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The Great Sea Rescue by
(26 Stories)

Prompted By Vacations

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North Beach on Salt Cay

It was the late ’70s, and an Eastern Airlines monthly pass meant you could fly anywhere in their network for a flat fee. We were barely out of college, with more time than money, so traveling from Salt Lake City to say, San Francisco through a hub in Atlanta didn’t faze us. Besides, flying was still fun then: No security checks, overhead bins housing hats not luggage, no lawyer-mandated instruction on how to operate a seatbelt, smoking allowed and drinking encouraged. When a colleague invited us to her family’s private island in the Bahamas, we said: “When do we leave?”

William Styron put the finishing touches on Sophie's Choice on this very island.

We hadn’t known each other for very long, and Laurie was skeptical that I would enjoy the rustic, no-spa-in-sight nature of the island. She warned me: no electricity, only a little sun-warmed fresh water, bugs, sharks, and possible visits from pirate drug-boats with no emergency help available. Did she mention the bugs? But she had also described her idyllic summers spent in the sun and solitude. “I get it,” I said. “When do we leave?”

Salt Cay hermit crab

Salt Cay hermit crab

It was magical. The main house was built in the early 1900s and was a set designer’s dream, all shutters and lounge chairs and books, adorned with piles of old conch shells and coral fragments and other marine detritus. Who needed lights when you had lanterns? Guitars and an ex-Metropolitan Opera tenor turned fishing boat captain entertained us for hours. The biggest decision of the day was which beach to swim in and where to take our meals: dining room, veranda, garden, beach? I remember walking the postcard perfect, palm-lined, sun-dappled path so strewn with hermit crabs that every step would crush one if you weren’t looking, thinking that I wanted to sear the vision in my memory because I was unlikely to ever experience anything like it again. The tee shirts sold in the outdoor market in Nassau, a few miles away, said: “C’est meilleur aux Bahamas.” No shit.

Guests came and went, shuttled to and from Nassau in the island’s small green motorboat by the Bahamian caretakers. On a particularly windy and choppy day we were eagerly awaiting four friends. Bringing provisions. Of all kinds. Suddenly someone appeared to tell us that the boat had broken down just offshore. There was no natural harbor on the island, so years earlier a cut had been blasted through the rocks on one side just wide and long enough to allow a boat to pass through to an interior lagoon. The green boat couldn’t get through the cut and was taking on water.

Salt Cay snail

Salt Cay snail

Three of us ran to the old wooden sloop that we normally used for leisurely crusing and diving. To the rescue! Laurie guided the boat from the placid lagoon through the cut and we immediately hit the sea chop. Seconds later, my husband John, who was tying down a rope and not holding on, was launched into the air and overboard. He managed to execute an elegant dive on the way down, and luckily is a strong swimmer. Laurie didn’t see him go over, and by the time she heard me yelling for her to stop he had drifted away. We couldn’t turn around, so she motioned to him to swim to the boat. He tried, but the chop kept separating us. So we threw him a life ring and said we’d be back.

We got beside the stalled boat and Laurie called to me to throw out the anchor. I dutifully hoisted it and the pile of rope under it and heaved it overboard. Only once it was airborne did I notice the anchor was not actually attached to the rope! I’m no sailor, but who the hell leaves an anchor untied?? This rescue was not going as planned. Wait, there was a plan?

But it got worse. Laurie didn’t realize the rope was still attached to the boat and was now hanging over the stern. She backed up and managed to get the rope wound around the propeller. Rut roh.

Both boats were now dead in the water and a storm was coming. This was the most excitement we’d had in days! Laurie grabbed her knife, jumped over the side, and free-dove down to assess the damage. For several minutes she tried to cut the rope away. By this time John had swum over to us and he tried too, but it was wound so tightly and the chop was so great that it was hopeless. The only thing to do was to abandon ship and swim in, but what about everything in the other boat—the luggage, the rum, and the caretaker who lived on an island but somehow couldn’t swim? Plus we’d never get anything through the cut without getting bashed on the rocks.

We decided to pull the small boat around the rock face and as close to the shore as we could, unload it, push it back out, and swim in. I can still see in my mind the bags and boxes held high overhead as we passed them from one to another treading water. It worked! Everyone survived. I still have a small scar where the waves slammed me into a rock as I climbed ashore. Time for a rum. Let the recounting of the adventure begin!

The next day the sea was calm and I watched from the cliff as the anchor was located and hauled up, the rope finally cut away from the propeller, and the green boat towed to Nassau for repairs. Are we fishing today, and where shall we dine?

Oh, the wasted hours by
(26 Stories)

Prompted By What We Watched

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Still photo from the first episode of Dr. Kildare (1961), with Beverly Garland, Richard Chamberlain, and Raymond Massey. Public domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The 50s:

A non-comprehensive list of TV crushes, comedy, great writing, and escapism.

Maverick, Sea Hunt, The Steve Allen Show, The Jackie Gleason Show.

