Monday, January 11, 2016

Whiling the while with Words!

I remember when I was four or five and I discovered the magic of copying letters onto a paper to form what appeared to be words. I still didn’t understand the sounds, but understood the symbols. I was at the family cabin in Silver Gate, Montana in the upstairs loft. I carefully scrawled letters in varying word lengths and would run down the stairs to show them to my mother. She would try to read the nonsensical words and sometimes they actually were close to something. But not understanding the power of vowels, she’d inform me that some of them were nothing. Still, it was the beginnings of writing and reading. 

In 1st grade with book mark in hand, small groups of students and the teacher in a circle in the back of the room, I could read Dick and Jane books like nobody’s business. I longed to be in those books, to play with Spot, Dick, Jane and Tim. Their lives were so simple. They jumped, played ball, ran, skipped, looked—oh how they looked. Look Dick look. See Jane run. 

When I was about 6 or 7 years old, my neighbor Sharon, with her naturally blond hair the color of Marilyn Monroe’s, stood on the other side of the hedge that was between our yards. Sharon was about three years older than me, so was sophisticated in the ways of the world. When I told her I was going to the library, she said, “Be sure to get some Dr. Suess books.”  When I found the Dr. Suess books on the bottom shelf of the fabulous basement Orem library—then in an old house across from the Scera theater, I was hooked by the magic of nonsensical words, some very much like the words I had first strung together years earlier, the beauty of alliteration, rhymes, and drawings that covered every inch of the page. I still believe Theordor Suess Geisel to be nothing short of genius. His capturing of deep philosophies and allegories in exquisite drawings and words has not been equaled. His powerful messages could indeed, not just captivate us, they transformed us. The world Suess created was infinitely more interesting that Dick and Jane’s world. Horton hearing who’s. And cats in hats, sneetches and green eggs! What  words could be more wonderful? 

Words: We used to shout at each other on the playground: “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me!” But that was a lie. I had a teacher tell us it was a lie. I remember being confused and then relieved. Confused because it had always been taught. Confused because physical hurt was definable. But emotional pain was something we buried and denied. I was relieved because I felt bad whenever someone called me a name, and now I knew that was ok.

Words: I used to hate some of the words I heard at home hurled at me by my siblings: Stupid, retarded, baby, faker, or more like faker, faker, faker—a sing-song taunt. School was a safe haven because at school, teachers made me feel smart. I loved school, but I loved staying home  on sick days too—without my brothers. Home alone with only my mother who never hurled insults. Home to I Love Lucy, Gilligan’s Island and Romper Room all day sipping hot jello drinks. Home to a stack of picture books—a good Suess book and a cuddly cat curled next to me. Even though as soon as the brothers came home I would be the faker, faker, faker—the hours of peace were worth it. I remember being home sick when I was in kindergarten or 1st grade and Miss Julie on Romper Room held up her magic mirror and declared, “And I see Carole who is home sick today.” My mom didn’t believe she was really talking to me, but I knew she was. She saw me. If she saw me, I wasn’t faking. I couldn’t be faking. Did that mean I also wasn’t stupid? Sticks and Stones. I used to shout it out to deflect the power of words. Words, they can inspire, affirm, debase, or hurt. I wish my armor could be made of all the beautiful words in the world, so the negative stuff couldn’t penetrate. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Permission to Bully in 1961 and Beyond

The school year was 1961-62. A five-old-girl sat on a classroom chair with the rest of the kindergarten class surrounding her. The teacher wore a dark skirt and a plain white blouse. She had medium-length brown hair and a pleasant face. The teacher told the class that because Marva* had been naughty again, the she must be punished. The kindergarten students were told to each take a strand of the Marva’s hair and on the count of three—PULL. 

This scene played out numerous times throughout my first year at Sharon Elementary School. I don’t remember anyone else ever receiving the punishment except for Marva. I’m sure there were others, but it’s her face I remember. Boys were usually the first to surround her—smiling, a bit excited. I always held back, as did others, too far away to grasp a lock of hair. 

I don’t remember what Marva did that was so naughty. And while I’m glad I never participated in the punishment handed down by the teacher, I never reached out to be kind to Marva either. Why would I? She was a naughty girl. Did I somehow suspect that if I played with her, that I would be tainted by her? I don’t blame myself—after all I was only five. I also don’t blame the boys who gleefully surrounded Marva and pulled as hard as they could—after all, they were only five. But I do blame the teacher. 

