Who Loves a Funeral?

I lost a dear friend last week.

Someone who I run to with all my gardening questions. Someone who shared the best lemon bar recipe I’ve ever tasted. Someone who brought me seeds for my garden and who I drove my mom to her house just so she could give my mom a tour of her amazing yard and garden. She was witty and smart. She was funny and dry. She gave daily reports of the weather via the top of her shed. She laughed with me over my bazillion zucchini’s and cheered my oldest on when he went to culinary school. She gave me a few butterfly plants that are planted right outside my office window and I seem to just stare at them and cry.

I will miss her so much.

And I can’t believe at 44 years old she is gone. On Sunday she was commenting about my potatoes and by Monday she was dead.

The worst part is I don’t really know how she died. The obituary didn’t say. Her family hasn’t said and any mutual friends we share doesn’t know either. I don’t know why this bothers me so much. Maybe it is some morbid thread running through me that causes me to be curious. I just want to know.

And she hated funerals so therefore her husband isn’t having any services.

At first I was nodding my head. Of course you want to honor the dead’s wishes.

However. I started thinking. And then I started laughing.

Who in the hell goes around saying how much they LOVE funerals?

Shit, I’ve been to so many funerals (large Italian family living in Los Angeles. We knew A LOT of people) and I can’t pinpoint one I was jumping up and down at announcing, Man, I love it here! The casket, the flowers…LOVE. IT! (Snap, snap. Hair flip.)

Funerals are not really for the dead, are they? I mean, they are, well, dead. Do they really know any different? The funerals are for those left behind. A place to put the tears. A place to say goodbye. I guess maybe I’m just someone who needs closure in a tangible way.

These emotions have been bubbling inside me for a week. Unanswered questions. Heartbreak. And lack of closure.

Rest in peace, my friend. I know she used to read my blog everyday so I thought it fitting to give her a wee shout out here. Winter just won’t be the same listening to you carry on about all you are doing in your garden – in the snow.

The Prologue

Okay, so I’ve edited this historical novel of mine about a million times. Where I think I’m shaving off thousands and thousands of words I’ve barely skimmed two thousand. The book as it stands right now is too long and I know I have to cut – a lot. I have about fifteen more chapters to go in this round of rewriting before I can sit down with line edits, fine-tuning, make some corrections, and so on. I also have an amazing beta reader who is tackling one chapter at a time and providing me with spot-on edits.

I don’t willingly normally share my work. I remember editing a newspaper piece I wrote once so many times that the editor told me he didn’t even have to touch it. Of course, that piece took me two weeks to get “just right” and a lengthy review of my old college journalism books. Perfection is a problem with me and so sharing my work makes me a little jumpy. Because are the words ever perfect enough?

Right above my desk is a white board and a quote from the writer, Sean Platt, “Perfection is the enemy of done.”

Exactly.

That.

I read that damn quote every single day to remind myself to stop fiddling with this novel that has been with me now for several years. Oh sure I’ve written several books since this one but I keep coming back to it to rewrite…there is something about this book – a historical novel set in Los Angeles during WWII – that holds my heart.

But it can’t be my own personal baby forever. I must let it fly and go out into the world one of these days. I certainly can’t coddle it forever.

So here goes.

The Prologue to my historical novel. Perfect, not perfect, pathetic, awesome, lovely, horrible. Whatever it ends up being.

One more thing: the formatting may be a little wonky when I copied it over.

Prologue
1980

 

The screams could be heard from miles away.

It was 1959 and Sophia stood back and watched the horror unfold as the Los Angeles police drove their Ford Fairlane’s into Chavez Ravine with their sirens blaring and officers slamming doors with such force it felt like the earth was shaking. In an instant a woman was screaming and yelling and cursing in Spanish that Sophia could only guess what was being said. The bulldozers were ready to tear down the only houses left in what now looked like a giant hill filled with debris and dirt mounds. The sounds of crushing glass, wood crumbling to the ground, and cement cracking as easily as toothpicks filled the air of this once-tight community and left only hatred and anger behind in its wake.

