Sometimes

Sometimes
A reflection by Laura with a way cool poem by Moira Kathleen

11.23.versions.photoSometimes I feel like a bloated computer file stuffed with too many variations of the same old story. Other times I’m like a youngster again watching Jiminy Cricket sing When You Wish Upon a Star on the Walt Disney Show. But I wonder whether I’ve been wishing upon the wrong star, chasing something illusive, unattainable.

Typhoons and tornadoes rip across the landscape in far off lands and closer to home. Cars crash. Fires break out, consuming homes in a flash. Any of us could lose everything in an instant, or our lives could dribble away slowly.

I worry about all of this way too much, I know.

imageBut occasionally I’ll do something routine that shifts my perspective—like yesterday, I took a shower, toweled off and rubbed a new brand of vanilla lotion all over my skin. The scent reminded me of a poem my daughter wrote when she was 10 years old.

It was selected for the Anthology of Poetry by Young Americans, 1997 edition.

I looked through a book shelf near my bed and found the slender volume. I’d forgotten how wonderful the poem is. I hope I never forget again. It reminds me of the power of giving and receiving everyday, constant love—and what an honor it is to be my daughter’s mom:

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My Mom
By Moira Kathleen Holland

My mom is as beautiful as the sunset
She smells like a bundle of new roses
She loves to garden and write
When I wake up in the morning
she smells like vanilla
My mom has a dancing heart
I love her very much
I think she is a child wrapped
in a grown-up’s body

 

Copyright  ©  2013 by Laura McHale Holland

 

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That shocking proposal

Here’s another Belinda Blue Brown episode draft. The more of these I write, the more loose ends there will be to clean up when I pull them together into one document. I hope you enjoy that I’m sharing a bit of the writing process here. In the end, I don’t know if the whole project will be a keeper, but that’s part of the fun.

That Shocking Proposal

3160916013_9492d737b9_tMy friend Velda Sue, well, she goes by Suzette now, and since we haven’t spoken in, oh, thirty years and since I only heard about her plight third-hand, I don’t suppose you could say she’s my friend anymore. But, jeeze, we’ve known each other since we were tykes runnin’ barefoot in black earth that seemed a whole lot moister way back when, you know. Oh, that dirt. It smelled so good we didn’t just make mud pies, we tried eatin’ ‘em out in my backyard one day. And my mama, she came out to hang laundry on the line and saw that mud all around our mouths, and us chewin’ up a storm.

She hauled us inside, stripped off our clothes and dumped us in the tub real quick, nothin’ harsh about it though. She was speedy but never the punishing’ type, thank goodness. Neither was Velda Sue’s mom. They lived right across the street from us, so it wasn’t long before Velda Sue’s mom came over, and the two of them were laughin’ about our mud pies over Sanka coffee in the kitchen and my mom’s special-recipe pound cake that tasted a whole lot better than mud, come to think of it.

And when Velda Sue and I were gettin’ bored splashin’ in the tub, it was her mom who came in, gave us each a good scrubbin’ and dressed us in matching sundresses, and told us to play inside for a while, at least until our dads came home from the Good Days Bakery, where they both worked as supervisors—my dad in the cookie department, and her dad in the bread department. So Velda Sue and me were like sisters, twins almost, born just a day apart, and we went to the same school and took the same ballet class and played on the same softball team and all that. I thought someday Velda Sue and me would live across the street from each other and raise our babies up together, just like our mothers, but, you know, I could tell by high school that wasn’t gonna happen. I just didn’t want to admit it.

See, my pa died in an auto accident when Velda Sue and me were ten. Her dad was driving, and he survived without much damage, just a few bumps and such. But my dad went right through the windshield. And it turns out he didn’t have any life insurance, and Mama had no marketable skills, so it wasn’t long before we moved in with my grandma and grandpa on the outskirts of town. So Velda Sue and me didn’t go to the same school again until high school, and, well, by then let’s just say we traveled in different circles. She was gorgeous and blonde and real coordinated, made the cheerleading squad all four years, which was like being a rock star or some kind of goddess. Now I was slim enough, I guess, but shaped sort of like a pear and not at all coordinated. Plus my wardrobe was, um, limited, and back then clothes mattered, a lot. So, Velda Sue and I would say a quick hi sometimes if we passed each other in the halls, but that was all.