Over the years, my memory of the events have faded, so much that I almost wondered if they had happened at all, but recently I was talking with another friend who had, had the same teacher in the alternate hours kindergarten the same year and she said, “Mrs. Wendell—the teacher that made us pull hair. My children don’t believe me when I tell them.” Then the memory flooded back. So it was true. It was true that my kindergarten teacher commanded five-year-olds to bully and to physically and emotionally harm another child. It was true that the teacher had set up a policy to create a class system based on fear, to set up children who would automatically become the OTHER, the ones we had permission to abuse and belittle and to cast aside from our friendship. 

I don’t know what happened to Marva. I can pick her face out in the class picture. I hope that somehow, she escaped the stigma stamped upon her by a teacher who must have thought she was doing the right thing to control her class. How often do we do harm to others when we believe that we are doing the right thing because like those five-year-olds someone in authority told them it was the right thing? Sometimes doing the right thing takes a tremendous amount of courage. Sometimes doing the right thing is the exact opposite of what we are told. Sometimes doing the right thing is listening to the little voice in our head, and that instinct that socks us in the gut. *not real name.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


It's Thanksgiving time. Like many of my Facebook friends, I've been posting stuff each day that I'm thankful for. But I find there isn't room to write everything. So I'm dedicating this post to my gratitude. Over 36 years ago, I was in a truck riding south of Logan with my then fiance, Mick. He had a green Chevrolet pickup truck. We made our way down the highway through Nibley, past Hyrum and on into Paradise. We rounded the bend toward Avon. On the road to Porcupine Dam, I was overcome with beauty that was all around us, and the wonder of being with someone I loved, someone I would soon marry. Our future was before us. I was finishing school and Mick had just graduated. We had nothing, but we had everything. I remember saying, "I want to live here someday."

When we first got married we lived in Amalga in Cache Valley, but for only a few months before moving to Garland for Mick's first teaching job. Then on to Tremonton, Springville, Highland, and then Grouse Creek. Finally when we moved from Grouse Creek I wanted to live in Cache Valley again, come hail or high water. (Or is that hell or high water?) So we looked for houses and found one in the quaint and lovely town of Paradise. Our kids were nearly 8 and 12 when we moved. It wasn't Avon, but it was close. Then nine years ago, my friend Sherry told me about some land for sale. It was only about a mile from the place where I was overcome with the desire to live
someday. So that someday came. I have studio to do my pottery in and Mick has some land for his horses and a barn for his hay. It just doesn't get much better than that. And I still am over come with love for this place, and this man, and this family, and this life.

Friday, October 2, 2015

I Love Small Town Charm

The main event that I look forward to all year is the trout dinner in our small town. It’s actually the only event, but not only is it the  best trout I’ve ever had, it’s the whole idea that I love. The trout is raised by the White family—that’s their name. They’ve lived in this town since the very beginning back when Barnard White and one of his buddies, Joe Crapo thought the lush valley was worth checking out—that was back in 1860 when the valley was also loved and lived in by a peace loving band of Shoshone. The white guys, including Barnard White thought the Shoshone wouldn’t mind sharing their lush valley, but they were wrong about that. There were skirmishes here and there, a few horses stolen and one white settler was shot with an arrow, but just like everywhere else in the US, the natives were eventually pushed out and so that’s why I get to live in the lovely little town and stand once a year in a line that runs the length of a football field, chatting with total strangers who come from all over the state to stand in line too. Sure they could go out to a restaurant and for the close to the same price, get pretty much the same thing, but that’s nothing like paying twelve bucks and sitting on a metal picnic table next to people you’ll never see again. 

The local DUP women (that’s daughters of the Utah Pioneers) are at the beginning of the line with a beautiful pieced and handmade quilt. I confidently crumple my tickets I’ve bought—convinced that this trick will aid me—clearly it’s my year to win. I’ve entered for the last eight years and it’s only been the last two years that I’ve even wanted the quilt, and this one is perfect for me. I’m sure that the Universe will recognize my worthiness and reward me. Years ago raffles came under fire as a form of gambling, and hence illegal in the state of Utah, so most places still hold raffles, but sell a piece of taffy for the price of a ticket to get around the law. That’s another thing I like about this whole day—there’s no pretense. Even though these women, look like very respectable law-abiding women—church goers even, they don’t look for any loopholes, they just sell the tickets illegally. I admire that. 
DUP museum in Paradise

I hand my money to a few other women—old friends for the most part. Now there’s hope when I’m handed a sturdy paper plate with my plastic utensils. Then, a string of about eight men manning the massive grills lined with butterfly trout fillets frying in pools of butter. The first man at the grill is Jon White himself, son Barney White, the man who began the trout farm, and grandson of Barnard White, or is there one more Barnard White in that line? Not sure. Next to him, is his brother. In rural Mormon Utah, it’s nearly always women who cook, plan, organize and then clean up nearly all major church and community events so, it’s especially nice that for this event—it’s all men cooking. Here there’s only one woman serving food and all she’s doing is handing out pats of butter.
I don't know any of these people
Not Jon (he's at the opposite end)

Back to Jon White. I’ve known Jon a long time. We used to be on the Paradise Planning and Zoning together. Jon is a big guy, a very big guy and his voice and personality are commanding. When he walks into a room, he pretty much stops whatever else is going on. He’s a walking encyclopedia for the town of Paradise. He knows the history, the layout, where all the seams of clay and gravel are. He knows who owns chickens, and whose dog is keeping folks awake at night. He has strong opinions, but loves the town possibly more than anyone else. In the meetings, he could do it all, as smart as he is, but he liked us all to contribute what we thought about septic tanks, lot sizes, commercial zoning, fence lines, and dog kennels. 

I was the only woman on the board and though I have strong opinions too, I was no match for Jon. But he always asked what I thought. Once in a very serious meeting, he said, “What do you think Carole, Gene? Amazing, this man really does know everything even my middle name. “How in the world did you know my name is Carole Jeanne (Jean)?” I asked. 

“I didn’t,” he said grinning. But I do know your name is Carole and his name,” nodding to the man on my right, “is Gene.”

Since then every single time he sees me, which isn’t often, he shouts. “Jeanne, how are you doing?”
So as I hold my plate in front of him waiting for the trout that bears his name, he says, “Jeanne, it’s been a long time. How are you?” And I just nod. “Great, I’ve been great.” 

And even though I wait well into the night for the phone call congratulating me on winning the quilt raffle to no avail, I still love this town.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Trout and Berry Days in Paradise

Tomorrow, I'll be hauling my pottery down to the center of Paradise for a bit of old fashioned fun. Oh, there will be the usual stuff, pony rides for the kids, trains, rides, cotton candy--all that stuff. But unlike other town celebrations, our's features the famous trout scramble. If you don't know what this is, think of a pool of water, a slew of fish, and humans trying to catch the fish with their hands. They do it in age groups ending with adult women. Why adult women and no adult men, you might ask? Uh, I wouldn't even dare to suggest that this is really a wet t-shirt contest--no of course not--not in Paradise in the 21st century, so I guess you'll have to ask those in charge. You'll have to come judge for yourself. 
But it's for fun and prizes and plus you keep the fish. They kill it and clean it for you--so don't think you have to build a pond at your house. 

I also enjoy the small town parade with horses, bicycles, and maybe a float or two. Usually the hand-outs are a bit better than most. It seems like for the last few years FAT BOYS were handed out--the ice-cream bars--not you know actual fat boys. Anyway that's worth coming out for right??? Then there's also an auction--proceeds benefitting our local emergency response team and or fire station. I've always donated a nice piece of pottery to this. The culmination of the evening is our very famous and also excellent trout dinner featuring White's trout and Weeks's berry desserts. I've heard that even people who don't like trout, like the trout, but I can't judge that because I LOVE trout. Besides, I look forward to this meal all year. Really, I do. 

Besides the dinner, my other favorite part of the day is just visiting with friends all day. I hope everyone I know and love comes. I know that isn't possible, but if it is come to Paradise. It's worth the drive. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Keith N Fisher

People say that when you start to feel too gosh-darned important that you should stick your finger in a bucket of water and then pull it out to see that no one leaves a hole. The water just fills up--so they say.  I don't believe that's true--not for a minute. Each of us leaves a void in the world when we go. Today a good man died. He was my friend although I didn't know him really well. He was my friend, even though we'd only had a few face to face conversations. We should have met a long time ago, but we didn't. He was only a year younger than me and attended the same high school. I knew who he was--sort of. I'd seen his face at writing conferences, but we didn't become friends until a conference at UVU some years back. That was the year I had really struggled with depression and social anxiety and writer's block, and low self-esteem and fear and ...  on and on. I wasn't sure I'd ever get another book published. It scared me to death to go to conferences and I avoided talking to authors, but in a small surge of confidence, I registered for a conference when I found out that I could attend with my good friend Josi Kilpack. It was there Keith introduced himself and told me how much he loved my writing, especially False Pretenses--my second book. This was before the following three books came out. We talked in the hall about writing, and if I recall it was then I found out that he was a good cook and participated in Dutch Oven cook-offs. From that day forward, I counted Keith as a friend. 

