for our car to come off the boat. More confinement in a hotel room. Finally we were underway and managed to get as far as somewhere in Virginia. It has to happen. Just as Jimmy was starting to get better, the baby came down with the measles too and it made him sick enough to require a doctor. They found an emergency room and the next thing I know, blankets are tacked up all around the back-end of the station wagon. They had to keep the car dark. It also kept out any breath of air. It was late April but with no open windows we were melting in there.

Dad drove until he couldn’t. Mom had just learned to drive and there was no way dad was going to let her get us lost here. Sleep was done at roadside rest stops, then more driving down the entire length of the coast to Georgia. Meals came from a loaf of purchased bread and a package of bologna. Four kids, two of them ill, one hyperactive and one bored to tears was almost too much for anyone. Somewhere in South Carolina, mom started to cry. Her head in her hands, she wailed “aren’t we there yet?” No, we weren’t and it just kept getting hotter.

From my heart to yours,
Marlene Herself