The Writing Life

The Table at My Writing Retreat

A “Seed” Story

The idea was planted while sitting at an almost empty table. The story was watered with the conversation between two people at either end of the table, and blossomed with revisiting that very same place. 

 A  Different Kind of Writing Retreat

My solitary writing retreat was very different this year. The Redemptorist Renewal Center in Tucson Arizona dining room was empty, the usually sumptuous cafeteria counters were covered with long white cloths, empty underneath. 

The meals for the few of us who were there were “plated” — entree, veggies, salad, soups, utensils, little salt/pepper packs already dished out and covered, with a small name tag waiting to be picked up by the retreatants. 

Different. No lines of people chatting like my autumn retreat had been as we shuffled along toward the mecca of multiple choices of steaming, delicious food. 

The last day of this year’s retreat the refrigerator in the dining room that stored the meals conked out. No plated meals in sight. Bummer. But one of those bummers that became a serendipitous thing. I tapped tentatively on the door to the kitchen (employees only) to find my meal. 

A Pleasant Reacquaintance

A dark-haired petite woman was standing at the huge stove, her back to me. When she turned around I felt a flash of recognition mixed with pleasure. 

Several years earlier just around Mother’s Day I got to know her. 

It was a similar retreat in that there were few people. Not during the pandemic. It was just a slow time. No groups had scheduled retreats and there were only two or three other solitary sojourners. 

I had waited until near the end of dinner hour because I was into silence for that particular writing retreat. 

One of the dining room staff was sipping coffee at the end of the long table. All the tables are long, wooden, and gleam with polish. I sat at the opposite end. It was like the formal dining set-ups I’ve seen in movies. 

I broke my self-imposed silence and called a hello down the table to her. I don’t know how we started. Maybe it was “These tables are gorgeous and huge. My family could fit around one small end of it.”

A Conversation About Tables?

She got right into it. Her family was large. This could have been a conversation about tables. But it was really about family. “Will you be with your family on Mother’s Day? I hope you won’t be cooking here.”

“I will be with my family.”

“I will be home with my husband. Most of our family is back East and my older sister and her husband usually host holiday meals. They will put the leaf in the table expanding it to hold many more dishes than usual and give enough room for everyone to sit.“ A sense of yearning for family might have crept into my voice.  

“I will go to my family’s.” Her childhood family sometimes had fifty people on special occasions! Her father always sat at the head of the table. “It’s different  today-the kids are adults. They grow up and move away. They have their children. They can’t always come back home.” She sounded wistful about this. Her memories of her childhood table seemed sweet and deeply steeped in safety and love. I had a picture in my head as she talked. 

buffet table dishes of vegetables, salads

They gathered around long tables, shared food, smells, tastes. I could imagine the sounds mixed in with my own childhood memories. The clinking of utensils, clattering of dishes, the glug, glug, glug of wine pouring into glasses, maybe the sound of a glass dropping and breaking. 

Voices — the high-pitched babble of little kids, deeper male voices, female laughter that rose above it all in harmony. We both smiled at our memories. 

Family Summer BBQ Miller Place 1956

 

Family July 4th Virginia 2019

Seeing her again after several years was more than a visual; it also brought back the nostalgia for tables that held that sometimes noisy love, safety, and abundance for me. As she took out my name-labeled plate and turned to give it to me, we both smiled. Actually I think I was grinning.
“I remember you.”

“I remember you too.” 

“We had the family table talk.”

She nodded. 

“I’m a writer and wanted to write about your table. May I?”

“Yes.”

“I feel like know you and yet I never asked your name. It didn’t seem necessary then because … I felt I knew you. But now I want to write my story and send it to you.”

“Rita. Rita Nunier.”

This then, Rita Nunier, is for you. Thank you for meeting me at the table, sharing stories, and cooking at the Redemptorist Renewal Center. Note: My friend’s name has been changed.

Next up. Different Tables Hold More Than Food

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. 

 

Odyssey Storytelling-We’re Back-Live!

If you’ve heard rumors of an in-person Odyssey event, it’s true. After more than a year of Zooming to stay connected, we’re taking baby steps to be totally back! 

YOU’RE INVITED!!!
 A special evening of food, fun, the August Show, a pool, & friends – in person!

