Obsessions In Photography

Chris Sneddon is talking about her recent obsession over at Shutter Sisters today and she’s asking readers to share any obsessions they may have when it comes to photography. Her question made me think about why I photograph what I do. My photography tends to be closely linked to what I write about here on my blog. This would include images that provide a documentary look at topics such as the pasty competition posts from the last few days to photographs that are inspiration for personal essays and others that illustrate the mini short stories I’ve written for TMAST.

I take photographs to tell a story and there’s always a story. Whether it’s real or imagined, mine or yours, every picture has a story waiting to be told. My obsession is in the finding, first the photograph and then the words. I have included a few of the 32,000 photographs I’ve taken in the last two years.  32,000  photographs in two years … does that seem like an obsession to you?

I would love to hear what you like to photograph and if there’s any subject matter you think you get a bit obsessive with when you have a camera in hand.

The Synchronicity Of It All

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Late last night while I was sleeping, Kerstin from Gypsylife was reading this post I wrote for TMAST this past Tuesday. She left me a lovely and intriguing comment that caused me to go back to her site to search for a picture to illustrate her comment about her cat which looks surprisingly like the cat, Mephisto in my story. I’ve pasted Kerstin’s comment below:

“Wow, what a story. I am glad you took the direction you did, it was very intriguing. I dream a lot, too, as you know, but don’t usually pay too much attention, either. Maybe I should. And I have to tell you, Elizabeth, my cat looks EXACTLY like the one in the photo! Even your description of the eyes is spot on! It’s a little creepy actually looking at that photo … and I would love to hear the continuation of Mephisto’s story! I look forward to more TMAST stories next year, they’ve been so enjoyable. Have a great trip! Kxo”

One has to wonder at times about the synchronicity of life and how after reading her post on Tuesday during a break from writing my own, the evolution of my story developed in a way that made it possible for me to share several of my real dreams through a character named Minnie. In crediting her as inspiration, she came to my blog and saw the cat that looks just like hers. I love that about life.  I hope you’ll take a look at both cats in the links I provided above…the two cats do look as if they could be the same and it’s pretty amazing to consider that my cat picture was taken here in England, while hers was on the West coast in America.

If you’ve had a similar experience, I love for you to share it. Perhaps more of us will find a link we were unaware of before now.

Tell Me A Story Tuesdays – Minnie’s Mephisto

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Everyday, he looks right at me. Not as a cat, but as a mysterious sentry who knows more than he should.

Minnie looked hard at the cat that appeared to be watching her as she walked past the window. It was always the same whenever she saw it… sitting, just as it was now, staring, unblinking and still. It seemed positioned at the window as if it no longer had a need to close it’s eyes or rest from what Minnie had come to think of as a sort of guard duty. Unlike most of the cats around the village, she never saw this one outside the house, in fact she never saw it in any of the other windows of the house but this one.

Minnie had moved here from America not quite a year ago when she had married a man she’d  met through an online dating service. Happily in love with him and her life here, she had more time on her hands than she could ever remember and her husband teased her sometimes about her active imagination. He knew better than to try to chat on days when she went straight to her computer after coming in from a walk eager to record the stories she dreamed up while exploring the ancient village. There were many advantages to living in a place that was so old that its existence had been recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086 especially for someone who had been creating other lives in her head since she was old enough to read a story by herself.

With so much history all around her, how could she not feel the past speaking to her knowing as she did that people had walked the same ground for hundreds of years before her.  When she spoke about the energy of a place as in ” something feels funny here,”  her husband would dismiss it gently, but not disrespectfully being content as he was that all things could be explained with logical facts and a rational discussion.

Minnie had experienced one too many unexplainable  “awarenesses” that had later been confirmed as having happened to let go of what she felt to be true. She would never have called herself a psychic, but sometimes she had dreams that had messages for people she knew…what she liked to think of as love letters from the dead.  A vivid dreamer her whole life, she usually remembered her dreams with great clarity, but even she had pooh poohed her waking and sleeping “connections” until one night she had a dream that could not be ignored.

Much of the time, her dreams made no real sense to her and aside from noting the detail and sometimes writing them down, she had rarely thought too much about them until one night years ago not long after her father had died she had dreamed of an uncle who had died of breast cancer.  Minnie had known little about this man, having grown up disconnected from that part of the family for most of her early years. If asked to describe him, she would have said that he had worked all his life in different offices for insurance companies, wearing wing tips with his suits and ties, a type of shoe that while enjoying a kind of constant popularity in business men,  still screamed “old man shoes” especially when tied up with tiny waxed laces. He had smoked cigarettes for years, and never seemed too interested in healthy living, barely taking time off for vacations and rest with his family. His whole life had seemed dedicated to his job and providing for the people who depended on him.  He was just reaching an age where retirement was within sight when he received a cancer diagnosis and died a few months later.

Minnie had gotten pretty upset over his death ranting to anyone who would listen as in why would he die just as he was getting ready to “live” or at least what she thought of as living. Here was a man who had never taken time for hobbies or fun and now he was gone. What was the point of it all, she’d thought to herself  feeling more anger that she should have at the early death of someone she had felt she’d barely known?

It was a dream she’d had four days after his death and a subsequent conversation with her aunt that made her decide that perhaps she should pay attention to more of the things she had jokingly referred to a messages from the universe, but had really always thought one might argue as much for the coincidence of things as one could the possibility of a psychic connection.

In her dream, she was with her uncle walking and talking with him on a cattle ranch in Montana or Wyoming. He was wearing a sheepskin jacket as if it were very cold and while she had not been wearing a coat, she not felt cold at all. There was a very clear awareness in the dream that he was dead, but he seemed happier and more at home than he had ever been when living and when she woke she thought it odd that she saw him out west on a ranch when he’d had spent his life primally in the Southeast, in office buildings, working with people and numbers. Even though her dream had made little sense, Minnie had felt a bit more peaceful about his passing and got back to the business of her own life with no more thoughts about the dream or her uncle until a few weeks later when her aunt came to town to buy a marker for his grave.

It was very clear to Minnie that her aunt was still in deep mourning when she arrived and so she had avoided too much talk about her uncle until they were setting the table for dinner. It was then she had decided tell her aunt about the dream that had made her feel better in hopes that it might possibly ease some sadness in the room. She had hesitated at first thinking that her aunt might be offended because of her religious views, but the dream had given Minnie comfort and she thought it might do the same for her aunt.

As Minnie told her aunt the dream, her aunt stopped putting silverware on either side of the dinner plate in front of her and looked up at Minnie and said, ” Did you know he read every Louis L’ Amour novel ever written? ”  These were shocking words to Minnie that carried a huge meaning. For one, she had no idea that her uncle had read anything for pleasure and two, she would never have expected it to have been a series of books based on a western cowboy theme. Minnie had thought then that perhaps she had visited briefly with her uncle in his version of heaven and that it had been his way of saying, ” I’m all right…let go.”

Given experiences like that she thought how could she not believe now when she got one of her feelings or had a dream that seemed to carry a message with it. Minnie knew without a doubt that she had dreamed of her husband on her  eve of turning 47 four months before they had met and she had told him of her dream within eight weeks of meeting. News like that might have scared off another man especially one who didn’t believe in the unexplainable or the need for marriage at his age, but he had stayed constant and within a short time, they were married and living a life that fit together so easily you might never have known they hadn’t been together for years.

Minnie thought about this as she snapped a photograph to take back to show him. She’d seen this cat many times, but when she had asked the man who lived there about the cat when she saw him at the pub, he had acted a bit uncomfortable and had said in a loud voice that, ” He didn’t have a bloody cat! ”  Minnie knew that this picture would prove what she’d been saying about seeing it in the same window of the old house at the edge of the village green. With parts of the Mansion House as it was called dating back to the fifteenth century, Minnie was sure it had its share of ghosts, but this cat was real and she was going to prove it.

While she didn’t visit the pub as often as some who showed up every evening for a bit of drink and news of the day, she made sure she was waiting when the man who had argued that he had no cat came through the door for his evening pint. She was so excited by her evidence that he had barely stepped up to the bar and was still waiting for Roger the barman to fill his first glass when she shoved the camera with the image above under his nose with a loud, ” Look! “

He took the camera from her looking at it long enough for the cat’s image to register with his brain and dropped the camera onto the bar like it was too hot to hold. Backing away from the pint that was now before him, he headed for the door with everyone watching as he did something he never done before by leaving the pub without having had a drink. Minnie stared after him confused and mildly irritated that she had not had a chance to hear him admit that he did have a “bloody cat” after all. She turned back to see that Roger had picked up the camera from his spot behind the bar and after taking a long look began to tell a story about the cat in the window. Roger’s family had lived in this area for so many generations that he was the man to go to for any questions she’d  had about local places and folklore. Usually he answered her queries with great patience and this time was no exception, but as he began, she could see that even he had been a bit shaken by the image she had captured earlier.

This cat he began, is believed to have belonged to Obadiah Reynolds who had the Mansion House remodeled in 1627. There’s a stone that commemorates the completion of the building work that was erected in 1636, but the story of his cat Mephisto begins after the work had been underway for a year or so around the time Mephisto first showed up at the door in 1628. Pulling up a stool, I took a seat at the bar and picked up the pint that had been left untouched. From the look on Roger’s face, I felt sure this was going to be a good and listened closely as he began…Mephisto was a gray haired feline with eyes so green they looked yellow to anyone who stared at them long enough to notice that they never blinked. He came to the village on a windy day in late October when the rain couldn’t decide to stay or go and while everyone around him was wet to the bone with the early winter rain, Mephisto arrived at the doorstep perfectly and unmistakably dry….

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I want to thank everyone who has been involved in TMAST over the last thirteen weeks. It has been a lot of fun for me and a great learning experience. I’m going to be taking a break from TMAST though until after the new year. With a trip back to Atlanta in two weeks, I have a great deal to complete before I leave and need to focus on that for a while. I’ll be stateside with family for three weeks and I know participating in TMAST will not be possible for me then either so in the interest of balance…I’ll be putting it on the shelf for a while. I will still be blogging so keep an eye out for me and I will consider beginning TMAST again in January.

For now, I want to thank Judy Harper who has been writing a story a week for as long as I have. Her story for this week can be found here.

I also want to thank Gaelikaa for her contributions to TMAST and her story for this week can be found here.

Lastly, I want to thank Kerstin Martin over at Gipsylife who shared some of her dreams yesterday which I think may have had a subconscious effect on the direction of my story today. Pop over to see her post…you’ll be glad you did.

Just in case anyone is wondering about the dream Minnie had about her uncle as well the one she had about the man who became her husband…those really happened just as they’re written…except for the Minnie in my story was really me.

As for Mephisto…well, there really was a cat in the window.


Tell Me A Story Tuesdays – Wylly Catches The Big One

Wylly Folk St John

“Oh noooo! Here he comes! How do I escape?”

Wylly smiled a tentative smile at the bearded man staring her down from his place on the ship’s deck. Picked up at sea by the US Coast Guard an hour or two earlier that day, Wylly was doing her best to look both glamourous and contrite as she lounged in the warm sun somewhere between Cuba and the Florida Keys.

She felt safe enough with the ship’s crew bustling around her, intent on the business of sailing the cutter, but there was something in the man’s face that made her unsure of just how to respond. Knowing he was a dreadful womanizer made her lean in a direction she’d never been very good with. While other women were flirting their way to what might have been considered a successful marriage by some people, Wylly had chosen what she viewed as a less restrictive path with more opportunity for adventure, than diapers and dinner parties.

She had planned the direction of her life at an early age after reading a copy of  ” Little Women ”  and deciding that she too wanted a writer’s life like the character “Jo” in the Louisa May Alcott novel.  Growing up, Wylly had carved out a semi-permanent writing spot at one end of the dining room table grateful that her family ate most of its meals at the smaller one in the kitchen. The dark dining room with its heavy drapes and solidly built table had been her own personal retreat, a place where her imagination could take her anywhere, except on Sundays and holidays when her mother insisted they use the room for its intended purpose. Days when the Sunday roast or a Christmas turkey graced the table were times when Wylly would take her Bennett miniature typewriter that she had won in writing contest up to the window seat on the stair landing and tuck herself  in behind the dark drapes that always seemed dusty no matter how often her mother cleaned them.

