“But Wait!”

A Progress Report

Since my cataract surgery, I’ve been saying “But Wait” to myself a lot.

“But wait! Don’t you have to put your glasses on before you can see to walk around the house?”

“But wait! Don’t you have to take your contact lenses out before you put those eye drops in?”

 

“But wait! You mean to tell me those green socks you wore to match your green jammies have been light blue all the time?” (And what other surprises lurk in my sock drawer?)

Apparently, I’ve been walking around in a soft, sepia fog for many years. (This isn’t a particularly bad thing for a writer of historical fiction, though.)

On the other hand, I used to say, “But wait! Wasn’t that your turn?” as I whizzed past the place where I was supposed to turn. But now I can read those street signs from half a block away.

So after my cataract surgeries, I’ve had to make small, odd mental adjustments to the changes in my vision. But I also have to admit that I’ve probably never seen as well as I do now.

Eye Drops

A Live and Learn Blog

This coming week, I’m scheduled to have cataract surgery on my right eye and the left eye the week after that. Now this is a rather alarming prospect in itself. How come? Well, it’s like this. As a fiction writer used to creating all sorts of nightmare scenarios, I can think of an abundance of things that can wrong. The information sheets the eye clinic sent me home with don’t help since they include complications like losing an eye. I’m not sure an eye patch is really the fashion look I’m after though maybe a black satin patch with sequins . . . ?

The info sheets also list major risks that include a droopy eyelid. Oh great! My eyelids are already so droopy that when I went for my eye exam last October, the technician at my regular optometrist’s office took at least two-dozen pictures of my eyeballs in one test before she thought she got a good one. For another test, she called in another technician who grabbed hold of the back of my neck and tried to pry my eye wide open with her other hand, thus blocking the camera.

These exams turned to be such an ordeal that when I finally saw my doctor, I said, “Oh gosh, I think I flunked my eye test.”

Nice guy that he is, the doctor merely smiled and said, “You’re fine.”

Nervous about the surgery, I put out a call to my Facebook friends and they were quite reassuring as in “easy peasy.” So I’m feeling a little more relaxed about it. Still I have a problem. In the build up to the surgery, I have to put eye drops in my eyes. This wasn’t immediately easy since I had to take a pair of manicure scissors to the plastic on one of the tiny bottles of eye drops just to get it open. (What is it with these companies that make the containers they put eye drops, food like mini quiches, juice, and other things in that it’s such a struggle to open them?)

But here again my droopy eyelids were problematic. There I stood in front of the mirror in my bathroom trying to drop the once-a-day stuff in my right eye. And it’s cloudy and it gushes out and I feel it on my cheek. Plus extra comes out of the vial that I have to wipe off. This stuff isn’t cheap. Those three tiny bottles shown above altogether cost $75. So I worry about wasting the eye drops, having to buy more, and also being scolded by the eye surgeon for not properly preparing for the surgery.

The first two applications of the other pre-surgery eye drops ended up on my cheek as well, or mostly anyway. Thank goodness for my daughter. She suffers from chronic dry eye and so she’s developed a method for dropping liquids in her eyes. She gave me an eye drop tutorial. She tilts her head left when she wants to put eye drops in her right eye, puts the tip of the bottle close to the corner of the right eye but not against it, and squeezes the vial. I tried her technique and sure enough, most of the drop went in my right eye instead of rolling down my cheek.

So this whole saga goes to show you that old dogs can learn new tricks. Plus it’s really great to have a kid and friends that care. Thanks, everybody!

 

P. S. January Jinx, Book 1 of my cozy historical mystery series, is only #99cents athttp://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4 and a penny less than a pound at http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00HSSSBE4 today through Tuesday January 7, 2020.

WiP Report: Life Happens, Part 2

Living My Life

Today I was going to write and post a really long, extensive follow-up to last week’s whine-session subtitled “Feeding the Cats” about my bout of illness, injury and insomnia. But frankly this week I don’t have the time because, for one thing, yesterday I made a proposal to Border Crimes, the local chapter of Sisters in Crime, started by notable writer Nancy Pickard, of how we might go forward in the future.

That’s part of the point of this WiP. Life happens. Things come up. I care about what happens to our chapter of Sisters in Crime, and I don’t want it on my conscience that it suffered because I didn’t pay enough attention to it at a critical time.

