Ike and McCarthy by David A. Nichols

http://www.amazon.com/Ike-McCarthy-Eisenhowers-Campaign-against-ebook/dp/B01HMXV2KO

Another true historical narrative on my reading list in 2017 was a new release by Simon & Schuster in the early spring. Given the rash of protests regarding the new administration’s reckless policies, there could not have been a more appropriate time for the release of David Nichols’ new study of Eisenhower, Ike and McCarthy.

Having spent time with Nichols talking about writing and sharing family stories, I was humbled to the extreme to read his well-written treatise on the McCarthy years. This infamous time in our history was over shortly before I was born, but the pages of Nichols’ book included names that would become significant players in world politics as I grew up.

What smacked at me most was the uncanny resemblance between McCarthy’s agenda and his tactics, and those of our current president. Most chilling was the realization that Ike, as a rational and intelligent leader, took clandestine steps to prevent a bid to the presidency by unstable extremist Joe McCarthy. In today’s world, the unstable extremist IS our president, and it is yet to be determined how—or even if—his influence will be checked.

We are tumbling into a deep, deep chasm with no end in sight.

Read Ike and McCarthy by David Nichols to gain insight into this repetition of our history.

Up next: Books to Wake-up and Shake-up, Part I.

 

Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger

History provides real stories that are filled with suspense and drama, such as that found in Apollo 13. Unlike the previously mentioned books, this one was not written by a personal acquaintance, nor is it a recent book. I’m not even sure how the copy, autographed by Jim Lovell himself, made its way to my bookshelf, but it’s one I’m glad I read. The suspenseful tale of the doomed flight of Apollo 13 held my interest throughout. The real miracle is that its three astronauts actually returned to Earth and lived to tell the tale of their crippled spaceship.

The release of the acclaimed movie Hidden Figures in early 2017 made my reading even more pertinent. The movie highlighted the continued and absurd discrimination against black Americans (specifically black American women) even though their efforts proved to be highly valued—even irreplaceable—by the US space program. The team of black mathematicians was instrumental in aiding the successful return of the stranded astronauts.

Though the authors of Apollo 13 had never claimed Kansas to be home, I was delighted to discover the story concluded in Kansas when the spacecraft itself was delivered to its final resting place in Hutchinson at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. It has found a home since 1995 in the space museum there.

Coming next: Ike and McCarthy by David A. Nichols

 

Sharon Cranford and Dwight Roth discover a distant kinship

Kinship Concealed by Sharon Cranford and Dwight E. Roth

http://www.amazon.com/Kinship-Concealed-Mennonite-American-Connections/dp/1937952428

The distinguished speaker rose after her introduction, an engaging and unique smile spreading across her African American countenance. With the ease of an experienced public speaker, Sharon Hill Cranford captivated the room’s listeners. She gave a brief history of her writing adventure, which started when she was confronted by a fellow faculty member at Hesston College in central Kansas, Dwight Roth, a white man with an Amish Mennonite lineage. He challenged her claim to the family name of Mast, a Mennonite name. Thus began their journey to discover a family connection through divergent lines of Amish immigrants to the US in the mid 1700’s. These two respected faculty members discovered they are indeed distant cousins.

The result of the research is a book jointly written by Cranford and Roth, Kinship Concealed. On the surface, it is a family story, a study in geneology that involved close examination of documents from Pennsylvania to North Carolina to Texas. Deeper down, it is a modern examination of the American drama resembling Alex Haley’s Roots.

I was captivated by the family drama unfolding on its pages. How devout Christians could rationalize the purchase of slaves was horrifying and baffling. I cried with Cranford’s great-great-great grandmother as she was ripped from her infant, a boy fathered by the master’s son. Nika was sold away south and lost in history, but never forgotten.

Charley Mast, Nika’s infant son, lived to be emancipated. He passed along his stamina and the desire to excel to his children. Highly educated, Cranford’s family members have earned distinction in today’s world as leaders in their chosen fields. Cranford’s speaking engagement detailed her own experience growing up in Texas during the Civil Rights awakening, the outright prejudice and obstacles thrown in her path by white people in positions of power. Yet she endured and has become an icon to her family.

That these two distant cousins could find it in their hearts to undertake such a personal examination of the sins of our fathers and reunite as kin, signifies a hope that the rest of our society might one day reconcile. The events of 2017 painfully confirm we have a long way to go. But, as Cranford writes in her prologue, “If this story encourages any portion of our society to reexamine its heart, it can play a pivotal role in breaking down the barriers of distrust and prejudice that years of pain and hypocrisy have bred,. . .”

