Still Feeling The Loss

One of the things that I have had to deal with while planning this Reunion is not the just the desire for  more time. Two more months, please! It’s been a solitary item – small like a pebble that starts in my chest when I see a classmate’s name and I am reminded that I can no longer call them up to hear their voice or walk around the corner to see their smile. The pebble grows in sorrow and I take myself to a quiet place as soon as I can find one. I need to feel this wave of nostalgia and loss to completion.

There are so many – even while we were in school, we had a few. One day they were sitting in your creative writing class or your biology partner, and the next they weren’t. One weekend you were driving to Wisconsin like everyone else, and you find out on Monday one or two of didn’t make it back alive. Others barely made it.

In a blink of an eye these people had an impact on our lives.

Now I look at the list that grew and acknowledge a dear friend who died in child birth and my neighbor who got involved with the school board and politics and won’t be sharing his sunny disposition with us anymore. I know that the rest of us have the same or similar stories and we will have moments to share stories, lumps in our throats, and tears over the reunion weekend.

Because what’s laughter without a few tears…

The Meaning of Reunion

Many of you know I’m deeply involved in the planning of my 40th Class Reunion. Yes, I am that old. And I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you one of the most wonderful afternoons I’ve spent in long time. Knowing this is just the tip of the reunion iceberg, I wanted to remind all of us the meaning of ‘reunion’.

On Sunday, I met up with Marty Ress Cornett. She was inarguably one of the most popular girls in our high school class. Cheerleading, Track, Prom and Homecoming Courts, academic accolades were among her accomplishments; she even gave the Salutation speech at Baccalaureate.

But Marty and I never really had much to connect us in high school. It wasn’t until a mutual friend brought her over for a girls’ night in at my house a few years ago did we get the chance to know each other.

We connected.

Sunday we reconnected over her high school treasures she’s willing to share with the Reunion Planning Team. Through conversations about our parents and grandparents, we found connections that were there before us. We connected over parenting in our parents’ time versus our time and the challenges that parents and children face today (and don’t even know it – but we do!).

That is Reunion!

Sure, next month it might be the crackle and anticipation of “who will be there?” but it’s also the excitement of meeting classmates for the first time. Or seeing classmates from grade school as well as high school – I’m talking to you Brian Zalar!

It’s also putting a face with a name, a body and smile with a Facebook friend.

I’m looking forward to meeting everyone at all the events over the Reunion Weekend. And one more shout out – Tom Whipple – we created a Sunday event just for you – get your butt in gear and buy a ticket!

-mb

Life Getting in the Way

Usually one’s summer is full of graduations, weddings and vacations. There are lazy days at the beach, nights by a campfire, water gun fights, fireworks and family reunions.

This year for me I find myself in meetings. (Maybe they need to be outdoors in this weather.) I have breakfast meetings before work, dinner meetings after work. When I’m not at the meetings I’m following through on the items discussed in the meetings or developing the agenda for the meeting.

This is where I discovered my writing halted due to the high traffic volume of analytical and procedural thoughts that now occupy my mind. They run on a continuous loop. The only writing getting down these days are press releases – and those I can tell you are no fun. Gone is the fuzziness I felt as a dreamy teen writer when I wanted to be a journalist now that I’ve been writing so many press releases.

Last week I had the chance to visit with one of my biography subjects – Francis S. He is 94 and I have to confess I am a little in love with that man. Maybe it’s the way his blue eyes sparkle as he smiles when he greets me. His story is such an interesting one – rooted so strongly in the settling of Highland Park, IL and his fateful turn to the right down the hallway at the Department of Navy that set him on his course during World War II.

On this visit I met his youngest son and together the three of us revised the biography to their satisfaction. To see Francis happy this project was complete and he could rest his mind was the best feeling for me. His son was like him, good humor, great personality and one to put you at ease at your first meeting. A truly remarkable family.  They were the spark I needed to get back on track.

My meetings won’t slow down this summer. They will start to ramp up in quantity and the events on my calendar draw near. Note to self: planning a class reunion is like planning a wedding and not knowing how many people you’re inviting or how many will come. It’s stress at whole new level. Thank goodness I have a team for this!

An Excerpt from a Work in Progress

“You see, Chief, it seems, under advice of counsel, I am unable to answer your questions at this time.” Dean said, smugness in his voice.

A thin stripe of white foam collected at the corner of the police chief’s flattened lips. The firm line of contempt remained that way for another nanosecond, before the older man straightened to his full height of near six feet as he addressed the entire group.

“A young girl is lying in critical care and all I see before me is a bunch of selfish people. You disgust me.” He turned and stomped back toward the stairs, pausing before his foot descended to the first step. Looking over his shoulder, he added, “Your mother bragged about her brilliant children, all grown up and professional like. It seems to me you all fell quite short of her assessment. Seems your father was right about you kids in the end. You’re all worthless pieces of shit.”