In the past I haven’t always done that. One of my deepest regrets is not attending the funeral of a friend two or three years ago because I was embroiled in working on a book and trying to get it done. I don’t remember which book exactly, but I still feel guilt and regret for not properly saying goodbye to dear Barbara J.

So here’s the bottom line. I have lots of projects I could do. I always have. And so I have to choose. When I first began the Calendar Mystery series shortly after I retired in 2004, I thought I’d whip out all twelve books, one for each month of the year, and publish one a year. At that rate, I would have finished them in 2016. It’s now 2019, and I’ve only reached April and that only slightly, in a short story called “The Shackleton Ghost,” that appears at the end of Old Time Stories available now in print and as an eBook exclusively from Amazon. Since it’s impossible for me to write, edit, produce, publish, and properly promote a novel in ten weeks and get it out by the end of April this year, I’m setting the Calendar Mysteries aside at least for now. Maybe next year . . .

This year, I want to reboot an older series I’ve already published and return to a project I first completed thirty years ago. (Yikes!) Meanwhile, I hope to do things like going to my exercise class at noon today and to this evening’s book club meeting. (We’re talking about Kate Griffin’s Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders and I’m looking forward to hearing what my friends say about it.) Maybe once my Physical Therapist is through working on my sore right arm and left hip, I can resume my art classes. There are always day-to-day chores like buying for, preparing, eating and cleaning up after meals, occasional chores like cleaning the home office which I finally did yesterday, and everyday pleasures like walking around the neighborhood on a beautiful afternoon.

Also I’d like to be there to help an ailing neighbor or a group in need. I want to go to a friend’s funeral even if that means setting aside my writing or not posting on Facebook or my website regularly. In other words, live my life. For after all, life happens – until it doesn’t.

WiP Report: Life Happens, Part 1

Feeding the Cats

Our little panther Safa boy Bombay (on the left) isn’t a picky eater and chows down on dry food. But last March his sibling Honey girl (on the right) quit eating and became terribly thin. Thus began our attempts to keep her alive. (FYI: with our current budget, taking the cats to the vet isn’t an option.)

The staff at the local pet store probably got tired of me when I came in, and with their help chose a can or two of food to try. Over several weeks, we tried out at least a dozen different kinds. Most I took back because Honey stuck up her kitty nose at them and traded them for other kinds to try.

It took weeks and weeks until we finally discovered the magic ingredient that would pique her appetite – pork liver. Even then we had to narrow the choice to certain recipes of the brand we finally settled on. For instance, she won’t eat the hairball formula at all and the spayed and neutered only occasionally, but others like the aging formula she gobbles up so fast we have to supervise her eating so she doesn’t promptly barf the stuff right back up again. (Sorry for the graphic detail.)

Just finding the right food didn’t end the saga of feeding the cats. No indeed, it took many weeks to develop a system of feeding Honey that seems to satisfy her. Here’s the current one.

Around 6:30 AM, she begins her campaign of yowling at one or the other of her two Mommies, the young Mommy in her bedroom in the front of the house or the old Mommy in the bedroom in the back.

Some cats have a pleasant, euphonious meow. Honey has one of those high-pitched Siamese screeches about as dulcet as dragging fingernails down a chalkboard. She starts with that and progresses to vaulting the sleeper back and forth. If her prey still resists those attempts, she resorts to sneaking her paw out with nails slightly unsheathed and pricking the Mommy lightly on the nose. The thing, though, that always gets the old Mommy (me) out of bed is her purr. I can’t resist it and will get up at last to feed her.

The Mommy serves Honey a quarter of a three-ounce can of food four times a day. It must be thin slices in gravy because she eschews the (cheaper) loaf style in the six-ounce cans because 1) she doesn’t recognize that style as edible and 2) she won’t eat food from a can opened the previous day. We heap the tender morsels in a small puddle of gravy in the middle of a bowl. It has to be a perfectly clean bowl, not one that contains even the tiniest bits of an earlier serving that might be hard and dry. Before serving the cat, the Mommy covers the can containing the unused food with plastic wrap and then covers the can with a fresh bowl, so ants don’t get in it. (Note: we can’t refrigerate the food because Honey won’t eat cold food.)