WHAT: A Post-Pandemic Pool Party & Fundraiser
WHEN: Saturday, August 21   6:00-10:00 PM
WHERE: At the home of Roscoe Mutz, our curator for the August “Wasted” show.
WHY: Because we can, and we need to see each other from head to toe 

HOW MUCH: $21.00. Registration required. Patreon members- Your current membership gets you in free. Of course, donations are accepted.
Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/odyssey-wasted-a-special-pool-party-fundraiser-event-tickets-165077807165 

**Bring a lawn chair for show time. Street parking. Safety: masks are optional for vaccinated folks but we ask that you social distance. Event will be strictly outdoors.

AND WHAT DOES THAT GET YOU?:  Entry, food, 2 free drinks, swimming in the pool, the live August show, Odyssey mask, and seeing each other. More to come, but isn’t this enough to get you started?

Get out those shorts, pants, bathing suit, tops, and find those sandals or sneakers ( the good ones, not the house stuff you’ve gotten used to wearing for 16 months). We’re ready!!!  All we need is you!

Ana Montañez, Executive Producer Odyssey Storytelling
Become a Patreon member today: https://www.patreon.com/odysseystorytelling
stories@odysseystorytelling.com

Summer Rains

These days of monsoon rain have brought no complaints from Catalina Mt. lovers in Pima County AZ. Last year we watched as flames and smoke moved across our mountains from west to east. Courageous firefighters and support crews battled the Bighorn Fire. “Monsoon season will help put this out” was the refrain from old-timers and weather meteorologists. But we had a non-soon monsoon last summer. Some days I couldn’t bring myself to look up beyond the foothills. My office window, which faces the mountains, held no comfort.

This summer I sit at my desk by the window as clouds gather up behind the mountains  and thunder heralds the arrival of another monsoon storm, or a full morning of steady rain. The rain here in Tucson has a smell like wetness, almost soggy, but fresh. It is clean and comfortable (well, except for the big thunder boomers last week at 2:00 AM). This summer our usually parched and brown foothills are dressed in a velvety green cover. Monsoon rainbows stop by frequently.

Dinner and a rainbow at Redemptorist Center

Beautiful rainbow arc on the Eastside

Rainbow over Sabino Springs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the rain ceases, there’s a brightness in the sky even with the thick blanket of white and grey passing clouds. The air is heavy and humid. It reminds me of summer days in my childhood oasis in Miller Place on the North Shore of Long Island NY. A big difference in geography but the same feeling of calm and easiness in the day.

It’s no accident that the full title of my memoir is Thinking of Miller Place: A Memoir of Summer Comfort. If you have or had a summer comfort place, you know what I mean. I live 2500 miles from Miller Place now. In spite of loving my now desert home, I yearn for Miller Place. I think I have to read my book again.

 

Other people feel this summer love too:

Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.  ~ Sam Keen

Then followed that beautiful season… Summer….Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood. ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Summer is the time when one sheds one’s tensions with one’s clothes, and the right kind of day is jeweled balm for the battered spirit.  A few of those days and you can become drunk with the belief that all’s right with the world.  ~ Ada Louise Huxtable

How about you?

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic. 

Eastside Writing Room – Still writing


I have come to love those little boxes that show faces of friends and family. This one is part of my Eastside Writing Room- which has been a Zoom Room for the last year and a half. In May 2021 we started our journey back to the physical world with once a month in-person meetings. So now we’re hybrid- Zooming every week and Zooming and in-person once a month. Tuesday, July 27 we get to see each other head to toe. And we’ll write too. What a deal!! Thanks to Paula Brown Hank Miller, Penelope Starr, Elizabeth Murfee Dino DiConcini, Bee Bloeser, Author, Speaker Sally Lanyon Pamela Alexander

A Little Time to Think

Just Who Do You Think You Are?

The pandemic.

That was then, March 2020-April 2021.

This is now, July 2021 and onward. What’s the same, what’s different? What am I choosing to discard from my life? What am I taking with me at this ending of the pandemic time? I did start being aware of this earlier than now.  See https://etheleemiller.com/what-a-year-aka-things-are-opening-up/ 

Being at home during the pandemic offered many choices. Daily revisions of the To Do list. Binge on Brit Box TV. Make birthday and hello cards. Walk, bike, hike. Spend way too much time following online links about writing, which led to searching for college alumni and old boyfriends (Come on, haven’t you done that?) Practice yoga. Read. Experiment with cooking. Think.

