PICTURE THIS

PICTURE THIS

Four-year-old Kenny was restless. We had been for a walk, had played “I see something and other games,” but he was tired. We sat down on the grass, still waiting for his ride.

“How about if I tell you a story?” I suggested.

“Okay. Give me your cell phone?” he said.

“No, the story’s not on the cell phone. I’m going to make it up in my head.”

“Where are the pictures, though?” he asked.

“In your head. I’ll see the pictures in my imagination and I will describe them to you and you will see them in your imagination.”

“Where? Where will I see the pictures?”

“In your head. Let’s just try it. Once upon a time….”

I told him a story of a four-year-old boy dressed in a red T-shirt and jeans, with a hole in one knee. He frowned down at the scuffed knees of his own jeans. No hole.

My fictional boy went for a walk. He found a squirrel skeleton under a tree. He didn’t want to put it in his pocket, so he left it where it was.

As he listened, Kenny rolled his eyes, looking around, but he didn’t focus on anything.

“The little boy saw a flag pole with no flag. He thought about trying to climb the pole.”

Kenny smiled and looked into the sky, imagining the nonexistent flagpole.

Until that afternoon, I did not realize today’s children, bombarded with electronic screens, have little call to use their imaginations.

Check it out for yourself. Find a child with whom you can share the pictures in your mind. Also, plan for turn about. After I had spieled my story, full of strange but friendly dogs and cats, Kenny wanted to describe pictures in his mind to share with me.

When his teen-aged sister came to pick him up, he asked if she had pictures in her head she could tell him about. She grinned at him, then at me.

“We can tell when a kid has spent time with you, Nana. It’s always obvious.”

Is imagining a lost art, something left behind with past generations?

Pick a book, like LORD OF THE RINGS. Select a descriptive excerpt from a master like J.R.R. Tolkien and read it to a child. See if either of you benefit.

An imagination is a terrible thing to waste.

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JIMMY MYSTERIOUS

JIMMY MYSTERIOUS

I read and write mystery novels. Human beings, including my own children, provide the most puzzling material.

Our younger son died last year. As the anniversary of his passing approaches, my thoughts of him have lifted to reminisces.

Jim was our fourth child, the one most like his dad, a man whose thinking and personality still surprise me.

Jim was the least emotional of our four children. Pragmatic, he did not lie and, was impatient with artifice. Right was right and wrong was wrong, easy for him to see.

This son was left-handed and was neither academic nor athletic. He was certain there was an easier way to learn multiplication tables than memorizing them. He spelled phonetically. He had a tall, strong, coordinated body, could have been an athlete, but he didn’t like sports, shunned the idea of social popularity, and had little regard for the usual motivators.

Jim mystified me.

After he graduated high school, a couple of college enrollments fizzled, and a number of jobs ended in mutual dissatisfaction. Finally, he enrolled in a small Catholic university and became friends with a CLEET-certified security guard. Jim got into security training, which he completed easily, became certified, bought a handgun, practiced on the firing range and passed requirements on his first go-round.

Recruited by several city security companies, he signed with one and settled in an apartment, happily supporting himself, and drawing praise from bosses and supervisors.

I marveled when “my baby” at six-foot two, arrived home one night in uniform, complete with gun, pepper spray, handcuffs, etc., and bearing an unfamiliar grim demeanor.

Kidding around, I asked if he ever had occasion to draw that weapon.

“Several times,” he said frowning. “I drew it last night, as a matter of fact.”

“Really.” I sobered. “Why?”

“It was after 2 a.m. I’d finished my shift and half of another one and I was beat. The manager at my apartment complex had passed the word about a drug dealer working our parking lot on weekends. He described the car.

“I was unloading stuff from my trunk, when the car he mentioned came roaring out of the night pointed right at me. I wasn’t in the mood.”

“What did you do?”

“I pulled my gun, dropped to one knee and took aim. I was going to blow that driver right out of his socks.”

He paused and I pushed. “So? What happened?”

“He jammed on his brakes and his car shivered to a stop about 10 feet from me.”

“What happened then?”

“I waited a minute, holstered my weapon, got my stuff off the back of my car and went up to my apartment.”

“What did the driver do?”

“He drove out of the lot doing 10 miles an hour like a rational person.”

I write fiction. I plan to use that scene in a future novel, although I didn’t really understand the way it played. For me, it was another of those baffling guy things. The memory of that conversation popped up while I was reminiscing about my wonderful, unfathomable son.

Jim was 39 when he died March 1, 2015, not in a shoot-out, but after 16 months of a courageous battle with cancer.

