Its clear that I am going to have to buy a new car to replace our faithful 2000 Toyota Sienna Van - if not today or tomorrow - soon.

Looking at cars started me thinking about the cars Jim and I have owned over the 56 years we were married.

The first, a 1940 Packard, a real movie mobster car, was quite an experience. Jim bought it from another medical student and paid $25 for it. The black hulk had metal-encased spare wheels on the sides of the car and w i d e running boards. I learned when I drove into a service station and asked for someone to check the battery - that the battery was housed under the front seat. Jim needed a coat pocket when he drove the car because the way to lock it was to remove the large heavy front door handle. It clunked against Jim's side and made him look like he was toting a gun.  One of the real drawbacks in our Baltimore neighborhood at that time was that Jim had to move it to a new parking spot every other day. You can imagine - -  Jim finally sold it for $28 for scrap metal when he had a chance for another car.

Our second car was a blue 1948 Chevrolet two door car. It seemed to run OK but it had belonged to someone who lived on the Eastern Shore and many areas of the underbody were rusted out
The front seat was a divided seat that lifted front on each side so that you could get into the back seat.
That was fine for adults but when I had Jimmy in a car-seat in the front seat I had to be sure that one of the fittings was on the drivers seat so that one of us was bracing him - otherwise  he would pitch forward if we came to a quick stop.

When Jim graduated from Hopkins in Baltimore he was assigned to Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, NY for his internship. We made that trip in the blue Chevy pulling our household goods packed into a small  U-Haul pull-it - up the New Jersey turnpike with a detour across a bridge to Brooklyn rather than going to Manhattan. Once Jim started his internship I became the regular driver for that car and it was up to me to shift the parking place every other day. As shabby and unpredictable as that car was we were glad to have a means of transportation.

At the end of the internship Jim had to report to the Air Force to ful fill his doctor-draft obligation.
We flew to Charlotte - where I was staying with Jimmy and our new baby Karen while Jim went to induction officer training in Mongtomery, Alabama. Before he returned  to pick us up at my parents he bought a NEW car - an apple green Ford station wagon. This was our entry into the world of surburban families in the 1950s. It was great. It had that wonderful new car smell with no fumes pouring in from the underbelly. And space - the space we needed for all the baggage and kid paraphenalia. It did not worry Jim one bit that after he bought one uniform he used the rest of his uniform allowance for the down payment on the car.

He drove back to NC to pick us up and several days later we four drove off on our three day drive to San Antonio, TX. where Jim was expected at the School of Aerospace Medicine at Randolph AFB for the training to earn his wings as a Flight Surgeon.

Jim and I went to San Antonio last November to re-visit our memories of those years. It was a sweet exercise  - - except I kept wishing our rental car was a vintage apple green Ford Station Wagon.

Who knows maybe we were


Passing it Down

Jim with our grandson Jamie.

Jim believed in documenting family history. And we have the legacy to prove it. Photos, home movies, videos, and audio tapes. I am in process of gathering them from closets and drawers to be sure we have them all together in one place.

When we met in Baltimore he was taking pictures with one of his father's range-finder cameras. Developing the black and white film was expensive so we don't have many photos of those days - but the ones we do capture the moment. I could never take pictures with that camera. It baffled me. My speed was a Brownie reflex. 

Jim learned to take pictures from his father who was one of those camera smitten amateur photographers of the California 1930s. Jim helped his father take 16mm movies of the family. We have copies of those movies - scripts written by Jim's mother and performed by his brothers and sisters - with sound. They are priceless and precious to us.

I remember the first time I saw those movies I had heard so much about.  One special evening in 1969 when we were at his parents house in Madera, CA for Christmas Jim's father brought out the big movie projector. It was a small crowd that evening - Jim's mother and father, Jim and me and our three kids.  Hal showed the family movies and a selection of Castle WWII films. 

