Monday, June 27, 2016

Summertime Storytime


          A hot day in Arkansas. What is our favorite activity? Finding shade. And something cool to drink. And what tops off a hot day better than a great story?
          Recently, I held seven or eight upturned faces in the palm of my hand as I stood in a shady spot and told stories. It was an awesome feeling of power. As their little bodies cooled off, and they eagerly listened, they were almost literally hanging on every word. I reviewed the stories I had planned to tell, and chose each word carefully. First goal, keep them listening. More than just talking, I needed to be animated, interesting, intriguing. Then, make sure that the thoughts they took away when they went back out in the heat were worthwhile. A weighty task for a fifteen minute job.
          After being serious for a little bit, and talking about the difference between truth and fiction, I related a funny story from my childhood and a completely outlandish tall tale. Then, I turned the tables, and asked them to come up with their own story. It was much too hot to write War and Peace on the courthouse lawn that day. What they came up with was a short story, with a great mix of popular culture and imagination. Here you go: the first creation by the Stories on the Square gang:
          “We were having lots of fun at Saturday on the Square, but no-one expected to see a one-eyed, one-horned flying purple eater. He ate ten people.”
          Nothing could have been more satisfying for this old story-teller.
          Of course, there are times when you don’t want to listen, you’d much rather hold your story in your hand and read it for yourself. This works under a shade tree, or a beach umbrella, or inside in your favorite lounge chair with the A/C blaring.
          Here are some ideas from my bookshelf to get you started:
          “As Waters Gone By” by Cynthia Ruchti. Set on the cooler Northeast coast, this one is a contemporary tale of a woman who is starting over. Her husband is paying for some mistakes he made by serving his court ordered sentence. Instead of enduring the constant questions and scrutiny of well- meaning friends and family, she gathers up her own emotional and financial mess and moves into the bare bones fishing cabin that he has used, but she has rarely visited. Her journey will have you laughing and crying, and relishing the characters she meets along the way, including her new mentor with the unlikely name of Boozie Unfortunate. No, Really.  Extremely unusual, nominated for awards, what could be better? Find it in your bookstore or on your electronic reading device.
          “Robin”, the first book in a historical series called Brides of a Feather, is the first published work of my new friend Julane Hiebert of Southwest Missouri. Set on the Kansas prairies in the latter nineteenth century, it introduces us to a young lady who is determined to make a contribution to her family and her community, despite her own physical difficulties. Her bachelor uncle is not quite sure how to react when she comes to help him on the ranch. And then, of course, like any good romance, there is a bachelor nearer to her age who is having trouble deciding exactly what he is looking for in a wife. Also, just for an element of surprise and lots of action, there is a charming orphan who has a way of saying exactly the right thing at the right time. Delightful.
          “Chapel Springs Survival” is the second in a contemporary series set in a southern tourist town. The lead characters are moms and grandmas who love to spend time together, and love to share their ideas for improving the lives of everyone around them. Think Lucy and Ethel in modern-day Georgia. Their adventures keep us laughing, and we identify with their efforts to keep everyone happy. Ane Mulligan may not be a household name yet, but that will soon change.
          “The Christmas Star” by Arkadelphia favorite son Ace Collins.  I love reading Christmas books in the hot summertime, and this one looks wonderful. It describes a family that is dealing with the legacy of a soldier who gave his life during World War II. This one will be moving to the top of my To Be Read pile.
          “Where There’s Smoke” by Susan May Warren introduces a new series by one of my favorite authors. Stories of firefighters are guaranteed to spark my interest (I have a million more of those references if you are interested.) Hot weather, smoldering romance, perfect in my book.

          Enjoy your summer. Anytime is a good time for a good story. Stay cool! 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Forty Years, Gone in a Flash

So, I am sure you have heard that the time machine DiLorean from the Back to the Future movies has arrived in our current time, which is, as far as I can tell, it’s final destination. So, if no one has a need for it today, do you think I could borrow it?
Our first stop, an autumn day in 1975. While James Carlisle is working at Congo Mercantile, we swiftly remove the time machine mechanism from the car that Michael J. Fox made famous, and install it in James’ 1971 Dodge Challenger. (You ask how we do that? Don’t bother me with details.) Okay. Now, we make our one and only change to history during this adventure. James takes a different route to pick me up for our date that night, thereby avoiding the awful crash that ended the Challenger’s useful life. (James thankfully emerged relatively unscathed, by the way.)
So, now with the correct car in the picture, our journey continues. Next stop, May 31, 1976. Faith Lutheran Church, Little Rock, Arkansas, where a wedding is taking place. Looking around, we see lots of happy folks, dressed in their Sunday best, even though it is actually Monday (Memorial Day) evening. The young ladies seem to be sporting the same hairstyle, long, straight and shiny, with the young men almost the same, except maybe just a little shorter. The bridesmaids are wearing a light blue calico print dress that will hang in the closet from this day forward. Each is also sporting a wide picture hat. The boys (sorry, men) including the groom, are wearing identical light blue polyester tuxedos with white shirts and light blue bow ties. Jenny’s dress, made from the same pattern as the bridesmaids, is a simply beautiful concoction of white satin and lace, with no train, and a simple veil, in the “end of the hippy era” peasant style.
Happy smiles are the order of the day, and history is made as both of Jenny’s grandmothers spend time in the same room while remaining civil to each other. Also, the groom is meeting the bride’s father for the very first time, and his tough State policeman demeanor does not scare her intended away.
We leave this happy group and speed quickly to another location in Little Rock, the tuxedo shop in downtown Little Rock where our 1976 group was outfitted. The year on the calendar behind the counter displays 2002. Today, James and Jenny are arranging to order a tuxedo for another groom, their oldest son Chris. They will also order the outfit of the day for Chris’ younger brother, Jon, who along with James will be one of the groomsmen. They ask for suggestions on a suit for Chris and Jon’s young nephew, Jordan, who at 2 months will be too small for the clothing they have on display. It is decided that the baby’s mother, Chris and Jon’s younger sister Carrie, who is also in the wedding party, will have to shop elsewhere for the appropriate suit and tie.
Jenny happens to mention the old pale blue masterpieces from years ago, and the clerk says. “Oh yes, we still have those in the attic.”
 A mischievous gleam enters James’ eye as he asks, “I don’t suppose you would let me borrow one of those jackets for the wedding rehearsal?” In view of the amount of the check we were writing that day, this request is quickly accommodated. Chris’ sweet bride Katherine was about to learn just what she was getting into by joining this family.
More happy smiles, one more bouquet tossed at a Little Rock church. This time, the guests blow bubbles instead of throwing rice. The bride and groom head off to their honeymoon in Las Vegas, and son Jon and daughter Carrie lament items lost when Jon’s car was burglarized on the church parking lot during the rehearsal dinner.
Back in the time machine Challenger, James and I speed past through the next 14 years, arriving at North-side Church of Christ in Benton, just in time for a Sunday afternoon 40th. Anniversary reception.
This time, friends and family gather at a party coordinated by the three kids and their spouses. Not an easy task, as they live in Arkansas, Florida and Texas. All five grand-children will be in attendance. As is usually the case, the chatter of the cousins will be dominated by plans for Granny Camp, when all of them spend time with their grandparents. Spoiler alert- this year’s event has been renamed to Grand-cation, and it promises to be a once in a lifetime trip for all involved.
After an appropriate amount of cake and punch is consumed, and happy memories are shared, we leave in the time machine Challenger again. This will be the most difficult part of the plan to pull off.  I take the wheel and drive to the nearby car lot that now sells vehicles that look much like this seventies classic. We park it among its shinier counterparts, and try to imagine the look on the salesman’s face when he discovers it. The time machine can be utilized as needed by the lucky new owners. I take James hand as we walk off into the I-30 sunset together. Because, truth be told, there is no need to change a minute of our past. And the future is bright ahead.