His hollow boot steps echoed in the silence left by his parting words. Their crunching on the gravel drive, like mortar and pestle pulverizing any souls the McElroy offspring were beginning to develop again.

Dean walked to the edge of the porch steps, his line of sight focused on where his father’s friend now stood – the front end of Dean’s car. When the Chief reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a cellphone to snap a picture, Dean’s heart raced inside his ribcage. His throat tightened as if the noose was already there.

What did the Chief find?

My Night with Elvis

If you’ve been following this blog, you know I’ve been part of a highly efficient team of ninja-like classmates who are planning our 40th high school reunion.

One of my tasks was looking into an entertainment option that came across our table. So under the guise of a date night, my husband and I went out to hear a fellow classmate who happens to be an Elvis performer.

My first disclaimer is that I never knew Oscar “Elvis” Wild in high school – we went to separate campuses. You will never – after 40 years – get me to change my habits like say East High School verses West. I will always say, “East Campus and West Campus”, just like I will forever call that corner of Waukegan Lakehurst and not Fountain Square.

Sorry Fountain Square developers – but not really.

My next disclaimer was that  my husband is not a big Elvis fan (I don’t know too many men who are) and I am a warm fan – I have my favorites – about a baker’s dozen. But, we went. and I enjoyed myself a lot. Oscar and his sound man, Doc (a highly interesting man in his own right) are quite the team with Rae the female answer to what is missing in the group – intuition for what is missing or needed.

Elvis handed out silky scarves to all the ladies – even me! My orange scarf is visible in the picture above – and the delivery of this brilliant gift is accompanied with a kiss of course! What else would Elvis do?

My night was soon over, and Elvis had left the building later that night once he had thrilled his adoring fans.

 

 

A Family Tapestry Unravels

This story is sad and, sorry to say, very true.

I have cousins that should they pass me on the street, I wouldn’t know who they are.

There are two factions of cousins and for two separate reasons, they are lost to our family.

I have wonderful memories of driving to a farm with horses and meeting my older cousins. They were second cousins once removed, I think. Aunt Gladys was my Grandmother’s sister and I always recall leaving tired from the fun I had and sad to leave. Actually it was a very good Catholic family because there were at least seven children in the family and could have been eight in all if my recollections are correct.

One day Aunt Gladie died.

Then Grandma died.

The years between those instances we saw those cousins rarely. The loss of the matriarch started the first loose thread, the unraveling of the tapestry.

The other cousins just never felt comfortable around us. That too was due to a matriarch and patriarchal decision. My first cousins have never been encouraged to interact with us. As children, my uncle (he doesn’t deserve a capital u) would of course come to his children’s defense. But the lack of social skills he bestowed on his children gave them the whininess that left holding us the bag for any perceived infraction and wanting to leave.

You see, we were not prefect, but were happy growing up. We were ‘seen and heard’ children. We were designing our own adventures with our imaginations.

They were ‘seen and not heard’ – and probably not seen at times either. I don’t remember them smiling. While I see us as full of color, they would seen as misted colors – grays and blahs.

When my Uncle Gene died (he did deserve the capital u) this part of the family did not come to the funeral – a cigarette burn to the family tapestry. It’s ugly and noticeable. It’s a blemish that can’t be undone.

The burn stops the unraveling: it cauterizes the wound. Some parts of the picture is still missing, but there is hope in restoration. Today I’ll try to search for my cousin Gayle…. one of the cousins from the farm.

Oops! The Path Our Characters Takes Us

So this morning as I was sipping my morning coffee and reading my overnight emails, one that caught my eye was about an NYT bestselling author telling me that her novel has a new title – same sexy characters!

What happened?

Well, it seems as she writing, the character’s goal (different from the beginning) came through loud and clear to her as she was writing and she realized she needed to change the plot a bit. And it seemed the title.

It got me thinking. When I started writing this latest manuscript, I had an ending in mind, but when I wrote just one line, I set something else underlying in motion. My early preconceived ending went out the proverbial window.

My main character just wants to finish this last task for her deceased client in this suspense. Surrounded by the heirs, she suddenly realizes how alone she’s been. She yearns to be a part of a family like this one – she’s been handing over their mother’s memories to them and observing the dynamics as they try to patch themselves together.  Someone is more than ready to take away everything from her because he feels she wronged him. Now her goal is to stay alive.

It happened when I wrote one scene – just to get my characters away from the lake house and I unintentionally placed the collected group in the viper’s nest – by it wasn’t until I had them walking in the door did I realize what danger I placed a couple of characters in.

The manuscript is still in revision. I climbed into so many heads – sad, hurt, dark and disturbed heads with this book. As a writer, you have to know what your character wants, where they came from, what drives them and you have to listen. Whether they get what they want or not tells you what’s going to happen. Yes, I am the boss of my stories, but a good boss listens.

And with the stroke of a pen or keyboard, makes the final decision…