Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #7: Chosen

Snowbound Books in Marquette, Michigan

When I scan the shelves in a bookshop, sometimes a volume chooses me! Irresistible qualities include eye-catching titles, outstanding cover art, smells that spark memories, or an author’s name that rings a bell.

For about two years, I had the pleasure of living in Marquette, Michigan, situated in the Upper Peninsula and perched on the shores of Lake Superior. A variety of bookstores graced that town, but my absolute favorite was Snowbound Books, within walking distance from my home and pictured above. At that time, the store’s vintage paperbacks huddled together in one section, and I always checked them, on the hunt for Dell Map Backs or other interesting finds.

During one of my frequent visits, a 1950 Pocket Book Mystery entitled Beyond a Reasonable Doubt chose me to be its owner. I had nothing to say about it. The book wasn’t a Map Back, but I had to have it, all the same. The title wasn’t what grabbed me; it was the author’s name…C.W. Grafton. Could they be related? One of my favorite mystery authors is Sue Grafton, author of the Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Mystery series, beginning with A is for Alibi. Hundreds of mystery authors could have the last name Grafton, I supposed.

In those hazy years before the Internet, facts and details weren’t available instantaneously at our fingertips like they are today. Months passed before I knew the answer to my question. Yes, they were related! C.W. Grafton was Sue Grafton’s father, who practiced as a lawyer and published three mystery novels. My new collection search had been born!

Becky’s Collection

I don’t need much of an excuse to stop at a used bookstore or collectibles shop that might feature books. This new quest was one more reason to pull over when I saw a promising business sign. Decades went by, but I found all three! Which is my favorite? The paperback on the left is important, since it was the first. My purchase of The Rope Began to Hang the Butcher, on the right, was exciting because it was the last and completed this collection. The book shown in the middle, The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope, is my favorite, for two reasons. First, this copy still proudly wears its jacket, however tattered. Second, the book is dedicated to C.W.’s youngest child, Sue, his other daughter, Ann, and wife, Viv. The family is shown below with the book in a 1944 photo, with Sue on the right.

The Grafton Family in 1944

Over the years, I’ve read interviews in which Sue Grafton explains she was the survivor of a difficult childhood, due to both of her parents suffering from alcoholism. In her semi-autobiographical book, Kinsey and Me (2013), she credits her father with her own passion for the mystery genre, which served her well. Sue Grafton died in 2017, at age 77, just one book shy of the entire alphabet. I’ve read all her alphabet mysteries except the last one, Y is for Yesterday. Guess I don’t want them to end…

Sue Grafton

 

 

Talking with Kids about War

The drafty but beloved home of my Michigan childhood featured a rather dim and damp basement that was accessed through a trap door from our kitchen. That cement-floored space was divided into several separate rooms. During the winter, my mother hung washed clothing on lines to dry in the largest of those areas. One of the small rooms was fashioned almost entirely with rough, wooden shelving that held clear Ball and Mason jars filled with fruits and vegetables my mother had canned.

Sometimes we played downstairs while she hung clothes on the line. Being a somewhat apprehensive, quiet, and rather OCD child, one would think I could have been most concerned with falling down the steps (my brother did, once!), about what was hiding in the dark corners, or with that large spider eyeing us from its web, overhead. No, this child of the Fifties and Sixties was silently pondering whether there was enough food for our family on the shelves in that little room, in case we needed to hide out in our basement if “the Russians” attacked!

Did I share those fears with my parents about what I’d overheard on the evening news? I don’t think so. Did they know how scared I was when a B52 flew over from the nearby airbase, wondering if it was “one of ours” or “one of theirs?” I don’t believe they did, or surely they would have said something. I worried a great deal about “war,” but had no idea how to bring up the topic. In the political climate of our world today, there’s no escaping the realities of war or potential for further escalation toward war. Only very young children are easy to shield from the news on television or the internet. There’s no way to ensure that our kids won’t learn about troubling situations in the world.

Some children ask questions and give you plenty of openings to discuss difficult topics. Others, like the childhood version of me, won’t (or can’t find the words to) ask. In those cases, you’ll need to create your own openings, which can be a challenge. That’s where children’s books can help! Along with many other people right now, I’m feeling very helpless about world events, many which have been precipitated right in our “own back yard,” here in the U.S. What can I do? Maybe I can offer some suggestions of children’s books to help parents, grandparents, teachers, and other caring adults approach the difficult subject of war and the equally important topic of conflict resolution with the kids who are important to them!

Why? by Nikolai Popov – Winner: 2017 NCSS/CBC, National Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People

A frog finds a beautiful flower and picks it for himself. When a mouse sees him with it, his jealousy overcomes him, and he swipes it. Frog’s friends come to his aid and chase the mouse away. But before the frogs can celebrate, Mouse’s friends return for a counter-attack. Before long the conflict has devolved into a full-scale frog-mouse war. By the end of it, all either side can ask is: why? This seemingly simple book tackles an important subject and will be an invaluable way to talk to young children about conflict and warfare.

Playing War written by Kathy Beckwith and illustrated by Lea Lyon. Learn the details about this book for children in grades 2-5 at Patricia Tilton’s blog, Children’s Books Heal.

Top 20 Picture Books for Anzac Day, with Children’s Books Daily

8 Books About War for Kids from Scholastic

Conflict Resolution with Young Children at Social Justice Books

Literature for Children and Young Adults Examining Issues of Violence and Conflict Resolution with Center for Civic Education

21 Multicultural Children’s Books About Peace from Colours of Us

I hope you can find something here that fits your particular situations and your children!                     ~Becky

dove-1522656_1920

Ready for Storystorm?

Inspirational and free, with a possibility of prizes! Join me by taking part in Storystorm. All you have to do is register (through the first week of January) in comments at taralazar.com Then come up with one new story idea for 30 of the days in January. Visit the blog each day, if you wish, for inspiration from authors and illustrators and also to earn chances at winning prizes. That’s it! You don’t even have to share your list of ideas. Those are for you to keep and get started on an awesome new year of writing!                  ~Becky

River to Skate Away On

Becky at 5 with new skates
Becky at 5 Years with New Skates

Like most children growing up in Northern Michigan in the Fifties and Sixties, I learned to ice skate. I wasn’t talented, since my ankles were rather weak, but I enjoyed the activity. The holiday season transports me back through the years to the ice ponds of my youth. The current temperatures here in Texas have even stayed low enough to help the temporary rink at the corner stay frozen, and I enjoy watching the skaters from my second-floor perch.

In childhood, we often skated to music at the large ice rink in a neighboring town. Memories of frozen toes and the song “Sugar Shack” surface when I think of those years. Before the climate started to change (and before we knew it would turn into a crisis), a winter recreational area called Silver Valley, in the Huron National Forest situated near my hometown, offered toboggan runs, skiing, and frozen ponds for skaters. Being a cautious child, skating was the only thing I wanted to try, and I remember the rinks being much too crowded for my taste.

Log Warming Shelter at Silver Valley

Even closer to home, we had several other options. My clearest recollection is the time my dad shoveled the snow off a large area of ice on the creek behind our house. My mother was prone to worry, so the creek was a place she often warned her children to avoid during the other seasons, for fear we would slip into the water. With that same fear in the back of my mind, the idea of skating on that frozen version still seemed scary to me. I imagined the snapping turtles, snakes and minnows underneath the crust just waiting for me to fall through. My brother and sister agreed to try nature’s ice, along with a group of neighbor kids. Who was I to chicken out, so I finally agreed and followed my father toward the creek.

The surface was a bit bumpy, but I was just hitting my stride when I heard Dad yelp in surprise. My worst fear had come true, and he’d fallen through the ice! With a pounding heart I skated his direction, near the bank. As it turned out, his one leg had gone through just to the knee. He said it was a mushy spot in the ice caused by some trickling water entering the creek. Not sure if it was from a natural spring or some type of city pipe. That was all I needed, and I hung up my skates for the day!

One year, my dad made an ice rink right in our back yard. Just as he would come home from work in the warm seasons and turn on the hose to water the flowers, that winter, my father often got out the hose to add more water to form a new layer on our rink. That was also a little bumpy, I remember, but it was fun to skate in our yard and quite a novelty to share with our neighbors. I asked him about that, years later, and he admitted it was a lot of extra work, but he knew we liked it, and he hated to give it up once he got started.

1961 – Big Sister, Terri, and Becky  Skating in Yard

I couldn’t possibly write about ice skating without including one of my favorite songs, “River,” by Joni Mitchell. Sad but lovely.

Lonely Road

This time of year, especially during a cold snap here in Texas, I often think back to my harrowing trip when I moved to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. My story, “Lonely Road,” was first published in U.P. Reader in 2017. I hope you enjoy it!

