Monday, May 26, 2008

Folding Clothes in an Irish Pub

One morning, as Bill and I were having our coffee at the dining table, I gazed down into the utility room. It is adjacent to the kitchen, and the door is usually closed. But for some reason, it was open that morning.
It was as if I were seeing it for the first time.
An old desk, piled high with books, stood against one wall; our second refrigerator hummed in the corner. On the opposite wall was Great-Great Grandpa Kane's (or "Keane," as his name was spelled in Ireland) steamer trunk, which he brought all the way from Dublin, Ireland during the potato famine in 1849. It is battered and ravaged by time, and although I have always treasured it, it didn't seem to look right anywhere. Bill's metal detecter leaned against the wall, a couple of pairs of shoes on the floor beside it.
The only thing in the room that gave me pleasure was our vintage Coke clock. And it kept perfect time.
I spent half a day cleaning, but after I finished, it was just a room. It had no rhyme nor reason to it, as Maw Maw George used to say, and something had to be done.
It was then that I realized the room could be used for just about anything. Since the washer and dryer were behind louvered doors, you would never know they were there.
So I mulled over the possibilities, later that day coming up with an idea.
I turned to Bill, "You know what would look nice here?"
"A booth!"
"A booth? In a utility room?"

"Well, it doesn't look like a utility room. The washer and dryer are out of sight. And we're not using this space for anything but junk. It has no personality whatsoever."
Bill stared at me, not saying a word.
"It would be nice, especially during the winter. We could have our morning coffee there, or a glass of wine in the evenings."
He shook his head, but he joined me in moving the old furniture and junk into storage. Later, we discussed where we might find a booth. A restaurant sale? Have a carpenter build one?
Eventually, though, we went on to other things, and the booth idea fell by the wayside.
Or so I thought.
A few weeks later, I was away from home most of the afternoon. And when I opened the utility room door on my return, the first thing I saw was a booth! Sitting in the utility room, bright and new and looking right proud. It was a corner booth, too, even more than I had hoped for!
As it turned out, Bill had bought the booth in pieces and put it together himself. He looked right proud, too.
I admired my new booth for several days, considering my decorating options. An old country store? A coffee house? A pub?
That's it...a pub! We would celebrate our roots with an Irish pub!
I set to work, dragging out tins and menus (both of which I have collected for years), pictures, framed scenes from some of my favorite movies. And a neat Killian's Irish Brands mirror which I found among Bill's things.
The Coke clock would fit right in, so I left it where it was.
I'm still accessorizing our little Irish pub, though not everything is Irish; it's kind of an eclectic mix. It's coming together rather nicely, though, and I'm planning to display some of my favorite things, many of which had been packed away for years.
The refrigerator looks right at home, and Grandpa Kane's trunk has finally found its niche. I plan to laminate some of my menus and place them and a few tins on its tattered surface. Hang a few pictures above it. (Something tells me this is not the first time the trunk has seen a pub; from stories I've heard through the years, Grandpa loved his stout!)
Our utility room is now more pleasant. And much more functional. Although the room is not completely finished, we sometimes have our morning coffee in the booth, and occasionally enjoy a glass of wine. I often make out my grocery lists there, jot down ideas for stories. And reflect with friends and family over a soothing cup of hot tea.
The table is also a good place to fold clothes, warm from the dryer nearby. And I'll take an Irish pub over a junk room anytime for that monotonous task!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Coming Out

A few days ago, I received an invitation from a former classmate who is planning our high school reunion. But I think she has made a mistake. A hell of a mistake.

It seems Joyce Gail thinks we graduated from high school fifty years ago.

Fifty years ago? People who graduated fifty years ago are old, have grey hair. They speak in glowing terms about their children and grandchildren, talk about the past a lot, gripe about how everyone is in a hurry nowadays. Some wear jeans and tee shirts most of the time; hate to get dressed up, preferring to spend their evenings at home with their spouse, taking long walks, reading books or watching Hallmark movies on TV.

Wait a minute! With the exception of grey hair, I have just described myself. And now that I think of it, I probably have grey hair. I have kept it lightened for so many years that I have no way of knowing for sure. And I don’t want to know.

Apparently, I have been in denial. Like an alcoholic, who won’t admit he has a drinking problem. Or Raquel Welch, who lies about her age.

Unlike Raquel, I don’t lie about my age, but I don’t shout it from the roof tops, either. But now that Joyce Gail has brought it to my attention, I feel compelled to do so. So here goes.

My name is Brenda, and I am 67 years old.

There! I said it. I have cleansed my soul, come out. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, and I am suddenly realizing there are some positive things about getting older.

I am starting to reflect, look back on my life. Thinking about the things I got right, things I got wrong. I have had many happy times in my life, and life has knocked me flat a few times. But it has made me a better person, more compassionate and empathic. Less judgmental. And despite many mistakes along the way, I learned from them.

Well, most of them.

I no longer feel the need to weigh 110 pounds, impress anyone, or try to be like everyone else. I have few name-brand clothes now, don’t have to have shoes and purses to match each outfit. Or the hairstyle of the day. No more blowing it dry to make it straight; no more hot rollers burning my scalp. It’s curly, damn it, and I’m just letting it be curly!