After winning her typewriter with a piece she had written for Odd Fellows’ magazine the year before at age ten, she had learned to type so quickly that she surprised everyone including her father who always acted as if he believed she could do anything. Wylly privately had wondered if the Odd Fellows editor would have chosen her as the contest winner if he had known she was a girl. She had sent the story in with her full name, William Michael Folk instead of the shortened version her friends and family called her, Willie or Willie Mike,  and while neither of these would have seemed girlish or feminine, she had never quite believed that it was the quality of her story that given her the prize of the typewriter that she treasured above all other possessions.

By age seven or eight, she had already grown tired of always having to explain her unusual name to people. It didn’t help that she had two younger brothers by the time she was old enough tell people how her parents had wanted a boy for their firstborn and the surprise of a girl child did not stop them from christening her with the name they had already selected. Later she would realize that this was not intended as harmful gesture, but one which fit her parents desire to be a bit avant-garde amongst their small town peers.

Within a few years of her birth, the young family had moved to the more cosmopolitan location of Savannah, Georgia where her father could find more work as a bookkeeper, but Willie’s name continued to set her apart in the same way her desire for adventure would make it difficult to plan a similar future to the other girls in her high school graduation class.

Later after a secret marriage became public, she began signing her name Wylly Folk St. John taking her husbands name while keeping her own long before it became acceptable and in doing so, she found a name that fit the writer’s life she had envisioned as a child.

Wylly could almost forget about her husband Tom as she sat staring into the eyes of this famous man who at least from first appearances seemed to be every inch the cigar smoking, loud talking character, she’d read so much about. Knowing as she did that much of what he wrote was from his own life only made him more intriguing to Wylly and she thought for a moment about what she might say to make amends for what she had done.

Before she hired the fishing boat off the Florida Keys she had gone around to a series of bars talking with different boat captains before finding the one she thought would know where to take her in order to find the particular catch she was hoping to land. It had taken several days of walking in and out of hot dusty bars before Wylly had found the man who claimed to be the second cousin of Carlos Gutierrez, the Cuban fisherman whose stories had been the seed corn for the rich fish tale written by man now standing before her.

Wylly had worked hard to persuade the old man to take her out to sea and in the end it wasn’t a sweet smile or her polite southern manners that made him decide to do as she wished , but the sizable amount of cash that she’d had in an envelope, folded and tucked into the corner of the alligator handbag that hung by a short strap on the crook of her arm.

She had grown tired of the search and had almost gone back to the Atlanta newspaper in defeat having bet her friend and editor, Andy Sparks, that she could come back with the story. Wylly had been at the boat dock early this morning as she and  the old sailor had arranged the night before and gave him half the money up front with an agreement to pay the rest if they found her story.

The morning had been cool for the Florida Keys, but then any bit of ocean breeze was more refreshing than all the hot air she had been wading through over the last few days. In almost all the bars she had visited, the impact of the slow moving ceiling fans did little to provide relief from the blistering heat of the summer sun. A heat which seemed to be compounded by an endless amount of hot air coming from the mouths of the locals that lined the bars complaining to anyone who would listen about how good things were before the tourists took over.

Wylly stood as the small fishing vessel took to the open water and looked back to see the land disappearing behind her. The things she would do for a story, she thought to herself, hoping that this guy had been telling the truth. Wiry and weathered, he moved a bit slower than Wylly would have wished, but she calmed herself with the thought that it was too late to do anything about her fears now. She wrapped the ribbons of her sun hat a bit tighter and turned into the wind watching the sea.

They had been out for what seemed like hours as they followed coordinates permanently charted in the old man’s mind never stopping to check a map or even to break for lunch. Wylly had offered him half her sandwich when he appeared to have no food, but he shook his head abruptly as if looking away from the sea for a second might take them off course. Seeing this Wylly began to think that perhaps her money had not been wasted after all and just as she was reaching into her bag to get an apple, she saw a boat in the water in front of them.

As they drew near, she saw the elusive man she’d been hoping to find, but the old man piloting the boat acted almost as if he didn’t see the famous yacht in front of him and suddenly Wylly’s screams were competing in volume with the man on the opposite boat, who was shouting and waving his arms with a franticness that confirmed they were in real trouble. Just as they were about to slam directly into the boat she could now identify by the familiar name Pilar, the old man she’d hired to help her, gave the wheel a sharp spin and the boat veered at the last minute scraping a good piece of the hull from the Pilar while tearing a substantial chunk from the one she was on.

Uncertain what of to do, she gathered her belongings quickly when she saw the water spilling in through the hole and climbed up on the edge of the boat holding on while the two men argued. ” Damn it Carlos,”  the younger man said ” just what in the hell were you trying to do!”  ” Carlos, but I thought he was his second cousin…” she said first in the old man’s direction and then a bit louder to the bearded man who looked as if his heart might stop from the exertion and the venom he was spewing.

With no one really listening, she picked up the dirty radio mike uncertain if it would even work and remembering what she had learned from an interview during the war, She began to send out a request for help by screaming Mayday, Mayday over and over until the subject of her search, Earnest Hemingway finally took a good look at her and said, ” Good God woman…now you’ve alerted the damn Coast Guard, this will be all over the newspapers by nightfall! “

He said all this perhaps realizing somewhere between newspapers and nightfall, that the press might be closer than he thought. ” Listen lady,”  he began, ” you better not be a reporter…”  Her silence was the answer and he snatched his battered cap off and threw it in the direction of the man she now knew as Gutierrez. What rich luck was this she thought, having mistakingly hired the old sea captain people were saying was the model for the old man in Hemingway’s latest novel. She picked up the cap where it had fallen unnoticed as they began a back and forth shouting match that had all the rhythm and familiarity of an old married couple.  Tucking the cap into her bag, she thought that this was a far better souvenir than the rum she had planned to bring back and she thought it was hers to keep until she saw the shadow fall across her a bit later while sunning on the deck of the coast guard clipper.

Looking into eyes of the man who had bagged bigger game before than her, she shivered as she heard him say…” I believe you have something that belongs to me.”