The 60s:

Dr. Kildare, 77 Sunset Strip, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Twilight Zone, The Fugitive.  Too young to watch but did: The Roaring 20s, Naked City.

The 70s:

There was TV in the 70s?  OK, M*A*S*H. And Mission: Impossible.

The 80s:

thirtysomething, Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice.  Favorite cringe watch: Dynasty.

The 90s:

Star Trek: The Next Generation, ER, Homicide: Life on the Street, NYPD Blue.  Guilty pleasure: Lois & Clark.

The 2000s

House M.D., The Wire, MI-5, The West Wing.  Couldn’t have made it through the decade without: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  Couldn’t look away excess: Entourage.

Young Stylemaker by
(26 Stories)

Prompted By What We Wore

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The end of an era. One of the last fabric stores on Maui closed recently.

Both of my grandmothers were accomplished seamstresses. I still have the incredible wedding dress they made for my mother, ivory satin with a long train that for some reason she let us play dress-up with as kids. My mother, however, could barely sew on a button. So she was determined that her two daughters learn to sew. Be careful what you wish for—my sister and I took to it like ducks to water.

It was a time of experimentation and self-expression, and self-express we did.

It’s hard to remember now, but everyday clothes were expensive once. Fabric was much less so, and it was readily available. Even small towns had at least one fabric store; these days I’d have to Google where to go to buy a zipper, let alone quality fabric. But since an outfit could be made for a fraction of the store price, that meant—more outfits! We spent countless hours perusing the pattern books—Simplicity, McCalls, Butterick, and the designer holy grail, Vogue—and trolling the store aisles looking for the perfect bolt. Our house was littered with the detritus associated with the constant hum of the sewing machine: fabric and pattern scraps, and stray pins on the floor waiting to stab the unwary.

When we first began, a big focus was the yearly Easter dress. This often included a “spring coat” and (I am not making this up) a matching hat for church. It also often included a late night when something needed to be finished for its debut the next day. Later we progressed to tailored suits, dresses for prom, chorus, bridesmaid, and ultimately our own wedding dresses.

The downside of being your own designer is the inevitable failures. As we got older and the times changed with the hippie look, all bets were off. I still cringe at some of the “statements” I made that, in retrospect, didn’t quite hit the mark. But it was a time of experimentation and self-expression, and self-express we did.

Years later this obsession seems like a monumental waste of time, but I actually learned a great deal from it, besides the obvious craft. There’s a fair amount of geometry involved, or at least spatial reasoning. Patterns come with a layout, which includes a calculation of how much fabric you need to make each piece. It varies depending on the width of the fabric and the size of the garment. My sister and I learned early on to consider these layouts “suggestions,” and it became a challenge and a point of pride to tweak the layout to save fabric and therefore money—sometimes a substantial amount. Knowing how a garment is put together is a real joy. I still have a love affair with fabric.

There is a joke in our house that I have the ability to go into a clothing store and walk right up to the most expensive item in the place. But it’s no accident; quality is visible if you know what to look for: cut, drape, and fabric “hand.” But because I can really tell the difference, it also means I buy expensive clothes. I haven’t made anything in decades. I wonder if I really ended up saving any money in the end?

Body Snatchers by
(26 Stories)

Prompted By Lost in Space

/ Stories

The first sci-fi movie I remember seeing was The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It came out in 1956, but I saw it a few years later on TV.

Could someone do that, steal who you were, and why would they do that?

I’m pretty sure it was one of the weekend nights my parents were out, leaving the four of us kids to fend for ourselves. I loved these nights! My older brothers were in charge, if you could call it that, so it was essentially a no-rules evening. Which really only amounted to pretending, if only briefly, that we could do whatever we wanted—quite the luxury to a kid. This mostly involved playing high–volume hide and seek, ordering late-night takeout pizza, and giddily jumping on my parents double bed, something we were absolutely not supposed to do, but which was so much fun it was worth the inevitable scolding we later got. I’m certain we destroyed that bed.

One of the hallmarks of being the youngest is that you grow up faster than older sibs. By the time I was around eight years old I knew every top-forty hit of the ‘50s. I never had a chance to believe in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. And it also meant that we didn’t watch kids’ TV or movies (except for Saturday morning), which is how I got to see many things I shouldn’t have, and didn’t understand until much later.

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 5.49.29 PM

Body Snatchers is a cult classic, remade in 1978. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about the residents of a small town who begin to suspect that their neighbors are being replaced with almost perfect doubles. There’s no violence or gore; it is a psychological thriller. Thinking about it now, I recognize it as a paranoid allegory of the Cold War threat of those nasty Russians. (They’re coming to get us!)

But it was scary. Although I wasn’t nearly as scared as my sister, who was completely engrossed and curled up in a ball on the couch oblivious to the fact that my brother was poised to toss a ball into her lap, just because he could. She nearly jumped out of her skin.