The thin, dark-haired woman that Sophia remembers playing cards with and eating her homemade tamales was being roughly carried out of her home by the Los Angeles police, who held her by both her arms and legs like a rag doll. The more the woman struggled the tighter the police held onto her. Her black and white polka dot dress blowing in the mild summer afternoon as if she were sitting carefree on a beach chair instead of being forcibly evacuated from the only home she knew.

Her screams made Sophia shiver and even after almost six decades, Sophia still shivered when she thought of it.

Most people left Chavez Ravine broken and depressed but only the woman with the black and white polka dot dress, along with a mere handful of residents, refused and had to be taken out by force.

The media cameras captured all the horror and across Los Angeles people read with disgust what levels the residents of Chavez Ravine had sunk to. The image of the screaming woman being dragged out of her home would remain the sole image of Chavez Ravine used over and over for years to come.

Sophia stood on the hill, quite different from what she remembered, but in her mind the memories were as clear today, despite the smog that covered Los Angeles like a thin blanket, as they were over sixty years ago.

Looking around Sophia could still make out where Palo Verde elementary school once stood and if she closed her eyes she could see her four boys all playing on the playground and hear the laughter of young children. Of course, the elementary school has long since been buried underground, filled in with dirt and replaced by a cement jungle of blue and white.

This will always be home, Sophia thought as she stood lost in memories of the past.

Chavez Ravine. Her home. Her heart.

A place where Sophia and Joe Giacalone raised four boys and built their home on Davis Street overlooking the lights of downtown in a community that was wedged in a ravine surrounded by hills.

Sophia took pride in her home and loved decorating her living room with photos and light blue curtains. She embroidered towels for the bathrooms, hung shelves above her washing machine, and grew parsley in galvanized pots on the windowsill. The same windows that she had to close, even in the heat of summer, when the Arroyo Seco Parkway was under construction and the pounding noise made her crazed with the sounds of drills and hammers and sheets of concrete being laid into place. She didn’t care that this new stretch of highway was creating a faster passage from downtown to the suburbs of Los Angeles, Sophia hated the constant noise that lasted for two long years.

Sophia took a deep breath and was filled with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee as she waited for her best friend and neighbor, Blanca, to stop by for a quick game of gin-rummy and catch up on all the latest news in their tiny, shabby community.

Of course, Sophia never thought her quaint town was shabby. To her the dirt was love and the smiles of neighbors were golden. The tinny sounds of music that filled the streets on weekends, the friendly wave of a neighbor, and the fragrances of sweet peas and bread baking in hot kitchens was what her life was about then.

Chavez Ravine was never considered a desirable place to live by those that didn’t live there. There were no mansions and well-manicured lawns. In fact, no one even had lawns. Instead, their front yards were filled with large fruit trees, grape vines, colorful flowers, and lawn chairs to sit and enjoy the wonderful southern California sunshine, some with bottles of beer, others with a jug of wine, sipping from plain, stubby glasses.

There was nothing fancy about life in Chavez Ravine in the 1940s. Many homes had peeling paint and were supported by stacks of cinder blocks. But, when you walked inside the homes, they were filled with scents of chili peppers roasting in the oven and tomatoes cooking on the stove. The tiny kitchens, barely enough room for one woman, was a bustling thoroughfare of activity. Women baked breads and cookies every afternoon while they waited for the laundry to dry on the line outside. If a rabbit happened to hop within reach, it was often caught and cooked into a cacciatore for dinner.

A place where a B-rated actor, Crispy Martin, lived on Reposa Street and often threw parties for his neighbors which was a highlight every summer when everyone was given an invitation that was hand delivered and tied with a gold ribbon. In a time when most actors chose to live in places like Pasadena or Beverly Hills, Martin picked the closed-knit community of Chavez Ravine, giving his neighbors plenty of bragging rights.

The children of Chavez Ravine played make-shift baseball in the open fields and chased each other in the middle of Gabriel Avenue or Bishops Road where only a few cars ever traveled. Sometimes the children would roll down the large hills of Davis Street and Shoreland Drive and tramp through mud puddles on their way to the dime store to buy a few pieces of hard candy.

Chavez Ravine somehow escaped the trappings of life in a big city. The small valley in the middle of Los Angeles felt immune to the harsh realities of the city. In Chavez Ravine neighbors were also friends. They talked on the corner and housewives walked to Marbetta Market for their weekly groceries. They shared life stories after Sunday mass or over a game of cards. They had dreams and hopes for their small community. And, they watched and prayed as the country began sending their boys off to war.

For a while, not one boy from Chavez Ravine had been sent to fight in Europe. Of course, that wouldn’t always be the case but even war couldn’t break up the rhythm of Chavez Ravine and the beating heart of its residents.

One can always look back on a life spent and think of only the good, the idyllic, and the special. But, there were bad days in Chavez Ravine too.

Kids would get ahold of their parent’s liquor and break windows and tear down trees with saws. The Great Depression took the livelihoods of many men in the community and left poverty in its wake. When Dr. Wood, a famed Los Angeles surgeon, was killed on the streets just outside Chavez Ravine after a house call, the authorities automatically assumed the killer lived there. It took three years to finally free the innocent man who was wrongly accused. By then, however, a dark cloud had begun to hang over Chavez Ravine.

Sophia closed her damp tear-filled eyes when she recognized Effie Street below them and could still see where her family’s grocery store once stood off Boylston and Shoreland Streets. The one story green building with, “Marbetta Markets #5” printed in block white lettering above the double doors and painted signs offering quarts of milk for fourteen cents and five pounds of potatoes for a nickel.

Her mind went back to women wearing bright floral-patterned dresses and comfortable shoes carrying small baskets through the dirt parking lot as their children ran towards the doors of the grocery store. Inside the sounds of Frank Sinatra playing in the background as women squeezed oranges and smelled melons before buying them. The women carried their loot back home, walking because many had never learned, or been permitted to learn, to drive, humming “I’ve got the world on a string” and wonder why that song was stuck in their head?

And when the gossip of a baseball team moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles was on the minds of everyone in Chavez Ravine people would ask one another, “Could one man buy an entire town and turn it completely upside-down?”

Ultimately the answer would be yes and their world, as they knew it, would never be the same again.

Chavez Ravine proved it was not immune to the imperfections of life.

“Nana? Are we going to stay on this hill forever? I’m starving and my feet hurt,” Sophia’s granddaughter, Pippa, nudged Sophia out of her trance down memory lane.

Sophia looked at the box she was still holding onto and somehow it felt heavier now.

“Is this where we’re gonna to do it?” Pippa asked. For a young girl Pippa was more aware of life and death than Sophia remembered being at that age.

Sophia placed the heavy box on a bench at the top of the Lilac Terrace, a hill that still exists in Chavez Ravine, “Yes, this is the spot. This was where Papa and I lived and the place he truly loved more than anywhere else,” Sophia struggled with the sights around her. The trees that all looked too big now, the hills that no longer created a ravine, and the buildings of downtown Los Angeles that seemed much taller.

And now Dodger stadium occupied the space where her life had felt meaningful and rich.

Pippa had long parted her hand from her grandmother’s and began fumbling with her Sony Walkman trying to find her favorite song, “This very spot?” Pippa said not looking up from her Walkman.

“Yep. Of course, we lived here before Dodger stadium was built. And I think the hill got steeper because I don’t remember it being quite that difficult to climb,” Sophia chuckled to herself.

Sophia opened the box that was filled with Joe’s ashes.

His final wish, he had said in a note.

Actually, Joe had left Sophia with three final wishes, like a genie in a bottle Sophia laughed through her tears when she first read the note in the days following Joe’s funeral.

And she was about to take care of the first one.

Together they stood on top of the hill with the hum of people filling Dodger stadium and the distant horns honking in downtown Los Angeles and neither of them speaking for a couple of minutes. Pippa was thinking about hot dogs and peanuts and Sophia couldn’t seem to stop the mental walk down memory lane. But, since her granddaughter was growing more impatient by the minute, Sophia tried to stay focused on what she was here to do.

Sophia opened the box and scattered her husband’s ashes over what used to be Chavez Ravine.

The smog filled Sophia’s lungs as her eyes began to water.

For several minutes Sophia and Pippa watched as the ashes swirled and blew in different directions around them, floating finally down the hill and nestling among overgrown shrubs and weeds.

Now Sophia had to face Joe’s second and third wish.

One that she had been dreading from the minute she had read the last note her husband had ever penned, days before his death.

Pippa was hopping on one foot, restless, “Can we go now?”