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If you read my story last week, you may remember I wrote about my great aunt Wylly and then I used photographs of her and her home to set the stage for our story topics this week. It gave me a tremendous amount of pleasure to send her on an adventure as a reporter in search of the big story. I hope you enjoy reading it as much I as did imaging the possibilities of an encounter with consequences.

Big thanks once again to Judy Harper  who joined me again this week. Her story can be found here. Also joining in with a story of her own, Gaelikaa’s words can be found here.

I want to thank everyone who left a topic sentence for us and for TMAST. It’s always more fun when others participate and I hope you’ll consider writing a little story of your own next week.

Please go here to find the pictures for next week’s TMAST and offer up suggestions for topic sentences based on the photographs.  I need to warn you that in honor of Halloween, these pictures are intended to inspire a scary story or two. Even though they’ll be posted after the goblins are gone, I hope you will all come back next week to see what we dream up.

Tell Me A Story Tuesdays – Saving The One-Shot Cabin

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“Could this be the place?” she wondered. “Harry lives here?”

Kate thought about this as her eyes scanned what could barely be called a yard. Someone had clearly tried to carve out a bit of green space in order to form a civilized boundary around the house, but the area still looked as if it was just one hard rain away from the jungle taking it back. She gave the house a quick glance looking for signs of movement, but saw only an unpainted wooden house with a sagging porch and a crooked set of steps. The tin roof looked as if it was losing the battle with the wet climate a little each day, fighting tiredly against the rust and decay that was an expected annoyance of life on the island.

Seeing it now reminded her of the old sharecropper shacks she’d seen as a child while riding the bus south to see her aunt in Georgia. She bet her last dollar that this house, like those she remembered, would have no running water or an indoor toilet. Swatting her cheek in what was quickly becoming almost rhythmic in its frequency, Kate unzipped her backpack and began to dig through its tightly packed contents for the special spray she had bought based on what seemed like a reasonable claim at the time. Ten hour relief didn’t seem like an exaggeration when she was standing in the Handy Pantry aisle reading all the bug spray labels, but given that these insects appeared intent on sucking the last drop of blood from her body, she wished now that she’d purchased the Jungle strength spray her friend David had suggested she could find on Amazon. David hated bugs about as much she did, but more importantly, as a physician he knew how dangerous a bite could be particularly in the middle of nowhere like she was at this moment.

Her hand found the spray in the side pocket where she had put it for safe keeping. She almost always forgot where she left things even when she thought she had it worked out with a plan. At 43, she was far too young to have such a crap memory, but she had learned to accept it even though friends and family still struggled with having to repeat things over and over. Truth was, she was too easily distracted by an over scheduled life and a brain that barely took a break even at night to rest. Lately it seemed as if she woke up feeling more tired than when she had closed her eyes and she knew fatigue was a killer when it came to concentration.

Kate ripped off the plastic top of the bug repellent and began to spray it around her head and face in much the same way her grandmother had shellacked her blue hair into place before leaving the house each day. Working well into her sixties, she would have kept at it if the owners hadn’t sold the business where she had created a family of sorts from the people she served there. She thought back to how her grandmother had used that same aerosol hair spray to paralyze and kill the butterflies from her garden leaving them as perfect in death as they were in life.

Grandma Bee had liked the way they had added a bit of color and exoticness to the dried flower arrangements she began to make in increasing amounts after she retired. It was a solitary hobby for someone who by then was already spending too much time alone and she began to close the doors in her life, leaving her church and friends behind almost as she easily as she closed off the unused rooms in her house. Kate thought about the way her grandmother had died slowly over time losing the ability to remember the people around her, until she was only a shell of the woman who had once chased butterflies in her nightgown and slippers, in the privacy of her big backyard.

After giving herself a liberal coating of bug spray, Kate stepped a bit closer to the house ducking under the wash line where several colorful towels were draped over a thin bit of rope stretched between the trees. She could not be absolutely sure this was the place until she had spoken to the person who lived here. For a moment she felt a bit afraid out here on her own, but checking her cell phone she could see she had coverage so she took a deep breath and said, ” Hello, is there a Harry Gribble here? ”  ” Who wants to know?” came booming back from the side of the house where she could just make out the shape of a man lying in a hammock partially hidden by some tall foliage. ” Mr. Gribble, ”  she began, ” It’s Harry, just Harry,” he said, interrupting her in a way that left her temporarily more startled than the discovery that he’d been sleeping very near while she had been giving his house a snooty appraisal.

At least she hoped he’d been asleep instead of watching her during her big bug killing moment. Her face reddened thinking how absurd she must have looked as she drenched herself with enough spray to kill anything that creeped or crawled within a hundred yards of her airspace. Well, maybe a hundred yards was stretching it a bit, but she wanted so much to appear sane and intelligent to this man whose help she had determined necessary in order to find what she needed, on this island in the middle of the Atlantic.

“Hello,” she said, moving towards the still reclining man who appeared to be in the process of getting up. Intending to shake his hand and introduce herself, Kate stepped forward extending her hand as she walked towards him, ” I’m …”  was all she got out before tripping over a root she hadn’t noticed and tumbling forward towards Harry. He came out the hammock faster than one normally would, intending to try to catch her before she hit the ground. As anyone knows, climbing out of a swinging piece of fabric stretched between two trees requires a bit more grace than getting into it and before either of them had time to blink they were both on the ground in a heap.

Oh good grief, she thought to herself and as she rolled over while trying to push him off, their heads collided with a sharp crack. ” Oww!” Kate wailed, holding her head in her hands as she heard Harry Gribble ask, ” Lord woman, are you all right? ” with a tone that that made her unsure of just how to respond. Lifting her head from her hands, she found herself staring into the bluest eyes she’d ever seen. ” Kate ”  he said, making it more of a question than a statement, ” You’re the woman who sent me the email, right? ” ” Yes,that’s right,” Kate responded breaking eye contact as she stood up swiftly and began brushing off the dirt she picked up in her fall.

Shaking his hand, she said quickly, ” It’s so nice to meet you and thank you for giving me some of your time. ”  ” Well, as you can see I’m pretty busy so let’s move this along, shall we? ” Harry said, hiding a smile which would have told her right away that he was kidding. He had nothing but time these days and privately he had been looking forward to her arrival. Kate felt her heart speed up as she tried to remember the speech she had practiced silently on the plane. ” Well, as you know from my email, I’m looking for something I believe to be on this island and I came here because I heard that you are the very best when it comes to this kind of thing especially with regard to finding what has been lost….” Kate took a deep breath having just said what felt like the longest sentence of her life.

Pausing a minute before continuing, she noticed Harry was smiling. A little confused by his amused response to what she’d been saying, she took a deep breath before carrying on with her story. I’m trying to track down what I believe to be part of a pirate’s treasure that was hidden here around 1783. She watched in horror as Harry burst out laughing.” I know it may seem funny to you, but you can be sure it’s not funny to me! ” Silenced by her intensity, Harry settled down to listen to what this attractive woman had to say. He found himself drifting in his thoughts as she spoke, watching her mouth without hearing exactly what she was saying until he heard her say two unforgettable words,” treasure map.”

“Whoa, hold on a minute,” said Harry. ” What do you mean, you found a map?”  Kate looked at him as if he was a bit of a disappointment trying to decide if he was stupid or just not listening.” Yes,” she said, ” I have a map ” and began to tell him the story again, but in a slightly different way,

Kate had been living in Italy when she’d received an email from one of her cousins about a decision the three sisters had been forced to make regarding a place that was very special to them all. She could not imagine how difficult it must have been to decide that selling was the only option available for the One-Shot cabin. After the sudden and unexpected death of their mother, the girls had inherited the cabin by the lake which had been in the family since the 50s.

Known as Aunt Wylly to Kate, she was Kate’s grandfather’s only sister and great grandma to her three cousins, Shelli, Mikellah and McKenzie. The One-shot cabin had been purchased years before with money earned from a novella that Kate’s aunt had written for Redbook Magazine. Because this type of story was only published once, it was usually referred to as a ” one-shot ” story which was why aunt Wylly had named the cabin as she did. Kate had already planned a trip back to America, but her cousin McKenzie’s news prompted her to schedule a trip to the cabin and a visit with them almost as soon as the plane’s wheels had touched down.

Renting a car, she stopped long enough to spend one night in her mother’s home and then headed for Lake Nottely the next day. She had laughed and lounged at the lake all day complimenting the girls on the wonderful job they had done with the cabin so it might be available as a B & B. If the economy had not gone into such a downward spiral, this might have worked out so they could have kept it, but it was too late now and Kate had said her goodbyes to the cabin where she had felt such peace as a child. As she sat on the screened porch, she remembered winning a game of Scrabble that she played with her aunt the summer she was twelve. Kate watched the ducks making ripples in the lake as she sat there thinking about the secret creek hidden beneath the lake’s surface that had inspired her aunt’s first children’s book, ” The Secrets of the Hidden Creek.”

Kissing her cousins goodbye, she had driven north needing more time on her own before going back to her mother’s house and turned the car in the direction of the alma mater she shared with her great aunt. The University of Georgia had all of  Wylly Folk St. John’s manuscripts and personal correspondence especially that which related to the stories she’d written. Kate had rented a hotel room close the campus and after a light supper had called it a night. She’d gotten an early start the next morning going straight to the Library and settled into the Rare Books & Special Collections section where her aunt’s papers had found a permanent home after her death in 1985.

Kate spent the day reading the old letters and when she got to the correspondence that included her research for ” The Secrets of the Pirate’s Inn, ” she found a series of notes and letters that she’d never seen before.  Always a good researcher, she noticed a series of numbers that looked a bit like grid coordinates scribbled along the edges of several pieces of paper. Aunt Wylly had always used rhymes and clues in the mystery books that she wrote for children and Kate tried to think like a mystery writer as she worked to decipher the notes. The seven or so pages looked as if they belonged to the book she’d been working on before she died.  While Kate didn’t know much about that last novel, she thought these research notes might have been misfiled by the library staff who thought they belonged in this box because of the words pirate and treasure that appeared in different places. She went over the notes until she her eyes felt grow numb and in the end made copies in her own handwriting before she went back to the hotel to review them in private.

Listening to her story, Harry was beginning to see where this was going. Kate wasn’t just here for some silly adventure to liven up her life, she was trying to save the cabin she had been talking about, this One-Shot place that had belonged to her aunt, the writer. Kate paused realizing for the first time that she was too tired to talk anymore. She was worn out from traveling and right now she just needed some food and a bed. There was so much more to her story, but it would have to wait until later and judging by the look on Harry’s face, she knew he wasn’t going to need much persuasion to join her in her treasure hunt. She hoped he was good as people said he was because there were a few things that were still a mystery to her. Kate felt she had to do something more to try to save the cabin and she just couldn’t stop until she worked it out.

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My story came from the picture above and a topic sentence supplied by Gaelikaa, but the real heart of the story was inspired because today is the birthday of my great aunt Wylly who was more like a grandmother to me than an aunt. I wanted to honor her in a way I know she would understand and appreciate by writing a story with her as a character. She used her grandchildren, nieces, and nephews along with a few neighbor children to solve the mysteries in her children’s books so I thought it fitting she should be a part of mine. She would be 101 today if she were alive, I wish I could share this life I’ve chosen with her, I think she would be pleased.

I used quite a few true facts in writing this story for her and as for the rest of it….well, that’s part of the mystery waiting to be solved.

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Margaret Harper, Wylly Folk St. John (holding Pam Jones) Elizabeth Harper  (1971)

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Thanks again to Gaelikaa for joining TMAST this week her story can be found here and  thanks also to Judy Harper who joined us this week using her own topic. You can find her story here.

I want to thank everyone who left a topic sentence for me and for the others wishing to contribute to TMAST. It’s always more fun when others participate and I hope you’ll consider writing a little story of your own next week.

Please go here to find the pictures for next week’s TMAST and offer up suggestions for topic sentences based on the photographs.

Just for fun, all three pictures have my aunt in them at various stages of her life.



Tell Me A Story Tuesdays – Guest Story Teller – Jersey Girl

If you follow my blog, you may know that I’ve been in Jersey doing a bit of child care with John helping to look after his granddaughter who I’ll refer to as JG (Jersey Girl) from now on. With her parents return from Spain last night, our main duties have ended and we are off to France on a day trip in a little while. This morning I was explaining to JG that I couldn’t sit with her as I had been each morning because I needed to write my story for TMAST and then I explained what Tell Me A Story Tuesdays were all about. She responded that they had Manners Monday at school where they learned how to do certain things such as wait until the teacher is through speaking before speaking herself. I poured her some juice and cereal and went up stairs to write. Her mom was moving around the kitchen so she wasn’t alone and when I left , she had her crayons, pencils, paper and tape spread all around her.

When I came back down for another cup of coffee and to say goodbye for the day, quite to my surprise she had created a story of her own for TMAST.  So I’d like to welcome JG to TMAST today as our first guest storyteller. She’s five and whipped this up complete with illustrations and assembly in thirty minutes.

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Thanks again to all who follow TMAST. I’ll be back later today as I said with my story for the week. For now you can check out stories from Gaelikaa and Judy Harper by clicking on their names… they’ve been joining me for TMAST each week and it’s always a pleasure to read their stories. Please check the TMAST site for next week’s photographs and topic sentences.

Tell Me A Story Tuesdays – 42 Steps

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Obediah fixed the coffee tray to carry to her room. It was 42 steps from the sink in the kitchen to the top of the stairs where the door of old woman’s room sat just left of the last step. He knew it was exactly 42 because he’d counted them over and over each time she screamed his name, yelling for him in the endless way that she did all hours of the day and now even into the night. “OBIE…!”  She’d shout, distorting his name even more atrociously than the standard way of shortening it. New people he met tried to call him Obed as if something less formal sounding might shrink the distance between them suddenly making them instant friends instead of the strangers they really were.

Obediah didn’t really like most people and he liked strangers even less. He’d grown up wary tending to keep to himself after his family had moved out to the country. Back in New Orleans, his Old Testament sounding name was never looked on as ridiculous or even odd by the people living closest to them.  New Orleans welcomed the weird and unusual so much so that being not just another Jennifer or Jason was appreciated and sometimes expected.

When forced to introduce himself he always gave his full name, Obediah Jenkins, but damned if people didn’t immediately ask him, ” What do you like to be called? ”  He couldn’t understand this. Why did people think he’d introduce himself one way with no indication that he might like to be called something else unless he’d offered it up in the first place. Obed, seemed to be the most popular choice when people were trying to rename him and even though he didn’t like it, he tolerated it coming from some people like the smiling checkout girl down at the Handy Pantry over in Hattiesburg.

Her name tag said her name was Bertie, but she’d told him that was because the store manager was too lazy to say her whole name when calling her up to the front whenever the store got busy and the lines were too long. Roberta had frowned a little when she’d told him this story. She said she hated the way Frank Stillwell, the store manager always sounded as if he was laughing a little when he called her name making Bertie sound more like Birdi slurring it all together like the southern Mississippi man he was.

Originally from Michigan, Roberta had trouble sometimes when folks around Hattiesburg pronounced their T’s like they were D’s. She said she spent what felt like half her life saying, ” What…or I’m sorry, could you repeat that.”  It never occurred to him to tell her that he preferred Obediah to Obed when heard her say it the first time. There was something so sweet in her northern way of speech that it almost sounded like a new name completely. It was enough to keep him coming back every couple of days to spend an extra minute or so talking to her when she was shelving peas or some other food group…none of which he usually wanted. He’d spot her down an aisle and act as if he’d been looking for just the particular item she happened to be holding, once even taking the can of pears directly from her hand so that their fingers touched for just a second. Even though the Wal-Mart Super Center out on Highway 49 had everything he might ever need and at a lower price, the one thing missing there was Roberta.

Listening to the noise coming from upstairs, he placed the items on the lace covered tray in the way he’d been taught. It seemed as if he’d been carrying this same cup of coffee for years, assuming responsibility by default after his father had died one day after coming in from cutting the grass. Obediah thought back to how a cold glass of milk on a hot summers day had changed his life forever.

He remembered because he couldn’t forget and he avoided the sofa in the living room in the same way that he now avoided milk. Looking more red-faced than usual, his father had plopped down on the largest place to sit in the room. Along with size, it was also the most sturdy and even though his mother would have yelled at him for “plopping” as she called it, his father did it anyway that day making it seem as if something was wrong before actually was.

Gus Jenkins had called out to his son asking him to please bring him something cold to drink and Obediah had gone to the old Frigidaire that came with the house and poured out a tall glass of cold milk. He’d carried it in to his father who downed it quickly and then stretched out on the sofa, putting his feet on the lacy throw that his mother had spent the winter crocheting with a tiny needle. He had started to tell his father that there were bits of grass dropping out of his cuffed trousers onto the seldom used coverlet, but the sound coming from his father stopped his words before they could form properly in his mouth. Looking up from his father’s feet in the direction of the unfamiliar sound, he realized the soft puffing noise was coming from his father. Seeing him with his hand tight to his chest, Obediah should have been able to tell right away that he was having a heart attack, but all he could focus on were the tiny white bubbles blowing across his lips created from the milk residue and the puffing brought on by the pain.

He’d stopped drinking milk after that and he never again sat on the sofa after the paramedic’s had lifted his father’s body off the spot where he’d plopped for the last time. Now all he had was this life that was no longer his own. He wished for more, but his mother had taken to her bed permanently it seemed after his father’s death. He had no life outside this house and the woman waiting for him upstairs. It seemed he only got tiny minutes of his life back during his trips into town to pick up the groceries they needed, but just this morning his mother had been whining that she couldn’t be left alone anymore. ” Obie,” she’d said, “we’ll just have to have what we need delivered.”  ” Your mama needs you here with her.”  She said all of this in what he thought of as her, ” I’m too sick to be denied ” voice and knew then that he had a choice to make.

No more trips to the Handy Pantry meant no more visits with Roberta and Obediah felt ill thinking that his life would be permanently confined to the walls of this old house. He wanted more than a few minutes in the frozen food aisle with her, but that was never going to happen unless a few things changed around here. He pulled the dusty box out from underneath the kitchen sink where he’d stuck it a few weeks ago after telling himself that kitchen was being overrun with ants again. Searching through the old gardening shed out back, he had found the box with its brightly colored warning signs still prominent even though the box had faded from sitting on a shelf for the last few years. He’d noted the directions for use at that time and what to do in case of accidental poisoning before tucking it into a dark place back behind the Pledge he never seemed to get around to using.