A dozen years ago Jim's oldest brother Harold transferred those movies to DVD for each of his siblings. They are wonderful - except that he backed the films with the theme from Chariots of Fire. I challenge anyone to watch them without crying as those kids of long ago cavort in the snow at Bass Lake and act out their mother's scripts in their Fresno living room. We should all be so lucky as to have our childhoods captured for us to relive again and again.

With the advent of digital cameras which made photography immediate and much easier I took up photography as well. And albums became part of my art form.

Jim and I enjoyed and shared a passion for documenting everyday life. Jim got it from his father, I inherited it from my Aunt Katherine and we see it shared out in our kids.

Feels good.


I Heard Wolf Blitzer's Voice

Since I have been attending the Memoir Class at the Chevy Chase Library I have been harvesting strange bits of forgotten memories as they pop up from no-where. I was surprised to have a job I have not thought of in years surface. I guess it was prompted by the news.

For instance last week during the CNN reports on the scary Libya and region terrorist attacks and tragic killings I suddenly remembered the first time I ever noticed Wolf Blitzer on TV.  Today his face is so familiar in most households its hard to remember that he was once an unknown.

That morning the much younger looking Wolf was in Kuwait reporting on the start of the Gulf War while I was sort of stranded in one of the first floor corridors of the State Department in Washington, DC.  It was 1991, 6:30 am in the morning on January 17, I think. I am a bit shaky on the date but I know the time for sure.

I had an interim job working as an event manager for a DC consulting firm.  The firm had a contract to plan and manage a series of  international meetings of G-8 representatives who were developing strategies on how to combat the drug smuggling in countries where that stuff was going on. This was the opening morning. Our delegates were arriving to start the four day meeting at 8 am.  Jim dropped me off at 6 am on his way to his office. I came early to meet the caterers who were to set up my delicious Continental Breakfast and have hot coffee waiting for the delegates as they came in from the bitterly cold January morning.

As I walked across the the lobby I was aware that the television mounted on the corridor wall was on and I heard the now familiar voice of Wolf Blitzer. There was urgency and excitement in his voice as he described the start of Desert Storm - a war - in very vivid combat terms of missiles, explosions and attacking planes. I stopped in my tracks and stared at the screen trying to take this in - the United States - was at war.

Then I noticed across the lobby that the metal gates I had entered through half an hour before had clanged shut - locked  - and a crowd was gathering on the other side as the now-armed guards set the up metal detectors and watched over the badge checkers who had revved into action.

I was the only one of our group inside. When I saw my supervisor I waved and stepped over to the barrier which had been pulled out to block anyone entering. I explained what was going on. Everyone entering the building was floored. When they left home Wolf Blitzer had not been on the screen and for all intents and purposes the United States had not been at war - are far as we knew.

It was quite a morning. Quite a day. Tense and strained. And would continue that way for all the days we met at the State Department.

That was the first of five four-day meetings we planned and managed for the Department of Justice. You know what, each one has some story to tell. I have not thought of that in years - now I think I will.


It takes friends .....

How do you make a story?
With help from your friends and family..that's for sure.

I am working on a new story ---about junior high school. I have thought about this incident many time but just now crafting it to a story. Maybe its because of my current Memoir Class and the encouragement to capture stories from across your lifetime. That plays a part, true, but the biggest push is to tell stories that came before Jim. A long marriage is loaded with stories and I have some wonderful ones about Jim but I am holding those close right now.

Whatever the impulse to develop this story I am discovering how much I appreciate some bouncing my memoires off the recollections of others who were also there. Especially my friend, Betsy

Betsy and I have known each other since we were Girl Scouts in the Fourth Grade. We went through Piedmont Junior High School and Central High School together. And we have shared our lives since. We have accumulated a mountain of memories.

Betsy lives several hundred miles away. Thank heavens for the telephone.

Today we talked of Piedmont Junior High School and she shared what she remembers about the wonderful days of 13 and 14 year olds.  I am often awed by her encyclopedic memory of teachers, their names, subjects and their foibles.
We laughed.
We hooted.
We giggled
over the odd things we remembered about those old - to us then - people
who probably were not old at all.