We are, after all, one big human family, built on the same foundation. If we listen to Cranford and Roth, perhaps there is hope yet for our shared future.

Coming next: Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger

 

Gloria Zachgo’s Suspense Novels

http://www.amazon.com/HUSH-GIRL-Its-Only-Dream-ebook/dp/B072XWVQMM

Gloria Zachgo’s award-winning books The Rocking Horse and Hush Girl: It’s Only a Dream were written by another new writing friend, a leader in the Kansas Author’s Club. Hush Girl, her latest novel, received the 2017 J. Donald Coffin award that my two books received the previous two years. Eager to read another award-winner, I was excited when the first sentence pulled me into the drama. It didn’t let go until the last page.

http://www.amazon.com/Rocking-Horse-Gloria-Zachgo-ebook/dp/B005MKKMVA

Told through the agonized confusion of a young woman in therapy, she reveals long-suppressed memories of her traumatic childhood while fighting present-day attempts to stop her efforts. When at last the truth becomes evident, she finds herself alone, facing an insane acquaintance in a death-dance to save her daughter.

 

Like Hush Girl, Rocking Horse explores an unwelcome truth hidden in the past. Each book follows the private conflicts of a child who witnessed violence and was a victim of abuse. As adults they struggle to reveal the past in order to face a brighter future. Down deep, each narrative is a story of desperate maternal love, sometimes reaching from beyond the grave. Broken families, mental health issues, abusive husbands, alcoholism—the ills of our ailing society are thrust upon innocent children. How they manage to overcome their past makes  suspense-filled rides through the pages of these novels.

If you need an escape from your own reality, Zachgo’s novels will transport you into another world in which you’ll find yourself cheering for the mistreated heroines to the very satisfying end. I recommend them as entertaining reads and look forward to more from this talented writer.

 

 

Taking Back the Bullet by Jim Potter

http://www.amazon.com/Taking-Back-Bullet-Trajectories-Self-Discovery/dp/097906970X

One of the best things about 2017 was expanding my circle of writing friends. Ex-cop Jim Potter is one of the most recent. He contacted me in October regarding the possibility of including his new release in the annual bookstore at the Kansas Authors Club convention. I met him in November during my presentation to the writers meeting in Hutchinson and found him to be outgoing and friendly. He enthusiastically endorsed my suspense novel and I found time to read his debut novel as the year drew to a close.

Taking Back the Bullet is a literary and contemplative sequence of character sketches in which a botched bank robbery changes the direction of each life.  Bullet is a drop from our collective society. Under a microscope, the drop reveals characters who represent a variety of today’s ills. In the book we encounter prejudice toward obesity, prejudice toward those struggling with mental illness, race related prejudice, particularly as it affects native Americans. We encounter issues faced by those with albinism as well as the LGBTQ community. Indeed, policemen, as much as teachers, medical personnel—and writers—see it all and gain insight into the many issues  our country faces.

Bullet is, as Potter explained, a wake-up call for today’s world.

The story is open-ended without a resolution to these issues, but it leaves the reader with hope when the main characters take steps that lead them in new directions.

One of the most fascinating features of Potter’s book is the section of character illustrations at the end. His wife, J. Alex Potter, an accomplished sculptor and art instructor, crafted a series of busts to bring many of the book’s characters into clear focus. Being married to a sculptor/art instructor myself, the photographs of her creations were especially meaningful to me.

I recommend Taking Back the Bullet: Trajectories of Self-Discovery as a revealing snapshot of the mosaic of ills we face in 2018. I hope that Jim Potter will write more, following these characters into their brave, new future, with hopeful and positive results.

Coming next: Gloria Zachgo’s award-winning suspense novels.

Book Journeys of 2017

A few days ago, my writing cousin and friend Paul Bishop linked to an article about the growing trend of young writers who don’t like to read. Say what?

It has always seemed obvious to me that reading comes first. For me it certainly did. I fell in love with books as a child. When I was quite young I realized that I wanted to not just read books, but write them as well. I was also convinced that the best way to learn the craft of writing was to read widely and voraciously. I learned what worked to hold my interest, to make my heart beat faster, and what gave me a sated feeling of contentment.

The time required to lose myself in a book is at a premium these days. Many things vie for my attention and steal my time. There is a yearning in my heart for that good-old solitude, the luxury of time to lose myself in other worlds presented in books.

