a good place to start.
THE CRACKED BANISTER, a Nancy Drew mystery
signing my life away agreeing to follow a strict set of rules, I worked in a sequestered area, under constant surveillance by security cameras and trained personnel. Lemme tell you, even Nancy Drew would have squirmed under such close scrutiny! Gold star for me: I was only reprimanded once!
There’s nothing quite so exhilarating as discovering the secret password that allows you access to an inner sanctum such as this. And at the end of the day, I walked out with copies of a case file that help document an important chapter (and person) in my memoir.
A memoirist can’t be too careful, what with all the recent (and, groan, widely publicized) hoaxes and frauds. But I’m also doing my due diligence in the service of a higher purpose (at least for me). In writing my own story, I want to bear eye witness to every scrap of evidence I can find about my past.
UPDATE: Thanks, Pamela, for finding the Church Lady video! Expert sleuthing, that!
jamarattigan wrote a delicious post the other day, in which she extolled the virtues of the much-maligned fruitcake. Though she couldn’t quite convince me to try another slice, she served up several memories of fruitcakes past.
My family used to bake huge quantities of fruitcake, which my father gave to
hapless victims preachers he met on the Sawdust Trail during the holidays. The recipe called for lots of expensive ingredients, but “It’s a worthy sacrifice for God,” my father liked to say.
We all chipped in. We’d crack walnuts and pecans around the kitchen table while my mother scraped orange rinds and chopped the candied fruit. My oldest sister, Coral, helped my brothers measure the wet ingredients into a galvanized washtub; then two by two, we’d all take turns mixing in the flour and spices. My mother and father baked the loaves in our tiny oven—countless pans, a few at a time—and we helped them wrap the cooled cakes with gauze and tin foil. Every few days or so, my father baptized the loaves with bourbon. By the time those fruitcakes reached their ultimate destination, they’d been doused with liquor more times than the county drunk!
A few years ago, my sister and I visited one of the houses where we made those fruitcakes. The current owners showed us all the remodeling they’d done. When we toured the yard, we spotted the galvanized tub! We couldn’t fit it into the trailer when we moved, so we’d left it hanging on a nail. And there it was, was waiting for our return, Oh tidings of comfort and joy: The tub’s been repurposed for gardening. I’m still smiling about that. I’ll take flowers over fruitcake any day!
Here’s Coral, standing near the garage door of that house. The infamous washtub’s in the foreground.
One of the many things I like about memoir writing is that I get to
do research play Nancy Drew. I sometimes need to verify names and/or dates with my siblings, for instance, or track down tiny but important facts. Oh, the lovely places I’ve gone, and the fascinating people I’ve met!
I’d like to introduce you to my newest gumshoe partner. I reached out to him after a blog conversation made me second-guess the location of one of my favorite childhood memories—the magical night we danced with fireflies in the desert. My Google search (key words: fireflies and Tucson) eventually led me to the University of Arizona’s Entomology Department website. If you have questions, the web page suggested, “Start with the Bug Man.” And so I did. And the Bug Man, aka Carl, wrote me right back!
He gave me the answer I was looking for, but our communications also revealed something special about the Bug Man himself. He obviously loves his job—and life. I wish I could collect in a jar some of his child-like sense of wonder and joy, and then release that lightness of being into the universe for everyone to see! I can’t, of course, but I thought I’d share some of the Bug Man’s magic with you.*
Oh indeed we do have fireflies, usually not in the populations that people remember in grass yards back in Midwest, but certainly we have them and still do today, but maybe a bit more restricted. A friend of mine has data all along the Santa Cruz River (wash!!) corridor so it is very possible you observed such a moment around Tucson. I hope this is enough to verify your memory. What a great story to write. Would love to see it when done because people need that delight again.
Thanks for sharing,
Carl A. Olson, Associate Curator
Dept. of Entomology
University of Arizona
Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.
I just learned that Billy: The Early Years will be released in select theatres on October 10th, around the same time Reverend Billy Graham celebrates his 91st birthday. Although his health is failing, he still maintains his reputation as one of the world’s most renowned (and beloved) evangelists. Given his enormous following, plus the sneak-peek screenings in the Bible Belt, I’m guessing this movie will generate a great deal of buzz.
I’m compelled by a more personal connection—a shared history. My father and Billy Graham were classmates at the Florida Bible Institute in the late 1930s. Both entered college as simple farm boys; both exited as God’s evangelists. But while Billy Graham was televising his ministry around the globe via satellite, my father was crisscrossing the Sawdust Trail, revival tent in tow. Same calling, far different trajectories.
I was fascinated by Franklin Graham’s criticisms of this film biography. I’m looking forward to seeing where his memories of his father intersect with—and differ from—those of his siblings, each of whom brings a unique point of view to their collective story. A memoir is different than a biography; I know that. Still, since I have several sisters and brothers, CAN I GET A WITNESS might one day face similar scrutiny.
Are you interested in seeing this movie. I’m curious…why or why not?
Last week, I poked around Los Angeles and surrounding neighborhoods, taking pictures of places I remembered from my childhood. Lots of buried treasures and secrets surfaced on my trip. For example, I wrote to the owner of a house I lived in when I was three, and she graciously agreed to open her home to my oldest sister and me. Over coffee, we reminisced about my family baking huge quantities of fruitcakes in the very small kitchen.
I remembered measuring out the ingredients (55 cups of flour, for starters) and stirring everything together in a gigantic, galvanized washtub. The batter was very heavy, so everyone had to pitch in. My mother baked the cakes for days, it seemed, and my older sister dredged the finished loaves through a cast-iron skillet filled with brandy. We wrapped each one in tin foil and slapped on some red bows. Then, my father gave them away as Christmas gifts to preachers he encountered on the Sawdust Trail.
After coffee, the current home owner took us out to see the garage my father had built out back. She’d found the galvanized tub, which we’d left behind in our haste! Another (re)discovery: My mother had carved my father’s name into the cement steps leading down into the garage, and the etching was still visible after all these years!
Some of my research isn’t as easy; it requires more intensive digging and a lot more finesse. A while back and just for fun, I started referring to myself as Nancy Drew, Girl Detective. So you gotta know how tickled I was when the archivist for the Episcopalian archdiocese of Maryland (who helped me solve a memoir-related mystery) took to calling herself Nancy Drew, too.
Speaking of which, did you know there’s actually a Nancy Drew movie coming out this summer? What a coincidence! If you squint your eyes and tilt your head just so, you’ll recognize the similarities between its plotline and my own story. In the 2007 movie, teen detective Nancy Drew accompanies her father on a business trip to Los Angeles, where she happens upon clues to a murder mystery involving a movie star. And, as you already know, I went along with my father on his business trips, which often took us to the City of Angels. I don’t expect I’ll uncover a murder mystery, but I’m hot on the trail of my father’s connection to a criminal who was involved with a famous movie star. Allegedly.
One last, very cool find: On Saturday, I saw the lovely and talented Debra Garfinkle at a book signing in Aliso Viejo. I’ve been following her blog for some time now, so I was really glad to finally meet her in person. Not surprisingly, she was a big hit with the Barnes & Noble customers who stopped by her A-list signing table. Tonight, I’m going to read my signed copy of Storky, the first project she ever sold. Come Monday morning, though, I’ll be ready for another action-packed week!
I was doing a little research this weekend, and lo, look what I found! In this short outtake from a 1969 Woody Allen Special, evangelist Billy Graham and Woody Allen have an off-the-cuff conversation about sex, drugs, religion, and other hot-button topics. They’re hilarious together — who knew?
(If you enjoyed this part of the interview, I also recommend PART ONE.)
And it came to pass that in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and thirty-eight, two farm boys met each other – and their destinies – at the Florida Bible Institute. They socialized and studied Scripture together, then went out into the world to preach the Gospel.
Yesterday, I received a copy of their 1939 college yearbook in the mail. Just for you, I’ve scanned a picture of their Junior class. Count down 3 rows, and check out the 4th photo to your right. Can you guess who that is?
I have very few artifacts from my childhood — a handful of family photos, a half-page “Big Top Revival” newspaper clipping, and a couple of Jesus fans (cardstock images of Christ stapled to tongue depressors, funeral home information printed on the back. How’s that for the power of suggestion?). Otherwise, nada.
I’m not certain how many schools I enrolled in, where they’re located, or when I attended. Part of my research involves piecing it all together. But one thing I now know with a certainty: Permanent Records are a myth. After three to five years, your cumulative files are stripped to bare bones, picked clean of any prose. What’s left? Census data, grades, and test scores — nothing else. No evidence that you were an angel or, for that matter, an incorrigible student. Just the facts, ma’am, and sometimes even those are sorely lacking.
Nevertheless, I now know more about where my father went to school! Even better, I talked to the college representative on Friday, and she offered to send me something fabulous. It will most certainly add an element of irony to my memoir, and a bit of celebrity flair. Maybe I’ll do a little show-and-tell when it arrives. Are you interested?
In other news: I keep having to switch my bracelet from one wrist to the other — so often, in fact, that the weekend went by in a purple blur. Here’s a couple of positive developments: I somehow managed to finish my SisterDivas column five whole days before my deadline, and I’m making good progress in the first week of the Fast Draft project. No comment on the quality (eyes her bracelet), but I’ve written lots of words.
Happy Monday, everyone. Have a memorable week!