Leisurely Thinking

What do I love? What blocks me from doing what I love? What triggers impatience, and envy in me? I am impatient with what I call empty time. I never thought I was impatient. I just thought I was really busy with lots of important things to do. Many of which were really time fillers. The pandemic gave me time to experience “empty” time as relaxing. Idle hands are not you-know-who’s workshop. Idle hands mean I am breathing softly, soothing my body, brain, and spirit. 

Who am I?

What do I value most? What do I love? What is love? What dreams do I have? What’s next in my life? Right now I feel so confident that I can do just about anything! And yet I am also a person who has that little voice that counters, “Do anything? Really? Come on. Just who do you think you are, Ethel?” That question verbalized in a certain way can be a trigger: You really have no right to think you can  …. This might sound familiar to some of you.

So Just Who Do You think You Are?

To do or be something or someone different takes courage. I battled with this a lot in my life. I think I’ve been victorious because it called for self-honesty to dig down and look at me. Sometimes fun. Sometimes squirmy. Yet possible to get through.  

I learned I can write a book. I wrote and revised and revised…and revised yet again. I was motivated to do what it took to get my books written, edited, polished and published and marketed. I believed I had stories that would interest other people. I am a writer. 

Take the Leap

I can take that leap into a new hobby, friendship, adventure. I love this courage builder by Joseph Campbell:

“A bit of advice given to a young Native American at the time of his initiation:  ‘As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It is not as wide as you think.’” 

Alone, And Not Lonely

I can be by myself and not be lonely. In early June I took a solitary retreat. Ironic in a way. Just as things were opening up, I found I needed to get away by myself and get ready to reenter this new almost-post-pandemic world.

I sojourned at the Redemptorist Renewal Center in Tucson Arizona where I could write, read, swim, walk the labyrinth, sit and stare, and think. 

There were only a few retreatants. I had a stimulating dinner conversation with one of them. The next morning I saw one other who turned and gave a small bow in response to my hello. A third as we passed each other on the pathway. And a sweet reacquaintance with the lovely woman who works in the kitchen. Other than that, not a soul. It was delicious. I had thoughts that entertained me, made me laugh, that challenged me to glimpse who I think I am. I am a solitary sojourner. If you have not done this, I encourage you to entertain the idea.

Envy Can Be a Scavenger Hunt 

One of my daily readings from 365 Day of Richer Living talked of envy as “recognizing that which is hidden so far in me.” I’m envious of a colleague who is very calm even as loud hard words swirl around us. Okay, now where is that quality in me? 

I watched in wonder as another friend gave a slight shake of her head as the chocolate brownies got passed around. Now where did I put that quality? I had it on Saturday, but a week later I found myself reaching for the plate.

Knowing who I am has called for me to think, then take actions that might be different from my usual response or different from what others expect of me. Sometimes this is tough. It calls for courage, a sense of adventure, hope, confidence, and love. Totally worth it.

A Success Story

Years ago, two identical twins realized they could be other than what people thought about them. They could be individuals, not The Twins. “I can be funny too,” said the thoughtful twin. “I can be curious and thoughtful too,” said the entertaining twin. And they were. 

Three Caterpillars

Three caterpillars saw a delicate yellow butterfly that happened by. 

The first caterpillar said, “Just looks at her, giving herself airs.”

The second caterpillar said, “How I’d love to fly like that.”

The third butterfly said, “Why, that’s me.”

(Wish I could acknowledge the author of this piece. Have used it since 2004, the author now lost to me.)

A Writing Suggestion

Just who do you think you are? Ask yourself with genuine curiosity. And respond with genuine kindness. Write from a positive point of view. Just write.

I am…

I am…

I am…

I am…

I am…

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic. 

Santa Fe Kindness


Vacationing in Santa Fe

A really neat part of being on vacation is people watching. Especially if you’re in a city like Santa Fe. Especially if it’s the “opening up” stage, with businesses propping doors wide open; restaurants, museums, and galleries posting “Welcome back” signs. “No mask if you are fully vaccinated, please respect the needs of others who are wearing masks.” 

