Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Reader Contributions: Seniorwriter's Challenge

Here is an update on what my readers have written in response to my journal assignments. Most were previously buried here in the comments, where they were hard to find. Please write more. You may send them to me via email, as I suggested earlier, but it it's easier, just add your contributions as comments under the corresponding assignment. I will find them and move them.

Assignment III: "What would you Do?"

A Gift with Strings (and Wheels) II

Oh boy, my dream has finally come true! I have been interested in purchasing a sauna steam bath for years, but I never could bring myself to spend the money on something just for me. However, now with this gift I can have my steam baths. I believe that a steam bath would detoxify my body and help me look younger, not to mention add quality years to my life.

Now that I have received a gift of $5.000 with criteria attached, I definitely would not purchase one at this time. Under the stipulations given with the gift, I would hire a limo to drive me to the Youthtopia Med Spa in Alpharetta, Ga. That is the nearest spa to where I live. It is about seventy five miles from my home one way. I could read and relax every mile of the way and would not concern myself with the traffic.

I would also hire a masseuse, one that is licensed and must possess extensive knowledge of muscles. I would prefer a female masseuse. I don’t believe that I could relax completely with a male giving me the massage. I would request a total body massage after each steam bath. Or should I do it before the steam bath? I would need to check that out.

I believe that with all this body work being done, I would definitely need to update my wardrobe afterward with at least two very nice sexy outfits including shoes and purse to match.

I have read that steam baths not only detoxify the body but makes the skin glow. I would continue the steam baths until my $5,000 was spent down to about $1,500. Then I would find the sexiest dress shop, most likely at the Galleria Mall in North Atlanta. I know of a specialty boutique shop there that specializes in sexy clothing and accessories for petite women. At this point I might not have enough funds to purchase but one outfit. I would spend approximately $500 for the outfit. I believe I could choose one that would compliment me for that amount of money.

That would leave me one grand to spend on an evening out to dinner. And I would definitely get a complete make-up makeover. At the Youthtopia Med Spa, they have a chaperon service. I would use the thousand dollars to hire an evening chaperon to dine with at the most elegant restaurant in Atlanta, Ga. I would not buy his meal and would explain to him that I had to buy my own. I would not dine with just anyone. I would have to interview several applicants before choosing just the right one. This gentleman would have to be debonair with a capital D, and if at all possible, look very much like Clark Gable. We would dine and dance until dawn.

My relatives have left me nothing so far as I know, but I feel really lucky, so I will go out tomorrow and buy a few lottery tickets!

By Mollie Mercer Hewitt, 2007

Assignment VI: "Names and Nicknames"

I hated the nickname Dottie. It made me feel as though I was a spot on the blackboard, which someone could erase. Now there's a comment to be analyzed. Place that with dyslexia and I could be a case for a psych book.

I made it through, and here I am, successful in commercial real estate and blogging at night with Grammology. This for the hope of bring grandmas back to their families, sharing their wisdom and experience with parents and children.

Consequently, don't call me Grammie; call me Grammie Dorothea. I made that up. I love the sound.

A name is personal. Don't you think our name should be temporary, until we are old enough to approve the one given, or choose another? Stop by my site,

By Dorothy, 6/29/07

2. I once taught a memoir class at the South Side Center for the Chicago Department of Aging. What a hoot! I loved it. We had a lady in class whose family called her Jim--a nickname for Virginia.

Barrel was the closest thing I ever had to a nickname--Cheryl Barrel. Try living with that!

The other sort-of nickname came from my gym suit. We had to have our first initial and last name stiched across the yoke. There was very little space between C and the Hagedorn place, so my friends began calling me Shagedorn or Shaggy.

By Cheryl Hagedoen, 6/29/07

3. I always wanted a cool nickname, even wrote about in on by blog. Buzz or Jake or something.

I was named after General Mark Clark. Well, not really, but that's the guy that had the name when my parents decided they liked it.

Yeah, I was called Markie too. Big Whoop!

My uncle used to call me stinky. My aunt always had a fit.

Oh well, I survived.

By Mark at, 6/29/07

Assignment X: "Family Tales"

I became interested in my own family genealogy after starting what I thought would be a long, maybe impossible, quest to find my partner's birth family in England. He had been adopted by an Australian family as a baby. With the power of the Internet it took me but two days to find his extended family.

