Archive | July, 2015

Whose Skull Is It, Anyway?

28 Jul

When I was a kid I couldn’t understand WHY my mom always seemed to be watching “the News.” To me it was dull & boring & not nearly as exciting as 77 Sunset Strip, Mayberry RFD or any of the wonderful TV shows back in the day. We only got 3 channels back then & only had one television so it seemed doubly rude of her to tie up the TV watching something so boring.

Fast forward a number of years & there I was working out at the YMCA; trotting along on the elliptical; pedaling my way to nowhere on the recumbent bicycle. It was boring & the time seemed to drag until I bought some ear buds & started watching the news on the bank of TVs that adorned the walls.

Somehow I got sucked in & became a “news hound.”  Now my husband comes into a room where I’m watching TV … the News … & says, “Are you watching the News again?” & of course I am. I want to know what happened while I was sleeping or out at a nurse’s luncheon or buying groceries. I know exactly how he feels because I remember being totally baffled at my mom’s constant “News gazing.” At least my husband has the option to go to another room where there is also a TV & watch whatever he wants.

So I was reading “the News” & a story caught my attention. A partial human skull was found along the banks of the river just down the road a bit from where we live. No other remains have been found & no identification has been made. Truly a newsworthy story & one that presents a local mystery.

But here’s where the story gets strange &, well, downright creepy. The partial skull was found by a couple apparently out taking a stroll along the river. They found this unusual item in May but didn’t mention it until July when they showed it to a friend. The friend immediately notified authorities (Well, YES …).

My friend posted on social media that she didn’t understand why anyone would think this behavior was acceptable. “WHO would discover / run up on human remains and NOT alert Authorities??!!!????”

Someone else said of the couple sharing their find with a friend, “Wonder how the conversation began….’Oh by the way, we found this head’ … hmmm?”

My friend remarked that she didn’t think this was covered under “Finders; Keepers” guidelines.

You know how something just sets you off in a weird direction & you can’t help yourself or stop the responses that fly out of your mouth or off your fingers onto the keyboard? Well, this whole thing just got me going &, meaning no disrespect at all to the previous owner of the partial skull, I couldn’t help wondering what you would do with a partial human skull for two whole months before showing it to a friend … “Let me show you this arrowhead we found down by the river.”

So where would you KEEP it? Would it actually become a keepsake or memento of your river bank walk? Did they display it on the piano among family photographs or in the china cabinet alongside grandma’s dishes or use it as a candle holder for atmosphere beside the bed??? Perhaps it was used as a lampshade or a small magazine rack or a somewhat unusual bowl for Fido’s Trail Mix. I mean, honestly, where WOULD you keep it … in the bathroom closet beside the toilet paper?????????????????

“Hey, Mom … where’s the toilet paper?”

“In the closet beside the partial human skull, Jimmy.”

Did they clean it up? How did they present it to their friend…as part of an unsolved crime? Did they realize what they had or the significance of it? I just can’t imagine finding something like that & not leaving it where it was & notifying the authorities immediately. But that’s just me. Maybe to the couple who made the gruesome discovery, it wasn’t gruesome at all or simply did NOT compute.

While I am at a loss to understand what the couple might have done with it for two months, I don’t understand taxidermy either, although this is obviously very different. A partial human skull is not necessarily a display item … for most of us, anyway. Maybe they were saving it for Halloween.

Regardless, I hope the authorities find out who the rightful & deceased owner of the partial skull was, what the reason was for his / her demise & see to it that he /she finds a final resting place; hopefully with all body parts reunited.

Meanwhile, those other remains are still “out there” just waiting to be discovered while taking a quiet walk along the banks of the river or maybe through the local woods. Maybe they already HAVE been found, possibly by yet another laid back couple who are keeping them to pass along to their progeny; a remembrance of that day when they took that walk by the river ….

I plan to be a little cautious when visiting new acquaintances that live along the river. I’m carrying an extra roll of toilet tissue with me in case I’m visiting my new friends & the paper holder is empty.

I would NEVER want to chance asking, “Mrs. Campbell (there are lots of Campbells in our area) do you have more toilet tissue … you seem to be out?” because I fear the answer just might, on the off chance be, “It’s in the closet right beside the partial human pelvis.”

I’ve assured my husband, human skull notwithstanding, I will still be watching the News …

empty paper holder




Creamsicles and Boxes

20 Jul

I was probably 6 the first time I fell in love with a car.

My dad died & my mom & I were living with my grandmother. Her house was in a quiet, established neighborhood; an easy walk to downtown Salisbury, NC. But then the couple next door died within a year of each other & all that quiet was disturbed when their house was sold.

Not only was it sold…it was sold to the local Chevrolet dealership that decided to turn the property into an “OK Used Car Lot.” My grandmother was livid but the house was torn down anyway, the sod ripped away & what seemed like acres of concrete spread across the land (Concrete spreading out so far & wide … opps – just borrowing a little Green Acres theme music because it popped into my head). In the place the stately old house had stood, a very small (in comparison) office building was erected; an eyesore island in the middle of a sea of eyesore concrete; the place where car wheeling & dealing would take place, hopefully to the satisfaction of both dealer & wheeler (driver / car shopper.)

A chain fence was positioned between my grandmother’s home & the OK place. It wasn’t a chain link fence but iron posts placed at equal intervals with a heavy-linked chain threaded through holes at the top of each post. It was also an eyesore but certainly did fit in with the unexpected eyesore landscape of the car lot.

I used to like to swing on that chain & watch the cars coming & going on the lot. The dealer would wave to me & I’d wave back. It was boring & exciting at the same time simply because it was new & different & because my grandmother took to grumbling about the noise & just the plain eyesoredness of the place. Her reaction was similar to, but not nearly as violent as the one she’d had when a Pizza restaurant was built across the street from our church; the church that was founded by her father-in-law & of which she was, at the time, matriarch. THAT eyesore was the work & business of the devil & maybe a bit more offensive to her than the work of the Chevrolet dealership.

One morning after breakfast I went outside (in those days kids could walk around outside without supervision & without fear of being snatched from their own yards by pedophiles & kid traffickers) & took my familiar place on the chain eyesore that divided our house from the OK Used Car Lot. I looked across the familiar concrete landscape & my young heart skipped a beat. I was in love ……….

There on the lot was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen; a long & sleek old model Chevrolet that was painted sort of pale orange with a white top. The orange wasn’t really orange but an orange that seemed to have been blended with a container or two of Cool Whip. It looked just like a Creamsicle (anyone remember those?).

I dipped under the chain upon which I’d been sitting & swinging & ventured into the car lot. I was mesmerized by the car; drawn to it as if in a trance. Once I was standing beside it, it seemed massive. I remember walking all the way around it trying to get the courage to open the door. When I did, the inside had a different car smell; not new exactly but maybe a bit of new blended with a musty old smell. That musty smell wasn’t quite covered by the “new car smell spray” the guy who lived in the eyesore office building had sprayed inside the moment it arrived on the lot. Even the smell was fascinating.

The car lot guy didn’t talk to me that day but continued to wave at me when he saw me – usually as I was sliding under the chain & making my daily pilgrimage to the Creamsicle car. They moved it around on the lot & I followed it from location to location. Finally the dealer followed me out to the car & started a conversation. He said he’d seen me looking at the car & asked if I liked it & told me to look at it any time I wanted. I told him it was beautiful & that I LOVED it. He asked if we had a car. Did I think my mother would like that one? How would I like it if it were MY car?

We didn’t own a car for a number of reasons. Cars were just too expensive on my mom’s limited budget & she didn’t know how to drive. There never was a real need to learn because we lived on the bus line & there was no problem walking wherever we needed to go as long as the weather was good. People actually used walking in those days to get from place to place & not just as exercise between trips out in the car. All that didn’t stop the used car dealer from pouncing, however. Like a cat with a lame mouse as a target, he mostly stalked my mom; telling her about the Creamsicle car & my apparent love for it, the convenience of actually being able to drive, the joys of automobile ownership. I even made her walk over to the dealership with me after hours to look at that ugly car, hoping she would somehow see the beauty that I saw.

Considering the constant annoyance from the dealer almost every time she stepped out of the house (she tried to avoid him by hiding or only venturing into the yard on Sundays & after dealership hours), I’m pretty certain my mom would have come to view the Creamsicle car as readers saw Christine, only Stephen King hadn’t written it yet.

I don’t remember how the badgering from the dealer stopped but I think it may have been after my grandmother died & my mom & I moved into an apartment at the other end of town. He was that persistent – only death & relocation stopped his efforts to sell his cars. I hope Chevrolet rewarded him handsomely for his efforts.

To this day & right this minute I can see that Creamsicle car in my mind’s eye where everything remains crystal clear as though it just happened. I can even call up the smell of the Creamsicle’s interior; not quite new & a little musty.  I know that Creamsicle car was the beginning of my love of cars with futuristic exteriors & style.

My mom remarried & we moved to Virginia. While my step dad & I didn’t agree on much, we both liked the look & smell of new cars.

In those days the local dealerships would get the new year’s model a couple of months before it was revealed to the public & would keep it under wraps. My step dad & his cronies always managed to maintain a deep & abiding relationship with the dealer of the car of their choice, hoping to wangle an invitation to see the new model before it was publicly revealed. Mostly they did & would go, “by invitation only,” in the dead of night to view that sleek new car body & to be ready to compare the designs of all those new models that were about to burst forth on the automotive scene. The public was washed along on that wave of new model enthusiasm that was exciting & even exhilarating for some.

All that seemed to change abruptly &  practically over night with the first oil crisis.

Automobile manufacturers were driven by necessity to downsize their product & to do away with as many under-the-hood horses as possible to decrease the amount of fuel it took to get to your favorite summer vacation spot. Unfortunately, style took a tremendous hit when those extra horses made their loud exodus & met their demise. Parking lots began filling up with “econo-cars” with fewer horses & even less style. It was the end of an era, even though some car manufacturers still bravely offered an occasional car with incredible style.

Last week while I was driving somewhere in my 21-year-old Toyota Celica, I suddenly became aware of the other cars out there on the highway with me. These days I seldom notice but that day I realized that they all looked alike & the majority pretty much are in the same section on the color wheel. Cars today are all drab colored boxes. The larger SUVs are no different. They are just larger boxes.  Occasionally, a red, lime green or bright yellow painted box catches the eye … but they are still boxes.

People have remarked how surprised they are that I’m still driving a 21-year-old car. The driver’s side seat keeps sinking lower & the thing you adjust the height with doesn’t work anymore. I’m looking through the top of the steering wheel these days & I could use some new seat covers, but the driver’s side seat hugs my butt just right while I’m driving. It’s been an excellent car, as most Toyota’s of that age have been.  AND it still has incredible style. It’s a restful, dreamy, late evening sky blue & I’ve taken care of it…as it’s taken care of me. In a few years it will qualify as an antique, but so will I, which means … if we’re both still working … I’ll still be driving that car.

There’s a popular car commercial that advertises a lime green box being driven & ridden in by several really cool hip-hop rodents. The car is just a box but the little rodents are real attention getters.

Sadly, most of today’s automobiles, with greater gas mileage & electric capabilities, lack style & individuality.  Most seem less perfectly designed for average sized people & better well suited to rodent drivers.

I would love to see that Creamsicle just one more time. I can imagine it & even SEE it in my mind’s eye driving down the highway towards its proper place in history.



Chicken Soup & My Writer’s Soul

10 Jul

My friend, fellow poet & author, Nakesha Moore is a “spoken word,” contemporary poet. She is not only a poet; she is an artist in the truest sense. She pours out her soul on paper, produces amazing poetry & shares it aloud, which is cathartic. She began writing as a child as a means of dealing with a situation of abuse & has continued to use her poetry, her talent & her craft to deal with the injustices that have been a part of her life. She is amazing.

As she has become locally recognized for her incredible talent, she has been interviewed on occasion by local newspapers. An interviewer asked her, “Why do you write?” One might have expected her answer to involve her life experiences, the catharsis associated with pouring out her heart in her poems & sharing them, but her answer was simple, “Because I am a writer …”  Whether you “write” for your own entertainment, for small publications or for massive public consumption, if it comes from the heart, that statement makes all the sense in the world.

Much like Nakesha, I have been writing poems since I was a child. Because I’ve always been able to make words rhyme, I was surprised when I arrived at elementary school & found out not everybody could do that.

Nakesha & I differ in the kinds of poetry we write. While she is a “spoken word artist,” I am, for the most part, a rhyming poet. She writes from personal experience while I write about all things that influence me; both good & occasionally traumatic. But we share a love of words & the ability to manipulate them into meaningful expression.

In high school I alarmed an English / Literature teacher by writing a fairly graphic poem about death as part of a poetry assignment. She was concerned enough to speak to me privately about it after class. Apparently my explanation about the intent of the poem satisfied her concerns. In today’s world I imagine my parents would have been contacted, an appointment would have been made for me with a psychologist & I might have been put on “suicide watch.” Things are very different now.

Being able to manipulate words meaningfully that rhyme is a gift. I don’t know how I’m able to do it but I don’t dwell on it. I’m afraid that the gift may be fragile & if I question it, I will lose it. So I remain forever grateful that I am blessed with the ability & try not to dissect it.

I don’t just write poetry. I write essays, short stories & attempted to write a science fiction novel once. It took me almost a year to complete because I didn’t rush it. During that “writing time” of my life I learned something truly amazing about writing a novel or attempting to. After a while, the characters take on a life of their own, the piece kind of writes itself & I couldn’t wait to sit down in the afternoons & begin writing where I’d left off. My enthusiasm was primarily because I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen. Probably that makes little or no sense unless you happen to be an author who has attempted to write a novel or completed one.

Several friends read my “novel” & gave me tremendous encouragement; enough that I submitted unsolicited sample chapters to Simon & Schuster. In all honesty, I expected those chapters to end up in a “slush pile” along with thousands of other unsolicited chapters & manuscripts.

Surprisingly, Simon & Schuster responded after 3 months asking me to send the entire manuscript, which I did as fast as possible. After another 3 months I received a letter from the publisher (there was no email in those days) telling me they regretted they could not publish it due to “conflicts with Paramount Pictures.” They didn’t say what the conflicts were but I was ecstatic. How wonderful to get that kind of rejection my first time out. To this day I have that rejection slip that both disappointed & excited me. It gave me hope that maybe I had talent.

During the time since that rejected novel, I’ve written a novella; something only two people have read but they gave it glowing reviews. It will never be published because I based it loosely on an actual living person who would possibly be recognized. What is important about that piece, which is taking up only a small amount of room in a computer file, is that it was excellent writing practice & it entertained two very special people; one to tears & the other to believing that parts of that fiction were based on real life experiences of mine. In my mind, that made it a success even though it was a flame that burned hot, but briefly & was seen by only two.

In 2010, after going through my breast cancer experience, a friend asked me if I would correspond with someone she had met on Facebook who had become quite depressed after having gone through his own cancer experience.  I agreed, corresponded with him & we became friends. There’s a special bond between people who have shared the same experience & it seems very strong … & very tough… between those who have cancer as the bond between them.

John is a poet & a published author in New Zealand. In an effort to cheer him up I sent him a couple of my goofy poems. He responded by asking if I had more & later asked me to send him every poem I had. I did that & he replied that I had quite a lot of talent & he believed I should consider putting together a “collection” of my poetry with the possibility of publishing it as a goal. He offered to help me.

For two years John worked with me, teaching me poetry techniques I’d never even heard of & mentoring me. Six months into the project he told me he realized he was no longer depressed.

When I had amassed 30 poems I told John I believed I was ready to see a publisher. He responded, “30 poems do not a collection make,” & told me to keep writing. And so I did …

In late 2012, with John’s blessing & nearly 100 poems, I took my manuscript to a reputable local publisher. Warwick House has all the bells & whistles such as editors, illustrators, printers & lay-out people. The only difference in Warwick House Publishers & the larger publishing houses is that the author pays for the publishing. I didn’t mind self-publishing because I didn’t want to wait while the larger publishing houses decided whether or not to respond to my query letters.

I worked with a wonderful editor for 3 months & in January 2013 my first-ever published book became a reality; a volume of original poetry, prose & essays. I even did all the artwork for the book AND the cover.

In late December 2012 the publisher sent me the “dummy copy” of my book, Reflections of My Life of Rhyme, for my approval. I took it with me everywhere; to the kitchen while I cooked dinner, to bed & to the bathroom. There is nothing that can equal the experience of holding your first real book in your hands; seeing the baby you have labored with for several years actually birthed. If I write 100 books, holding that first book in my hands was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I am glad to have had that & hope I never forget the feeling.

Selling the book myself to family & friends has been successful; enough so that I had to report my earnings on our income tax.

Since Reflections I’ve been very busy; hosting a TV talk show, being president of a local club, speaking at breast cancer seminars & coordinating an annual charity auction. My writing has happened sporadically in the form of entries for this blog & a bit of freelancing. I’ve had an article published in a magazine & several articles published in our local newspaper.

In 2014 my friend, Darrell Laurant suggested I submit a story to the Chicken Soup for the Soul people who were putting together a volume called Inspiration for Nurses. He said with my 38 years of Operating Room experience as an RN & my writing experience, a submission might have a chance at being included in the book. He had to nudge me twice but I DID send in three submissions.

In February 2015 the Chicken Soup people sent me an email telling me that one of my submissions was in the finals for being included in the book.  They asked me to sign & return a release form allowing the use of the story in the book if it was selected. In May I received word that out of several thousand submissions, my story would be one of the 101 stories included in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses.

Today my head is spinning! I have been working with the Chicken Soup publicist who is sending press releases to all our local media & newspapers. I’m being interviewed on local television about my story in the Chicken Soup book on July 21; the day the book will be in book stores everywhere. A local newspaper is doing an article about my inclusion in the book & I will be doing a book signing at a local book store in September.

I have received several complimentary contributors’ copies of the book from Simon & Schuster. It felt really good when I held one in my hand for the very first time & read my story from its spot on page 79. The week the book is released I will receive a check for use of my story. Life is certainly unexpectedly exciting.

I’ve found out that being paid for writing is just an extra perk. Those of us who love to manipulate words in a manner that have meaning & touch people in an unexpected & special way know that being paid for writing is secondary …unless, of course, we’re depending on our craft for our livelihood. But in the end, it’s the “writing” that matters.

I suppose I’ve gone way around the coop to get to the chickens … or the Chicken Soup, but here’s what I think. If someone asks me why I write, I plan to echo the sentiment of my talented friend, Nakesha, because what she said is true. It is what is in my heart just as it is in hers, “I write because I am a writer ………….”


Chicken Soup book cover