2700730806_e04642e0d7_tBut then, here’s the thing, we did become friends again for a little while, not the best of friends like when we were kids, but friendly for sure. After graduation, she went off to some fancy school in the East, and I went to school in California, a junior college outside of San Francisco where my uncle worked, so he pulled some strings to get me in tuition free. I got my AA and did the books for a music store for a year or so after that, but then, well, okay, I’ll admit it, I missed my mom and my grandma and grandpa, who were gettin’ up in years, and they all missed me, too. I kinda missed my brother and sister, too, and even North Bend, though I never figured on that. When I got on that Greyhound headed west, I thought I was goin’ away for good.

About a year after I returned to North Bend, Velda Sue came back to town, too, and it turns out we both showed up to volunteer for this thing called VISTA on the same day. It’s kinda like the Peace Corps only folks work in America, not in other countries, and it seems a lot of folks in North Bend are underprivileged, according to the government, so there was plenty for volunteers to do right here. And you know who else was volunteering? None other than my Bernie, but of course he wasn’t my Bernie back then. And Velda Sue and Bernie and some other volunteers and me, we’d go together to Paulie’s Diner after work, or throw parties, and so we had a little social group goin’ that was pretty fun, and it turns out Velda Sue, she fell for Bernie.

Now, I’d had a crush on Bernie since when I first saw him standin’ by his locker freshman year. Oh those big brown eyes and that sheepish grin of his, they did me in, but I kept it to myself, so when Velda Sue said she had the hots for him, I didn’t have any claim on him, so I figured they’d be an item soon enough. She said she wanted to settle down with Bernie and that she’d had it with all those fancy guys back east. So I wished her well and said Bernie’d be lucky to have her, which I thought was true. And one day she got all dolled up with eyeliner and eyeshadow and sparkly lipstick and a skimpy knit dress that hugged her curves just right. She’d gotten wind of Bernie’s having bought an expensive ring at Carolina Jewelers in town, and she said her heart was all aflutter because her dream was about to come true, and soon enough we were all at our regular booth at the diner, and Bernie got down on one knee, and he pulled out a ring, and he proposed, but he didn’t propose to Velda. He proposed to me. And I was like to be flabbergasted, and so was she, and she stormed off. I ran after her, but she yelled at me that I was a traitor, and worse stuff I won’t repeat, and she said to leave her alone.

Well, my feelings were hurt, and I stood there, mouth open a mile wide, while she got into her Corolla and started the engine, but then I thought of Bernie back in the restaurant, with all the food gettin’ cold, and so I turned around and came back to the booth. He was slinked down real low and our friends were saying stuff like, man, that’s a bummer, gosh, that didn’t go so well, did it. And so I sat down next to Bernie and I admitted I’d had a crush on him for a long time, but I didn’t really know him, and he didn’t know me, so maybe we could back up a bit and get acquainted, and if maybe after a while he felt I was still wife material and vice versa, we’d get engaged. And Bernie, being his wonderful self and all, he said of course. A year later he proposed for real at the very same booth at Paulie’s, and we got married a year after that, and had our reception at Paulie’s, too. By then Velda Sue was back in school, studying abroad somewhere, and I didn’t think I should invite her. She never believed that I hadn’t somehow intentionally stolen Bernie from her.

imagesNow I’ve heard from my mama, who heard from Velda Sue’s mama, that Velda Sue is back at home and in a real bad way. She won’t talk about it, and she won’t go out. All she does is watch Lifetime movies and eat carmel corn and D’Giorno pepperoni pizzas. And my mama said Velda Sue is askin’ about me. Now I still have her old phone number memorized, even though I tried to forget it because I was so jealous of her, and I’m tryin’ to decide if I should call her. I did pick Bernie over her that day when I gave up on following her and returned to him in the restaurant. I could have pounded on the car window, told her she had to let me in, but maybe it was a little like how she picked her popular friends over me in high school, and maybe I was getting back at her in ways I didn’t even realize at the time. But I swear I wasn’t trying to win him or anything before that shocking proposal. The thing is, though, how do I know if Velda Sue’s really askin’ for me or if my mama’s just havin’ some fantasy about Velda Sue and me being buddies again, which I tell you, is about as likely as a cow jumpin’ over the moon.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Laura McHale Holland

Comments are welcome. If you don’t see a comment section below this post, go here.

