Years ago, when I worked for an online university, I was in Miami for a meeting with my colleagues. One woman I was sitting with asked me where I lived. At the time, it was Indiana (I don’t miss that place) so I told her. She wrapped her arms around herself and pointed out the obvious, that it gets cold in the winter there. She lived in Miami.
Then she said, “I couldn’t live there. You can wear more fashionable clothing down here because it’s warm.”
I said, “That’s only if you think showing all of your skin is fashionable. Cool boots and cute sweaters can be fashionable, too.”
Ever since that conversation, I’ve been wondering when showing your Bingo wings and back fat become fashionable? Also, why are women considered beautiful if they are freezing to death? And the bigger question is why do they buy into this nonsense?
I really hate to see the bare-legged women of winter. No, they are not a new hippie-dippie folk band. I know that it’s 2019 and proper hosiery has the street cred of “Baby it’s cold outside”, but pale whisker pocked legs are just not attractive under a cocktail dress or evening dress. I know from experience putting on tights can raise your pulse and cause minor perspiration, but they are needed, not only to keep you warm but really, no one wants to see that black-speckled Elmer’s paste. No matter how much you shave or wax when you get cold stubble pops up.
Yes, white girls, like me, I’m talking to you. Keep those white glowing Dublin stubs under a nice pair of black tights, or better yet, wear pants. Women are allowed to wear pants now. Yep, we were given that right shortly after we were given the right to vote.
Now, I know that fashion is a lot different now than it was way back when. Women are expected to wear strapless and sleeveless dresses year round while men get to wear nice, comfy warm suits. BUT there’s no law against adding some tights and a nice little jacket or fancy sweater to your dress. You don’t need to dress for summer when it’s six months away.
Now, let’s talk shoes. Those little, strappy, glitter shoes sure do look cute with your freshly pedicured toes, but what would you do if you ran out of gas or had a flat tire on the way home? Would you walk through the snow in those summer shoes? Think of the great frostbite you could get. Maybe, if a couple of toes fell off, you could save money on a pedicure. Seriously, you are not on the red carpet, honey. Dress for the weather that exists, not the weather in Hollywood.
Stay warm out there! Summer is just a short five months away!
“Mops ah fah lazy people!” I could hear my Bostonian Italian step-father’s voice in my head as though he were still alive as I kneeled to clean the tile in the kitchen square by square with paper towels and Lysol. My husband had been doing a lot of cooking so there were spots that had crumbs of whatever ingredients he had used. That along with the big muddy paw prints by the back door, and my need to take a break from staring at a screen led me to clean the kitchen floor 1940’s housewife style.
I know I could have done other things to get away from screens. I have friends who craft for this reason. They make beautiful scarves, personalized cups, and lovely decorative items. It’s just not my thing. I have not been interested in making pretty things ever since I was a kid and we were forced to have art time in elementary school. I privately called it arts and farts. I would have rather read a good book.
So now, when I need a break from all things computer, phone, and Netflix, I clean. I guess in a way it is my craft. I sometimes clean instead of exercising, so I guess it is my work out, too. Too bad they don’t have vacuum aerobics or dusting yoga at the gym. I would probably show up more often. I like that when I clean, I see results right away. Whatever was dirty is now clean. If exercise worked like that, I’d probably do it more. Imagine if you could exercise for an hour and lose an inch in your waist. We would all be slender.
When I was done with the floor, I got up and groaned. My 47-year-old knees and hips hurt after 90 minutes on the cold tile. Once my knees finished cracking, I was able to admire my work. The floor was shiny and clean. There was no trace of paw prints or herbs or almond flour on the floor. I knew it wouldn’t last long because other people and animals live here. Also, since we don’t have a system of trapezes throughout the house, said people and animals actually have to walk on the floor. But for those five minutes or so when the floor was shiny, I felt like I’d actually accomplished something.
Any other Type-A floor cleaners out there?
