Karen Casey Fitzjerrell

Author of award-winning Forgiving Effie Beck

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 2)

Daddy’s Christmas Tree

This bust of Santa Claus is the creation of my sister, Cathy Casey Berger. She sculpted the face in clay, then added a lamb’s wool beard, a toy bag over his shoulder and a hood trimmed in mink fur taken from an old shawl purchased in a used clothing store.  She also creates full bodied Santas that stand 3-4 feet tall.  
A few weeks ago Andrea Downing asked me to participate in her Christmas Memory blog. She selected four or five writers who have an affinity for the American West and asked us to write about a Western Christmas Memory. I was honored to do so. Check it out: Memories of a Western Christmas. 

I submitted my childhood memory about selecting a Christmas tree to Andrea which she posted along with essays posted by Amy Hale Auker, Paty Jager, Rionna Morgan, and Eunice Boeve.

Christmas in South Central Texas, where I live, is rarely picture book perfect. Today it is near 80 degrees, overcast and so damp I can smell wet dirt from my high-up window. The trees are still green and wild lantana is blooming with total abandon. Christmas songs make me so sad that any joy I might have spills out the souls of my feet. (I’ll save the explanation for that fact for my memoir.)

So I have to look beyond TV commercials featuring snowy countrysides and roaring fireplaces, fully decorated Christmas trees surrounded by laughing children and instead “listen” for happiness and joy in my network of women friends. They are my touchstones, my anchor to all these essential. My women friends in turn, listen to me without judgement, offer a different view of what I might be experiencing, belly laugh at my corny jokes, understand my short comings and like me in spite of them. “Women friends” includes my two sisters, who survived impossible childhood circumstances with me. My sisters and I realize that by sharing what we saw, heard and experienced “way back then,” we can have a more accurate answer to why things were the way they were. I have long since known that my view was tinted by my age and birth order.

Now, it is as if I have the wisdom of three sisters and the insight of hundreds of women I call Friend.

All this is to say that Christmases past were sometimes painful and that has carried over into my adult life. Still, through the generous love and acceptance of my friends and sisters, I appreciate what Christmas represents. It is love and hope that endure through understanding. It is the offer of a kind shoulder to lean on every now and then. Both are gift enough for me any day.

Blessing to all of you and may you have the happiest of all holiday seasons this year – no matter where your journey takes you.

kcf

PS: Be sure to look up Andrea’s book, Loveland. It is a historical western romance, now available in paperback from the Wild Rose Press and Amazon.

Besos all.

Guest Alice Trego

I first met Alice Trego (photo right) through Women Writing the West, an organization of women and men whose writing interest primarily focuses on the American West, both contemporary and historical. The first lap of Alice’s writing career had been in newspaper journalism. But, when her attention turned toward writing book-length fiction and nonfiction, she volunteered to work various positions in writing organizations to learn the ropes. Alice “retired” her many volunteer positions in 2011, dusted her manuscripts and is in the process of polishing them for publication. 

So without further delay, I introduce Alice Trego who will tell us how:
 
SLICES OF LIFE BECOME SLIVERS OF FICTION

“He leaned casually against the cabin’s door frame. As he puffed on his cigar, he admired the way the girl had stolen into his corral and galloped away on one of his best mares. Once she cleared the fence rail, she looked back to make sure he hadn’t followed, causing his counterfeit smile to materialize on his pocked face. He knew they’d meet again.” (© Alice Trego)

The above passage in my work-in-progress came as the result of a quiet scrutiny I had from a window seat in the middle of an airplane. I took note of people around me, but a man’s strange appearance a few rows ahead grabbed my attention. Most of all, he intrigued me with his quirky mannerisms.

I found myself drawn to him as a possible character profile for one of my stories. My sense of observation that harkened back to my days as a journalist kicked in immediately. I brought out my trusty notebook from my carry-on bag, and began to document his appearance and his actions. From the details I was penning, I could readily envision him as one of my story villains.

His brown, greasy, shoulder-length hair streaked with gray had an unruly appearance that gave him a look of having naturally wavy hair. When the tall man with the bony torso rose to go to the lavatory, I glimpsed an extraordinary strength in his swagger. I noticed cataract-clouded blue eyes that watched me as I watched him retake his seat. He had a prominent hooked nose, and he wore a sullenness on his countenance that perhaps he had carried with him all his adult life.

