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FRESH FROM THE INKWELL

Guide to the Blog Archives

August 2010: Somewhere over the Rainbow
January 2011: New Leaf in a Writer’s Notebook
February 2011: Kindred Spirits
July 2011: Library Fines and Fine Libraries
November 2011: Bugsy, Slug, the Beatles and Me
December 2011: Do You Know? A Carol for the Family
February 2012: Top Ten Reasons to take up Stained Glass
March 2012: Ode on the Color Green
April 2012: Take me to your Leader
July 2012: For You, Dad
September 2012: A Song for Irene; A Poem a Day Keeps Detractors at Bay
October 2012: Oklahoma Fall
December 2012: Not This Christmas; Janus at the Crossroads
January 2013: Kansas Voices
March 2013: Marching Forward in March
April 2013: A Muse Named April
May 2013: The Desk
June 2013: I Don’t Do….
July 2013: A Literary Cruise; Ballad of Captain Jack Scurvy
August 2013: Yolanda’s Uniform & other School Poems
September 2013: Four Poems in my Backpack
November 2013: Remembering Penny
December 2013: The Joy Jar
February 2014: Three Poems for Valentine’s Day
March 2014: Ghosts of the Midnight Oil; Eviction Notice to my Inner Critic;
Cancelelation
April 2014: Crabby’s Classroom
August 2014: A = Art; B = Bibliography; C = Calvin; D = Danger; E = Exercise; F = Friendship
September 2014: G = Gospel; H = History; I = Immersion; J = Jewels; K = King;
M = Meshki; N = Nuts; O = Obstacles; P = Phyllis; Q = Queen of Hearts
October 2014: R = Rose Garden; S = Seventies; T = Tammie Traylor; U = Unity; V = Vandergriff; W = Wonderland
November 2014: X = Xylophone; Y = You; Z = Zoroastrian
December 2014: Joy Jar
June 2015: Catch a Falling Writer
August 2015: Tuscany, O Tuscany!
September 2015: Relocation, Dislocation & Discombobulation
October 2015: Random Encounter at Random House
March 2016: Two Poems for Easter
June 2016: Two Poems about Fatherhood
September 2016: The Way to the Town Hall
May 2017: Curse of the Dampeners
December 2017: Tia Lynn’s Midnight Ride
March 2018: Marching Forward in March
May 2018: Guide to the Blog Archives
July 2018: Death of a Sequel
August 2018: Interview with Sarah Sanchez
February 2019: Wichita Eagle Reading Challenge
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A SONG FOR IRENE

Like generations before me beginning a new school year at Sandown Church of England Primary School, I lined up with the eight-year-olds near an inscription in the stone wall: A.D. 1853.

“I’ve seen Miss Wheeler lose her temper,” Jean-Ann whispered. “She goes as red as a beetroot!”

My knees knocked as the autumn wind sent sycamore leaves skittering across the playground. We followed our new teacher inside and hung up our coats and P.E. bags. Then we took our places at desks that smelled of ink and polish in Irene Wheeler’s room, sandwiched between Crabby Jones’ and Joey Brown’s. Ours must have been the only teacher in the school without a nickname.

A lock of gray hair, formerly black, jiggled as she called the thirty-four names on her roll.

“Hazel Longhurst?” Miss Wheeler’s eyes, blue as the knitted twin set she wore, twinkled behind thick glasses. A special smile for me.

“Present,” I answered.

Every day, the heavy wood-and-glass partitions were rolled back for morning assembly, and Miss Wheeler accompanied our hymn singing on the piano. I watched her play, fascinated, because I had just started taking piano lessons. Too shy to speak out in class, I sought private opportunities to show her my piano pieces, drawings, and a guitar made of rubber bands on a box. She always took time to listen and to offer helpful suggestions.

Miss Wheeler patiently steered the class through long division and sentence construction. On lazy Friday afternoons, she sparked my sense of adventure by reading from The Jungle Book and Gulliver’s Travels. She instilled a passion for words by reciting a range of poetry, from Hiawatha to The Owl and the Pussy Cat.

“There’s brandy for the parson, baccy for the clerk … so watch the wall, my darling, while the gentlemen go by.” So went a verse about contraband. Gleefully Miss Wheeler confessed that her ancestors had been notorious smugglers along the Isle of Wight’s west coast in the 19th century. She gave us glimpses into her personal life, like her first taste of octopus in Spain, and the time her mother had cried in the cupboard because Irene had upset her. We learned that hurting your parents is worse than making them angry.

I remembered Jean-Ann’s warning, but did not believe this sweet lady could ever lose her temper. One drizzly morning, she left our silent reading session to confer with Ginny Cassell in another classroom. The clunk of her heels on the wooden floor ten minutes later was almost drowned out by our hubbub. Half the class was swapping tea cards, the rest engaged in an inkwell-cover-polishing competition.

Miss Wheeler loomed in the doorway with a face redder than the spindle berries on our nature table. All trading ceased, the brass-buffers clutched wads of Duraglit with blackened fingers, and an eerie hush descended. She turned her thundercloud scowl in my direction.

“Bring me those cards in your hand, Hazel Longhurst!”

I obeyed the shrill command and gulped as she placed the entire British wildlife series in her drawer. While she stormed around the room confiscating everything in sight, I snickered behind my New Worlds to Conquer reader. I’d simply been admiring the cards. They belonged to Stephen Williams.

December drew near, and we crocodiled up the hill to the church to practice for the carol service. As our clear voices rang beneath the stone arches—“What can I give Him, poor as I am?”—a question echoed in my mind. What can I give my teacher for Christmas?

