I forgot to say goodbye

May 14, 2016 3 comments

I should have been enjoying the new car smell while reading the manual to figure out all the bells and whistles — and there are lots — on my new 2016 Ford Escape sitting in my driveway.

Instead, I found myself feeling strangely sad. Crazy, right? I thought so.

In fact, instead of playing with my new toy – there were a few errands I could run just to drive it – I was exhausted when I got home.  You know, like struggling to keep your eyes open kind of tired. So, I took an hour nap when I got home.  But I was still feeling sad.

There had to be a reason. Being the logical person that I am, I began to mentally break this down.

I’d rather go to a Trump rally than deal with one of those patronizing, condescending, less-than-truthful car salesmen who have been my car-buying experience pretty much my entire life.

So, I’ve been dragging my feet about trading back into my preferred SUV-sized vehicle for at least five of the past ten years. I found lots of reasons to keep the 2007 Toyota Corolla.

I cited the great gas mileage, even as gas prices tumbled from a high of $4.50 here in North Carolina to under $2. I reminded myself that I didn’t have a monthly car payment every time I held my breath and prayed the truck driver saw me as I squeezed past his eighteen-wheeler, every time I worried I wouldn’t make it to work because ruts might be too deep after a mere six inches of snow, and every time I stood in the Home Depot parking lot trying to figure out how to fit the crap I bought into the small car.

And, hey, she was Duke blue and her leather interior still pristine.

But, some kind of ultra-acid pooping birds that roosted in downtown Raleigh this past spring did a number on her clearcoat. Plus, an omonous noise in the front end sounded like an expensive repair to me.

And, honestly, I was feeling as old as she was in car-years. Getting in and out of a vehicle that low to the ground required slow and careful moves when my back was feeling gimpy…which seems to happen with increasing frequency as I age and every scramble on the basketball court, every dive for the home plate, every abrupt direction change to field a cross-court backhand and every time I was bucked off a surly horse seems to haunt me.

So, I sucked it up and messaged my financial-shark friend, Joye. She jumped at the chance to go car shopping with me.  Dealing with car salesmen? “That’s sport to me,” she said gleefully. So, I followed her instructions to arm myself with Internet research and price quotes from truecar.com and the Kelly Blue Book value of my trade. Wow. What a difference it made.

Much to my surprise, the salesman was a polite young man who recognized that we’d done our homework and didn’t give us a lot of double-talk. In fact, we dealt with three men who didn’t flinch (much) when Joye made them jack up the allowance for my trade much higher than I’d expected. It still took most of the day, but they gave us vouchers for lunch nearby while they detailed the car I was buying and got the paperwork in order.

Alex, our salesman, even synced my phone to my new vehicle before we left. It does everything but heat up dinner – although it might do that if you turn the seat heaters up high enough.

So, why was I sad?

Because, damn it, I felt like I’d left a family member behind without even saying goodbye. Sure, I’d given her one last oil change last week and even washed her peeling clearcoat. But I’d ejected all of her cds unceremoniously and poked my hands into all her nooks and pockets to make sure I wasn’t leaving something behind, then threw her two sets of keys in the seat and dashed off to my new Escape.

I’m not sentimental about cars. I don’t name them like some people do. They’re machines, right? So, why do I feel tonight like one of those dastardly people who leave an aging pet at the pound and drive off with a new puppy?

Then it hit me.  I hadn’t left a car behind. I’d left ten years of memories.

Memories like my two-week Tour of the South with Jane Fletcher and Joanie Bassler last summer, stopping in Savannah to see Yolanda Wallace and Dita Edison before going to Shell Island and then on to the GCLS convention in New Orleans.

Memories of every Pride event  when I stuffed two tent canopies, five or six boxes of books and swag, my luggage and four buckets containing 200 pounds of sand to weight down the tents into the small vehicle. I almost thrashed Donna K. Ford for calling it a clown car once when I unloaded an ungodly amount of stuff from it at one Pride weekend.  But I couldn’t deny the resemblance.

Donna and I drove Elvis to Nashville in that car, where he found his perfect match and forever home with Catherine Woodworth.

The last picture I took of my dad was in that car. He was smiling. I had let my ex talk me into the Corolla for the gas mileage. It was out of character for me because I normally drove trucks or SUVs. So, when Alzhiemer’s chiseled away my dad’s memory those last few years,  each time I picked him up from the assisted living home to take him out, he’d ask “Whose car is this?”

My mother’s decline came a few years before his. Health issues stole her ability to walk, but she was a sturdy woman and could stand briefly enough to transfer from the chair to car. Strokes, however, feebled her mind so getting her to follow the instructions on how to maneuver into my small car wasn’t easy. Being in a parking lot at the mall and repeatedly yelling, “no, Mama…butt first…put your butt in first,” often reduced my sisters and me to giggles — Mama, too.

