A Chansonette

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Here begins this chansonette.

This may be higgledy-piggledy,

A verse prone to rejectamenta,

A bit of flapdoodle-doo,

With lots of squiggle-diggle-ty.

I nearly spewed my mawkish tea,

While expanding my vocabulary,

The word-of-the-day’s speciality,

This assignment is now

quite ready to go, you see? 

yet I have mispronounced thee. 

Please forgive.

Most of this piece

does not rhyme.

But if I can do it,

I will find and make

the thyme

for this silly little

chansonette.

Please forgive.

MS PGothic

MS PGothic- I think I love you

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I have got to say

When I see you naked

On the sheet so bare

My heart-rate rushes

Oh stop!

No, don’t stop.

Should I bold you?

Highlight you?

Underline you?

Make you blue?

No, there’s something special 

‘bout ebony and ivory.

I will celebrate life with you

Ah, heck! You are so much more

I will live; and live

My life thru you.

Should I bold you?

Highlight you?

Underline you?

Make you blue?

No, there’s something special 

‘bout ebony and ivory.

On a sheet so bare.

The Factotum’s Procrustean Bed

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Years ago, I had purchased an audio lecture course for word nerds via Audible. I quit listening for reasons I don’t remember, but it’s most likely a new semester had begun. Now that I am a certified university graduate, I decided to form a new habit of learning one new word each week in 2022.  

I do love words; yes, I am a nerd. I just don’t know enough of them to make me sound like a pretentious, and pompous windbag, yet I am willing to learn how to be one. Just kidding.  I love how one skilled in language use can string words together, forming into an exquisite and rare-jeweled necklace adorning the page.  Like how a blob of paint upon a canvas can be pushed, pulled, and squished around to form an abstract or still life. Or how a musical note layered one upon another can become an enchanting melody transporting me to a third or fourth dimension. 

I am also inspired by a long-time friend, a genuine Einstein level of genius who has a vocabulary the size of a real, hard copy, 8” thick Webster’s dictionary: The self-proclaimed and humble Master of None (https://rongiesecke.com/?s=giesecke). In my opinion, you are master of the English vocabulary, whose use of language I admire.  (And yes, 8-inch-thick dictionaries really exist. My mother owned one yet was most often used in our family as a toddler’s booster seat at the table.)

But I digress.

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After rediscovering and listening to the introductory chapter of the course, I remembered what had attracted me to the lectures; the technique of teaching was finally a process that I could remember a word’s meaning far beyond that of knowing long enough for a test and promptly flushing.  

Therefore, what and when I write here is something I cannot take credit for––another’s idea yet put into my own words.  That credit belongs solely on the instructor, Kevin Flanigan, PH.D., West Chester University of Pennsylvania. The title of the audio course and the accompanying eBook in PDF format is “Building a Better Vocabulary.” 

His method involves 1) defining the word 2) using the word in context 3) breaking down the morphology and/or etymology 4) making connection: the new with what you already know 5) chunking or learning by groups of similar words. Words that are very often used together are collocates and aids memory by learning synonyms that can be connected in meaning.  

 I have four new words saved to memory: factotum, procrustean, circumspect, and factitious. Following in the footsteps of Prof. Flanigan, I explain my two favorite words from the first four weeks of 2022. These I will remember 50 years from now. (Ask me then.)

Factotum

1. Definition: a factotum is a person who performs many kinds of tasks, or a general servant; a jack-of-all trades. 

2. Context: Modern society would not typically use the word factotum to describe a butler, girl- Friday, or a go-fer, but in fact, that is precise meaning of a factotum––one who performs many different types of tasks. 

3. Morphology: Latin; fac, make, do + totum; all, of the whole. 

Etymology: first used in the 1500s, Martin Luther used factotum in his commentary on            Galatians in 1535. (Merriam -Webster dictionary app.)

4. Making connection: take the new word and connect it to what is already known. We know that mothers are nursemaids, cooks, housecleaners, laundresses, chauffeurs, bookkeepers and more. Picture your mother and now you can make a connection of the new word factotum. Moms do a little bit of everything. 

5. Chunking: category of words that mean servant, jack-of all-trades, man/girl Friday, personal assistant, or a handyman/woman. 

