Photo Fiction Inspiration: Cora’s Receipt

Years ago, when I saved this image of an old grocery store receipt, I intended to write a story around it. Here are several elements that caught my attention:

  • The date
  • Her name
  • The fourth item purchased
  • The running tab
  • The hole from the receipt spike
  • The match of the year to the receipt number

The finder of this receipt told of how she found a stack of them in an antique register. All of the receipts were Cora’s, and it was clear that Cora ran up a tab each week at the grocery store.

The “tablet” purchase intrigues me the most. Yes, it could be simple: Cora needed to replenish the household writing paper. But here is where my imagination takes off:

  • Story Idea #1: The tablet becomes another holder of Cora’s “secrets.” She hides her box of tablets — there are 13 — under an abandoned car she found on the property of a school for the blind. Cora befriended a girl who attends the school and shares what she hears during her nightly walks through the neighborhood, though she says they are “made up.” However, tonight Cora is meeting up with the blind girl at midnight to share a story that Cora must tell her is true.
  • Story Idea #2: Cora is in love with Charles, one of the Stroker sons, and writes letters to him that she never sends. She dreams that he will ask her why she buys tablets so often, and she can tell of her love for him. Meanwhile, Charles only talks about his dedication to God and how, unlike his brothers, he plans never to marry. When Cora walks into the store on Halloween, Charles tells her he is leaving tomorrow to join the Merchant Marines (he saw the Bogart movie) and help with the war effort. Charles is sixteen years old.
  • Story Idea #3: Cora is a teacher and has organized a Halloween Party for the only white family in her school. The family plans to leave due to racial hostility, and Cora hopes to talk them out of the move. The tablet is a gift Clara intends to give to a budding writer in the family, the first of them all to be educated past the sixth grade.
  • Story Idea #4: Cora is Clem Stroker’s daughter. She aims to start her own grocery store business since Dad won’t allow her to take the helm of the family store, even though she is the firstborn child. Cora writes out her ideas and plans to share them with her father before taking the train to Chicago in the morning. She does not know that her mother is dying and Dad, who will share the news with the family at breakfast, expects Cora to take charge of the household.

It’s amazing what the mind can do with a small amount of information. Maybe I’ll write a collection of stories from the image and not limit myself to only one. Stay tuned!

They Call Me DodgerFanDarla

In case you didn’t know, I’m a HUGE Los Angeles Dodgers fan — since 1973, to be exact!

It’s been a fun couple of weeks into the postseason as the Dodgers work their way towards the World Series.

I prefer listening to the radio broadcast of the games over watching the games on TV or livestream. Charley Steiner and Rick Monday (former LA Dodger) are full of baseball knowledge and they are Dodger experts. I learn something new every time I listen to them. Plus, Charley and Rick are good friends, which makes their commentary even better. For me, they have made the transition away from the incomparable Vin Scully a lot easier.

Another benefit of radio broadcasts is the absence of Hollywood-style production and slick commercials to distract me from taking care of other things while I listen. It’s a win-win!

Tonight, the Dodgers play the Atlanta Braves as the teams begin the National League Championship Series. GO DODGERS!

(Image from the Los Angeles Dodgers Facebook page)

October Story of the Month: Through the Dirt to the Son

I find myself drawn to the “pen” when I experience emotional pain. Writing a fictional story helps me to turn the pain into something that I hope will help others who may be experiencing the same. This is one of those stories. 


For Inez, clearing her mind of the ugly words was the hardest part. Prayer, verses, sweet worship with friends. Nothing seemed able to displace what Yola had said. The words hung there, accompanied by a heaviness inside that weighed down her soul.

The cup of tea didn’t bring its usual comfort; the flavor only reminded her of a better day.

Sweeping, rinsing, folding, scrubbing. The pain outlasted it all.

Then, through the window, she noticed the trees swaying in the breeze, like a dance of hallelujahs. “Sweater weather. Finally. Glad summer is over.” She felt her cat rub against her legs. “Come on. Let’s get outside.”

She stepped out to her backyard. The fountain soothed with its liquid sound while a lone cloud sat in the blanket of blue. Inez loved her backyard with its plentiful garden — a place of rewarding work, leisure, and talking with God.

She bent down to sift the soil through her fingers, imagining the activity below that would soon come to a halt for the winter. She loved the fall season. The shorter, cooler days meant soups and baked bread, leaves to collect for mulch, early turn-ins, and cozy nights of reading or chatting on the phone. Winter — not so much. Though she knew that the cold and darkness were necessary for growth, she only tolerated the season. Thin, leafless trees made her shiver. God certainly knew what He was doing, she often thought, when He created the seasons. In her eyes, she saw a clear picture of His redemption story.

“Yes. Come, Spring. Luz y vida,” she whispered.

The apples were ripe on the tree, so she picked one to go along with her peanut butter and honey sandwich. Glancing at her phone, she let the caller go to voicemail. Leticia meant well, but another conversation — gossip, if they would be honest with each other — was a sure way to make the matter worse.