Recalling, I don’t think I knew him very well. Didn’t understand him at all. But I do still really miss him.

Jim was proud of my books. You can find them under my name on Amazon.

–––Sharon Ervin

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A VOLUNTEER ARMY BUILT ON CREDIT IS NO WAY TO RUN A WAR

The U.S. should never declare war again unless all of us are willing to get involved.

I’ve been alarmed by predominately Republican candidates who suggest sending American troops back to Iraq “to bolster that country’s army,” to Afghanistan to reclaim lost ground, and maybe even Syria.

One saber-rattling member of the U.S. Congress––who is not a veteran––declared, “We need to carpet bomb ISIS out of existence over there.” He also plans to fight the Taliban, other government troops, radicals, whoever pops up.

That’s another thing. Before we go to any war, we probably need to identify the enemy.

These members and would-be members of congress don’t mention how they plan to resource or pay for these wars. Charging wars runs up too much debt, puts our economy in a tailspin. Last time we nearly didn’t recover.

I consider it bad for this nation to depend on volunteers to sacrifice their bodies, their lives––jobs, spouses, children, families and homes––to prop up armies in the Middle East.

Folks in that part of the world have been battling each other for more than four thousand years. I subscribe to George H Santayana’s thought that, “Those who do not know history’s mistakes are doomed to repeat them.”

Once our government committed us to the Iraq war, the number of troops who volunteered did not turn out to be enough to allow for rotations. U.S. soldiers finished tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, Korea, and other foreign lands to find we were short of replacements. Soldiers who were supposed to be home in a year got extended, some indefinitely. When they did get home, they were reactivated and redeployed repeatedly with too little time here to mend relationships and resolve mental issues.

Those who came home in body bags, of course, had no readjustment. Those who returned physically and mentally impaired had to wait in line for inadequate medical attention, another of those expenses of war our government overlooked.

After five years of training and millions of American taxpayer dollars produced unsatisfactory results in Iraq, President Barak Obama turned the responsibility for protecting their turf back to the locals and ordered our troops home. His decision met with noisy objections from some quarters, but not from me.

Left on their own, Iraqi troops abandoned weapons and established field positions, leaving American equipment and expertise to their enemies. We had squandered America lives and resources.

I don’t care much what happens in Iraq or Afghanistan with us out. Or in Syria, either. Unwilling to fight for their homeland, Syrians have left by the thousands, seeking refuge and peace elsewhere, away from their government’s wholesale killing of its own people.

John McCain and Lindsey Graham, on weekend talk shows recently, spoke of sending American troops again to train soldiers from other nations to fight for our way of life, insisting the effort will protect the U.S. from terrorists attacks. The truth is, some of us are determined to share democracy, whether other nations want it, or not.

My husband did a tour in Vietnam in 1966. Having lived that part of our history, I have never understood why Americans had to fight and die there. Of course I never was clear about “the Korean Police Action,” and why we still maintain troops in South Korea either.

During Vietnam, we had a national draft. Every able-bodied 18-year-old male registered to serve. The government gave student deferments to allow young people to continue college educations. After graduations, they still had a military obligation. That’s how the U.S. armed forces wound up with the best medical, dental, legal, engineering, mathematical talents in the country. All of our best and brightest matriculated through the military. Military hospitals were well staffed.

Allegedly, we got into those ancient conflicts to stop the spread of communism. I never saw news footage of people scrambling over walls and tearing their bodies through barbed-wire to “escape democracy.” I have seen people lay down their lives resisting communists, nazis, fascists, those trying to cram their ideals down the throats of others.

The point here is: If America declares war in the future, the government needs to provide a way to pay for it, and the effort needs to be all or nothing, meaning we reinstitute the draft, call on every eligible American to participate, and interrupt everyones’ lives, or we don’t declare.

In my opinion, a volunteer army established on credit is no way to run a war.

 

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THE ELDERLY

THE ELDERLY

When a small house on the outskirts of town exploded, the news account said, “The elderly woman who lived there was on the porch at the time and was not injured.”

Later in the story, the reporter said, “Mary Smith, 54, had lived in the house about six months.”

Sixty-two at that time, until that day I had never, ever thought of myself as “elderly.” Suddenly I was super sensitive to the idea, so when Bill paid us out at a local restaurant and the manager automatically gave him “the senior citizen discount,” I rankled.

“Did he ask for your driver’s license?” I asked, on our way to the car.

“No.”

I went back inside.

“At what age does a person receive the senior discount?” I asked.

“Fifty or whenever anyone asks for it.”

