A Father’s Day Remembrance

My Father’s Gardens, a Remembrance

Typically, my gardens are puny things. Besides flowers, they usually include herbs like basil, mint, chives, parsley, and occasionally a tomato plant in pots on our patio. But my father’s gardens were often superb.

My father, Homer Dale Willman, Sr., used to say, “When the Corps hired me, they took a great farmer and made him into a half-assed engineer.”

Still, though he worked over twenty years for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, my father always had a garden. Until his last summer, he grew at least a little something, maybe vibrant begonias, a geranium in a big pot, a climbing rose, possibly hollyhocks, and usually mint so he could watch the telecast of the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May with an icy julep in hand. And always, always, he had a tomato plant or two.

Back in the fifties and sixties, the prime years of his backyard gardens, he put lots of effort into his tomatoes. We lived in the tri-state region of Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia where winters were mild (though Dad always hoped for some snow to put nitrogen into the dirt). After the ground warmed and softened along about Easter, Dad took his shovel out to his garden patch to prepare the soil.

My mom used to kid my dad about “digging to China” because to him preparation meant digging a pit eighteen inches across and three feet deep for each tomato plant. He partially refilled each hole with compost, manure and other nourishing substances mixed with loose dirt.

The newly planted tomato plants–named Big Boy, Better Boy, Early Boy and Rutgers–looked scrawny so far apart, their sparse leaves insufficient to fuel growth. They did grow though. Usually by the Fourth of July, Dad would push aside those leaves, releasing the acrid odor that set our stomachs to growling, and with a gentle tug, pick the first tomato of the season. Mom, Dad, my brother Dale, and I fought over that first tomato, so ripe the skin peeled off clean and biting the tongue with its acidity. By late summer, the plants, lovingly tied to their stakes with strips of old sheets, stood eight feet high and loaded with tomatoes that Mom canned, made juice with, or begged neighbors to haul away.

Maybe the secret of Dad’s tomatoes lay in his compost pile that he researched, constructed, and maintained like a true engineer. The compost pile I remember best was a four-foot cube of vegetable peels and melon rinds, musty grass clippings, twigs, lime, and goat manure he got as partial payment for a ship model he built for a friend who owned a herd of goats.

Dad made a hole in the center of the compost pile so air got inside and furthered the controlled decay. Once, out of curiosity, he tied some string to a thermometer and lowered it into the hole. In less than a minute, the thermometer broke. Later, with Mom’s candy thermometer, Dad discovered that the compost pile had reached 135 degrees.

After we moved into town, Dad scaled his gardens small, but back in the late forties when we lived in the aptly named Garden Court over in Ohio, he almost filled the back yard with his vegetable plot. Forty by sixty feet, it ran from the house back almost to the tree-lined creek. Pieces of string stretched between sticks defined the plot so meticulously it looked like Dad had laid the garden out with a surveyor’s transit.

Dad bragged about that garden having fifty different varieties of plants. They included tomatoes of course, potatoes, corn, green peppers, red peppers, scallions, onions, cucumbers, and Black-seeded Simpson leaf lettuce. Instead of cantaloupe, that Dad said didn’t prosper in our climate, he grew muskmelons. Radishes started the growing season and beets finished it. Many of the vegetables he planted I’ve forgotten now, but I still love to recite exotic names like zucchini, kohlrabi, and cocozelle.

We all got involved in Dad’s gardens. One year we had so much cabbage that Mom canned it. Dad paid Dale a penny a hundred head to pick bugs and beetles out of the garden. Dad never let me forget that those pretty yellow hollyhocks I picked one year were actually squash blossoms. Once, we tried to shell tough-hulled soybeans by putting them through Mom’s washer wringer. The beans popped out the other side, and Dale and I chased them as they bounced around the kitchen floor.

My father’s gardens . . . Whenever I think of them, I picture him in my mind. Small-boned, with a mustache, my father wears a billed cap to keep his scalp from burning, a tan shirt dark with sweat under the arms, tan pants cut off and neatly hemmed above his knobby knees, and muddy shoes too worn to wear to work anymore. He leans against a shovel stuck into a pile of dirt. And dreaming of fresh tomatoes by the Fourth of July, he grins.

 

 

 

December 2021 Newsletter

The Old and the New

Out with the old and in with the new isn’t working so well for me this year. For example, at a time when some of my friends send virtual Christmas cards, this year I decided to send out real stamped cards. For me, the process involves looking back at the cards I received last year and circling the years when I received responses in the address book that I’ve kept for twenty years. I used to send as many as fifty, this year about half that for one reason or another.