But I was scared at a more primal level. I was only just beginning to even have a sense of self, so the idea that it could be stolen was terrifying. Could someone do that, steal who you were; and why would they do it? I couldn’t figure out what possible reason aliens would have for this. I knew there was something I wasn’t understanding, but the feeling of powerlessness was a powerful lesson. Don’t let anyone steal who you are! This is not easy even in today’s world, but for a girl growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s it was a constant battle. It’s a wonder any of us survived.

As I recall, the movie didn’t have a happy ending. Even so, my imagination crafted a vastly more insidious one. I suppose that’s the mark of good drama.




Poker Night by
(26 Stories)

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Almost every Sunday of my early childhood, we went to visit my maternal grandparents. (Or at least it seems like it was every Sunday to me.) I loved these visits. They were a chance to halt the sibling rivalry for a while and be doted on by my grandmother, aunts, and uncles. My spinster aunt and several bachelor uncles all lived in the same house, taking care of their parents.

My grandfather died when I was a kid, but he gave me a love for the game.

My mother was the oldest child, so my older brothers were the oldest grandchildren. This gave us special cred. The uncles didn’t really know how to interact with kids, so giving us treats was their default mode. My favorite was a bottle of Faygo Rock N’ Rye pop (translation: cherry soda). As soon as we got there we’d be ushered down to the cellar to pick one out of the huge stash. Sometimes we even got two. Heaven.

During the summer we went during the day, and we’d sit out in their backyard listening to Detroit Tiger baseball games on the radio. They had a huge garden and my grandmother was especially proud of her roses, as one uncle was proud of his tomatoes. We spent a fair amount of time admiring the one and eating the other. Often another aunt, my godmother, would come over with her expanding brood. Her husband, everyone’s favorite and my godfather, always had some new toy to show off. One summer it was a Polaroid camera. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Even though it was complicated and certainly expensive, he let us use it! After you took a picture, you waited about 30 seconds and watched it appear on the previously blank piece of paper. It seemed like magic! Then you had to carefully coat it with a layer of fixer so it wouldn’t fade—a tricky action no one could ever get just right, so the pictures were always streaky. Later generations of Polaroids worked better, but I still remember the thrill of those first self-developing photos.

In winter we went over after supper. It would be cold and dark outside, so there was even less for us to do then unless the cousins were there. But on those magical nights when there was critical mass, my father, grandfather, and uncles would gather around the big kitchen table and play penny-ante poker. The women would escape to the living room, but I stuck around, fascinated by this male ritual. Clearly the game wasn’t about money, but there was enough competition for it to look and feel like a high-stakes Vegas invitational.


Three of the same straight! What are the odds?

My grandfather was the ringleader, and my most vivid memory of him is from these games. The dealer got to choose the game, and whenever it was his turn to deal, he always, and I mean always, rapped the table with his knuckles and almost shouted: “Baseball!” I had no idea what that meant, something about which cards were “wild,” but it was clearly his favorite. I was small and unobtrusive enough that I got to stand and watch. I learned concepts like ante-up, raise, call, and fold. Kings and Queens I understood, but what the hell was a Jack? And I loved the concept of a “full house.”

Often I’d stand by the winner of a hand and, as a reward for bringing him luck, get a piece of the pot. On the next hand another uncle would invite me over to be his good luck charm and I would rotate around the table collecting tips. I’d often go home with several dollars in my pocket feeling like I’d won the lottery. I don’t think my siblings ever caught on.


Forbidden Fruit by
(26 Stories)

Prompted By Drive-Ins

/ Stories

I was the baby of the family and when I started school my mother went back to work. That meant the veggie garden in the back yard was abandoned, and the canning cellar emptied and was not replenished. I learned to cook and bake at my mom’s side, but as she got busier and we kids grew older, she cooked from scratch less and less. We started living on frozen fish sticks and pizza.

We watched her go through (what I now know are) the five stages of grief in a matter of seconds.


Take-out was a real treat and our favorite place was the Totem Pole Drive-In. This Native American-themed, completely un-PC place (slogan: “Heap Good Food”) was the casual outpost of a nearby fancy restaurant. My favorite menu items were the “Pocahontas” (french dip sandwich), the “Iroquois” (fried shrimp), and the “Cherokee” (wait for it–frogs legs!).  But everything on the menu was great, and it was hard to choose.

My mother came home one Friday evening with five of the iconic white dinner boxes. Those were the days when Catholics didn’t eat meat on Friday so we knew they contained fish dinners. Imagine our surprise when we opened the boxes and found not fish but spare ribs!!  Surprise and delight from us, consternation bordering on panic from our mother. We could all see she was exhausted from a long week and furious that they had given her the wrong order. Her first impulse was to forbid us to touch them, then slowly, realizing that there was nothing else to eat in the house decided that since we didn’t intend to break the law, God would forgive us this once. My mother was nothing if not pragmatic, and she was not going to waste that food or that money.

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