Writing My Life

Now and Then

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Barbershop Saturdays

Based on memories from my childhood, I penned the following poem for my creative writing class. This creation follows the “complex French verse form” called a sestina. While it was difficult to write, it led me in a direction I hadn’t fathomed. I dedicate “Barbershop Saturdays” to my wonderful father and his barber Frenchie Brasseur.
My best to you,  Renae


The morning sun highlights customers captured in the giant mirror
that stretches across the back wall, duplicating rows of glass jars –
some filled with liquid green and blue; others with puffs of cotton.
Frenchie, with his pencil-thin moustache, trims and tapers – measured clips.
Scissors snip, gum smacks, chatter snaps; trademarks of the slender man.
The room is warm. Sandalwood scent fills the air. No one minds the wait.

I stand by Dad as he searches the scene, then asks, “How long is the wait?”
“ ’bout fifteen,” answers Frenchie. He whirls the man in the chair towards the mirror,
and Dad sits on a vinyl chair. I sit on his knee. Frenchie whips the cape off the man.
While the client pulls dollars from his wallet, I gaze at the contents of the jars:
all lengths of combs and scissors, razor blades and metal files. And one bottle of clips.
I like it here; the cluttered order of the shop; the informality of khakis and cotton.

On this Saturday trip with Dad, I sport a ponytail, a suntop, and shorts of red cotton.
This man’s world doesn’t intimidate me. I sneak peeks at ARGOSY while we wait
‘til Dad snatches it, then hands me LIFE Magazine. I blush and listen to scissor clips
and talk of weather and baseball. I skim headlines and scan photos, then mirror
“Audrey’s” smile, “Marilyn’s” pout, Khrushev’s scowl. His shoe-pounding jars
me. I fear his words. I fear his threats. I fear his bombs. I fear this man.

I wonder, “Does he take a little girl to the barbershop?” This scary, bald man.
The notion fades as I snuggle onto Daddy’s lap, inhaling Old Spice and pressed cotton.
Dust motes waltz in sunlight’s shafts. I smile at prisms of azure refracting from jars.
The welcome bell jangles me, and I sit up to stare at the boy who joins the wait.
Frenchie nods hello before clicking on the trimmer to buzz the man in the mirror.
He had ordered a crewcut. Tiny hairs drift to the pile of Frenchie’s snips and clips.

The barber whisks away the heap of calico curls. Deftly, he wraps the cape and clips
it closed ‘round the patron’s neck. I think of my ponytail. I am glad I am not a man.
Still, I might like the trimmer’s tickle, spinning in the chair and whirling past the mirror.
Pixie cuts are “in style”. Could Frenchie style a pixie cut on me? Mom would cotton
to the idea. Maybe. She likes curls, and that means home permanents. I think I’ll wait.
Dad slides me off his lap. “My turn, Honey.” I settle into his chair and start counting jars.

Daddy climbs the chrome-plated step and sits. Frenchie draws clean combs from the jars.
I smile when the barber pushes a lever to lower the chair for my tall father. Then he clips
and combs my dad’s dark hair. And soon he will look even more handsome. I can’t wait!
Without his horned-rimmed glasses, he seems so young. But he is our Super Man!
Dad fought a war, found his love, and begot two daughters. All without a red “S” of cotton
on his chest. And Saturdays he gets his haircut as I watch, loving that man in the mirror.

Innocently, I store these gentle memories in the jars of my mind while learning to man
the fast clip of life. I have safely wrapped those faraway Saturdays in layers of cotton:
tender recollections that patiently wait then emerge – blurred images in the mirror.


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“Face-Lifting” a Fabulous Foto

New Fallen Snow

Photograph by Colleen Ussery Down

One of my sweet friends from my days in Hidden Valley posted this enchanting photo on FaceBook. So many elements came together to create this image: new fallen snow, a full moon, Christmas Day, and a thoughtful photographer.

I told her I wanted to steal it for my blog banner, and she “liked” my comment; therefore, I am accepting that as approval! And I am giving her credit and my thanks! And I am customizing my banner to feature Utah in winter!