Sophia nodded as she closed the box and gave one last glance around.

Sophia and Pippa waited in the long line and handed the woman in a blue t-shirt with matching cap, two tickets. Beside her, Pippa was excited to be at a baseball game, her favorite sport, and where Joe had taken her many times from the time she was five.

As they walked into the stadium, Sophia felt her heart began to race, “I never in a million years thought I would ever step foot in this place.”

“Really? Never?”

Sophia shook her head.

“It’s too bad that Papa had to die just before the game,” Pippa said.

“I didn’t even know he had tickets to Dodger games,” Sophia said quietly.

“Ohhh, Papa kept a secret! Papa kept a secret!” Pippa giggled as she chanted and Sophia couldn’t help but giggle too.

Joe had indeed kept a secret. He had season tickets to Dodger home games for the last twenty years, a gift, his final note said.

Sophia felt her heart race.

A gift she was about to meet.

Sophia and Pippa found their seats and nibbled on peanuts and drank soda. “Pippa, see where third base is?”

“Yeah,” Pippa nodded as she threw her shells on the ground.

“That was the spot where our house was. Where your father grew up.”

“Really? That’s cool, Nana. How can you be sure, though?”

“Well, I remember being able to see the police academy from our front door of our house and if you look out just beyond third base you can still see the academy.”

“Is that the same police academy when you used to live here?”

Sophia nodded slowly, “That’s all that has remained of Chavez Ravine, Pippa.”

On Books

The biggest issue/fear/concern I have about going back to college is the potential limitation I will have on my fiction reading. I hope like hell figure that I will squeeze in reading regular ole fiction somewhere between homework, studying, and the nine thousand history books I will have to read.

And I read anything (well, almost. I draw the line at romance) and in any format. I love my Kindle and I love paper books. When I read on my Kindle I get spoiled with the ability to look up words and read in a dark room. When I read paper books I love being able to actually see how long a chapter is going to be and how far along I am in a book by where my bookmark is…and not in percentages.

I have spent all summer trying to absorb as many books as I possibly can through some sort of magical sunshine and sparkly cold water technique. It isn’t working. I’m almost paralyzed to pick something up because I only have about 5 weeks until school starts and I want the books to all be GOOD.

I’ve got a stack of at least a dozen books from the library and another ten or more on hold. I’m a fairly fast reader (I average about 1-2 books a week) but I’m confident I’ll never get through all that I want to read…which is why I’m hoping I’ll be able to read fiction while taking a full load at school.

Some of the titles that I’m anxious to get my hands on and read:

“The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August” by Claire North
“The Witching Hour” By Anne Rice (although I’ve read it once I never got around to books 2 and 3 in the series so I want to re-read it, something I VERY seldom ever do)
“Midnight’s Children” by Salman Rushdie
“Joe Steele” by Harry Turtledove
“The Romanov Prophecy” by Steve Berry
“Thiefmaker” by D.B. Jackson
“The Watchmaker of Filigree Street” by Natasha Pulley
“House of Leaves” by Mark Danielewski
“The Hanged Man” by P.N. Elrod
“The New York Trilogy” by Paul Auster

It’s pretty obvious that I LOVE historical fiction but I also love a good thriller, paranormal/sci fi, alternative history, and mainstream fiction. Again, there isn’t much I won’t read except I tend to stay away from romance and super fluffy books only because I need more meat to keep me reading.

I’d love to know what YOUR FAVORITE BOOKS ARE?

Here is a QUICK list of SOME of my all-time favorite books – books that are just well written, well developed, and keeps you on the edge of your seat READING!

“11/22/63″ By Stephen King
“Time and Again” by Jack Finney (don’t let the funky book cover discourage you!)
“All the Light Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr
“The House of Special Purpose” by John Boyne
“The Mummy” by Anne Rice
“Kane & Abel” by Jeffrey Archer

For a longer list I would have to go and search my Goodreads account and I’m too lazy right now. These are only the half dozen that came immediately to mind and/or I’ve read in the last year or two.

Please share with me your favorite books because I need a bigger stack from the library!

Oh Yeah, It’s Monday

It’s just one of those days.

When I pulled out of my garage and drove the three blocks to my subdivision’s swimming pool I was able to get annoyed twice. I am not even sure how that’s possible. A car pulling out of their driveway and not looking forced me to come to a complete stop. And at the stop sign me and another car arrived facing each other at exactly the same moment. I had my indicator on waiting for them. THEN they turned on their turn signal.

Not a great way to start a Monday at 6:30 in the damn morning.

I overslept too.

Normally I’m up by 5:30 so I have time to make my coffee and do other little things around the house before I go and spend 150 minutes in water aerobics. Today I had barely enough time to lather up on sunscreen.

And suddenly we are heading towards the end of July.

Which means summer is almost over.

NO!

In a few weeks I will be registering the two kids at high school and then summer will really be over and yet there is SO MUCH left to do this summer.

You know, those crazy ass things I had on my list.

Like read 35 history books. So far, I’ve read four.

And defrost my big freezer (fat chance, that sucker was just restocked with a ton of meat on sale). And scrapbook more. And finish editing my L.A. novel (I am ALMOST finished with it. Another twenty or so chapters and then it will only need…hopefully…some line editing and fine-tuning). And get the freezer full (after I defrost the sucker, of course) of freezer meals for those busy days/nights when I will be coming home from school right around the dinner hour. And read a handful of classics.

Right now I am a mixture of exhaustion and a dash of overwhelmed. I’ve got a kid laid up after foot surgery (and I suddenly have to drive him everywhere. Super fun, let me tell you). I’ve got another kid getting ready to take driver’s education and hopefully between now and school starting a car will be in his future. I’ve got school books to read, ASL videos to watch so I can try and have a miniscule leg up, and novels to read before I may not have as much time for fiction. I’ve got dentist appointments, a floor that needs refinishing and would require us to be out of the house for three days, and a garden to tend to. I’ve got a non-fiction book I’m trying to self-publish and another novel I am trying to rewrite/edit. I’ve got an aggressive swim exercise routine seven days a week I go to. And I’ve got to keep the fire burning on a potential job search that could move us yet again somewhere else.

Okay, for now I’m going to manage to walk down the hall and drink more coffee and rewrite another chapter when what I really want to do is pipe my coffee intravenously as I take a nap under the fan. Oh, hello Monday, you bastard.

How About Now?

I have written 10 novels, 1 children’s book, and a couple of non-fiction type book projects to date (I’m sure there are more in here somewhere). My biggest novel is the one I am still rewriting. I know there is going to be a day (gawd, let it be soon) that I will have to officially put the baby to rest in a colorful pasture filled with big, beautiful trees and hopefully lining the shelves in an Amazon warehouse – or wherever books go these days.

I get asked the publishing question a lot. Do I have any books published? The answer is no. Not yet. Articles, yes. Books, no.

I am gun shy about self-publishing although I’d like to give it a try. But I don’t want to be hasty and just publish garbage either. I have a few shorter fiction pieces that I would like to rewrite and edit and eventually self-publish.

The book I’m working on now – a historical fiction book about Los Angeles during WWII and mixes in city corruption and a dose of Dodger bits is one very close to my heart. The characters feel like they are alive somewhere in another dimension (okay, that could be reading-while-the-hubby-watches too many episodes of ‘Fringe’) and I almost hate to see them go. But, it’s time. I need to get this book out of my stack of “Work in Progress” and out into the world.

Gasp.

I am working with someone who is reading my chapters, one at a time, and her input has been invaluable. I’m not any less scared to send it out but her responses have been encouraging.

I wonder sometimes if the pressure to “publish” (Or as my mom so kindly points out, “when are you ever going to publish something worthwhile?” Ouch.) kills some of the creativity or if I’m just making lame excuses?

It reminds me of a time my dad used to make these wooden animal basket things. He would cut the wood, paint them, nail them into turtles, bears, ducks and the minute my mother (I’m seeing a trend here, doctor) insisted he start selling these wooden animal baskets his creativity and desire for them diminished and he never made them again.

Look, I’m totally not saying if I sell my book it would kill anything. Except maybe my back from too much jumping up and down. Those days are – well, anyway.

But I do feel the pressure. And it isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. I am motivated at the moment to wrap up this almost-final rewrite before I start school at the end of next month.

I have many chapters left to plow through and all I seem to be doing is ADDING to my word count and not taking much away. But right now I am working through plot issues mainly and tightening up the writing and editing where I can, although that isn’t my total purpose yet. It is so close – and yet so far.

Back To School – Again

In just over 6 weeks I will be going back to school. (Again.)

And I’m scared shitless.

Will I be able to keep up? Do I remember how to take notes? What kind of backpack should I get? Do I remember how to study or write papers? Do students use laptops to take notes or do they still use quill and bottles of ink like they did the first time I went to college? How will I stay awake during the dead space in my schedule right in the middle of my normally sit-on-the-couch-read-and-nap time between oh let’s say 2ish and 3ish? Will I look like a geek on the first day of school trying to find my classes? What if I’m called on? (They don’t do that, do they? Nah, I should be fine.)

And – why the hell didn’t I just sign up for online classes?!? Dammit to hell and my idea that I wanted to actually BE in a classroom with a real live professor. Blah blah blah.

My husband says I’ll be just fine. My family and friends tell me it will be okay and I’ll do great and it’s all like riding a bike – except I haven’t been on a bike since I was a pony-tail-wearing-brace-face-tween. Oh Gawd, what have I done?

I’m taking a language because that and an English Literature class were the only two outside my major of history that I apparently didn’t satisfy when I was getting my first bachelor’s degree. Anyway – a language. I am horrible with languages. Some people have an ear and I don’t. I took seven years of Spanish. I attempted many years of Spanish. Attempted. The highest grade I ever got was a ‘C’ and I skipped for joy at the end of it. But, for some reason unbeknownst to me that class didn’t transfer or I only took a semester when I need a year. (What.Ever.)

Anyway.

I’m taking American Sign Language. All summer I have checked out DVDs from the library to prepare me for sign language. I’m not 100% certain I will have the “ear” for ASL either but it was really my only hope in life to pass a language requirement.

I have an English Literature class and two history courses this semester: U.S. History (Hi, basic-ole-history) and something they call The Study of History – which I am very excited about.

Yes, four classes.

Because I’m a nut job.

And because I want this second bachelor’s finished as quickly as possible so I can move onto/into grad school. If I don’t fail anything (as the History Chair kindly informed me) I should be finished with this degree by the end of next year. I have fifteen classes to take and after ASL and English Literature all the classes will be upper level history.

Hours and hours of history. Ah, bliss…..

As long as I can get past looking like a granny on her first day of school carrying a David Cassidy backpack with matching lunchbox.

Now I am off to order some of my books online from Amazon (golly gee, you can do that now!) so I can start reading them ahead of time. I’m old, aren’t I?

Hi Blog

So, hello blog of mine.

I have not forgotten my love of you, sweartogawd. It’s just been me, not you. You’ve been great, really. Sitting there day in and day out waiting – just dawdling about doing nothing.

I miss this kind of writing which is different than any other kind of writing I do.

But this year started off rather shittily (yes, shittily. New word) when my husband was informed after a two week furlough in January that the budget for his department was cut and the work sent abroad and adios.

Taking. Knife. Out. Of. Gut.

So, yeah, it’s been a lot of that kind of nightmare.

And in between all that lovely living writing here has left me feeling blah and unresponsive and definitely not creative.

But in May he did get another job – but it is a contract job and it is back where he was…long ass (read: boring) story and I will spare you. Needless to say our life is still not quite as settled as I would like it but it is a far cry from those dreadful, dreary, depressing (today’s letter brought to you by the letter ‘D’) winter months.

So, I spent a lot of time planning my garden, reading, looking for work, applying for school, and writing. And praying.

Right now I am spending July working on my 35th 3rd rewrite of my historical Los Angeles novel which is going too strong at over 150k words and my attempt at cutting is not going so well. But the words are so precious… (my red pen says: give me a break. Except it isn’t red but dark green. Anyhoo…)

And I am preparing for college to start next month. And I’m working in my garden. And I’m trying to stay cool after almost two weeks of triple digit Kill-Me-Now temperatures. And I’m swimming almost three hours every morning and every bone in my body is just – tired. Of course, that could be the 6-week visit I had with my mother in late spring/early summer.

Anyway, I’m here. I really am. And I missed you, Blog.