Friday, July 27, 2007

From My Journal: July 28, 1965

LeRoy, Illinois

I’m watching a special report on Vietnam by President Johnson. Things sound bad. They’re going to double the draft call and are sending 50,000 more men over there. It’s terrible…every day at least two or three American boys are killed. It scares me. They aren’t calling reserves yet, but if they do, Terry might have to go because I think he’ll be in the reserves for another year. And if there is war, there’s a chance Ted might go. In the Korean War, 18-year-olds were called.

President Johnson just said, “This is the most sorrowful and agonizing decision your president has ever made.”

I hear my sweet little girl waking up. She slept a long time today. She talks so much now. I can't believe she'll be two years old in September! The other day she toddled around the side of the house to get her ball, turned to me and said, “See you later, Mommie.”

Didn’t do much today. This morning, I washed two loads of clothes and hung them out on the line (I love that fresh-air scent that you don’t get when they come out of the dryer), did the dishes, straightened the house and dusted, and watched “As the World Turns.” After lunch, when Suzanne was taking her nap, I washed my hair and ironed while I was watching “The Guiding Light,” then I cleaned the bathroom.

It’s about time to start fixing supper. I’m not having much. I’ve got a beef roast in the oven, and I’m just going to have potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob, and sliced tomatoes to go along with it. (I’m not going to make a dessert. I’m still trying to lose weight…I now weigh 120 pounds!!!)

I just don’t have enough to do, and at times I get bored, but I will not leave my precious baby and go back to work. No one can take care of a baby like her own mother!

Twila Olsen called this morning and invited me to a Tupperware party tomorrow night. Don’t know if I’ll go or not. I’m kind of sick of Tupperware parties. Went to one at Irma’s last week.

Mike and Janet are coming Friday night for a cook-out.

I’m about to run out of books to read. Need to go to the library tomorrow. I’ve read just about every magazine on the news stands, and I know I shouldn’t spend so much money on them. I’ve read this month’s Ladies Home Journal, McCall’s, Better Homes & Gardens, Good Housekeeping, Glamour, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, Family Circle and many movie magazines. I also joined the Doubleday Book Club. Can’t wait for my first books to come! Two of them are “Kennedy,” by Theodore C. Sorensen, and “A Gift of Prophecy,” by that psychic, Ruth Montgomery. I just love books about spirits and the hereafter.

Simon and Garfunkel’s song, "The Sound of Silence,” is playing on the radio. I LOVE that song, and I’m going to buy the album, no matter how much it costs. Another one I really like is “Mr. Tambourine Man,” by Bob Dylan. The Byrds also have it out now, but I like Dylan’s version better. There’s just something about his voice.

We’re going to New Orleans in August. Suzanne will stay with Mother and Daddy. This will be the first time I’ve been away from her overnight, and I know I’ll miss her. But she’ll be in good hands.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bob Seger: Never give up!

(Edited: I've had such a great response to this post that I've dug up a couple more pictures.)

At any time, day or night, you can turn your radio on, flip through the stations, and almost always come upon a Bob Seger song. Much of his music exudes deep loneliness and nostalgia, but it is also affirming, celebratory and uplifting. At the end of a Bob Seger song, you feel there is hope.

Although I had always enjoyed his music, the first time I was stopped in my tracks by one of his songs was in 1980. My daughter and I had moved back to Kentucky, and I was depressed and overwhelmed about starting over. Suzanne, like most teenagers, loved her music and spent most of her allowance on albums. One day she burst into the house.

“I got it,” she yelled, sprinting up the stairs to her bedroom, “I got the album!”

Loud, uplifting music burst from her stereo, followed by a familiar, soulful voice; a voice that articulated exactly what I was feeling. Against the Wind is still my favorite Bob Seger song.

Years later, my husband, Costa, and I often visited his family in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. And in August, 1990, we were there when my birthday rolled around, so my sister-in-law, Rita, decided to take us out for drinks and dinner to celebrate. She said her friend, Nita, and her boyfriend and another couple would be joining us.

“I have a surprise for you,” Rita said.

“What kind of a surprise,” I said, picturing a testosterone-pumped guy in a thong, thrusting and bumping around me to Play that Funky Music.

“You’ll find out when we get there!”

When we got to the restaurant, the other couple was there, but Nita and her boyfriend had not arrived. A short time later, people around us began whispering and looking toward the entrance, where Nita and her boyfriend were coming through the door.

When they reached our table, Rita jumped up, “This is my friend, Nita, and her boyfriend, Bob Seger.”

Before I could say anything, Bob grabbed my hand. “Happy birthday!” he said, smiling, “Set everyone up at this table with drinks,” he said, “It’s Brenda’s birthday!”

