On birds

Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever remains to them? ~ Rose Kennedy

ravenI never thought of myself as a bird lover.   My feelings toward the creatures may have started in adolescence when I first read Poe’s “The Raven” then saw the dark movie with Peter Lorre.   Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”    Then came Hitchcock’s “The Birds” where flocks invaded a peaceful California town bringing with them chaos and terror.  For a short while after that I was repulsed by their reptilian quality.   But slowly some birds flew into my life bringing with them a fascination, and more.

As I matured, I remember watching a lone hawk soar against a blue sky; my heart beat faster.  I became awed with the sweeping silver V of snow geese overhead.   After a dreary winter, the brilliant red of a cardinal in the oak tree, or a bright blue jay in the maple, brought wonder to my soul.  I began to smile whenever I heard the first robin’s song in spring.  Who could not?

Mourning Dove eggs

Mourning Dove eggs

Many years ago our young family moved from Wisconsin to southern Indiana.   The winters there were warmer than our former northern home. One year I left a large hanging geranium on our side porch for the winter.  Careless me; eventually a year-end  cold spell hit and the plant died. In the early spring I found that a pair of grey mourning doves had nested in the planter.  I suppose the dead plant made a ready-made nest for the doves.  Each dawn when I went outside for the newspaper, I was greeted by intriguing coos.  As the young chicks grew and finally flew away, our whole family was awed.  Of course the next winter, I purposely left the hanging planter on the porch.  We all smiled when the gentle pair returned to hatch another brood.

yellow finch

Yellow Bird

Years later a smaller bird came to visit our new home on the East coast.  Our master bedroom sported a large arched window.  The east-facing window didn’t allow for sleeping in.  But for a while, it wasn’t the sun that roused us on weekends.  One Saturday spring morning Tom and I woke to an odd sound. We were puzzled until we saw a yellow finch, tapping against the arched window.  He came to visit regularly that spring, and the next as well.  Tom named him “Yellow Bird” and for a few years he became a part of our lives.   Yellow Bird, our happy little alarm clock.

My new parrot lamp

My new parrot lamp

Parrots, to me, are loud creatures, like an obnoxious drunken step-uncle in the bird family. I never thought a parrot might come into my life.  Then several years ago, my youngest son created a funny series of animated videos about a pirate, Amish J. Pirate.  And, as we all know, pirates have parrots.  Arrghhh!  Overnight, it seemed, I found myself strangely drawn to parrots.

Recently I’ve been searching for a new lamp.  I didn’t want a novelty lamp, just the right-size traditional table lamp to put in the front window in my living room.  For weeks I browsed in stores, in catalogs, and online.  And I kept returning to one particular lamp described as a ginger jar ceramic hand-painted parrot lamp offered by Lamps Plus.  No matter how many others I looked at, this one called to me.   So I ordered a parrot lamp, the last in stock.  A parrot lamp.  So much for traditional.  Arrrghhh!

My new lamp arrived today.  Looking at it warms me.  It makes me grin;  I sense Tom’s smile, too.  I guess there’s something to be said for parrots.

cartoon-parrot-007

Hylda’s Husband

A few days ago I wrote about Hylda Schmeling whose charming photos I’d discovered in a Goodwill store.  I relayed details of her life that I’d found in a quick online search.

The Crimson - 1916

Hylda so intrigued me that yesterday I spent an hour or so researching her husband.  It occurred to me that he’d probably graduated from her high school.  Sure enough that’s where I found him, in the pages of The Crimson, their 1916 high school yearbook.

Next to Paul Jenson’s picture, the caption read “A moral, sensible and well-bred man.” It went on to say that he’d entered as a Junior from Park Region Prep School in Minnesota.  In the two years he attended the high school, he was active.  Along with the class play and other activities, he played basketball and was assistant business manager of The Crimson.

The class prophecy jests that he would be President of the Hole-Proof Sock Factory. Another humorous entry jokes about his love of silk socks.  His nickname, like his future wife’s would be, was “Jens”.  His virtue was his good looks, and his favorite expression was “dammit”.   (A more innocent time. :smile:)  He was voted the “greatest doll” and, in a section called “Wouldn’t you like to see”…it reads “Paul Jenson not all dolled up.”  Vivid images.

Paul H. Jenson

Jody Allen, a WisRWA friend, suggested I search for Paul’s military records.  The only listing I found at Ancestry.com was a copy of his draft registration for World War I.   It was signed June 5, 1917, nine days before his marriage to Hylda Schmeling.  So it was a military wedding of sorts.  He was leaving for war; they wanted to marry before he left.  Can you imagine their emotions?