I grew up during the Eisenhower years, saw the beginning of rock & roll, Sputnik, and searched the skies for flying saucers. I went to play parties and slumber parties, and I wore blue jeans rolled up to my knees, topped with flannel shirts; sweater sets and fur collars, black felt skirts over crinoline petticoats. And bobbie sox and saddle oxfords. I fell in love with Marlon Brando and Jimmy Dean, and I watched Dick Clark's American Bandstand and The Twilight Zone, The Honeymooners and Father Knows Best on TV.
I was jitterbugging to Elvis, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, during the racial conflict in Little Rock. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Alabama, I was hiding and reading The Kinsey Report, and when everyone was talking about bomb shelters, I was hiding and reading Grace Metalious’ Peyton Place. And dreaming about boys.
As I look back on my high school years, I am reminded of the swift passage of time, the people and events marching on into history. Best friends Karen and Sarah Mae: What are we going to wear tonight? Basketball games: Will so-and-so be there? Play parties: Hope Mother and Daddy don’t find out! My future: Where will it lead?

It has been quite a journey from Carlisle County High School to this point in my life, but I am now happy and content at home, productive in my work. My greatest gifts are my daughter, who tells me today’s sixty is yesterday’s fifty; my grandson Chase, who thought I was 40 years old until I told him I wasn’t. When I was 52. And Bill, an early riser, who keeps Dudley away from the bedroom door so I can sleep late, and tells me I look like a young Debbie Reynolds when I get up in the morning. Even though I look more like Phyllis Diller.

I owe you an apology, Joyce Gail. It has been half a century since we were the first graduates of Carlisle County High down in Bardwell. I have come to terms with it, gone through the acceptance stage. So I’ll be at the reunion on July 18th, and I will enjoy visiting with my old friends and classmates. All of whom are as old as I.

As is Raquel Welch.
So come on out, Raquel! It's not so bad. Really.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Mother's Love

A Mother’s Love

Because I feel that in the heavens above,
The angels, whispering one to another,
Can find among their burning terms of love
None so devotional as that of “Mother.”

~Edgar Allen Poe~

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Breyers French Chocolate Ice Cream

Today I received my contributor's copies of Straylight Literary Magazine containing my story, Because of the War, so I ripped open the envelope and immediately snapped this picture.
Much of my fiction is woven with my own experiences, and when I finish a story I experience a total catharsis. On that particular subject, that is.
So now I can empty my head of those memories, and get back to a short story I should have finished long ago.
Or maybe I'll work on my novel.
Or maybe I'll celebrate with a great big bowl of Breyers French Chocolate Ice Cream!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

God Bless You, Nuala O'Faolain

I have been a fan of Nuala O’Faolain since I discovered her memoir, Almost There: The Onward Journey of a Dublin Woman, at the McCracken County Library.

Although I have always loved reading Irish writers, the book didn’t look too interesting. But I stood for a minute, reading the first couple of sentences:

If I had been asked to report on middle age when I was halfway through my fifties, I would have said that it is too bleak to talk about. Much too bleak if you believed, as I passionately did, that your life has been a failure.

With a beginning like that, I knew I had to read the rest of her story, so I checked out the book. And read it all that very night. The next day I went back and checked out Are You Somebody? The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman, and her novel, My Dream of You.
I loved her writing, her way with words, her honesty. And I knew I had to find out more about this strong, tough-minded and funny woman.

O'Faolain was an opinion columnist for The Irish Times, and in 1996 a small Irish publisher brought out a selection of her columns. She offered to write an introduction, and as she looked back over her difficult and lonely life, the dam burst and she just kept writing and writing, suddenly realizing after more than five decades of living, she had not accomplished much. Although she was a successful columnist, all she could feel was regret, and all she could see was what was missing. She had no child, and no other creation. And she didn’t have a partner.

The book of journalism came out quietly, with no launch, no advertising, but after a television interview, it became a bestseller in Ireland. The introduction was reprinted as a book and instantly became a bestseller all over the world, spending many weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.

O’Faolain was born in 1940 in Dublin. Before becoming a columnist, she was a television producer for the BBC, a book reviewer, and a teacher at Morley College. She is the second eldest of nine children, and her father was also a well-known Irish journalist, writing the Dubliners Diary social column for the Dublin Evening Press. She was educated at University College, Dublin, University of Hull, and Oxford University.

O'Faolain was engaged once, but she was never married. In Are You Somebody? she speaks openly about her fifteen-year relationship with journalist Nell McCafferty.

I had heard O'Faolain had written another book, The Story of Chicago May, and as I was looking for it on the Internet, I was shocked and saddened to learn she is dying of cancer. She turned down the option of chemotherapy, which could help prolong her life, and in an April 12, 2008 interview, she spoke with her usual honesty. “I don’t want more time,” she said, “As soon as I heard I was going to die, the goodness went from life.”

My heart goes out to Nuala O’Faolain, one of the most honest and compelling writers I have ever come across. Her writing is brilliant and heartbreaking, unsentimental and funny. When I’m reading one of her books, I never want it to end.

Just as I do not want her life to end.

My thoughts and prayers are with you tonight, Nuala. God bless you.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Mississippi Crow

My copy of Mississippi Crow arrived today. As you can see, it is coffee-table quality, a glossy publication containing 60 pages of poetry, short stories, essays and artwork.
I vividly remember those long summer days as a teenager down on the farm in Carlisle County. I was bored and restless, waiting for something to happen. So I drew from those memories when I wrote my short fictional piece, Truckin' With Paris Hilton. It's a humorous story about a 15-year-old girl living with her grandmother down south, desperate to get away.
As was I.
But I am back where I started, glad to be in Western Kentucky. And proud to have my work among the pages of Mississippi Crow.
All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley