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Teacup Tales

April 15, 2019 by in category Writing tagged as ,

Over the last many months I have been helping my mother prepare to relocate. We have spent hours choosing the furniture she will take and trying to determine how many dishes, glasses, and cookie sheets she’ll really need.

            Dusty and dirty after spending the day cleaning the garage, we found ourselves in the dining room at the end of the day. I looked at the huge breakfront overflowing with crystal, silver, and china. I opened the glass door and took out a piece of bisque colored china.

            “Do you want to take it with you?” I asked.

            “That’s Limoges,” she said. “One of dad’s patients gave it to him after he delivered her baby.”

            “And these?” I held up two tall crystal vases. Certainly one would do in a smaller place.

            “Keep them both,” she said.

            “Why?”

            “Because I like them,” she answered.

           On we went sorting through soup tureens, more vases, statues of ballerinas, and teacups. It was the teacups that enthralled me and the work slowed as I set them on the dining room table, one after another. Some had fluted edges and others were like little pot-bellied stoves. My favorite cup was sleek and modern with a shallow bowl.  It was made of porcelain so white and delicate that I could see through it. The sweep of the golden handle made the cup look like a swan. The cups were miss-matched because that was the style in another elegant era.

            My mother and I touched the teacups, nudged their saucers, and ran our fingers over tiny raised paintings of roses and lilies. We looked for the china markings and grouped them: Wedgewood, Meissen, Limoges. There were stories about my grandparents, and of my mother growing up in Germany, and of guests coming for lunch. 

            When we were done, when she had chosen the teacups to take with her, we went to bed to rest up for the next day’s work. As I drifted off, I realized that in the course of getting ready to close the door on a house we had opened the door to memories that could inspire a hundred novels. I had heard tales of hardship, of gratitude, of uncertainty – even danger – but mostly I had heard tales of graciousness, hard work and above all love.

            Someday I will write one of these stories. Until then, I will drink my tea from one of her cups and remind myself that the best stories are those that are rich in flavor and best served with style. 

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Celebrating Veterans Day; Honoring the Veterans in my family

November 12, 2018 by in category The Writing Journey by Denise Colby, Writing tagged as , , , ,

Celebrating Veterans Day; Honoring the Veterans in My Family

By: Denise M. Colby

Since my post is set for the day we celebrate Veteran’s Day and I love history, I thought it would be fun to celebrate my family in the military and do a bit of research. I don’t have a long list of family members in the military, nor do I have a lot of stories passed down from generation to generation. What I do have are snippets and a few photos.

James Clyman Trapper, Mountain Man Great, Great, Great Grandfather to Denise M. Colby

My great-great-great-grandfather was a Mounted Ranger and a First Dragoons

1832-34 Mounted Volunteers, Mounted Rangers, First Dragoons

I will start with my great-great-great-grandfather James Clyman, who I wrote about a few months ago. He wrote down information in his journal and it is here that I learned he enlisted as a private in a company of Mounted Volunteers on June 16, 1832. He was in the same company with Abraham Lincoln for a month (and together they fought in the Black Hawk War). He is quoted in James Clyman, Frontiersman (quoting a quote from another book by R.T. Montgomery, “Biographical Sketch of James Clyman”) of saying “We didn’t think much then about his ever being President.”

Military Inventory Sheet by James Clyman 1833 Photo taken by Denise Colby - great, great, great granddaughter

Military Inventory with James Clyman’s name on it. 1833-1834

He was then commissioned as a second lieutenant of Mounted Rangers, and later appointed as assistant commissary of subsistence for the company. It’s here that several of the receipts and inventory papers he signed are in the Huntington Library.  I was able to go through these papers and take photos a couple of years ago, which was an amazing experience. And finally, I get to use them in something I’ve written.

Clyman transferred to the First Dragoons and nine months later sent in his resignation, which was accepted on May 31, 1834. He wanted to get back to his farm and business and, according to the Frontiersman, after he returned home, “he was besieged with accounts from the Commissary General of Subsistence at Washington, requesting the return of vouchers and abstracts of ration issues made during campaigns in the field, some of which were dated back to the time of his predecessor in 1832. Clyman stood charged on the books with over $400.” I’m interpreting this as basically the government sent bills to pay for the vouchers and ration issues made while he was in the field.

Unknown Stories Needing to be Found

I believe that my grandfather, Carroll W. Marsh, Sr. was in the military, but I don’t have any specifics on him. As I’m writing this, I realize I need to ask and find out something. We have lots of details on my grandmothers side of the family, but not my grandfathers.

Denise Colby celebrates the veterans in her family November 2018. Carroll W. Marsh, Jr. National Guard 579th Battalion

My dad, Carroll W. Marsh, Jr.

1950 Army National Guard

Next on my list is my father, Carroll W. Marsh, Jr., who left the National Guard long before I was born, so I didn’t know him in that capacity. Nor, was his service really talked about. He didn’t fight in any wars that I’m aware of, nor did he have any big stories that were shared to me as a child.  My dad passed away over twenty-one years ago and the information I have on my dad and his stint in the Army National Guard is actually very small. But, I decided to find out more.

It’s amazing to be able to research via Google. This large company photo has a title above it that says “Local Boys In Sonoma County’s National Guard Company”. One of the men holds a banner with 579HQ on it. I was able to search up the number. The 579th was an Engineering Battalion, based in Petaluma and still exists today. My dad turned 18 in 1950. I don’t know how many years he served, although I do know he was still in when my parents were married, which would’ve been beyond 1952.

 

Denise M. Colby celebrates the veterans in her family November 2018

My nephew, Jason

Present-day United States Navy

My nephew, Jason Burrows, just retired from the Navy earlier this year after twenty-four years of service. We are close in age, raised more like brother and sister. I’m quite proud of him. He’s been all over. Italy, Japan, Florida. On the Atlantic and the Pacific. The few times our families have gotten together, I have loved hearing his stories. The little things, that as nation we have no visibility to. The inside scoop. I remember staying on the U.S.S. Midway with my family for a scout event and finding how tiny the bunks were for even myself. I couldn’t imagine how they were for him for six months at a time given he’s 6’4”. He said when on ship he’d jog for exercise but would have to duck to clear the doorways. I loved every minute of my twenty hours on board, feeling closer and gaining an understanding of where he was and what he did.

I remember when my dad was sick and close to passing, email was new. Hard to believe now, but given my corporate job at the time, I was the only one in the family that could communicate with Jason and keep him updated so that he could be flown off the ship when the time came to come home.

I have lots more stories, but I had originally planned to keep this short, so I will save them for another time.

Denise Colby celebrates the veterans in her family November 2018. Carroll W. Marsh, Jr. National Guard 579th Battalion

Another picture of my dad

 

 

 

 

As I’ve written this, I realize I have much more information than I thought I did about my family and their military history. I’m very thankful I have the ability write about it and an audience to share it with. Thank you for joining me in learning more about my family and its military roots.

I wish you and yours a Happy Veterans Day.

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Monty Hall & Me by Rebecca Forster @Rebecca_Forster

October 15, 2017 by in category The Write Life by Rebecca Forster, Writing tagged as , , , , , , , ,

“This is a story about Monty Hall, the velvet-voiced, handsome host of Let’s Make a Deal. He passed away recently and it broke my heart because Monty Hall and I had a history.

I was a little depressed after I had my first baby and longing to get back to ‘the real world’ when I saw an ad: be a contestant on Let’s Make a Deal.  Contestants were supposed to dress up as something funny but there was nothing funny about a postpartum mommy body so I went for the sympathy angle. I cut up a crib mobile made of fabric hearts, sewed the hearts onto a white hat and made a sign that said: HAVE A HEART, LET’S MAKE A DEAL. The neighbor watched the baby and I drove to Hollywood where two hundred people were lined up against a chain-linked fence outside the studio. They were dressed like alligators, killer clowns and French maids. I joined the fray just as a young producer trolled the line, pointing at people.

“You. You. You. That’s it for today. Come back another time.”

OMG! He didn’t pick me. There I was literally wearing my heart – okay, not on my sleeve – but all over me. I threw myself at him. I grabbed his sleeve. I begged.

“I NEEEEDDDDDD TO GET IN THAT STUDIO! I JUST HAD A BABY.”

He let me in.

Once inside, the producers advised us to make eye contact with Monty Hall. Check. No matter where he went my eyes bored into him. He itched, he freaked, he couldn’t figure out where the laser points of focus were coming from and he kept looking for the source. Then he saw me the crazy, desperate lady in the white hat with dancing hearts on it. I think he chose me just to make me stop glaring at him.  I got all the way to the big deal and lost, but that was fine. My consolation prize was a two-week trip to the Bahamas and a thousand dollars.  I went home happy.  Monty Hall probably went home and had nightmares for weeks.

Fast-forward 32 years. Monty Hall is sitting behind my family and me in the theater. He is a little stooped, silver-haired, but still handsome. When my family goes to stretch their legs, I introduce myself and tell him the story that has become a legend in our family. He is gracious. He chats with me until the house lights dim. Before we take our seats, he asks:

“How old is the baby now?” As if on cue, my thirty-two-year-old son walked down the aisle. They shook hands. The house lights went down. We all watched the end of the play. I gave my son’s hand a squeeze. Life was good.

As if on cue, my thirty-year-old son walks down the aisle. They shake hands. The house lights go down. We watch the end of the play. I give my son’s hand a squeeze. Monty Hall walks out of the theater ahead of us and I never see him again.

The moral of the story is this: choose a door, any door but choose. What is behind that door will be exciting or surprising, charming or even challenging, but you will be better for turning the knob.

Monty Hall was behind two of my life’s doors. He made me feel lucky once and honored the second time. TY Monte Hall. I know that the door that opened for you not so long ago will be the biggest deal of all and you deserve that heavenly prize.

P.S. That is not me in the picture.

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Stories My Mother Told Me

September 14, 2017 by in category Writing tagged as , , , , ,

My mother will be 93 years old on September 21. She travels with me, reads all my books and is my best friend. I wrote this blog some time ago, but I want to share it again because it deserve repeating that she is an amazing woman. I am so proud of my mom. Happy birthday, mom.

_________

Mom at 92

      My parents made a pact to stand on every continent in the world. When my dad passed away, my mother went to the Antarctic for both of them. That’s when I figured there was a lot I didn’t know about mom.

     When she returned with a bright orange jacket that she got ‘for free’ (don’t count the cost of the cruise) she had lots of stories to tell. Yet, when the excitement of the trip wore off, we both had the sense that we were still standing on a pitching deck with no way to get to calm seas. A big piece of the puzzle – my dad – was missing.

     “Write your memoir,” I said.

“My life wasn’t interesting,” she answered.

But the idea must have taken hold. Not long after this conversation, she called. She was done with her memoir.

“Impressive,” I mused.

It took me months to write a novel and she finished hers in a week. Then I saw why. Her ‘manuscript’ was five pages long and she was eighty-five years old. There had to be more.

And so began a year of weekend sleep-overs as we poured over photographs for inspiration. She had twenty beautifully documented photo albums, a box with pictures when cameras were still a new fangled thing.

There was mom wearing waist-length braids and Mary Jane shoes standing in the Germany village she called home.

She was a teenager in the U.S. while war raged in Europe, catching up the grandmother she had lived with, cousins and friends.

There was my mom posing in a swimsuit she bought with the dollar she found on the street.

Mom in her twenty-five dollar bridal gown perched in the back of a hay wagon beside my father, a skinny, wide-eyed farm boy who would become a doctor.

Mom with one child. Two. Three. Five. Six of us all together. Dark haired and big eyed we were her clones dressed in beautiful, homemade clothes. I remember going to sleep to the sound of her sewing machine.

And there were words! I bribed my mother with promises of Taco Bell feasts if she gave me details. Funny, what came to her mind.

To keep body and soul together when my father was in med school, he was a professional mourner and bussed tables for a wealthy fraternity. My mom worked in a medical lab where the unchecked radiation caused her to lose her first baby. They ate lab rabbits that had given their all for pregnancy tests. They were in love and happy and didn’t know they were poor. But St. Louis was cold, she remembered, and they couldn’t afford winter coats. Still, she insisted, they weren’t poor. I listened and knew they were happy.

She typed, I edited; I typed, she talked. My youngest brother almost died when he was 10. She didn’t cry for a long while; not until she knew he would live. The captain of the ship that took her back to Germany was kind. She dreamed of becoming a missionary doctor. In 1954, she had two toddlers (me and my brother) and another baby on the way when she and dad drove to Fairbanks, Alaska where he would serve his residency at the pleasure of the U.S. Air Force. Her favorite outfit was a suit with a white collar. She loved her long hair rolled at her neck in the forties. In the fifties she made a black dress with rhinestone straps and her hair was bobbed. In the sixties, she made palazzo pants and sported a short bouffant. She looked like a movie star in her homemade clothes. I wanted to grow up to be as glamorous as she was. She still thought she wasn’t interesting.

Mom wrote the forward to her memoir herself. It began:

      A great sense of loneliness fills the house as twilight approaches. In the silence, I can almost hear the voices of my grown children as they recall their childhood years, the laughter of grandchildren and the quiet conversations of friends who have gathered here in years past, echoing through the empty rooms.

       You see, she really had no need of my help as a writer.

We had seven copies printed with a beautiful cover of a sunset. She called the book In The Twilight of My Life and would not be swayed to change it. Mom thought it perfect and not the least depressing. It was, she laughed, exactly right. It was the laugh that made it right. She gave my brothers and sisters a copy for Christmas. My older brother had tears in his eyes. Everyone exclaimed: “I never knew that”.

Now I have a book more treasured than any I have written. I learned a lot about my mom and I realized why I create fictional women of courage and conviction, strength and curiosity, intelligence and, most of all, spirit. It’s because, all this time, I’ve been writing about my mother.

 

 

 

 

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