Procrustean

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1. Definition:  Tending to produce conformity by violent or arbitrary means. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it means to enforce uniformity or conformity without regard to natural variation or individuality. 

2. Context: Many U.S leaders have instituted mandates they equate with constitutional law and enforce by tyrannical means of denying basic human rights such prescription drugs, loss of employment, or denying people to be in public places without proof of receiving a particular injection. Many people view these as being placed on the procrustean bed of leadership by coercing individuals to comply, regardless of personal belief or health status, with the specious argument of keeping every citizen “safe.”  

3. Morphology: Procrustean is an adjective derived from Greek mythology of a robber named Procrustes who was known to force victims to lie on a bed and made them fit or by chopping off limbs. Etymology: first known recorded use c.1640s; Procrustes+an (Dictionary.com).

4. Connection: The authoritarian ruler often metes out punishments to young children with procrustean methods such as spanking with a willow tree branch. My personal connection is a memory of an angry mother chasing me around the yard while my calves stung with each strike of a willow branch and an involuntary corresponding yelp. I envision a weeping willow tree and see Procrustes. 

5. Chunking with words that mean ruthless, tyrannical conformity, unmerciful, inexorable. 

I’m excited to think that by this time next year, I will have 52+ new words to insert into my writing. I suppose at the year’s end that the next challenge is to see how many new words I can use in one blog and be coherent. 

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Futility

Futile Efforts

I am trying to write a poem

But not having much luck

Fruitless time spent pondering

And a lot of time spent wandering

Through Webster’s Dictionary

Along side Roget’s Thesaurus.

This journey leaves me knowing 

I know nothing much at all.

These lines reflect desperation

I’m sure this will not pass

For many a poet gone before

Prolific writers and so much more

Shakespeare, Frost and Yeats,

T.S. Eliot makes me feel an idiot.

Words penned with eloquence

Profound my weak intelligence.

This journey leaves me knowing

I know nothing much at all.

Nothing much at all. 

BedPans and Walther P38s

(The conclusion)

The families were leaving, and I was informed by unanimous consensus I was to send a screenshot prior to all purchases for their children. My four-year-old self’s inner monologue screamed, “You’re not the boss of me.”

Instead, I shouted that I wasn’t in an assisted living home yet and asked, “What’s next? Taking car keys away?  Don’t forget who will be having to taxi me around town, if that’s what you’re thinking!” 

I stopped just short of threatening to have an appointment every day when I remembered the party scheduled the next day and abruptly changed my tone to be as sweet as Royal Icing on a sugar cookie. I reminded them to drop the littles off at 4:00 p.m. They weren’t sure if that would happen.

“But we always have a Mad Hatter’s Tea party on Christmas Day,” I implored, “Since you were knee high to a grasshopper. It’s a thirty-something-year tradition.” 

They weren’t convinced. I slammed the door. I heard engines roar and tires squeal. 

Four o’clock Christmas Day came, and grandkids filed into the house, all in smiles and costumes appropriate for the Mad Hatter. But I suspected their attendance had more to do with quiet time and free babysitting––their parents looked quite disgruntled and no one spoke. 

“Don’t mind them,” Holliss, a precocious child, piped up and hugged me with the strength of a baboon and within a split second I was cocooned in a group hug, “You’re the best Gram ever. Parents just don’t understand.” 

Bedpans and Walther P38s–Part Two

BedPans and Walther P38s
(Part Two of a Christmas Past)

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Photo Credit: Jessica McCollam jessicasvisionsphotography.com

It was seven days before Christmas, and I still had to purchase gifts for 21 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and 10 adults. Technically, Christmas was eight days away, but our family gathers for dinner on Christmas Eve, opening gifts after the grandchildren wash the dishes.

Ho! Ho! Ho! Oh, here I go. I snuggled into my favorite love-seat position: blanket; feather-pillow; pajamas; steaming mug of coffee latte at the ready, with the Amazon page brightly shining and resting on my lap. Christmas / Saravejo 12/24 by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra transmitted via Apple TV. The music  was so loud that I thought I heard the neighbors singing along.

I read that Amazon Prime members were extended an offer-of-the-day to have purchases gift- wrapped for free. I started to clap my hands. I had forgotten I was holding the latte, and nearly doused my shopping cart.

The doorbell rang. I was greeted by a small crowd; my third-born daughter, Angela, her six-month-old twin daughters, Annakate and Adeline, and her ten-year-old son, Dylan. I welcomed them in, and as they were seated, Dylan spied my computer and asked if he could play Minecraft on it.

“Of course,” I said with a wink at the platinum-haired boy, “That’s why I downloaded it, silly Dilly.”

He carried the laptop to the dining table and I set my attention to oohing and awing over the twins.

They left. I returned to my Amazon shopping, made my selections and set about washing dishes, making the bed, and tossing clothes into the washing machine.  As I cleaned, I made a mental grocery list for the big dinner. Then, it came to me; a jolting revelation, so jolting I swear I heard the angels sing. I could order all my groceries on Amazon.

*     *      *     *     *

I opened the door to the UPS delivery truck driver asking for my signature and I happily signed, although I wasn’t sure why this particular delivery required a signature; she didn’t look happy. She must have made 12 jaunts––truck to doorstep, using a dolly–– getting more red-faced each time, as I gawped. Her parting words were something about why I thought I needed 42 Christmas hams and concluded with a caustic Merry Christmas as she offered a hand signal that may or may not have signified her IQ level.

I smiled, dripping with saccharine to shield my consternation, I called out something about her job security. I ogled (my face as frozen as the hams) for a few minutes at the mass covering the front porch and decided the Amazon SNAFU could be dealt with in the morning and began dragging the boxes inside.

The new day arrived; the sun shining in a clear blue sky despite putting my order with the Big Guy for snow. I wondered if I should have checked for availability with Amazon Prime.  I hoped and prayed that the one special gift would arrive before dinner as I baked all day for the expectant, hungry horde.  The gift was delivered at last, and I placed it upon the swollen mound that exceeded the ‘under the tree’ notion.

I rang the Amazon office contact number only to reach an automated response: closed for the holidays, please try again December 26, 2017.

Quest

 

 

Letters float and bubble up,
they string on weathered thread,
like popcorn strands on Christmas trees.
I clutch and nick and chomp and chew,
subsequently disintegrate,
with painful, funny, contorting moue.

Letter float and bubble up,
black on white in cytoplasmic fill,
they string and coil as DNA that replicate
I mush and mash and press and pound
a finger-tip from coherence,
little faith, am I not to be crowned?

Letters float and bubble up,
with orange threads of goo
like momma’s lava lamp.
Before my eyes I mesmerize,
I hook and hasp and snap and clasp,
Exasperated, I bowdlerize.

Q hovers and glides aside.
Me thinks Q is longing for U.

 

Day 364

I am ending day 364 doing what I love: writing for the pure joy of writing.  The little ditty below contains 16 names familiar to my childhood. Can you guess what they refer to?*

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16 Candles.  Who am I kidding? It’s 61 candles.

Through the days of my life,
I have ascribed to a guiding light,
While leading all my children
through the edge of night.

The young and the restless,
Search for tomorrow.
The bold and the beautiful,
Look in dark shadows.

As the world turns,
Ryan’s hope rests
In another world,
In secret storm.

One life to live,
Yet, love of life
May end within the general hospital
Hounded by the doctors.

* Before the days of talk shows, cooking shows, courtroom dramas and game shows, American day-time television was dominated by the juicy drama of the soap opera. The sixteen listed above are some of the longest running. A few soaps continue today: General Hospital (1963); Days of Our Lives (1965); The Young and the Restless (1973); The Bold and the Beautiful (1987). My mother loved to watch As the World Turns. I can still see the spinning globe on the small electronic box as the show came on the air as I was scurried outside to play.

Ode to September

September

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Jaydan

We wonder, September, who, what star will sing new,
And who, what star will wax far away.

Your third sapphire day’s star arose shimmering bright
only to apex and implode
into the heavens and dissipated.
The black it left is as bright as the light.
This, too, is to your ode.

Star light, star bright,
We wonder how you are tonight.

A new sapphire day’s star birthed and shines high, distant,
As if this new star would behold
The morning’s glory for an instant,
Our witness that we forget-you-not.
This, too, is to your ode.

September, your eleventh sapphire day’s star
Has darkened halls, the crowds gaze
Ever looking with mouths agape,
Searching beyond black heavens mar;
The blackness in the night stays.

Stars light, stars bright,
We wonder how you are tonight.

Sapphire days, autumn’s equinox, falling foliage,
chilly beginning, sweltering afternoon, asters wilting,
brown and spent. September sapphire days have
forever changed the history of our family lineage.
This, too, is to your ode.

A niece and an uncle’s star away were scurried
To mark the anniversary of my September birth,
Grand-ma-ma’s star flittered away one day after
the thirteenth anniversary of the same. All buried.
This, too, is to your ode.

Stars light, stars bright,
We wonder how you are tonight.

Your third sapphire day’s star arose shimmering bright
only to apex and implode
into the heavens and dissipate.
The black it left is as bright as the light.
This, too, is to your ode.

We wonder, September, who, what star will sing new,
And who, what star will wax far away.

Reviled and cursed is your third sapphire day, September.
Jaydan Anthony, we wonder how you are tonight.
On earth where you mingled, was your glowing ember.
May you light the heavens beyond our sight.
This, too, is to your ode:

WE MISS YOU JAYDAN.

Echoes––Part Two

The conclusion to Jack and Holly’s adventures reads below. Their expedition is based on factual events. Following the story is a list of what really happened.

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The boats of Coos Bay, Oregon

Echoes––The Conclusion

“Look Holly,” Jack commanded, “I found a family name here, my family, I mean.”

Holly looked up from the book she was searching through at a table in the Coos Library. She thought it strange he was reading in the first place when he had been quite vocal that he would rather be in the pub three doors down. The librarian hushed Jack with a classic look; glasses lowered to the tip of the nose, eyes focused and glaring over the rim at the perpetrator.

“It says here she married John and Eliza’s son, George,” Jack whispered, “Oh, wait, I take it back, George’s wife’s name is the same as my great-grandmother’s, but I don’t recognize her father’s name.  It can’t be my family.”

Holly breathed a sigh of relief and added, “That would be strange to think I’m a blood relative to you.” She shuddered.

“That would make things even more weird.” Jack said.

Holly didn’t miss the inflection in Jack’s voice. She wondered what he had meant by “even more weird.” Holly pondered on their relationship and wondered if the remark was about their marriage –– she had a hunch and hoped this was about how they had heard from relatives that their ancestors had been at odds.  But things have been weird between us these last few months and I can’t put my finger on it.

She tucked the remark away and continued her study of the local newspaper, Coos Bay Echoes. “Death Summons Prominent Citizen,” the headline read, and Holly was surprised to read in great detailof the life of John Yoakam. She thought how glad she was that reporters and editors included more personal details than they do today.

“It says here the girls are buried at Yoakam Hill,” Holly said, “Didn’t we see that on a map?” She glanced over her shoulder, expecting a scolding from the librarian.

“Let’s go,” Jack said, “Let’s go find this hill.”

“I want to see Eliza’s spinning wheel in the Coos Historical and Maritime Museum and visit the cemetery all the Yoakams are buried in.”

“Macabre.” Jack observed.

Holly started to defend herself, thought better of it and gathered her things in silence.

        * * *

The eastern sun streaked into the cab as Jack nosed the truck up the narrow, gravel road.  The area was heavily forested, isolated and devoid of human inhabitants.

“Are you sure the map said to head west on Cammon Wagon Road?” he asked without taking his eyes off the road.

“Positive, just keep climbing, we’re almost there.”

They reached the summit to find the road had ended, but a short driveway led to a home surrounded by a cyclone fence. They exited the truck and headed toward the house to ask permission to walk the property, but no one appeared to be home. They trounced around the forested property outside the fence looking for headstones. Jack was enjoying the exploration, but after an hour Holly grew frustrated, trudging in the dirt, brushing limbs, leaves and debris aside looking for markers.  She hoped that the house had not been built over the little cemetery.

“Look, Jack,” she said pointing at the map, “The GPS coordinates say I am standing on the exact burial site, but there is nothing here,” Holly’s eyes welled, “It’s gotto be here, all the books, websites, and maps say this is the place,” Holly said with a disappointed and loud sigh, “I guess it’s time to give up.”

The couple plodded with a defeated posture back to the truck, climbed in, and Holly slammed the door in frustration. As Jack turned the truck around to head down Yoakam Hill, a black sedan crawled around a corner, tires crunching on the gravel and approached. The driver pulled alongside the truck and questioned Jack. He explained the reason for their presence and the homeowner, congenial and polite, told them she had lived there for over forty years and had never heard of the burial site. Holly handed her a business card and asked to please call if she ever learned any information.

Before Jack could engage the motor, Holly placed her hand on Jack’s right forearm.

“Wait, Jack, I want to ask you something.”

She asked what he had meant by things being even more weird.  He explained that he didn’t mean anything at all, there was no hidden meaning.

 

“I was referring to the weirdness that you had discovered our people fought against each other in the famous Battle of Culloden in 1746.”

“Oh,” Holly said with relief.

“Is that why you’ve been so quiet today?” Jack inquired as she relaxed back in her seat.

Holly sat still and shrugged her shoulders replying, “I guess so. Let’s head out of The Coos Pioneer Cemetery. I know we’ll find that.”

                                                                                      * * *

Jack positioned the rig onto the street in front of their house.

“We’re home. Another successful voyage across mountain and valley.” Jack declared.

Holly was annoyed at Jack’s habit of stating the obvious. Jack, thinking she was going to playfully call him Mr. Obvious, noticed her seriousness.

“What’s wrong Holly?” he asked, “Are you disappointed?”

“I really wanted to find those five gravesites, so yes, I am a little. Besides, I don’t think you enjoyed this trip much.”

“Listen,” Jacked turned and cupped her face in his hands, “I had a really great time. Do you remember me telling you that my great-great-grandfather was the trail guide for Brigham Young on the way to Utah?”

Holly nodded.

“The rumor is he converted to Mormonism after. I bet there are lots of records about him.”

“I thought this genealogy stuff bored you.”

“You were so excited, and in your element, it was inspiring.  Seeing my grandmother’s name got me rethinking. And I really loved traipsing through the woods on Yoakam Hill. I felt like an old-time wilderness explorer––we were Lewis and Clark.”

Holly smiled at the comparison.

“I know a great Italian place in Salt Lake City.”

Facts and Actual Events

  • Eliza and John Yoakam lost five daughters by a burning, falling tree, one a babe in Eliza’s arms.
  • The tragic loss of the Yoakam girls is documented in newspapers such as the Coos Bay Echo, as well as the “Death Summons Prominent Citizen” article, found in the Coos Bay Library.
  • The oldest girl that perished was adopted by John and Eliza after the girl’s mother passed away. It has been said that she was Eliza’s best friend’s daughter.
  • Eliza and John lost their oldest son to disease on the trail.
  • Eliza delivered the baby girl that died in her arms three days after arriving in the Coos Bay area.
  • According to a graveyard and burials website, and in Coos Bay history books, the girls are buried together at Yoakam Hill
  • Jack and Holly (aka ‘Frank’ and Janet) could not find the tiny graveyard.
  • The resident on the hill had never seen or heard of the graves in all the 40+ years living on Yoakam Hill.
  • Eliza Yoakam’s spinning wheel is on display at the Coos Historical and Maritime Museum.
  • Jack and Holly camped in an RV on Arago Beach beneath the cliffs of the Yoakam State Park.
  • Jack and Holly found Eliza and John’s grave markers at the Coos Pioneer Cemetery.
  • Jack, a Scotsman, and Holly, of English descent fought each other in some war in the ancient days: it may or may not have been Culloden.
  • Jack’s great-great grandfather was a trail guide for someone associated with Brigham Young, and was looking to settle in Utah.
  • Little Italy, in Coos Bay, is a fantastic place for dine.
  • Holly was often annoyed with Jack stating the obvious and called him Mr. Obvious.
  • Holly has never driven with an RV in tow, nor does she ever want to.
  • Jack would have rather been in the pub than the library but developed an interest in genealogy while in the Coos Library.

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John was a younger brother of Jasper and George. George died in 1901, five years before his mother, Eliza,  as pictured above.