"Don't you have your PORTHOLE?" she asked. Well no.

But she has her album from 1951 - the album from our ninth grade year.

Technology and email to the rescue.

She scanned some pictures and sent them last evening.

Now I have the faces of the Piedmont Faculty freshly in my eyes and memories are popping up
like popcorn in a pot on a hot burner.

Back to my point -

it takes a village to raise a child
it takes friends
to help turn misty memories
into real stories.



Writing a lot these days.

Lists - to keep myself on track I find lists very helpful. When I don't complete all assignments in one day I carry the left-overs to the next day. Some days there is a big pile-up - like a Beltway traffic jam - and I have to re-prioritize and run in place to clear some space on the list - - actually in my life. It was that way with last year's taxes. I kept putting them off until ----- but now they are done.
I am starting again with this year's taxes.

Blogs - these are another way I keep track of myself and what's happening in my life.  I love writing on the computer, watching the words emerge onto the screen right before my eyes and then self-publishing so that I can see the written page - - and maybe others will read them too. Adding pictures is a big plus for me.  Composing with words and pictures - - to make connections across time - or not - to try to understand the patterns in life. My blog writing often leads to story ideas or ways to tweak memories into a story. I played with Finding Gus on the blog before I started shaping it into a story. Now, my question is - what do I do with all the words that have accumulated on Ellouisestory? Hmmmm.

Journals - Yes, I keep those too - started that habit long before computers came onto the scene.  I carry a notebook with me everywhere calling it "my brain." Its filled with doodles, appointments, telephone numbers, email addresses and other notes. I started using notebooks in the 1970s when I was in graduate school after I saw how effectively a classmate was keeping herself organized with a mid-sized three-ring binder notebook. Since then I have used all kinds of notebooks. When I subscribed for many years to the more expensive Day Timers system I enjoyed using it - but it was more of a calendar-appointment book so I ended up carrying the monthly book and an extra to-write-in book. I always carry a blank book to write in - along with a Pilot Bold Gel Pen - preferably blue. Now I have settled on the $2 grid-ruled, 9"x7" composition book from Staples. Just bought a new stack of them the other day.

Letters - now-a-days people email rather than sitting down and penning a letter. I miss that. I love letters and I always enjoyed writing them. But most of all I loved receiving them. My aunt wrote absolutely fabulous descriptive letters from Baghdad when she lived there for a few years in the 1960s. I have them still.

Is it the southern influence or something familial I wonder?  Do we all harbor a hope that we will write something meaningful or turn out to be Eudora Welty or Harper Lee? If you tried you might patch together a line or two from my volumes that was written on a good day that are worth keeping. Are the mountains of words a defense against the way death acts as an eraser? Do we write to capture a bit of immortality - to prove we were here for a time?

An important value of the journals for me is that they contain close connections to the days of my life. When I sit down with my BOXES of journals I step back into those days. To me that's worth being burdened with a wall of heavy bankers boxes filled with yellowing paper notebooks  - - even filling my computer hard drive until it screams "overload". Now I also have DROPBOX which gobbles up and holds unfathomable amounts of typed pages and photographs.

The irony? I have started to consider the reality of what if and the consequences of people reading through these journals on their own - without my hand there to snatch them away.

I am considering editing them - just like I will have been edited.


Serendipity Magic


I love it when the Universe takes a hand and points me in a good direction.

Last week when I stopped by my local library I saw a notice for a
MEMOIR WRITING class that was starting soon. 4 Sessions. FREE.
5 minutes from my house at a good time. What's not to LOVE?

My storytelling is all memoir although not formally written down.  I am working on new material. This class could open the door to some new insights. Again, what's not to LOVE?

Yesterday was the first class.

20 plus seniors, men and women,  gathered in the basement meeting room of the library, surrounded by noise from an annoyingly loud air conditioner. Our instructor faced the group. He is a very tall and gangly elderly man with sharp blue twinkling eyes and a wide smile.  He reminded me of Jim when he waved us to our seats with his inordinately long, thin arms.  "Come in. Come in." Perched on the edge of the table he exuded the ease and confidence of experience. Later, someone asked him the direct question and he revealed his age - a biblical 91 years.