Mud pie photo by derringdosGreyound bus depot sign by kuyman.

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It came on the breeze

It Came on the Breeze
By Laura McHale Holland

It came on the breeze, sidled through Gracie’s nose and lodged in her throat. The vibration was ever so slight, just a hint of sensation. She forgot all about it as she spent the day splashing and sunbathing at the community pool with her girlfriends. But when she checked email one last time before bed, her laptop monitor emitted a strong sepia light. Her heart thump thumped. The light dissipated. Her pulse settled down. She went to sleep.

Then, in the night, her world split open to a thundrous sound directly above. She looked up to a wide crack splitting her bedroom ceiling, the attic and roof. From a sepia orb suspended above the house desended thousands of faerie-like beings, each about an inch tall and carrying a harp or flute. They swarmed her, jigged all over her and played melodies reminiscent of ancient folk songs, but more strident, discordant.

Behind Gracie’s bedroom door, her mother’s voice boomed, “Gracie, what’s going on in there? Turn that awful music down!”

At that, her visitors retreated; the crack in Gracie’s universe closed.

“Thank you.” Her mom strode away, satisfied.

Gracie rolled on her side, thinking maybe she’d been dreaming. Then she saw a tiny harp on her pillow. She dropped the harp into a velvet pouch she kept on her headboard. It landed on a ring of fake garnet and gold she’d gotten from a vending machine while shopping with her mom. In her sleep, she dreamed of flying among the stars.

In the morning, she peeked inside the pouch. The ring was gone, but the harp remained. “Gracie, time for breakfast,” her mom called. The voice sounded weak, as though far, far away. Gracie tucked the pouch into her T-shirt pocket. It vibrated every so slightly as she padded toward the kitchen.

 

Photo is from ketrin 1407’s flickr photo stream.

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A glowing review

I wrote a review yesterday of Rasana Atreya’s novel, and now here’s a review I just received from Michelle and Denise, who run the Families of the Mentally Ill blog. They posted it on their website (http://familiesofthementallyill.com/2012/07/03/book-review-reversible-skirt/), on Amazon and on Smashwords:

Reversible Skirt, by Laura McHale Holland, is a heart-breaking memoir about one young mother’s suicide as seen through the eyes of her youngest child, Laura. A toddler at the time of the tragedy, Laura is initially bewildered by the changes swirling around her family, including the appearance of a new stepmother, who is simply passed off as the same person to the children.

The author has done a masterful job of capturing the thought process of a young child as she struggles to make sense of the changes in her world. The tragic events of the girls’ lives aren’t over, unfortunately. The abuse they experience as they grow and confront of the truth of their mother’s death and their father’s choices can be painful to read. Yet it’s worth persevering, because the book ends with Laura and her sisters finding strength and peace in adulthood.

Reversible Skirt describes a time in our not-too-distant past where mental illness and suicide were swept under the rug. While we have made some gains as a society, the situation will feel familiar to those of us who have lived through mental illness in our own families. What was most intriguing about the book was how the author and her sisters forgave their abusive stepmother after everything she did to them as children. Their ability to survive and recover from their challenging childhoods is uplifting. The capacity they show for forgiveness is truly inspiration.

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It gives my life meaning

Here’s the next episode. What do you think?

It Gives My Life Meaning

By Laura McHale Holland

Carly stands at the ribbon, scissors in hand. She grins at the crowd gathering. “May this be just one of many dreams come true for us all,” she says. She snips the ribbon tied between two trees bordering the drive. The housing community she funded with part of her inheritance is now officially open. The crowd cheers. Right in front are Carly’s parents with her seven-year-old daughter, Chloe, jumping up and down between them.

Along the curved drive are 50 townhomes, all going to families that lost their homes to foreclosure in the last five years. Carly is carrying the mortgage on each one.

A reporter runs up to Carly. “Don’t you think it’s foolish to take such a risk?” He thrusts a microphone in front of Carly’s face. “When I was locked away for three years, I thought if I ever got out, I would devote my life to helping people in this community. So, no this isn’t foolish; it’s exactly what I want to do; it gives my life meaning.”