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Vanity, Your Name is Renae: A Halloween Story

OCTOBER – A month of many splendored things: Indian summer punctuated by crimson and golden leaves against crystal blue skies; harvest time accentuated by crisp mornings and crunchy apples; and longer nights that portend coming ghosts and goblins on All Hallows Eve. That latter event reminds me of Halloweens-past, especially since stumbling upon a few childhood photos.

While I don’t remember all the costumes I donned for Halloween parties, parades, and trick or treating, I do recall I wanted to look pretty! No scary ghouls or silly vagabonds for me! If I were a child of this era, I am pretty sure I’d be one of the scores of Disney princesses skipping from house to house with a cape swirling about me.

Back in the 1950s, however, costumes were most often created from whatever moms could find around the house or were sewed by those dedicated mothers. That’s not to say store-bought costumes were unavailable, but they were usually unimaginative, plastic, and easily torn. Furthermore, I was a costume snob who wouldn’t consider wearing such a thing.

1955: Two little gypsies, a favorite costume and dress-up. Mom made the boleros, but the skirts, jewelry, sashes, and head scarves were from her drawers and closet.

Once my two friends Diane and Leah wanted the three of us to dress up as “hobos” – a vintage word from the Depression era that referred to those who “rode the rails” looking for work or handouts or both. Now such individuals are called homeless, but I really don’t see many neighborhood youngsters dressed as bag-ladies or panhandlers these days. When I was growing up, however, hobos were a popular Halloween choice, and my friends thought it would be fun and easy: pile on some worn-out clothes, maybe adding a few more rips and holes; slather cold cream over the lower part of your face, followed by pressing coffee grains onto the cream to simulate week-old whiskers; and add a sloppy hat and a fake cigar cigar butt, available at most dime-stores, to complete the transformation. I would have none of it! I was a geisha girl instead – not knowing exactly

Mom's "duster" with a simple "obi", recycled Sacajawea wig from a previous Halloween, Kleenex tissue flowers, eyebrow pencil and Voila - a Geisha girl.

1959: Mom’s “duster” with a simple “obi”, recycled Sacajawea wig from a previous Halloween, Kleenex tissue flowers, eyebrow pencil and Voila – a Geisha girl.

what that was, but perhaps being influenced by Sayonaraa popular movie of the time that actually dealt with racism – a rare topic in 1957. I think my friends were not happy with me, and I noticed they are NOT in the photograph with me, but I think I see their shadows lurking near by.

My ALL-TIME favorite costume was Sacajawea or “Bird Woman”, famous Indian American who traveled with Lewis and Clark. She was an early female hero to Idaho students, and I knew the legends about her – many, of which have been revised since my childhood. Nevertheless, I admired her then as I admire her even more now.  So there you have it. Vanity in a nutshell. Thanks, Mom, for helping me feel pretty even at Halloween! Love you!

Sacajewea dividing the bounty with my little sister Connie. Mom made my Indian dress.  I LOVED the wig! Connie wore one of those "plastic" costumes and ended up being the cutest little clown ever!!!

1957: Sacajawea dividing the bounty with my little sister Connie. Mom made my dress, and I LOVED the wig! Connie wore one of those “plastic” costumes and ended up being the cutest little clown ever!!!


First Day of School – September 7, 1954

“School days, school days – those good old golden rule days.

Reading and writing and ‘rithmetic, taught to the tune of a hickory stick.”

September often takes me back to those years when school actually started in the ninth month of the year – right after Labor Day, and we bid farewell to the school year just before my birthday, May 30 – the traditional Memorial Day. This past August I perused many “back-to-school” pictures that Moms proudly posted on FaceBook, and a few days later while organizing our storage bins, I stumbled upon my own “first day of first grade” photograph, and here it is.

Yes, this is 6-years-old me.

                 Yes, this is 6-years-old me.