My brother and I rode together to our uncle’s funeral in that car last year. We’d been close as children, but differences had damaged our relationship as adults and the trip was sort of an unspoken reconciliation between two siblings who were now older and a bit wiser.

I’ve listened to countless audio books in that little Toyota, caught naps in rest areas when I was too tired to drive, picked up countless friends at the airport…carried my old Jack Russell Terrier to her final vet visit, then to the crematorium and later brought home her ashes in that car.

So, yeah. I’m a little sad that I didn’t pause for a second, lay my hand on the hood and say thanks for the memories.  I still might thrash Donna for the “clown car” comment.

But in the morning, I think I’m going to run some errands in my new Escape, breathe in the new car smell, jack up the AC so I can test the heated seats, then check the manual to see how to sync the garage door opener to my garage when I return home. I might even lay the back seats down take The Terrors for a ride.

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My Writing Soundtrack

February 22, 2015 Leave a comment

Missouri Vaun (aka Paige Braddock the artist/writer behind Jane’s World) gives one of my books a shout out in her blog about playlists for writing. Her first novel, “All Things Rise” that’s not a graphic novel comes out in May. I can’t wait.

Missouri Vaun

Driving into work on Thursday, The Donnas came up on my playlist and I was immediately whisked back to a particular moment in time.

This was the song I was listening to a few months ago when my Z3 got run over by an SUV. I was listening to their track titled, “Take It Off,” and thinking to myself that if Carsen Taite’s character, Luca Bennett, had a theme song, this would be it. I’m on my second drink, but I’ve had a few before… I’m tryin’ hard to think and I think that I want you on the floor.

It was at about that moment that the airbag deployed.

Luca’s favorite lunch is a burger and a beer, and she drives a vintage Bronco, so I’m pretty sure she’d be into The Donnas. Anyone who eats that much red meat and drives a V8 would definitely have…

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Here kitty, kitty.

February 17, 2015 6 comments

There are about a million things I should be doing at the moment, but I’m so buoyed by an Internet purchase, I had to share it.

My dad suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. Before her death, my mom suffered from dementia that resulted from a series of small strokes. She had other health issues, too. So, about six years ago, both my parents had to be moved into an assisted living facility. The toughest thing was not being able to take their pets. My family has always loved our animals. My siblings and I, of course, took on the pets they had at the time.

About four years ago, I stumbled upon a mechanical cat that purrs, blinks and paws at its face. It’s quite lifelike. The Furreal Lulu was the spitting image of the white long-haired cat they had to give up. Also, a reviewer on Amazon had written a long comment about how her parent with Alzheimer’s had attached to it. So, I forked over the $42 to purchase it for my mother.

She loved it. The mechanical cat was so lifelike from a distance, that it startled the nurses when they’d come into my parents’ room that first day.

When my mother died almost three years ago, we really didn’t think my dad would survive without her. They were married only a few months shy of 50 years, and were a very close couple. But Daddy latched onto that cat and has stayed with us. We’re all very relieved, because he’s the sweetest man in the world.

We have a private room for him now. He has his television and recliner and family pictures on the wall, and big portrait of him and mother. There’s also a picture of her grave, because it helps him to be able to remember where she’s gone .

And, he has the cat. He holds “Silver” all day and sleeps with her at night. We’ve spent so much money on batteries, I finally coughed up a hundred bucks for batteries we can recharge and an unit to do it — only to find out he really doesn’t care if Silver moves and purrs. He just wants her company. My two sisters and I make sure he wants for nothing, but the thing he treasures most is a basket my sister gave him that hooks to his walker. He puts Silver in it and takes her with him when he goes to the dining hall for lunch every day. If we check him out of the home to spend time with us, he won’t leave without that cat.

Here’s the problem. He knows the cat requires batteries and doesn’t need a litter box, but he still tries to share food with her sometimes. So, her faux fur is matted from his constant petting and her mouth is crusted with the strawberry ice cream he tries to share with her. Because of her mechanical insides, you can’t just throw her in the washing machine either.

So, we’re on the third or fourth Silver. Ever so often, I’ll buy another and we’ll tell him we’re taking her to the groomer and swap it out. Until about two years ago. The company quit making the Lulu model (the one that’s laying down). Once they stopped making them, the price of the cat soared on ebay from $40 to $300. I tested getting a different one, but it wasn’t the same color and he gave it away to a lady down the hall and clung to his ratty white one. So, we’ve been attempting to scrub up this last Lulu though she’s looking really poorly. Her fur is thin in many spots.

Then last night, I was cruising the Internet for something to send for his birthday later this week and, on a lark, searched for Lulu. I found one! Only $25…well, $40 with shipping. I messaged my sister — the one I know always stays up late. There was rejoicing.

So, when I drive to Georgia next month, “Silver”  will go to the groomer and come back fresh and fluffy. It may seem like a small thing, but its huge to the three Jackson girls because it will put a big grin on the face of the man who has loved us all unconditionally since the day we were born. We love you, Daddy. Happy 81st Birthday.

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Those Darn Dragon Horses by D. Jackson Leigh

February 8, 2015 Leave a comment

Here’s a bit more detail about dragon horses, scamps that they can be.

Women and Words

DHW 300 dpiThe sun is barely up and so am I. 🙂 If I were more awake, I’d be able to develop a joke out of that. As it is, I’m going to stick with what I came here to do. This happy, if still pretty dark, Sunday morning, we have the fabulous D. Jackson Leigh here with us. She has a new book called Dragon Horse War: The Calling. Yeah, it’s as awesome as it sounds.

If you’re interested, and you should be, you can read an excerpt HERE.

Those Darn Dragon Horses
by D. Jackson Leigh

When Jael, the First Warrior in Dragon Horse War: The Calling, tries to prepare Alyssa to meet her first dragon horse, she explains that most legends are born from a grain of truth. Tales of great dragons generally are considered to have originated from early human exposure to a large reptile…

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Dreaming of Dragon Horses

February 3, 2015 1 comment

Hey, check out my blog on what made me depart from my usual romance genre and try my hand at writing fantasy.

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Birthdays – When Your Cup Runs Over

December 21, 2014 5 comments

Birthdays have never been a wonderful thing for me since I’m practically a Christmas baby.

First of all, my parents were inconsiderate enough to get pregnant at the end of March so that my date of arrival was somewhere around the last of December, first of January. Secondly, my mother decided that she didn’t want to risk maybe spending Christmas Day in the hospital having a baby, so she raked the yard to throw herself into labor so she could deliver me before Christmas.

All of this meant that — like most late December born — I received countless presents that were “for your birthday and Christmas, too.” And, I never had birthday parties because everybody was too busy Christmas shopping or going to Christmas parties or special church services or Christmas concerts…well, you get the idea. My brother, a September baby, had a great pirate-themed birthday party and a cookout party with pony rides another time.

Then there are just the flat-out bad birthday memories.

Like the time nobody remembered (not even me) that it was my birthday until I got a phone call from the one person who never forgot. (This, of course, was when I was younger and wanted people to remember I was a year older)

Or those birthdays during the years of a deteriorating relationship when your partner’s “What do you want to do for your birthday?” is said in a tone that makes it clear sex better not be on your list because that would take way too much effort on her part. I always hated those birthdays most because you still have a thin thread of hope that she’s going make your day special by trying to rekindle some of the love and intimacy you used to share, right up until you turn out the light and she says goodnight and turns her back to you.

Of course, all of my birthdays haven’t been bad. I did have one considerate lover who suggested that we pick a different day during the year and celebrate it as my birthday. So, we did. But it just wasn’t the same, you know, no matter how much we pretended. Because it wasn’t really my birthday.

And, my parents did throw a “sweet sixteen” birthday party with most of the popular kids my school, and dancing in our big den. It was a big hit right up until there was a tangle up on the dance floor and I ended up with a broken hand and had to go to the emergency room. Then I had a cast for the first time in my life, which was cool for about a week until it began to itch.

But today was one of the best birthdays I’ve had in a long time. The cake was in the shape of a pregnant woman and my gift was a house full of some of my favorite women — all related to me.

My day started with, yep, a baby shower.

Now, I don’t normally do baby showers. Those are for straight women who like to play those silly games and sit around in a circle and exclaim over little baby clothes, talk about breast pumps, and (shudder) the pros and cons of episiotomies. (If you don’t know what that is, don’t look it up. Stay innocent. I wish I had.) Normally, I claim I didn’t get the invitation or send a gift with one of my sisters or just admit that I’d rather be hog-tied and slow-roasted that sit through one of those gatherings.

But this was for two people I admire, my niece and her husband who are teachers in Honduras. When I visited them last year, they’d been married for about five years and were frustrated that they hadn’t gotten pregnant. They both love kids. So, we were all ecstatic when they discovered several months later that Heather was with child.

Plans were for her to come home to the States for Christmas and get her fix of family and all cravings U.S. (she gets a Big Mac the minute she steps off the airplane in the Atlanta airport) and collect baby loot from all her friends here before she is too preggers to fly. She’d been counting the days until her trip home for months. But, she had premature — way too early — labor pains a week before she was to leave and the doctor put her on bed rest. She was devastated.

So, we held the shower anyway. It was a brunch and no silly games. We skyped Heather and husband Ariel, using my sister’s laptop and big screen TV. They could see the entire room full of us, but could only hear clearly if you sat next to the laptop, so about fifteen people took turns sitting at the laptop, opening their presents for the baby and holding them up for Heather and Ariel to see, while visiting and catching up with them. It went on for two hours.

When it did come up that today was also my birthday, the only man physically at the party — the person who always remembered until Alzheimer’s disease began stealing his memory — burst into song. You see, it’s been a tradition since we were children for Daddy to sing Happy Birthday to us. As adults, cell phones made it easier for him to find us and sing over the phone.  Since he can’t keep up with a calendar any more, the siblings make sure he gets reminded and a phone put in his hand on the right days. This year, I was lucky enough to be there in person. My only regret is that I didn’t think to grab my phone and video it. I never know when it will be my last birthday song from him.

After the party, I went to a movie with my brother-in-law and my nephew, Corey. The movie was god awful, but the time was well spent because I don’t know when I’ll see Corey again. He leaves Jan. 2 for boot camp. He’s signed up to go into Army Intelligence and his training posts for the next 9 months are nowhere near the East Coast. It scares me to death that his MOS will probably land him in the Middle East.

So, on my four-hour drive back to North Carolina after my busy visit to Georgia, I reflected on the 59th year of my life that I’m concluding tonight. Some of the changes like my dad growing feeble and Corey joining the army are scary. But It’s also been a great year of family drawing closer together, deepening some very good friendships, finding some great new friends, and meeting some personal goals for myself.

Anyway, I’m home now, sitting in bed as I type this blog, pinned down by my three furry terrors who celebrated my return like I’d been gone two weeks instead of two days and now are crowded close to make sure I don’t leave again anytime soon.

A birthday just can’t get much better than that.

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O Captain, my Captain!

October 27, 2014 15 comments

It’s been years since I pulled her books down, but tonight I opened the first and ran my finger over the inscription as if hoping it could conjure the author.

For Jackson, My Sister Amazon! Thanks and be well- Cate Culpepper

It was 2006, I think, and I’d traveled alone to the Golden Crown Literary Society Convention, not knowing a single soul there. But I’d found Cate’s Amazon series on the Internet and somehow tracked her a year before to a yahoo group known as the Kindred Lodge and joined.

The participants role-played characters to write stories together in a fantasy world. My character was a cocky horse whisperer named Rider. Cate was known as the randy sea dog Capt. Klancy. She created the group and attracted a dozen or so talented writers. I was in complete awe of them and sat up very late, many nights to write stories with the group.

So, when I learned she would be at the GCLS, I drove to Atlanta and stalked her. I had the first two of her Tristaine series — the originals published by Justice House — clutched in my hands. She smiled when I held out the books.

“Wow,” she said. “You even have the old copies. I didn’t know any of these were still around.”

I shrugged. “I’ve had’em for a while. They’re great.”  She felt around in her pockets, so I offered my pen.

“Who do I sign it to?” she asked.

I grinned at her. “You can sign it to Rider, a kindred sister.” It was one of those moments, one of those punch lines you live to deliver. She sputtered, then broke into a blazing smile. I don’t remember much of the rest of our conversation. It was short, because the next panel was starting and Cate was on it. And the hasty inscription wasn’t to Rider, but to Jackson. Still, it was the start of an online friendship that landed Rider a bit part in Cate’s fourth and final Tristaine book which was published by Bold Strokes Books.

“Queens of Tristaine” was published in November 2007. Another awesomely talented bard in our group, Gill McKnight, had just signed a contract with Bold Strokes. The manuscript of my first novel was gathering dust because I was too afraid to submit it, but with Cate’s urging and an offer from Gill to beta-read and help me polish it first, I finally submitted it to Bold Strokes. Even before I received the email that it had been accepted for publication, Cate sent me an autographed copy of “Queens.” The inscription read:

To my talented sister-bard, who has a thousand women waiting to hear her voice. Looking forward to holding my first signed Jackson Leigh novel in my hands! Hope you enjoy Queens, Cate

You might say Cate only offered me a few simple words of encouragement. But from my perspective, she gave me the courage to do something that has changed my life.

The Kindred Lodge group closed about a year later, but Cate never stopped referring to me as Rider on facebook and she will forever be my Captain.

Cate’s death on Saturday leaves our world a little empty without her wit, her kind heart and her creative soul.

But after the Kindred light a sailor’s pyre for this gentle Amazon and cry “O Captain, my Captain,” we’ll lay down our grief and shoulder our duty to pay forward what Cate gave to each of us, because a Tristaine Queen — or at least her legacy — is destined to rise again.

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