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 FRESH FROM THE INKWELL 

2 POEMS ON FATHERHOOD

I may have posted these before, but now is a good time to share again, between Father's Day and Dad's death anniversary. It just occurred to me that he would have been 100 this year!
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A POCKETFUL OF PENNIES

My father never learned to drive a car.
His pockets rattled with loose change, not keys
Whenever he gave armchair pony rides,
Four giggling children on two jiggling knees.
Coins came in handy for his magazines,
Tobacco, tickets on the daily bus,
Occasional ice cream cones or Bounty bars
And favorite weekly comic books for us.
How could I then, how could I even think
Of acting on my friend Georgina’s dare
To help myself? She did it all the time,
Stole from her mother’s purse without a care.
I spied Dad’s trousers hanging on the door,
Dipped in and found a dozen pennies bright;
But guilt sank to my stomach like a stone.
I slid them back, and oh, my heart was light
When Dad came home; he twirled me, jingling loud,
Then after supper tucked me up in bed.
He told us made-up tales of Harold Hare
And slipped a coin beneath each pillowed head.

© Hazel Spire
Homeward Tracks 2004
First published in a Christian Writers booklet, UK
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MUSICIAN, CHIEF REPORTER, DAD (after Whitman)

O father, my mentor, our crossing’s nearly done,
Taking my widowed mother home to the Island.
I twenty-two, she forty-four, you fifty-five:
Don’t you love poetic irony? The rain that kept
Fishers ashore lashes the ferry windows.
We sit below in the crowded tea bar,
Tourists’ voices grating on our ears.
Stop! Wait! How can the world
Go on its merry way
When Dad lies on a mortuary slab?

Captain of our family, for you the organ groans
As we gather in your name, bright floral tributes
Filling Bob’s black Daimler. “We’ll do our best job
For you,” he says in gentle local brogue.
“Can’t be early for his own funeral,” quips his son.
“Drive around the block another time.” You’d
Appreciate the humor, you who ran for trains and buses.
The crematory mechanism judders, transporting you
Behind red velvet curtains. No! Too soon!

O father, writer, friend, you could not swim, but strolled
Along the pier at night reciting Shakespeare to the waves.
For you the gulls are keening as the sea keeps rolling in.
When the paper is put to bed this week, the press
Will run again. But stop—the chief reporter’s dead.
Did you who taught the Girls’ Brigade to triple-tongue
Hear a bugle call from distant shores?
My brothers still play soccer, but long legs
That showed them dribble, kick, and GOAL
Have crossed the line to our eternal home.


© Hazel Spire
Tapestry of Time, 2006 Read More 

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Crabby's Classroom, Fag Cards, and the Lollipop Man

Surfing the Net one night, I came upon an article about a Victorian building in my hometown in England, scheduled for demolition. The high windows and natural stone in the photo triggered a memory of boys from Crabby Jones's class crouching in short grey trousers on the asphalt below and flicking "fag" cards. Without any other connotation in 1950s England, this was their term for collector cards issued by certain cigarette brands. The boys never shared their game, or marbles, or football with us girls. Around the corner in a separate playground, we had other amusements: cartwheels, trading beads, knitting with bobbins, French skipping with elastic bands around our ankles, and variations of tag.

This was Sandown C.E. Junior School, renamed the Broadway Centre, where I attended from ages 7 to 11, the equivalent of US grades 2-5. A nearby building housed the Infants, ages 5 and 6. Beyond the green gate, our "lollipop man" - so called for the shape of his official sign - escorted us across one of the town's main arteries, The Broadway, before and after school and at lunchtime. (Like most pupils, my sister and I walked about a quarter of a mile each way; very few arrived by car.) I'd remembered his name as Mr. Hunnicutt. Then I found an entry about him, complete with yellow-uniformed portrait, in an old exercise book. (See column on left.) It was Mr. Hunnywood.

