Tag Archives: Memories

(363) Don’t Fence Me In

When I was a kid, my dad gave me a record player and two 78 RPM records that I could keep in my bedroom.  I listened to these records over and over again. One was Jimmy Durante and the other was a western artist — Gene Autry or Roy Rogers most likely. That record had my favorite song: “Don’t Fence Me In.”  This was before I was allowed to listen to my dad’s stereo kept in his bedroom, where I later played The Music Man cast album over and over again. That is, until the Beatles hit the scene.

But when I was 4 or 5 years old, “Don’t Fence Me In” –written by Cole Porter — was one I listened to again and again. It is the reason I love western music. I recently downloaded a whole album of western songs sung by Emmylou Harris, although sadly, she didn’t do “Don’t Fence Me In.” The main lyric of the song really spoke to me as a kid. It evokes a real sense of freedom; it goes beyond being a cowboy. I think it is about losing yourself in the natural world with nothing to stop you, certainly a favorite activity of mine.

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies,
Don’t fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love,
Don’t fence me in
Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze
listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please,
Don’t fence me in

When I searched YouTube for the song, I was amazed at how many versions came up. Not just Gene and Roy, but Bing Crosby, the Killers, David Byrne, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Harry Connick Jr, and Bob Hope with the Muppets. By far, my favorite is the Ella Fitzgerald version. Not only is her voice wonderfully smooth, but she sings the complete lyrics, which is rare. “Don’t Fence Me In” is a narrative about Cowboy Kelley, who at the beginning of the song is about to be carted off to jail. Thus, he begins to sing the song to the sheriff. Later, he is being roped into marriage by his sweetheart. Okay, a bit sexist and cliche, I suppose, but still…

Here is Ella’s version with lyrics. Listen for yourself and see if it doesn’t take you somewhere far away, where there are no fences and no one to straddle you into situations you don’t want to be in!





It was a winter day in early 1992. I was driving my Buick Regal to a meeting across town. I was taking a two lane road that cut through a valley, which entailed going down a hill. Unfortunately, it had just begun to snow–the wet, slippery kind of snow. Salt trucks had not made it out yet, as they were quite good about getting the hill salted quickly in these kinds of circumstances.

When I got to the hill, I found myself in a line of traffic. Immediately I felt my car slip a bit, so I began to pump the brake. This is the recommended procedure. But it didn’t help. My car continued to slip and slide as I descended the hill. And then I realized my steering was not working. I found myself in the opposite lane heading for a collision with a pick-up truck. I was unable to do a thing. I was pumping the brakes like mad, to no result. Steering still was not working. I found myself suddenly back in my own lane (miracle!) and that is when I decided just to let it all go. I had this moment where I just gave it up to the Angels. If I plow into the guard rail, so be it.

Then I found myself at the bottom of the hill. My steering was reinstated. I had not crashed. I pulled over into the feed store parking lot, shaking profusely. I called Jim on my car phone (yes, I had one of those!) and related what happened. Neither of us could figure out how my steering had disengaged.  I felt the Angels had protected me.

About a year later, we visited a car show. My lease was going to be up, and I was shopping for a new brand. The big selling point for the cars was a thing called “anti-lock brakes.”  We spoke with a saleswoman at the Infinity dealership, and asked, “What’s the big deal with anti-lock brakes.” She explained that in unstable conditions, the brakes will lock up causing the steering to go out. Bingo!  That is exactly what had happened to me on that hill. The brakes and the steering were useless to me. When I stopped trying to steer and pump the brakes, my car was able to make use of those mechanics once again.

So, perhaps the entire event had nothing to do with angels, and more to do with technology. Still, I recall that moment of just giving it over, knowing anything could happen, and not having any attachment to the outcome as one of the most important moments of my life. I opened the door to a miracle. And I received.

(349) Time and Distance

In 2007, I participated in National Novel Writing Month. I produced a draft of a book, much of it set in Athens, Ohio. The problem was I hadn’t been to Athens since 1978.  I was going from pure memory.

My plan was to work on revising the novel, so when I made a trip to Ohio in 2008 I enlisted my niece Cheryl to be my tour guide around Athens. She graduated Ohio University in 2006, so had recent memories of the place.

On a beautiful late July day, we drove to Athens. Cheryl has a degree in Journalism and works as a writer, so she was the perfect companion to assist me in my writing project. We spent the day at the University and around the town. The locations of certain places were quite different than my memory had allowed, and Cheryl also introduced me to some places I wasn’t familiar with, like the unmarked graves of the patients of a former mental hospital, and the other graveyard with the angel statue that is said to cry real tears. All great stuff for my book.  I insisted we go to Stroud’s Run, a park that I recall going to for cook-outs when my boyfriend went to school at OU.

On the way home, we stopped in Columbus to catch up with her sisters Emily and Kim. All in all it was a great day.

And the novel — hasn’t been touched since. By the time I got home in early August school was starting once again. I did do some more planning work around the book, and I have my notes.  Not sure if or when I will ever get back to it.

Perhaps my inspiration is near.  I just found out that Cheryl will be in Florida next week, and we have plans to get together. As an active and paid writer in our family, she remains a kind of muse to me. Let’s see what happens once we get together again. I know that part of the process of writing involves time and distance, so I don’t feel bad about not pursuing the revision.  But now, as I sit and write this, I am thinking that perhaps there is more here for me to think about. So I will. Promise.

(332) Magical Coin Purse

She had her own car. She had her own job. And most of all, she had that clear plastic zippered coin purse that always held an array of what seemed to be magical coins. This was the 1960’s when a nickel could get me a pretty nice candy bar. To see all that change in one place was enchanting. You didn’t even have to open it up — you could see what coins you had from the outside. How cool is that?

Of course, I didn’t realize that my grandmother worked in a factory at what was probably a pretty dull and/or back-breaking job, or that she was there because circumstances had forced her to work. I just knew that my mother — a housewife with no car or coin purses of her own — was in quite different circumstances. I know my mother had to cut coupons to scrape a little change for herself.  Five cents off a can of Ajax would be her pin money.

The difference between these two women had an effect on me even at a young age. Even though I always thought I’d grow up to be just like my mom, I think there was a secret wish to be more independent like my grandmother. And every time I think about this distinction, the first thing that comes to mind is that magical coin purse. It had an undeniable power that still speaks to the 7-year-old inside me.

(321) This Week in Micro Memoir

At the Sanibel Island Writer’s Conference, I heard presenter Beth Ann Fennelly mention “micro memoir.” She explained that it was a memory in a paragraph. She is currently writing a book of them.

I have noticed that since her explanation little “moments” are popping up in my mind– things that in the past I might think I have to write a lot about. But now I know I don’t.  A paragraph will do.

Here is my first attempt:

August 30, 1997

We don’t always recall when a switch occurred in our lives. Sometimes we don’t even think about it unt73565446_73563082-150x150il we get a flash of memory. This week I made a surprising connection between a global event and my memory. It was the night Princess Diana got in the fatal car accident. I had only been active on America Online for about six months, and had joined some message boards for things like Music, Poetry Writing, and The Artist’s Way. On that Saturday night, I was checking the message board when someone posted about the accident. I am not sure if it was later that night or the next day I heard Diana had died. This was the first time I received notice of a major event by reading it on the computer, written by an everyday person– not hearing it on television or the newspaper, from an “official” source. Since then, of course, there have been many, many more. But that was the start. The night Diana died.

(293) Sunrise in the Rear View Mirror

miami-book-fair-international-tentsLast week when my writing circle met, the singer Joe Cocker came up in conversation. The general consensus of my friends was that they didn’t care to watch him sing. I didn’t say much because, I too, have found it difficult to watch him.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about Joe and a time he was significant to me.

In the fall of 2004, a group of us who were part of the Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society decided to meet in Miami for the Miami Book Fair.  We met for lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe at Bayside, then walked across the street to Miami-Dade College for the Fair. I drove to the east coast with my friend Diane.  We had managed to get one of the last hotel rooms available, at a place that sounded like it would be fine.  I cannot remember the name of the hotel — it was a Best Western or a Comfort Inn or something like that.

After a fabulous day of workshops and browsing the books, Diane and I went to Little Havana for a yummy Cuban dinner, then went to find our hotel.  It was not easy to get to — we kept seeing the place and going around in circles trying to find out how to get to it. Finally I went down a highway up ramp with Diane freaking out beside me, just so we could finally get checked in.

The place was a dump. The furniture in our room looked like someone went to a flea market and picked up the most mismatched and ugly furniture they could find. We just wanted to get some rest at this point, and we knew that we had been lucky to get this room.

I cannot remember everything, but I think the hotel was pretty noisy with people in the hall, or a crying baby, or something. I know we had trouble getting to sleep. Then at 3:30 in the morning, a loud bass beat came booming through our walls.  It was from the convention center next door where they were setting up for an event. After lying there for a half an hour watching the room shake and with no hope of getting back to sleep, we decided to just head back to Ft. Myers.

We managed to find a cup of coffee somewhere and were on our way across Alligator Alley in the pitch blackness of night. Joe Cocker’s album Heart and Soul accompanied us.  This is an album of covers he did that is one of my favorites. Songs like “I Put a Spell on You,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Everybody Hurts,” “I Keep Forgetting,” and my favorite “I Who Have Nothing.”  Joe’s music — and his rusty voice — was the perfect accompaniment as we watched the sunrise in our rear view mirrors, content to drive without conversation, leaving the busyness and noise of Miami far behind.

(262) The City of New Orleans

New Orleans Thanksgiving weekend 1979. Jackson Square and on the Natchez on the Mississippi River

For as long as I can remember

when I heard the song “City of New Orleans”

I thought of the actual city

even though I knew it was about a train.

Whether it was Arlo singing, or Willie or Steve

I thought of Jackson Square, the Mississippi River,

the rain that enveloped us as we walked the Quarter,

Lake Pontchartrain, beignets and hot chocolate,

the raised graves, the delicious seafood.

But now when I hear the song

my thoughts are quite different

for I have spent time in the very place

The City of New Orleans travels

“through the Mississippi darkness rolling down to the sea.”

I know Money Road and Bryant Grocery store

where Emmitt Till made his famous mistake.

Money Road

It is there, on Money Road, I stood

 by great bluesman Robert Johnson’s grave,

the Tallahatchie River behind me as I faced east,

and saw The City of New Orleans, speeding by on a

sunny Saturday morning in July,

making its way south, and I thought,

“Good Morning America, how are you”

there is a famous song about you, “rocking to the gentle beat”

of the mesmerizing clickety-clack and whistle

and “the disappearing railroad blues.”

The writer of the song having died quite young himself.

You, The City of New Orleans, so epic I couldn’t even get a picture.

And for me,

it all came together,

in that place,

in that moment.

History and music, the river,

life and death,

everything I knew

and all the things I don’t.

Johnson grave

Steven Goodman singing his epic song:

(211) In Another Life

image imageYesterday was the day we finally did it.  Eight plastic drawers that have followed us here from Ohio, and were moved again when we went from apartment to condominium here in Fort Myers. Eight plastic drawers in a room hardly used, just part of the furniture. Eight plastic drawers filled with…junk.

Yes, it is ridiculous.  My husband has threatened dumping them for years and I always resisted.  Now I’m glad because I found a use for them in my classroom. Finally got motivated to dig through the who-knows-what to prepare to take these babies to school.

Yes, we filled an entire garbage bag with what we found in these drawers.  I did find some great stuff I can use at school, some things I wished I had in the past and wondered where they were (in the plastic drawers, duh!)  Jim found a few items he can sell on e-Bay.

And then I found a few items that brought back the past.  One in particular — my Day Timer.

Back in the day, the Day Timer was the ultimate business person’s item. Everyone had one. Everything that meant anything was written in the Day Timer. I had a beautiful burgundy leather holder for my Day Timer with my initials in the corner — a gift from Jim our first Christmas together. Inside I found the booklet for the last month I used the Day Timer — April 1996.  And tons of tons of business cards, including some of my own (see photo for HMS Gardens photo from when we had an herb business!)

This was definitely another life. In early 1996, our teenage grandson Jeff came to live with us, which is why my Day Timing days ended.  Being on the speed-dial of the principal filled my days. And when Jeff went to rehab. And jail. Crazy days, a lifetime ago.

What struck me the most is something that I had forgotten all about. I used to carry little inspirational things in my Day Timer. When I was waiting for appointments, I would pull out my little motivations. I had several of these, but of all the things in that leather carry-all, I only kept three items. They are above on the right.

One is a card with the Guardian Angel prayer on the back. This is the first prayer we were taught in first grade at St. Mark’s, and the last prayer I said with my dad before he died. Powerful. It will now be carried in my purse at all times.

A little mauve piece of paper had a prayer of sorts typed out. This was a message that came to me one day when I was praying:

Keep in the light, Helen.

See the miracles at work in your life.

Don’t ever let go.

Be steadfast in your beliefs.

Be kind.


Be loving.


A leader.


(November 20,1991)

The other piece I am keeping is an index card. It has a quote from two women I adore for their writing and their wisdom:

The secret of great confidence is trying very, very hard not to overreach. — Nora Ephron

I love my creative life more than I love cooperating with my own oppression — Clarissa Pinkola Estes

These three little pieces from my life long ago will now travel with me. My leather cell phone case seems to be the perfect place for them. May I remember to visit them often for the inspiration they contain.

(177) Digging Into the Past

Last year I participated (partially, at least) in my first MOOC. It was called “How Writers Write Poetry,” and did offer some good videos and poetry exercises that were useful. The problem was I went on vacation during it, and never wanted to watch poetry writing videos on the road. Go figure.

Yesterday I happened to pick up the notebook I was using at the time. One of the exercises was to choose a day of the year and then go to your journals and see what you wrote on those days, then try to pull a few lines.  I read through mine and thought, hhmmmm, this makes its own little poem, in a weird “found” way.

Reading through these brings so many things to mind, but I suppose the main thing is that I can love every moment just as it is because it is feeding me in some way. The only thing we need to love next is whatever that next moment provides. With gratitude.

So, here it is.

July 1st

1999    The values of nonviolence and social justice run deep inside of me.

2000   Jim is fishing and the breeze is pleasant. Lots of pelicans, ducks, herons flying by. A mockingbird sang so beautifully last night.

1995    So I have all my spiritual food. And I have my journal and new friends to talk with. It will be fine. I’m just nervous.

1994     I really did love him and I think he felt the same in return. His life was so different. I know it scared me. I didn’t have enough self-esteem.

2002    The door closed and then the door opened.

2004    It was a time of joint despair and gratitude. What followed was a few intense years. I am still in awe when I think back — how the hell did I get through it all?

2006     Looking out I see the fountain and the sun sparkling on the water.

2010     The biggest obstacle to peace in the world is our own anger impulses.

2009     Sometimes the thing that aggravates me the most about teaching is the teachers.

2012     Noshing and listening to Bowie’s Hunky Dory. Incredible that this album is over 40-years-old — absolutely nothing dated about it.

2013     Rolling thunder storms and torrential rain all night long.

“sun sparkling on the water”