“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.
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.
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.
The Dog Days of Summer isn’t just an expression that indicates summer days so hot dogs are driven mad. It’s an actual astronomical event when, Sirius, the dog star rises in conjunction with the sun. The Dog Days are listed as starting on July 3rd and continuing through August 11th.
In my family, the Dog Days of Summer marked the beginning of birthday season. I have three brothers and three sisters. Then there are my children, nieces and nephews, in-laws (or as we insist out-laws) and now the grandchildren and grandnieces and grandnephews. A significant number of them have birthdays in July and August.
Birthdays around our place were always a bit different. With so many relatives we seldom had friends to our birthday celebrations. We rarely severed cake but rather baked from scratch (including the crust) birthday pie. There were favorites – quite a few apple pies, pumpkin (made three days ahead of the feast and refrigerated to the proper coldness), lemon meringue, peach, and rhubarb for my mother.
And when my mémère (French for grandma) was alive, if it was your birthday, you got your nose buttered. It was supposed to make you side through the year to your next birthday.
Now Mémère assured us this was an old French custom, but I never met any other family who practiced nose buttering –even the few friend of mine when we were growing up who also had a mémère and pépère.
So, a few years ago I googled it. Sure enough, other families butter noses, but the articles I read listed the custom is either Scottish or Irish. I suspect Mémère would be upset by these claims as she was very proud of her French ancestry even though the family arrived in the New World well before there was a United States. She and Pépère spoke French at home, and my dad and his siblings didn’t learn English until they went to school.
I must admit that she frequently got things wrong. She was also very proud of being born on June 13th and every year would tell us that she just missed being born on Friday the 13th (it happened to be a Thursday that year). But when she died my aunts found her birth certificate. She wasn’t born on June 13th, that was the day she was baptized. She was really born two days earlier and forever celebrated her birthday on the wrong day.
My aunts were upset, but I would like to think Mémère would not have cared if she had ever noticed. She was happy to have a pie baked by my mom, and she would laugh her head off when we would sneak up and butter her nose so she could slide through another year.
Does your family have different birthday customs? What are they?
Marianne H. Donley makes her home in Tennessee with her husband and son. She is a member of Bethlehem Writers Group, Romance Writers of America, OCC/RWA, and Music City Romance Writers. When Marianne isn’t working on A Slice of Orange, she might be writing short stories, funny romances, or quirky murder mysteries, but this could be a rumor.
If you want to know more about the Dog Days of Summer here are some links:
I recently posted a picture on my Facebook site of a Simplicity sewing pattern from around the 1970’s. The banner on the top read, “ SHARE IF YOU REMEMBER WHEN MOM WOULD MAKE YOUR CLOTHES.”
Boy, did it stir some special memories of a different time and place. In one short afternoon, hundreds liked it and over the days that followed many more liked, shared and commented. The comments keep coming. It’s probably one of the most active posts I’ve ever had and I’m guessing that many of the comments came from men and women in their 50’s and 60’s.
Some remembered their mothers (or grandmothers) sewing them everything from pajamas to school uniforms to prom dresses. A few bragged that their moms made clothing for their Barbie, Ken and even GI Joe dolls. Some struggled through Home EC classes themselves and shared tales filled with evil task masters and measuring tape miracle workers. It was not uncommon to hear about failed sewing projects that made their way home only to be resuscitated by mom. A few said that they themselves now successfully sewed for their kids or that they had friends who had become master seamstresses.
There were some lovely, often humorous, memories shared and it really got me to thinking.
I have four real passions in my life: Family, Writing, Reading and of course, Sewing. And as I was thinking about it, I realized that each of these passions grew from time spent with my mother. To mom, family was everything and she raised us to always remember that. She was an avid reader, a poet and a phenomenal seamstress. And through her example, she ingrained a love for each of these things in me. Those are such wonderful memories to have.
My own kids have grown up watching me living a life centered around my family, always working on a sewing project, with a book close in hand. Recently they watched me as I’ve thrown my hat into the writers’ ring.
So now I have to I wonder what tales they’ll tell when asked…”Do you remember when your mom would…”
Do you remember when your mom…or dad…would…? What would you say?
Small mobs of kids surrounded our garage every Halloween when my husband carved pumpkins, not because he was especially artistic, but because he used a sawzall to carve them, and pumpkin insides and seeds sprayed everywhere while he worked. Our sprinkler system had “more power”, and when my mixer broke while I was making a birthday cake, Hunky Hubby came to the rescue by inserting a mixer beater into his electric drill. For years our three boys, took turns hiding a large plastic rat…in the dryer, in the pantry, wherever they thought it was most likely to scare me. If I left my phone unattended they would change their brother’s names on my contact list to things like ‘Ugly’ and ‘Creep’ and their own names to things like ‘Mom’s Favorite’ or ‘The Very Best Son’.
If this sounds like a season of Home Improvement, I thought so too. Hunky Hubby and the boys would prefer to eat meat off the grill and watch Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, while I wanted to see manners at the table and watch The Sound of Music. I could have written several seasons without making anything up.
In fact, of all my writing regrets, I most regret not writing an episode of Home Improvement and submitting it before the show ended.
So what is your biggest writing regret? Do you have one? Have you ever felt like your life was a sitcom, or tv drama and wanted to write a script?
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