I could fill a book with my Island childhood. I vowed to do just that as I jumped the waves in Sandown Bay at the age of 10. Birthday parties, carnivals, fetes, even shoplifting, already appear in my published works (ARROWHEAD'S LOST HOARD, HOMEWARD TRACKS, TAPESTRY OF TIME, AREOPAGUS MAGAZINE, FRISCO POETS ANTHOLOGY). Like Laura Ingalls Wilder, I write to keep alive the people and places I love. Writing pins down fleeting impressions of tactile experiences for family, myself, and perhaps a wider audience.

Fortunately, the decision about demolition of our old school has been deferred. But even if it goes ahead, no one can steal our memories - as I told my first "bosom buddy" Susan in a recent e-mail. Certain details are imprinted in our minds like indelible ink, though they may be different for each of us.

I like to think we could re-enter that building and hear the echoes of morning hymns, of multiplication tables and folk songs, of a teacher reading to us from Kipling and Twain. The two schools, along with Christ Church up the hill, where we performed our nativity plays and carol services, should all be preserved together. To me they are holy ground. Read More 

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BUGSY, SLUG, THE BEATLES AND ME

My blue, three-speed Raleigh bumped over the railway crossing as I pedaled home from school in England, bursting with the news. I found my sister Linda in the side yard feeding her rabbit.

“Guess what!” I blurted out. “Bugsy invited us to hear the new Beatles album.”

“Let’s go!” she screamed.

Peeling off her hated school uniform, my sister grabbed her jeans and striped jersey. Barbershop haircuts and a passion for soccer had earned Linda the nickname Slug. But she was feminine enough to have a giant crush on George Harrison. I preferred Paul, while our bunny-toothed friend Bugsy (a.k.a. Margaret) swooned over John. Poor Ringo Starr, granted the occasional solo, drummed away in the background.

That afternoon, the three of us performed our own “Twist and Shout” session on Bugsy’s living room rug, to the magical Mersey Sound from a stereo deck her father had built. After playing both sides of the shiny black disc, twice at 33 rpm and once at 78 for a laugh, she said, “I fancy some chips.”

We traipsed down to the fish ’n’ chip shop and ordered “six-penny-worth” each, like the Beatles in “A Hard Day’s Night.” We sprinkled our fries with salt and vinegar, and wrapped them in newspaper. Then we found a bench on Sandown seafront, where we consumed our greasy feast. Watching the waves roll in, we chatted about the lads from Liverpool.

Slug sighed. “Do you think they’ll ever come to the Isle of Wight?”

“Doubt it. We’re too far south,” I said in my sensible-older-sister voice.

“But they’ve been to the Channel Islands!” Slug protested.

“They’ve even been to America,” said Bugsy, tossing burnt offerings to the black-headed gulls. “It’s not fair.”

“I’m going to buy more Beatles cards with my pocket money,” Slug announced.

“Haven’t you got enough cards?” I griped, jealous because I’d lost all of mine to her in a bet.

“I Wanna Hold Your Hand” echoed in my brain as we walked on toward the pier. Paul McCartney seemed more distant than ever, and I longed for a real boyfriend to hold my hand.

A chilly wind swept the bay and mussed up my Beatles-style bangs. Arms folded across my budding chest, I felt the warmth of my yellow turtleneck sweater. Bugsy wore one just like it, except hers was red. We had knitted them from a pattern we found in Princess magazine, named for my favorite royal person, Princess Anne.

Twilight descended. Slug broke the silence. “Race you to the war memorial!”

She stretched out her arms, plane-like, and took off across the firm, cool sand.

Bugsy and I followed imitating the Beatles in the snow scene from their movie, "Help!"

Finally, we collapsed in a giggling heap on the steps of the stone cross, a familiar landmark where our church's Girls’ Brigade company and various civic groups would lay wreaths every Remembrance Sunday.

Parades in which the three of us took part throughout the year with the bugle band afforded opportunities to mingle with the opposite sex. We felt sorry for the Sea Scouts, dressed in little shorts even in November, but enjoyed eyeballing those trembling, knobbly kneecaps.

Before Slug was old enough to date or to want anyone but George, Bugsy and I fell in love with two of the Boys’ Brigade boys. Mine bought me a 45 single every Saturday, making me the envy of my class. Friends begged to borrow records, usually those by the Beatles.

Our “Long and Winding Road” to adulthood ran alongside the musical career of the Fab Four. When “Hey Jude” came out, I had my “Ticket to Ride” the boat and train to Bognor Regis College of Education. By the time I said goodbye to my friends there, the Beatles had created or captured the spirit of the age, done drugs, tuned out on Transcendental Meditation, and disbanded.

Paul met his “L-L-Lovely Linda,” but my sister pretended he wrote the song for her. Ringo sang about renting a cottage on the Isle of Wight, as one by one we moved to the mainland. George’s guitar gently wept, “All Things Must Pass Away.” John passed away when I was expecting my first child. A couple of years before Linda McCartney’s death, lucky Slug played her sousaphone in a charity parade led by Paul’s family.

Now George has gone to meet his sweet Lord. Bugsy and her Boys’ Brigade drummer have celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. And I, married to a Texan, am enjoying a bit of success as a “Paperback Writer.”

As I drive past the lake on the way to Weight Watchers, Beatles music blares from the speakers of my cyber green VW Beetle, nicknamed Bugsy. By means of this time machine, I can stroll down “Penny Lane,” wander through “Strawberry Fields,” or fly with “Lucy in the Sky” back to Sandown Bay, back to the days when everything was fab. Read More 
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LIBRARY FINES & FINE LIBRARIES

I recently paid a library fine of $1.80. It wasn't my first, and doubtless will not be my last. My father used to turn in books late, so I'm following in his footsteps!

It was Dad who took me, at age 7, to get my own "ticket" from Sandown Public Library on the Isle of Wight. It's a solid brick building, still in operation - though much updated inside with DVDs and PCs, and no more "Shh!" from our childhood librarian, Margaret Wright. The upper floor housed a geological museum, under the watchful eye of Mr. Grapes, curator, who became the inspiration for Alfred Mossle in my 2008 YA novel, Arrowhead's Lost Hoard.

In the 1950s, juveniles were allowed one book at a time. It didn't seem fair that adults could check out two books, one fiction and one non-fiction. My first choice was "Rufty Tufty" - the story of a little imp who would cause mischief, and then suddenly disappear. I read it all the way home, and wanted to return it the same day and get another book - but that was against library rules.

My favorite chapter book was "Treasures of the Snow" by Patricia St. John. I loved it so much that I started to copy it word for word in an exercise book, until I developed writer's cramp. I was delighted to find a paperback "Treasures of the Snow" some thirty years later, in a Texas public library.

In our first house on Fitzroy Street, we had a bookcase on the landing at the top of the stairs. I spent several happy hours there "stocktaking" - just like Miss Wright! I diligently organized the hardback books that belonged to me and my siblings, entering their titles in a small blue notebook. We had won many of them as prizes for church attendance or good grades at school. Popular series for British children back then included Just William, Jennings, the Secret Seven, and Famous Five. Our neighbor would sell his used copies to us for a shilling each. New, they would have cost ten-and-sixpence.

My friends and I mail ordered fan club badges from the prolific children's author Enid Blyton. With her encouragement, we went on nature walks and looked for interesting thiings to report. One day a missel thrush hopped very close to our picnic basket. I wrote to Enid Blyton, and actually received a reply.

So began a lifetime of reading adventures. The public library is one of the first places I visit after moving to a new town. I've enjoyed some fine libraries of all shapes and sizes on three continents. This year in Kansas, I've been in three book discussions, devoured hefty biographies (such as Agatha Christie and Paul McCartney), and joined in the fun of a kids' summer reading program.

I'll try to return books on time, but in these days of government cutbacks, an occasional fine is money well spent. Read More 
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