 He was my friend because he showed me over and over that he cared--about me, what I said, what I wrote, and what I thought. Through Facebook, we found out we had a lot of similar beliefs. He was my friend because he made me smile, nearly every week if not every day over the last few years. He was the kind of man, I wish I had known better, and met earlier, and spent more time with, and learned more from. He seemed to know how to say just the right thing when I'd post something that was controversial in our conservative circles, or when I needed to be encouraged or cheered. Sometimes, I wrote something that was a really hard truth for me, and then I'd want to delete it--but then I'd wait and often within the hour Keith would comment positively. 

The last time I saw Keith was at the Storymakers Conference in Provo the middle of May--just a couple of months ago. When I saw him and called his name, he immediately got up from his chair to greet me and give me a great big Keith hug. I said, something like thanks for reading my Facebook posts and liking them. It means a lot to me. And he said something like, no, thanks to you for writing and saying what you do. You are doing good. He encouraged me to keep at it. We talked about how hard it is to think differently than so many whom we associate with. We talked for a few more minutes. Then throughout the day, we'd pass in the hall or in a class and I'd give him a nod or a wave. And that was the last time I saw him in person. 

At the end of June, I had a meeting at my house on loving and supporting our LGBT friends and family. And Keith told me he was going to try to come. I knew he wanted to, though it was a two hour drive. I wish he had been able to because I would have loved spending that time with him, but I suspect he wasn't feeling well even then. His heart attack happened a couple of weeks later, and then there was so much more wrong. I was shocked today when he died. I wasn't ready for it. I went to his blog to read his last post. It was written on July 25th. Like much of his posts, it's poignant and touched my heart. It's fitting to end this tribute with his own words. I hope you will take the time to read it. 

Bye my friend. You were a big man, with a big heart, and a magnificent soul. You leave a big void. I hope Heaven is ready for you. Until we meet again.  

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Oops, Your Relationshiop is Showing

So recently I read that a sure sign of a good relationship or a bad relationship is how you respond to your partner when they make a comment or show you something that interests them. For instance if your significant other, says "Look, the moon is just coming up," and you either say nothing or shrug and say something like "Don't bug me, I'm watching America's Got Talent," then you might be heading to either a life-long disengagement or a permanent split. Instead, if you got up from your Lazy Boy to look out the window and watch the moon rise together, then chances are you are in a healthy place.

We all mess up sometimes, but after witnessing something this last weekend at my booth at Summerfest in Logan, I'm committed to being a more present, a more interested spouse, and a more interested and invested friend. 

My booth was in a great location under a beautiful oak tree, providing shade on a hot summer day and adding to the ambience of my handmade pottery. Two couples were strolling boy. They were probably in their 60's. One of the men turned to enter my booth and his eyes brightened. His wife and the other couple kept on walking past. He paused at one of my pie plates. It had a lovely mountain scene on it with wax-resist design. His hand lingered on it and he turned to see where his wife was and she was already past by now. He turned to get her and bring her back. She took a few steps back and stepped momentarily into my booth without letting her eyes rest anywhere except on her husband. She loudly said, "no, no, no." as if she was scolding a child who was about to touch a hot burner. Then she walked on. 

In that moment, with his hand still on the pie plate, the husband's eyes met mine. We shared a knowing sadness. He knew that I knew he had been scolded. He was embarrassed both for the rudeness of his wife to me, but the lack of respect she showed him. I too, was embarrassed for him. How could someone treat someone else like that? How hard would it have been for her to at least look at the pie plate. I admit I don't know the backstory, if there is one. Maybe the man has a fetish for pie plates. Maybe he bakes up a storm, pie and pie and expects her to eat them. Maybe he spends too much money, but I doubt any of this is true. Instead, I see a man who is sadly married to someone who doesn't get him. 

I said, "Thanks for appreciating my work."
He said, "I really do." And I knew it was one of the highest compliments I'd been paid. Now, I only wish that I could take that moment back. I wish, oh how I wish, that I would have handed him the pie plate and said, "Enjoy!"