So then the Mommy serves the quarter can of whatever to Honey and meanwhile tops off the bowls of dry food that Honey’s brother Safa happily munches on whenever he wants to. (Note 1: This kind of food must be a single layer or the boy won’t eat it either. Note 2: Sometimes the girl eats the dry food too, but only after she’s had her tender slices of pork liver in gravy.)

The food Honey will eat isn’t cheap. Indeed, it costs up to $1.72 per can or around $50 a month. But this Mommy will not let it be said that the cat died because we were too cheap to buy food she would eat.

Okay, let’s go back to the title of this WiP Report, which presumably has something to do with my Work-in-Progress. Indeed it does. You see, when we started dealing with this issue last year, Honey was getting us up at five-thirty if not earlier. (You try explaining the change from Daylight Savings Time to Central Standard Time to a cat.) The young Mommy usually can get back to sleep after feeding the cats, but not me, the old Mommy. So gradually I got sleep deprived. For example, the week of October 21 – 27, 2018, I averaged 5 hours and 39 minutes. (Even my usual target amount of sleep of 7 hours and 15 minutes is well below the 8 hours and something others in my age group average.)

Then I injured my right shoulder and my left hip, probably for going after my exercise routine too hard. After that I got sick. I had a cold in November while I wrote a novel for NaNoWriMo2018 and an even worse cold at the end of December and the start of January. It was torture for me to get a decent night’s sleep rolling from my sore shoulder to my sore hip and coughing hard whenever I tried to sleep on my back. And so I got bronchitis in February.

I’m happy to report that I’m feeling better now that I’ve paid a couple of visits to the doctor’s office, got some medications, and started visiting a physical therapist. But you know what? It takes time to be sick and get physical therapy and all that stuff. And all of this interfered with my writing schedule.

 

Suffice it to say here that I’m now feeling more like myself and I will tell you about some of the decisions about my writing that I’ve made in my next WiP Report.

Best, Juliet

WiP Report: Hump Day

Yesterday my NaNoWriMo word count reached 23,147, and since I’m trying to add 2,000 words a day, I’ve almost reached midpoint or the Hump Day for Apart in April, the book I’m drafting this month. At this point it seems very chaotic, filled with brainstorms and incomplete scenes, not necessarily in the final order either. Also sometimes I’ve gone back and added notes in red to what I’ve already written. Going back and trying to rewrite while you’re drafting is something others counsel against. For that matter, I do too in Novel Basics, my book on writing the novel.

I must admit that I didn’t feel swell when I got up this morning. About six to eight weeks ago I did something to my right shoulder at my exercise class. Don’t nag. I’ve seen somebody about it and even had an MRI. Last night I dutifully took my painkiller and muscle relaxant for it before I went to bed early, so I could get off to a fast start to my workday.

But pain in my shoulder woke me up in the middle of the night, probably because I played Spider Solitaire on my iPad mini for an hour yesterday afternoon while I waited for my daughter to come home for supper. It really annoys me when something I do for pleasure turns out to hurt me instead.

And my physical frailty makes this whole business of having a career as an indie author at my advanced age seem stupid. Why can’t I just be happy volunteering at the library or a senior center like some of my friends do?

So I was gearing up to a rant when an idea popped into my head. What if Daniel is the Watkins Man in this book? And the thought made me laugh.

That’s the main reason why I write, you know. It makes me happy. And now I have to get back to it. I can hardly wait to find out what my heroine Minty does when she sees Daniel pretending to be the Watkins Man.

Best, Juliet

Juliet Kincaid’s historical cozy mysteries tell the story of business girl Minty Wilcox and dashing detective Daniel Price from newly met to newlywed and beyond in Kansas City, a place that could downright deadly a hundred years or so ago. The first four books in the series are available in both digital and print versions. Check them out at https://www.amazon.com/Juliet-Kincaid/e/B00DB4HWRG/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Dithering for Fitness

An Indie Author Lifestyle Blog

Perhaps you know the feeling. It’s ten until the hour. Your fitness tracker pulses you gently on your wrist. So you pop up from your desk where you’ve been hard at work on your next book (or story or promo pitch) and run in place. Or maybe you jog back and forth in your house, passed perhaps by another person living in the house on the same mindless journey. When your tracker pulses you again to tell you that you’ve gotten your 250 steps for the hour, you return to your desk, sit, and go back to work.

My mischievous monkey mind just flashed me an image of an open office filled with cubicles where dozens of workers simultaneously pop up from their desks to run in place. Or at the local coffeehouse, authors with their laptops hop off their tall stools and shift from foot to foot while they vigorously pump their— I just had to get up to get those 250 steps by walking through the house and met my daughter in the living room doing the same thing. (My daughter and I have become rather competitive in our fitness program. And fairly often, to her chagrin, I receive more steps, more miles, and more active minutes, not to forget all my hourly dots, than she does.)

But let us continue . . .

—arms. Sometimes my daughter gets caught short without her 250 steps completed while I’m driving us to our exercise class. So she starts stamping the floorboard and hitting her seat with her elbows until her fitness tracker gives her the message that she killed it for that hour.

Those little devices can be such tyrants and they’re also addictive, so I’d like to suggest a method of exercise that doesn’t require you to resort to dramatic measures that interfere with your writing or other activities.

What’s the secret of my success? Why, dithering of course. It came to me one day after I started from the home office at the front of the house to do something or whatever in the other end of the house. But by time I arrived in my bedroom, I’d forgotten what it was. Now as a senior citizen, I’m entitled to a certain amount of forgetfulness, but I’d like to suggest that, no matter your age, you too can exercise your way to admirable fitness and good health through purposeful dithering.

Here are some ways that I now dither on purpose to get more steps in my day.

Instead of dragging the hose from the back to the front of the house to water my planters full of zinnias in the front window, I dither back and forth half a dozen times between the kitchen sink and the flowers with a small watering can.

(My neighbor Joan does me even better by watering her plentiful array of flowers a half a Dixie cup at a time. On trash day she also puts the big bins at the curb early, so she has an excuse to amble back and forth with small bags of trash to dispose of or single items to recycle. This method also gives her plentiful opportunities to visit with passersby or to see what the neighbors across the street are up to.)

When I need more steps, sometimes I ferry items one at a time out to the assorted bird feeders in my back yard: a cob of dried corn on one trip and a suet cake on another.

I’ve also developed ways to dither in public without seeming to. For instance, occasionally I go to a grocery store I’m unfamiliar with so I have an excuse to wander freely back and forth from the bakery to the frozen food section several times in search of that special item. Youngsters, you can use this method as well. My daughter has become expert at matching coupons to products to get more steps at our drugstore.

And so in closing, I ask you to feel free to provide other methods of purposeful dithering you might use in the comments section. (P. S. To receive notifications of future blogs like this one, please subscribe.)

 

“Write Stuff Down”

An Indie Author Reflects on Senior Moments

Three of us dedicated senior hoofers have gathered near the back of the exercise center after class. We’re all 60+. (Well, to be honest, in my case, it’s 60++.) We’re all normal weight and short but not stooped over from osteoporosis. We all take at least three classes a week, so we’re far more active than the USA norm.

But still the issue of senior moments comes up. “Why . . . ,” says J. “My husband told me something yesterday and a half hour later I couldn’t remember what he said, so I had to ask him again.”

I almost parrot something I heard on NPR or read in the AARP Bulletin about the nerve endings or whatever in our brains not holding onto information like they used to. But frankly I don’t recall enough of it to talk about it, so I keep my mouth shut.

Friend D says, “I write stuff down. That helps me remember. I write stuff on calendars, things like that.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I don’t say since that would be rude. I do say, “Jess and I keep a calendar on the kitchen wall.”  My daughter and I put our appointments, classes and meetings on the kitchen calendar, a sort of plan for the household. But I also put my appointments, meetings, and classes on the engagement calendar Jess gives me every year. I put my daily to-do lists on that calendar, too.

The mention of calendars sends my friend J off into a lovely riff about the calendars her daughter gives her every year with pictures of the grand kids at Christmas, at Easter, probably summer vacations too though if she says it I don’t hear it because I’ve drifted off into a memory accompanied by considerable self-flagellation on the subject of writing things down. (I do that a lot.) Besides jotting down my daily to-do lists on my engagement calendar and print-outs of monthly calendars, I often put to-do lists in the journals I’ve kept since January 1986. Recently I created a checklist to use to track my social media activities.

