Collecting Memories

As a typical kid growing up in the 1950s, I collected the usual sorts of things, like pretty stones, smooth driftwood, multi-colored marbles, favorite books and treasured dolls. I wasn’t really much of a “pack rat,” though, and by the time I moved away from home the only parts of those collections that remained were a set of Trixie Belden mysteries and a few Barbie dolls.

As the years went by, the basis for my taste in collectible books remained much the same: heavy on the mystery and brimming with nostalgia. Most of the books I’ve sought out or have purchased after being pleasantly surprised by their appearance hold a connection to the past. When my life hit a U-turn a few years ago, and I was faced with downsizing from a house to a small apartment, my treasured book collection took a necessary but serious hit.

map backWhat remains is a selection of childhood chapter books, Golden Books related to memories but collected as an adult, author-signed novels, and a few vintage tomes that are too wonderful (and smelly) to ever discard. The largest set in the lot is my Dell Mystery Map Backs. As a child, I loved books that included illustrations of maps. Imagine my delight as an adult to discover these wonderfully “campy” mysteries with the great front cover art (although sometimes a bit lurid) and maps on the backs to match the stories. When moving day arrived, the only map backs I had parted with were a few duplicates.

Luckily my apartment has ample kitchen cupboard space, since my other main collecting activity has turned toward dinnerware, including Luray Pastels, Fiestaware, and Blue Willow. I really can’t bear to part with most of the pieces, since they were handed down to me from my grandmothers, mother, and several aunts.

Luray

The delicate scrollwork and pastel tones of the pink, blue, yellow and green Luray originated in West Virginia, near the Luray Caverns, from 1938-1961 and were made by Taylor, Smith, and Taylor Company. The set I now have once belonged to my mother’s older sister, and they often make me think of our homes in Michigan. The only piece that I use daily is the yellow salt shaker, and my favorite example that’s on display is the blue teapot. For a period of time, light gray additions were also produced, but never caught on in popularity and were then dropped. Pieces in that color are now highly collectible, and I’m happy to say that I hung on to the gray Luray platter that I bought “for a song” some years back.

fiestaware multiAlthough Fiestaware, which is produced by the Homer Laughlin China Company, also of West Virginia, was introduced in 1936, my pieces are not in the realm of vintage, unless that includes a set purchased through the J.C. Penney catalog in the 1990s. I had admired these colorful, sturdy dishes at the homes of friends as a child, and when I had the chance to purchase dinnerware of my own they seemed like the logical choice. Fiestaware is available in a wide range of colors, and my set is composed of deep pastels, including turquoise.  Over time, I’ve also added select pieces in red to be used as serving dishes. I often make use of the small plates and bowls while “cooking for one” and display the reds in my Hoosier-type cabinet in the fall and around the holidays.

Blue WillowWillow is an elaborate design that has been used on kitchen ware for hundreds of years and probably got its start as Spode transferware. Various colors have been used, and mine is all of the popular blue variety. The lovely scenes that are depicted include detailed buildings, gardens, bridges, and figures, which found their inspiration in wares that originated in China. Various companies appear to use these patterns, and my wide assortment came from both grandmothers, my father’s oldest sister and my mother. They all remembered that I had expressed an interest in those dishes as a child, and that fact makes me treasure them even more. I sometimes use the small bowls or plates and regularly display my favorites. The patterns vary and several that really catch my eye are the ones made in Holland that include camels in their designs.

No matter which type of collecting, my favorite objects will always be those that invoke a memory of the past or the air of childhood. If you were to ask my grandchildren about what I collect, they would probably say “roosters,” and I admit that quite a few of them in various incarnations do reside in my kitchen. Although only a few of them are connected to childhood, like my mother’s egg cups, I’ve had most of them for years. If the roosters could talk, they would tell stories about the history of my former life and marriage, including observations on all of the interesting kitchen renovations where they have “lived.”

As far as the Trixie Belden books and Barbie dolls that I took away from my childhood home as a newly minted adult, I still have them. The pages are somewhat discolored and brittle. The words and pictures still carry a type of intrigue and predictable comfort that I hope to instill in my own writing for children. Barbie and Ken make a curious couple, with his right arm missing and her bouffant hair somewhat worn off from the back of her head. They’re still smiling, though, after all these years.Barbie and Ken

 

 

 

Why I Liked Trixie Belden More Than Nancy Drew (and why it still matters)

Trixie Belden

Let’s face it…books about both characters have withstood the test of time. As a kid, I wanted not only to immerse myself in stories ABOUT Trixie, but I also desired to BE her. Why Trixie and not Nancy? I enjoyed books about them both and still have a wonderful memory of sitting in my classroom at Zion Lutheran Elementary, in Tawas City, Michigan, reading a version of The Hidden Staircase that was “vintage” even at that point in time, in the early 60’s.

I don’t really remember a specific place where I read about Trixie…it just seemed, once I digested the first episode of her life, that “she” was always there with me…at home, in school, riding my bike, walking over to a friend’s house, or worrying about something in bed at night.

Why, indeed, did Trixie grab my imagination and thoughts more than Nancy? I’ve given this some thought, recently, and here are several ideas and memories:

  • A bike was her common mode of transportation, which I could relate to, given my age. She sometimes rode horses, also, which I was always too apprehensive to try. Trixie sometimes envied her friends who owned those animals.
  • Her hair was cut short, which was how I wore my own (by default…it’s a long story), after early childhood. I always imagined that Trixie would have liked longer hair like her friends, Honey Wheeler and Di Lynch.
  • She had a best friend, Honey, who she could count on, through thick and thin. They did have a few misunderstandings, as I remember, but always worked things out. My “bestie” changed a few times over the years, and although I tended to be a loner, that relationship was always very important to me.
  • Completion of certain household chores was always expected of Trixie, which she often disliked. I hate to admit that I was sporadic in my organizational skills, and ranged from “pig-like” qualities in my bedroom to obsessive repeated vacuuming of our living room.
  • She had some trouble in math, to which I could relate after I hit long division!
  • Jim seemed like the model partner to me. He was dependable, nice looking, and gave Trixie plenty of space to be her own person. In several of the later books, Trixie seemed to struggle a bit with just how to deal with her feelings for Jim.
  • She was very brave and actually solved mysteries, which I could only imagine someone doing in real life. I admired that Trixie and Honey already knew what they wanted to be when they “grew up”, with their goals of co-owning a detective agency.
  • She dealt with some fears and worries, to which I could always relate (and still do!).

What does my list tell me? Why do I care, and how can this make me a better writer? It appears that I celebrated our similarities AND our differences. In the end, I think that believable characters are the answer. Some people might want to read about individuals like themselves, while others may be attracted to the more fantasy appeal of characters who are very different or exotic. Either way, REAL is the key word, in my opinion.

I didn’t know just what it was at the time, but I realize after all these years that Nancy seemed more wooden and too perfect. I want to peek into the life of someone with positive qualities and faults, and I imagine that’s true for many readers. I’m planning to keep that in mind, from now on, when fashioning my own imperfect characters!

Definition of “Holiday”

 

hol-i-day   /ˈhäləˌdā/
noun
  1. 1.
    a day of festivity or recreation when no work is done.

I found this amusing definition for “holiday” on the Internet, giving me a bit of a chuckle. Many of us are observing holidays, but I’m guessing that a great deal of work is still being done! In fact, I’m under the impression that many writers feel even more inspired at this time of year, due to the changing seasons, observance of religious traditions linked to childhood memories, and emotions carefully hidden that struggle to resurface.

Holidays can also highlight certain literature-related behaviors. Many of us purchase books as gifts to please others (maybe those are volumes we’d actually rather read ourselves?), seek out other cutesy presents for the bibliophiles on our lists (often significantly over-priced), or finally resort to life-saving gift certificates when all else fails (whew!).

Books set during the holidays are widely popular. To meet her readers’ desires, Janet Rudolph yearly presents an extensive list of mystery books set during the holidays on her blog, Mystery Fanfare. I’ve happily tried new titles discovered there, and been pleasantly reminded of vintage offerings I’d enjoyed in the past.

Whatever “holidays” meant for you, I hope that yours were pleasant, safe, and productive!

As a small New Year’s gift, I’m offering my short story, “Romantivores”, free for Kindle through Amazon, from January 8-12. This is a perfect way for readers to meet Jonathan and Solveig, the main characters of my still-to-be-published book by the same title!

To learn more about my “writerly life”, check out the author interview with me, found at “Tyree Tomes – Here There Be Dragons!”

 

 

Culture Shock as Fodder for Writing

globe-460439_1280

An entire sub-genre of writing exists that zeroes in on people who leave their homes to set up housekeeping in radically different environments. The unfamiliar habits of the locals then make interesting and often amusing stories. Some of my favorites are offerings by Peter Mayle, Julia Child, Adam Gopnik and Frances Mayes. I love their books and often picture what it would be like to wake up and find myself in similar situations.

I’ve been thinking about this recently, while planning a trip to visit my daughters and their families in Texas. We lived there together, in what seems like another lifetime, after spending the beginning of our lives in Michigan. As the memories flood over me, I realize that I’ve lost sight of how alien everyday things sometimes seemed during those years. Many writers have experienced relocation to another culture, even if it’s not in France or Italy, and details of those experiences can add interesting twists to story plots.

For example, I remember the chuckles I received from several office mates one day in the “Lone Star State”, when I referred to stopping at the “party store for pop”. At the same time, I never understood why Texans called all soda pop “Coke”, no matter what the label said. At the end of a long workday, “See you guys” contrasted sharply with, “Bye, y’all”. There were differences wherever I turned. Due to the “Blue Laws”, sale of clothing on Sundays, at that time, wasn’t allowed, and many counties were “dry”, meaning they didn’t sell alcohol at all. Of course, the rich drawls and twangs took some getting used to, especially when my older daughter tried them on as her own. I had always thought of my speech as being just plain, but was told by my new friends that I spoke with a “funny accent”!

Travel outside the borders of one’s own state isn’t even required. Within Michigan, people living in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas have interesting differences in ways of speaking and in the foods they enjoy, just to name a few idiosyncrasies. If you’ve never tried cudighi, a type of sausage, or the meat pies called pasties, you still haven’t lived.

Do you think anyone will notice if I take notes during my Texas visit? I’ve forgotten so many of the cute little quirks and need a refresher for future writing!

For books about moves to parts unknown, my “Reading Lists” page details several authors with one of their titles, each, for starters.

Thoughts on writing, getting published, and enjoying life’s everyday pleasures…

-by Becky Michael   

Join me for a cup of tea, coffee or something stronger over a discussion of some possible shared interests before jumping back onto the road of life!

When I began planning this blog aimed at enhancing my writing platform, I came across the photo above that seemed to fit my needs in so many ways. In the first place, it was auspicious to find such a lovely photograph carrying the word “Platform”. Secondly, writing is actually my fourth career or “calling”. I spent many years as a full-time mother, followed by training and employment as an office administrator. I then furthered my studies to work as a teacher, happily ending up as a full-time writer. All of my life experiences up to this point are now funneled into this creative endeavor. Finally, I love the symbolism in the picture, of the solid ground where I now stand, with the towering mountain nearby still to be climbed.

Maybe you’re also working toward publication after age 50. Could be that you’re a retired educator, too, or enjoy reading, gardening, cooking or collecting vintage items. I’d love to see comments on my musings and hear from others with similar tastes, or with completely different outlooks to pique readers’ and my interests!