Power of Touch


Some time ago, a friend and fellow author, Amanda Bretz (https://amandabretz.wordpress.com), described a tender moment between herself and her father. No words were uttered. A simple squeeze of the hand spoke as loud as a pastor from the pulpit. The power of touch amazes and encourages me, especially when words are not enough.

As a writer, I draw upon an infinite source of words to fill the pages of a book, yet there are times when words are not enough to convey the intensity of the moment. A gentle kiss, a stroke of a hand on one’s cheek, a strong embrace conveys emotions unreached by mere speech.

Perhaps that was why I wrote the following poem some years ago as my mother suffered the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Although she could not verbalize her thoughts, we spent many hours just holding hands and sharing gentle squeezes, along with heartfelt smiles. I think if she could have expressed her thoughts, she would have said these words.

      Timeless Treasure

The memories of yesterday
Will become distorted over time
The written word will lose its strength
A verse will lose its rhyme

The laughs we shared will pass by me
My words will make no sense
Such simple things we once enjoyed
Will now seem rather dense

Old photographs will fade away
Your face may lose its name
You’ll think I’ve traveled far away
But my heart will know you came

No need for words, no bouquets bright
No trinkets made of gold
No promise for a miracle
Just your hand for me to hold

Your love’s the only treasure
It will endure through all the pain
Just speak to me in silence
You’ll be my sunshine in all the rain

Have you been struggling to find the right words? Could the answer be in the power of touch?

Tell me your story. I’d love to hear it.

Finding Inspiration


Writing often is a solitary calling, especially in winter months. You’d think I’d flourish when confined indoors with plenty of free time to devote to my passion. Instead, my mind hibernates, shuts down, and refuses to unveil any hint of creativity. Even the ink in my pen coagulates when cold winds blow.

During the other seasons, I have a fantastic (monthly) writing club, Saturday Writers, (saturdaywriters.org) to encourage me with contests, open mic nights, and amazing guest speakers, but they cease meeting for a couple of months, just when I need them the most.

Unfortunately, weather, health issues, and holiday commitments tend to cancel many of the biweekly critique group meetings, leaving a void in my face-to-face writing support system. Thank goodness for email and Facebook, but it’s not the same. I want and need to see the person’s face light up when a particular phrase I’ve written hits the mark or pay attention when a frown appears letting me know I need to rework a story.

My husband and daughter tend to tolerate my obsession for storytelling, and on rare occasions they provide a nod of approval after being urged to read something I’ve scripted. I get it. Writing doesn’t excite everyone. I try not to take it personally, but it would be refreshing to have one of them ask “What are you working on?” or even better, “I’d like to read that when you’re ready.”

Of course, showing interests goes both ways. Hubby likes sports, especially wrestling, and the weather and gardening. He spends many hours on-line reading about upcoming matches, baseball trades, and the daily forecast. I try not to half-listen when he shares his recent finds, but there are times when my attention fades.

My daughter loves cooking, basket weaving and shopping on-line, especially for shoes and purses. My purse selection is limited to two at any given time, one that’s worn and tattered and the one I bought to replace it. We do share the hobby of basket weaving. She’s an experienced weaver with a basement full of reeds, handles and patterns. She made this amazing basket one Saturday while I piddled with two simple ones.


I’m still an advance beginner. All of my supplies fit in a duffle bag.

My daughter’s also a speed reader and while she will read whatever I send her, her comments are normally limited to pointing out my mistakes.

I’ve found a rather simple, possibly sneaky, way of gaining their attention and giving them a reason to care. We do share some common interests such as nature, humor and a loveable dog named Hammie.

Personal anecdotes and yarns often become part of my short stories. Before I publish anything that involves my family, I make them read it and give their approval. Sometimes they provide a different version based on their memory of the event or they might remind me of another humorous tale.

Now that spring has arrived, my inspiration blossoms like the lovely ornamental cherry tree in my side yard.

 I’ve still not identified its exact variety, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s twisted, gnarled trunk and snowy white canopy bring me joy and signal a fresh start. The ink in my pen flows again.

Ready, Set, Whoa!


I remember the first time I attended a meeting with Saturday Writers, a charter member of the Missouri Writer’s Guild. Most people smiled or greeted me upon arrival and I sensed a contagious energy in the room. General introductions and door prizes were given out, generous amounts of food filled a few tables and coffee, an essential for any good meeting, was available at no cost.