And then I keep special lists, sort of like flow charts, of steps in the processes of doing new things in my journal or the backs of printouts of my work. For example, recently my daughter helped me with the cover for the paperback version of my most recent work, Old Time Stories. Specifically she told me how to work with some basic Photoshop tools. Before she started, though, I said, “Wait! Wait! Let me write that down.”

So, I wrote down her instructions in my journal, or at least I thought I did. The next day when I tried to work on that cover without her help, I couldn’t find those instructions. What I did find in my journal were many to-do lists, mostly of the same six things over and over again. (You know, some times you can go too far with writing stuff down or following any good advice, for that matter.)

So, I thought that maybe I wrote it on one of the pieces of paper littering my desk. No luck there either because I had a little throwaway party the other day to clear my computer desk. I must have had a mental lapse (aka a brain fart) and put the notes in the recycle bag.

Regardless, I had to take up my daughter’s time for her to repeat the instructions. This time I did write clear notes in my journal. What’s more, I made a frigging tab with a sticky note so I wouldn’t lose those notes. I also transcribed the notes into my typewritten log to help me remember those instructions the next time I need them.

So what’s the big deal?

It’s like this. Senior moments like these strike terror in my heart that I’ve begun that long slide into oblivion. But maybe I haven’t . . . When I was weeping about forgetting the instructions my daughter gave me, Jess said, “That’s not a senior moment, Mom. It’s a technical moment. Anybody can have them.” Thank you, sweetheart.

Here’s the cover for the trade paperback version of my new book (currently in process).  It’s the first one I’ve done more or less on my own. You can pre-order the eBook version from now until its publication on August 29, 2018, for only $0.99 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07F4JL8D5

 

WiP Report 8/8/18: Fear of Failure

I am very happy to report that I finished editing OLD TIME STORIES, my new collection of six mystery short stories and eleven nonfiction pieces about the people and places that inspired the stories. And this past Monday I posted the digital version on Kindle Direct Publishing in plenty of time for the 8/29/18 publication date.

Promptly I moved on to the next phase of self-publishing: producing the print copy, filing for the copyright, and creating postcards to promote it.

For the first time so far, instead of producing the trade paperback through Create Space, Amazon’s publishing wing, I started the process through KDP, a time-saver since all the basic information about the book like title, author, description, etc. went right over to the paperback file. I even downloaded a template for the cover of the 211-page book.

But then the process came to a screeching halt.

With individual short stories like “The Barn Door” and “Detectives’ Honeymoon,” I’ve expanded my indie author skills to include simple eBook covers. But as yet, I haven’t done the cover for print versions. And my daughter, who did the covers for the previous paperbacks in my Calendar Mystery series, currently is as busy as a button on a back house door, to quote my dear old dad. The template intimidated me.

So I said to myself, Fine. File for copyright, something I’ve done in the past, though not recently. But when I went on line to do it this time, I got hung in the form.

Again, I said to myself, Fine. Do the postcards. I did the front of the cards some time ago, but darned if I could remember how I did it. So when I tried to put the jpeg for the text side of the card four times on an 8½” x 11” sheet, I failed about six times.

At that point, I got anxious and started finding excuses to do something else, anything else. I scheduled my exercise class for the middle of the day even though I know that meant I wouldn’t get back to my writing in the afternoon. I went on a junket to the drug store and the pet store, though I didn’t really need to. I checked my email, Facebook and Twitter accounts. I played Spider Solitaire over and over. And then, thank God, it was time to start dinner and I could cruise through the rest of the evening without beating myself up for being such a failure.

For please be mindful that any lapse for an indie author of an advanced age is a sign that brain rot has set in and it’s down hill from here.

A collection of six historical fiction mystery short stories and eleven nonfiction pieces about the people and places that inspired the fiction, the digital version of Old Time Stories is available to pre-order for only $0.99 cents until August 29, 2017 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07F4JL8D5

The Case of the Mysterious Back Pain

Lately, due to back pain, I’ve gotten behind on my current Work-in-Progress,  a historical mystery short story called “Detectives Honeymoon.”  Now, back pain isn’t unusual for indie authors. Lots of you out there are indie authors, so you probably know what I’m talking about.

But my recent back pain isn’t the typical lower back pain that comes from sitting and typing for long hours. I’ve had that kind and I don’t get it much anymore because I’ve got a special chair with two cushions in it.