Lonely Road

“It probably won’t snow much,” he assured me. His voice was confident, but concern flashed in his eyes behind wire rimmed glasses. Was that worry connected to the driving conditions or to the direction we were taking our relationship? I sat on a bench outside the mom-and-pop restaurant in Munising and quickly exchanged shoes for fur-lined boots.

Since we had no good way to communicate on the road, before cell phones, we agreed ahead of time to meet there for lunch. The waitress had alerted us to some messy weather on our intended route along the lakeshore, at the same time she offered dessert of apple or raspberry pie.

I was moving from downstate Michigan to join him in the Upper Peninsula city of Marquette, where we planned to give our marriage another try. He waited for a large logging truck to pass, waved a little salute, and then carefully pulled his dark Jeep and the trailer that carried my belongings onto the road.  I followed in my small, silver car and watched the first flurries of the season begin to decorate the landscape.

While I drove, I focused on our future together and hoped we had made a good decision. Typically a nervous winter motorist, I tried to push away any anxiety about slippery roads.  Fewer vehicles shared the two-lane highway with each mile, and the area became increasingly remote.  Pine and bare hardwood trees were thick, and homes or businesses became scarce.  The few towns and villages we passed were each marked by a lone stoplight or blinker. The flakes fell faster, blown by escalating winds.  For better concentration, I turned Van Morrison down a bit and switched my fan onto high for more heat.  Rarely catching sight of the Jeep through the thickening white, I reduced my speed to keep the car from sliding.

When I passed the first snowplow, I was relieved the county was prepared for the early blizzard.  Even so, they seemed to be having trouble staying ahead of the swiftly falling snow.  I fought the wheel to hold my course and regretted that my vehicle was so light.

Weather near Lake Superior is famously extreme and can change drastically without warning.  A perky voice on the radio suggested Marquette would receive only a dusting, and I expected to be out of the worst of it before long.  Although the clock read early afternoon, the sky was a deep leaden-gray.  A pickup with darkened headlights passed me, and I flashed mine, hoping they got the message. I stared ahead and followed imprints of tires that shifted with each gust.  Time slowed to a crawl.

The Jeep must have been well ahead of me, since I hadn’t seen it in quite a while. My fingers gripped the steering wheel too tightly, going numb, and I tried to relax them.  I shifted by body forward in an attempt to see the road more clearly through the effects of the howling wind.

Any expectation of heat for my toes long abandoned, I diverted all warm air toward the defroster to retain a clear view.  My wipers laboriously worked to clear the expanse of glass, but to no avail.  Ice began to form on the blades, and portions of my windshield became opaque.

I followed what seemed to be a single vehicle track, at times, and avoided the disappearing ditches. I wondered occasionally if I was even on the right side of the road in that tunnel of white.  Minutes felt like hours.  Although my teeth chattered from the cold, I detected droplets of sweat trickling between my breasts. Heart pounding in my ears, I knew pulling off the road was a magnet for trouble, but finally felt there was no choice.

In the stilled car, I turned on my emergency flashers and wondered how he fared.  His Jeep with four-wheel drive was more suited for the weather, but hauled that unfamiliar trailer.  Through the span of thick whiteness, I saw a barely visible, blinking light moving toward me.  Another plow, I guessed, and prayed its driver could see my vehicle where it sat.  In relief, I determined it was well on the opposite side, as it crawled closer.  When it stopped across from my snow-covered car, the driver cranked down his window and motioned for me to do the same.

“Broken down, ma’am?” the ruddy-faced man hollered.

“No. I can’t see where I’m going,” I called back.

“Good,” I was surprised to hear him respond, over the sounds of the gale.  “There’s a place back a bit, from the way you came. A parking lot to get off the road.”

“Didn’t see it,” I responded, shaking my head in the negative.

“Turn around, and I’ll lead you there,” he yelled and rolled the glass closed before I could answer.

My whole body vibrated from cold and fear. I searched both ways through the whiteout for any oncoming traffic and held my breath.  The car struggled for traction and finally completed a slow u-turn, while I joined the giant machine in a wintry parade.  After a mile or two, the driver reached his arm out the window and pointed a gloved hand to the left.  I spied a parking lot that held several cars covered in white, tooted my horn in thanks, and turned.

