Radio Diaries

Essay: Wooden Elephant

Dec 11, 2017

Some years ago, I traveled to Nepal with seven women and spent some time trekking in the Himalayas.  We also visited a jungle park in the southern part of the country where we rode on elephants, another kind of adventure.

Toward the end of the trip, I began to buy gifts for family, friends and colleagues.  Seeing a small wooden elephant, I thought of my secretary who collected miniature elephants.  Then I bought it for myself, because of the jungle ride.

Essay: Voices in the Dark

Dec 1, 2017

When I was a child, I didn’t need a nightlight. What comforted me was the sound of my parents’ voices downstairs in the living room. Lying in the dark, I would hold very still and listen. Not for their words exactly, just the soft murmur of conversation.

If I didn’t hear them, I would get out of bed and tiptoe to the door. There, I strained to detect the slightest sound—even the rustle of a newspaper—to confirm their presence.

If everything was silent, I would go to the top of the stairs and call down, “Mom?”

Her musical voice would reply, “Yes?”

Radio Diaries: Treats

Nov 17, 2017

My husband and my cat are waiting up when I get home.  I am late and know my husband has been worried.  As for my cat, I see no evidence that she ever worries about anything.

No, she has waited up because we have an evening ritual.  I throw her some cat treats which she likes to chase.  My veterinarian said they help remove tartar and I’m glad they’re good for something because they smell terrible.

“You must have had a good time,” my husband says.

Radio Diaries: Studying Poetry

Nov 14, 2017

When my granddaughters were about eight and ten, I offered to teach poetry as part of their homeschool curriculum. One afternoon a week we sat around my dining room table to read and write together.

It wasn’t long before Emmy asked, “Why are we reading more boy poets than girl poets?” A teachable moment. Because that’s what I studied in college, I explained. Literature written by white males and taught by white males.

We spent the next year studying African-American and Native American poetry. Followed by  Chinese, Japanese, Latin American. And lots of poetry by women.

Radio Diaries: Surprise Flowers

Nov 8, 2017

I look out my front window and see a van from a florist shop pull up across the street.  A man gets out carrying a big display of flowers covered in plastic wrap.  Suddenly my ordinary day begins to sparkle.

Who could be sending me flowers?  It’s not my birthday or Valentine’s Day.  So maybe it’s a surprise.  Maybe it’s a secret admirer.  I laugh out loud at this idea, unable to imagine such an admirer, secret or otherwise.

Radio Diaries: Gradual Clearing

Oct 27, 2017

Under a gray sky, we load the canoe onto the truck, choosing to believe the forecast:  “becoming partly sunny.” But the gloomy weather suits my mood.

“You okay?” my husband asks.

“I feel sort of depressed,” I say.

The wind is sharp as we push off into the Manistee River and I wish I’d worn long underwear. On this late fall day, the water is low but the colors are high. Red and orange and yellow, the oaks and maples stand along the bluffs, shining with their own light.

Radio Diaries: Someone's Papers

Oct 20, 2017

I open the front door to pick up the newspaper and notice some trash out on the grass next to the curb.  “What is this?” I think irritably as I go out to pick it up.  But it is not trash.  It is somebody’s personal papers—all folded up and soaking wet from last night’s rain.

I carefully unfold them on the kitchen counter and discover a birth certificate, legal papers, credit cards, business cards, and a pile of receipts and notes—all belonging to a young man.

Radio Diaries: Perishables

Oct 17, 2017

A few years ago, I had my old kitchen remodeled and moved everything out of the cupboards into corrugated boxes.  It was an excellent opportunity to evaluate the contents of those cupboards.  “Do I really need two muffin tins?  Do I even need one muffin tin, given the fact that I’ve not made muffins in years?”

When I moved back into a new kitchen, I had a lot more room and a lot less stuff.  And so, I’ve made a careful inventory of all the other rooms in my house and the results are disturbing.