On the next dry Saturday I walked with my family along the cliff path to the nearest Woolworth’s, and decided to buy her a bar of Cadbury’s chocolate with sixpence from my own piggy bank. Back home, it looked a little smaller than usual. So I borrowed Daddy’s Bic ballpoint and printed the price on the wrapper, so that it could not be mistaken for a threepenny bar!

For me, Miss Wheeler’s greatest legacy is the repertoire of music she taught. We marched with the men of Harlech, danced at Marie’s wedding, and waited for Johnny to come home from the fair. We drowned with the jolly sailor boys who spied a mermaid on a Friday with a comb and a glass on her hand (sure signs of bad luck), and sped with a bonnie boat carrying the lad who was born to be king, over the sea to Skye. At parties we galloped up and down the parish hall to The Grand Old Duke of York. Fifty years on, another Prince Charles is destined for the throne, and Andrew has become Duke of York. Yet, poignant phrases reverberate down the halls of memory.

On her revolving blackboard, Miss Wheeler drew a body with a thick chalk line across the middle. She explained how the diaphragm could be controlled to produce a not-quite-so-flat note. I joined her choir and learned to sing alto. Spring arrived with soft pussy willow and yellow lamb’s tail catkins. The choir traveled by bus to the Island Music Festival, where Miss Wheeler waved her baton like a magic wand, a stray curl bobbing over her forehead. She beamed with pride at the announcement that we’d secured the First Place trophy for Sandown.

The following week Carol, Judith, and I entered the solo category. Despite our valiant attempts at "Tony Was a Turtle," the cup went to the girl from a posh private school who lifted her frilly frock in a curtsey after her performance. Still, I enjoyed that trip in Miss Wheeler’s Morris Standard. She was one of the few women drivers we knew back then, and a good one.

Summer swept in with garden parties, regattas, exams, and Sports Day. Our four teams or “houses”—bore the names of authors, Priestley (red), Tennyson (yellow), Keats (blue), and Milne (green). Eagerly I watched the sack-race finalists bounce over the sunny field toward the tape, hoping for a Priestley victory. I’d never suspected the teachers of being biased, and so I was mortified to hear Miss Wheeler scream from the sideline, “Tennyson! Tennyson!”

I forgave her at last, and asked her to write in my autograph book. Neatly she copied a poem about the steep path of life and the Guide who will see us through if we trust Him, and she signed it Irene Wheeler. Thrilled at the inclusion of her first name, I also appreciated the poem’s advice.

On my report card she wrote, “Hazel will go far.” My mother quoted these words a decade later, when I left for teacher training college on the mainland. Miss Wheeler died of cancer soon after I embarked on my career. Now that I share her faith, we’re on the same team. I look forward to singing with her in the heavenly choir, and she’ll find out how far I went—to America, by way of Iran!

Even if none of my thousand or so former students picks me as the best teacher they ever had, I hope they will think of me as someone who encouraged them to use their talents. They saw me explode on occasions too, but I wanted above all to be their friend, as Irene Wheeler was mine. Read More 
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FOR YOU, DAD

4o years ago this week my father went ahead of us to Heaven, at age 55. I feel as if I've been living on borrowed time ever since I too passed that double-nickel birthday, all the more determined to make every day count.

Daddy worked hard on the Isle of Wight County Press, covering court cases, the arts, and community events. We kids accompanied him to carnivals and ag shows, enjoying fresh meat pies and dairy ice cream. As I humbly follow in his literary footsteps, I'm thankful for his enouragement and guidance.

It was Dad who showed me how to prepare a manuscript for publication. My first rejection was from Blackie Books for a children's adventure during my first year of teachers' college. Had he lived to retirement, my father would've had time for his own writing, such as WWII memoirs, poetry, and short fiction. Among my prized possessions are 2 dozen or so of his parodies and twist-in-the-tale stories, both published and unpublished.

In tribute to Roy Longhurst (1916-1972) I will post 3 poems from my chapbooks,
TAPESTRY OF TIME and HOMEWARD TRACKS:

DISCOVERY

Hands trembled,
heart beat faster,
when I found Dad’s
magazines in a dusty
cupboard under the stairs.

A couple of ads,
no pictures.
But I pored over
those pages nightly,
worked my way
through every issue,
nurturing a secret desire.

Satisfy the itch,
one article urged.
Satisfy the itch
with the scratch of a pen.

I just couldn’t
get enough
of those magazines
for writers.

ISLE OF WIGHT CHILDHOOD

We jumped the waves that pounded Sandown Beach,
mermaid-hair seaweed caught between fingers,
nostrils filled with the tang of freedom,
our salty lips re-shaping vanilla cones:
It seemed that summer would never end.

Locals and visitors flung open beach hut doors;
their kettles whistled on Primus stoves.
Mr. Earnshaw trudged through squishy sand
collecting deck chair money, while a megaphone
blared the times for trips across the bay.

Distress signals punctuated our pleasure: boom!
boom! Send lifeboat or chopper to rescue a tripper
who tried to beat high tide around Culver Cliff.
We dabbled in rock pools by lupine-lined shores,
hiked up the chalk ridge (island’s backbone)
strewn with bunny currants and golden gorse,
to picnic at the top, sharing the vista with ghosts
of Tennyson and Keats. No mainland in sight,
who knew what might loom on the hazy horizon?
Submarine, schooner, battleship, even a galleon.

Six weeks off school culminated in a carnival.
Crepe paper streamers all down the High Street
saluted grand floats to a heart-jolting drumbeat.
Daddy winked at me under the shiny black peak
of his Town Band cap, tootling into a horn,

We’ll Make a Bonfire of our Troubles. Up
to the fairground we followed in step, enticed
by hot dogs, a Ferris wheel, candy floss,
fireworks--eruptions of magical color that made
the crowd cry, “Ooh! Ah! Better than last year!”

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. Read More 
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