The Writing Life

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. 

 

What a Year! Aka Things are Opening Up

“Things are Opening Up”

With the relaxing and reduction of pandemic restrictions, a repeated phrase seems to be “things are opening up.” Some examples in my part of the desert (Tucson AZ): Restaurants-now more than patio or take-out dining. Gyms-longer hours, fewer rules about reservations, but still the multiple reminders to sanitize, clean equipment, have a mask just in case. Stores-distancing circles on the floor are still there-mostly adhered to. Organizations having hybrid meetings-Zoom for those geographically long distance (thank you to my weekly meditation group Zooming from Florida, daily meditation with CSLT, and our HOA for community news updates) and in-person for vaxed folks. Houses are opening to visitors, parties are open to larger groups. Arms are open. Many minds are opening to different ways of talking, acting, being. 

I’m a hugger. Pandemic sheltering at home was a huge dose of social deprivation. Fortunately I live with my sweetheart and we were together 24/7 for 13 months. It afforded us time to talk more with each other, read together, and have some great book discussions. It meant there was no touch deprivation for either of us. But I did miss hugs from friends. The first time after I was fully vaxed my friend and I hugged sans masks, we reacted with a jump back to that six feet apart, a distance which will be forever emblazoned in the minds of millions.

Gradual Social Re-entry for Me

Just as it was so different to build pandemic safety habits, it’s just as different to alter some of them. I’m easing back into an expanded lifestyle.

Like the desert flowers that unfold gradually. For me, social re-entry is easier if gradual. I’m fortunate to be retired so going out is a choice. Not quite ready to go to a really crowded restaurant — for one thing-it seems really noisy now. Not quite ready to get on a plane. That’s just me. My friend flies from FL to NJ, my sister from AZ to NY, other friends have booked the autumn cruise. I do want to go dancing but … Crowded jostling on dance floors seems sort of strange right now. Will we ever blow out candles on a birthday cake again? I’m exaggerating, I know, but it did cross my mind. People will adapt to what is comfortable and safe for them.

I accept the mask culture. How can I assume what the wearing or not wearing of a mask means? Not vaccinated, allergies, to protect the wearer, to protect others, lack of lipstick? Who knows? It may not be the reason I assume.

Bighorn Fire

By June 2020 I was getting the routine of sheltering at home, having signs in my front window greeting my neighbors, and learning to  be as objective as possible to new “abundance of caution” guidelines. I then became one of 982,000 Tucson metro area residents who watched for two months as flames from the Bighorn Fire traveled east to west across 119,987 acres of the Catalina Mts, the result of a lightning strike at Bighorn Mt. Another phenomenon I knew nothing about. Wildfire, controlled burn, smoke, roll-outs, Ready Set Go, evacuations. Anxiety. But I learned with daily updates online and on Facebook from the Coronado National Forest, National Wildfire Coordination Groups, US Forest Service, Section Chiefs and Incident Commanders and more. Those Facebook “town meetings” also connected residents. We got to know who would be on the chat each night for the update, what the hotshot crew’s plans for the nighttime and next day were. For me it eased that sense of isolation and lessened my fears.

The June edition of Tucson Lifestyle features a full article on the anniversary of the Bighorn Fire. The fire scars are evident in the blackened stretches of mountain trails, the trees felled by fire and back burns. It was a frantic rollercoaster last year and gradually, with both pandemic and fire abatement, it’s a gentler ride now. Yet I know it will never be the same.

Most mountain trails are open and I look lovingly at survivor cactus and ferns pushing up nestled next to scarred and blackened trees. Nature is often relentless but also resilient. So are people. I bless first responders and volunteers who protected our homes, neighbors and mountains through the pandemic and the fire.

We’re Creating the New Normal

Humans are social beings; look at ways we have found to stay connected. All over the world and with improved technology, people sang and danced, prayed, wrote, did yoga, told stories, laughed (thank you Unscrewed Theater  for all those ZOOM laughs) wrote books, read books, bought and sold just about anything, had debates, opened Courageous Conversations, celebrated birthdays, anniversary, marriages. The pandemic has rendered some families so broken they will never be the same, and we found ways of saying our good-byes. We’re here, creating the “new normal,” adapting ways that worked during the pandemic to reconnect now and in the future. It can be better than ever before.

How are “things opening up” by 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. 

 

More Car Talk-Lily

“Things are Opening Up”

Now that “things are opening up,” I’m behind the wheel of my car every day. I asked my sweetheart, “How many miles do you think we drove the car during the pandemic?” We live outside the city limits of Tucson and most of our local needs are met within the 30-mile loop of Safeway Grocery, Sprouts and Whole Foods, Ace Hardware, and the side-by-side, in what belies that they are competing for the same markets, CVS and Walgreens. 