My own quest is harder in the Irish records were destroyed in a fire, but a tree of names is not so important to me anyway. It is the stories I have uncovered that bring the tree into bloom, giving it the richness and life and creating vivid pictures of adversity and the power of the human spirit. One of my favorite stories sent by a previously unknown relative:

After taking a ship from Ireland to Scotland in 1893, he walked to Glasgow and found woirk at a hydroelectric power station. He then walked to the North East of England, working as a labourer digging docks in Middlesborough. Once this project was finished, he walked south to Hull to dig new docks there.

Knowing that all the navvies and labourers on these projects were from out of town and needed somewhere to live, he was saving up little bit by little bit to buy a boarding house.

He finally achieved his goal, buying a house in Hull and opening his boarding house. He charged out of town dock workers 4d a night and sharpened their shovels to help them dig faster. Most of his eleven children were born in this house.

One of these children was my father.

By Sueblimely, 7/20/07

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Quote for the Day

"Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens." . . . Carl Jung, Psychologist

Saturday, July 21, 2007

An Interesting Observation

I just noticed, here on my own blog, a Google ad for a memoir-writing site. That one charges $60 per year to participate! And here, in connection with my other blog and my column on eGenerations, I'm offering roughly the same thing for free! One of the advantages of advanced age, I guess. Anyway, get busy and write!

If you're really eager to spend money, go to that site, or send me your life savings (just kidding)!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Seniorwriter's Challenge

I have now posted ten journal assignments, but I'm not sure how many of my readers have tried them. Here is my challenge: write your story based on one of the assignments and send it to me. Find my e-mail address in my Complete Profile here, and put Write your Life in the subject line.

You may send your story in the body of your e-mail message or add it as a Word or Word Perfect attachment. Tell me whether you give me your permission to post it on this blog, or if not, I'll merely send you my comments and/or suggestions. Either way, what you write remains your property.

I want this site to become more interactive. Please contribute, and feel free to add your comments and suggestions at any time. Happy writing!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Journal Assignment X: Family Tales

Most families have their share of family lore that needs to be preserved for those who come later. Did your grandfather tell funny stories about an eccentric uncle? Did your mother tell stories about your brother's bad behavior at some time in his childhood, or embarrassing stories about yours? What about tales of encounters with early versions of TV or "motorcars" or other new-fangled inventions, immigration struggles, and/or life in the "old country"?

How I wish my father had recorded his story, told to my brother but only vaguely remembered now, of his arduous journeys to college on unimproved roads in a a Model "T" Ford in the late 1920's, not long before the family photo above was taken! The old picture above shows me, at age one or two, with my parents. How young we all look!

Family history should involve more than family trees and birth and death dates. It's the stories that count. Fortunately, my mother, Violet Marshall Funston (1911-2007) wrote her life story, My First Eighty-Six Years: a Midwestern Life, in 1997. The following example is adapted from her story. It recounts one of the tales her paternal grandmother told her about family life in rural Pennsylvania long before my mother was born.

A Husband for Mary?

"One day, as Grandma sat rocking and knitting, she got an idea of how to solve one of her family problems. ‘That’s it!’ she said aloud. Old Tom the cat opened one sleepy eye, looked at Grandma, and then at his dish beside the kitchen range. The dish was empty. He blinked his eyes and settled down again, his purring blending with the sound of the wood crackling in the kitchen range and the clicking of Grandma’s knitting needles as she knit another pair of socks.

"As Grandma’s idea took shape, the knitting needles clicked faster and faster, keeping time with her rocking. Tom awakened again, moved his tail out of the way of the fast-moving rocker, and then slept again.

"Tom was awakened next by stomping on the porch, and Grandpa, full of snow and the vibrant life that was Grandpa, burst into the kitchen with his violin under his arm. ‘Marvin’s cow is going to calve tonight,’ he said, explaining his absence. ‘Coldest weather we’ve had.’ Tom rubbed against Grandpa’s legs, purring his loudest. He was sure to get a tidbit from Grandpa’s lunch. He would sit on Grandpa’s lap licking his sleek black fur, hoping to be petted and to have his fat tummy rubbed.

"‘Joseph,’ Grandma asked, ‘do you think we could have a box social at the school?’" She meant the rural school where Grandpa taught.

"‘Whatever put that idea into your head? You were never much of a social butterfly. Aha! It wouldn’t have anything to do with trying to get a husband for Mary, would it?’

"Grandma ignored his question," but after she promised to clean the school for the occasion, Grandpa promised to ask at the next school meeting.

Aunt Mary, in her middle twenties, did not even have a boyfriend, while seven of Grandma’s other children were already married. "Mary wanted to run a millinery shop and had no interest in marriage. To Grandma, the only proper career for a girl was homemaking and raising a family."

