Great news! On Monday, yes this coming Monday, I will begin training with a new guide dog from Guiding Eyes for the Blind, GEB. I have been without a dog for a year and a half. I’ve never been so long without a dog since I got my first in 1975 at age 17. I’m so excited! I won’t give details until my trainer says it’s okay, but the dog has been living with me since Monday, so we can begin to bond. She is adorable, an absolute darling, and I am already head over heels totally in love! Follow the journey here if you’re interested!
By D. A. Charles
Today, I’m writing about the release of a new book, Shattered, by D. A. Charles. I’ll be back later with a full review, but I’ve been involved with this story, in one way or another, for nearly ten years, and I’m thrilled that the release is finally here!
As a disabled person—I am totally blind and have been since about age five—it’s frustrated me all my life that disability representation in the arts, books, movies, TV and so forth, has been so lacking. And if disabled people are there, we’re often portrayed unrealistically as helpless or superhuman. Often we are given miraculous healing that is not possible even today, and we’re almost never shown as living a real life, doing the things every person wants to do, growing up in a normal family, going to school, getting a job, falling in love. I have always wanted to change that, to do my small part and write stories and books that will show people like me in ways that anyone can relate to. My genre is romance, and my dream is to write stories with the usual romance genre foundation but with characters who just happen to be disabled, and yet the stories won’t necessarily be about the disability, or what I call the how-I-live-life-as-a-blind-person stories. This was why I wrote my fan fiction story, seeing Bella. My book release day will come soon, but today is all about my friend and what her book means to me!
In the midst of writing Seeing Bella, I came across Impact. I’d found it! Another story giving a true and believable presentation of disabled characters, but a story showing all the depth of being human, grief, anger, struggle, loneliness, despair, joy, success, romance, and love. These themes are universal, and there they were! I cared deeply about the story, deeply about the characters, and though the story dealt with their issues of dealing with new disability, the universal themes together with the disability issues, drew me in and made me love them fiercely. This was the kind of thing I’d wanted to read ever since the first time a teacher put my hands on a braille book!
I reached out to Denise and we became dear friends. We talked about many things as the story was being written. And when the time came to think about publishing it, she asked me to be part of the team. It meant the world to me that she asked, and I was committed to help her make Shattered into the best it could possible be. She is a brilliant writer with a true gift for telling us a story that will live in our souls. Today, as Shattered is released, I feel so proud, proud of and for my friend, proud that I was a part of it in some small way, and oh so joyful. To see her dream come true.
The beauty of shattered is that we can all read these characters and relate to them through our own human experience. We can learn as we grieve and cheer for them, and we can know that whatever and whoever we are, abled or disabled, any race, any nationality, any gender and sexuality, what makes us human, makes us one with each other. We’re really not that different after all. Words from a song by country singer Collin Raye say it better:
“I laugh; I love; I hope; I try,
I hurt; I need; I fear; I cry,
And I know you do the same things too,
So, we’re really not that different, me and you.”
As we read shattered and lose ourselves in the world of the book, we can all see the truth of those words, we really aren’t all that different.
I’ve loved Les Miserables for thirty years, ever since a friend first introduced me to the original London cast album. I played it over and over, learn all the parts by heart. It touched my soul in a deep way, reaching every part of me and bring out every emotion. I’ve never gotten over it. I saw it in 1990 in San Francisco. I saw it in Seattle in the early 2000’s. I saw it this past July in Denver. I have the original London cast CD, the complete symphonic recording, the tenth anniversary concert album and DVD, the twenty-fifth anniversary concert DVD, and the 2012 movie DVD and CD. All I can say is that excepting only the original London cast, the one that first stole my heart, all the other pale next to the 2018 National Touring cast!
I could attend Les Miz every year and never get tired of it. When I first saw it live, at the finale when they sang, “Will you join in our crusade, who will be strong and stand with me?”, I was ready to get up and go, biting my tongue to keep from screaming out, “Me, Me, I’ll go, I’ll go!” Les Miz has affected me that way every time. I still cry. I still get chills at the finale. I still want to scream that I’ll go and want to jump up and join them at the barricades. So, I was thrilled when I heard it was coming to Denver this summer.
I invited my friend and her daughter, and we made an evening of it. We had dinner at the Limelight café in the theatre complex. We stopped at the customer service counter to pick up my braille program. We took our seats in the orchestra level, and I could barely contain my anticipation. I was not disappointed. I was in awe, blown away, stirred even more than ever before. When it was over, I only wished I could sit right back down and watch the whole thing again, and again, and again.
The cast. What can I say about this cast? How can I express how incredible they were? Nick Cartell was the most amazing Valjean I have ever heard. His passion and emotion, his way of singing softly, then belting, giving us the exact right sound for whatever he was singing. He wrang emotion out of me, emotion I thought Les Miz couldn’t reach anymore, because I thought every previous viewing or listening had gotten it all. When he sang “Bring Him Home”, I was spellbound, not even sure I breathed, during the whole thing! I have to admit, that particular song has never been a favorite of mine. Audiences usually love it and cheer it, but my attitude has so often been ho-hum, is it over. Until now. I was on the edge of my seat, listening for the slightest note, weeping as he cried out Valjean’s desperate plea. That song will never be ho-hum to me again. That’s just one example of all the ways he drew new feelings, new chills, new joy and grief from me.
Then there was Josh Davis, as Javert. I’ve always found Javert an interesting complex character, but in some ways, his big numbers have never really thrilled me. Josh Davis blew the roof off those feelings. Compelling and powerful, his performance made me feel things I’d never felt during the Javert scenes before. I felt sorry for this rigid man who could not understand mercy and forgiveness, and I cried at his suicide for all the depth of life this character missed.