When the President handed out certificates to the winners of a writing contest, the crowd exploded in applause. How fun. Immediately, I knew that giving up a Saturday, once a month, was going to be worth it. At last I’d found a group with whom I could connect, maybe even share my poetry and prose efforts, something I seldom did for fear of being rejected.

When they announced the theme for an upcoming contest, it struck a chord. By the end of the meeting, I couldn’t wait to get home and write. And I did. The next few weeks, I wrote, edited and printed out my story. Pleased with my efforts, I tucked it in my notebook, knowing the chance of my sharing it with anyone was minimal. I lacked confidence, but I was pleased that I made the effort.

At the next meeting, as I waited in line to check in, I watched dozens of people submit their paperwork at the registration table. Excitement and naivety surpassed my shyness. When I got to the table, I pulled out the story, paid my small fee and turned in my entry. Shocked and embarrassed by my impulsiveness, I hurried to find a seat, already regretting my foolishness.

And foolish I was. I skipped an essential part of any contest: Research the rules and guidelines before submitting. I’m pretty sure my entry went straight to the trash can. If it didn’t, it should have.

Who knows what font I used. It wasn’t double-spaced. Didn’t have a cover sheet or bio. Probably had my name typed at the top of my story. I sabotaged myself, but it was a helpful lesson, one I remember each time I enter any kind of contest.

As I attended more meetings, I became familiar with the requirements. They are clearly identified on the SW website https://www.saturdaywriters.org. I didn’t find the courage to submit again until a year later, but when I did, I received an honorable mention. With the help of two critique groups and persistent effort, I’ve entered and won seventeen more contests.

Bottom line, the opportunities are out there for all writers to be recognized for their talents. Just be sure to do your homework and read the rules and guidelines (and the fine print) for whatever contest you enter.

Back to Basics


I have a love/hate relationship with computers. It took me years to transition from pen and paper to pc and laptop. The number of hours and bottles of wine needed to write my first blog post would make one laugh out loud.

It’s not the computers fault. It’s my need to complete the entire experiential learning cycle (ELC) when learning something new. For those unfamiliar with the concept, I’ll try to explain.

Most people have a preferred way of learning. Some are visual, some are auditory and others like to jump in and get their hands dirty – also known as kinesthetic. Me? I need it all.

I must have the written directions in front of me. Every single step or keystroke. Then I want someone showing me and talking me through each step. Finally, I want to do it myself, make a few mistakes and have someone there telling me how to fix it in language I will understand.

So today, I’m going back to square one and trying to build a blog that others might want to visit. At least, that’s what the instructions in the tutorial say they can teach me. Wish me luck.


When the Bough Breaks


It breaks my heart everytime I watch or listen to the news and hear of another young person arrested and jailed because of poor decisions influenced by drugs and alcohol. What life experience took them down the path they are walk? Who owns the problem?What is the solution?

So many questions. So few answers.

I welcome your thoughts.

When the Bough Breaks

 

From the boughs of a cradle, much like you and me,

so dependent on others, so innocent and free.

He grinned with a smile that would capture your heart,

no clue that his world would soon fall apart.

 

Left alone once too often; forced to grow up too fast.

The pleasures that warmed him were soon part of his past.

The drugs and the booze became his whole life,

such a sense of abandon, such continuous strife

 

From street gangs to prison, he followed the path.

Consumed by his anger, his hatred, his wrath.

Now death by injection, the sentence he waits.

So hopeless and helpless behind steel gates

 

The cradle is empty, the smile worn away.

No family or friends to protect him today.

He was still just a child when he sealed his fate.

Can a difference be made or is it too late?

 

Is killing the answer for the decisions he made?

Is one life for another a meaningful trade?

Does the slaughter discourage repeat of the act?

Is revenge more important than facing the fact?

 

What lesson’s excluded when just learning to crawl

that leads one man to stumble and one to stand tall?

Is it instilling belief in one’s own self-worth?

Is it learning to love from the day of our birth?

 

What’s missing from life that leads children astray?

When brown bottles and needles can lure them away?

Are they lacking the skills essential to cope?

Have they sunken so low there’s no sense of hope?

 

To own our own actions, to build on mistakes

To take pride in achievements – is that what it takes?

How much is genetics and how much is fate?

Can a difference be made or is it too late?

Hidden Treasures


Sometimes the thing we’re looking for is right where we are. Hope you enjoy this story.