Chloe runs up and hugs Carly, then pulls her toward the nearest townhome. People file up the driveway to tour the landscaped grounds. In the back of the group is the chauffeur who was once Chloe’s only friend and is now a stranger to her. The restless boy at his side asks what all the fuss is about and can they please just go to McDonald’s. The chauffer smiles. “This is kind of an amazing day for our city, my little friend. I just need to take it in for a while. Then we can go.”

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All of the episodes in this series in the order in which they were posted follow:

Back pocket wishes

Cascading to the sea

Right through the heart

Away today?

A dime a dozen

She doesn’t know them

On the seat

A pillar of the community

He needs a friend

Double rainbow

The one he always wants to hear

Give it some time

It gives my life meaning

Smiles

Extenuating circumstances

 The four of us

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Give it some time

Here’s the next episode in my 2012 connected flash fiction experiment.

Give It Some Time
Laura McHale Holland

Carly and Chloe sit on one side of the booth, their two straws in one chocolate soda. Chloe’s dad sits across the table from them. He pokes a garlic fry into a pool of ketchup on his plate and pops it into his mouth. Chloe eyes him with a crooked half-smile.

Fictional characters eat garlic fries“You want one?” He gestures, palm open, toward the plate of fries. Chloe glances up at her mom. “It’s okay,” Carly says. Chloe stretches her arm and leans most of her torso over the table. She grabs a handful of fries, dips her fist into the ketchup and then tries to cram all the fries into her mouth at once.

They all laugh.

Carly grabs a napkin, puts it on the table in front of Chloe, pries most of the fries from Chloe’s hand and puts them on the napkin. “One at a time, kiddo.” Carly demonstrates, taking one fry, dipping it in the ketchup and taking a bite. Chloe copies her. Carly nods, “That’s right.” Carly drums her fingers on the tabletop absentmindedly as she watches Chloe chew.

Chloe’s dad, who is also Carly’s former boyfriend, reaches over, puts his hand on hers. Carly snaps her hand away. “Not that, never that,” she says.

“I understand.” He looks away, slides his hand back along the table, puts it in his lap.

Chloe finishes one garlic fry. “More?” she asks. Carly nods. Chloe lifts another fry from the napkin.

“When can I take our girl out for the day?” Chloe’s dad asks.

Carly takes a long sip of soda. “Give it some time,” she says. “Give it some time.”

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All of the episodes in this series in the order in which they were posted follow:

Back pocket wishes

Cascading to the sea

Right through the heart

Away today?

A dime a dozen

She doesn’t know them

On the seat

A pillar of the community

He needs a friend

Double rainbow

The one he always wants to hear

Give it some time

It gives my life meaning

Smiles

Extenuating circumstances

 The four of us

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A stunning review of Reversible Skirt

I stumbled upon this review of my memoir, Reversible Skirt, on Goodreads. It’s by a member named Ana:

“Reversible Skirt is probably the most honest and gripping memoir I’ve read. McHale Holland is on my top 10 of writers writing today. She’s managed to tell a tragic story fraught with emotion without the poor poor pitiful me some writers might have fallen prey to.”

Bliss.

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A pillar of the community

I don’t think this episode can stand alone, but it does move the larger story along.

A Pillar of the Community
By Laura McHale Holland

The police chief stands at the microphone, loosens his tie and waits for the room to quiet down. Behind the podium, Carly’s parents, Janet and Jasper, sit side by side, holding hands.

Carly and her daughter, Chloe, are back home watching The Little Mermaid on video, a favorite movie from Carly’s childhood. As Chloe bounces to the song “Under the Sea,” Carly marvels at how she thought she’d always hate the junkie who wrenched Chloe from her arms. But since the arrest of D. Albert Jones, her former boyfriend’s father, Carly has felt a measure of gratitude because the junkie didn’t do what he was hired to do. Mr. Jones paid him handsomely to kill Carly and Chloe and dispose of their bodies deep in the forest, where only marijuana growers dare to go.

The police chief clears his throat and begins his briefing. “D. Albert Jones has been a pillar of the community for many years, and I know many of you think of him as a friend. But the case against him is airtight,” he says. Janet’s eyes tear up; Jasper puts his arm around her.

Meanwhile, in another room Jones breaks down, “Carly was supposed to give that baby up for adoption,” he says. “My son signed the papers, but she broke her word so she could suck our family dry. She would never have left my son alone. I couldn’t let her ruin his life.”