The chemistry between those two characters, Valjean and Javert had me on the edge of my seat every time they were together in a scene. They clicked, for lack of a more flowery way to express it. Two powerful characters, played by two incredible performers. Their scenes sizzled and popped. I could believe in them, in their animosity, Javert’s quest and pursuit of Valjean; Valjean’s efforts always to outwit Javert; the eventual mercy of Valjean and the inability to accept of Javert.
Joshua Grosso as Marius was a pleasant surprise. I’ve never really liked any of the guys who’ve played Marius since Michael ball. Nobody else seemed to express the first innocence of and then the grief of this character. Nobody had the anguish to compete with Michael ball’s rendition of “Empty chairs at Empty tables”> I wasn’t expecting to feel any differently this time, but that was okay with me. I’d already been so engrossed in the other performances, if Marius wasn’t the best, I could live with it. Well, here was another person who took me to places I’d never been with this show, who made me feel that grief and pain all over again. I thought of the loved ones in my life who have died, and I wanted to cry out with Marius against the grief. It was just brilliant!
Jillian Butler played Cosette. This was another role that hasn’t thrilled me much since the original cast. I never thought anyone sounded great up on the high notes, or they didn’t blend well with whoever was playing Marius. But there she was, another one who took all my low expectations and blew them away. She was beautiful. My friend who had also seen Les Miz before said the same thing. She was the best Cosette I’d ever heard. She captured that sense of young love, of longing for more than what she had, but searching for something different. Her scenes with Marius made my heart ache from the beauty of their harmony. Another one who left me breathless.
Emily Bautista was a passionate, perfect Eponine. When she sang “On my Own” I just wanted to hug her and tell her it would be okay. She grabbed my heartstrings from the start and never let go. I could imagine her pain, how he’d had such a miserable life, and this one boy was the only person who had shown her kindness. Her death scene left me in tears.
Mary Kate Moore as Fantine. What can I say? I feel I’ve used every superlative there is. Fantine’s story has always broken my heart, and the same thing happened this time. She breathed new life into her scenes, causing me to feel all the sorrow again, aching for this girl who had been so mistreated by so many. Tears were pouring down my face as she sang “I dreamed a Dream”>
I really could go on and on. As I flip through my braille program, I could think of things to say about every scene, every character, every moment. The ensemble was fantastic; the orchestra was exceptional; all the parts together were beyond extraordinary. Just thinking about the experience, my heart is beating a little faster, my soul is aching a little more. I only wish there could be a cast album, but there’s never cast albums of national tours. I wish there could be a DVD, so I could play it over and over. I’d never get enough, and I’d share it with everyone I know.
For thirty years, Les Miserables has been my favorite musical, and this cast showed me again why I love it so much. They brought my love of this show to new heights. I salute them all for their hard work and their wonderful portrayals of these iconic characters, their beautiful takes on these great songs. How I wish I could see it again!
Oh yes, and if you’re wondering, at the end, during the finale, after I pulled myself together following Valjean’s death, when they sang, “will you join in our crusade, who will be strong and stand with me?” Yeah, I had to grasp the arms of my chair, hold myself back, bite my tone, in order to keep myself from jumping up and screaming, “I will, I will! I’ll join the crusade!”
Book review, The Six, by K. B. Hoyle
I first fell in love with the Gateway chronicles when the series was originally issued by another publisher. I loved the world of Cedar Cove and fell head over heels for Alitheia and all the people we met there. I’ve read and reread the series since then, and I was thrilled to hear about the rereleases this summer, enjoying the added tidbits that don’t change the story, but make it even more rich!
Darcy Pennington, age thirteen in this first book, does not want to go to the Cedar cove family camp. She wants to go bac to the horse-riding camp she’d attended before. She’s in a foul mood when she and her parents and younger brother arrive, and that mood isn’t made any better by the exuberant attentions of Samantha Palm, a girl who is trying hard to be Darcy’s new best friend. Through Samantha, Darcy meets the other four campers who have all been coming to cedar cove for years, and who have been friends with Samantha all those years. Darcy desperately wants to have friends, but she’s also shy and doesn’t like herself much. She has trouble accepting the genuine kindness and loyalty of Samantha. She makes mistakes, feels awkward, is scared, full of anxiety, and yet, truly is sorry for the mistakes and tries to be her best.
Through what Darcy thinks to be accident, she stumbles into, and eventually leads the others to a magical alternate land called Alitheia, where the colors are brighter, magic is real, and there are funny and fascinating creatures to meet, in particular, Narks, creatures I love completely and still wish I could meet! The six teenagers soon learn they have embarked on a new adventure, where they are part of a prophesy foretelling the hope for freedom from an evil oppressor. And so, the adventure begins, for the Six, and for anyone who reads thisincredble book.
I related to Darcy the first time I read this and relate more every time since. I wel remember being her age and being that girl in the corner, ignored on the playground, wishing I had friends, but so terribly shy, I really didn’t know how to put myself out there to meet them. I found myself alternating between wanting to give Darcy a good shake or a good hug and always wanting to tell her it would get better.
Some people have compared these books to Narnia, but to me, they are far better. I found Narnia, boring with characters I didn’t care about, not only is it allegorical, but it beats you over the head with the allegory, to the point for me, of making me not enjoy the stories at all. But K B Hoyle’s Gateway Chronicles gives me much more. Believable characters with strengths and flaws with which I can relate, a magical land of endless fascination, a cause I cared deeply about, an adventure I never wanted to end. Much like my reaction when I first read the Harry Potter books, I wanted this adventure to go on and on. I often joke that here I am, sixty years old, still waiting for my Hogwarts letter. Well, here I am, sixty years old, looking and looking for a magical gateway into Alitheia, where I too can join the adventure.
What can I say that hasn’t been said so many times before? The raves for Hamilton have been universal since it took the world by storm in 2015. Words like incredible, amazing, fantastic, have flown around, and I certainly can’t find any better ones to express what seeing Hamilton meant to me. However, I did see Hamilton yesterday, and before the feelings of joy and wonder fade in the daily grind of normal life, I’ll try somehow to tell about my experience.
I’ve been a subscriber to the Denver Theater company for the past three years. So, when it came time to renew last year, for the 2017-2018 season, I did so, though I still didn’t know what shows would be in the season. And then, I got the list, and I was thrilled and blown away to discover that Hamilton was coming here! Even if I didn’t get down to any other show in the season, the cost of my subscription would be well worth the price, just to get Hamilton. So, I’ve had my tickets, or at least my place for tickets for over a year. We didn’t actually get the physical tickets until about a month before the show.
So, yesterday was my day, March 10, 2018. For about two months, I’d been gradually counting down the days, putting out on twitter, sixty days, fifty-two days, forty-five days, twenty-nine, fifteen, and suddenly, it was less than ten days, less than a week, and I was down to counting hours! And then, yesterday dawned, and the day was upon me, at last!
I’d heard that the show was loud, and I’d heard the gunfire and cannons were loud, so I decided to leave my guide dog, Petunia, with a friend. As things turned out, I didn’t need to leave her. The cannons and guns weren’t very loud. I’d had her in the movie theater for the Last Jedi back in December, and if she could handle that, the sound effects in Hamilton wouldn’t have bothered her. But she had a fun day with my friend’s daughter, who just happens to be one of the people who raised her as a puppy, and she got to play with their dog, another golden retriever. And by leaving her with them, I didn’t have to worry and could just relax. Hmmm, well, relax is not exactly one of the many words I’d use to describe my reactions and attitude during the show!
My friend Sandie picked me up in the morning a little after 10:00. I’d gone out the day before and bought a new dress and shoes. I’d really wanted to find something to wear comparable to what women of the period might have worn, but that ended up being impossible, so I decided to forego my usual casual attire and dress up a bit. We stopped first at the vet office where Sandie works and had Petunia’s annual physical. We left her there with Sandie’s daughter for the day and started our drive down to the theater.
We arrived and got parked in plenty of time. We got an elevator up to the theater level right away and joined the throngs of people lining up to get in the theater lobby. The theater recently installed metal detectors, so we all had to go through that. Thankfully, when someone from the theater saw my white cane, they took us to the “accessibility entrance” where we were hand-wanded. My cane and my artificial joints would set off a normal metal detector. Once that was done, we handed in our tickets, and the attendant taking tickets verified them and promptly returned them to us, to keep as souvenirs. Not a stub, the whole ticket. We hurried over to the customer service counter to pick up my braille program and then headed for the elevator to go up to our seats.
The doors weren’t open yet, so we hung out with the rest. I got a glass of wine, and then Sandie happened to mention that they were selling official Hamilton Merchandise up there too! I nearly squealed with delight and we hurried over to pick things out. I’m not normally the type to get merch, except the album in a case like a musical, and of course, I already had it! But they had cool t-shirts and I wish I could have purchased them all! I settled for a shirt in red saying, “I’m just like my country, young, scrappy and hungry” and I got a mug that says wait for it and says Hamilton on the handle. Why isn’t it t-shirt weather yet?
At last they opened the doors, and Sandie and I, wine, totes with merch, white cane, braille program and all the rest in hand, made our way to our seats. Was this really happening? Was I truly, at last, just thirty minutes away from hearing those first notes? After so very long of waiting, was I finally in an audience about to see Hamilton? I almost couldn’t believe it! I spent the final minutes reading my program, learning about our cast, and wishing the show would start! And right on time, finally, the moment arrived.
From the first notes of that familiar opening, From Aaron Burr’s first lines, I was captivated, utterly spellbound. And really, that feeling hasn’t faded even today. I hadn’t avoided listening to the cast album as others had suggested. I knew the dynamics of the show would be different, different actors and singers, different styles, different ways of interpreting the material. Unless one has had the opportunity to see a show on Broadway with the original cast, seeing even the national touring cast is not the same thing as what we hear on the albums. So, I wasn’t worried about that. And yet, it did catch me off guard a bit, until the performances flowed around me and swept me away. In fact, the whole thing grabbed hold of me and my emotions and didn’t let go.
I had an intensely emotional reaction even in the first song. The ensemble is singing, “In New York you can be a new man,” and Hamilton is singing, “just you wait”. And then the ensemble sang, “Alexander Hamilton, we are waiting in the wings for you”. And I burst into tears. I had waited so long, I had been waiting in the wings of life, of days and days of work, days and days of waiting, days and days of normality, going by, sometimes rushing by, sometimes dreary and bland. And suddenly, I was really here, I was in this audience, and this cast was singing and performing, and it was real. No more counting days and hours. I’d been waiting in the wings for so long, and now, this wasn’t another listen to the cast album, this was it! Hamilton was happening all around me, and I was there, a part of it!
Every minute of the show from then on was magical. I laughed; I cried: I cheered and screamed and clapped until my hands tingled and my throat was parched. Sometimes, I’d start out thinking, Hmm, I’m not sure about this person’s voice or how that person is interpreting that role. But those thoughts lasted about two seconds, before I was again mesmerized by that same actor I’d just been almost questioning. Each actor made their part their own and brought new life to it for me. I’m saying actor, because though this is a sung-through musical, it’s an intense and emotional story, and the performers needed to sing it and act it. They went beyond my hopes and expectations, breathing new life into parts that already flogged my emotions and making me feel and love parts I hadn’t liked so much before. At the end, I wished I could find the whole cast, hug them all at once and thank them for making this one of the greatest events of my life! I never wanted it to end.
When it was over, we made our way back down, out to the car and back to Sandie’s house to pick up her daughter and my dog. We had dinner out at an Italian restaurant where I had the best lasagna I’ve had in years. And then we came home. I don’t really remember much of the rest of the night! The adrenaline and emotion seem to rush out of me the minute I shut the door behind my friends, and I was emotionally and physically exhausted! And every bit of the exhaustion was worth it.
Wonderful, superb, magnificent, inspiring, emotional, touching, moving, marvelous, incredible, amazing, terrific, stunning, maybe all these words have been used in the past to describe Hamilton. Maybe I can’t find any better ones. But all those words perfectly describe my experience yesterday. Every word of praise is deserved. I experienced every emotion throughout the show, but the greatest of those feelings for me, the things I’ll most remember feeling are the joy and wonder of finally being there, and of the fact that there was not one minute when the show, the music the words and the performances left me feeling an ounce less joy and wonder.
Thanks with my whole heart, to the staff at the Buell Theatre in Denver, for their professionalism and their commitment to complete accessibility. Thanks with all my heart to the cast, those who performed the show originally and recorded the cast album that has been an obsession for nearly two years. Thanks with my whole heart to the cast who performed so brilliantly for us all yesterday. And thanks, most of all, to Lin-Manuel Miranda for created this piece of art in the first place! If anyone reading this hasn’t had the chance to see Hamilton yet, if you get the chance, don’t throw away your shot! As for me, I’ll be telling the story of yesterday for a long time to come.
February 16, 2018
Where is the outrage? Where are the cries of wrath from all the liberals and conservatives? Yes, this has been a terrible week for our country. Seventeen lives snuffed out in an act of murder that could have been prevented. Yes, there is an indictment that another country has been interfering in our election process, something that seems akin almost to an act of war. But something else, equally as dreadful in its way happened this week. In the so-called land of the free, where is the outcry when a whole minority group has had its civil rights blasted to pieces?
What is it you might ask? After all, you probably haven’t heard one word about it on the news. Yesterday, February 15, 2018, the US House of Representatives voted to pass HR620, a bill that in essence guts the Americans with disabilities act, ADA. We still fight for our equality and opportunity, and our supposed representatives pull the damn rug out from under us, in favor of kissing the asses of business.
So, here’s what this bill will do. A disabled person goes to a place of public accommodation. Note that this can be a restaurant, a theater, a store, a mall, a baseball game, any place where the public is welcome to go for business or pleasure. Something about this place hinders the disabled person from being able to enter or participate in the activities. This could be no wheelchair ramp or elevator, denial of access to a person with a service dog, anything that prevents the disabled person from being able to use the public accommodation along with everyone else. And by the way, there are protections for companies that might be too small, or buildings that were built before the ADA became law and where it might be a hardship to change. The bill now says that if a public place is not accessible, the disabled person must write a letter pointing this out and requesting that the business or whatever it is change to make things accessible. And they have six months to do this. Does anybody out there, other than we who have disabilities, understand what this means? Supposedly, this is to eliminate the frivolous ADA lawsuits that proponents of this bill claim are practically an epidemic.
Do you know that in an ADA lawsuit, the plaintiff cannot receive any monetary reward, even if they win?
Do you know that the ADA has been the law of this land since 1990? And yes, it was a Republican president who signed it into law? Do you think businesses still need six months to make the accommodations that would guarantee equal access? Does any other civil rights law give the abuser of the law six months to make things right?
Make no mistake, this is a matter of civil rights. And as soon as people start seeing it as such, things might actually begin to change. I fight for the civil rights of others. Is it too much to expect that others, in turn, would fight for mine?
Can you imagine any other minority group being told they must write a letter to request equal access to anything and then they must give that place six months to comply? Would any other minority group tolerate this? Fuck no! Absolutely not! If this happened to people of other races beside white, to other religions, to women, to gays, to any minority, the outcry would ring through the streets. There would be protests, marches, speeches, twitter would blow up with the comments and RT’s.
So, where is the outcry, where is the damned outrage? Why is everyone, on either side of the damned aisle so silent? Our House of Representatives, basically just told millions of Americans that we do not count, and our equality and our opportunity and our access to the fucking American Dream aren’t important enough even to fight for and stand for the measly piddly laws we already have.
We’re supposed to shut up and keep still and take what we can get with humble gratitude. I feel like Oliver Twist, reaching out with my empty bowl and asking meekly, “Please sir, I want some more.”
Well, I am not going to be meek. I am not going to ask humbly. I am not going to be silent. I will not shut up and learn my place. I am outraged. I will be outraged. I will not cease to cry out against the injustice. I will work to vote out any of my state’s representatives who voted for this travesty. I have fought every day of my life since childhood to be independent and equal. My parents taught me that I am as good as anyone else. I expect the rest of the world to see me that way as well. I will never stop. And damn it, I work full time, I pay taxes, I participate in this country, I vote! Is it too much to ask that I share equally in the wonders and freedoms of this country?
It is the frigging twenty-first century! Are we always going to be kept as second or third-class citizens? Will our fellow Americans continue to turn away and refuse to fight as fiercely for our rights as they would for any other group who does not have equality? Shouldn’t we expect our fellows to speak out and fight for our rights as strongly as they do for immigrants—a cause by the way, with which I am in wholehearted support.
Someone I knew once said, that the able-bodied world masturbates their egos on disabled people. Crude maybe, but often it seems so so true. When I was young, I heard over and over, “You just have to understand. This or that person isn’t used to being around someone who is blind.” What bullshit! Does blindness define who I am? It is part me, as is my silver hair, my five feet stature, the shape of my face. But it’s not who I am inside. Isn’t it time for the rest of the damn world to stop and think, instead of us having to understand that you are uncomfortable, it’s time for you to understand that we are just people. We laugh, we love, we hope, we try. We hurt, we need, we fear, we cry. So, are we really that different?
This bill now goes to the senate. If you live in the US and vote, please contact your Senators and tell them not to pass this piece of crap law. It will only throw us back down the hill we have struggled so hard to climb.
Come on! Stand up! Cry out! Speak out! Be concerned, be pissed, and be downright outraged! Never accept that any of your fellow citizens should be less than any other citizen in this supposedly great country!
Where is the outrage? Come on, let’s hear it! Let’s raise a cry as loud as any cry over injustice. Because that’s what this is, injustice. Putting the burden on the people the original law was meant to protect.
Yes, I’m outraged. I’m fucking outraged. And I will stay outraged, as long as it takes!
This is just a brief post to test if the site is back to normal and eassy to use again. I had accessibility nightmares last time, hence why I’ve been silent. Working fifty hours a week doing adaptive tech support, I don’t want to fight with tools and sites in my free time.
It’s Fathers’ Day, a day I normally dread, a day I’ve dreaded for twenty years. My own dad died on February 12, 1997. I usually try to lose myself in other things on this day every year. I’m torn. Equally, I resent that mothers get more focus and adulation, but I also hate hearing people yammer on about happy father’s Day, when I can never say it to my own. And I never say it to anyone else. After all, nobody else is my father, but my own dad, Jerry Gomes.
But today, as I have a twitter conversation with friends about our dads, there was so much I wanted to say, things I couldn’t say in 140 characters or less. Flashes of memory, of all the good and bad things about Dad. He was not perfect, but I loved him more perhaps because of those flaws. Here, in no order, are my thoughts, the memory flashes I’m having today.
I’m a little girl. My daddy is a brave fireman. Grandma and then mommy take me to the firehouse, where I am spoiled by the other firemen and shown off by Daddy. I feel like my grin will burst off my face. I am so proud of my Daddy.
I am a nearly graduated high school girl, and I fall in the pool in our back yard, damaging my fused knee on the hard cement corner. Dad ties my legs together with towels and puts me in his Porsche, driving as fast as he can get away with from our home in Los Gatos to my doctors at Stanford. Both of us so terrified of what it can mean that my knee is moving, when it hasn’t moved since I was three.
I am a little girl, a teenager, a woman, and it’s Christmas. Dad’s joy in the day fills the room, spreads to everyone around him. His voice rises above the others as we gather around my aunt’s piano and we sing carols.
I am thirty-nine, and it’s Christmas, and I gather with my brothers and sister, their spouses and children, for what we all know will be his last Christmas with us. We all smile. We take pictures. We laugh and sing and joke. Our hearts going to pieces inside. I’m the only one to witness dad’s breakdown after everyone has gone home. His rush to the phone to wait on hold forever for the doctor on call, his agonized cry out to God, that he can’t take the pain anymore. “If you want me so badly, God, then take me! I can’t take this pain anymore!” He screams it to the heavens, and I gasp and hang onto my emotions with all my being, so as not to let him see the anguish that cry brings me.
I’m in fourth grade. My teacher brings in a story for current events. A firefighter named Jerry Gomes, saved the life of a small boy who had fallen in a pool and nearly drowned. There is a picture of my young handsome father, and my teacher has me walk up and down the rows of desks showing his picture to my classmates. I’m beaming as the girls squeal and say how cute my dad is.
I’m sitting in a wheelchair at my high school graduation. I’m in the wheelchair because of that knee I damaged falling in dad’s pool. As the principal calls my name, and someone I don’t remember pushes me to the microphone to receive my diploma, dad’s voice rings out: “I can’t believe it!’ He wasn’t quite sure I’d get through high school.
I’m thirteen. I wake up and sense that something is wrong in my home. Dad and Mom—mom being my dad’s second wife and my beloved mother of the heart forever—they are in their room. I hear hangers, empty hangers. I hear Mom crying. What is going on? I hear Dad say he needs to tell me. And he takes me into my room and tells me he is leaving. He says he’s “going away to think”, but I know what that means. I know my home, my safe secure place, is never going to be the same. I know someday I will have to leave, because in those days, around 1971, stepparents did not get custody. I am torn again. I want to stay with Mom and the little ones, but I want to go with Dad too. I hate this feeling. I’ll never get over it. I never did.
I’m in high school. My best friend and I are crazy about Jesus Christ superstar. I listen to the double album constantly. My high school has a braille transcriber, and she brailles the lyrics for me, so I can know all the words and sing along. Dad and his third wife take me and my best friend to San Francisco to see the show. I am enthralled. And Dad is blown away too, commenting how one actor dances so well, dad thinks he must even move his toes, because he moves every part of his visible body. I think for the first time, how weird it is that my dad is only eighteen years older than me, and we actually like much of the same music. Not like my friends whose parents are far older than mine.
I’m in my twenties, at my brother’s wedding, and I hear family members talk about how they advised my dad to give me up, when the truth came out about my disabilities. “Give her up for adoption, or put her in a special home.” They tell me they gave him this advice, but he refused. My thankfulness for being given the dad I had is overwhelming. Imperfect, yes, he was so imperfect, but he would not send me away.
I am growing up, totally blind, with a disabling disease called Juvenile Rheumatoid arthritis. Dad sends me to public school. He and Mom tell me to believe in myself. They tell me I am as good as anyone else, and that nobody but me can ever stop me from achieving my dreams. They tell me that the only things I can’t do are drive a car and fly a plane.
I am staying with my sister’s family after that last Christmas. She and I drive to and from Stanford every day, listening to Collin Raye. Collin sings about living life for all it’s worth, or about how love remains. The songs are a part of that time, the thing, the music that helped me keep going day after day. We visit Dad in the hospital. We smile. We tell him we love him. We get the chance to remind our aunt that he is our father, when she tries to shoo us away and says we shouldn’t be hanging around the hospital all the time. We are adults now and we can’t be sent away like children. He is our dad. And we win. He wants us there, and we will be there unless he sends us away.
I am thirty. My Granny, Dad’s mom, has been in the hospital for two weeks. It is dad who calls and tells me, “Sherry, she’s gone, that great lady is gone.” Ten years later, it is I now, the one who must call my sister and tell her that he is gone. How did he stand having to tell me? I cannot express the pain of having to tell my sister.
I am thirty-nine. I go with family members to see dad one more time. He is gone. His heart and soul, his essence, the stuff that made him that charming, messed up, lovable and loving man, it is gone. But I must see for myself. We have a brief window to visit the body before cremation. I go to him. Trembling, I reach out my hand and barely touch his cheek. There is stubble on his cheek. But it is cold. It is hard. It is not the warm living flesh of the cheek I’ve kissed so many many times over the years. I cannot kiss that cheek goodbye. I stroke his face. I turn and move away. This is not my dad. This is a cold replica.
I am somewhere, some age, probably at the gathering at an aunt’s home, following the memorial service. It’s all such a blur. I don’t remember who and what and when and where. Someone tells me, “You know, sherry, your dad always worried about you. He worried about what would happen to you if you could not work, if your arthritis got so bad that you were completely disabled. Who would take care of you? How would you survive?” I wonder then. I wonder now. Do I wish I had known his fears for me back then, when he was alive? Is it better that I never did know? Would I have worked harder to achieve the things he hoped for me, if I’d known he was so worried? What would I have done?
I am thirty-nine. My sister and I arrive at Dad’s house, for what we don’t know, will be the last time we see him alive. I am nearly forty, and he is sick and frail from chemo and cancer, but he pulls me onto his lap and asks how I am doing. He’s watching golf, as he always is, and I listen to the commentators. I had never paid attention before. I realize wow, when they hit golf balls, they hit them into the air. I make some comment about it, and Dad laughs and laughs. My last memory of being with him is that I made him laugh. Always a good thing.
Two months later, we, Jerry, John, Joe and Rosie, and me of course, the children of our dad, and Jerry’s oldest daughter, stand in a circle at a river where he loved to fish. We hold roses and glasses of wine. We each say something. One brother sends the ashes out into the river, as dad had wished. In our own time, we each move to the bank and send our rose into the river as well. We say our own farewells and walk away.
Today, I am fifty-nine. Some years are better than others, as I face this day. His birthday is usually harder for me. This year, I remember him without fleeing my thoughts from the memories. I smile. I frown. I cry. I laugh. I want to hug him so much. I envy those who have their dads around. I want to snarl at them to remember how lucky they are and for goodness sake talk to your dad today. I thank God for the dad he gave me, flawed, messed-up, but mine, mine. My hero in my early life, as he raced into burning buildings or saved children who fell in pools. A hero at the end of his life for fighting so hard to live and for showing me how to keep fighting, in spite of everything.
I think of him. And I remember him. I hope my words will honor him. I wish I could tell him, just one more time, how much I love him.
I haven’t pre-written this in word, this is off the cuff, so please excuse errors.
Tonight, I watched two classic movies. First, Love is a Many-splendored Thing and then The Goodbye Girl. Two completely different movies. Romances both, but splendored is tragic and heartwrenching, always leaves me in a sobbing mess, and then Goodbye is a funny romantic comedy, my favorite movie of all time.
For some reason, I felt like crying tonight, so I went with Splendored, starring Jennifer Jones and William Holden. If you haven’t seen it, find it somewhere. It’s based on a true story, and it will tear your heart out. I got my good cry. Don’t know why. I was listening to music earlier and heard Keith Urban’s song, Tonight I wanna Cry, and I knew I did want to cry, needed to for whatever reason. So off to Hong Kong and the tragic love story of Han suyin and Mark Elliot I went.
But then I had to come back and visit New York, and the world of the Goodbye Girl, oh the goodbye Girl, funny, hopeful, positive with the fabulous Richard Dreyfuss in his Oscar winning role. I watched this movie so many time since it first appeared in 1976, that I can literally quote the whole movie, start to finish, almost word perfect. But it never loses its magic for me, in spite of how many times I’ve lost myself in the adventures of Paula, Lucy and Elliot. i’m so moved by paula’s moments of realization that she could survive if elliot did not return from his movie making stint, just like the jerk men she’d known in the past. Paula had learned to take care of herself and her daughter, and finally, she knew she did not need a man to be happy. And then the final scene, when she realizes he is coming back, and she runs out on to the balcony, with his guitar in hand, in the pouring rain, and screaming about how she loves him. and those famous last words from Dreyfuss’ character Elliot: “Never mind that. You’re rusting my guitar!” I laugh and get a little teary in that final scene, sometimes wishing i’d found my own version of elliot garfield, but mostly just loving the sentimental sweet funny all of it.
But tonight, I found myself thinking something else. as I was quoting that final scene, sitting here in my living room, I thought, wow, wouldn’t it be fun to just run out on a balcony–if I had a balcony that is–and scream out those lines for the hell of it?
“I have it sweetheart! Have a safe trip! I love you!!!!”
Ah, damn, wouldn’t that just be an absolute blast!
These two great movies bring out the emotions in me, and I suppose that’s why I like them so very much.
Never mind that; you’re rusting my guitar!
Banana Cream Pie Murder
By Joanne Fluke
WARNING: SPOILERS, BIG SPOILERS AHEAD!
I discovered the Hannah Swensen series, by Joanne fluke, a few years ago. I was enchanted by the title Blackberry Pie Murder. I love blackberry anything and had to read the book. And I got hooked. I rushed off to BARD—that’s the National Library Services for the blind’s braille and audio digital service—and got all the books in the series, starting at book one and making my way through to what was the last book at the time. My dear friend, Blackberry Pie Murder. I’d never cared for cozy mysteries before, but I fell in love with Lake Eden, with Hannah’s bakery the Cookie Jar, with the characters, quirky, funny, kind or not so. I loved it all. Some books in the series were better than others, and I definitely had my favorites and ones I skipped over when I reread, in preparation for a new book release. I never thought I’d be so angry and disgusted with one of the books that I would consider giving up on Hannah Swensen for good. And yet, here I am.
Three books ago, when Hannah got engaged to Ross Barton, I was thrilled. I was so tired of the ongoing should-she-marry Norman or should-she-marry-mike debate that Hannah has with herself. Obviously, if she loved either of them enough, she wouldn’t be stumbling over making a decision. Mike is a jerk and Norman is too gooey. I liked Ross from the time he was first introduced in Cherry Cheesecake Murder, so I was ecstatic when Hannah booted both previous contenders for her hand and fell head over heels in love with Ross.
I reviewed Wedding Cake Murder, and my disappointment with that book was deep but not overwhelming. Mike and Norman were despicable in that one. But the worst was Hannah herself. Rushing off to a restaurant to catch a killer instead of rushing off to the church to marry her intended. She had her cell phone and at least half a dozen sheriff deputies in her contact list. So why, oh why did she go catch the killer? And then she jumps in a garbage truck to get away from him, has to be rescued again, by Mike naturally, and races down the church aisle covered in trash. I supposed it was supposed to be funny, but it wasn’t. It was horrible. That was then, Wedding Cake Murder.
Finally, yes, I’m there, my review of Banana Cream Pie Murder. This is when the spoilers begin, so read at your own risk. Personally, I love spoilers.
The book begins with Hannah’s mother lounging around her condo. She hears arguing from the condo below hers, but her friend, a former Broadway actress and a now acting coach for Lake Eden’s amateur acting group, so Dolores thinks it must just be someone acting. But then she hears a gunshot, and it was real. Does she immediately pick up her cell phone and call 911, or her son-in-law, bill, the sheriff, or even Mike the jerk, the homicide cop? No, of course not. She rushes downstairs into the scene of the crime, and she does find her friend dead, shot to death. Oh no. She thinks to herself that she must call her other daughter Hannah, who is conveniently on her honeymoon, and tell her she absolutely must come home right away and solve this crime.
From then on, the rest of the book is back to Hannah as the point of view character. Hannah is on her honeymoon. Ross is out of the cabin right now, and Hannah is thinking that it’s nice to have him away for a few minutes. He hovers too much and she’s not used to it and doesn’t like it. I have to say, having been single, living alone, since my divorce over thirty years ago. I get that. I do understand. It’s part of why I vow I will not marry again, ever. But I don’t think anyone would feel that way on their honeymoon. This was just the beginning of all the ways that Hannah no longer felt like Hannah to me.
We know the formula. Hannah and Ross come home from their cruise and Hannah begins to solve the mystery, while running her bakery and starting her new life with Ross. This should have been great, or at least, if not great, it should have been fun, and sweet and charming. We should have had happy moments between Ross and Hannah mixed in with the baking and sleuthing. The book should have had some added element with Hannah being married. But what we got was a very weird Hannah, a boring predictable mystery, Mike and Norman butting in and horning in where they don’t belong, and well, I don’t even know where to begin with Ross or the marriage aspect of the story. And a cliff hanger that makes no sense and shouldn’t be in a cozy mystery at all, in my opinion anyway.
My biggest complaints are about Hannah. They all go back to work the day after they get home from the honeymoon. Okay, so they all is just Hannah and Ross. That’s cool. But Hannah invites Mike and Norman over for dinner that same night. The night after she got home from her honeymoon! Yes, that’s right. What? Really? I wouldn’t want the gals my husband used to date to come over for dinner the night after we got home from our honeymoon. It felt weird and just off to me. Also, Hannah’s younger sister, Michelle, was staying in town for a while, instead of finishing her college semester. Hannah immediately asked her to stay at her condo, and it was Michelle who practically had to force her to call Ross and ask if he minded. And I understand that too. If you’re used to living alone, it takes time to get used to thinking for two and living for two, so to speak. I liked that Hannah didn’t feel she had to ask permission to go to the various places to ask questions as she tried to solve the murder. She’s an independent woman, and it’s nice to see it. And it would have been nice to see her being independent but still becoming a couple. I believe she spent more time with Mike and Norman than she did with Ross. At least, they got more screen time than Ross did. Hannah didn’t seem to be married at all. It felt like Ross was just a roommate or a guest, not someone Hannah loved deeply and was ecstatic to spend her life with. It just felt wrong.
Ross is a good guy. He accepts Hannah as she is in ways neither Mike nor Norman ever did. He doesn’t put her down, and he doesn’t try to stop her from doing whatever she wants to do. He doesn’t try to protect her too much. He encourages her and supports her in all her activities, including amateur sleuthing. I really wanted to see Mike and Norman dating other people, or even better, I’d have liked to see that both Mike and Norman had split the scene altogether. Yippee, happy day that would have been. He loves her as the strong woman she is and doesn’t try to make her anything less. He’d been the sort of man I could love, his personality I mean.
Of course, Hannah solves the mystery. Yawn, ho hum. Yep. As usual. Along the way, we see Andrea, Michelle, Dolores, Tracy and Bethy, Lisa and of course Moisha, Hannah’s wonderful cat. We don’t see enough of Ross, but we see the characters we’ve come to love over all the books. And we get some yummy new recipes. The banana cream pie recipe alone was worth reading the book to get.
What can I say about the ending? More spoilers, the biggest spoiler of all. Of course, Hannah nearly gets done in solving the crime. Mike the Jerk takes her home. Ross had been away on a trip, and as they pull into the parking lot of the condo, Hannah notices Ross’s car is home. She’s thrilled. Well, that’s nice at least. But when they get to her door, they discovered it is ajar. Mike goes in first and when he finally allows her to enter, he is somber and in cop mode. They can’t find Moisha at first either. Finally he appears, having been hiding in the closet, afraid of something. Oh, and Ross is nowhere to be found.
Mike leads Hannah down to the master bedroom, where she finds a half-packed suitcase, with Ross’s clothes jumbled into it. His keys are on the dresser along with his cell phone. Ross has disappeared. The only key he took with him is the key to the condo he shares with Hannah.
I was ready to throw my Victor Reader stream—an MP3 type player that plays accessible books—across the room. I was ready to scream and yell and have a complete fit of rage and irritation.
Mike, of course, Mike the Jerk, proceeds to tell Hannah that the reason Ross left everything is because he wants to disappear. He left money and credit cards and ID, so he can’t be traced. The Jerk works hard to place doubt in Hannah’s mind. He never gives her any other sort of idea for what it could be, and as far as I can tell, he doesn’t plan to investigate. And good grief, Hannah isn’t even investigating! Hannah, who can’t let a dead body pass her by, doesn’t even consider investigating what happened to her husband. The one man she loved so much that she couldn’t bear to be without him and married him. I don’t get it.
The main story ends with Hannah realizing that Ross took only the condo key, and so he must be coming home to her. But there is a brief epilogue sort of thing after that. Showing everyone, the usual gang, at Dolores and Doc’s place, watching the Mayor on TV accepting an award for his sister, the former Broadway star who got murdered at the beginning of the book. Remember her? Hannah is beginning to live again and feels good being out and surrounded by her family and friends, including Gooey Norman and mike the Jerk. However, Norman does get the only real points for anyone in this story, because he tells Hannah that he believes Ross loves her and that he will be back. Yay Norman. And Hannah is still not thinking of investigating.
One big red herring in the process of solving the murder, was an allusion to unscrupulous business managers for people like actresses. This was mentioned over and over and turned out to be nothing. Could have been just a red herring, but I also wonder if it’s a clue about Ross and his disappearing act. He was a Hollywood producer before giving it all up to move back to Lake Eden, Minnesota to be with his one true love. Personally, I believe Ross is in trouble but that he hasn’t done anything bad or illegal. I believe someone has done something bad to him. Because frankly, if we had all this set up and Ross turns out to be a bad guy, I am going to scream, really throw my book player, and delete every book in the series from my hard drive. I could not bear to lose Ross, to go back to Hannah debates over Gooey Norman or Mike the jerk, in essence, to go backward instead of forward. I do usually get bored with a series after a long time, having stuck with Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware series since the eighties, and Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch since the nineties. But those are the only two that haven’t come to bore me at some stage. I can move on from Hannah and Lake Eden, but I would be sad to do so because the entire series became so outrageous and unacceptable to me. I don’t know how long we have to wait for the next book. Another year? I only plan to read it to see what really happened to Ross, but I also hope it will restore my joy in my visits to Lake Eden and Hannah Swensen’s world.
I suppose this isn’t the most terrific book review. I had a gut reaction to this book, a visceral reaction. I didn’t hear the final words with any sense of contentment and pleasure at a nice comfortable experience. I was just angry. I felt cheated and frustrated. I’ve read plenty of books that make me angry. Take martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, where every good guy I love gets murdered. But it all makes sense in the world the author has created. Karen’s death in exodus by Uris broke my heart, but it worked with that story. I wasn’t outraged, feeling like the author cheated me and confused me for no reason. And that’s how banana Cream Pie left me, feeling angry, drained, cheated and confused. I didn’t like it at all. If I was handing out stars, it would get one, for the fantastic recipes.
Very sad to write this review.