Through deep drifts exposing few traces of recent activity, I drove close to the building.  After my engine was quieted, I first heard a loud ringing in my ears, followed by silence only the insulation of thick snow and ice can provide.  I grabbed my hat and gloves from the seat and started the short trek up to what the dilapidated, crooked sign announced as the ‘Tioga Tavern.’

At a small table near the dancing fire, I took off my gloves and held a cup of coffee for comfort, more than anything else.  I assured the welcoming bartender that I wasn’t interested in something to eat. His eyes seemed curious about my situation, but he didn’t ask. Peanut shells embellished the floor, and a silent, old-fashioned jukebox rested on the other side of the scarred, wooden dance floor.  It must have been quite the hot spot on a Saturday night.

Not sure what to do next, I waited for the adrenaline to subside and willed the weather to clear.  I hated making him worry, but knew he might be driving on toward Marquette without realizing my absence.  I also feared he may have slid off the road and needed help. If I called the police, would they look for someone missing in the storm?

Besides the bartender, the only inhabitants that stormy afternoon were a few ancient men in flannel shirts and suspenders, who played some sort of a card game at a table, and several talkative couples at the bar.  While I sipped the hot, bitter liquid and argued with my inner self over what action to take, I heard a jingle from the door. A burst of cold air followed a laughing, young couple into the room.  They climbed onto stools at the bar and ordered hot chocolates fortified by peppermint schnapps. After they took turns visiting the restroom, they settled in to sample their drinks.

“Man, it’s nasty out,” the young man said to the bartender.  “Would you believe, we passed a crazy guy walkin’, back there! He was tryin’ to find a woman’s car. Said she might’ve gone in the ditch, and he needed to walk so he wouldn’t miss her.”

“I wonder…” started the man behind the bar, glancing my direction.

Jolted by their words, I took a deep breath and joined them. “Excuse me, but I couldn’t help but overhear.  Can you tell me what the man looked like?” I asked the newcomers.

“Hard to tell under all that winter gear, but he seemed to have a reddish beard,” the young man answered.

“He wore glasses,” his female companion said, “They were kinda frosting over.”

I grabbed my gloves, headed to the door, and opened to the wailing blizzard.  Like frozen sand, it stung my eyes and I raised my hands to protect them.  Peering beyond the expanse of the parking lot, I saw a hooded figure in a heavy winter coat adorned by patches of white. He trudged alongside the road with his head bent against the icy onslaught.

Wild laughter of reprieve bubbled up from inside, and I yelled against the wind. I ran toward him through peaks and valleys of snow, like in a dream where movement is almost impossible.  Since he didn’t see or hear me, his head remained down as he plodded determinedly ahead.  When he finally sensed movement, his head jerked up to meet my familiar face. He veered off what was probably the shoulder of the road and headed toward me. Finally close enough, I leapt at him, and he caught me in his arms.

“Are you okay?” he asked, in a voice nearly stolen by the wind.

“Now I am,” I answered, so sure our life would be good.

I solemnly looked toward his eyes.  He gazed back, removed his mitten, and tenderly touched my cheek.

In the many years spent together, we often traveled that same isolated stretch of highway. The sign for the Tioga Tavern still hung lopsidedly from the front of the building. No matter the season, the windows remained dark, and no visitors were seen approaching its door. Had that warm building and the helpful people within been real, or were they figments of my imagination? I may never again feel the complete certainty about anything as I did on that day.

I’m no Juliet but sure enjoying my new balcony!

Cool breeze, dappled sunlight, rustling leaves, cooing doves, and the aroma of popcorn from across the Square. Evening brings a view of the sunset and appearance of white lights tucked away in the trees. Most importantly, I now have my own outdoor space in which to exercise my hopefully still green thumb!

My sister surprised me by sending the great book, pictured below, as an “apartment warming” gift. Several of you offered helpful suggestions for gardening in a small space, as well, when I wrote about my impending move. With these resources and a few other books I have about container gardening, I’m making plans here in Texas!

Watching and waiting more than 3 years for “the right apartment,” my time has finally come. I’m all moved in and mainly have just books left to unpack (which is about half my possessions:) Even though I only moved to a different apartment in the same building, it was still a lot of work, of course. Happily, I managed to keep up with my editing for pay work (motivated by that pesky budget) AND managed to write a new section for a chapter book in progress (motivated by my wonderful critique groups).

Now, if I just could get these boxes of books unpacked and placed on the shelves…