I’m one of those weirdos who hates Christmas. I don’t mean in that Grinchy I’m going to steal everyone’s roast beast and presents way. No. Christmas just gives me a good case of the winter blues. Part of it is due to messed up holiday memories from my youth, and part of it because it is SOFRIGGINGGRAY here in corn country during the holidays. So, I’m always looking for a way to make the holidays brighter that doesn’t involve the Hallmark channel and spoonfuls of cookie dough. I think I’ve found it with Tangled Lights and Silent Nights: A Holiday Anthology.
Usually, holiday anthologies are full of angels, and miracles, and recipes for cranberry sauce framed in stories of long dead, sweet grandmothers. This one is so different. It’s not all heartwarming reality. There is something in this book for everyone.
My favorite story is “Convergence” by Stacey Roberts because it is humor, as it is labeled, but it is also relatable to anyone who felt like they didn’t fit in as a kid. I don’t want to give too much away, but if you are from a “broken home” you will really get this story.
Since my mind tends to go dark at Christmas, I also loved Yuletide Homicide: A Liz Boyle Short Mystery, by Kate Birdsall. I love a good murder mystery, especially one set in Ohio, my current home state.
Those are just my top two favorite stories. Really, the entire book is great. Tangled Lights and Silent Nights: A Holiday Anthology is one of those books that you will want to read in one sitting with a big Yeti full of coffee, while sitting next to a fire. And given my seasonal and all year depression and anxiety, it helps that all profits go to The Life After—Visions of Hope Project.
Whether you love or hate Christmas and the entire holiday season, which now begins at 11:59pm on October 31, you will love this book. Buy it now while it’s cheap because once Oprah catches wind of this, and she will, it will be much more expensive.
My mother was in a state of high dudgeon.
“SSSSo,” she hissed. (I learned early in life that she was deadly serious when her sibilants extended). “You’re a TOKEN.”
“A token! You wrote a story for a Christmas whatchamacallit—anthology. What kind of word IS that? Sounds Yiddish. Anyway, nineteen Christmas stories from the goyim and one Hanukkah story from you. You’re a token!”
“Come on, Ma. That isn’t even remotely true.”
“Really, smarty pants? All these other authors in this collection – they’ve written great books! That Kristy Gamble – she’s on the USA Today Bestseller List!”
“Kelly, Ma. Kelly Gamble.” (My mother is no good with names).
“That’s what I said. Bestseller!”
“You would love her books. Her heroine whapped her husband in the head with a shovel.”
“If we’d had a shovel I would have whapped the crap out of your father, that son of a bitch.”
“I know you would, Ma.”
“There’s another writer in this book, this Justin Bog character. What kind of name is Bog? Is he from Scotland or something?”
“Actually, I think Bog is short for something unpronounceable. Possibly Eastern European.”
“He can’t be Jewish. He wrote a book of Christmas stories. Very well-received by the critics. Not like YOUR chazerai.” (‘Chazerai’ is the Yiddish word for ‘bullshit’. I didn’t even have to look it up. It was in the Amazon review my mom left about my first book).
“And I checked him out on the Tweeter—”
“That’s what I said. There’s no way he’s Jewish. He’s got German shepherds!”
“Ma, that’s ridiculous. Dog-ownership isn’t relevant to—“
“My point is that these are accomplished writers. That Kate Birdsall. I got one of her books. They’re so good. Mysteries. That’s what you should write. Or even that Claude Bouchard. Also a bestseller. Lotta violence, but ok. And Diane Byington? She’s won AWARDS, Stace. Awardssssss. What kind of awards do YOU have?”
“I got an honorable mention by the Recreational Vehicle Enthusiasts Society of Missoula, Montana.”
“Big deal. Nicole Evelina won three Book of the Year designations. Maybe she could give you some writing tips, since you’re so interested in concocting Christian stories all of a sudden.”
“Ciara Ballintyne wrote a non-denominational story about a winter festival. It’s got wizards and demons in it. Nothing Christian about THAT.”
“SSSSStace. ‘Winter festival’ is just another way to say Christmas. And goyim are all about demons. They’re everywhere in their heathen Bible. Piles and piles of demons.”
“Anyway, my reason for calling is to let you know that the book is available for pre-order—“
“Just send me a copy.”
“You should buy one. The proceeds go to benefit a great charity. It’s a really good cause—“
“These goyim. They should have asked your brother to write a story. He’s got a real way with words.”
“I’m sure he does. The charity is The LifeAfter—Visions of Hope Project. They spread awareness about suicide, substance abuse and domestic violence.”
“There would have been a lot more domestic violence in our house if I’d had me a shovel.”
“I’ll buy you one for Christmas.”
“We do NOT celebrate Christmassssssss!”
“Hanukkah then. But really, any occasion is good for a shovel.”
“Yeah, like now. You’re a lot like your father, you know.”
“So you keep telling me. Will you pre-order the book?”
“You should send me a copy. And get that Barbara Vicars to sign it.”
“That’s what I said. You could at least get it autographed by some real authors, couldn’t you? Even though you’re just their mascot or whatever you are.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“You should, Buster. I’m your mother.”
The good news is that none of you will have to go to all this trouble to get your own copy of Tangled Lights and Silent Nights: A Holiday Anthology. Some of the best writers in the business contributed holiday-themed stories based on the characters from their books. The proceeds from all sales will benefit a great cause. This will make a perfect gift to put under your own Christmas tree, if you’re into that sort of thing.
And, my mom wants you to know there’s a Hanukkah story in it.
Help Stacey show his mom his IS a real author! You can pre-order Tangled Lights and Silent Nights: A Holiday Anthology here: https://www.amazon.com/Tangled-Lights-Silent-Nights-Anthology-ebook/dp/B07JDVSMK5
When I was in third grade, Arnold, the abusive step-uncle, came to live with my mother and me in Florida. From what I could overhear when my mother talked to my grandmother on the phone, Arnold was having trouble in school and was just too much for grandmother and grandfather to handle. So, the adults thought it would be a good idea for Arnold to live with my mom and me, her eight-year-old daughter, in Florida, in our two-bedroom apartment.
I remember this apartment well. Aside from all of the bad things that happened in it, this was one of my favorite apartments. It had dark red carpet throughout, and the furniture that came with the apartment was cool. There was a black and white sofa and a really comfortable chaise lounge. I think it was golden colored, but I’m not sure. Sometimes, during the summer or if I was homesick, I would spend almost the whole day in that chaise. I would even eat there while watching cartoons.
The only furniture that did not come with the apartment was the small brown bar and bar stools that my mom had purchased. My mom has never been a drinker, so it was an odd purchase for a single mom. She did keep the bar well-stocked, or at least it looked that way when I was eight.
The master bedroom of the apartment was really an efficiency, with its own entrance. It did not have a kitchen, just a bedroom and bathroom. The entrance led to the driveway of the triplex next door. “Aunt” Hanna, her daughter Laurie and Hanna’s dad lived there. That’s another reason that I loved that apartment. I loved being near Hanna. She took care of me when my mom worked and she picked me up from school. Before she took over, Hanna’s mom, Katie used to take care of me. Katie passed away when I was 5. That’s the first time I remember losing someone I loved. Katie’s grave is the only one that I have ever visited because I am just not a visitor of graves. Sometimes, I just need to talk to her.
There was a time when my mom couldn’t afford to rent the apartment as a two-bedroom apartment, so the landlady locked the deadbolt on the master bedroom door and rented the efficiency to someone else. Mom and I would share a bedroom then. The funny thing was there was an air vent that opened from our hallway into the closet of the efficiency. So, we really had no privacy and neither did the other tenant. I could hear everything that went on over there. I always wondered if they heard me home alone or heard me crying. I became a latch key kid at 8, after my mom and Hanna had a fight.
When Arnold came to live with us, we were in possession of both bedrooms. Mom had the master bedroom and Arnold was to share a room with me. Yes. You read that right. A teenage boy, sixteen by this time, was supposed to share a room with a little girl. Even if mom didn’t know what had happened back in Peoria, this still was a bad idea. I have often shaken my head about this one.
So, Arnold slept in a twin bed in my room and I slept in the other twin bed. Previously, Arnold’s bed had been home to my stuffed animals. They were relocated to a garbage bag in the closet, which I wasn’t happy about because I thought they would suffocate.
Arnold was acting normally for a while. Then, I had to come home early from school for vomiting one day. I remember the grown-ups thinking that I vomited because I got overheated on the playground or something like that, and I remember thinking that sounded a bit silly, but I was a kid so I didn’t question them. Mom picked me up and brought me home, and when Arnold got home from high school she went back to work, leaving him to care for me. I got nervous, but I said nothing.
I was lying on the black and white couch when Arnold wanted to “play a game”. I had been eating the potato chips he had given me and watching TV. Yes. He really gave a child who just vomited potato chips. I had eaten quite a few when he started his old tricks. He unzipped his pants and I started to feel sick. He forced my head down to his crotch. I’m sure he must have said something first, trying to persuade me that this was a good idea, but I don’t remember any of that. I just remember vomiting potato chips all over his crotch and a little on the sofa. He smacked me and I started crying, from the vomiting and from being smacked. To this day, I still cry when I puke. Neither one of us mentioned any of this to my mom when she got home.
Later, it could have been days, months or weeks, Arnold molested me for the last time. It was night, a school night, I had had a bad dream and woke Arnold with my sniffling. He told me to come over to his bed. I’m not sure why I complied, but I did. I got into his bed. At first, he held me and comforted me and I started dozing. The next thing I remember, Arnold was on top of me, with his pants off. He was pulling down my pajama pants and telling me, “It’s ok. You’ll make it. It’s ok.” I didn’t think it was ok. I don’t know where I got the energy, but I got out from under him and ran into my mother’s room, where she was sleeping with Raul, her boyfriend.
Raul really needs his own chapter as he spent seven solid years of my childhood with my mother. Raul had many issues. He was an alcoholic who became vicious when he drank. He dislocated my mother’s jaw twice. No; my mother never filed charges, though she did call the cops once. Once, I grabbed a steak knife and threatened to stab him if he wouldn’t stop beating my mother. When I began to go through puberty, he began to kiss me open-mouthed and often visited when he knew my mom wasn’t home. He was a prize winner for sure. He was also married. As you can imagine, we don’t talk about Raul much either.
So, I went running into mom’s bedroom crying and telling my story. Raul got out of bed and went into my room to get Arnold. I’m not sure what happened or where Arnold slept the rest of the night. I heard yelling. The next day, I was sent to school. I never saw a doctor; nor was I taken to any sort of therapist. That was that. Life went on. It was like nothing had happened.
Afterschool, Arnold was sent home on a plane. Before he left, he was sitting at the little bar in our apartment with my brother, Timothy. Arnold and Timothy were close in age and always got along well. They were talking about how horrible it was that Arnold had to leave. Personally, I was relieved and couldn’t wait for him to leave. Timothy was angry at me and blamed me for this. He asked me why I “lied” about this. I was stunned. I really couldn’t believe that my big brother was not taking my side. That’s the day that I decided that I didn’t like my big brother very much. This was when I started considering myself an only child. Timothy didn’t live with us anyway. After the divorce, he lived with our father and I stayed with mom. So, having nothing better to reply with, I gave him the answer that a lot of kids give every day. “I don’t know.”
This is an excerpt from my memoir. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.
So, in the car we went, with as many belongings as the car could hold. Mom and I made the drive up to Peoria and moved in with my grandmother, her second husband, Pat and his son, Arnold. Arnold was about fourteen at this time and seemed nice. I remember that he paid a lot of attention to me, and I loved this, of course. What little kid doesn’t like attention?
I don’t know how long we lived there before the weird shit started. This is when another obstacle was thrown in my way. I already had living in a single parent home and not having a relationship with my father to screw me up; but now, the granddaddy of all issues came into play. Arnold began sexually abusing me.
Yes, I know that being sexually abused by my teenaged step-uncle sounds like something off the Doctor Phil show, and maybe the whole family would benefit from being featured on the show; but, this was real and was a part of my life for most of my childhood. Since Arnold was home and available, he became my caregiver.
My mother got a job at a hospital in Peoria and my grandmother was supposed to watch me. Sometimes, grandma would need, or rather want, to go out so she would have Arnold babysit me. Since I was young, my memories are hazy, but the episodes of abuse really stand out.
The first memory of the abuse is sort of innocent. It was night, and I was home alone with Arnold. We were both lying on our sides on the couch in the front room of grandmother’s house. Arnold was lying behind me on the scratchy plaid couch with his arms around me, spooning me. I remember that it felt good to be hugged even though he seemed to be hugging me too tightly. At this point, I still considered Arnold to be nice and I did what he told me to do. Then, I remember seeing headlights reflecting on the wall, from the front window, and Arnold told me to pretend that I was asleep. I wasn’t sure why he was telling me this, but I did what he said.
The next thing I remember is the first time Arnold forced me to perform oral sex on him. Again, I was two. TWO. I was sitting on his lap in the recliner just outside of grandma’s bedroom. The house was small so my grandmother’s room was directly off the living room. I don’t think anyone was home. It was dark. The big old floor model TV was on, tuned in to some 1970’s show. I don’t remember the show, just the noise of the TV and the flickering lights. At some point, Arnold unzipped his pants and showed me his penis. I remember feeling afraid. I had no clue what the thing was. He told me not to be afraid and told me it was nice. He told me to kiss it and then forced it into my mouth. I felt like I was going to choke and I gagged and cried. Arnold got mad at me and pushed me off the chair. He got up and left the room.
Sometime after that, I was alone in the kitchen with my grandmother. While we were standing in front of the refrigerator, I tried to tell her about what was happening with Arnold. Her eyes turned cold and blank and she told me never to talk like that again. I shut up immediately and never said a word about it to her again.
Later, when I was alone in the kitchen, feeling embarrassed and sad, I opened the refrigerator and stuck my finger in the baking soda box, licking the powder from my fingers. It tasted horrible and I never did eat baking soda again, but I did eat a lot of other things over the years in an attempt to deal with the feelings that I didn’t understand and I wasn’t allowed to talk about. I learned to hold things in that day. I got the message that no one would really help me anyway.
“He shouldn’t hit me. You shouldn’t hit me about God, Mamma. You should never hit anybody about God—”
The Conversion of the Jews
I was in my classroom at Bonita Springs Middle School. I taught drama, or at least I tried to. I was horrible at classroom management. School started at 9:35, and it was before my first period class. A kid, Tyler, ran in and said, “Miss Petty, I know it’s the JAPS!!” I was so confused. Tyler was a good kid, and I did not suspect drugs. I thought he was just, you know, acting for me. Then, he turned on the TV in my class, and my jaw dropped. We kept that TV on all day. All I wanted to do was leave and get my son from preschool, but we did not dismiss early. It was the day after my 30th birthday. Suddenly, being 30, wearing a size 8 (which was “fat” for me at the time), and having too many bills for my salary did not matter.
When I could leave for the day, I picked up my son, who was 4 and very much unaware of what had happened. He wanted to have dinner at McDonald’s. After all, they had a playground, toys, and fries. What more do you need in life? I didn’t take him to McDonald’s. We drove through, instead. I was afraid to sit with my son in a public place. I was afraid that some crazy person would walk in with a bomb, or Anthrax (the poison, not the band), or a gun, or something. So, we drove through and ate our fries at home, where I felt safe, but still wondered how far I was from a military base, a power plant, or any possible target for terrorism. I still think like this whenever I go to an amusement park.
I did not show my son that I was afraid. I did not cry. This morning, twelve years later, I finally cried about 9/11. I was watching the Moment of Silence on the Today Show. The screen was split, with people in New York on the left and Mr. and Mrs. Obama, Mr. and Mrs. Biden, and a lot of other people in Washington, D.C. on the right. There was a woman in New York, with brown curly hair; maybe you saw her. She started crying so hard that she had to lean on someone. I thought, “She probably lost someone that day. Maybe it was her husband, or a sibling, or a cousin, or a friend. She lost SOMEONE.” That is when I cried. That is what it is all about really. People are getting killed over differences of opinion. Seriously. People are real. They bleed. They die. We should not “hit” anyone about God or Politics, or anything else.
Note: This post was originally posted on 9/11/13.