A disconnect exists between my longing and the fast-paced technological existence of today. We’re on a course into uncharted lands, where stories are told in tweets and symbols. Youth seem to loathe time they spend alone with themselves, or in genuine face-to-face conversation.

I don’t understand the young ones any more than they understand me, and that is a sad fact. But it doesn’t mean my experiences and values are meaningless. I cling to my cherished books, realizing that those I have spent time reading have shaped the course of my life this past year, as they have every year.

I’d like to share a few notable reading experiences as the first days of 2018 unfold, books that were my companions through the tumultuous times of 2017. It is particularly satisfying to note that I actually know and respect many of the authors of those books. Other books were recommended by friends. I did read a few that I will not recommend, some written by very young writers that were ripe with spelling and grammatical errors. If only those young writers would just read a few really good books. . .

The first reviews will be shared tomorrow. Up next: Jim Potter’s Taking Back the Bullet.

Considering Heroes

Last month, my grandson’s elementary school celebrated “Hero” day. Each student was encouraged to invite a personal hero to share lunch with them at school. For the majority of children, that meant a parent. To children, their moms and dads are real life heroes.

I had to wonder, “What makes a hero?” My dictionary says it’s someone who is admired and emulated for achievements or character traits, someone who shows great courage. To have courage is to hold fast to one’s convictions and remain true to oneself even in the face of tremendous obstacles. Perhaps the definition of a hero could be stretched further to include anyone who makes life better for someone else by example or action.

With that in mind, I suggest there are those among us who quietly set the standard, folks who are easily overlooked because they may not have the appearance of a strong, invincible hero. Their strength lies within. Kevin Olson is one such hero.

I recently heard Kevin speak about his life at a writer’s convention. A man who suffered an irreversible neck injury as a teenager, he’s been confined to a wheel chair for almost thirty years. He remains mobile with the use of a long straw connected to a computerized motor on his electric chair. Exhaling means “go.” Inhaling means “stop.” Other subtle air flow changes create right or left turns.

Through the use of a mouth stick (a long pointer manipulated by his jaws) Kevin wrote a book, one tedious letter at a time typed on a computer keyboard. Learning to Live With It (xulon press, 2013) tells how his accident changed his life. It describes his hopes and prayers aimed at regaining the use of his arms and legs, as well as his disappointment to learn that would never happen. Rather than sinking into despair, Kevin learned to adapt to a future he would never have chosen.

Kevin found meaning in his life, not just in public speaking, but as a tutor and mentor to children. Through their innocence and honesty, he learned important metaphorical lessons as he was helping them learn and grow. In fact, it could easily be that his young friends served as heroes for him, even as he fulfilled that role for them.

Kevin describes several of the big lessons he learned from little people in the second part of Learning to Live With It, as well as several metaphors he’s associated with life in general. The inspirational book is filled with his faith in God and his love for life, though faced with desperate circumstances. We could all benefit from his optimism to face whatever obstacles make us stumble through life.

I highly recommend this inspirational book. It is available through http://www.Amazon.com.

Your Dreams are Over

Tribute to a Friend who Died much too Young

J. Scott, your dreams are over,

Snared in your youth by the Big M—

            Heartless,

            Trickster

            Devil.

Your gentle tortured soul now free

            But

Your words live on in our troubled world.

The genius of your soul—

Kneeling in awe of the literary greats

F. Scott (you know) Fitzgerald

            Hawthorne

            Rowling

            Thoreau

            Bronte

            Tolstoy

            Huxley

            Tolkien

            Dickens

            Lee

Spouting quotes from the pens of the masters

You read long before.

Once.

Genius.

The journeys you drew me into

Expanded my understanding of family.

We are all part of

            The human one.

You took me places I’d never dreamed.

            Courtroom witness stand

            Visitation at a Maximum security

Lockup

            Pre-dawn in the empty parking lot

                        Of the Johnson County Jail

            911 emergency call for an

                        Ambulance

            Visits to a residential rehabilitation home

Through it all you shared your dreams

Your hopes

Your disappointments

Your fears

 

Your open, gentle spirit showed great devotion

To young Kassidy, a child sister ripped by cancer

From this heartless life.

“I love God,” she taught from her heart.

“And God loves me. That’s all there is

            To it.”

In your world religion rejected and

            Judged you

            Without mercy

For your deviations from the norm.

Kassidy showed you—God Is Love.

But not even she could stop Big M.

You searched for your place,

A home that would love you always.

On the journey, you befriended

            The friendless,

Fought for those

            In the margins.

You took up causes of those

With little voice.

And you wrote for them.

Because you were one of them

And they needed you.