Pandemic Car Mileage

From March 2020 to March 2021 I had hardly driven at all out of my own abundance of caution. A past history of Epstein Barr, hepatitis, and shingles (twice) brought about the strong medical advice to stay at home. My reaction to sequester at home was actually an opportunity. I’d been paying lip service for months to the idea of “scaling back” on activities and spending more time exploring new things and being with Hank. Well, the scale back was on. I was one of the lucky ones. It was a bizarre luxury. I did not have to go to work and I had no other person that absolutely needed my care. Other than the quirky pockets of past illnesses, I am mobile, strong, healthy and don’t have a small pile of Rx’s to be downed each day. 

Of course I was very anxious about COVID as news spread across Asia, Europe, and trickled, then flooded North and South America. I cried with my colleagues who were bone weary, overworked, understaffed, and dealing with kids at home who needed help they could not give. I feared for my friends who worked in ERs, and drove or took buses to work, college kids who were studying in their dorm or at home- my great-niece in her final year at William and Mary and my friend’s grandson beginning his college career during an historic pandemic, and New York City friends who struggled to survive and invented ways to stay safe.  

I didn’t see red clouds of killer disease swirling like locusts across the sky and under doorsills like in science fiction movies. But the unfolding of the pandemic did have earmarks of a science fiction movie. And then there was the image of droplets of coughs and sneezes spreading and cascading down on counters and clothing like in the ads for tissues and the futile protection of sneezing into your crooked arm. 

So home I sat and in the garage sat my car. My neighborhood is in the desert so we can walk to take groceries to a neighbor’s doorstep, and hike and bike safely all year round. But no driving to restaurants, friends’ homes, no road trips to national parks, museums, and events downtown. 

“OK, about how many miles?” I repeated. Hank thought. Hank has countless files of number facts in his head and sprinkles them in our daily conversations as liberally as he does salt on just about everything at meals. Since we were home together for thirteen months, these verbal droppings increased my opinion that he knew all number calculations. 

He did not fail me. “Well, we usually drive only about 12,000 miles in a year, so I’d say this year was 4000.” A pretty dinky number. This led to sharing about cars we had owned, how long we had them and the mileage. My mileage longevity was with a 1970 Plymouth I drove back and forth from the upper westside of New York City to West Caldwell, New Jersey when was a teacher. 60 miles round trip.180 days a year. 5 years= @ 51K miles just for work. My sister literally drove her old Volvo into the ground. It had a long baton-length floor stick shift not to mention some aged ventilation holes around it where you could see the road through the floor.

Car Talk and Lily

When I mentioned this mileage thing at a Zoom meeting, it was a call for reminiscing. K. and G. have a 27-year-old Buick Regal with 89K miles. D. had a Toyota Camry that was the family car, hardy enough to pass through the driving hands and habits of various family members. Other friends regaled me with their car’s history along with an array of names. Peanut. Blue. Toy. Spider.  

Back at our meeting, M. chuckled and said, “Let me tell you about Lily.” Lily. Such a romantic, almost dreamy name for a car. I was intrigued.

“It was the longest relationship of my life,” said M. “Forty years with a 1980 Toyota Corolla. She had 300,000 miles. I had her fixed, repaired, repainted, rebuilt. Her full name was Lily Rose Parker.” M. looked off as if Lily was actually parked outside her window. “I sold her to one of the members of the church where I belong so I got to see her every Sunday in the parking lot… I know I gave her to a good home.” 


Lily-  
2018 one or two years after her paint job

What car holds the most miles and memories for 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. 

Car Talk

Pegasus

In the last year of my mother’s life, our hospice angels recommended bringing in photo albums to assist my mother in her “life review.” Some pictures brought a smile, some a short sniff of dismissal. Some elicited a story. 

The black-and-white photo was faded—five young women grouped around an old 1934 Ford. Yet the sight of that photo brought a light into my mother’s eyes that I hadn’t seen in months. 

My Story of Mom’s Story

In 1939 the five young women in the photo taught at Drew Seminary in Carmel, New York, where the Readers Digest Corporate offices are today. Some of the teachers are more formally listed in the 1939–40 Drew Seminary faculty and staff program as:

Carmel Benson—Math and Chemistry

Gladys Berberich—Latin

Martha Crowley—English 

Norma Harvester—History 

Agnes Hyatt—Piano Harmony and Organ

The five in the photo were part of a close group of girlfriends calling themselves “The Jolly Five.” The camaraderie of the group was deepened by affectionate nicknames—“Aggie,” “Harvey,” “Moo,” “Itchie,” and “Benny.” It was unusual for a young woman to have a college education in those days, and to be teaching. It was probably unusual for five women to undertake the investment they did in those days too.

Over the years, my mother, Gladys (Itchie), and Carmel (Benny) stayed in touch. The two friends wrote of their careers, children, then retirement, grandchildren, deaths of spouses, and births of great-grandchildren. Gradually their letters included memories and photos of their time together at Drew. 

My part in the story

In 2001 I was invited into this intimate correspondence when I began to act as secretary for my eighty-four-year-old mother after she suffered the debilitating stroke that robbed her of writing and some speech abilities. I had heard of Benny over the years as a teacher friend at Drew Seminary where my mother had taught Latin. So I knew part of our correspondence would be to Benny in Massachusetts. 