Hidden Treasures

Julie Perkins’ crisp November morning started before sunrise, while nosy neighbors still slept and streets weren’t snarled in traffic. Other than a few boxes stacked near the door of her studio apartment, the room was bare. Julie sold the furniture and anything that didn’t have strings attached to her heart when she received the certified letter informing her of her father’s passing.

With a loud grunt, she hoisted a box of rejected screenplay manuscripts and spiral bound notebooks and carried them to the `65 Mustang that would take her back to Missouri, provided the tires didn’t go flat and the transmission held up. “Shit,” she moaned when she realized her car key was in her hip pocket. She tried to balance the overstuffed container on the bumper with one hand. The minute she popped the trunk, a gust of wind sent papers flying out into the street. “Crap,” she cursed and dropped the box into the trunk.

By the time everything was retrieved and the final boxes were loaded, sweat dripped down Julie’s neck. Now hot and exhausted, she rolled down the windows, put the car in gear and took off.  Screw this town. I wish I’d never come here. Tears stung with the acknowledgment.

As an only child, Julie swore Hollywood whispered her name in dreams. She envisioned walking on stage to receive an award for best screenplay. She wanted fame and fortune. She wanted to be somebody special. Growing up in the rural Ozark Mountains didn’t afford those opportunities. Julie’s mother, gone since she was twelve, would have understood. She took Julie to the matinee every time a new movie came out.

Her dad, on the other hand, fumed and cussed at Julie, calling her a fool for chasing an elusive dream. “Everything you need is right here,” he’d insisted. The more he talked, the more relentless she was to prove him wrong. Julie never forgot his hurtful words the morning she decided to go. ‘If you leave, don’t come crawling back.’ Too proud to admit defeat, she never returned. Spirit-broken and alone, the need to return to her childhood home tugged at her heart.

The man standing by the stoplight went unnoticed by Julie until he reached into the car and snatched her purse from the passenger seat. “Nooo!” she screamed. He took off down an alley with Julie following close behind in her car. “Stop!” The thief ducked between two buildings and disappeared. What the hell am I going to do now?

Julie circled back around determined to find her belongings. Surely the man would dispose of her purse quickly. A trash bin caught her eye and she threw the car in park, leaving it idle while she dug into the nasty metal container. “Got it.” Pleased with her find, she brushed off her jeans and straightened her blouse, just in time to see her car drive off. “Son of a bitch!”

The sun glared overhead as she stomped her way to the nearest police substation. In her furor, she hadn’t noticed the reporter standing within ear distance and armed with a camera. “Don’t you dare,” Julie protested in vain. The headlines would read, Free-Lance Writer Robbed Twice in One Day. The black mascara streaming down her tear-stained face was just the type of photo the sleazy magazine loved to print and not the kind of fame Julie imagined.

“Just doing my job, trying to make a dime. You know how it is.”

She plopped down on a park bench, distraught and homeless. On the following day, the police recovered Julie’s stolen car. Wanting no more delays, she dropped the charges against the teenage joyrider, withdrew the last of her money from the bank and with the warm California sun to her back, she headed east.

November winds had stripped the trees of their leaves, still the rolling Missouri hills brought nostalgia and a sense of peace that had escaped Julie for many years. She’d cherished the memories of picking fresh vegetables from the garden and the endless hours in the kitchen helping to snap the beans, shuck the corn and fry the chicken in preparation of the next meal.  When the sun went down, Dad would come in from tending the fields and give her a big hug.

As the Bloomsdale exit came into view, Julie noticed the addition of a large truck stop. Bet all the farmers love that. She wound her way through the back roads, past quaint little towns, and across low water bridges, in giddy anticipation of seeing the two-story home that held so many treasured memories. She hummed to the music on her radio as the miles clicked away.

The euphoric mood imploded when the house came into view. Abandoned for years, the deteriorating home mourned for attention. Not a window pane survived the solitude. The roof barely provided shelter for intrusive squirrels. Even the front door succumbed to the gravity of its unattended wounds.

“Oh my God,” Julie moaned as she shook her head in despair. The words echoed across the barren yard. Gone, the prized rose garden her mother tended to as if it were an innocent child. Gone, the field that once bore acres of corn, now overgrown with weeds. Gone, the man who protected it all. Puddles filled Julie’s eyes and she blinked to clear them. In the distance, an image appeared. Frozen in disbelief, she watched the man walk toward the house. “Dad?”

“Good, you’re finally home. Follow me.” His firm command, a faint whisper in the wind, wrapped around her and caused a shudder.

Still in command. That’s my dad. Julie smiled to herself. She reached out to touch him just as he disappeared and was met with the hard surface of the wood siding. “Dad?” Julie stepped toward the front of the house peeking through the collection of spider webs, brushing them aside as she stepped through the opening. Her father stood near the bedroom he’d shared with her mother.

“Should have given this to you sooner. Your mother wanted you to have it. I think it’s what you’ve been looking for.”

At the foot of the bed was a slat of wood, slightly ajar. She bent down and dusted off the area before removing the board. With both hands, she wiggled the old cigar box from the snug hiding place. “What is this, Dad?” She glanced up just as her father faded from view. “Dad! Don’t go!” Julie clutched the box close to her chest and hurried outside. Her father was gone. Julie collapsed to the ground sobbing.

***

Dr. James Howell escorted Julie to the front row of the theatre just as the lights flickered, indicating the play was about to begin. She glanced at her handsome date and smiled. Who would have thought I’d be here tonight? The journey had taken her thousands of mile and years of struggle, but the rewards exceeded her greatest expectations.

Her father had been right. The treasure she sought had been there all along. Had he shared it sooner, he might have celebrated with her. Inside the box had been a love story like none she had ever read. The handwritten journals provided Julie with the foundation for an award-winning screenplay and more. She’d never expected to find a family member.

The search to find her brother, placed for adoption years before Julie had been born, had taken longer than writing the screenplay but had been worth it.

Jimmy touched Julie’s hand and whispered, “I’m so glad you found me. We’re finally home.”

“Me too. Finally Home. I thought it was the perfect title for a play.”

The Threads That Bind


quilt

The Threads That Bind

My leisure retirement, often spent writing or accompanying my husband to a local casino, left a significant void in my life. I yearned for a sense of purpose. As I skimmed a list of volunteer opportunities in my local newspaper, my eyes settled on two words, Story Keeper. I paused to read more. Story Keepers capture the meaningful moments of a patient’s life. The simple description intrigued me as I’d always dreamed of writing life stories of other people.

As enticing as the opportunity sounded, the thought of volunteering with a hospice care organization weighed heavily on my mind. The pain of watching my mother die a slow, difficult death made me question my ability to keep my emotions under control. I wasn’t sure I was ready for a task involving the potential death of a loved one. I cut out the contact information and let the thought simmer.

The clipping remained visible near my laptop for the next two weeks, tugging at my heart and urging me to act. Finally, I picked up the phone and called the manager of volunteer services listed in the ad.

“I may be interested in the Story Keeper position. Can you tell me more about it?”

“We’re looking for someone to record the life story of a hospice patient for their family to keep as a legacy after the patient passes.”

“Oh,” I felt a hint of disappointment. “I’m not adept at electronic things, more pen to paper.”

“Why don’t you come in and talk further about it? It’s a new position. We can work through the details. And while it doesn’t involve writing, you never know where the journey will lead you. Maybe it was meant for you.”

The charismatic manager’s reassuring words urged me to make a leap of faith. I met with her to learn more. Within two weeks, I’d completed all the prerequisites: TB tests, study guides about working with hospice patients, and Hepatitis injections.

It wasn’t long before I was assigned my first visit. I studied the manual that came with the small, hand-held recorder. Since I was the first person to fill the position, training had been minimal. The anxiety and nervousness I anticipated never surfaced. Instead, an unexpected tranquility about the process made me excited to get started.

“The patient is hesitant to make the recording.” My manager warned me on the drive to his home. “The wife is urging him to make the recording. I thought you should know before we get there.”

The patient’s wife greeted us at the door and invited us in. The man, already seated in a recliner, extended his hand and nodded as he studied my face.

My manager made introductions and a brief explanation for our visit. The man frowned and grumbled, pursing his lips. Then it was my turn to speak. I wanted to help him relax and feel comfortable about the recording.

“We’re just going to talk today. I’d like to get to know you and your wife.”

“Ok.” The tense lines around the man’s eyes eased.

“Did you grow up in Florissant?” I smiled and tilted my head awaiting his response.

“Jennings. I went to Corpus Christi grade school.”

“I know that school. I attended St. Paul the Apostle. We were practically neighbors.”

“I went to St. Paul’s!” His wife announced with excitement. “Oh my goodness! You’re Diane Hootselle. I saw the resemblance to your mother when you first arrived, but couldn’t place who you were.”