Oh no, this new pain was up under my right shoulder blade. It felt like some big guy stood behind me and jammed his index and middle fingers into my back. At its worst, my back started hurting within the first half hour of starting my morning writing session. Plus, one day when I was driving home from an afternoon exercise class, the pain of keeping my hands and arms on the steering wheel at two and ten was so intense it reached eight on a ten-point scale, way past the point of being able to ignore it, just short of my screaming out loud.

So I tried to figure out what caused it and how to fix it because, honey, I’ve got lots of stories and books to write before I shuffle off this mortal coil. I tried adjusting the height of my special desk chair, took both pillows out, put one back in and then the other. No help at all. I switched out my special chair with a kitchen chair. That didn’t help either. I quit using weights at my exercise class. I even took the Spider Solitaire app off my phone. Zip effect.

So finally I broke down and went to see a nurse practitioner at my doctor’s office. She said the problem was muscular not a case of bone scraping bone. That was somewhat good news. She told me to keep taking Ibuprofen, up to six a day, and apply heat or cold. I hated the cold, but the heating pad felt good. Unfortunately, I don’t really have a way to write with the heating pad on my shoulder.

These things worked, along with walking, but only for a while before really I couldn’t stand to type for more than half an hour at a time without the pain getting to me.

But then one day, at my exercise class, I had an epiphany about the source of my back pain when the instructor lifted her right arm, crooked at the elbow, and twisted around to her right. “Now,” she said. “You should be feeling this right where your bra strap crosses your back below your shoulder blades.”

“Aha!” I said to myself. “That’s exactly where my back is killing me!” And now that I know what caused the injury in the first place, I’ve quit doing that part of that particular exercise.

Now, I suppose you want to tell me that I wouldn’t have had this problem at all if I didn’t dance for exercise. But I’m an endorphin junkie who enjoys the rush I get dancing four times a week. I get an even bigger rush when my characters make me laugh or cry. So I’m very happy to have solved this mystery and I can keep on writing that story and all the other stories I have in  mind.

Best, Juliet

A House in the Country

A Reminiscence

Whenever we went for a drive on Sunday afternoons and on long trips, too, back in the 50’s, Dad stamped white horses. If he spotted a white horse in a field by the side of the road, he’d lift his right hand from the steering wheel, lick the end of his index finger, punch it against the palm of his left hand still on the wheel, and slam his right fist against his palm to seal the deal.

On our rides, Dad and I competed to see who stamped the most white horses. So he liked to wait until we’d almost passed the horse and it was almost out of sight to stamp it, so I’d miss it and he’d win. He’d chuckle like crazy as I’d turn my head to look for the white horse and say, “Where is it? Where is it? I missed it. Oh darn it, Daddy.”

(Two can play that game.)

I don’t imagine we stamped too many white horses on a drive in Clarion County PA that we took close to the Fourth of July in 1955.

My dad’s mother, Grandmother Willman, wearing a faded, short-sleeved house dress, but as stiff-necked as usual, came with us. She wanted to find the house her husband grew up in. Though the area hadn’t changed as much as it would in the next decade with the building of the interstates and the subsequent development along them, it had been a very long time, sixty years or more, since she visited that house. You forget lots in sixty years, something I understand much more now than I did when I was fourteen going on fifteen, a supple young thing who didn’t understand how age stiffens necks.

Our usual seating arrangement in the car was Dad at the wheel. Mom rode shotgun. Our dog, a short-legged beagle mix with a big brown spot in the middle of her white back, sat in Mom’s lap. I rode in the back.

On that particular ride, Grandmother Willman sat in front, so she could give Dad directions. Mom, Dotty, and I rode in back.

Mom was obviously pissed off about the seating arrangements. She glared through her glasses with her snapping black eyes at the back of her mother-in-law’s head, covered with silky white hair pinned in two braided crescents that crisscrossed each other just above her seamed neck.

Mom always said Grandmother Willman was a bitch because before Dad married Mom, Dad sent most of the money he made working for the CCC home to his mother to save for him.

Or so he thought until his wedding to Mom on 7/11/37, he asked his mother for his money, and Grandmother Willman said, “Money? What money? I don’t have any of your money.” Whenever Mom told this story, she bellowed those exact same words in the exact same way. And so my dad had to take out a loan of $200, a substantial sum back then during the Depression, to start his married life with my mom.