Mind you, it’s been twenty months since I’ve been around and among large groups of people. I am doing some major people watching. First off I notice smiles. Closed mouth smile, open mouth with lots of teeth, grins where body language and mouth and eyes express delight. Couples, families with teens and toddlers in masks. Singletons, eyes on the cell phone using the navigation tool of trust that the oncoming pedestrian traffic will “part the waters” for them, so to speak.

Santa Fe is a Tourist Town

Folks have come to celebrate, be seen, and spend. Up and down San Francisco Street shoppers are wearing clothes they probably haven’t worn in a year-the good stuff-crisp white slacks, glittery sandals, jewelry, make-up. I know I am and it feels fun. 

Long hair, short hair, rainbow color hair, no hair. Jeans, capris, long dresses, gauzy white skirts with sheer white tops, halters, jumpsuits, shorts, t-shirts, robes. Jewelry, body piercings. Sneakers, sandals, cowboy boots, stiletto heels, barefoot. It’s a visual runway of styles. 

Last night, my sweetheart and I were out for an after-dinner stroll, window shopping, nodding and saying hello to passersby. 

Storylines While People-Watching

I make up storylines for some. “They’re new in the relationship. See how close together they are?” “She’s tired. The kids are whining.” “She’s late. New job. She’s dressed nice, but rushing and worried she won’t look put together for work.” 

A group of four mature-age women are coming towards us. “Hello.” “Hello.” They look fit, stylishly dressed. It’s a swirl of colors going by. Blue silky top paired with light pants, beige sandals, gold earrings. A scarlet shawl on one, a print scarf on another, white capris with a colorful trimmed top. They seem happy. “Girlfriends. Vacation, maybe reunion, deciding where to go for a drink.”   

The Kindness

Just seconds after we pass each other, I hear a chorus of “Oh No!” Distress signals loudly in those two words. Hank and I turn to see one of the women has fallen and is on the sidewalk-an incongruous splash of scarlet and white spread on a dusty sidewalk. Her friends have clustered round her like colorful flowers bending over a broken flower. They help her up. She stands up. She’s tall. “I’m OK.” Her friends are patting her, dusting off her shawl, stroking her elbow. “Are you hurt?” Under her attractive face there is a strain, like part of her is asking, “Now how did that happen? Am I really OK?”

Hank and I have rushed to the edge of the cluster. I have my cell phone out ready to call 911. “Catch your breath,” I say. She looks like she might react like I would. Just up and dash off without checking in with myself first. “Catch your breath before you start walking again.” 

The colorful flower cluster is loosening up. They must sense she is OK. Nothing broken. Not dizzy. 

Hank and I back off and I hear myself say, “It’s OK. Her friends are with her. She’s not alone.” The concern and kindness of her friends will protect her and she will know she really is OK.

Simple Kindnesses

This got me thinking of the simple kindnesses people do for others. The owner of the breakfast place here in Santa Fe who goes around to each table of diners, “Everything OK?” He wears a mask but his eyes are smiley.

The man we met on the pool deck on full moon night who took time to tell us of great places to eat here in town. 

The coffee my husband makes for me before he makes his own. The way he walks on the street side of the sidewalk-old-fashioned chivalry. Yet I think he knows I’ll link my arm in his to keep us together. 

Maybe some of these kindness acts are planned. Maybe they are spontaneous. Even if it’s planned don’t you think the repetition will make it a habit? A kindness habit. Kindnesses build safety and trust and make it easier to pass on the next kindness. A kindness ensures both the giver and receiver will benefit. They might smile. They might end up talking to each other. They might become friends. Who knows where their kindness will take them? 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic. 

Santa Fe Getaway!

Happy Summer and Strawberry Full Moon! Our first vacation in 20 months and we chose just the right place.

A tourist town that was like “the Twilight Zone” through COVID,  Santa Fe merchants, hotels, restaurants, and galleries are jubilant to have us return. Weather gorgeous, shops beautiful, galleries inspiring (and $$$) great food, friendly people, and super hikes.

Discovered a Welcome Back Traveler package at El Dorado Hotel & Spa. Nice big room off the deck and pool area. Near dining, galleries, the Plaza. Happy to see favorites from our 2019 anniversary trip have survived and are thriving- Henry and the Fish for great breakfast, Estevan’s for romantic dinner, Il Vicino just down the street for salads, paninis, pizza. Santa Fe is a walkable town- you’ll get your 10,000 and more steps in – easy.

