Monday, October 27, 2014

The Joy of Reading

As a child, I loved reading. Whenever life became difficult, I escaped into a book. I was able to transport myself to a different place with different people whose problems were at least different than my own.

However, my best friend had a disability which made it very difficult to read. In the dark ages, when I grew up, no one had heard the term “dyslexia,” much less knew how to help a kid with the problem. My brother suffered from the same disability.

Some were called “slow.” Others were told they weren’t applying themselves. Neither of these people were stupid. In fact, they were both very intelligent. But school authorities only recognized their inability to read.
My friend and I took a couple of the same classes in college and studied together. When I read her the data and my notes, she did very well. But most of the time, she was on her own, and at a disadvantage.

Needless to say, in all the years I’ve known her, I never remember her reading a book for pleasure. That is, until her husband bought a copy of our book, The Memory Keeper, and she picked it up.
Several weeks ago, she called me. “I love this book! I finished it in three days. My husband had to remind me to eat and to go to bed.” She went on to describe all the things she adored about the book.

She ordered a couple of our other books and ‘inhaled’ them as well. After each one, I received a phone call so we could discuss her favorite parts. She was now down to reading them in two days.

Once she digested all of our books, she asked for recommendations. I suggested a friend’s mysteries. Again, I got a report on each one she read.

She has spent quite a bit of time in doctors’ waiting rooms lately and loves the ability to be transported while she waits. In fact, she sometimes regrets being called because she has to stop reading!

Knowing that my books opened the door for her is the very best reason I can think of to continue writing. And her ‘reviews’ after each book were far more important than any published online.

Why do you read? Do you love it as much as I do? Why or why not?

Monday, October 20, 2014

She Dreamed a Dream

Last Thursday night, we had the joy of attending Susan Bole’s one-night concert at the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts in Costa Mesa. We got our tickets shortly after they went on sale. Our seats were in the front row at the center of the balcony. Nice unobstructed view.

The show began with Lance Ellington, a talented singer, who sang a couple of numbers ala Michael Buble. Then he introduced the lady we had come to see.

She appeared in silhouette while the audio of her introduction to the judges on Britain’s Got Talent was played. No one who has ever seen the original video with the judges’ reactions will ever forget it.

Finally, she appeared in the spotlight.
Her stylists have done a great job with her clothing, hair, and makeup. She looks at least ten years younger than she did when she first burst upon the scene.

Then she opened her mouth, and that amazing voice burst forth. I am stunned whenever I hear her youthful tone and the total mastery and control she displays. Her selection of material provided tremendous variety in tempo and styles.

She was accompanied by a seven-piece orchestra and two female backup singers plus Lance Ellington. However, she sang most of her songs solo.

She finished the first set with a moving rendition of “You Raise Me Up,” accompanied by the Costa Mesa High School Choir. The song always makes me cry, and this time was no exception. I wondered how she could possibly top it at the end of the show, and then I realized she could.

She began the second set with “Oh Happy Day,” once again with the kids. Upbeat, and filled with energy, the song brought her back with a bang.

Each song seemed to have deep personal meaning for her, and she shared her connection to the music with the audience, who responded with love. Many Brits and Scots displayed their colors throughout the crowd. A group with distinct Scottish brogues sat behind us and fully delighted in the evening.

Susan still has moments onstage when she returns to the awkward little Scottish lady who gathered her courage and overcame her fears in order to go for her life’s dream. Those displays of awkwardness make her seem even more appealing and accessible.

A number of the songs came from her new album, “Hope,” coming next week. (Mine is already on pre-order.) The song “I Can Only Imagine” always reminds me of my friend from Downey Savings. Lily passed away from cancer, and this was her favorite song. I always miss her when I hear it.
Several of the songs were new to me, but all suited her voice and style. I own her other albums, and I’m delighted whenever one plays on my iPod. (I have my playlists set up to play at random because I enjoy the surprise.)

From first song to last, the quality of her voice remained powerful. To me, it seemed even better hearing it in live performance.

The little Scottish lady who had the audacity to think she could compete with the younger and more attractive performers on Britain’s Got Talent dreamed a dream. Each step along the way, she has met and far exceeded each goal. Right now, she is fulfilling another dream: a tour off the US.

As expected, she closed the show with the song which launched her career. The audience responded enthusiastically from the first note. Somehow, the lyrics totally encompassed everything this unassuming lady had spent her whole life preparing for. Despite how overwhelming the initial reaction to her was, causing her to withdraw to adjust, she now seems to have found a place where she is comfortable with her fame.

Of course, “I Dreamed a Dream” brought a long, standing ovation. (Several other songs had received standing ovations throughout the show, but this one surpassed the rest.)

What a wonderful life lesson in pursuing our vision, even when no one else believes in it. And what a wonderful gift she has given to the world.

If she comes to your city, don’t miss the chance to see her in person.

Have you ever stayed the course when others encouraged you to give up? Was the struggle worth the discouragement and frustration?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Grandma’s Powder Box

My grandfather died when I was twenty-six months old, yet I retain vivid memories of him. Perhaps it’s because he spent nearly every moment of the time he was at home with me.

When I was born, we lived in the ‘little house,’ a two-room structure behind my grandparents’ ‘big house.’ My grandfather built the original single room for his father. Later on, he and my dad added the bright, sunny kitchen, half bath (toilet and sink—no tub or shower), and walk-in closet.)

The main room, or living room, featured a Murphy bed, which dropped down from the back wall. To the left of the bed, a door led to the tiny half bath. (My parents had to shower or bathe in the ‘big house.’) A door to the right led to a large closet. When my parents added a sofa, dresser, and my crib, the space felt cramped.

However, the bright yellow kitchen with its large window, eating area, and all the appliances was about the same amount of area as the living space.

When my cousin, David, was born, everyone expected Grandpa to be over the moon. After all, he had three daughters. This was the first boy in the family, and he was named for his grandfather. However, when I came along a year later, Grandpa jumped for joy. He knew how to raise girls, and I practically lived in the same house.

Grandpa was the men’s clothing buyer for the Broadway Department Store in downtown Los Angeles. (My dad worked in the same store.) Each night when he arrived, Grandpa rapped on the kitchen window to let Grandma know he was home. Then he headed straight for the ‘little house’ and me.

He held me, rocked me, read to me, and most of all, talked to me. Often his evening visits ended with a tour of the big house. Grandpa pointed to each object (picture, table, chair, bed, etc.) and named it. Before long, I attempted to imitate him.

When I was a year old, my mother listed all fifty-two of my words in my baby book because she figured people would never believe my vocabulary.

These tours always ended in my grandparents’ bedroom at Grandma’s dresser. At the center was her powder box. It had been a gift from Grandpa.

When he lifted the lid, the scent of Coty face powder and the tinkling sound of “The Desert Song” filled the room. The storage space in the base held the pale pink powder and cotton ball Grandma used to apply it each day.

Then came the magic. Grandpa replaced the top, and the music stopped. As I grew older, he allowed me to lift the lid, but when I replaced it, the music continued. He repeated the process. Each time he replaced the lid, the music ceased, but when I did the same, the music continued. I found it very confusing.

Sometime later, I finally noticed the tiny wire, which controlled the music box action, and realized the music stopped when the lid pushed the wire down. However, by then, Grandpa was gone.

Years later Grandma died when we were on the road to Illinois. We went for work and were to relocate for a year. The day we got there, we phoned my mother to let her know we’d arrived safely. She told us she had just returned from my grandmother’s funeral.

“Do you want me to save anything of hers for you?”

I replied without hesitation, “Grandma’s music box.”

When we returned to California a year later, Mom gave it to me. It occupied a place of honor in my home for a long time.

However, a few years ago, I decided it should stay in my mother’s family, I gave it to my cousin’s daughter. She already had two girls and valued family and history as I did. I promised I’d write the story of the powder box for her, so I’m finally doing it here.

Whenever I hear “The Desert Song” or smell the scent of Coty face powder, the memory of both of my grandparents immediately comes to mind.

The scent of freshly cut pine brings back the memory of visiting lumberyards with Grandpa. He took me everywhere with him, and since he was a talented carpenter, visits to hardware stores were common. They remain among my favorite haunts.

Even though I only had Grandpa in my life for just over two years, he gave me nothing but pure unconditional love. In fact, his final words were, “Take good care of my Lorna.” The idea that his final thoughts were of me gives me great joy.

He taught me about the pleasure of words, which may have contributed to my interest in writing. He was a semi-professional singer, which might account for my love of music. I owe him a great deal.

So the little music box meant far more to me than just another family trinket. It holds precious memories of the people from whom I descend.

Do you have any special family treasures which hold similar memories and evoke warm feelings?

Kimberly, Kaleth, and Briley, this blog is for you.