As it happens, this year the day I did my Christmas cards, I woke up at 4 AM as my interminable Ya Gotta List rattled through my head. So, I ended up getting only two and a half hours of sleep, an insomnia record for me, and awoke in a terrible mood. But later, the process of looking at last year’s cards and newsletters, locating current addresses for a couple of my nieces and a nephew on Facebook, writing Hi along with a specific name and Love, Juliet and Jess inside the cards, addressing them, and putting on stamps and return address labels made me feel better. Plus, most of the cards I sent this year featured two dozen cats gathered around a piano. The joy of that card became my joy as well and healed my head.

From the topic of the old tradition of sending holiday cards, let’s move on to the new . . .

Not long ago I crashed my old computer by opening too many apps at once. And my daughter Jess decreed that its days were numbered because the hard drive was dying. (Ten years is old for computers.) So, I bought a new one. That meant that I needed to get used to a new computer, a new version of Microsoft Word, and a new version of Photoshop. (For instance, the new version of Word somehow put Calibri in my font box instead of the Times New Roman I’ve used in the past and I haven’t figured out how it did that.) Also, these things required new user names and new passwords. I don’t especially care for the passwords some alien AI app assigns because I just can’t remember those jumbles of letters and numbers. Instead, I like to devise my own with phrases I can recall and put together with a variety of upper and lower cases, numbers, and possibly a special character now and then.

All this stuff takes time and leads me to my last WiP Report of 2021. It looks like I won’t complete the current draft of Die by the Sword this year after all and move on to revising and editing. But when things settle down, I will.

Have a happy, healthy, and safe New Year, my friends, and I’ll get back to you in 2022. All the best, Juliet

Continue reading

“New China Special”

In “New China Special,” a Memoir of a Marriage, a brief, intimate piece that combines personal memoir with creative nonfiction, a mother shares with her child a series of vignettes – all related to Chinese restaurants in some way – about events that occurred before the child was born or not old enough to remember.

 

 

Here’s an excerpt from the first vignette:

Outside in the fire lane, your daddy waited in the Beetle, my first car. (I hate to say it, but I can’t remember its color now. Peacock blue? Emerald green? One of those.)

I slid onto the passenger seat as your daddy put the car in gear. He drove straight down the fire lane, right off campus and down the avenue due west eight blocks. In Huntington, WV, laid out along the Ohio River by a railroad engineer in the 1870’s, this meant the university and the restaurant were precisely eight-tenths of a mile apart.

On the way, your daddy said, “Bet I can do it faster than you.”

“Bet you can’t,” I said.

Your daddy parked a couple of spaces past the restaurant and we scooted out of the car.

The green pagoda sign was on and New China was serving lunch.

My stomach growled as we sashayed arm in arm in the door between the display windows. The one on the right contained what looked like an orange tree, only tiny. Sometimes its scrawny branches held white blossoms or knobby little fruit. The left window featured an arrangement of packaged Taiwanese tea and fossilized egg rolls.

Menus tucked under his left elbow, the maître d’ met us by the front counter. “Hello, how are you?” he said, stressing the lo and the you.

The maître d’ was a middle-aged Asian with a nearly bald head. He wore a gray cotton jacket over his shoulders that rounded forward and tan pants. As we walked by him, he bowed and launched his usual question after us: “Uh, a booth or a table?”

He should have known the answer. We always asked for a booth. In New China a booth was a little room made of rickety partitions about seven feet high and, for a door, a curtain on a rod across the opening. (He didn’t know the reason why we always wanted a booth. At least, we hoped he didn’t know.)

“New China Special” is now available for only $0.99 as a Kindle Short Read at www.amazon.com/dp/B07ND5F9X9 (and it’s free on Kindle Unlimited.)

Legacy

Hello, Everyone!

Gosh, it’s been a long time since I talked to some of you, so this will serve as a catch-up about my activities as an indie author in 2018. It was very busy for me, partly because I made an ambitious resolution at the start of the year to bring out something new, free or discounted every month. And I did it! Here are highlights of the new stuff.

 

In April, I finished and published a brand new calendar mystery short story called “The 9th Street Gang.” It features Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price pursuing a pesky young gang in Kansas City in February 1900 just after they became engaged in Mischief in March. Click on the cover  to buy it for only $0.99.

 

In May, I published another short, “Detectives’ Honeymoon” that picks up exactly where Mischief in March leaves off. It resolves that little cliffhanger at the end of the novel and follows what turns out to be an unusual honeymoon. Click on the cover to buy it for only $0.99.

In July, I published Old Time Stories, a collection of fiction and nonfiction. It includes six calendar mystery short stories like the two mentioned earlier plus the previously unpublished story called “The Shackleton Ghost.” It also includes nonfiction pieces about the people and places that inspired my fiction. Click on the cover to buy the eBook for $3.99. (The print version is available for $10.)

And for those of you Minty and Daniel fans who wondered what happened to the April calendar mystery novel, I drafted it in November as a NaNoWriMo2018 project. I hope to publish it in April 2019.

