Monday, February 27, 2012

A Strange Odor and Apple Peelings


On the Oklahoma farm where I lived when I was a very little girl, my parents began to notice something very strange about me. When I came in from playing outside, they noticed dirt around my mouth and that I had very bad breath. Finally, my mother decided to watch what I did when I went out to play.

The next day when I walked out of the kitchen, Mother stood behind the screen door and watched me head for the garden nearby. I went to the rows of onions and began pulling them up and eating them!

Even at such an early age I liked strong-tasting foods!


When my brother Mike and I were little, Mother for some reason thought that apple peelings weren’t good for us although in those days fruit wasn’t sprayed with insecticides and herbicides as it is today. She carefully peeled the apples and quartered them for us to eat.

However, I much preferred the tangy taste of the peelings and while she was peeling and looking away, I would quietly grab some and run to the bedroom and hide under the bed to eat them. I would tell Mike to do the same thing although I doubt if he understood why he should do this. (In those days he usually did what I told him.)

Of course, eventually Mother found us hiding under the bed eating apple peelings and must have realized that they couldn’t have harmed us.

When I told this story to my two youngest grandchildren, they thought it was hilarious that I would have to hide under a bed to eat apple peelings. Of course, I didn't have to do that but I thought I did.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hooked From the Start, Part Four: The Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

Continuing my series on the first lines of some of my favorite novels, this month I concentrate on The Eye of the Needle. I loved this book and the movie. It was the first Ken Follett novel that I read many years ago and remains my favorite out of all his books.

The first lines:

"It was the coldest winter for forty-five years. Villages in the English countryside were cut off by the snow and the Thames froze over. One day in January the Glasgow-London train arrived at Euston twenty-four hours late."

it has been such a long time since I read the book (first published in 1978 as Storm Island) that I cannot remember what drew me to it. I doubt however that the first lines had anything to do with it. More than likely it was the genre: a WWII spy thriller.

But today as I read the above lines, I shiver as I read them and I wonder what I thought the first time, perhaps expecting something dire to happen during that cold winter. Dire things do happen as a German spy kills people with a stiletto (hence his name "The Needle") and is then sent to Aberdeen, Scotland where he sets out on a small trawler to meet a U-boat but he is not used to the open sea and becomes shipwrecked on an island called Storm Island, The island is inhabited by a young married couple. The husband lost his legs in a car crash and his young beautiful wife tires of him and their loveless marriage. And then enters an exciting but unknowingly murderous German spy.

No, those first lines did not entice me but they provided an icy terror as I read about the young wife and the attraction she felt for the German spy.

And this leads me to the topic of the next article in this series: From another of my all-time favorite authors, Elmore Leonard: "Never open a book with weather."

Monday, February 6, 2012

Life’s Embarrassing Moments: Locked out on a Rooftop

Many years ago my young son and I lived in Puerto Rico with a Cuban lady and her three children on the second floor of a spacey, new, modern house. The house faced a busy highway that connected San Juan to Caguas, a city in the interior. A frontage street ran between the house and highway. We entered our living quarters via a narrow staircase, which was located next to the garage on the right side of the house. Above the garage was a large concrete porch with a nice view where we did our laundry. One of the kitchen doors opened onto this porch. On the opposite side of the house was a corresponding porch, which led to the living room. Neither porch had a roof. A waist-high concrete railing lined each porch and a ledge below the railings encircled the top floor of the house.

Monday was my day off from the Sears Retail Distribution Center where I worked as training coordinator, one of the most enjoyable jobs I’ve ever had. On Mondays I did my laundry early and then I would catch a bus for the beaches in the Condado area of San Juan. My son was in a pre-kindergarten, the Cuban lady room-mate was at work in a business across the highway and her children were at school. It was my day of complete freedom.

On one bright sunny Monday morning, I straggled out onto the laundry porch after everyone had left. I had on nothing but a faded little housedress. I was also barefoot. I put the clothes in the washer and went back into the kitchen for breakfast. Thirty minutes later I went out to hang up my clothes on the clotheslines. It was now a quite windy day and I knew my clothes would dry in no time and I could leave early for the beach. But the wind blew the kitchen door shut and in horror I remembered that it could only be opened from the inside.! I was stranded for the morning, at least, on that porch!

I had no idea if the Cuban lady would come home for lunch or not but, at any rate, that was hours away. I began to panic. I desperately wanted to get back into the house. I was having “lock-out claustrophobia” or some such panic attack! Then I had the brilliant idea of climbing over the railing to the ledge and crawling around to the other porch.

No sooner had I climbed over and found myself standing on the ledge clutching the top of the railing did I remember that the living room door was locked also. Then looking down, a fear of heights swept over me. Although paralyzed with fear I finally managed to sit on the ledge, dangling bare legs and bare feet, wondering how I was going to get out of this predicament. Traffic was roaring past. It was a normal day, everyone was busy and minding one’s own business, no one paying any attention to me. Or so I thought.

Then I saw the milk truck slowly approaching up the frontage street and I knew I had found my savior. When the truck finally pulled into our driveway and stopped a few feet away, I rather timidly asked the driver as he got out, “¿Me ayuda bajar, por favor?”

He got back into the truck and pulled it up until the car was directly under me. Then he got out, raised his hand to mine as I leaned over and helped glide me onto the roof of the cab and then to the ground. At that a loud ovation broke out. The entire neighborhood had suddenly gathered and I had not even noticed them!

Extremely embarrassed I turned to open the gate to the stairs and to my dismay discovered it was locked also! Luckily one of the neighbors ran across the highway for the Cuban lady who came quickly to let me in! Sadly, it was too late for my sojourn to the beach.

Now one would think I had learned my lesson about being locked out on rooftops but many years later, it happened again! This time I was living in an apartment building with a friend in Marbella, Spain. We washed our clothes in the apartment but took them to the roof to hang them to dry. One had to be very careful to make sure the door to the roof remained unlocked because it could only be unlocked from the inside. As I was hanging my clothes, another tenant appeared, gathered his clothes, left and, for some reason, locked the door.

And there I was once again, stranded on a rooftop. Granted I had a beautiful view of the Mediterranean, Gibraltar to the southwest and the Atlas Mountains of Africa across the sea but at the moment that view was the last thing I cared about. I walked around the roof and discovered that I could see the porch below in front of our apartment. I started screaming for my roommate but she didn’t appear. I don’t know how long I was there growing panicky by the moment when finally she ambled out onto the porch and I started yelling. She looked up, disappeared into the apartment and finally reappeared, walked up the stairs and unlocked the rooftop door.

And that was the last time I hung my clothes out to dry on that rooftop or any other.