She spread a cloth over the garden table and sat down. Sounds of dogs and neighborly noise were pleasant. She thanked God for her meal, tore a piece from the bread, and lifted it to the sky. “Lord, I’m handing it over to You.” She tossed the bread to the cat and smiled at his enjoyment.

And she prayed.

The pain, for a time, was gone.


That evening, Inez reached for her journal and wrote, “Heavy heart? Well, this too shall pass. A seed has to travel through the muck and mire. If I must do the same, I’ll push my way through the dirt while I reach for the Son.”

She picked up her phone and tapped in the number.

“Hey, Yola. It’s Inez.” She fought back the tears. “Can we talk?”

And she began to make her way.

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11)

Creative Cooking in Lean Times

The cool evenings of fall always bring out my desire for lingering in the kitchen, after a summer of quickly-prepped meals to avoid the heat. Recently, I decided to have spaghetti, and as I cooked up a batch for dinner, memories of my mother and her creative cooking came to mind.

Creative, not in how she cooked, but how she stretched what she cooked.

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The Non-Maniacal Order of Adjectives

Here’s a bit of fun for language fans. Maybe you’ve already seen this, but it was only recently that I discovered this gem. English speakers do something naturally with adjectives, according to author Mark Forsyth:

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien wrote his first story aged seven. It was about a “green great dragon.” He showed it to his mother who told him that you absolutely couldn’t have a green great dragon, and that it had to be a great green one instead. Tolkien was so disheartened that he never wrote another story for years.


The reason for Tolkien’s mistake, since you ask, is that adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac. It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out. And as size comes before colour, green great dragons can’t exist.

If you have your doubts, come up with a descriptive sentence of your own and place the adjectives outside of Forsyth’s listed order. It’s a fascinating exercise!

From The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase, by Mark Forsyth (2013).

InSight

I sensed that I wasn’t the only one with my gaze directed toward her. She was not easy to ignore.

A young woman — beautiful face, clothes casual and colorful, long hair swinging as she made her way to the corner. She carried a loaded backpack, but its weight didn’t affect her happy gait. A man passed by her with a lingering look that might have caused discomfort for others.

But not this woman.

She was all confidence, with a smile that told a story of grace.

The light was red in my direction at one of the busiest intersections in town. Five o’clock traffic. I watched as she approached the corner and heard myself say, “Careful. Be careful.”

She was a few steps from the curb, and she wasn’t slowing down.

Then, with perfect timing, she stopped, turned, and flipped her cane against the traffic pole. She stretched out her arm and found the crosswalk button.

And she waited.

I wondered what thoughts others had as they observed the young woman for those moments at that bustling intersection. Did any of them:

  • decide to put aside their bad moods; 
  • make a mental note to count their blessings; 
  • vow to volunteer at Braille Institute; 
  • change their minds about holding a grudge;
  • memorize kind words to say to their spouse and kids when they got home;

Or, like me, were they reminded to be thankful for the ability to see?

As I watched her listening to the tap of her cane, using her senses to get where she needed to go, dealing with life without one blessed gift — what a contrast, I thought. What a contrast to the way I often handle difficulties in my life. Complaints and pitiful musing. Woe is me.

But there was a living example before me.

Continue with that steady walk forward, step by step, along the path that is right. Listen well. Be confident that God, my trustworthy Walking Cane, will lead the way. He will be with me as I walk through the dark valleys. Thoughts like these came to mind as I watched a remarkable young woman on her journey.

The light turned red, and I continued home, taking a last glance at her as I drove by.

Before I entered the house, I looked up. The clouds were fantastic against the orange, blue, and purple of the coming evening, washed in the colors of the sunset.

I can see.

I hurried inside, grabbed my camera, and took my opportunity to capture the gift.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)

I Collect Old Books: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

My first-edition copy (1964) of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. My fourth grade teacher read this story aloud to us. Hearing it for the first time, I distinctly remember thinking “This family is poorer than us!” One of my favorite stories from childhood, I think it made me the chocoholic that I am today.

Did you know that the author’s original intention was for Charlie to be “a little black boy”? Read the interview with his widow on BBC.

Weaving Childhood Memories into My Stories: Hair Pressing Time

School Picture Day is the annual Fall occurrence of best wear and toothy smiles in schools across the country. My school’s Picture Day happens next week, and the event is stirring up fond memories of my mother preparing her children for that day.

Other than Easter Sunday, the Lowe Kids never looked better during our elementary school grades than we did on Picture Day. Mom would make sure we were wearing our neatest and nicest. And on the evening before the day, she would “press” the girls’ hair with the hot comb and use foam curlers to set the curls overnight. When we left for school, Mom had her little girls ready to stand before the camera, with a send-off of “Don’t let that cameraman touch your hair!”

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