 

(Note: the digital version of January Jinx, in which my heroine Minty Wilcox confronts all sorts of problems trying to get a suitable job for a woman in old Kansas City, will cost you only $0.99 in the U. S. at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4 or in the UK for £0.99 at www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00HSSSBE4 from December 27, 2018 to January 3, 2019. It’s also available in print.

 

The project I completed and published in 2018 that I’m proudest of isn’t fiction at all. It’s Novel Basics, an Illustrated Guide to Writing a Novel, and very close to my heart as a longtime novel reader, writer, and teacher. Here’s a brief description of that book:

Let Dr. Juliet Kincaid talk you through her unique method of brainstorming a novel with twenty cards in the first part of Novel Basics. Then follow through with her expert guidance on time management, as well as drafting and revising a novel. Altogether, Novel Basics provides a compact yet complete practical guide to writing a novel, whether it’s your first or your fifteenth.

In this book, I describe the novel as a tool of infinite possibilities, a sort of Swiss Army knife with a million blades. And I view the book as my legacy for future novelists no matter who you are or where or when you write your novels.

Novel Basics is now available as an eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B07K2LXFRP for $3.99 and in print (9781730833991) for $8.99.

Best, Juliet (aka Dr. J)

FREE SHORT

Two Birthdays

After Minty Wilcox has worked for six months or so at Price Investigations as a stenographer/typist, the dashing detective Daniel Price appears in the office and carries her off to take notes on a new case the agency has been hired for. But once he starts filling Minty in on the details of the case, some of the information sounds strangely familiar. And she begins to wonder what he’s really up to on her twentieth birthday, June 22, 1899. This fun short story also includes a ride through old Kansas City to the not-yet-open Electric Park, soon to become a favorite spot for visitors.

The digital version of “Two Birthdays” is FREE October 13 – 14, 2018 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B076JS3D2Y

“Two Birthdays” is just one of the six historical mystery short stories included in Old Time Stories that feature Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price sleuthing, getting to know each other and falling in love before, between, and after the three novels in Juliet Kincaid’s Calendar Mystery series: January Jinx, Fatal February and Mischief in March. Old Time Stories, that also includes nonfiction pieces about the people and places that inspired Juliet’s fiction, is now available as a trade paperback and also as an eBook at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07F4JL8D5

Old Time Stories Now in Print

Join business girl Minty Wilcox and detective Daniel Price in old Kansas City as they sleuth, get to know each other, and fall in love in six stories that occur before, between or after JANUARY JINX, FATAL FEBRUARY, and MISCHIEF IN MARCH, the first three novels in the Calendar Mystery series. Included are “Detectives’ Honeymoon” which starts exactly where Book 3 ends and “The Shackleton Ghost,” published here for the very first time. OLD TIME STORIES also includes eleven nonfiction pieces about the real people and places that inspired Juliet Kincaid to tell the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond in Kansas City, a place that could downright deadly a hundred years or so ago.

Five-Star Review of “The Barn Door”
“This short prequel story to the first book, JANUARY JINX, is fun and introduces us to the two main characters, Daniel and Minty, before they actually meet. I especially like the descriptions of Kansas City in the 1900’s as well as the vivid descriptions of the characters. Read ‘The Barn Door’ and you will not be disappointed.” Amazon Reviewer.

Five-Star Review of “Lost Dog”
“What a delight to find myself in ‘old’ Kansas City again with such wonderfully drawn characters. I feel I know them and would love to follow them along the street while looking for the lost dog’s owner and I could just push that old neighbor back into the bushes after rescuing the poor dog from her vicious beating. Oh, this author brings them so alive and that is what keeps me reading her stories.” Amazon Reviewer

 

 

OLD TIME STORIES is now available as an EBOOK at www.amazon.com/dp/B07F4JL8D5 and a TRADE PAPERBACK exclusively from Amazon.

A Special Memory for Throwback Thursday

One afternoon back in my mid-teen years, I was home alone in the apartment when I heard a car honking outside. When I rushed to the window and looked out, I saw a Chevy like this one pulled up to the curb. Right away my mom and dad got out.

I didn’t realize it then, but this car, the first I remember my family owning, brought enormous changes to our lives, all good. (How many material objects can you say that about?) Here are some of them.

1) My mom no longer had to grocery shop on her own at Kroger’s downtown and wrangle grocery bags home on the bus. This could be an ordeal in the summer especially.

2) We could and did move to nicer apartments in nicer parts of town outside the bus lines.

3) On the typical Sunday afternoon, we’d take a drive instead of staying at home with Mom pouting because Dad and I went to church and she cooked pot roast.

Here’s a really special memory . . . When I was in 10th Grade, Dad drove Mom, our beloved dog Dottie, and me through the countryside on several weekends with frequent stops, so we could get out and collect leaves for my Botany project. I still have it and I still love trees.

4) My family began to take car trips at least twice a year. In the winter break, Dad might drive us up to New Jersey to visit Mom’s folks. In the summer Dad might drive me and my girlfriends up to Camp Luther.

Or we might drive to a reunion on his side of the family like the one described in Old Time Stories, available now through Labor Day for only $0.99 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07F4JL8D5

 

What car have you owned that was really special?

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

New Story Collection

From fireworks on the 4th of July through a surprising streetcar ride and a troublesome gang to an unusual honeymoon and a haunted house, the six tales in Old Time Stories delight and entertain. This collection also includes a dozen nonfiction pieces about the real people and places that inspired Juliet Kincaid to write her historical Calendar Mystery series that tells the story of business girl Minty Wilcox and detective Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond in Kansas City, a place that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago.

Here’s a review of “Lost Dog,” a prequel story to the Calendar Mystery series that features business girl Minty Wilcox. “What a delight to find myself in ‘old’ Kansas City again with such wonderfully drawn characters. I feel I know them and would love to follow them along the street while looking for the lost dog’s owner and I could just push that old neighbor back into the bushes after rescuing the poor dog from her vicious beating. Oh, this author brings them so alive and that is what keeps me reading her stories.”

Old Time Stories, a collection of fiction and nonfiction by Juliet Kincaid, is available  as an eBook for the reduced price of only $0.99 between August 29 through Labor Day, September 3, 2018 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07F4JL8D5  (And it’s always free from Kindle Unlimited.)

 

 

 

Summer Camp

My daughter and I still have a home phone in addition to our cells, but Jess has fully employed the “Caller Blocked” function. Besides that, we keep the sound off unless we’re expecting a call from the plumber, for instance. So we rarely hear the phone ring. Occasionally, a man starts talking to us out of the blue from the phone, but we know it’s the machine from the pharmacy telling our machine a prescription is ready “for Juliet” or “for Jessica.”

But a few weeks ago, a woman’s voice started talking from the phone, a rarity in itself. So I scampered to the phone, snatched it out of the cradle, and said, “Hello. Hello. I’m here.” The caller turned out to be a woman I’d probably last seen maybe around sixty-five years ago at Marshall University. But I’d known her longer than that because when we were around thirteen, we were in the same confirmation class at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Huntington, WV. We also later became somewhat related, when my brother Dale married Gloria’s cousin Carole. But after college we lost touch with each other. In time, Gloria Moeser became Gloria Noll and Jet Willman became Juliet Kincaid. Here’s Gloria in her college yearbook. And here I am in mine a year later.

For several summers in the fifties Gloria, I and a bunch of other kids from St. Paul’s went to summer camp together. After my dad and mom got the first car I remember them having, a cute little blue and white, Chevy two-door, Daddy drove us. The rest of the time the place was Camp Caesar, a 4H camp, but during two weeks every June, Lutheran youth from all over the state converged on this place way up in the mountains in Webster County and it became Camp Luther.

Going through some old photos, Gloria came upon a cache of snapshots that she’d taken a couple of those years we went to camp. She also had carefully recorded the names of those pictured and where the pictures were taken. Gloria remembered how much fun my dad was and how he let us sing on the way there and back. She even remembered one of our camp songs and sang it to me on the phone all the way through. Amazing. The best I can do is get part of the way through “Kumbaya.”

I do remember dancing like Anna and the King of Siam around and around the gym in the arms of a guy whose name I’ve forgotten now as we sang, “Shall we dance? Ta tum ta tum.” (Just watched the clip from The King and I with Yul Brenner and Deborah Kerr. OMG! Be still my heart.) One year I did have a boyfriend, sort of. We walked around camp hand in hand or sat side by side in rocking chairs on the porch of the main building. We never kissed though. His name was Hank and he was a sweetie.

Now where was I? Oh yes, the pictures Gloria later mailed me. Here are some of them.

The one on the left is from 1956. I’m on the left with the cute cat’s eyes glasses and longish hair. I’m holding one of those lanyards we made at camp back then. The girl in the middle is Carol Richards and on the right is Nancy Heinsohn, who also was in our confirmation class.

The shot on the right, from 1957, shows Nancy and me acting up with a couple of girls I don’t recall at all. Same glasses, but that year I got my hair cut just after the recital, so it would grow out by the next year and I could put it up in a proper bun as my dance teacher Mrs. Nestor required.

Here’s another picture of Nancy and me. The camp site had lots of rocks and a fairly rugged terrain. I still have the scar on my right shin from when I tried to climb a boulder half the size of a house. At camp we also went swimming, played soft ball, studied the Bible of course, and sang “Kumbaya” and other songs around the camp fire.

Good times. Good times. What sorts of fun things did you do in the summers of your youth or right now for that matter?