Birthday, Halloween, and Christmas cards came and went for several years. Then one day “Pegasus” arrived. My tiny aging mother reached out a thin and shaky hand to hold the faded photograph. She placed it down on the table where we were sitting. Then she smoothed her worn hand over the photo, back and forth, as if to absorb the memory into her skin.

Back in 1939, Benny had an invitation to teach math and science at Drew Seminary. In September she joined the faculty and soon was part of a happy crew of teachers and students. The little “gang” included five single female teachers.

Benny’s Uncle Ed lived in Brewster, New York, the town next to Carmel, New York. Uncle Ed knew of a good second-hand car available for fifty dollars. So the friends gathered funds and bought it—probably in 1940. They named the car “Pegasus.” Like the Pegasus of Greek mythology, this Pegasus had wings to take the young teachers on weekend adventures.

Benny wrote, “Uncle Ed worked out the paperwork (insurance, etc.) and we had fun driving about shopping in nearby Danbury, Connecticut. A few times some of us drove to my hometown, Dover Plains, just thirty miles away. We parked it on campus in a place that wouldn’t be in the way at Drew. We loved our Pegasus.”

More unusual for me than my mother having a career was the realization that she had had her driver’s license, as did Benny and Moo. They were independent beyond my imaginings about my now shy and mostly quiet mother. 

These women continued to be ahead of their time, even financially. They eventually sold Pegasus for seventy-five dollars—making a financial profit to split amongst them.

What car was your Pegasus?

Coming Soon: More Car Talk-Lily

This post is an excerpt from my book Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. if this appeals, the book has more relationship stories. On Amazon or 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. 

Butterfly Girl

A Hidden Gem

On the East side of Tucson is a hidden gem of a park called Agua Caliente. It’s got a great history of families who lived there, changes they made, both brilliant and not so brilliant, and peaceful home to birds, critters, and water inhabitants.

It’s green, and lush with a spring-fed and city water reinforced pond providing a healthy habitat for turtles and little fishies. A favorite walking and picnic spot for couples, families, school groups, and solitary walkers. When we go for a lunch time picnic and walk there’s usually a large group under one of the huge trees with coolers of food, little kids running around and reaching for snacks, tablecloths on the picnic tables and balloons tied to branches proclaiming “This is a superb party spot.” 

Walking back through what I call the cloisters arch of mesquite trees the park changes abruptly. It opens up to two sandy ponds-still popular with turtles whose heads pop up like small dark corks as they navigate over to the water’s edge where we sit on a bench.

The Surprise

Out of the corner of my eye I see a blur of colors moving steadily around the pond. It’s a little hilly so the swirl rises up and down. When I turn to focus I see a young, very slender girl, probably about eleven, at that awkward growing stage, but moving with a certain grace. Attached to her long skinny arms are gossamer butterfly wings, really big and a rainbow of colors outlined on the edges in black. Her arms go up and down as she takes long strides enhanced by glittery silver sneakers. Right now they’re on feet too big for her body, but I know she’ll emerge a beauty. Long straight brown hair almost to her waist lifts and swings at the ends as she moves. Bless you, mother or father who let that hair grow and grow and didn’t give her the short haircut that’s “easier to care for.” My eyes, head, and body turn and track Butterfly as she flies all along one side of the pond before she slows and then stops, the hair, arms, and wings gradually obeying the law of gravity. Then she walks on and out of sight. She was a gangly girl with a hint of grace. 

Later she walks back past us sans wings.  “Hey, what happened to your wings?” I call.  

“Took ’em off,” she replies, kinda sassily, as she turns and looks right at me – gray eyes straight at me. But when she turns away, her hair swings gracefully just a bit down her back before it settles up against her girly blue t-shirt again. The butterfly will emerge at just the right time.

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- June 2021

We’re going hybrid! Zoom and In-Person. 

EVERY TUESDAY

We’re still meeting virtually every Tuesday at 11:30 to check in on ZOOM with writing intentions. Updates welcome via email  in the afternoon. Members and interested writers will get the Zoom invite.

TUESDAY JUNE 15 11:15 AM  

We’re adding one hybrid meeting again this month. The energy at our in-person meeting in May was like a fresh breeze around my dining room table. In-person at Ethel’s house scheduled for our fully-vaccinated members on TUESDAY JUNE 15 11:30 AM-1:30 PM

HOW IT WORKS

Two hours of quiet writing time. Wireless networking available. Hostess provides beverages. Feel free to bring a snack.  Here’s the hybrid part: We’ll begin around the table and with a Zoom room open at 11:30 AM-12:00 noon. Ten minutes of writing talk, stating intentions for the two-hour writing session, and then writing on your own project—longhand, computer etc. This group is not for instruction, sharing, or critiquing. It’s solely for writing.

In-person. Remember how good this feels? Commit and claim your two hours just for you and your writing.
Set your writing intention in a quiet, serene atmosphere. No interruptions. No cell phones. No fee. Our table will be ready or you can work in the living room, or on the patio.

Interested? Contact Ethel

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She 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. She writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure joy of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic. Now that she is FV (fully vaccinated) she is looking forward to expanding her world.