I took another look at census records and found him in the 1900 and 1910 records. His father was from Norway; he’s listed as a Bank Cashier. In 1920, I found Paul and Hylda Jenson living in Edgerton, Wisconsin.  So he did make it home from the war! As his father was, he too was a banker.

After that I can find nothing more of Paul and Hylda.  I’m not sure I want to.

From these raw tidbits of information, I feel I’ve come to know enough about the couple to create outlines.  From there my story will morph into the fun stuff of fiction.  She’s the musically gifted daughter of a well-off German immigrant.  He’s the son of a Norwegian banker who’s just returned from the horrors of fighting in WWI.  As I ponder these two personalities and their backgrounds, a conflict takes root.  A new story begins.

Hylda

I found her in a thrift store, framed in a shiny metal frame and covered with a sheet of thick glass.  She was young.  Pretty, too.  Garbed in a delicate white dress, she wore a broad bonnet, the type worn early in the twentieth century.  Edwardian, I believe.  Maybe 1905 or 1906.

Hylda Schmeling

The frame seemed in good condition but a strip of clear tape skimmed the top.  When I turned it over, I found another photo hinged to the back.  This one was in muted colors and portrayed a young woman.  Her short wavy hairdo captured the essence of the 1920’s. The girls sported similar smiles, similar eyes, and each had a partially hidden dimple in her chin, a subtle angel’s touch.  Given the time span of the two pictures, and the similarities, I knew they must be of the same girl.

Who was she?  How did her lovely images come to be on sale at Goodwill?

I lifted the colored photo taped to the frame’s back and was pleased to find writing.  Someone had scrawled the name “Aunt Hylda Schmeling” across the cardboard.  All doubts about buying the photos vanished.  Little chance Hylda’s lost relatives would venture into the GW and see her there.  For $2.99 I was eager to give her a home.

Later I made some online searches for more info about this charming girl. The unusual spelling of her first name, and the city where I found the photos helped. I learned more than I could have hoped.

Hylda Jenson

Born in October 1899, Hylda appears in both the 1900 and 1910 census.  Like her mother, Anna, she was born in Wisconsin.  Her father, Henry, was born in Germany.  One census lists Henry’s occupation as “own income.” So, she wasn’t poor.

In 1916, Hylda Schmeling sang soprano in a chorale at her high school.  In 1917, she married Paul Jenson in Winnebago County, Illinois, just across the state border.  In 1918 a write-up about the Junior-Senior banquet at her Wisconsin high school reads, “Music was furnished by…Hylda Jenson…and several other skilled pianists.”

The questions raced.  Why did she marry in Illinois instead of Wisconsin, where her family lived?  Did her German father object to her marriage to a Swedish Paul Jenson?  Was she happy in her marriage?  Hard to believe otherwise, given her glowing face and sparkling eyes.

Then, in a scanned copy of her 1918 yearbook, I stumbled across yet another entry for Hylda Jenson, nicknamed “Jens”. Her Senior class picture reveals the same sweet smile, the same dimpled chin.  Next to it reads:

“This little lassie is a wife
And sees no more of courting life;
Her hubby’s in France,
Awaiting the chance
To put an end to all this strife.”

So Paul went off to war.  Is that why they married so young?  Did he ever come home to her?  Or did she live out her years as a young war widow?  Sadly, Hylda herself died in 1934 at age 35.  Were there children?  If not, is that why her charming photographs ended up on the dusty shelf of the thrift store?  None left to mourn her now.

Whatever happened in her life, we know that someone once loved her.  She has a story to tell; I hope to tell it.  Maybe my words won’t reveal her true story, but given when she lived, I hope she would find it amusing.

I often find my inspiration in old photos such as Hylda’s.  Where do you find yours? 

Book in a Week

Reading about the RWA Kiss of Death Chapter‘s online Book in a Week (BIAW) gave me a tingle.   The timing looked perfect. It would start on Post-Thanksgiving Monday, a work holiday for me.  I haven’t written much this year.  Could be a much needed jump start.

Registering was easy enough.  So was reading the KOD online article archive.  Patricia Rosemoor graciously hosted Sunday’s pre-workshop.  Motivating!

On Monday morning, I rose early.  Of course, before I could start writing I had some chores to finish from the weekend but they wouldn’t take long.

When I finally sat down at my computer, I stared at a blank screen.  No surprise.  Despite Sunday’s strongly worded advice, I still had no inkling what storyline I wanted to pursue.  As a historical writer, I wasn’t even sure about the time period.  I took a deep breath, grabbed my coat, and flew out to visit some thrift stores.

Sometime around 1:30 pm, hunger called.  I pulled into a diner parking lot then picked up my purse and one of the books I’d just bought as an aid to motivation.  Inside, as I waited for my salad, November’s sun poured through the window. I flipped open the pages of the suspense and started reading.  Along with my delicious salad, I was soon wolfing down the story.  It had been ages since words tasted so good!