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All of the episodes in this series in the order in which they were posted follow:

Back pocket wishes

Cascading to the sea

Right through the heart

Away today?

A dime a dozen

She doesn’t know them

On the seat

A pillar of the community

He needs a friend

Double rainbow

The one he always wants to hear

Give it some time

It gives my life meaning

Smiles

Extenuating circumstances

 The four of us

 

 

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On the seat

I’d been picturing this scene but couldn’t get myself to sit down and write it. I finally drafted it today while at Whole Foods after work.

On The Seat
By Laura McHale Holland

Carly and Chloe, a mother and daughter long separated by force, sit on opposite sides of a love seat; they are now separated by choice, a shoebox full of pictures between them.

Carly taps a bare foot on the plush carpet below; Chloe swings her little legs out and back, out and back.

One by one, Carly lifts pictures from the box and tells Chloe stories about them. One by one, she hands the pictures to Chloe, who stacks them on the seat next to the box. Carly talks of birthday cakes, Cabbage Patch dolls, sleepovers, Great America, her grandfather’s 80th birthday, her first crush.

When the box is empty, Chloe picks the pictures one after another from her pile and drops them back into the box. She says solitary words as the pictures drop: closet, dark, bruise, bam, bang, blood, splat, drive, waterfall, beach, puzzle, bye bye. When the box is full again, Carly replaces the lid, puts her hands in her lap, sighs. 

“Again?” Chloe asks. “Of course,” Carly replies. She removes the lid. Chloe inches closer to her on the seat.

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All of the episodes in this series in the order in which they were posted follow:

Back pocket wishes

Cascading to the sea

Right through the heart

Away today?

A dime a dozen

She doesn’t know them

On the seat

A pillar of the community

He needs a friend

Double rainbow

The one he always wants to hear

Give it some time

It gives my life meaning

Smiles

Extenuating circumstances

 The four of us

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She doesn’t know them

Here’s the next installment. It’s difficult to create connected segments, each of which stands alone. Perhaps in the editing process I can achieve this. It’s something to shoot for–just because.

She Doesn’t Know Them
By Laura McHale Holland

I sit on the bank, bare feet dangling in the bracing water, and I listen to the gurgles, always changing yet always the same, eternal. Though they lived far from here, sometimes I hear my ancestors’ voices in the wind, beside the river rocks, in the rustle of dogwood branches overhead.

It turns out the brown-eyed girl I thought was orphaned, the one I came to know between errands for the guy I thought was her dad, the girl I came to love, that girl, has a birth mother who never chose to give her up: a young mother who was locked in a basement and couldn’t search for her baby. She has a grandma and grandpa who have missed her too. It is their right to have her; she is their blood. But she doesn’t know them.

The social worker told me, “Stay away. Chloe is where she belongs now.” Chloe. The name suits her, though I liked to call her Pia because her eyes reach into the soul, like Edith Piaf’s songs playing on a foggy Sunday morning.

I see no path before me. So I wait at the river, seeking wisdom as the sun sets. I can see Chloe spurning her grandmother’s cookies, shrinking from her grandfather’s hugs while her mother, rescued just one week ago, is sedated in an upstairs bedroom where she was tucked in every night of her childhood. And the media, stationed at front and back doors, has the family under siege.

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All of the episodes in this series in the order in which they were posted follow:

Back pocket wishes

Cascading to the sea

Right through the heart

Away today?

A dime a dozen

She doesn’t know them

On the seat

A pillar of the community

He needs a friend

Double rainbow

The one he always wants to hear

Give it some time

It gives my life meaning

Smiles

Extenuating circumstances

 The four of us

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A dime a dozen

Another episode in my series of connected flash fiction.

A Dime a Dozen
By Laura McHale Holland

Two uniformed officers break down the front door of a ramshackle home in an otherwise nondescript middle class neighborhood. The suspect, a spindly, gap-toothed man in ripped jeans and white T, flees out a back window. He is apprehended in the weeds by another officer who cuffs him, escorts him to a police van and shoves him inside.

In the basement, the police find the meth lab they’d suspected was there. Behind one locked door they also find a cache of assault rifles and ammunition. They expect to find the same behind another door, but when they clip off the padlock and pry open the door, they enter a windowless room with padded walls. A young woman cowers on a cot in a corner. She holds a small yellow blanket in one hand and a pink baby rattle in the other. She faints at the sight of them.

