Hoping for Snow?

children playing in snow
Becky and sister Terri

Growing up in Michigan, the opportunity to play in winter snow was always a given. Many years would pass, before living in the much different climates of North Carolina and now Texas, to understand how scores of children (and even adults!) maintain such strong desires and dreams for that white stuff.

In 2019, I wrote a blog post with the happy news about the anticipated publication of my story, “Welcome to Texas, Heikki Lunta,” which revolves around two children waiting for snow. To check out the history of Heikki Lunta in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, you can read that post here.

Today, I’m excited to share my full story with you, which was first published in U.P. Reader Issue #3.

frosty window

Welcome to Texas, Heikki Lunta!

Another winter holiday passed with no snow in sight. Not one flake. That glorious white stuff hadn’t fallen on Ella and Rae-Ann’s part of Texas in years. The sisters searched the sky when cold winds blew. They peered out the windows to see what was new. Nothing.  

“We had such fun playing in the snow that year,” said Ella, pointing at a framed photo.

“I only remember making snow angels when I look at that picture,” said her younger sister, Rae-Ann.

New Year’s Day came and went. The children said ‘good-bye’ to winter break and returned to their classrooms.

***

Mom shooed two dogs away as she sliced apples and spooned peanut butter onto plates for an after-school snack. Grandma sat in the kitchen finishing her coffee.

 “Y’all come to the table, girls. And don’t let the dogs get your food,” warned Mom. With a shiver, she turned the furnace up a notch before joining the others.

“It’s sure getting cold out there,” said Grandma. “I hear that Heikki Lunta might make a visit.”

“Hay-Kee who?” asked Ella, licking peanut butter from her fingers.

Rae-Ann’s eyes stole a quick look at the back door.

“His story’s rather long,” their grandmother said.

“Tell us,” the sisters begged in one voice.

“Well, you know I used to live w-a-a-a-y at the tip-top of Upper Michigan,” Grandma began.

“I sort of remember visiting you there,” said Ella.

“That was summer. You have no idea what it’s like in the winter.”

“Lots of snow?” asked Rae-Ann.

“Tons,” nodded Grandma. “The snowbanks grow taller than people. Schools sometimes close for a week at a time because of the blizzards.”

“Wow!” Ella exclaimed. The dogs cocked their heads to the side, listening.

“What does that have to do with this Heikki Lunta?” Mom asked.

“Quite a few families in Northern Michigan came from a far-away, snowy country called Finland,” said Grandma. “Many years ago, those who lived in Finland shared stories called ‘myths,’ just like most ancient people around the world.”

Scooping Snow in Finland (Pixabay)

“I learned about myths in school,” Ella said. “Those are made-up stories that explain how things work or got started. We read about how the elephant got its trunk.”

“Exactly,” said Mom. “And you’ve both seen a movie about Hercules, which is also a myth.”

“That’s right,” Grandma said. “Many of those stories include gods and goddesses. ’Heikki Lunta’ is like a snow god from Finland. People who live in Upper Michigan often talk about him in the winter when they’re hoping for snow. Hotels and restaurants looking for visitors to the area even put up signs saying, ‘Heikki Lunta, do your thing.’”

“Did you ever see him?” whispered Rae-Ann.

“He’s just pretend,” Ella reminded her younger sister. “Grandma, why did you tease us and say he’s coming here?”

Mom and Grandma exchanged knowing looks.

“The weather report says we might get a bit of snow tonight or tomorrow,” Mom answered.

Her daughters’ smiles reached from ear to ear.

Make it snow, Heikki Lunta, make it snow,” sang Grandma, when it was time for her to leave.

***

When Dad returned from work, the sisters rushed out to his red pick-up truck and told him about the forecast. After dinner, they drew pictures of their neighborhood covered in snow. At the bottom of hers, Ella wrote, “Please send snow Haykee Loonta.”

The girls welcomed bedtime that night. Ella left her blinds open in hopes of seeing some flurries. In another room down the hall, Rae-Ann was excited and just a little nervous. She peeked through long lashes at her bedroom door before falling asleep.

While she slept, Rae-Ann imagined someone like Hercules. He wore a heavy white coat with its collar turned up against the cold. Ella dreamed of a man with long gray hair and beard, who was dressed in a flowing blue robe. Wind and snow swirled around him. Heikki Lunta?  As the whole town slept, dark clouds gathered and delivered a bit of magic.

                                                                     ***

At the sound of Dad’s pick-up leaving in the morning, four eyes popped open wide. Rae-Ann and Ella ran to their windows and cheered at the sight of powdery snow on the ground and glistening flakes in the air. The time said 9:00. Why had their parents let them sleep so late?

“You’re taking a snow day,” Mom explained in the kitchen.

“School’s closed?” asked Rae-Ann.

“The roads are quite safe, according to the radio. We don’t get snow very often, so Dad and I decided to let you stay home and enjoy it.”

 “Yay!” both girls cheered, as they ran to get dressed.

“A warm breakfast comes first,” Mom yelled up the stairs. “Then we’ll hunt up our wooly hats and mittens. You’ll need to wear your snow boots and not just those ropers.”

***

dogs in the snow
Dogs Surprised by Snow

Light snow continued to fall throughout the morning. The three stomped trails in their backyard and built a small snowman. Ella and Rae-Ann lay down and flapped their arms to make snow angels. Their happy dogs rolled near them on the frosty ground. While watching their fun, Mom picked a torn section of blue fabric from a nearby bush.

“Maybe Heikki Lunta really did help us out,” Ella said with a secret grin, at the sight of the blue material. “Does Grandma know about the snow?”

“I’m sure she does,” said Mom. “Let’s pick her up for a snow ride.”

“What’s that?” asked Rae-Ann. “A car drive on the snowy streets?”

“It’s mostly melted from the roads. I’ll phone her to say that we’re coming, and then I’ll show you my idea.”

Ten minutes later, the laughing trio arrived at Grandma’s apartment building. When she slid into the front seat, she saw what was causing their excitement. Sparkling snowflakes floated into the car from the open moon roof.

Mom pulled back onto the street. People up and down the sidewalks turned in surprise. Echoes of four voices drifted through the winter air, “THANK YOU, HEIKKI LUNTA!”

snowman
Texas Snowman

Come to School with Me!

During the school year when leadership in the U.S. changed over from Dwight D. Eisenhower to John F. Kennedy, I was a 3rd-grade student on the top floor of the school pictured, above. Already outdated by standards of the day, my building held dark, steep wooden stairs leading up from the first floor and a bell rope hanging over the stairwell, for some lucky kid to pull and dangle from while announcing the start of the day. A chilly cloakroom stood at the top of the stairs, and the classroom was furnished with the old sleigh-style wooden desks, fashioned with inkwells where bottles of ink had once rested.

That same year, some changes had taken place in the leadership of our school, as well. We had a new teacher! Miss Spaude was special for many reasons, I am certain. But the most obvious difference her students noticed right away was that she was bald! This teacher is my favorite and most memorable from elementary school, and I have incorporated her into several of my written works. Happily, my rhyming story, “Miss O’Blair Has Lost Her Hair,” is now published at Storyberries! I hope you will enjoy reading it (for free) as much as I enjoyed writing it, while walking down “memory lane.”

I would like to thank Sue Clancy, writer and illustrator extraordinaire, for the information she generously shared on her blog about Storyberries.

I hope you enjoy the visit to my old school through this post and in the linked story. Just several years after my tale was set, a more “modern” brick building was erected next to this one, and my white frame school was leveled. I felt very sad about that, and I like to keep the memories alive through my writing!

Wearing My Editor’s Hat!

As many writers have found, just having more time to work during the pandemic doesn’t necessarily make one more productive. That’s the case for me. So, in efforts to stay busy and earn some money while I’m at it, I’ve taken on many editing projects. In fact, I’ve completed around 100 manuscript edits since March.

Many of my projects have been children’s picture book edits, while others have involved middle-grade fiction and short stories for adults. I found most of these opportunities through online platforms that match freelancers up with clients. The feedback I’ve received from my clients has been very positive, which I find to be quite rewarding. I’m also excited to say that several of the books I edited are now published, such as the following:

                                             

I haven’t given up on personal writing and still attend my critique groups online. I’ve also completed several writing projects through these freelance platforms, as well, such as non-fiction articles, blog posts, and children’s leveled readers. All of this has given me something to work toward each day, which you all know can be a struggle right now!

In addition to communication with family and friends, my balcony gardening (and the challenge of the intense Texas sun!) also keeps me grounded. I finally took the plunge and purchased a fountain for my small outdoor space, which I love dearly. It’s no replacement for the Great Lakes, Atlantic Ocean, or St. Mary’s River, but it’s my little piece of heaven.