The Pen is Greater Than the Sword, Scott. Or the Needle.

And your words live.

            Even if you don’t.

Big M stole you from those who care.

In this age of rigid conservatism

And legal discrimination,

The civic powers criminalized

Your disability.  Your addiction.

When you needed help,

They served you blame.

They pulled the rug of security

And assistance

            From under your feet.

And you fell.

Forever.

In your words, “Life is suffering. . .

            But God is Love.”

As your spirit takes its first

Hesitant flight in freedom,

May you find the Winds of that Love,

And may they bear you

            Ever higher.

                        Scotty.

The wind is blowing.

Rise up with it and ride.

Decades of Memories: Memories of Decades

Sunrise. Sunset. Sunrise. Sunset.

Swiftly fly the years.

One season following another

Laden with happiness and tears.

                        -Sheldon Harnick

So goes the song from Fiddler on the Roof.

Earlier this summer, I was honored to be asked to photograph the fiftieth anniversary reception of some cherished friends. Fifty years. Five decades. Half a century.

Some time after that, I realized with a shock that my summer of 1967 held momentous memories for me as well. I had just turned twelve. In early June I was fitted in a Milwaukee brace, a structure of total spine length, from chin to pelvis. This was an attempt to combat the progressing scoliosis (curvature) in my spine and I wore the brace 24/7 for the next two years.

Fifty years ago. Overnight, my life changed. Childhood ended in an instant. One day I was rolling down a small hill in a friend’s yard. The next, I met sadness, despair and heartache. My life was changed. There was no return. Events and encounters during that time of life shaped my personality in many ways, some subtle, others blatant. Before the summer was over, my family moved two states away from the only home I’d known. Trauma after trauma.

I’ve heard it said that without the sad moments, you’d never know when you were happy. This rings true. Happiness and tears go hand in hand.

Swiftly flew the years, though it didn’t seem so at the time. Jump ahead to 1977, one of the happiest times of my life, forty years ago. August 6, 1977 was my wedding day, a day when I started a new life with my best friend from college, Craig Winter.

It was a hot morning. We had discussed the idea of an outdoor ceremony, but Kansas in August can be brutal. Instead we chose the small Methodist church of my grandmother, and fed everyone homemade ice cream at our simple reception.

Forty years have flown by, filled with happiness and tears. Alone today in Nederland, Colorado, I honor Craig’s memory. Our marriage lasted seven and a half years, until the day he flew away, an angel struck down by cancer at age 33. But he left me behind with a beautiful daughter to raise, another experience filled with happiness. And tears.

I headed west a few days ago, bringing seven-year-old grandson Donte, Craig’s grandson, to visit his mama in Denver. Donte had asked to visit Craig’s resting place. In the innocence and openness of childhood, he wanted to know where I “planted” my first husband. We took the short detour to the country church cemetery outside Lincoln, Kansas on our way to Denver.

Donte honored the grandpa he’d never meet, days before the 40th anniversary of our wedding. Words do not exist to describe the poignancy of the moment.

Forty years. Four decades.

I remember, Craigie. Happy anniversary.

Tears for a Tree

 
Passed daily on my way to anywhere—
The world’s most beautiful tree,
Stately, spreading limbs, shading
Cattle on hot summer days,

Praying to the sun through winter’s dormancy,

Rustling leaves in a fresh spring breeze,

The symmetry—the shape—taking my breath,
My admiration, my appreciation, my awe.

Set in the valley downstream from our pond,
Water and sunshine in abundance,

A monument along the highway,
A monument to life, the perfect cottonwood tree.
 
But not quite.
 
Mired against a culvert passing beneath the pavement,
The roots incomplete, impossible to anchor against moving water
Or against steel.
One night rain poured in sheets

And the wind blew.
The gale caught those beautiful boughs and
Toppled the tree.
 
The entire tree.
 
Next morning the sun shone on the ruined giant,
Uprooted by wind where the roots found no anchor.

I cry for the tree. And I wonder:
How many times have I been seduced by the
Appearance of perfection?

How many times have I basked in the seduction
Of incomplete beauty?
 
How many times have you?
Have we all?
In the dearth of the stately tree,
May the dry crumbling leaves

And the severed roots and branches
Remind me that beauty may beckon
Though it is flawed with hidden imperfections.
Monuments which steal our devotion
May crumble in life’s storms.
 
Beware what we revere lest a wind come
And topple the monarchs we extol.
Nothing, but nothing, is without a fault
And danger
Waits within that which is most alluring.