I’m standing in the driveway of our new home in Pocatello, Idaho, and I’m wearing a spanking new dress probably purchased at Montgomery Ward, as that’s where I remember buying our clothes. I LOVED this dress with its navy and white pinstriped bodice, bright red belt, and navy skirt. The shiny new shoes – Buster Browns, I think – were “T-straps”, and I image the socks matched the skirt. Mom often shares the story about buying my school clothes when my cute little sister Connie could hardly stand being left out. Once the clothes were in the bag, she decreed that “Renae will have to change her clothes the minute she gets home!”

Another family story involves the lunch bucket/box that I’m carrying: a kind of football shaped silver rocket ship! I know this was the era of early space exploration – pre-Sputnik, mind you – but I don’t remember seeing many of these beauties around. I recently searched the Internet for vintage lunch boxes to see if I could find anything like this one, but failed. Anyway, it seems that Mom decided to treat me to a 7-Up for lunch and poured the beverage into the thermos. You can imagine what happened by the time noon rolled around. Mom and I remember this incident; we’re just not positive that it happened on my first day of first grade. (I don’t see how a thermos jug could fit in that oddly shaped box, and I think the incident involved an Annie Oakley lunch pail.) Regardless, it is an explosive story that had to ruin my cold lunch, especially when you consider that my sandwich was wrapped in wax paper. No Saran wrap or baggies to liquid-proof the contents!

That year was especially eventful because Lewis and Clark was a brand new elementary school. Mrs. Rhea was principal, and I was assigned to the most wonderful teacher in the world – Dallas Quidor, master teacher extraordinaire. I remember being so relieved not to “get” Mrs. Allard as she had been my kindergarten teacher for the couple of weeks kids attended in the summer. I think Kindergarten met on the second floor of Alameda Junior High, and the curriculum consisted of graham cracker snacks and naps on rugs, all under the guidance of a very strict, somewhat ornery teacher.

I think Mrs. A. dyed her hair black and wore it in finger waves that were popular in the 1930s, and I seem to recall she also kept every wave in place by wearing a hairnet. Her powdery white make-up, rouged cheeks, and bright red lipstick completed the guise that would frighten any 5 or 6-year-old – much like Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane or Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte! SCARY!!

Some of the new friends I remember from that far-away time are Paula Lystrup, Donna Partner, Kay Donaldson, and Trudy Halpin. I recall several boys, too, but can only think of their first names. When I find a class picture, I’ll update this post! Gosh, that was so long ago, but tiny flashing moments are so clear that 1954 seems like yesterday. Those were good times just as the present brings much joy to my life as well.

Thanks for walking to school with me today!

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Mom & Me – Mother’s Day 2014

Unlike many baby-boomers, I am beyond fortunate to still have my “greatest generation”, rascal of a mother with me. At 88-going-on-89, she still makes us laugh at her quick wit and other shenanigans! Case in point: the other afternoon when I set about sorting her pills, I congratulated her for remembering to down her evening menu of pink, white, and yellow-striped capsules. She is faithful in taking her morning allotment, but is hit-and-miss with the latter.

Seconds into my sorting routine, she shyly said, “I’ve done a bad thing.”

Panic rose as several scenarios screamed through my brain, the first being, “OH NO! She took all her night pills at once!” And then “OH NO! She dumped them down the toilet!” (They aren’t exactly cheap!)

But I calmly asked in my sweetest, slightly teasing tone, “What did you do?” (Smile)

“Well, I poured them all into an empty pill bottle,” she said – rather sheepishly, I might add!

“Why? Am I that mean when I tease you about forgetting them?” I asked as I remembered a childhood of hiding empty Jello boxes  after I consumed the contents – “raw” Jello was a precursor to Pixy Sticks in my time.

Like me, I guess she hates “getting into trouble”, and we can both be a little sneaky to avoid that!

One of the sneakiest things she did, however, dates back to spring, 1966. I can’t remember if it was yearbook day or Senior Sluff day, but a bunch of us planned to spend the afternoon at the beach. Yes, there was a beach in Southeastern Idaho – The American Falls Reservoir, not exactly Malibu or Santa Cruz, but somehow, we made it work.