It didn’t matter now he thought, since his mother never came downstairs anymore. She never noticed whether there were ants crawling through the sugar bowl or dust on her mother’s antiques. Obediah sprinkled a little ant poison around the back of the sink  where they seemed to be coming in through a crack in the wall. Using a teaspoon that he’d taken from the kitchen drawer, he dusted the area carefully trying to be precise. Shaking out another spoonful of the white powder he dropped it into the cream on his mother’s coffee tray giving it a quick stir before leaving the used spoon behind in the sink. He hurried along thinking he would wait and wash up when he came back down as his mother’s shouting was beginning to get on his last nerve.

Picking up her tray, he counted the steps as he had for the last ten years, one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, knowing that this time was different. Obediah had first begun counting the steps years ago when the distance between the kitchen and her door seemed never-ending. Knowing it was only 42 steps helped him make the journey over and over too many times a day to remember all the trips. It might still be 42 steps from the kitchen sink to his mother’s door, but somehow today it seemed more final as if these steps were now part of a destination and not just more of the same old daily journey.  “OBIE!”  Obediah heard her shrill voice calling him and instead of his usual anger at hearing his name so distorted he counted, seven Mississippi, eight Mississippi, focusing instead on the steps leading up to his freedom.

Thanks to Leon for the topic suggestion that I used for this week’s TMAST.  I also want to thank MrsDoF for her topic sentences and Judy Harper joined me again in writing a story for TMAST. Her story can be found on her blog here. Although Judy and I have not been comparing notes, it seems we tend to choose the same topic sentences and photographs for our TMAST projects. I find it interesting that it has occurred several times already and it makes me look forward to seeing what next week brings. Please take a look at the pictures for next week’s TMAST and offer up suggestions for topic sentences based on the photographs. Thanks for reading and commenting and please consider writing along with me next week.

Additionally, I want to thank each of you who leave a comment especially on TMAST days. These little stories are fun to write and are the seeds I hope for the bigger stories and real work I imagine for my writing future.

Tell Me A Story Tuesdays – The Return

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Ahhhhh, home!

Rounding the bend near the end of the lane, Joyce saw at once that the cars were still there sitting like a permanent part of the landscape in the place she’d remembered. When she was a child she had gone missing for an afternoon after she had crawled in through a broken window. She’d brushed the tiny pieces of glass off the seat and onto floor of the car after slipping a few pieces of what looked more like diamonds than broken glass into the center pocket her blue jean overalls. Always a petite child, she’d dropped easily into place behind a steering wheel that would seem huge compared with those found in modern cars today, but back then even sitting up as big and tall as she could, she had barely been able to see over the wheel. Tilting her head back so that her nose pointed up she’d struggled to see over the cracked dashboard of the abandoned car. After a while her neck had begun to ache and she diverted her attention to what was easy to see and close enough to reach. Picking at the peeling strips of interior paint, she tried to tug a piece loose scratching at it gently the way she might pick at the scabby places she always seemed to have on her knees.

Joyce had disappeared that day, lost for what her foster family would say seemed like most of the afternoon and evening. Sitting in the remains of someone else’s dreams, she been lulled to sleep by the heat of the afternoon sun which even in late summer was still baking hot and only bearable because of the cars position under a leafy canopy of trees. Walking through the tall grasses was easier at her age now as she made her way over to the shell of what had been her first mode of transportation. This old wreck of a car had never actually moved from its present location not with Joyce in it anyway, but looking back she remembered the places she’d traveled in her mind while sitting on its worn front seat using her imagination as a roadmap to all the places she would go.

Seeing the tireless rims of what had been her spaceship to the moon and an airplane built for one, she thought about the times when she had pretended that this old car had special powers that could protect her from the evil outside forces that threatened her daily life. Outside evil forces was the name she given what she couldn’t understand and it was the comic books that taught her about superheroes and their powers. She’d found them stuffed inside an old cardboard suitcase almost too small to contain them all. One day while hiding in an old shed behind the barn, she had made herself as small as she could and pushed in behind a dusty tarp. Backing up against a wall, she’d bumped into the suitcase that held what she would come to think of as her handbooks for survival.

Joyce shifted a bit, restless with the discomfort caused by old memories and the weight of the box she held in her hands. It had been so long since she was last here that she wasn’t sure where the path was anymore. As overgrown as it was now, she couldn’t quite see it and tried to remember with her feet instead of looking with her eyes. She knew that the last member of the foster “family” had died not long ago. The old man had held on to his miserable life long after she wished him dead for the first time and now years after she’d left this place which was never a home, she finally felt safe enough to return.

The air was so hot that she could barely move feeling like it took too much effort to even walk, but she was on a mission to return what she’d taken years ago even though it meant going back to the place where she’d found it. A friend that she’d confided in had suggested she sell the contents of the box, after all there was a huge market for old comic books. Joyce had explained as patiently as she could that these well-read worn out pages had no value to a collector in their condition and that selling them would be like selling off the stuffed Pooh bear her friend had treasured since childhood. ” These Masters of the Universe belong to another world ” she’d said, while thinking quietly to herself…a world that I am finally done doing battle with.

Thanks to Karen Caterson for her suggestion that I used for this week’s TMAST. Judy Harper joined me again in writing a story for TMAST and her story can be found on her blog here. Please take a look at the pictures for next week’s TMAST and offer up suggestions for topic sentences based on the photographs. Thanks for reading and commenting and please consider writing along with me next week.

Days Of Summer-Going…Going…Gone

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There is a common theme with many bloggers as summer begins to wind down. For those with children returning to school, the end of summer is not based on changes in weather like a sudden crispness in the morning air or the exchange of summer shorts for warm sweaters, but more likely it’s dictated by the posting of bus schedules and shopping for school supplies. Many schools in America have started classes and the rest are not far behind only waiting to begin classes after the Labor Day weekend. Georgia students have been sitting in classrooms for about two weeks now and I can only imagine how difficult it must be for the teachers to manage the energy. Sun and heat still equals summer time to most children and it doesn’t seem fair to send children back inside while the days outside are still so inviting.

With the recent graduation of my only child from Virginia Tech, I no longer gauge my days of summer on any one else’s timetable. Although many of the flowers are beginning to fade here, there are quite a lot still blooming and everywhere you look there is life and color. In Georgia, the blackberries bushes would have closed up shop and ceased production marking the end of summer in a pointed way with only the thorns left behind. Here in Cornwall the blackberries are still fat and juicy with more waiting to ripen before they go for the season. There’s more than enough to freeze a few gallons for winter and make another pie or two, but pie making aside we seem to have missed what makes it feel most like summer.

After years of living in Georgia and suffering through the oppressive summer heat and seasons of drought for the last few years, Cornwall in contrast has had it’s third rainy summer in a row and waking up to another grey day I feel as if in some ways I am still waiting for days of summer to begin. To be fair, this part of the world is a wonderland in rain or with sunshine but occasionally I must admit, I’d be happy to see a bit more of the sun. I’ll leave you with a few summer pictures as we begin slip into fall here and I’ll head out the door to pick a few more blackberries for a last taste of summer before it’s completely past.

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The last three pictures serve as an example of what we do to blackberries around here. Mmmmmmm!

Don’t forget tomorrow is the day for TMAST so please consider writing a post for tomorrow using one of the topic sentences left behind over at the Tell Me A Story Tuesdays site. Send me a link and I’ll post it tomorrow on mine. So far Judy Harper has been the only one to join me in the story writing piece of this online group. Others have left topic sentences and I do appreciate that. It’s more fun for me to use someone else’s sentence so even if you don’t want to write a story for TMAST, please consider leaving a topic sentence here.  It’s practice writing not perfection so let your imagination run wild and see where it takes you.

Tell Me A Story Tuesdays – Second Thoughts

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“Hurry inside, he’s having second thoughts!”

” Second thoughts”  thought Ella, “he’s having second thoughts,”  hearing those words she felt flash of something somewhere between fear and anger before realizing the vicar was trying to be funny. ” Good grief, what do they teach these people in divinity school? ” she thought to herself.  Ella tried to muster a smile for the vicar who according to tradition had come out to meet the bride before preceding her down the aisle. Back home in America, the minister always waited down at the front near the altar with the groom, usually stepping out from an inside door a few minutes before the bride came into the church. Here everything was different. Not hugely different, but just different enough to keep her slightly off balance.

Nigel was waiting for her inside now and she thought for a minute about how they’d gotten to this day. Six months ago Ella had been cycling through the village stopping at the only pub she seen for miles when Nigel had walked in with his arms full of loaded egg cartons.  She’d watched him as he spoke hearing him say what sounded to her like, ” Yer aright ? ” which she now knew was the regular greeting for folks in these parts. This Cornish way of saying hello was different from her standard, ” Hi, how are you? ” even though it meant about the same thing.

She’d been tucked out of sight or so she thought, as she sat in a corner of the pub drinking a diet lemonade when Nigel began talking with the men near the bar. Tall and thin with a head full of prematurely silver hair reaching past his shoulders, he was wearing an old leather cowboy hat that seemed so much a part of him even then that it looked as if it might as well been permanently attached. Looking more like a musician than a chicken farmer that first time, he’d had a rock and roll air about him despite holding a handful of egg cartons instead of a bass guitar in his grip.

Ella had eavesdropped on the conversation so openly trying to pick out snatches of phrasing that she might understand from the mix of British accents, that after a few minutes Nigel had turned to her and invited her to join them. Staying longer than she anticipated, it was dark before she realized it and the idea of riding her bike the six miles needed to reach her hotel on the dark and tiny lanes made her more anxious than she normally was when riding her bike around the rural countryside. Nigel had offered to give her a ride back to her hotel over near Lanhydrock. Lifting her bike into the back of his truck before opening the door for her to jump into the red cab, she thought how his truck seemed much larger than the vehicles she normally saw driving the hedge lined lanes in Cornwall. Hedges so tall and thick in many places that she was reminded of the scary maze of hedges in Stephen King’s novel, The Shining.  She found the lanes spooky enough late at night in a car and the idea of riding alone on her bike had made it easy to quiet the voices in her head that reminded her that this man was practically a stranger. Ella had been grateful for the offer and after hanging out with Nigel and his friends at what was clearly his local hangout, she felt more like she was accepting a lift from a friend than someone she’d just met a few hours earlier.

By then she’d found herself terribly attracted to him and when he asked if she minded stopping by his place so he could put his chickens in for the night, she said,  “Sure..no problem ” and meant it thinking she wasn’t ready to say goodnight yet or even worse, possibly goodbye. Ella listened as he told her why he needed to tuck his chickens in before it got too late. He explained that his “girls” would not be safe from prowling animals if they were left on their own and that he’d try to be quick, but he needed to check for eggs before locking them in for the evening.  She fallen in love with him that very night listening to him as he talked to his hens, coaxing them into the henhouse and caressing them with his words in a way she’d decided very quickly that she wanted him to do with her.

Ella had no doubts about marrying the local ” Egg man.”  She couldn’t help but smile thinking how the vicar had responded when she’d said she wanted to enter the church to an instrumental version of the Beatles, ” I Am The Walrus.” Born in the late fifties, the vicar had been old enough to remember the lyric, ” I am the egg man,”  on the Beatles nonsensical hit, ” I Am The Walrus” and she let Ella know very quickly and quite firmly that despite wanting to stay open and progressive, the Church of England was not ready to shift so completely down the ” goo goo g’joob ” path.

“Just as well,”  thought Ella touching the small round bulge of a belly that for now, was hidden behind her flowers. They could save the “goo goo g’joob ” for later, she thought…knowing without a doubt that it was too late now for second thoughts.

Whew!  This one was tough for some reason even for practice writing and it took a bit to finish it properly.  Thanks again to Judy Harper for her suggestion that I used for this week’s TMAST. Judy’s link to TMAST and her story can be found on her blog here.  Please take a look at the pictures for next week’s TMAST and offer up suggestions for topic sentences based on the photographs.