Lovely Sounds of Water

Leaders of the Pack

Lake Superior in Upper Michigan

While living in Upper Michigan, I had the opportunity to observe some rather unusual wildlife, including foxes and black bears. At times, the experiences felt a little too close for comfort!

An early spring walk near a Lake Superior beach offered one such encounter. A face-to-face meeting with an indeterminate species brought about a rather humorous situation, which I recently chronicled in my short story, “Much Different Animal.” I’m happy to say that my tale now appears in the U.P. Reader Volume 4!

The book has stories and poetry by authors who live in the Upper Peninsula or who, like me, have ties to that beautiful area. I asked those interested in winning a copy of this book to let me know in the comments. Out of a shoebox, I drew Maria Donovan at Facts and Fiction as the slip for the lucky winner! Thanks to all who entered, and I’ll be sure to post the story as soon as the rights revert to me.

Finally, with the title of this post, I just couldn’t resist the following video:)

Dime Novel: Abandoned in the Attic

House Built around 1900 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

In a prior post, I wrote about finding a recipe notebook from the past behind a drawer in the kitchen of the house pictured above. That was only one of the vintage literary surprises this house held!

Thanks to Nona Blyth Cloud at wordcloud9 – Flowers for Socrates, I learned that today, July 30, is International Paperback Book Day. An early version of Penguin Books started publishing and mass marketing classics in paperback format on this day in 1935. This meant that more people could afford to buy books, which was certainly a wonderful thing.

As readers of my blog know, I enjoy collecting vintage titles. This topic inspired me to think about my own books. What is my oldest paperback book, I wondered. Then I was off to search my shelves. After checking out my lovely finds (sniffing and leafing through a few pages while I was at it), I proved what I had thought to be true. My paperback book dated the very earliest, 1891, was the one found in the attic of the house pictured, above!

The book is titled Married for Money and is written by May Agnes Fleming. This was such an exciting find, I remember, especially since nothing else very interesting was found up there in the attic. After I finished with my happy dance that day, I began to dig deeper and find out more!

Turns out that “Mrs. May Agnes Fleming,” as the book cover states, was Canada’s first best-selling novelist. In all, she wrote 42 “women’s dime novels,” and 27 of them were published after she died, which is true of my title.

May Agnes Fleming, 1840-1880

Offer on Back of Book; 160 House Plans for $2.50

 

Ad for Teething Syrup inside Book
Ad for Teething Syrup inside Book

My research also revealed The American Women’s Dime Novel Project! What began as research for a dissertation eventually turned into a website with information about these books written for working-class women, from 1870 to 1920. This interesting site offers articles, additional resources, author biographies, images, and even some of these novels turned into e-books!

Although they’re called “dime novels,” my particular book was marked “25 cents.” Inflation, I suppose? If you’re interested in the history of women’s literature, please be sure to check out this fun and informative website!                         ~Becky

Twisty Path of Life

At the beginning of June, five decades will have passed since I graduated from high school. How in the heck did that happen? In some ways, this seems impossible, as if it was just yesterday. In other respects, this feels like lifetimes ago, and in a way, it was. I’ve experienced several different lives since then. I’m sure many of you have the same thoughts about the passage of time.

High School

After high school, I lived life in reverse order. Before attending college, I was married and started raising my two daughters. Together, the three of us “went away to school” after a divorce changed our lives. But the direction I began in my bachelor’s degree program wasn’t the same career I enjoyed until retirement!

Ready for our Big Move

My work life after college began in office administration. I was never crazy about my supervisory position, but years went by before I took the next leap. Becoming a teacher had always been my dream, but that hadn’t seemed like a solid choice when I first entered college.

Office Supervisor

The twisty path of life finally led to a career in teaching. I didn’t take a direct route and was certainly one of the older student teachers in my college class that semester. I’ve never regretted the decision to make that change and appreciated the support of my entire family. For me, teaching was a calling. Not without challenges, it was still the perfect career for my needs.

As ‘Mrs. Wishy-Washy’ at school one Halloween!

Now that I’m retired, my wide background is certainly an asset in my writing and pursuit of freelance projects. In fact, my non-fiction piece about career change appears in How I Switched Careers. This e-book is free for a few days, so I hope you’ll take a look!

In checking out the stories in this publication, it appears more common for people to switch FROM teaching to another career, instead of turning TO teaching, as in my case. To each their own…I loved it. Most of us enjoy a chance to tell parts of our life stories, and this type of project was a great opportunity for me to do that!

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #9: Sewing Up Memories

As my regular readers already know, I adore bookstores, especially those that feature used books! To put an even finer point on that, I love the shops that carry other various types of vintage items, such as maps, magazines, product leaflets, branded recipe booklets, and the like.

One of my favorite such spots is located in Moran, Michigan, called “The First Edition, Too.” It was there where I was thrilled to come across the 1939 Singer Illustrated Dressmaking Guide pictured above. This was especially fitting, since I sewed as a teenager in Michigan on my mother’s Singer, which now “lives” in my Texas apartment. The slim booklet shows drawings of sewing strategies such as shirring, insets, and pleats. There are even sections all about sewing for infants and making “first school dresses.”

Martha Kennedy, who blogs at I’m a Writer, Yes, I Am,” wrote a great post about her grandmother’s sewing machine. This got me thinking more about my own, shown above! Martha’s appears to be older and much more ornate than mine, as a treadle machine compared to my electric model. As you can see, I still have the original box with attachments.

I found an interesting website for the International Sewing Machine Collectors’ Society (ISMACS), where I zeroed in on some info about my machine. Based on the serial number, mine is a Singer series AH model and probably purchased about 1947-48. This makes perfect sense, as that would be around the time my mom had her first baby, my older sister, Terri. She may have sewn her infant layette on that machine!

Looking through old pictures, I was pleased to find one from when I was about six months old. My mother’s Singer sets next to the couch behind me. Although Mom sewed quite a bit when her kids were young…clothing, doll clothes, and items for the household…I think she used it mainly just for mending in later years. I’m sure happy my mother hung onto this machine, since it brings back such sweet memories for me.

In honor of Mother’s Day, I’ll share one more photo, showing my maternal grandparents (Rudolf & Frieda Witzke), Mom (Ella Witzke Ross), Aunt Frieda (Mom’s older sister), and my older sister, Terri. This photo was taken in Tawas City, Michigan, on my 1st birthday, and I imagine my father, Philip Ross, was the man behind the camera. Now I’m wondering if Mom sewed those cute, gingham kitchen curtains on her Singer!

 

 

Three Ring Circus and Publishing News!

circus-tent-248193_960_720

World Circus Day falls in April. The concept of a circus appears to have begun in ancient Rome, in seated arenas where spectators viewed various types of sports and games. Traditional circuses of more modern times were often traveling shows that included performances with clowns, acrobats, and trained animals.

In my small town, a dilapidated circus caravan arrived each summer and set up tents in the ball fields near the local school. As a kid, a visit to the circus filled me with a mix of excitement and dread. I looked forward to the fruit-flavored snow cones Mom and Dad promised when the show ended. I always hoped that would be the year I could buy a too-expensive, feathered Kewpie doll from the vendors. The trapeze artists and tightrope walkers showed off amazing skills. But what if they fell? I wasn’t fearful of clowns, but the ones made up to look sad concerned me.

clown-400528_960_720

The worst part was the poor animals. Sometimes we saw them, pacing in their small cages, between shows. The view across a field often included elephants with legs chained to metal stakes in the ground.

I clearly remember the summer when I was about eight years old. I sat under the hot circus tent with my family, listening to the applause from the crowd directed at little dogs riding tricycles. A trio of huge elephants then lumbered into the ring. The trainers put them through their paces to the sound of music, but one of the giants didn’t comply. A circus worker wielded a hooked pole. He jabbed at the elephant with the stick that seemed as though it could tear the animal’s papery ears. I wanted to cry. I wanted to run. Trainers finally led the elephants from the tent, and I was glad it was over.

Later that afternoon, a neighbor told us that circus workers had walked the elephants to the nearby creek for a drink. The animals escaped up the other side! A mix of fear and relief washed over me. The elephants were free! But what if they walked down our street and bumped into our house? I waited nervously, wondering what would happen. My parents assured me the circus workers would find the elephants. Was that what I wanted?

elephant bathing

In the evening, we learned the elephants had walked through my grandmother’s garden! She was away from the house, but neighbors spotted them. When Grandma returned, she found footprints and smashed vines in her garden as proof!

That same week, a little dog wandered the sidewalk of a house across the street. The family took it in as their own and discovered the animal was eager and willing to do a variety of tricks. They named her “Trixie” and always believed she was an escapee from that same circus.

Trixie

Thankfully, the use of animal acts for entertainment in circuses has now decreased, and that type of exploitation in many countries is now almost non-existent. In 2016, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival highlighted five major circus disciplines: acrobatics, aerial skills, equilibristics, object manipulation, and clowning. It also showcased the occupational culture of circus artists but didn’t involve exotic animals. That was a wonderful step in the right direction! In fact, numerous circuses that have been around for years are now closing. Other circuses have evolved or begun as animal-free entertainment.

I’m pleased to say that my children’s story, “Freedom,” based on that ‘great elephant escape,’ now appears online in Smarty Pants Magazine for Kids. My alter ego, Becca, is much braver than I remember being as a child. In the fictional ending of my tale, her feelings about the imprisoned animals empower her in a humorous fashion. Hope you will enjoy reading my story, which is linked above!                             ~Becky

elephant river

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #8: Delivered to Your Door

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Written by Jessica Potter Broderick and Illustrated by Jean Tamburine

Home food delivery from grocery stores and through a variety of home meal services  has made a resurgence in the last few years. With the current needs for social distancing and quarantines related to the coronavirus, this practice will likely become even more common.

From my childhood in Tawas City, Michigan, during the 50s and 60s, I have a clear memory of our milkman from the local dairy, Nelkie’s. He was a handsome, dark-haired chap named Tony, who wore some type of white jacket or uniform. I don’t remember his vehicle, however. In my mind’s eye, I can still see several glass bottles of milk set into the frosty snow on the top step near our front door.

Time went by, and one day I realized that Tony the milkman had disappeared. The dairy remained, but home delivery must have been suspended. Evidently that was common for the times, as mentioned in this interesting article about the history of  home milk delivery. Yet another nostalgic piece of our past that no longer exists.

Some people collect Little Golden Books, while others seek the Junior Elf BooksI love both and often look for them when I visit used bookstores. When I saw the Junior Elf Book pictured above, Milkman Bill, it brought back so many childhood memories and sensations. Surely you can see why it was a necessary purchase? The original price tag still stuck to the cover says 15 cents. I paid a bit more, but it was certainly reasonable at $1.00.

The story centers on a little boy, Dickie, who’s been sick in bed for three weeks. The doctor has told Mother that Dickie must drink more milk to get better and stay strong. If only staying healthy was really that easy! Dickie has many questions for the milkman, and the reader learns about the entire process, from cow to home. The book ends with Milkman Bill promising Dickie and his family a tour of the dairy the following week. This slim volume, published in 1960, smells exactly the way an old book should!

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Dick and Jane had a milkman, too!

Boo Boo’s 15 Minutes of Fame

National Walking the Dog Day – Who knew there was a special day on the calendar to celebrate walking the dog?! When I saw this announcement,  I thought back to a newspaper picture from 2012 I had saved in an old, decorated picnic basket. On the day captured above, I took my dog, Boo Boo, for a walk near what was then my home in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. I remember that autumn afternoon in mid October was beautiful…sunny and mild with plenty of colors remaining on the trees and ground cover. I can still smell that musty scent of fallen leaves.

A gentleman from The Evening News drove by and stopped to ask if he could take our picture. I agreed, thinking this would somehow immortalize my aging Shih Tzu. I spelled our names for the man, and he went on his way after clicking this photo. As you might notice, when this was published in the newspaper, my name is misspelled, but Boo Boo’s is not. Seems only right, since it was my faithful friend’s 15 minutes of fame.

I loved taking this sweet dog for walks, even in cold and snowy weather. We both benefited from the exercise and fresh air. It gave us time to be alone. I often talked with him about the things on my mind, and he was a wonderful listener. We had some adventures on our strolls, as well, such as near misses with skunks and snow plows. Over the years, we met many cute kids and sometimes scary stray dogs, who always wanted to come close and say hello. I was lucky to share many hours with such an affectionate and determined little guy and miss him more than I thought possible! I still walk, but it’s just not the same.

Younger Days with a Shorter, North Carolina Haircut

Children’s author, Elizabeth Stevens Omlor, and illustrator, Neesha Hudson, have captured the joys of walking our furry friends in their adorable book, Walk Your Dog. Important themes of teamwork, cooperation, and patience are beautifully addressed. You might want to look for it at your local library or bookstore!