Shortly after my close encounter on the plane, I spotted a photo of a popular person in a magazine. Right away I knew that this person fit the profile I discovered on that flight. That’s when I knew I had a fully-developed, three-dimensional reprobate for my story.

On another occasion, I had the opportunity to converse with a young man and an older man, albeit a little secretive.

While waiting at the checkout counter at the grocery store, I noticed the older skinny-legged man carrying two packages of strawberries under one arm and a small backpack in the other. He appeared somewhat in a fidgety state, no doubt in a hurry to check out.

The young man with two nutrition bars and an orange stepped up behind me. As the line   in front of me moved, the man with the strawberries hurriedly secured his place as the next customer to check out. He kept looking around as if he had secrets to hide.

Meanwhile, I looked at my full-to-overflowing basket of fruits and vegetables and decided to let the young man with the two nutrition bars and the orange take my place in line.
I spoke up. “You can go ahead of me.”
“Well, thank you very much. Are you sure?”
“Positive. I can tell you’re just dying to eat that orange so you may as well check out first.”
“Yes, I am. I’ve been picking at it a little, actually.” His smile was infectious and I returned a smile.

All of a sudden, the man with the strawberries directed his eyes at me and said with a slight accent, “Would you hold my place in line? I forgot something and will be right back.”

While I gave a quick response of, “Sure,” he had already stacked his two packages of strawberries off to the side, placed his sunglasses on his nose and walked out of the store.

He took a long time to cross the parking lot and then “disappeared” behind a large SUV. All sorts of scenarios went through my mind — did he come into the store and “pretend” to make a purchase? Was he a vagrant who decided he’d better leave because of all the people now around him? Will he come back and pay for his strawberries?

By my observations, this chance meeting, including the dialogue, could be fodder for one of my stories. I made sure I memorized that informal exchange so I could write it down when I returned home and place that bit of dialogue in my notes. I have yet to decide if these two men will fit in as villains or secondary characters in one, or more, of my stories.

Nonetheless, whether there are silent observances or short conversations with strangers, I believe slices of life that occur in a writer’s world could very well become references to slivers of fiction.

Thank you, Alice. I’ll probably never again eat an orange without thinking of my characters! I can imagine you sitting in your photo of a Utah sunset (right) contemplating your next line of dialogue. 

While Alice’s website is under construction you can follow her on Facebook or over at LinkedIn.

Progress

I suppose since Rome wasn’t built in a day, I shouldn’t be surprised that it’s taken me weeks to build a website. Had I known how complicated it was going to be, I’d have skipped that task, hired a professional and turned my attention to re-writing my next book. Still, I think the site is “pure-dee” representative of me rather than a mass-marketed version. Check it out and let me know what you think: karencaseyfitzjerrell.com

Seems I’m the last Wannabe to “launch” myself on the web. Truth told, I’d rather write a chapter than follow 900 blogs, tweets, and facebook posts. I’m not fond of posting to them either. I can’t imagine that many people want to know what I had for lunch yesterday or how I decided one of my characters smells bad and another is missing some teeth. While I appreciate the value of being connected to my readers, I feel as if I’ve lost some of my solitude. Most writers I’ve talked to lately are beginning to feel the same way. When and where do we draw the line? I’ll let you know when I come up with an answer. Meantime, I’ll keep my blabbing on the internet to a minimum and hope readers and followers will let me know when they would like me to chime in.
My first novel, The Dividing Season, is now posted for sale on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites even though the official publication date is a month or two away. I have print copies on hand, too. Only a few more loose ends to tie up before I can make the publication date official. Wish me luck!

Guest Post – Susie Trial

Heading down a super slab highway would be going nowhere much too fast. I don’t want to do that today. The roads I choose need to be what folks around here call back roads. They are connected by telephone poles or fence posts, not by the stripes down the middle. The ones that are bumpy and hilly, twisty and turny, dotted with wildflowers, grasses, and rocks on the sides. Some are flat and shimmer in the sunshine. Texas has them all. Rolling through her towns, the roads are dotted with her multitudes making a statement of ownership – as if to fulfill a need to be connected to her like a babe to her mother’s bosom.

On the back roads, there are gates strategically hung between miles of fence posts. Gates adorn an entrance to a fella’s property like a shroud, as if protecting a sacred place and telling all who pass by about the kind of Texan he is. Some are mere openings in a fence. I see them as closures to a passage. Watching for the most appealing gate, searching for one with no exit, I imagine going through it when I die to explore the other side, like a child looks for treasures. But there is no time for exploring now on this part of the journey. So I keep driving.

Drive on not caring. Caring was run over by a freight train quite a few miles back on the super slab. On this trip, I don’t have to be concerned with mile markers because back roads don’t have any. Besides, remembering them will hurt and there is no room in my suitcase for pain. It is already plump-full with burdens that found me at mile marker 6 or 7. So I keep driving.

Maybe I should consider walking instead so that I could become more intimate with the road and the places it takes me. So I would notice the gnarly cracks on the surface that look like the spidery veins in my legs, each one bursting open from pressure sources on the surface. Bearing down they give way. The fractures are unsightly, but they hint that many secrets lay below. One must travel slow and deliberate, paying attention, in order to discover each nook and cranny. So it is in life. Moving too fast is the same as not moving at all. Either way, something learned by experience would be missed, like not hearing a sacred reading during a church service, the spirit could not be quickened.

So I drive on, and find that using the car would be a better idea than walking in case the urge to go home over takes me suddenly. Then I could get there much faster. And I prefer the shelter of the car which seems secure from things I might find scary or harmful, like the Texas summer heat and humidity, a deluge of rain, the dark, or barking memories.

Passing a community center I see a sign posted in front telling of a meeting there that gives coping skills to those with hearing loss. I wonder if the same skills apply to those who don’t listen.

Maybe driving a back road could be considered a coping skill.

Sabbatical Day Six

The Llano River

After days of cold, rainy, shut-in weather, the sun came up gleaming bright yellow bars through the windows. I scrambled an egg, washed my face and decided not to waste another minute. I locked up the cabin, tossed the kitchen garbage in a bin and headed out for populated environs. In the nearest town (twenty miles away) I browsed a boutique and gift shop on the square. It felt wonderful to chat with ladies wanting to know where I was from, why I was in the area. I asked them about their lives, if they lived in town or down one of the many farm to market roads. Small communities breed the sweetest people.

By noon I’d zeroed in on a Dairy Queen and ordered a Turtle Pecan Cluster Blizzard, my all time favorite. While waiting for my ice cream I spied a sign that read “Llano River RV Park and Picnic Area.” I paid for my Blizzard and drove down a sharp incline to a clean little city park overlooking the Llano River. There I slurped ice cream and watched the lazy water move by me, smooth and sure and simple. The same path it had, no doubt, followed for centuries. It made me think of my own journey which had brought me to that place at that moment. For the hundredth time, I had niggling thoughts of writing a memoir. Still, I’m stymied by worries of appearing self-indulgent.

I finished my ice cream and turned on my laptop and then circled the courthouse square looking for a wifi signal. Sure enough, one block off the square the Public Library wifi icon popped up on my screen. I parked and went into the library and spent the next hour reading through emails and online newsletters. As I was leaving the library – Lo and Behold – a book sale in a room off the main entrance. I was in heaven for yet another hour. Will public libraries ever get their just due? Any time I’ve traveled – as far away as Australia! – public libraries have offered up a clean, warm place for me to connect with the otherwise outside world, with people and news important to me.

On my way out of town, I picked up a pound of barbecue ribs to savor while reading one of the library books I’d bought. Turtle Pecan Ice Cream, Barbecue, A Good Book or two….. Life is so good.

Sabbitical Day Five

A reminder to those of you jumping onto my blog posts at this juncture: In early March, I drove to the far north reaches of the Highland Lakes area of Texas for a week of solitude and writing. I’ve been posting some of my journal entries here, on a loosely based schedule, since then. The following entry was written the morning March 2, 2010, Texas Independence Day….the day Texas fought for and won independence from Mexico.

The bad weather the proprietor mentioned yesterday blew in with a vengeance last night. Wind howled and whistled through the bare tree limbs that cup the roof of my lake cabin. The electric heaters were turned up full force and still, I was cold to the bone. When my hands grew stiff, I gave up trying to type and decided to read instead. Misery, pure misery. I couldn’t help but think of the 1846 Donner Party trapped in the Rocky Mountains for months, in blizzard conditions, without food. I’m a sissy. My Texas roots must not go so far back as I thought for surely, those who fought for independence were a brave lot as they faced the Mexican army at Goliad, the Alamo, and finally on the prairie shores of the San Jacinto River a few miles from where I grew up.

My gift for the morning though, came when I sat with my cup of coffee and looked out toward the frosty lake. Perched in the same tree that howled all night, was a strikingly gorgeous blue bird. His chest was dark cinnamon red. He flicked from twig to twig as if trying to show me how the sun glinted and sparkled on his bright and beautiful blue shoulders.

As if that hadn’t been gift enough for starting a clean-slatted morning, a fox trotted by my window pretty as you please. She had a mouse clinched in her teeth. Breakfast for the kiddos, I thought. Across the way wind chimes clanged in a left over breeze from last night’s storm. It was time for me to get back to writing.

Sabbitical Day Four

Early this morning two men launched a small boat in a cove to the north. I watched through my binoculars to see if they planned to fish or hunt ducks. A glimpse of their struggles with rods and reels told me they were fishermen. Old Fools, I said to myself. A strong southwest wind had whipped the lake until it looked like meringue on a chocolate pie. I sipped my coffee, looked over at my compass for the hundredth time since I checked into the little cabin by the lake, and then punched my laptop “On” button.

By late afternoon, cabin fever had set in. My hips felt locked into a sitting position and I ached for movement and fresh air. I bundled up for a walk to the water’s edge and along the way bumped into the proprietor. I asked him about a good place to walk fast and vigorous. He pointed to a trail, adding that bad weather was coming. I also asked about the low lake water level and he said it was up sixteen feet but still over eighteen feet below normal level. I was dumbfounded. He looked away and squeezed his eyes when I asked how bad the drought had been on his business. “Two years now,” he said, “we’ve been all but deserted, even in the summer months.”

I watched the ground as I walked and thought – lake bed – unseen, under water, in dark depths for decades. Granite rocks, driftwood and bits of fresh water clams lay about in tufts of bright green clover. In tall reeds along a hidden cove I heard ducks feeding at the shore line. The sound reminded me of mumbling old men. I parted the reeds slowly, quietly for a better look. Several mallards were scattered throughout countless coots and two huge and terribly awkward looking white pelicans, made all the more ugly by the grace of the mallards with their iridescent green heads and beautifully arched necks. A coot took flight, then several more and in a flash they all rose – hundreds of them – from the water, and it was as if a 747 passed over my head.

Sabbatical Day Two

A frosty northwest wind blew all night. I nearly froze – would have – I’m convinced, had it not been for two small electric space heaters I found in a closet in the bathroom and a heating pad I’d thrown in my suitcase at the last minute. Actually you could say it was the heating pad that saved me, since I was not comfortable leaving the heaters on all night. The coffee pot worked like a charm, praise be! I needed the hot brew in a desperate way. After a couple of cups, I bundled as if for the North Pole and ventured out toward the lake where mist ascended, wispy and white from the water, blurring edges along the shoreline and the folds between the hills. As I made my way through high weeds, a flock of coots and a few mallards flushed from a cove nearby causing me to startle and gasp.

Water levels are pitifully low on all the Highland Lakes in Texas. Not since I was a small girl has there been such a drought. The pier, from which I took this photo, is on dry land a football field’s distance from the water. Recent winter rains are helping but lasting recovery is a long way off.

A dog belonging to the proprietor made morning rounds while I was on my way back to my cabin from the dry-docked pier. I recognized her breed as some sort of working dog, sheep herder maybe, and this made me trust her even as she barked a warning at me. I held my hand out for her to sniff. She indicated I could pass but warned with her eyes and ears that I should be on my best behavior.

Back inside the cabin I discovered I had only two matches to light the stove. The first match fizzled out – too long in the damp, I suppose. The second took and I was able to light the burner for a scrambled egg. However, I knew I’d have to stop by the office for more before the landlords left for wherever it was they were going for a few days. Having a way to cook wasn’t my concern, since I’d brought microwavable food. Mostly I wanted a way to scramble eggs and to heat and dry some of the damp cold in the cabin. The space heaters were maddeningly noisy.

By mid-day the affects of isolation crept up my spine. The television displayed nothing more than flickering snow. No telephone, no internet connection either. But I decided I could post to my blog after returning home just as well as in real time. The solitude suited my purpose perfectly.

Time Travel

During the Johnson Space Center’s hey day, I lived in Clear Lake City within shouting distance of NASA’s back gate. I’ve always felt fortunate to have experienced the nuts and bolts of space exploration right in my own neighborhood, though most of it was by osmosis. At the same time I found history fascinating and wondered about its influence on the present. Living so near all that scientific juice gave me pause to think that time, Past-Present-Future, could be thought of as all inclusive.

The idea took on weight when, thirty-plus years after moving from the Clear Lake-NASA area, I was asked to travel there to meet with a group of high-school seniors who were to train for the K-Bird in order to put their science experiments on board a Shuttle flight. My assignment was to follow the students around for a week and write about their experiences.

When I arrived at the extended-stay hotel address, I was stunned to realize it sat smack in the middle of my past, on the vacant lot where my elementary school-aged boy used to practice baseball. Before checking into the hotel, I drove down clean, tree-lined streets trying to find the house where I had lived. Back then there were no trees, just boxy houses lined up along ribbons of paved prairie. In spite of the fact that I had few visual points of reference to find my little house in the maze, memories came flooding back. I passed the elementary school and remembered the deep heartache of kissing my kindergartners good-bye before they bounced out of the car. It was to be the first of many letting-go lessons that all parents have to master sooner or later. Had I really lived those elusive and far away days of diapers and crayons, ballet lessons and baseball practice? Drivers’ Ed and prom dresses?

I finally found the house where I’d lived those long years ago. It was exactly as I’d remembered it except for the enormous trees! They’d been mere twigs when I’d planted them. My boy had dubbed the Arizona Ash third base and the Post Oak home plate. I never thought they would survive, let alone thrive. The sound of my children’s high pitched voices eventually began to echo back to me from the past. I recalled pots of homemade soup on rainy, cold winter days trapped inside with squirming children and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Kool-aid in the simmering heat of summer. And then, there were the puppies, guppies and kittens buried in the back yard after failed attempts at trying to explain death to a four year old.

And so now I wonder: Is life simply an entire existence housed solely within our skulls? After all, a young mother from long ago still lives in me, as does an insecure bride and a sniveling school girl. That’s the Past. The Present is what I continue to add to the Past. My Future, while it keeps getting shortened, is somewhere down the next Back Road.

The seniors I accompanied to NASA that week broadened their horizons enormously. And so did I.

Traveling Student

I read in a newspaper recently about a woman who travels twice a week from a town near the Canadian Border to the city where I live in South Central Texas to attend college classes. That’s over 1500 miles and involves a substantial road trip to the airport near where she lives, and then a rented car on the Texas end of her flight. I was dumbfounded. I know people who have to have solid reason – like starvation – to get out of a chair and into a car for a three mile trip to the grocery store.

As it turned out the woman considers her actions a “gift” to herself. At retirement she ended up devoting years to caring for a niece, ill sister, and aging mother. After her sister and mother died she “fought restlessness” and so decided to fulfill a life long dream of getting a doctorate degree.

Since I’m a writer – and other writers will understand this well – the first thought that came to my mind was how in the world could she afford the travel expenses. The article said the woman wasn’t wealthy. But after a little more thought, I realized that I sit here day after day pounding out narratives, stories, snippets that I know will never make it to a printed or e-page. Am I foolish for doing it? I think not. Writing connects me in an unexplainable way to life waves out there. Life waves are invisible pulsing arcs of knowledge sort of like sound waves. You hear sound waves. But you feel life waves. It is that feeling, with no particular expectation attached, that spurs me on.

Imagine what it would be like to spend a day with the Traveling Student, someone who invests in herself in order to turn up the volume of her life waves. I hope she knows I’m here at my computer feeling the spirit of her courage and determination..

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