Radio Diaries: Old Words

Oct 9, 2017

There was a time when a browser was someone looking around a store, when a server was someone taking your order, and when Spam was a food you didn’t request.  Nowadays, however, those words are more likely to refer to the Internet.

There was even a time when the word “Internet” was new.  So was email, blog, broadband, download, hashtag.  And while I welcome these new words—and the technologies they describe—it makes me yearn for some of the old words I don’t hear anymore.  Words my grandparents used.

Radio Diaries: Differences

Sep 29, 2017

I once worked in the marketing department of a large organization where I was responsible for advertising and publications.  I loved the creative side of the job—coming up with ideas and copy and design.

I didn’t like the business side of the job—coming up with estimates and costs and budgets.  I’m a word person, not a numbers person.  Which is why I’m always intimidated by people who know their way around a balance sheet.

Radio Diaries: Campfires

Sep 22, 2017

It’s the week after Labor Day and my husband and I are camping on the shore of Lake Superior. We come every year at this time for a reunion with his two sisters and their companions.  After busy days, we gather around a campfire.

Tonight, there’s a cold wind off the water and we pull our canvas chairs closer to the warmth.  My husband has cut up a big pile of driftwood which we take turns feeding into the flames.  I watch the smoke rise through the pine trees into a starry sky—and feel deeply grateful for this simple pleasure.

Radio Diaries: Start at the Bottom

Sep 15, 2017

When I moved to Traverse City in 1970, I had a master’s degree and years of experience but I couldn’t find a job.  Desperate to pay the rent, I followed up on a “Gal Friday” position at the local newspaper.

Nobody would use that term today, but back then it described a kind of all-purpose assistant on the bottom rung of the organization.  “Reading proofs, delivering proofs,” the advertising director told me.  “You know you’re overqualified.”  I knew but I needed the work.

Radio Diaries: Secret of Popularity

Sep 11, 2017

My mother puts the kitchen timer on the piano and sets it for 15 minutes.  I sit on the bench and open my practice book.  First I do scales and then the stupid little songs about snow flakes and rain drops and spring flowers.

When the buzzer goes off, I quit playing and bolt from the piano.  “You could at least finish the song,” my mother says in her disappointed voice.

“I hate practicing,” I say as I open the refrigerator.

Radio Diaries: Another Pair of Eyes

Sep 5, 2017

As we slide the canoe into the Betsie River, I tie a bandana around my hair and pick up a paddle.  The water looks high but before I comment, my husband says, “Water is low; I wonder if they’ve lowered the dam.”

“Water is low?” I wonder, glad I didn’t remark otherwise.  Staring down at the muscular stems of water lilies, I remember Mary Oliver’s poem—how she says the blossoms look perfect but when she gets up close, each has a defect.

Radio Diaries: Quitting

Aug 25, 2017

My mother was in the hospital with internal bleeding.  “They say I have liver trouble from drinking,” she said in a puzzled voice.  “Maybe it was those Pina coladas I had on the cruise.”

I knew it wasn’t the Pina coladas.  Twenty years earlier, as a young girl, I had asked my mother about the wine in the cupboard that disappeared so quickly.  My father told me not to mention it again.

Radio Diaries: Knowing How

Aug 18, 2017

I am carrying my old desk lamp into the elegant lighting store, trying to slip past the   crystal chandeliers on my way to the repairs department.  Standing in line, I stare at the clutter of parts I can’t even identify.  “Can I help you?” the man asks.

“I need a new switch,” I say, gesturing at my old lamp.  “When I turn the three-way bulb on the lowest setting, it flickers.”

The man removes the shade and the bulb.  “A 50-100-200-watt bulb is kind of hard on this switch,” he says, “but the switch itself is fine.”  Then he holds my bulb up to his ear.  “Listen,” he says.

Radio Diaries: Home to the Highlands

Aug 11, 2017

As soon as I got off the plane in Glasgow, Scotland, I felt at home—although I’d never been there.  The ruddy, angular faces and thick accents seemed familiar somehow.