Santa Fe scenes


Beautiful sculptures everywhere  Private houses and galleries along Canyon Rd. Visual treats!

 

 

 

 

Loretto Chapel in town with the magical staircase

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fredrick Prescott’s kinetic sculptures. Great fun!

 

 

 

 

 

The Tibetan Project – center, garden and book shop started to support Tibetan refugees in 1992. Beautiful carpets and books etc. Good karma!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A classic Rock/Paper/Scissors

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hiking Dale Ball Trails just outside of town  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow we search out Cerillos Hills State Park about 40 minutes from Santa Fe. It was declared a state park in 2009- just outside the town of Los Cerillos (pop. 182). Sure to be different from the city of Santa Fe. Hasta La Vista!

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic. 

SoulCollage®

Can six writers gather together for a three-hour workshop and create a project that has no writing? Not a smidge of a word? Yes, if they are at a SoulCollage® workshop led by Penelope Starr writer, storyteller, artist, and certified SoulCollage® facilitator.  https://www.penelopestarr.com  

It has been almost a week since I was one of six writers at the workshop and I am still feeling the good vibes.

Getting Started

SoulCollage® is creative process to tap into intuition and create community. It has so many layers of possibilities from random images collaged and then seeing what the collage tells the creator, to creating a collage card or deck with a theme in mind. Think seasons, career options, family, chakras. And more. https://soulcollage.com 

There was no prep, no book to read beforehand. SoulCollage® uses images to spark, invite, tweak intuition in creating a “card.” For me it called for letting go of an expected outcome, a plan, an agenda. 

We were six writers in the workshop-the intimacy and safety created by our workshop facilitator. Penelope gave a good explanation about SoulCollage® and shared some of her card decks. We had intros all around, and a brief collective breathing to focus on being open to… I thought of it as being open to soul or intuition or self. 

The Image Cards

Our first creation held no particular instruction other than to see what images appealed to us and how we arranged them on our card boards. For our second card we used the theme of our writing. Suggestions- What’s happening in your writing now? Is there a character who needs developing? Are you stuck? Is life interfering with your writing? 

The question I asked myself was “What’s next?” I am at a crossroads in my writing. Having focused on writing books, blogs, and articles, and speaking about writing and coaching emerging writers for 20 years, I am restless. Restless to move off somewhere with — what? Words, storytelling, another book?

Then we moved to the images tables to sift through and choose from all materials (tons of magazines and images, scissors, glue, and mat boards) to create our individual collage. No words or text used at all. I made a beautiful “card” which actually gave me the confidence to continue being open to a new direction with what I have called “my love affair with words.” My finished product wasn’t clear-cut, no Step 1, 2, 3. But there was a feeling of “it is all right.” This is relatively new for me. Not to have Plan A and fallback Plan B. As a writer, it was different to “see” what emerged. 

A Satisfying Experience

After we made our writer-not-using-words card we formed dyads and verbalized what our card told us starting with “I am one who…” the card reflecting whatever needed to be expressed. Our dyad partner acted as scribe and wrote down (okay, so there was some writing, but only as an accounting) what we said. It was very positive, and an extraordinarily moving experience for me. We displayed all the cards and shared how ours “spoke” to us.

My SoulCollage® day reminded me of traveling in Tunis-being immersed in a different geography, a place with layers of history and beauty. I really had little knowledge of Tunis other than a long long time ago Tunis was Carthage. I just was there and looking around and feeling like I belonged and yet a bit in awe. SoulCollage® was like that- and an experience I know I’ll have again.

 

 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic. 

The Seven-Second Connection

The Handshake was something my dad taught my sisters and me, not by saying “Watch and learn” but just by being himself. This got me thinking of those thousands of things parents and other adults teach us. This particular one is for my Dad, fathers everywhere, and those people who have been like loving Dads to us. Happy Father’s Day.

As an oversensitive eight-year-old, I could be embarrassed by my father in about seven seconds. It wasn’t that he was obnoxious or unattractive. Even as a child, I saw that my father turned heads with his straight posture, his twinkling gray eyes, and a certain openness that made him so appealing.