“Do they get the discount just for telling you they are senior citizens?”

“Yes, ma’am. Anyone willing to admit to being over 50 can have it. No argument.”

Pretty shabby way to run a business is what I decided.

At the movie theatre, again, we got the senior discount without asking. People over 60 get the break.

“So what made them give it to you?” I asked Bill. “Did they check your identification?”

“Nope.”

A person can get a driver’s license at 16, register for the draft and vote at 18, go into a liquor store at 21. All of those “privileges” come at specific ages. At what age is a person considered a senior citizen? Elderly?

I looked it up.

“Elderly” is described as “Aged,” “old,” “long in the tooth (for crying out loud),” “decrepit,” “doddering,” “doddery,” “over the hill,” “retirees,” “golden agers,” “geezers.”

None of the definitions I found gave a specific age for any of those.

A robust young stranger rapped on the truck window as we parked at Walmart last week. He said he’d just pulled out of a space closer to the store. He would hold it for us so we could pull down there.

Bill had already turned off the engine, so he told the fellow we were fine. The guy insisted. Bill declined. The guy got a little belligerent. Bill finally shrugged and agreed. He restarted the engine and pulled down to the closer parking place, which this guy was reserving with his body.

When we thanked him, he said, “I was raised up to be respectful of my elders.”

Bill clamped his hand over my fist. I’d about had it with this elderly stuff.

Political candidates have helped me adjust. Front-runners like Donald Trump, 69, and Hillary Clinton, 68, Bernie Sanders, 74, and possibilities Bloomberg and Biden, both 73, make it appear elderly folks are still viable.

With Bill’s coaxing, I have finally stopped complaining about the discounts. He reminded me that I am, after all, the tightwad in the family. Also, he reminded, I am a little elderly for fisticuffs. When I turned on him, he grinned.

Conclusion: A person over 50 must maintain a sense of humor. As it turns out, it’s a short step from geezer to curmudgeon.

Oh, yeah? Look it up.

Check out my books at:

www.amazon.com/SharonErvin/e/B001JP4NV2

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SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION

SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION

His brother said my husband Bill walked around unconscious most of the time. I thank God for that little quirk. Bill misses a lot of the dumb stuff I do.

Nosy, I have always been unusually observant. As a child, that “gift” annoyed people. I saw and heard and sensed things around me that some adults didn’t appreciate my noticing. I did not record that information consciously, it drove in and parked in my brain.

My observations were sometimes a convenience. When little sister Nancy asked if anyone had seen her sandals, I said they were on the patio.

“Who put them there?” she demanded.

“I don’t know. They’re really muddy.”

Her confusion cleared. “Oh, yeah. I remember.”

I almost always knew those kinds of things, information available, sometimes, but not often, particularly helpful.

Bill was in Vietnam when I got the newspaper reporter’s job at the Norman (Oklahoma) Transcript. I covered the courthouse beat. District Judge Elvin Brown and I formed a mutual admiration bond. Curious about the absent Bill, the judge said, “Is your husband as smart as you are?” I laughed.

“He’s not as observant as I am, thank goodness, but he’s wiser. For instance, I see and hear things but I don’t know what they mean. If I mention them to Bill, he can figure out what they mean.”

A few weeks later, Judge Brown met Bill. They, too, formed a mutual admiration bond. One day Judge Brown said, “I was confused by your answer when I asked if Bill was as smart as you are. He is, only in a different way. Makes you very compatible as a couple.”

When I wrote THE RIBBON MURDERS, my first romantic suspense novel, I made the female newspaper reporter nosy and observant, like me. The cop, on the other hand, is like Bill. He misses many obvious clues, but when she points them out, he knows how they fit into the homicidal puzzle.

Judge Brown is in the book, too, along with a savvy sheriff and an obnoxious deputy, all drawn from real people.

Writing novels is a hoot. Reading them is pretty good, too. Find mine online at: www.amazon.com/SharonErvin/e/B001JP4NV2

 

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THE AUTHORITY OF FAITH

At a dinner party one evening, a man leaned across the table and said, “Sharon, I want your opinion on something.”

My husband Bill said, “Name your subject. She’s got one.”

I’ve planned to submit a Blog each Monday. When you have as many opinions as I have, that should be easy peasy. However, a friend sent the following and these opinions from others spoke to me.

Scripture says believers have the authority to do all manner of things, but we cower in the face of threats, like tornado warnings and other predicted disasters. Me, too. But people of faith shouldn’t. Check this out:

Six Little Stories for 2016:

1. Once all villagers decided to pray for rain. On the day of prayer all the people gathered, but only one boy came with an umbrella. That’s FAITH.

2. When you throw a baby in the air, she laughs because she knows you will catch her. That’s TRUST.

3. Every night we go to bed without any assurance of being alive the next morning but still we set our alarm clocks. That’s HOPE.

4. We plan big things for tomorrow in spite of zero knowledge of the future. That’s CONFIDENCE.

5. We see the world suffering, but still we get married and have children. That’s LOVE.

6. On an old man’s shirt was written a sentence “I am not 80 years old. . . I am sweet 16 with 64 years experience”  That’s ATTITUDE.

Have a happier year. Maybe adjust an attitude here and there.

Credit: Gary & Eva

 

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GRAND ADVICE

GRAND ADVICE

Our younger son Jim died in March making this our first Christmas without him. I’ve been dragging about preparations.

Older son Joe and one of his daughters selected, bought and delivered a natural tree on Sunday, providing a subtle nudge. We always have a live tree, just hadn’t gotten it yet.

Another granddaughter came to bring boxes of decorations out of the attic. Another nudge.

Grandson Will, 8, got excited the next afternoon as he and I opened boxes of ornaments and house decorations.

“Let’s hang the stockings.” He hopped and whooped and spun in circles.

When our first child was born, Bill’s mother and a band of her friends made a stocking for this first grandchild, a big velvet foot loaded with sequins sewn individually by hand in those days before sequined appliques. They did the same for our second child, our third and, finally, for Jimmy. Then they did one for Bill’s bachelor brother Chuck.

Feeling compelled, I naturally followed tradition making somewhat less elaborate stockings for inlaws when our three older kids married, then for each of our nine grandchildren, individually as they arrived. Each Christmas stockings stretched from end to end across our mantel, with extension hooks fashioned on bookshelves. We have long had a whole celebration of Christmas stockings. Daughter Brandi made a couple for visitors and a double-wide for Bill and me before she took the four for her family to their hearth.

Then Bill’s brother died. The past two years, I left his stocking in tissue paper in one of the stocking boxes.

Then Jimmy died.

I just wasn’t ready to leave Jimmy’s stocking in the box.

“I think we’ll wait about hanging the stockings,” I told the gyrating Will.

“Why?” He can be a persistent little cuss.

“I’m just not ready yet to leave Jimmy’s stocking in the box.”

“Then let’s hang it.”

“You mean hang it on the mantel with all the others?”

“Why not?”

A radical idea, but looking into his cherubic face, I thought, “Why not?”

Both Chuck’s stocking and Jimmy’s are dangling on the mantel tonight along with all the others and they fill me with joy. It’s almost as if the two of them are still here celebrating with us.

When I think about it, I realize, Chuck and Jimmy are caroling this Christmas with the original cast of that first event. Talk about good news!

Sometimes it’s smart to listen to little children, especially at Christmastime.

Hallelujah!

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MANY QUESTIONS

MANY QUESTIONS

Tashfeen Malik came to the U.S. in July, 2014, at 26 years old, married, got pregnant, produced a baby girl, became a terrorist and an assassin and was shot to death by police.

This is a capsulized version of news stories I’ve cobbled together. The information left many questions.

Originally from Pakistan, Malik traveled from there to Saudi Arabia where she reportedly trained for five years as a pharmacist. From what I’ve read about Saudi Arabia, men there rarely allow women to be educated. Question #1: How was a female Pakistani visitor allowed that opportunity?

Also, women in the Middle East seem to marry and have children early, raising Question #2: Was this baby girl, Malik’s first and only child? Was Syed Rizwan Farook her first and only husband?

Question #3: Why, if this young mother hated Americans so much, did she want her baby to be one?

Malik’s mother-in-law purportedly lived with the young family in an apartment. Malik and her husband filled said apartment with “thousands of rounds of ammunition,” handguns, rifles, and bomb-making paraphernalia. Question #4: How did word not get out in the neighborhood about all that weaponry?

The couple rented a car to use in their adventure. Did they take out an extraordinary amount of calamity insurance?

Finally: What is to become of Baby Girl Farook?

Will the rage, the anger, the madness that drove her parents live on in her tiny soul?

In a television interview on Sunday, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham responded to this horrific event by demanding we put 50,000 American soldiers in Syria right away and bomb ISIS strongholds there.

In all my soul-searching these many days, wondering what Tashfeen Malik was thinking, Mr. Graham’s “solution” never even crossed my mind.

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“USE BY” DATES

“USE BY” DATES

My grown children have alerted their offspring: “Don’t eat anything from Nana’s fridge or cupboards without checking the ‘use by’ date.”

Alex, 12, took a bite of cheese and began spewing, running for the trash as he squawked, “Bad cheese. Bad cheese. I forgot to look at the date.”

Alex had never eaten extra sharp cheddar and the taste set him spinning. Happily, this cheese was still well within its safe date.

Who determines when a food is beyond it’s “safe date”?

I suspect it’s the same petite, finicky person who marks clothing “One size fits all.” Bless her heart.

Our young visitors now have me totally paranoid. Pulling out a new roll of toilet paper, I glanced to see if there were a date stamped on the package.

My mother kept Miracle Whip in the kitchen cabinet, not the refrigerator. She lived to 92, never having experienced food poisoning, as far as any of us can remember. Her four children continue alive and well. Of course, we grew up in daredevil, adventurous times before manufacturers were required to post warnings. Like most people of my vintage, we learned spoilage by swigging our share of sour milk.

When our older daughter recently banned her younger son from the internet, he complained loudly, “It’s not fair.” His angst was not humorous, although she and I both laughed on the phone when she told me about their disagreement.

“Those were once your most often repeated words,” I reminded, which set her giggling again.

“I know,” she sputtered. “It’s so funny to be on this side of the conversation. He’s using all the same arguments I used on you guys. He has no idea….”

As a teen, Katie (not her real name) had been a handful. Months before she turned 18, she lectured us often, reminding than when she was 18, we would no longer “be the boss of her”; that she would make her own decisions and we would have no say.

Husband and father, Bill, held silent through these lectures until one night when she caught him tired and out-of-sorts. “You’re right,” he agreed. “When you turn 18, you will no longer have to do what I say, AND I will no longer have to support you.”

That brought her up short. “You’ll have to pay for me to go to college, or have an apartment, if I decide to get a job instead.”

“No.” His voice was quiet. “If we continue supporting you, you will have to continue doing things our way, especially as long as you live under our roof.”

“Daddy, that’s not fair.”

When Alex tattled to her last weekend that the Ranch dressing in our fridge was three months out of date, he regarded her frowning, hands on his hips, anticipating the blow-up. Instead, she waved a hand and said, “Don’t worry about it.”

“You mean I should eat it?”

“Go ahead, if you want to. It won’t kill you.”

She called last week, laughing and grumbling. “I hate it when I hear your words come out of my mouth and it’s happening more and more often lately.”

I cannot tell you how happy this whole evolution of generations makes me.

If cold weather has you trapped inside, you might enjoy snuggling with one of my mostly cheerful novels. You can find them at: www.amazon.com/SharonErvin/e/B001JP4NV2

If you enjoy them, drop me a note. If not, well, remember that motherly advice: “If you can’t say something nice, it’s better not to say anything at all.”

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FREE WILL AND POLITICS

FREE WILL AND POLITICS

God gave people free will. Some politicians want to legislate it away, but only in certain areas.

Some political types would make it the law for every woman to carry every baby from conception to birth. After that, however, it’s, “Sorry, honey, you’re on you own.”

They might be as enthusiastic about banning “fornication,” if that were not so popular. Same for other potential legislation involving personal decisions and lives.

The voices of legislators rise to a crescendo giving a president power to declare war. They beat their chests, then cross their fingers that volunteers will materialize to fight it.

It seems to me that it would be truer to our forefathers for those congressional folks declaring war to grab their muskets and take to the battlefield. Or, aroused by the same fervor that commits “boots on the ground,” they should reinstitute the draft, insisting every eligible person over the age of 18 sign on.

Of course, the law would provide for “student deferments,” meaning those 18-year-olds who continued their educations, could delay their commitments to their country until their educations were complete. That’s the way we used to do it.

National pride and patriotism, seems to grow in countries that require every person to do two years of national service after they reach a certain age. Some meet the two-year requirements in the military, others work in organizations like the Peace Corps or Red Cross or Salvation Army or….

My junior year in high school, two clever but rowdy fellows got in trouble with the police. They were given a choice: Military service, or jail. Both opted for the military. Both earned their high school diplomas in the service, then continued, eventually used G.I. Bill benefits for college and graduate work. In the most traditional terms, both became successful, one an attorney, the other a well-respected businessman. Surprised their families, and their community, including old classmates. Made us all proud.

If we are going to legislate lives, maybe we need to do it in a broader, fairer way: all or none.

And maybe we should confine our legislating to national interests and leave personal decisions on abortions and same sex stuff for individuals to negotiate with God.

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