At a box social, each marriageable girl decorated a box, filled it with her best cooking and baking, and waited for it to be auctioned off. Of course Mary was not interested in baking, but Grandma bullied her into baking an apple pie, and Grandma baked some bread for the box herself.

Grandma tipped off Marvin, whom she considered a likely prospect, and he won Mary’s box. "Mary shared the food with him; however, it was plain to see that she was not enjoying the food or Marvin."

Mary never married. After a while, the family moved west from Pennsylvania to Strawberry Point, Iowa, where Mary opened her millinery shop. She "decorated hats with feather plumes, flowers, birds, and ribbons. A woman would buy a dress and then come to the store to buy a hat decorated to match the dress."

It was at Mary’s hat shop in Strawberry Point that her visiting brother, Grandma’s son Edward Uhl, met Minnie Louise Blanchard, twenty years younger than he, and they fell in love, married in 1910, and later became my mother’s parents and my grandparents.

It’s strange how things work out. Grandma’s plot failed, and Mary became the first known career woman in the family, a tradition that has continued to this day.

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo from the family collection

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Journal Assignment IX: Overcoming Adversity

"Into every life some rain must fall." That old saying is quite true. Have you survived a serious illness, an injury, the loss of a loved one, or financial ruin? Even the most fortunate among us may face unpleasant events or even tragedies at times, and the stories of how we faced and overcame those problems can provide valuable lessons to others.

The following example is adapted from a chapter in my memoir, Reinventing Myself: Memoirs of a Retired Professor.

Facing Breast Cancer

My early-stage breast cancer was diagnosed in 1990. Although I am still alive seventeen years later, I can never consider myself cured, and it is very difficult for me to read, write, or think about the “Big C.”

I’d had “lumpy” breasts, or fibrocystic disease, for many years, so self-checks were difficult and mammography results hard to interpret. However, in spring 1990, I found a small lump that seemed different. My doctor checked and ordered a biopsy.

I was terrified, but we were about to begin our motorcycle trip to the Soviet Union. I insisted on postponing the biopsy. The wonderful trip made me forget, as I had hoped it would.

After we returned, I became involved in creating a memory booklet for my 40th high school class reunion, so I didn’t rush back to my doctor. I was feeling fine, and my husband and I enjoyed the reunion. Still, a nagging fear emerged from time to time.

Finally, with my husband nervously pacing in the waiting room, I underwent the biopsy. The news was bad. I remember curling up later on the living room sofa, crying and thinking that my life was over.

My doctor recommended modified radical mastectomy. The choices were one breast or both, restoration or no restoration. I didn’t like the choices, but with my supportive husband’s help, I decided: bilateral mastectomy and no restoration. I was fifty-eight years old at the time, and at a high point in my career. Somehow, the thought of worrying about cancer occurring in a remaining breast or suffering complications of restoration seemed worse than losing a significant part of my body. I was not concerned about beauty and sexiness at the time, as long as I had my husband’s caring support, so that was my decision.

Had I been younger or alone, or had cancer treatment been as advanced as it is today, I might have decided differently.

The operation and the hospital stay were awful, but I’ve put the details out of my mind. Still, I do remember several details from the aftermath.

My teaching colleagues were very supportive. I missed the first week of the fall semester, and when I was able to return, I looked awful. A few people seemed to think I was on the verge of death, and I probably looked that way. Nevertheless, I persevered. I found out about prostheses, or silicone breasts, and got used to them.

I had to make another decision: radiation, chemotherapy, both, or no treatment beyond frequent checkups and Tamoxifen. The doctors disagreed. I gambled on getting only checkups and Tamoxifen; I was not willing to interrupt my career for treatment. I agonized about this for some time; had I made the right decision?

I gambled, but I seem to have won, at least for seventeen years now. I was proud to participate in the 2005 Mothers’ Day Y-Me three-mile walk for breast cancer. Yet to this day, cancer still frightens me.

Facing breast cancer taught me that when I face major problems, I can be a survivor, that curling up on the sofa, crying, and feeling that my life was over was a natural reaction, but not a practical one. And perhaps best of all, I realized what a wonderful, supportive husband I had!

Copyright 2006, 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Journal Assignment VIII: Holiday Memories

How have your holiday celebrations changed over the years? Do you remember special family gatherings on Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, or some other special day? How have your celebrations, or you attitudes toward the holidays, changed over the years?

For my July 4th memories, go to today's post on my other blog, "Never too Late!" at Happy memories and happy writing!