Smoke Signals


Frankie sat on the steps of the landing near the front door, head raised as if to howl at the moon, and he barked some short barks, several at a time, waited, the dog next door responded, then he did it again.

We could not see what the issue was, or perhaps, more precisely, we couldn't hear what the issue was, communicated between dogs, each inside their homes, talking about something of interest to both. I would like to think that the dogs down the row of houses each had an opinion in this conversation, but my ears are not that sharp.

This morning, enjoying my coffee in the yard, breathing in the not yet hot air that will descend later, I listened and watched as a bird, perched on a naked branch in a yard a few down from mine, raised its head, much like Frankie does, and chirped out a message that was reciprocated.  A moment later several birds followed the herald and flew east, I assume to meet at the other end of the conversation.

We all want to communicate. We all want to be connected.

Yesterday morning our Tuesday Prayer group resumed for the season. We've been meeting, with membership drifting according to life and work and transfers, for more than twenty years. Our founder, Theresa, who was our glue for ages, recently moved far away. A page in our chapter turned.

We met at Marilyn's, she of the delicious scones and clotted cream, each of us grateful to be together again. Brenda brought a list of questions from her goddaughter who is to be confirmed. We discussed what is important about believing in God, what is important about belonging to the Catholic Church (sacraments, community, Mary, two thousand years, and each other seemed to win, from my hearing) and, being us, we covered so much ground not asked in the original questions.

Smoke signals, drum beats, pony express, e-mail, twitter, Facebook, and, oh, yeah, actually getting together in person. Good stuff.

O, fie upon thee, strumpet!

Charlotte Rains Dixon is a  writer, a writing coach,  and a dispenser of good advice.  She also has a great web site filled with all kinds of goodies for writers, like retreats and seminars and discussions. Today I am a guest blogger on her site Wordstrumpet (, so please, pop on over. Funny thing about that name, wordstrumpet.  I was on the phone with my son, telling him the name of the site and he said, oh, words trumpet, like a trumpet for words. I replied, Ha! I always thought of it as word strumpet,  a strumpet, of some sort, for words.  So, naturally, I had to look it up.  It's a 14th Century Middle English term for harlot or prostitute.  Shakespeare used it in Othello  against  Desdemona,  victim of cruel deception by that villain Iago.

So, whether it is Trumpet or Strumpet, check out Charlotte Rains Dixon page.

Maybe she will let us in on the secret or maybe she will keep us guessing.

I am no strumpet, but of life as honest as you that thus abuse me.  Othello

Excerpt October 11, 2012

Excerpt from my novel.  Setting, 1951. Jimmy was a week old when Maureen had her first day alone with him.

She settled in with him, positioning her arms in the rocker, a pillow supporting the little fellow. This morning, before Phil left for work, she made up a batch of bottles, mixing and stirring and pouring a days supply of ecru colored stuff that made her nostrils pinch when she smelled it. She warmed the bottle in a pan, squirted a little on her wrist to test the temperature and gathered up her hungry son.

She held him, squirming, crying, until he caught hold of the rubber nipple and settled into a rhythmic gulping. Soon, he was satisfied. Not quite ready to give up the bottle, but soothed enough to study his mother’s face.

He held her pinky with his tiny fingers. Strong. What a wonder. Someone so little can grab on so tight.  His lashes were drying from his hungry cries, fanned out like a star. He was content now. With her free hand she stroked his cheek, velvet against her finger.

Mother and son were all there was to the world. The two of them, bound, caught up in larger arms, graced in a haze of violet light.

Something opened in Maureen. Where, she could not say, but somewhere in her body, in her soul; a movement, an enlargement.  The only way to find this place was this, holding her tiny child in her arms, letting him break her heart.

The intensity, the consuming protective passion  for this child, almost annihilated her in its fierceness. It could not be possible for her to love anything or anyone else the way she loves this child. No one’s heart could be that big.


When I taught Baptism prep classes to parents and godparents way back when, part of my job was to relate the physical elements of the sacraments to the spiritual gifts. God works through the physical as a means of bestowing grace.  I find this a comfort, a reassurance, a reminder of God in the everyday objects such as water, wine, oil and touch as transmitters of a grace beyond our comprehension. Here's a little excerpt from my forthcoming novel:

“How we doin?

“Behind by four. But there’s time. Ohh!! Make that six.”

Jimmy’s face is pointed toward the television. No reaction to the shot. He holds the coke can in his hand. He’s not watching the game. He can’t. They’re way beyond basketball games in search of common ground. His right hand is getting jittery; the left is tucked under his thigh.

“Need a smoke.”

Jimmy goes through the kitchen to smoke on the back porch. First stop is the refrigerator to grab a beer. The long cold drink rushes down his throat, wave after wonderful wave. It hits his belly in a splash, immediately releasing its magic. There’s his old friend. Now he can relax, get his hands steady. He tosses the bottle cap toward the metal can. It pings and misses. He leaves it in the mud.

It’s dark. He turns right, to the aurora of street lamps along Forest Park Drive, to the diluted light pushing its way through the trees that have arbored this area for generations. Wind whips up under his shirt and slaps his back. Jimmy steps out from the awning. A smoldering cigarette in one hand, an empty beer bottle in the other, he raises his arms over his head breathing in the cold, clear, wet dirt smell. His upturned face receives the sharp needles of rain. A baptism.

The wind and rain pick up. A crackle of light breaks blue deep into Forest Park. Thunder reverberates his thin frame, tolling out the bell of him. Somewhere in there, somewhere in here, I still am. I still am.   

Be Ye Perfect

It’s a good thing we don't have to be perfect to be loved--we’d all be pretty miserable if that were the case. We have a little dog, medium little, not purse size little. He is our family mascot. He is chief greeter and bringer of smiles. He sits on my lap while I write. He is inexpensive; he earns his keep with affection and an extra dose of irresistible cuteness.

He loves us in his wonderful doggy way. And we love him.

But, he’s not perfect.

Nope. He was a wee one when he first came home, about three and a half pounds of apricot fluff.

He latched onto me, settling comfortably right over my mommy heart, and I was in love. First time in my life that I understood that people could fall in love with a dog. We had dogs before, but they weren't ‘mine’; they fell under the care and affection of husband and kids. But Frankie, oh, he is my little boy.

At first, Gene promised to not get too close to this little fellow. He much preferred real dogs, big, that is. My kids were grown and away, so Frankie was my baby replacement, just like all those silly women who carry accessory pups in a purse.

But Frankie had his way with Gene, who tried to be stern and detached to this little mess of a pup who, in his infancy, greeted him each morning with the rising smell of puppy pooh in his crate.

Not his favorite way to start the day.

But, Frankie was smart. He parked himself in a triangle at the feet of Gene’s desk. Before long I would arise to the sight of my husband, who wanted a real dog, being silly and lovey with this tiny little guy who grabbed hold of Gene’s heart as surely as he did mine.

I made excuses for Frankie’s extended period of house breaking. ‘Well, he’s so little that peeing in grass as tall as his little legs must be uncomfortable.’ Not much of an argument, but I do defend my children.

He did grow to be taller than the grass (not much taller) and still I had to make excuses for his less than stellar performance as a house-broken dog. Along the way I gave up and just accepted the situation. He’s four years old now. He’s gotten better, much better. There are many days when we don’t have to pick anything unsavory from the floor or sop up a puddle.

You see, we love him. We love when he peeks out the front window, moving the curtain for better viewing, to howl like a wolf at a passing dog or the noise of lawn mowers. We love that when we return home, whether after twenty minutes or several hours, he’s wagging and jumping with delight at our homecoming. We love that he knows when its time for ‘Daddy’ to come in from work each day and he sits sentry near the front door until ‘Daddy’ comes back from the salt mines. We love that he snuggles with us and is a funny little guy. We love that he’s a fluffy mess in between haircuts.

We love that he’s not perfect.

And that’s just perfect. For us.