Neighborly

Dear Kids and All Readers,

I hope all of you are as lucky as I am to be surrounded by kind, cheerful neighbors!

In my neighborhood, about thirty of us of all ages gather on the First Friday of each month for a potluck dinner and good conversation. One family hosts per month. Usually, it’s indoors, but we often spill over into the backyard on warm evenings.

During the pandemic, we’ve had to get creative in order to to stay together. A couple times, we Zoomed. Another time, we gathered with social distancing in the street and sang Christmas carols to an ill neighbor. Others have brought us together by gathering for a sunset group photo while social distancing and masking. Another couple delivered treat bags to everyone.

I’m copying the treat bag idea for my turn on May 7. I will deliver goodies to each neighbor’s door, whether they’re home or not. If they come out, great! Perhaps, we can chat a while. Then, I will invite them to fall in behind me and caravan on foot to the next house.

So get a clue, Readers. Is there anyone in your neighborhood who could use a treat and a chat? Or maybe now, you have an excuse for a monthly get-together! May you enjoy the harvesting of your neighborly intentions.

 

The Isolato

Hello, Kids and All Readers,

I was a shy kid. Still am–including the kid part. How about you?

My mother used to say to me, “Sherrill, get your nose out of that book and go outside and play.” Some kids would welcome hearing an adult say that to them! I dreaded it. My calling was to be curled up reading my mystery du jour (kids, that means “of the day”). e.g., Nancy Drew. Still, I went out and played–which was a good thing for my socialization and physical development–but my mind usually remained transfixed on my book’s plot or characters awaiting me on my nightstand as my friends and I played “Moonlight, Starlight. Who’s Going to Find That Witch Tonight?” or similar games.

The pandemic and my new career as a writer have caused me to focus on a topic that has always intrigued me: The isolation and resulting angst of the artist. Or, as it is called in Italian, isolato. So, imagine my joy when in the mail the other day arrived the Spring 2021 issue of The Phi Kappa Phi Forum. The entire issue focuses on Solitude.

One article especially resonated: “Isolato,” by W.D. Wetherell (pages 18-20). He has authored over twenty books and in the article, discusses how he knows a thing or two about isolation. He has, in his words, “overdosed on it” throughout his life. Why? Because Wetherell thinks solitude, or isolation, is essential for serious artists if they are to carve out that space and time where they can develop their craft. As he puts it, “Writers need unadulterated quiet–no interruptions or social obligations to interfere in their work.” He explains that loneliness, aloneness, or alienation have characterized many first-rate American authors like Poe, Hawthorne, Thoreau, Dickinson, and J.D. Salinger. They didn’t voluntarily join the “Loneliness Club”; rather, solitude “comes with the territory” for serious artists. In other words, many artists appear to be on an endless, heuristic path with the help of isolato.

Perhaps because of the pandemic, and despite every author’s wish to be labeled “first-rate,” Wetherell and I agree that isolation is not trendy. It has come to be seen as a bad thing and very old-fashioned. But, he and I further agree the isolato–being in that “quiet zone”–can help us get in touch with the lonely, stricken, and oppressed of the world. How? We give ourselves the requisite time and space to have empathy for others like ourselves as we artists are chained to our writing desks, easels, musical instruments, or dance studios! The isolato is just what life has forced upon us.

So, get a clue, readers. Do you seek the voices of the lonely, either by choice or by default? For me, it happens most often at my desk where, ironically, I suddenly shift from being a hermit. I’m off in great company with my characters, delving into their hearts and lives, in order to deliver them and myself to the world.

 

Spring Has Sprung

Dear Kids and All Readers,

Here in San Diego, spring has arrived. I know. Some say it never left. But being a native San Diegan, I can definitely detect the waxing and waning of each season. I hope spring’s beautiful warmth and radiant blossoms now surround you as well.

For today, I would like to offer you two literary works to celebrate this glorious season:

 

From “The Poppies” (1993)

By Mary Oliver (American poet, 1935-2019)

 

The poppies send up their

orange flares; swaying

in the wind, their congregations

are a levitation

of bright dust, or thin

and lacy leaves. . . .

 

From Atalanta in Calydon (1865)

By Algernon Charles Swinburne (English poet, 1837-1909)

For winter’s rains and ruins are over,

And all the season of snows and sins;

The days dividing lover and lover,

The light that loses, the night that wins;

And time remembered is grief forgotten,

And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,

And in green underwood and cover

Blossom by blossom the spring begins.

 

So, get a clue, Readers. I hope you’ll take some time to watch spring’s beauty unfold around you. May it and perhaps some poetry inspire you to new heights. Happy spring!

 

Get Ready to Strike Gold!

Dear Kids and All Readers,

You’ve been waiting for it, and here it comes! Walnut Street: Phantom Rider, Book 3 in my Botanic Hill Detectives Mysteries series, will release on November 9, 2021. Hurray!

Here’s a teaser:

Objects of value have been disappearing from the Mayfield family’s rural California horse ranch and youth saddle club for kids with emotional issues. The Mayfields invite our four intrepid detectives to their in-town house on Walnut Street to fill them in.

 Adding to the excitement is that somewhere on the forty-acre ranch just outside the mountain town of Cody is a long-lost gold mine staked by thirteen-year-old Ben Mayfield’s five-time great-grandfather, Aloysius “Papa” Mayfield, in 1875. Papa was one of California’s first Black deputy United States marshals turned gold miner.

In private, a nervous Ben reveals a frightening secret to the detectives. At the ranch, he alone has seem a threatening black-clad figure on horseback whom he calls the Phantom Rider. Who is this mysterious person? Is he responsible for the ranch thefts? Why are objects disappearing? Is he somehow connected with the lost gold mine? The detectives aim to find out.

And above is the placeholder cover from my website, but the real cover will be revealed in September.

So, get a clue, Readers. Saddle up and stay tuned for Book 3, Walnut Street: Phantom Rider. You’ll strike gold with this one. Yee-haw!

 

“Fryer” Tucks

Hello, Kids and All Readers,

In my last blog, I talked about the Threads (interconnections among objects that tell an important story) in our Tapestries (our unique, special, and valuable lives). Today, I’d like to share one of the threads in my tapestry with you.

This thread has come to mind because yesterday, March 24, was the fifth anniversary of my mother’s passing. This story is about something that occurred on her birthday when I was a little girl.

On December 29 of that year long ago, my twin sister and I set out walking late one morning with our grandmother. Destination: “The Angel Shop,” a beautiful little gift store in our neighborhood, to buy Mom a special birthday present. We had saved up our allowance and felt very grown-up going to such a fine store with breakable objects–a place we weren’t taken into very often for obvious reasons!

We had no idea what we wanted to buy. There were some gorgeous crystal and china items, but we couldn’t afford them. Soon, our eyes landed on a pair of cute little Friar Tuck salt and pepper shakers! My sister and I thought they looked like twins! And since we were twins, and the shakers were affordable, that’s what we bought. (Never mind that we were too young to consider whether or not Mom needed or wanted a new pair of shakers!)

My sister and I happily skipped home with our gift, wrapped for Mom’s family party that night. After dinner, we would have birthday cake, and she would open her presents. We couldn’t wait to see what she thought of the little twin friars.

As we approached our house, however, we noticed that our parakeet Pixie’s cage was on the front steps! What was it doing out there? And what was that awful odor that assaulted our nostrils? It didn’t take long to realize that our house was filled with smoke!

Thank goodness our grandfather had gotten home before us and in the nick of time. His quick actions prevented the parakeet from being suffocated and the house from burning down. Turns out our grandmother had accidently left a piece of meat cooking on the stove. It had boiled dry and ignited!

The smell of charred meat, a blackened kettle, and scorched cabinets above the stove was overwhelming. Not the ideal birthday for Mom that year! Her party was postponed as all of us spent the evening scrubbing the kitchen walls, airing out the house, and deciding when to hire repair people and painters.