I’m certain Grandmother Willman disapproved of my mom just as much. They were so different, the one a stern, church-going, teetotal countrywoman and the other a city girl with a New Jersey accent who didn’t attend church much, not even on Easter and Christmas, except for the social stuff like the annual picnic. Also Mom used words like “bitch” and “shit” and didn’t mind the occasional beer or cocktail.

Grandmother Willman’s disapproval of the girl Dad married the second time around passed down to me. Though my mom was a world-class housekeeper and kept a far tidier house than any of my dad’s sisters and his mom, she wasn’t teaching me crucial womanly kitchen skills. (She didn’t want me underfoot when she was in the kitchen fixing supper.) Also my mom earned her living as a nurse before she and Dad got married.

I was headed down the same wrong path of wanting to go to college and to earn my living instead of getting married, making babies, and keeping house.

But that day, given a choice between staying back at the family farm with Dad’s relatives that she barely knew and going somewhere, anywhere, in the car, Mom shut her mouth and glowered at her mother-in-law from the back seat. She was probably just waiting for Grandmother Willman to say something or do something Mom could bitch to my dad about for days, weeks, months, and years to come. (“And that’s another thing that burns my ass off about your mother, Homer,” she’d say.

The drive, maybe punctuated by Dad and me stamping a white horse or two, took a while because Grandmother Willman was unsure of the directions. It must have been a point of pride that in the end she did remember where the house was and finally the car bumped along a lane past a new farmhouse, white with bright blue shutters, till we came to an old house inside a square of dirt with a rickety barbed wire fence around it. Even I who’d never seen the house before was shocked by its condition.

“This must be it, Mother,” Dad said as he pulled the car close to the fence. He turned off the engine, opened his door and got out without closing the door on that side. He stared across the top of the car.

Mom squeezed against me as she looked out the window on my side of the car. “Is that really it?” she said. “I can’t say much for it.”

Staring at the old house, I tried to figure out what was wrong with it. Well, for one thing, it was the gray of weathered wood without any paint at all. There wasn’t anything green around it. Unlike my father’s mother’s family farmhouse, it didn’t have a pond sitting in front of it. And then I realized what I didn’t see, too. It sat alone inside that fence without a single outbuilding, spring house, outhouse or corn crib, shed or barn.

After a while, Grandmother Willman said, “I believe the people that own the place now are using the old house as a barn.”

“I think you’re right, Mother,” Dad said, his voice a little distant from outside the car. He turned and poked his head back in. “I tell you what. Why don’t we look around? The cows aren’t in the barnyard and I’m sure the new owners won’t mind.”

“Yes, let’s,” Mom said. “I hate to think we came all this way for nothing.”

Mom opened the door. The floppy-eared Dottie spilled out. My mom slammed the door and I jumped out my side. Grandmother Willman was the last out, helped by my dad though I don’t think she stopped looking at that falling-down house the whole time.

Dad went ahead and unlatched the wide gate, shut by a loop of wire, held the gate open while we trooped through, then closed it. A little closer, I saw that the windows didn’t have a bit of glass anymore though a rag of a curtain blew through a window on the second floor.

Glad to be out of the car, I ran ahead of the others, up the narrow stone steps and through the doorway (no door left) straight into the house. Momentum carried me through what must have been the kitchen and parlor, up narrow steps to a hall and into a bedroom. Finally, the sight of faded wallpaper shredded down the walls, straw littering the floor, mouse droppings, and the stink of must and decay stopped me. This is horrible, I thought. Finding the house in this condition was worse than not finding it at all. It was like walking inside a corpse.

I heard my mom and dad marching around downstairs, as they tried to figure out the layout of the house, but I couldn’t stand breathing the close, rotten air of that house anymore. By the time I got back outside, Grandmother Willman was there, too, gazing at the house through wire-rimmed glasses that reflected the sunlight so I couldn’t see her eyes.

I heard her voice shake, though, as she pointed toward a nearly leafless, thorny plant growing by the steps. “That’s a blackberry bush,” she said. “My mother-in-law made the best pies with the berries from that bush.”

Suddenly, I felt sorry for Grandmother Willman, in her faded house dress, stiffly corseted underneath, in her black granny shoes and stockings, as she remembered all the people she’d known and loved who’d lived in that now dead house, alone and solitary in a barren field.