A long time later, I walked back out to my car.  An idea began to emerge. (Cue Alleluia music!)

Yesterday I wrote just over 2,300 words.  I’m posting this in my blog because I need to share, to shout it aloud.  I’m writing the post on my lunch hour so I’ll have tonight free to devote to my story.  Feels good to say that again.

Wish me well. 

Giving Thanks

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. ~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy

A few days ago I left my office and found the sky awash in glorious shades of pinks, oranges, blues and purples — an unusually spectacular November sunset.  Desperate to capture the vision before it faded, I raced home.  Only a five minute drive yet endless.  In the house, I grabbed my Canon and rushed onto our deck.  In the short time since I’d walked out from work, the sky had already changed.  Still, I was able to snatch an image or two.

I love the sky, especially during the changing minutes of sunrise and sunset.  The  particularly beautiful images are a gift of nature.  I’m grateful that such brilliance still graces our world.

When I see such sights I think of early Impressionists — Manet, Renoir, Monet and others.  These brilliant men worked with their passion.  They brought nature’s light onto the painted canvas and created a whole new style of painting.

 

I believe that we’ve all been given a gift in life, some natural talent that carries with it a strong passion.  Some find that passion in art or in the written word.  Others find it in music or the study of science, in medicine or cooking, in animals, children, technology…the list is endless.

Pursuing our own passion lets us more fully develop our inborn talent, however humble or grand.  In that way we give back that which we have been given.

It is the ultimate gesture of gratitude. 

Bucks County

On a Saturday afternoon in May my husband and I drove to Lake Nockamixon State Park in Bucks County.  Hand-in-hand we strolled the lake’s shoreline gazing at sailboats and ducks.  Pleasurable talks, pleasurable silences.  Later, we drove down picturesque country roads.  At a “T” formed where Highway 563 meets 412, we discovered OwWowCOW Creamery, an extraordinary ice cream shop.   A much-needed, most quiet adventure.

It was around this time that I read of an upcoming event sponsored by Bucks County Romance Writers.  An editor and two literary agents were taking part in a BCRW Chapter Special  Event. With memories of my peaceful lake visit still fresh, I registered.  As the deadline drew near, I dutifully sent off the first page of my manuscript.

The premise of this event is that a panel of publishing professionals, in this case Silhouette Editor Patience Smith, and Literary Agents Chasya Milgrom and Anne Hawkins, read the first pages of those attending.  Each then gives a brief review.

Another adventure awaited me, alone this time.  No, not alone.  Like my writing, my characters had been hibernating.  Today, as I drove south on Highway 412 and into the heart of Bucks County, they stirred and began to mutter.   Over a superb Chicken Waldorf salad at Catherine’s Restaurant, I skimmed old notes and added new.  Later, during the meeting, they awoke and began to speak.

Thank you, Bucks County RW, for providing this opportunity for your fellow writers.  And, thanks especially to Patience Smith, Chasya Milgrom, and Anne Hawkins, for your remarkable insight into such a diverse range of stories.  Like the May adventure, I needed this day.  I’m sure others did, too. 

Acorns in the Rain

Acorns hang heavy on the branches of our red oak. A drenching summer rain washes over them and the surrounding leaves.  AcornsDroplets gather and fall.  The acorns are plentiful this year, more than any other since we first planted the tree some 16 years ago.   I don’t know if it’s because of the oak’s age, because it’s been a favorable summer, or if the acorn abundance is simply a harbinger of a tough winter ahead.

Rainy days bring out the muse in me, especially when I can stay inside and listen to the downpour.  But this morning the deluge draws me outside under the oak’s umbrella, camera in hand.   Trees are important in my new book.  I need to stand beneath our rain-drenched oak, to run my fingers over its bark and smell the fresh scent of its leaves.  The acorns are an amazing bonus.

The squirrels haven’t harvested many yet.  Why?  We certainly have our share of the bushy tailed rodents in our yard.  When I return indoors, a quick internet search tells me that squirrels tend to eat a white oak’s acorns first.  Acorns from the red oak are more likely to be buried, hoarded away.  It all has to do with the tannins and chemical make-up.  As I understand it, white oak acorns taste best fresh off the tree.  Red oak acorns need aging.  I promise those tidbits will never find their way into my romance, but they are interesting, don’t you think?

In the distance I hear a roll of thunder, calling me back to work.  On this day of deluge, I’m glad for the rain, glad for the lush green it brings to our yard.  Glad especially for the acorns.  Through it all, I immerse my mind into the forest primeval.