Bob was down-to-earth and very friendly, and when he smiled, his whole face lit up. He was a very good conversationalist and listened intently when others spoke. Several people around us asked to join our group, and Bob graciously invited them over. Rita rushed out to her car, bringing back party hats and favors for everyone, and the party accelerated.

When we finally decided to have dinner, it was past closing time, but the restaurant was still full. After dinner, Bob bought a round of drinks and made a toast to me, and then he led the group in singing happy birthday. By the time the song was over, everyone in the restaurant was singing along.

As we were preparing to leave, Bob invited us to his house for a swim, so we piled into our cars and followed Bob’s Mercedes out to the suburbs. We were all pretty well loaded, but Rita rose to the occasion and drove our car, and we hung on for dear life as we careened down Telegraph Road.

At Bob’s house, Nita took us out back to the bath house and gave us swimsuits, and then we all cavorted in the kidney-shaped pool. Later, we gathered in his family room, where we talked and listened to music, and in the early morning hours, Bob asked us if we would like to listen to a tape of songs that would be coming out on his next album. Two of them were Real Love and The Long Way Home, which I really liked. I was struck by Bob’s face as he watched our reactions, and I realized that no matter how successful entertainers have become, they are still vulnerable to the opinions of others.

Later, Rita, Nita and I went into the family room and plopped down on the carpet in a circle so we could talk privately. Nita was very nice and unaffected. She reminded me of Suzanne, in her honest, straight-forward approach to life. Bob later joined us, his cat at his heels. The cat was black, with a strange shock of yellow over one eye. I tried to pet him, but he backed away and curled up close to Bob, looking at me suspiciously.

We talked about all kinds of things, and in the course of the conversation Rita mentioned that I wrote short stories. Bob asked if I had published anything. I told him I had only published a few human interest newspaper stories and one poem.

“It’s hard to get anything published,” I said.

“Just keep on,” he said, petting his cat and scratching him behind his ears, “If you keep on, you will get your stories published. That’s the way I was with my music. Never give up.”

Bob went on to say that he almost gave up in 1969, to go to college, but he decided to give his music one more chance. That’s when all of his hard work began paying off.

It was around 4 a.m. when we began running out of steam, so Bob insisted we spend the night. And it was around noon the next day before we began meandering downstairs. We were all suffering from hangovers, so after consuming gallons of coffee we headed home.
"Have a safe trip back to Kentucky!" Bob called as we drove away.
We visited with Bob and Nita again a couple of years later, and Bob asked if I was still writing. “Remember,” he said, “Just keep on writing; never give up!”

I lost touch with them after Costa and I went our separate ways. Through the years, though, I’ve kept up with them through the tabloids and television. He and Nita had a baby boy, Cole, and when he was a toddler, they got married. They had a daughter, Samatha, a few years later. I was thrilled when Bob was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, and his song, Old Time Rock and Roll was named one of the Songs of the Century in 2001. I felt the accolades were long overdue, since he more than paid his dues by selling 50 million albums and writing songs, singing, recording and touring for over 40 years.

Nowadays, as I write, I listen to all kinds of music—oldies, classical, blues, country—but sometimes I get stuck on a particular story, and that proverbial little voice whispers, Why are you doing this? That’s when I put on a Bob Seger CD, fast-forward it to Against the Wind, turn the volume up and get a great big dose of inspiration.

Never give up, I tell myself, never give up!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

William Faulkner

I have long been an admirer of the great writer, William Faulkner (1897-1962). I've just finished reading his biography, and I can't believe how much I did not know about one of my favorite writers.

Faulkner was noted for the eloquent richness of his writing style and the unique blend of tragedy and humor in his works (especially in "As I Lay Dying," one of my favorites). His prose style and complicated plots made some of his works difficult to read, but it is well worth the effort. He accomplished more in a decade than most writers accomplish in a lifetime of writing, and he won both the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes for literature.

Although Faulkner dabbled in drawing and writing poetry at a young age, he wasn't a good student and dropped out of high school after a short time. He also dropped out of the University of Mississippi after only three semesters. He held many odd jobs, one as Old Miss University postmaster, where he spent most of his time reading or playing cards with friends, misplacing or losing mail, and failing to serve customers. When a postal inspector came to investigate, he agreed to resign.

Faulkner was an alcoholic. He wasn't an every-day drunk; he sometimes went for months without having a drink, but when he did drink, he drank until he passed out. When he awakened, he drank until he passed out again. This usually went on for about a week, when his wife, friends, (or his agent, if he was away from home on a book promotion) put him to bed and nursed him back to health. Once, when he had been on a binge and a friend had taken him to his home to dry out, Faulkner told the friend's wife, "Dorothy, I've misbehaved." (I thought that was hilarious!) As he grew older and his health deteriorated, he was taken to a sanitarium to dry out. He was usually up and about in a week or so, getting back to his writing and looking after his farm. He was in a much better mood after one of his drinking "spells;" it apparently served as a catalyst for him. This went on all of his life.