Dad’s Way of Greeting – The Handshake

“Hi, I’m Al Erickson,” he’d say to anyone, with a hand out for a warm handshake. “This is my wife, Gladys, and my girls, Ingrid and the twins, Eileen and Ethel,” and he’d go down the line introducing us. All with a big smile on his face.

“Put out your hand. Four fingers together. Thumb up a little. Firm. Strong,” he would instruct us for The Handshake. Most Saturdays during the summer, we walked to the post office in a small town out on the north shore of Long Island, New York that was our summertime haven. As soon as the person next to us had clicked their box closed, Dad was ready. He’d stick out his hand for the greeting. We all learned to follow suit. Smile and shake. 

It never occurred to me to explore the why of my preadolescent discomfort. I just knew he was like that everywhere—at the corner store, at the library, even on the street.

 “Jeez, Dad, we don’t even know them.”

“Now you do. You may be the only person who says hello to them all day.” 

As I got older my perspective on the world shifted. I noticed the reactions to his handshake. Strangers were sometimes slow to shake hands, but they did. People who might be termed “frosty” shook hands and often melted enough for a follow-up hug. The hello was often just an opener. When Dad shifted his weight and brought both hands up to make a point, I knew we were set to “jaw a while.”

I learned how to make friends all with a quick handshake and a smile. The boundaries of my father’s world were marked by the towns in which he lived. But I believe he was one of the best goodwill ambassadors around. And he had fun doing it.

My Handshake

As I got older, the routine came naturally for me. It gave me a way to mask my own shyness. As a teacher in New Jersey, I made a commitment to personally greet each child within the first ten minutes of class. In professional groups greeting nervous new members or guests, I still hear echoes of “You may be the only person who says hello.”

By the time I began my second career as a counselor and life skills presenter, The Handshake was my own. Sure, I’d get nervous before I spoke to a group. I don’t know anyone … What if … But after about two minutes I’d realize a truism I’ve used for almost twenty years—we are more alike than we are different.

In 2007 I was ecstatic to have my first book published. Thinking of Miller Place: A Memoir of Summer Comfort has lots of twin stories and, yep, the story of Dad and The Handshake is definitely in it. I spent a full year doing book signings and talking about the power of words—both written and spoken. And I had fun doing it.

In 2009 my husband and I moved from New Jersey to Tucson. On our neighborhood walk, a “good morning” was often the seven-second connection with a new friend. Going to first meetings or new group or a party, the “what if’s” can start chanting in my head. But when I get to the door, a handshake and smile help me step across the threshold. Hey, I know how to do this. Thanks, Dad.

Did you like this story?

Let me know. “The Seven-Second Connection” is a revised excerpt from Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. The full story is part of Thinking of Miller Place: A Memoir of Summer Comfort. If you liked this post, Seedlings and Thinking of Miller Place are both available on Amazon and from the author. Contact Ethel. 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic. 

The Way Things Work- Thanks, Dad

Maddie was looking pretty uncomfortable one morning at our Zoom meeting. Turns out she was suffering from a boil on her sit-me-down. She was hurting, upset, and knew she had to go to the doctor and deal with this. 

The way she was sitting was exactly how I saw my Dad sitting one morning decades ago when I wandered into the kitchen ready for my Rice Krispies cereal breakfast. My Dad died in 1998 but Maddie’s circumstance brought that memory back so clearly. Not just him sitting but also his arms resting, kind of holding him up, on the arms of the dining room chair, by the bay window, morning light coming in-not bright but not cloudy either.

“Snap, crackle, pop, Pop.” 

Dad shifted and smiled a little, but had no corny reply. 

“Why are you sitting like that?” 

“I had a growth removed from my sit-me-down and it still hurts.” He paused. Then he smiled. “But it’s all behind me now. “

Of course being ten, I thought this was hilarious. 

Appealing to the kid in Maddie who I know is in residence in her soul, I told her my Dad story. “Yep, it’ll all be behind you.” 

She laughed and perked up. “I’m going to the doctor.” 

What made the eternal connection was what she texted me later. “Isn’t it fascinating that something your father said to you probably sixty years ago still rings true today? I’m using your Dad’s line. ‘It’s all behind me now.’ I would think he would be smiling down on us.”

What a heavenly thought. Thanks, Dad.

 

 

 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic.