Archive | August, 2015

Remembering Burton Hillis

27 Aug

I’m always amazed at how we are affected by unexpected events in our lives. Even the expected events can cause unexpected reactions.  We believe that we have weathered specific storms without undue damage & in most cases that seems to be true. Children, however, are very different. While outwardly they seem composed, accepting & adapting, inwardly unexpected events can cause trauma that lasts a lifetime.

As a 6-year-old who very suddenly lost her 40-year-old dad to a heart attack, I was affected in a number of ways; not merely by the loss of a parent but by the abrupt changes that loss brought about in my life.

My mom & I moved in with her mother; my grandmother. A woman who raised 8 children during the depression & gave birth to 9 (one died in infancy), my grandmother had her own traumatic baggage. She became my caregiver while my mother worked. The family dynamic was unusual & quite different from that of the kids I was friends with in elementary school.

Wanting desperately to be as “normal” as my friends, I invented a father & a little brother & shared anecdotes about them in first grade “Show & Tell.” I drew ‘happy family’ pictures of the 4 of us when we had “art & drawing time.” In today’s world a teacher or group of teachers would have brought my behavior to my mom’s attention with a strong suggestion that I receive counseling. But that happened in yesterday’s world & I lived out my classroom fantasies, desperately wishing they were true.

If you are a writer or a blogger or a freelancer – someone who writes stuff that is read by other people, eventually someone will ask you, “Who influenced you?  Did anyone’s writing style influence yours?” After recently having a short story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses someone DID ask me that question. I answered without hesitation, “Burton Hillis,” & realized I hadn’t thought about him or even his name in decades.

Back in the day, as one of her few luxuries my mom subscribed to Better Homes and Gardens Magazine. Since she had ingrained in me at a very early age a love of reading, I couldn’t wait for the magazine to arrive in our mailbox once a month. It wasn’t the pictures of gardens & beautiful homes that intrigued me. I would rush past those to the last page where Burton Hillis had a monthly column. I devoured every word.

Mr. Hillis wrote in a simple style that made it seem as though he were “talking” to the reader; telling you a story. And most of his stories were about his wife or his kids or his job… & once even about his dog. His stories were a window into the world of “normal” that I so fervently craved.

He wrote about a child riding a bicycle, his wife cooking a meal & leaving out an ingredient, his dog jumping on the table in the middle of a family picnic. His style was conversational & intriguing & he made even the simplest experiences exciting or funny…relating to the reader life as he saw it.

I absorbed every word & loved the way reading his columns made me feel like he was speaking directly TO me.  No flowery descriptions, no innuendos or guessing games, he spoke directly to me through his written words in a way that I clearly understood. Once a month his columns gave me an almost personal tour into his life &, more importantly, into “normal.”  I loved those columns, the way they made me feel; the special gifts Mr. Hillis gave me once a month from the last page of a periodical.

After answering, “Burton Hillis,”  to the question about my writing style & who had influenced me, I decided to do a little research into the man who had apparently helped me in some way to achieve a semblance of success as an author, freelancer & blogger.

Burton Hillis was a pseudonym for the author & columnist, William E. Vaughan. He wrote a syndicated column in the Kansas City Star, in Reader’s Digest & Better Homes & Gardens.

His folksy aphorisms (published in his “Starbeams” feature) are often collected in books and on Internet sites. (Wikipedia)

Mr. Vaughan, aka Burton Hillis, according to Wikipedia was also appreciated for his often repeated quotes such as:

  • “A real patriot is the fellow who gets a parking ticket and rejoices that the system works.”
  • “Size isn’t everything. The whale is endangered, while the ant continues to do just fine.”
  • “If there is anything the nonconformist hates worse than a conformist, it’s another nonconformist who doesn’t conform to the prevailing standard of nonconformity.”
  • “Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them.”

Bill Vaughan died in 1977 of lung cancer at the age of 62. He is remembered as a columnist & author, for specific quotes & specific columns & the joy he brought to those who read them.

I remember Burton Hillis who took me monthly into HIS world & for a moment in time allowed me to play there in a make believe “normal” world of my own. Maybe in some small way his simple narrative came through to me as my dad talking to me; telling me a story about life & the way the world was supposed to be.

If any of my writing ability can be credited to Mr. Hillis, then I am forever grateful to him as an adult in my adult world. His columns wrapped warmly around me & sheltered me once a month from my unexpected reality.

Because of this, I wanted to write about him; to tell those who don’t remember him about him… to share how his columns helped a bewildered child.  Most of all, I simply wanted to remember Burton Hillis.

Bill Vaughan died in 1977. Burton Hillis lives on in my memory ….

burton hillis quote



My Next Gen Uniform and Starship Walmart

5 Aug


I’ve been a Star Trek fan since 1966 when I saw my first episode & fell instantly in love with Mr. Spock.

My mother said, “That’s the strangest show I’ve ever seen.”

In spite of her opinion, when we got a color television my excitement was totally geared towards watching Star Trek & finding out, once & for all, if Mr. Spock was really green.

Star Trek went into syndication about the time I went into nurses training. I’d stumble back to the dorm at the end of a day of classes or a day in the hospital learning how to give injections & irrigate colostomies, flop in front of the TV in the dorm lounge & go to sleep. Since it came on every day at 5:00 p.m., I’d always have Star Trek on the television & while I was sleeping I’d absorb, through osmosis, what was happening on TV. I’m sure that’s how I am able (to this day) to quote the complete dialogue of most of the original series Trek episodes. Those “sleep training” audio thingees really DO work.

When Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out I was disappointed. It was good to see the characters but the movie wasn’t at all what I expected. Then Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan hit the theaters. I drug my mom with me to see it & was shocked. They killed Mr. Spock & I felt that loss as deeply as though it had been a family member. I grieved, mourned & started buying magazines that reviewed the film & had comments from people just like me who were also grieving.

I found an advertisement for a club called Starfleet, joined & so began an adventure that has become a huge part of my life. It influenced me in a million positive ways & gave me the opportunity to eventually meet the entire original series Star Trek cast, with the exception of William Shatner. I was weekend host for many of them at RoVaCon Science Fiction conventions as vice president of the convention committee.

In 1984 I started a local Starfleet chapter. I found a number of people who shared my love of Star Trek & our chapter grew. We became a presence in the community & I became Regional Coordinator for an 8-state Starfleet region.

Our local chapter, Heimdal Science Fiction matured & as our members got older our focus changed a bit from just Star Trek. We became science fiction fans in the broader sense & developed a huge sense of community responsibility. We began adopting charities, which we supported through car washes & bake sales.

The club has been one that welcomes interested people & most of them stay with us for years. We’ve become a family. And as a family we’ve mostly grown older together & are not nearly as comfortable, physically, doing car washes these days. So in 2006 we began doing only one fundraiser a year – a huge Annual Public Charity Auction.

We canvas local restaurants & businesses for donations, have the auction in August & have been able, through the success of the auctions, to sponsor 10 charities at Christmas AND send a local middle school student to NASA’s Space Camp for a week each summer. We’ve become a credible, helping influence within the community.

After 31 years I’m still the club president. I don’t believe anyone really wants the position since we’ve become more business minded … as a 501 (c)(3) organization that files an annual tax return . I sort of thrive on the challenges so everything continues to be right in the universe (& beyond).

This is another one of those “long way around the galaxy to get to the starship” blog entries but I needed to give you some background.

We’ve been working on this year’s Annual Charity Auction for the past nine months. As the event is looming closer, we’ve begun our publicity campaign to get the word out about the event. We’ve recently done a public appearance in costume at a local library & our Public Relations Officer is sending out announcements to all the area newspapers. Having 260 fabulous auction items won’t do much good unless we can get the public to come to our event, so publicity is key.

Over the years I’ve been an occasional guest on the local TV talk show, Living in the Heart of Virginia for a number of reasons but especially to advertise our Annual Public Charity Auction. I’ve recently been on the show again advertising this year’s auction event.

I know Emily Robinson, host of Living in the Heart of Virginia. This year she had one stipulation for my being on the show. She wanted me to wear my Star Trek: Next Generation costume for the interview. While I enjoy wearing it, I prefer not to wear it when I’m discussing a serious subject, such as the auction. I’m always afraid my credibility might be compromised. But this year Emily said she would also wear a Next Generation costume & my husband generously loaned Emily his Vulcan ears to wear on the show & complete the illusion. It sounded like fun.

I met Emily & her videographer in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Downtown Lynchburg where we will be holding the auction & where Emily wanted to shoot the interview. I was wearing my Next Gen costume. True to her word, Emily was also wearing her Next Gen shirt & she immediately put on Willy’s pointy ears. Apparently we were fairly impressive because hotel employees came running with cell phone cameras to take our picture … a number of times… & even though it delayed the interview a little, it was a lot of fun.

The interview went off without a hitch. Working with Emily is a delight & we had a lot of fun taping the segment. I was sorry when it was over.

After I left the Holiday Inn & my LHOV interview, I stopped by Walmart. I needed cereal & a toilet seat (I know … that’s a strange combination).

Knowing how people generally show up at Walmart, I didn’t give much thought to being there in my costume; I figured I’d fit right in. If you’ve seen those “People of Walmart” pictures & videos you know exactly what I’m referring to & understand why I didn’t think a Star Trek costume would garner any particular interest or attention. I also took my auction advertising flyers into the store. At auction time, taking them with me is as second nature as carrying my purse. I want to get the word out to as many people as possible, hoping to increase the chance of a well-attended event.

WELLLLLL … the minute I walked through the door the greeter handed me a cart & said she knew I was from Star Trek because she recognized the uniform. I told her why I had it on & gave her an auction flyer, which she promised to put in the Walmart break room. Then she took several more because she has “friends who might want to go to a good auction.”

While all this was taking place a small crowd had been gathering. There were, by then, about 5 or 6 women of various ages standing around watching. Several asked for flyers & I gave them an explanation about the auction.

One woman asked, “What are you here for?”

“A commode seat,” I told her.

As she walked away shaking her head I heard her mutter, “It better be a turbo space seat …”

 I suddenly thought GOING where no one has GONE before … ” & laughed out loud, probably adding to the growing possibility that I was one of those “People of Walmart.”

 Throughout the store I got lots of stares & a woman with 3 kids … 2 in a shopping cart … followed me all the way to toilet seats & then lost interest.

After all the press Walmart gets about crazily dressed customers, I guess my Next Gen space suit was simply a flash in the pan; a lot of interest initially but a fairly rapid burn-out …………….