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.



Dr.CrazyLove: Or How I Learned to Stop Apologizing and Love the FaceBook

Renae FB

I know there are scores of reasons to dislike this social medium; nevertheless, millions of folks hang out there anyway. We post what we are thinking, doing, eating, seeing, etc. We rant and rave, curse and criticize, stalk and gawk, brag and validate ourselves and others, all the while claiming to hate FaceBook. And I was among those until recently.

I know browsing can suck the time out of a day quicker than we can click “Like”, but sometimes, a few minutes (or hours) is just what we need to buoy our spirits, pat our backs, pinch our cheeks, or cheer us onward. Let me give you an example.

Recently, my sister and I made the VERY painful decision to move our aging mother to a senior living center in order to provide the increasing care she needs. This meant giving away her two darling puppies who provided hours of emotional comfort, but little in the way of physical care. Even Connie and I could not keep up with her minute to minute needs.

Of course, this broke her heart as well as Connie’s and mine. Then my sister posted the story of our experience on FaceBook, and so much love, understanding, support, and virtual hugs poured in from cousins, aunts, friends, neighbors, former school mates and colleagues,  as well as a gentleman whose last name we share who thinks we may be distant relatives, but we don’t know for sure!

Probably the sweetest gift we received from this strange source is the reconnection to a dear old friend and neighbor from our childhoods. I have written about Susan and her family before, and it was such a delight when she found Connie on the “Remember Pocatello” FB page.

Besides remembering days gone by, Susan has also shared her journey of caring for her darling 90-year-old mother Mary, whom Connie, Mom, and I also love and admire. Susan has given us helpful ideas in caring for Mom in her new home, and she has posted photos of the Jones family that we have shown to Mom. And then we talk of our good times in that neighborhood and of the lovely people we enjoyed there.

The point is that I don’t know if Connie and I would have found or felt so much kindness if we were not a part of the FaceBook community. So while there is still much that I ignore or sometimes block when I visit FB Land, there is also much that I savor.

Thank you people who use this social medium to lift the spirits of your FaceBook buddies!

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Back When I Wanted to be Catholic – and an Ice Skating Olympian

I think my fascination with Catholicism was born at St. Anthony’s Hospital where my mother gave birth to me. Somewhere in my early growing-up years, I heard rumors that before nuns brought babies to their mommies, priests baptized tiny infants. I therefore concluded that I had dual citizenship in the Catholic and the Mormon Churches. I may have even told a few people that I was Catholic.

Vern and Mary with their daughters and Penny, their Cocker Spaniel

Vern and Mary with their daughters and Penny, the Cocker Spaniel

I vaguely remember one or two neighbor children who were bona fide Catholics, but it wasn’t until 1954 when we moved across the street from Vern and Mary and their daughters Ginger, Susan, and Sharon that I learned some details of my “alter-religion”. Susan was closest to my age, and so I assume she served as my mentor in all things Catholic. While she shared some complaints about her faith, I loved everything I learned. For example, I really liked the idea of confession and the resulting absolution from sin. Yes, I know that a tenet of Mormon theology includes repentance, but when I prayed for forgiveness of what I considered many grave transgressions, I wasn’t sure I had been forgiven. I wanted somebody to make it official. Additionally, I was a repeat offender so the idea of frequent trips to the confessional bothered me not in the least. And because I thought of myself as pretty sinful, I also longed to pay penance. For example, I welcomed saying extra prayers especially if I could use a beautiful rosary to keep track of my efforts. In fact, I once bought an early treasure while vacationing at San Juan Capistrano when I was eight: a bracelet designed like a rosary, cross and all.

I really liked the idea of sacrifice, too – at least the ones my friends made. When I was young, Catholics abstained from meat every Friday, not just during Lent, and Fridays were my favorite school lunch days. Cafeteria workers at Lewis and Clark Elementary and Alameda Junior High always served fish sticks or toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup to all students, Catholic or otherwise. I even wanted to “give up” something for Lent. Susan and her sisters usually said goodbye to candy for the six weeks prior to Easter. I think I may have tried to do the same, but if I did, I doubt I lasted 6 days, let alone 40. (Recently I gave up Diet Coke. While this “abstinence” correlates with the Lenten season, it was unintentional, AND I plan to make this a permanent change. I know friends and family are snickering at this – “oh ye of little faith!”)

The biggest attraction to the Catholic faith, however, was First Communion – not because of the importance of receiving the Eucharist for the first time, but because of the beautiful little “wedding” dresses Susan and then Sharon wore. I was SO jealous. When I was baptized into the Mormon/LDS Church at age 8, I wore white knee-length bloomers and a white blouse. I didn’t get a new frock – white or otherwise – for my confirmation. No veil either. Not even white gloves. The adorable Easter dresses and bonnets Mom always bought or made for us did little to diminish my Communion-dress envy.

Looking back at that experience, I find it interesting how religion was often a topic of our childhood conversations. And while my interest in the Catholic Church was fleeting, there was a significant reason I was enamored with my Catholic friends. They were such good, good people. The family was fun and kind. Mom Mary’s wide smile invited friendships, and the girls were intelligent, talented, and beautiful. One summer Ginger kept us busy when she organized a backyard carnival. Under her tutelage, her sisters and we friends created booths by hanging blankets from their clothes line. We featured all sorts of games and prizes, and promoted the event beyond our street to nearby neighborhoods. We charged for the activities but then donated the money – which I don’t recall as being very much, maybe $12 or $15 – to a local charity. Somewhere in my archives is a newspaper photo of us presenting our profits to the organization.

Skating with Mom at Caribou Nat'l Forest rink

Skating with Mom at Caribou Nat’l Forest rink

Then there was Dad Vern; quiet and unassuming, he spent winter nights watering down their back yard to create an ice skating rink. Small at first, the rink’s popularity inspired him to enlarge the square footage until several inches of ice covered all but a tiny corner of their yard. We loved the rink and often hurried home from school to spend a couple of hours there before dinner. I remember one particularly freezing week when schools closed for fear of bursting pipes; nevertheless, the temperatures didn’t dip enough to keep us off the ice. Everyday we spent time playing Crack the Whip and other games with our friends, taking breaks now and again to thaw our toes or sip hot cocoa before resuming.

Wearing our "ice-skating dresses" with Daddy at Caribou rink a few years later

Wearing our “ice-skating dresses” with Daddy at Caribou rink a few years later  


When I think of how much time we spent there, I wonder that Vern and Mary rued the day they started that tradition. I can’t imagine how many times children rang their doorbell to ask permission to take the ice, but I don’t remember being turned away very often.

Because of this neighborhood experience, my sister Connie and I became skating devotees, and while our “expertise” did not qualify us for the 1964 Winter Olympics, Mom believed that our love of the sport warranted red corduroy skating dresses!!

The best outcome of that neighborhood skating rink, however, was the closeness we felt to our friends and neighbors. Vern and Mary created lifelong memories of a fun, happy, and safe place for all of us to enjoy regardless of our differences – religious or otherwise. I’ll never forget them!