About a month later, however, when everything was back to normal, we finally had Mom’s party. Those twin friars–or “fryers” as she sometimes called them–were indirectly responsible for almost “frying” the house! I own them now (actual photo!). But how sad that they came to symbolize what could have been a tragic ending for our house that went on to see five generations of our family cross its threshold.

Over time, Mom did come to appreciate the friars’ cuteness for their own sake and that we had bought them for her. But the backstory of “the fryers’ fire” was just below the surface, reminding us of how lucky we were that December day, thanks to our grandfather, who prevented a catastrophe.

So, get a clue, Kids and all Readers. What are some threads in your tapestries? I hope they all have happy endings.

 

The Threads of Our Tapestries

Dear Readers,

Warning! Some might find this blog depressing. (But I hope you’ll read on, anyway!)

A friend recently shared with me his monthly human-interest column for his local newspaper back East. In it, he discussed the “threads” in the “tapestry” of his life, his late sister’s, and their late mother’s. As I read on, I became more intrigued with his wonderful metaphors and shared ideas. Even more compelling, they truly resonated with me.

So, what did my friend mean by “threads” and “tapestry”? One day while in his garage, his gaze fell upon some of his possessions. He wondered if after he passed, would anyone ever know the string of connections (threads) among some of those objects. Each was a thread woven into the tapestry of his life. Would complete strangers at some imagined future estate sale simply pick through and unwittingly unravel the threads of his tapestry, carting away each of those priceless objects for ten cents on the dollar because his family members didn’t know the meaning the objects had held for him?

He saw this as more than sad. It would be almost tragic if he didn’t find ways to let his loved ones know the stories and interconnected threads of his possessions. If he didn’t share those threads, the tapestry of his life could simply disappear. He decided that maybe his vehicle for sharing would be his column from time to time.

How many of us have had similar thoughts about our own or loved ones’ threads and tapestries? I know I have.

March 24 marks the fifth anniversary of my mother’s passing. I was in charge of the disposition of her estate back in 2016. I remember standing in our family’s house where she had lived for seventy-one years: the living room where my parents married in front of the fireplace; the dining room where they had their wedding reception plus many milestone anniversaries and family dinners; the spare room where my father had died; the house in which I had grown up experiencing all the rights of passage one must endure; where five generations of my family had set foot or lived; and, where we had welcomed droves of annually visiting relatives who envied our living in sunny “Cal-i-for-nye-eh” as we proudly carted them to the beach, the zoo, and Disneyland.

But Mom was gone, and her objects loomed. It helped me preserve her essence by not thinking of her possessions as “stuff,” but by trying to recall the threads in her tapestry–though I didn’t have my friend’s terms in mind at that time. For a few objects, I knew the backstories or interconnections–threads–as to why they were important to her. Like the little cocker spaniel figurine by the fireplace. But for far too many others, I didn’t. Like her collection of inexpensive rings suddenly acquired in the last months of her life, her numerous scarves, and some black-and-white photos of people I didn’t know. All those felt like losses, an unraveling tapestry tumbling piece by piece down into a black abyss. I kicked myself for not having drawn her out to tell more of their stories and interconnections. Chunks of her tapestry vanished right in front of me with every drawer, cupboard, and closet I opened. Minimally, it was heart-wrenching.

My friend’s article and that experience five years ago have prompted me to start writing down the threads of my own tapestry. Perhaps I will begin with the backstories of how I named my stories’ characters, the childhood connections to my imaginary Botanic Hill, and so on. Maybe someday, my great-great-great grandchildren will be glad I left them this legacy. Maybe I will start a tradition and spare my descendants heavy hearts as I had at the family house in 2016.

So, get a clue, Readers. What are the threads in your own tapestry? We all have magnificent stories to tell about them, even if they seem magnificent only to ourselves. But please don’t underestimate their importance or your voice. I hope you’ll find ways to keep your tapestry tightly woven for future generations. Personally, I’m going to try.