My eyes welled with tears at the mention of my mother. I was unable to say anything for fear I’d start crying.

“I’m your grandmother’s niece. We’re cousins. I grew up two blocks from you.”

I realized that I knew her parents well, but because of our age difference, our paths had not crossed except briefly at funerals or weddings. The emotional journey over the next hour was overwhelming and rewarding. The wonderful stories about my mother, who was an only child, and her distant cousins with whom I had lost touch over the years, brought such joy to my heart, I left the visit feeling like I was given a gift, one that I would treasure for life and share with my siblings. I even learned that my grandfather saved my cousin from drowning in the Mississippi River when she was a teenager.

Over the next few visits, I recorded heartwarming and memorable stories told to me by the patient and his wife. From their heritage, to their marriage and their many life experiences, we worked together to create a treasured gift for their children, grandchildren and future generations. I completed the project and presented the audio recording to them on their 65th anniversary.

I’ve always believed that a common thread connects us all. That belief was again reinforced during my second recording, another male patient unsure about telling his story but encouraged by his daughter to do it. As he talked and became more comfortable with the idea, he shared stories of bar-hopping with a group of friends when he was much younger. The stories sounded familiar, much like some told by my first patient. It turned out that my cousin’s husband was one of this man’s best friends with whom he made the tavern rounds. They had lost touch over the years.

The validation that I was exactly where I was supposed to be filled me with joy and anticipation of where my journey would take me next. And then it happened. On my initial visit with another patient, the opportunity to achieve my dream presented itself. I remember it was a sunny Friday afternoon. A middle-aged woman invited me into the quaint, senior-living apartment. A bouquet of flowers scented the room. A young girl sat on the floor doing cross-stich.

“This is my daughter. She likes to sew. Her grandmother taught her.”

“Nice to meet you.”

“This is my mother.” The woman who let me in directed me to a robust woman who was busy rearranged a large stack of assorted papers and clippings.

I smiled and extended my hand. “It’s so nice to meet you. How are you feeling today?”

“Fine.” Her voice as firm as her handshake.

“Looks like you have some important papers there.”

“When can we get started?”

The abrupt response surprised me. “It sounds like you’re ready. I don’t usually start recording on the first visit. It helps if we prepare for it by getting to know each other a little first. That way I can be sure we meet your wishes and make the best recording we can. Would that be alright?”

“What I really want…” she hesitated before continuing with tears in her eyes. “I wanted to write my life story, but I don’t know where to start and I don’t have enough time.” Her eyes pleaded for understanding.

I felt the corners of my lips turn upward. I touched her hand in reassurance. “I love to write. I’ve always wanted to write someone’s life story or help them write it.” I drew in a breath while contemplating my offer. “Perhaps that’s why I’m here. God works in mysterious ways. Maybe I can help you.”

Her eyes beamed with excitement. “Really? Would you? I can’t do it by myself.”

“I’d be happy to. How exciting! I can’t wait to get started.”

“Will you take these with you and read them, if you have time?” She pushed the pile of papers in my direction.

“I’d be honored. How about 1:00 p.m. on Monday? Will that work for you?”

“Oh, yes. That would be fine.” She reached for my hand and squeezed it. “Thank you.”

“It’s my pleasure. I’ll see you Monday and we’ll jump right in.”

I spent Saturday, reading the scribbled notes and brief stories, trying to place them in chronological order. The woman’s parents had owned a 350 acre farm in South Dakota and in the menagerie of papers, I found an essay written by her mother. It described the challenges of feeding twenty-five farmhands during harvesting in the 1900’s. It was a piece of history that had been entrusted to me.

On Sunday, I received a call from the volunteer manager telling me that the woman had passed away. My heart ached knowing her wish went unfulfilled. I planned to return all the paperwork to the family, but before I could, I received another phone call from the hospice manager. “The family asked if you could help write the book for the patient. They want to meet with you to discuss it if you are interested.”

A couple of meetings and two months of emails between family members allowed me to piece together the information. Additional stories were shared and incorporated by her children and surviving sister. The woman’s wish had been fulfilled. I have no doubt that a greater force brought us together for that very reason.

The simple act of giving my time returned ten-fold, not in money, but something much more gratuitous. I admire the people who share their life stories to create the audio recordings. They allow families to continue to hear their voice after they’re gone and by filling a void in their lives, they’ve filled the void in mine.

How has volunteering blessed you?  I’d love to hear your stories.

Diane How