I had not known what to expect. I guess I thought there would be some didactic lists about what to do as you start to write your autobiography, your memoir. Wrong. Early on he told us that we would be on a
quest - - to know ourselves. One woman balked. "I did not come here for self-help."

The teacher was not phased. "Madam, how can you write a memoir if you do not know who you are?
or what your purpose is?"

I settled more comfortably on the hard molded plastic chair, if such a comfort is possible. The feeling that he would be a trustworthy guide for these four sessions flowed over me.

What better place for me, standing as I do on the edge of finding out who I am or will be in a new world, than on a quest.

Our teacher used exercises and prompts that are familiar to folks like me who take or teach storytelling workshops. But they seemed to me to have a different flavor. When we paired up to talk about prompts like our first memory or the first home we could remember they felt fresh. I wondered if if was because we were all the same general age or if it was because we were not there to "achieve" something for the outside world but had something we wanted for ourselves or to share with a more private circle.

He assured the group that once you started on this quest and then began the writing that it would take hold of you and change your life. I believe that to be true because more than twenty years ago it happened for me when I encountered storytelling for the first time. But I heard him opening another door - not just the finding and telling of our stories but the finding of ourselves, who we are and how we came to be ourselves.

The homework? To write a confidential mission statement  - what is our purpose in life?

Yes, I think I am in the right place.

And I have no doubt the Angels brought me here.


A Change

Jim died 6 months ago today.  That's like yesterday.

Watching the DNC tonight and wishing Jim was here with me so we could talk about it. But that is not unusual.

Everyday something happens, or a letter arrives, or I see someone and I wish  I could talk about it with Jim.
If anyone wants to know what grief feels like - for me this is it - its missing Jim. And facing the sometimes crushing reality of knowing he is not coming back home. I have cried until I am dry

For these 6 months I have written about my new widowhood here on this blog - - but now I have decided to move that writing to a new blog - -  Me, the Widow

Because writing about these new days helps me I will continue to write - but I won't be posting it out.
You are welcome to stop by if you are interested.

Why do I do it?
Because, believe it or not, although grief sits on my shoulders all the time, that's not all that's in my life.
Everything is changed for me and I am working to rebuild my life. I will talk about that in this place.

I am very grateful to have storytelling and my art work to help me back to work. This month I have at work in a group show at the Katzen Rotunda, American University. This is a group of former AU alumni who meet together, a group I have belonged to for seven years. The best thing about it is being with people I have known for years - - friends and the comfort of familarity is incredibly important to someone like me right now.

On the storytelling front  - I have been invited as one of the storytellers for a special storytelling concert here next week-end. Thanks to good advice from a wise woman, storyteller  Elizabeth Ellis, I chose the story carefully to protect myself from any emotional pot holes. Taping two TV shows most weeks along with producing Tales in the Village keeps me on my toes. And, I am telling a school night for middle school students the end of the month.

Things came together in such a remarkable way that I decided to go the National Storytelling Festival in October with a small group of close friends. I have to admit that the real draw for me this year is the chance to see the marvelous Jeanne Robertson in person on Thursday night. I don't know what to expect. It could be a hard trip filled with memories of the wonderful times Jim and I had there together. Or --- it could be a celebration of those very same warm and wonderful days.

Handling the "stuff" to keep the house in shape which always fell to Jim now falls on me. There is plenty to do in this seventy year old house. Would you believe that the copper pipes in the basement have now developed little green pin holes that seep water? So, in two weeks the plumber will be here to replace them with new PVC pipes before they flood the basement. Believe me I don't feel kindly toward those pipes.

You get the picture.


Mama's New Story

Mama's New Story Before she died my 93 year old mother, Louise Keasler Diggle,  told her priest the story of her romance with my father.
It turned into quite a surprise when he told it at her funeral.

I love telling Mama's New Story so really appreciated
being part of a recent Better Said Than Done line where I could bring it out again.


Tea and Michelangelo

Yesterday while sitting
in my neighbor's kitchen
over a cup of fresh brewed tea
we unexpectedly revisited
memorable art treasures in Italy.

It started when
I noticed a 24" statue
of the Blessed Mother
standing on a wooden fence
within in sight of Jane's kitchen table.

The smiling plaster virgin
 reminded me of the
24" Michelangelo plaster DAVID
my aunt gave to me
three decades ago
that is out-of-sight
in my basement.

"DAVID should only be
 massive and marble
standing outside like he does in Florence.
Puny and white plaster,
like my statue,
standing on a bookcase.
he looked downright obscene"

We laughed out loud
and then agreed
our favorite Michelangelo sculptures
in Florence
are the powerful captives
wrestling to free themselves
of their stone prisons.

Our memories moved us quickly to Rome
where we revisited
Michelangelo's powerful MOSES
in San Pietro in Vincoli.
after the long walk
on a hot day
to get to that church
where the light on the statue
costs a coin.

Then we jumped to
the town of Arezzo
for basking in the wonder and richness
of the The Legend of the True Cross
frescoes by Piero della Francesca
in the Church of San Francisco.

It was a rich hour
as we returned together
to places we visited separately
on different days years apart

As we each saw
the vivid images of timeless art masterpieces
held in our memories
like photos in an art history textbook
we forged a new connection.

Post Script:

Our sharing those experiences of Italy and Michelangelo brought back some memories of wonderful trips Jim and I made to Italy. 1978 was Jim's first trip to Italy. Since I was the one who had the hours in Art History he decided to read the Agony and the Ectasy and focus on Michelangelo. It was a great idea.

At that time I was completing my MFA in Painting and had logged a LOT of hours in Art History, something I really love. His concentration in all science classes to prepare for medical school and then the years after had left Jim a bit art history challenged. So the focus on Michelangelo was a wonderful solution to bringing us together as we walked miles from church to church for three weeks.

That was the first of other trips to Italy - but those are other stories.

And, art was always a memorable companion.


What is Memoir?

When I was a young reader I was very influenced by memoir-type books. I particularly loved the stories of upbeat, fun-loving people who talked about living adventureous lives.

(This is me - age 13 - at Piedmont Junior High School, Charlotte, NC - dressed in my initiation outfit for the Junior Honor Society. That basket was filled with books and we had to carry them on our heads throughout the day.)

Take for instance the two smart-talking young women on their first trip to Europe in "Our Hearts Were Young and Gay".  I was about 12 years old when I read OHWYG - and had no idea about an ocean voyage much less about traveling in Europe. The two heroines were new college graduates ready to confront a wide-world - something so far removed from my life as to be unimaginable to me - but I loved their spirit and the way Cornelia Otis Skinner described their adventures and mis-adventures.

Skinner's writing style influenced my letters for years as I tried to translate my pretty bland ordinary every day life into up-beat slang infested language. Then I became enamored by Irma Bombeck - one of the women of the 50s who wrote funny vignettes of family life. I loved those writers who could find the funny in the housewife's life.

The stories I tell today are drawn from life...ok ok my life. Sometimes I turn to funny. Some times I touch the truth and pain of real experience.  The constant thread in my work is the wish to record my life and the times, to make sense of it, to give these days of living meaning and value, to keep the people I love and loved close, to share whatever I have learned. Why? Because I believe each person's story has meaning and is important in the large fabric of life.

What's all this about?
Well, I am starting a memoir class this week.
I want to hear how the instructor describes what it means to "write a memoir" that's different from "telling a story?"

Have I been on the right track with my blog? If I have maybe I can cull through the past 6 years of writing and sift those words into my memoir.

No doubt about it.  Jim's death taught me the truth that we don't have all the time in the world. There is an end for each of us. 

 So better tell the story now - - if that's what you want to do.