One officer rushes to her, lifts her up and carries her out in his arms. “You’re okay now. Whatever you’ve been through, it’s over now,” he says.

She opens her eyes, searches his face and asks, “Have you seen my baby, my baby girl, Chloe?” She passes out again.

Later that day, a few blocks from the meth lab, Janet, a middle-aged woman with worry lines creasing her face, watches the evening news. She observes an officer carrying what looks like a bone-thin young woman to a police car. Janet can’t see the face, but she notices the yellow blanket and pink rattle in the woman’s hands.

“Jasper, Japser, come quick!” she calls. “I just saw Carly on TV. They were carrying her out of that house that got raided today. Our Carly, Jasper. I saw Chloe’s blanket and rattle in her hands.”

Jasper sprints into the room and wraps his wife in his arms. It’s been more than three years since Carly, then only seventeen, nestled her baby, Chloe, into the carriage Janet and Jasper had just purchased for her. Carly planned to take five-day-old Chloe to visit her best friend one block away. But Carly and Chloe never made it there.

Initially, investigators on the case thought Carly had hitchhiked to visit her former boyfriend, the baby’s father, who was away a college. But they found him studying for exams in his dorm room. He hadn’t spoken with Carly since they’d broken up five months before. He said he’d relinquished his parental rights and didn’t want to have anything to do with Carly or the baby.

“Now, honey,” Jasper says. “Don’t get your hopes up too much. Those baby blankets and rattles are a dime a dozen.”

“We have to go see, Jasper. We have to go see.” She grabs her purse, picks up a framed picture of Carly and Chloe from a table by the door and runs outside. Jasper follows.

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All of the episodes in this series in the order in which they were posted follow:

Back pocket wishes

Cascading to the sea

Right through the heart

Away today?

A dime a dozen

She doesn’t know them

On the seat

A pillar of the community

He needs a friend

Double rainbow

The one he always wants to hear

Give it some time

It gives my life meaning

Smiles

Extenuating circumstances

 The four of us

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Some thoughts on sisterhood

I’m going to be on a panel at the Women’s PowerStrategy Conference Saturday and even though the panel topic is “If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother” (on which I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say, no doubt), I’m preparing a one-page handout about sisterhood (on which I have even more to say). I’m pasting my draft in here and would very much apreciate your feedback.

Some Thoughts on Sisterhood
By Laura McHale Holland
Author of Reversible Skirt, a Memoir

My two sisters are my dearest friends. Over the years, they have cheered me and comforted me through all my triumphs and sorrows. And vice versa. But we weren’t always buddies. Our early years brought us significant heartbreak and abuse that, rather than pull us together, drove us apart. For many long days, nights and years, an ugly current of bitterness ran through our relationships; fights, ridicule and jealousy ruled our world.

Then things changed. Gradually at first, and then more rapidly, we transformed from sniping detractors into enthusiastic fans. And we have been close for so long now, the times of strife among us truly are distant memories. However, countless times people have come up to me, remarked upon the bond my sisters and I share and then looked wistfully as they’ve said something like, “I haven’t spoken to my sister in years. What’s your secret?”

So I’m going to write down ten things my sisters and I, through trial and error, have learned about how to care for each other. I hope these thoughts on sisterhood help others seeking to form a closer bond with their beloved sisters—by blood or otherwise.

Together you and your sisters must:

1. Decide you want to have loving, supportive relationships with each other and commit to taking action to make that happen. It is best for all parties involved to make this decision and commitment. Meaningful progress will be much slower otherwise.

2. Remember that the past is over; there is nothing you can do to change it. So forgive yourself for any harm you may have caused your sisters and forgive your sisters for any harm they may have caused you.

3. Realize that you and your sisters will inadvertently hurt each other’s feelings after you’ve made a commitment to do the opposite. Forgive yourself and your sisters for these blunders as they occur and move on.

4. Focus more on listening than on being heard, and learn to see things from your sisters’ points of view.

5. Do things together that you all enjoy, things that make you all laugh, things that will bring smiles to your faces long afterward.

6. Tell your sisters often how much you love them. Always put your loving connection with one another above all else in the relationships.