For the occasion, I bought a  2-piece swimming suit. Far from being a bikini, the lime-green and white pleated skirt bottom with daisies covered my belly-button, and though the square neckline was cut a little lower than normal, it was still something Annette Funicello would feel comfortable wearing on a Disney set. At least, I thought so. Unlike popular Jantzen swimsuits of the time, this two-piece was made from a duck-cloth type material, and I paid a pretty penny for it at Fargo’s Department Store where I worked part-time. I think I put out $25!!!

After the purchase, I took it home and modeled it for Mom and Dad who smiled approvingly. Or so I thought. A few mornings later when I headed out the door to my day of high school adventure, I grabbed my beach bag packed with towels, baby oil, and the new swimsuit. When we arrived at the beach – a rather cool, windy Idaho day, as I recall – the girls had to change into their suits in cars, a dubious affair that required performing acrobatics under beach towels.

While twisting and turning to get into mine, I realized that it was not exactly the  one I bought! The 2-piece had been modified! Yes, it was green and white with a pleated-skirt bottom, but the top was different! It was still white, edged with green piping, but it was cut higher, and a row of matching green buttons ran along a seam that marked the addition of more white duck-cloth to raise the neckline!

Shaking my head in disbelief, I was shocked, but not upset. It was adorable! Mom had jazzed up a rather plain top into something fun as well as modest. And she had performed such a professional job that no one could tell I did not buy it that way.

I don’t remember the discussion that night as I talked with Mom, but something tells me that when I modeled my purchase for her and Daddy and then bent over to retrieve the shopping bags, she knew changes needed to be made before I paraded my swimsuit-clad body across the sands of the American Falls reservoir in the spring of 1966. I presume she thought I would be angry with her so she decided to seek forgiveness instead of permission. Yes, she is sneaky like that. Thanks, Mom!


Process of Elimination: My “Near-Jury” Experience

My Courtroom Hero

My Courtroom Hero

I find it a little ironic that soon after I publicly pledged to soften my judgments in 2013, I was summoned to appear in the 4th District Court in Provo for a jury selection process.

This may be hard to believe, but in my 64+ years, I’ve never been asked to perform this honor! And while many consider jury duty an inconvenience, I was excited to serve. I wanted to put years of watching courtroom dramas – including the classic Perry Mason – to use, but I was disappointed.

While the case concerning aspects of “eminent domain” wasn’t exciting like a murder trial would be, it was important. The jury was being asked to determine whether or not the Department of Transportation paid the landowner the “fair market value” of his property as described under the law. And I was eliminated; voted off the jury; sent packing.

For the rest of the afternoon, I tried to figure out why. Was it because …

  1. I looked too eager to serve? (I smiled a lot.)
  2. Because I only made 2 comments? While many jurors replied to many of the 25 questions directed to all of us, I only raised my hand twice to share these important responses:
    1. “Yes, I work for the state as I am an educator for Jordan School District.”
    2. “If we (meaning the jury) don’t smile and say hello to you attorneys, don’t YOU take it personally.” (That was in response to the prosecuting attorney’s explanation that no involved lawyers would respond to jury members outside of the courtroom. “But don’t take it personally,” he added.)
  3. Because I honestly thought I could set aside my biases to determine what was “fair market value” as described by the law? I noticed one of the “chosen ones” expressed beliefs that landowners should receive a bonus when forced to sell their land. I almost raised my hand to remind everyone that such a bonus would come from tax-payers’ pockets. If I had said that, I might have made the cut as the prosecution would have chosen me to counter-balance the “pro-bonus” juror. Right?
  4. Was I booted because I work in Salt Lake County – home to more liberal citizens than those of Utah County?
  5. Or because my phone vibrated too loudly?
  6. Perhaps because I brought Diet Coke into the courtroom where drinks were prohibited?
  7. Maybe it was because I wore jeans, and the judge thought that was disrespectful.