Half Scottish on my mother’s side, I yearned to know this place my grandfather had left and longed for.  So when I finished college, I accepted an invitation to visit my friend, Betty, who was spending the summer in the highlands.

Radio Diaries: Forecast

Aug 4, 2017

While the rest of the family is still getting dressed, my father has already walked around the motel parking lot for exercise.  Popping back in the door, he says, “Rise and shine; the weather’s fine.”

We already know the weather isn’t fine because we heard the thunder last night and can hear rain pattering on the pavement.  “It’s clearing in the east,” Dad says.

Radio Diaries: Claire de Lune

Jul 29, 2017

As a child, I learned to recognize a certain melody whenever it came on the radio because my mother would announce, “That’s ‘Claire de Lune’ by Debussy.”  She never told us why she loved that piece of music—and I realize I never asked.

My mother had a beautiful singing voice and majored in music at college, hoping to pursue a career as a performer.  Traveling to California to find her fortune, she had several impressive offers but didn’t take any of them.

Radio Diaries: Catalpa

Jul 21, 2017

The tree was already huge when we bought the house many years ago, a handsome catalpa that stood beside the back door with an eye bolt sticking out where previous owners might have hooked one end of a hammock.

Two enormous limbs reached high above our house and the neighbor’s house, and its broad leaves provided blessed shade. As the seasons passed, the eye bolt disappeared into the trunk and then bark started falling off.

“But it leaves out beautifully,” I said to the forester who came to look.

Radio Diaries: Blame the Cabbage

Jul 14, 2017

The green cabbage was too big to grip and slid out of my hand, rolling down into the carrots just as the overhead spray came on, misting the vegetables and my shirt.  Finally, I wrestled the cabbage into my cart and onto the check-out counter.

“Wow, a giant,” the woman said.

“Too big,” I said as a puddle formed beneath it.  “And too wet.”

“Blame the cabbage,” she said—and when our eyes met, I knew we were thinking the same thing.  Thank goodness we had something else to blame, something as blameless as a cabbage.

Radio Diaries: Bad Day

Jul 10, 2017

I don’t even notice that I’m getting out of bed on the wrong side until I grab for my socks and shove my toe into the heel.  And I wonder whether I should climb right back in and call it a day… a bad day.

“Hey, don’t be so negative,” I tell myself in my fake-positive voice.  “It’s just a sock.  Get a grip.”  So I get a grip on the coffee pot and manage to slosh it all over the kitchen counter and onto the floor where I soak my socks.  And when I throw the paper towel at the waste basket, I miss.

Radio Diaries: Into the Current

Jun 30, 2017

After so much preparation, we are finally at the river.  My husband slides the canoe into the water and almost before we pick up our paddles, we are swept into the current, gathered in, as if into the arms of a loved one.

Dick and I have been paddling together over thirty years and he taught me how.  I remember how graceful it looked when he showed me, how awkward it felt when I tried it.  Dip, pull, lift, twist in one seamless movement.

Radio Diaries: Special Offer

Jun 23, 2017

The picture on the back of my comic book looked so real.  World War II army soldiers were firing guns and running with bayonets.  Best of all, you could get a hundred for just one dollar!

I didn’t want them for myself but for my younger brother who loved playing “army.”  Bob had a few toy soldiers but he didn’t have a hundred!  I didn’t have a dollar either but I saved my allowance and finally had enough to mail in with the coupon.  When the package finally arrived, it looked pretty small for a hundred soldiers—and then I found out why.

Radio Diaries: Sheer-to-Waist

Jun 16, 2017

When I went back to college for a master’s degree, I had no money so I worked at the undergraduate library.  It was nicknamed the UGLI which was the right word—a glass and steel box set down in the middle of all the ivy-covered brick.

But it had one redeeming feature:  You could meet everyone on campus in its big main lobby.  I loved working at the front desk and seeing the world go by.

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