7. Notice your sisters’ good qualities and the admirable things they’ve done. Tell them about these things repeatedly—and celebrate them.

8. If you need to complain about one of your sisters, do it with someone outside of the situation. Look for a sympathetic ear, but don’t try to convince the person you are good and your sister is bad.

9. Think about where your sisters need a hand and provide wholehearted, passionate assistance.

10. Be patient. Some struggles we face are life-long. Have high expectations, but don’t give up if your sister falls short. Hold out an encouraging hand.

This is my first stab at sharing this, so I’m bound to have left some things out. I may elaborate on these and provide examples in the future. I will welcome your comments.

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Guest post at TellTale Souls

I don’t have a story ready this week yet (I’m still thinking over what direction I want to go in this year), but I do have a guest post up at Lynn Henriksen’s TellTale Souls blog. It has to do with mothers, and, well, mothers are what brought us all into this world, and some of us are mothers ourselves, so it’s hard to be neutral on the topic, isn’t it?

I hope my thoughts on my mother and stepmother stimulate you to share your own perspectives.

Here’s the link:

http://telltalesouls.com/blog/extolling-the-virtures-of-mom-in-memoir-not-for-everyone/

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Music for ghosts

Music for Ghosts
By Laura McHale Holland

Sleepless and in pain, Mireille hears murmuring by her bedroom window. She looks outside and sees familiar translucent forms gathering in the darkness along the backyard fence. She angles into the wheelchair at the side of the bed, lifts a mandolin from her cluttered dressing table, and maneuvers out of the bedroom through the house and down the ramp into her yard.

There she sees them, swaying like silver leaves blowing in the breeze: her mother and father, husband, grandparents, sister, brothers, best friends from childhood, the son who died while a babe in the crib—all her loved ones lost from the many stages of her long life.

She picks up the mandolin and begins to pluck as though arthritis had never invaded her fingers. Her loved ones surround her and dance—she strong as the maypole, they light as ribbons. She plays on until, hours later, she closes her eyes and drops the mandolin into her lap.

Mireille’s daughter stops by later and finds her mother in the yard, sleeping to the rising sun. As daughter pushes mother back into the house and then makes hot tea, Mireille promises to stop playing music for ghosts every night. She promises to take her sleeping pills and her pain medication. She promises to play bingo at the church on Mondays and Wednesdays and attend the water aerobics class at the Y on Thursdays. She promises many things to get her daughter out of her hair and off to work. Then Mireille sleeps the day away in her chair, hands at peace on the mandolin resting in her lap.

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Shiny black hair

Shiny Black Hair
By Laura McHale Holland

My niece Emma’s a little different. She’s never been the same since a family rafting trip turned tragic when she was twelve. Her mom, dad and brother all drowned when the raft overturned. Emma was found downstream badly bruised but very much alive hours later.

When she came to live with me right after that, all Emma could talk about was how one of those Bigfoot creatures had plunged into the rapids and saved her. I did my best to bring her down gently to the reality that it’s fun to tell stories about Bigfoot sightings around campfires, but only crackpots believe they actually exist.

Emma never did accept my point of view on that, though, or on much of anything else either. And when she finished high school she went off to live in the woods way up north in Humboldt County instead of going to college. Like I said, she’s a little different.

Last week I got phone call from her. She asked if she could come for Thanksgiving. I said yes, of course. Then she said she’d just had a baby girl, Caroline, with her boyfriend and she was bringing the baby, too. She said her boyfriend wasn’t coming because he hates to travel. Well, I didn’t even know she had a boyfriend, let alone a baby. But that doesn’t matter. I was thrilled to see her and the baby when they arrived this morning. Little Caroline was all wrapped up and sleeping, though, and Emma was tired, too, so they went to take a nap in Emma’s old room.

A little while ago I thought I heard Caroline cry and decided I should take her so Emma could get more rest. So I tiptoed into the room and saw the baby had kicked off her blanket, and where there should be soft baby skin on her face and hands (the only parts of her that aren’t covered by her jammies), I saw shiny black hair, just like in those Bigfoot pictures Emma used to have plastered all over the walls in her room. I ran out pronto, and my heart is still racing at the sight.

Now, I know Emma’s different. I accept that. But what kind of mother would glue hair to her little girl’s skin like that? I mean, that must be what she did, right?

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