Who knows, and while I will never learn what excluded me from this educational experience, I think they will ask me again. Why? Because now they have my number, and besides, I’ve read a lot of John Grisham!!


2013: Only One Resolution – but it’s a dang hard one

Like so many, I offer up the same clichéd resolutions: lose weight, exercise more, spend less, etc. But these are NOT really NEW YEAR resolutions; they are UNending goals from years past and present.

I’ll continue the march towards good health and a balanced budget, but those are NOT 2013’s goals. Instead, I’ve pondered upon what resolve I should most pursue and zeroed in on “softening my judgments.” I’m realistic enough to know eliminating all judgments is beyond me, but I think with enough focus and fortitude, I can make course corrections.

This means I need to ward off gut reactions – they’re so often wrong –  to listen more, and to talk less.

Told you it’d be dang hard.

"Love One Another"

“Love One Another”

"Squash" Unkindness

“Squash” Unkindness

I know they are a stretch, but I’ve waited so long for a correlating topic to post these pix I snapped in 2010!

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100-Word Posts

I am sad that I haven’t posted in MONTHS! Sad because many ideas, reflections, and observations that caught my attention were not recorded, and now, just like time, they are gone, kaput, defunct.

I have shared a few on FaceBook, but those fly away, too. Even if my thoughts are not profound, they deserve to be recorded. Even in snippets. And so once again, I’ll go for brevity: 100 words or less.

And hope some of those lost gems return!

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Just a Little Observation

With all the significant posts waiting to be written, I’m not sure why this silly idea worked its way up the priority ladder, but it has. Besides silly, it will be a short and sweet piece.

Yesterday, I found this addressed envelope sitting atop the shredder and couldn’t help but laugh at my type A husband.


For as long as I can remember, I’ve watched him pull out a ruler before addressing envelopes. Who does this? I mean his printing looks like it could be one of the word-processing font choices on a drop-down menu – you know like “Bradley Hand ITC”. Only this script would be christened “Gary Hand GE”. (I can’t add “ITC” because the International Typeface Corporation didn’t design it, but I can include G.E. because Gary Eugene created the script, complete with “serif” – the little feet attached to the S’s. Hope you’re impressed with my fount of font knowledge.)

Anyway, this careful scripting says a lot about my old school husband and his preciseness. In general, today’s men do not print neatly, but Gar always has. In his mind, however, that’s not good enough for the Postal Department as the lines need to be straight, Hence the ruler.

I’m not sure where this habit comes from. I don’t think he’s read the high cost of illegible handwriting in the medical field; if he had, his scribble signature would be decipherable. Of course, Gar is not a medical professional; so that is irrelevant. What I do think, however, is that he a perfectionist in some areas, plus he does not want to risk late delivery of bills – which brings us to the other revelation about him. He HATES online bill-pay, and wishes I would abandon the practice. (I told him I will as soon as he takes over all the household accounting duties, which he is in the process of doing. YaY!) At any rate, he continues to mail bills or hand deliver them. Sheesh!

If any of you have received a note or card from my husband, you may remember that the envelope was addressed just as carefully as any of our bills. Feel honored. =) As a result, I have been thinking about hiring him out to address wedding invitations. Any takers?

I warned you this would be a silly post. I guess I could ask what writing about this says about me. But I won’t. And if a kind-hearted reader out there wants to take care of our car payment, you can send it to the clearly written address above.

Have a great day. R.


Christmas Banner Photo Made Possible by Luann C. ~ Decorator Extraordinaire!

Had some inquiries about the wonderful Ms. Luann. She works in our department and some of her unofficial duties include decking halls with holiday regalia.  

Be it Halloween or Independence Day, she makes EVERY day a joy with her happy disposition and creative energy.

Nearly all the candy in her display is NOT edible but decorative AND she made them all! Luann is NOT paid to do this; nor is she reimbursed for supplies.

She just does it for the fun of it.


I couldn’t resist honoring Luann by photographing her creation and using it as my banner this month.

Happy Holidays EVERYONE!