He stayed in a loveless marriage, mostly for the sake of their daughter, Jill. His wife, Estelle, wasn't very interested in his writing, and rarely accompanied him to New York, Paris, Italy, or other exciting places, preferring to stay home in Oxford, Mississippi. She was a spendthrift, and he was often forced to go to Hollywood and write movie scripts (which he hated) to pay their bills.

Faulkner did not, however, lack for female companionship. He had several long-term affairs with much younger women, continuing to be friends with all of them and writing them letters long after the relationships ended. Early on, Estelle was jealous, but she later accepted it and told a friend, "I guess Bill just needs younger women."

At least two of his books were made into movies, "The Reivers" and "The Hamlet," the title of which was changed to "The Long Hot Summer," starring Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman. (That one really made my blood boil; I saw it when I was 17!)

In later years, Faulkner was a writer in residence and lecturer in American literature at the University of Virginia. He also lectured at Princeton.

Since I’ve been writing most of my life, I'm always interested in what well-known writers have to say about their craft.

"Keep it amateur,” Faulkner said, “Remember, you're writing about people, not about a city or some other place, but about people; about man as he faces the eternal truths of love, compassion, cowardice, protection of the weak. Not facts, but truths. You're going to write about truth: man as he comes into conflict with his heart."

He also said he had never met anyone who could not find the time to write if he really wanted to write. "Don't be a writer," he said, "Be writing!"

Think I'll take Faulkner's advice and get back to my writing!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

May the Road Rise Up to Meet You

My grandson and his girlfriend roared into our driveway yesterday morning in a big U-Haul truck, sweeping into the house with the energy and exuberance that only come with youth.

Chase and Tasha are moving into their first house together. They had just come from Suzanne's; their contribution, a huge leather sofa and matching chair, sitting regally in the truck, and they swung by our house to pick up a dining table and chairs.

“I guess that’s it,” Chase said, jumping out of the truck and slapping his cap back on his head.

As I watched them cruise down the street, over the hill and out of sight, I was suddenly transported back in time to my first place.

It was August, 1959, and Chase’s grandfather and I were newlyweds. Just short of our 19th birthdays and students at Draughon’s Business College in Paducah, we were thrilled about our first home, a furnished, second-floor apartment at the corner of Harrison and North 6th Streets. It is now the beautifully renovated home and gallery of artist Mark Palmer.

Bobby Darin was belting out “Dream Lover” from our little radio as Carroll trudged up the steep steps with cardboard boxes containing our few possessions.

“Wish we had a television set,” he said, dropping the boxes on the living room floor.

“There’s no place to put it if we did,” I said.

The living room was not much larger than most bathrooms of today. It contained two green plastic armchairs, a tiny, low end table squatting between. A yellowed picture of President Roosevelt hung lopsided over one chair; it looked as if it had been there since the thirties.

As the Platters’ “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” drifted through the apartment, we swept and mopped the cracked linoleum floor, and by the time we finished, we had joined the Shirelles in “Dedicated to the One I Love,” Carroll swaying from side to side and mimicking them in a high, squeaky voice.

Still giggling and snapping each other with dish towels every now and then, we unpacked our wedding gifts. I draped new, stiffly-starched doilies on the backs of the armchairs and placed our tall turquoise lamp, which sported a two-tiered fiberglass shade, on the spindly table. Although I protested, Carroll completed the ensemble with a giant orange ashtray, a wedding gift from his Uncle Bus.

A decrepit gas stove held court in the long narrow kitchen alongside a refrigerator similar to Lucy and Ricky Ricardo’s in early episodes of “I Love Lucy.” Our chrome dinette set had seen better days; one leg propped up with a small block, and we surmised the landlord dragged our iron bed out of the city dump late one night when no one was looking. Rusty and wobbly, it sagged in the middle. When I tried to dress it up with our new green bedspread with a pink rose stitched in the center, several slats crashed to the floor.

We didn’t care though; we were young, enthusiastic, and embarking on our life together. It was only temporary, anyway. We were tired of small-town life, planned to move to Chicago after graduation. We had places to go, people to see. Bigger fish to fry.

John F. Kennedy was running for president and the United States was on the brink of the New Frontier when we graduated. Some of our friends were moving back to their hometowns, some were moving to St. Louis; others were staying in Paducah.

Carroll and I? Well, we packed our clothes in the big cardboard boxes, tossed them in the back seat of our red-and-white ’55 Ford, and headed for Chicago to seek our fame and fortune.

But that is another story. And I’m working on it.

So, as Chase and Tasha begin their life together in their new home, one of my favorite Irish blessings says it all for me:

May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind always be at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley