When I was six years old, my mother bought me a baby chick for Easter. I adored that little thing and named him Chicken Little. He was soft and fluffy, and I loved to cuddle with him. One Sunday, we went to church, and when we got home I rushed to find him only to be shocked to find his little limp body floating in the toilet. I scooped him up and ran to Mom crying. She knew that there was nothing that could be done for him, but to make me feel better, she took him and held him in her hands over the floor furnace, and began giving him mouth to beak resuscitation.

I stood next to her, anxious and upset, as she breathed into his little beak over and over, pretending to try to bring him back to life. This went on for several minutes, and I’ll never forget the look on her face when we heard a little peep come from him. She was so surprised! She rushed us both into my bed where he and I lay under an electric blanket until he was warm and dry.

That chicken became quite a pet and a neighborhood institution. At first, everyone hated him, because he began crowing at 4am, but as time went by, he became a beloved neighborhood institution as everyone saw him riding on my bicycle handlebars everywhere I went. He lived a long and happy life.

That’s how Mom was.  Nothing was more important to her than raising resilient children, who could fend for themselves and had a good work ethic, but she would do anything to help us, even if she thought there was little chance of it doing any good. What was important was that we knew she was behind us, and it meant so much to each of us to know that we were never alone when times got rough.  Whether it was a simple pat on the back or a helping hand, her steadfast support was always there, and because of that, Marianne, Craig and I have always been able to face whatever came at us, often with strength we didn’t know we had.

As many of you know, Mom was a teacher, but what many of you may not know is what an absolutely wonderful teacher she was. In the classroom, she was strict – she didn’t allow decorum to be breached by anyone – yet her students adored her and many have remained in contact with her throughout the years. They loved her not only because she had a wry sense of humor and irony that she used often, not just because of her amazing talent as a teacher, but because she respected her students and treated them like adults. She knew what many teachers then and now don’t quite get…that when you challenge someone to go beyond their known abilities; you give them the gift of phenomenal growth.

She challenged her children in the same way.  While other children were read nursery rhymes and fairy tales, Mom read us poetry and prose by the greats – T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Edgar Allen Poe and others – from the very beginning of our lives.  As a result, we grew up loving literature as much as she did, and all of us learned to read at an early age.

I can remember reading nursery rhymes and Dr. Suess at the age of five or six and feeling sorry for other kids who had to stick to only that kind of reading.  Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed a little Horton Hears a Who and Green Eggs and Ham as much as the next kid, but even at an early age, I wanted more, and often put down those books to read, instead, The Cask of Amontillado or The Tell-Tale Heart. Craig and Marianne were the same, and Mom let us explore whatever interests we had, whether they matched hers or not, and was always excited to listen as we talked about what we had just seen or done or read as if it were the most interesting subject on Earth.

She also made it her job to ensure we all mastered the English language. As children, we all quickly became accustomed to Mom’s “pop quizzes” as we went about our daily routines. She made a game of having us conjugate verbs, and while that might sound deathly boring, we all loved it. I’m sure, too, that I was the only six year old to know the difference between the subjective case, the objective case, the possessive case, and the nominative case of almost any noun or pronoun.  I asked Mom once why she quizzed us like she did, and she told me that besides it being fun, she wanted us to be able to hold our own in any conversation so people would respect our opinions and take us seriously. And it worked.

The challenges Mom put before us helped us grow in ways that would have otherwise been impossible. Because of her faith in us and our faith that, if we failed, she would always be there to buoy us, we have never been afraid to take chances in life. The need to succeed has been important, but the cost of failure has never been Earth shattering.  Instead, we have been able to take each failure as a learning experience to strengthen our bid for success the next time around. We have Mom to thank for that.

When Mom left us on Monday, one of my first rational thoughts was how much I’ll miss sitting in her living room with her at family gatherings, reading poetry to one another.  No one could read a poem with more feeling and meaning than Mom, and no one more appreciated hearing one read well. A few months ago, Mom’s sister Dora Fay passed away, and Marianne and I took her to Mangum for the funeral.  After the long drive home, even though we were all exhausted, we stayed for a while and pulled out the books and started reading some of our favorite poems to one another. Before long, we were all in tears, filled with the emotion that the poems wrought from us, but also with the emotion engendered by the act itself.

This was a ritual that has remained with our family throughout our lives, and one that we all cherish, so the tears flowed easily. I think party because we knew in our hearts that we wouldn’t be together much longer. Of course, we had no idea how quickly that end would come. Mom was in such good health and mind that we thought she’d be with us for years to come.  So, of course it made me sad to think we’d never sit with family again to share good poetry.

Then it hit me that, because of Mom, that tradition would never really end. Our own children have also grown up at her knee loving good literature, and we have sat together in our own homes reading to one another and sharing tears and joy at the beauty and meaning in those well etched words.  Now, with her passing, those events will be even more meaningful, because we will know in our hearts that this, too, is a gift from Mom that can never be taken away, even though she is no longer in the room with us.

When our father died when we were very young, Mom helped us cope by often reading us a poem by one of her favorite poets, Edna St. Vincent Milay. I think it’s fitting that I end by sharing that poem with you today. It’s called Lament, and while it’s written about a father, but it will always remind us of our mother.

Listen, children:
Your father is dead.
From his old coats
I’ll make you little jackets;
I’ll make you little trousers
From his old pants.
There’ll be in his pockets
Things he used to put there,
Keys and pennies
Covered with tobacco;
Dan shall have the pennies
To save in his bank;
Anne shall have the keys
To make a pretty noise with.
Life must go on,
And the dead be forgotten;
Life must go on,
Though good men die;
Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine;
Life must go on;
I forget just why. 
Mom…we love you dearly and miss you more with each passing day.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a loyal and avid  fan of Stephen King.  I’ve got an entire large bookcase and part of another filled with hard copies of every book he’s ever released. 

When I was getting my Master’s degree in English, many of my peers looked down their noses at me for loving his writing so much.  After all, it was (raise snub nose here) “popular” tripe and mostly horror, certainly not “real” literature. I would venture to guess that most of these people had never read a word of King’s writing, otherwise I have no doubt that their opinions would have changed — at least in secret.

These same people had no idea that he was the author of the novella, The Shawshank Redemption, and the novels The Green Mile and Delores Claiborne, all three made into highly lauded and well respected films.

Interestingly enough, many of those people changed their minds around 2003 when King was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Book Foundation, an honor he shares with the likes of Arthur Miller, Eudora Welty and John Updike. Add to that the O Henry Award, the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and the World Fantasy Award — to name only a few — and anyone would agree that Stephen King has become a well respected author among authors.

I’m proud to say I was ahead of the cusp on this one. I’ve been a fan since I first picked up Carrie in 1975, and I’ve never looked back. Each book has been better than the last, and I’ve read each voraciously, sometimes never stopping until my eyes closed on their own from exhaustion.  One of the first thrills for me, as a Stephen King fan, was realizing that he enjoyed mentioning something from one of his other books in each new book.  I lived to find that snippet, because only a true fan would know it when he or she saw it, and it as like a secret I shared with King himself.

This culminated in King’s epic opus: The Dark Tower, a seven book series that is, without a doubt, the best story I’ve ever read.  Reading it was joyful and painful, because I knew that, once I’d finished the 1000 to 3000 pages in one of the books, it meant I’d have to wait years before I’d get to start the next one.  Still, each time a new book in the series would come out, I’d start again from the beginning and read them all in order, relishing each moment I got to spend with Roland, Eddie, Suzanna, Jake and Oy. With every reading I laughed, I cried, I got angry and sad and happy. In those books, I not only entered worlds where I was completely enthralled, I learned to strive for only the best from myself, because she who does not expect the best from herself has forgotten the face of her father. 

(There is so much more I’d like to say, but I wouldn’t do anything to spoil the story for you. Just trust me when I say that, while you can read just that series and enjoy it completely, the real joy in reading it comes from reading all of King’s books and stories that came before.  Only then can you get the full impact of the tale. And then follow up and read all the books that have come after, and you’ll get a richer enjoyment from them as well.)

I’m currently reading his latest release, Duma Key, which I believe is one of his best books to date. I’m trying so hard to make it last, but as I round the corner to the last 90 pages, it’s so hard to make myself put it down. I love that I see so much of King himself in the protagonist, I love that I know that he’s going to wrench me out of my comfort zone in the end, and I love the story…such a great story.

King once said in one of his forwards or afterwards (I can’t remember which, but he writes them for his “constant readers,” and I am one of them.) that he enjoys taking his readers by the hand and walking with them around dark corners. (I’m paraphrasing, of couse.) It’s that feeling of being taken by the hand as I enter a foreign, dark and scary place that I love the most about Stephen King. He’s so much more than a horror novelist, so much more than a “popular” writer.

If you are one of the sad few who have never read his books and stories, I suggest a few of my favorites: The Stand (This is my favorite of his novels — I prefer the original version.), The Shining, Hearts of Atlantis, Lisey’s Story (Oh, my GOSH, what a beautiful story Lisey’s Story is!), Duma Key and, of course, The Dark Tower. (And if you read The Dark Tower, don’t forget to pick up his anthology, Everything’s Eventual, when you are finished with the series, so you can read the short story, The Little Sisters of Eluria and be happily surprised.)

And remember, he doesn’t just write horror. The Dark Tower isn’t horror, The Talisman isn’t horror, Lisey’s Story, isn’t horror, The Shawshank Redemption isn’t horror.

Have I convinced you yet? If not, let me take you by the hand as we walk around this dark corner. Don’t worry; I’ll protect you, and if I kiss you in the dark, please don’t be afraid. It’s only a kiss between friends.

I have visited
my father’s grave
(I cannot tell you how I feel;
I do not know myself.)
But, there I stood
and looked at      His Stone
and touched its coolness, and ran
my fingers along its grooves
and crevices      bitterly empty
and thought,

“This is as close as
I can ever come to knowing
your existence.

(Pictures don’t do it –
they are images of a man
long dead.)

But, you are here
[or what is left of you]
You are here, and it’s
the story of our lives:

Six feet separate
our physical selves. Six
feet that might as well
be six million…

Six feet.

And, still, I can’t touch
you, and, still, I have no                (one)
proof that you once were.
Here you are — forever
beyond my reach.”

I visited my father’s grave
and stood above him
thinking darkening thoughts
that made me want
to rip with ragged fingernails, to
grasp a shred of
rotted flesh and paper
bone. Thinking that,
if I didn’t turn to leave,

(and soon)

that I might make it so.

And, so,
judging my sanity
and the half moons of
my nails
innocent for now,
I turned and left the digging
for another day.

Copyright 7-26-1990
by Margaret Floeter
(All rights reserved.)

We live in an age of 24/7 television. No matter what time of day it is, if you turn on the tube, something will be playing. In fact, a LOT of somethings will be playing. With channels that go into the 500s, it’s no wonder.

But it wasn’t always that way.

In the 60s and most of the 70s, I lived in a household that got four local VHF channels that corresponded to the big three - ABC, NBC and CBS - plus PBS, the educational channel, and 3 UHF channels that were independent channels, two that showed very old reruns and movies and one that was strictly religious. These latter channels were local, but because reception depended on an antenna, and we had a very good antenna, one of them came all the way from DFW.

To get a Dallas channel in Lawton, OK was a big deal, and I was happy to have that extra channel. It showed great old cartoons like Crusader Rabbit and the old Popeyes, the ones where Popeye made absolutely hilarious comments under his breath. Most kids just watched Popeye for the surface story, but I tuned in for those comments. I never clued the other kids in about them, either. Half the fun was knowing I was the only one getting the real joke.

With so few channels, you would think that there would be slim pickings when it came to programming, but I don’t remember struggling much to find something to watch - certainly not more than I do now. I suppose I would have chosen other programs had I had a greater choice, but it was kind of nice watching things I wouldn’t normally watch. I learned a lot that way.

Inevitably, though, night would fall and soon all the channels began signing off one by one. I often stayed up late just to watch one particular sign off that was made by the US Air Force. As a lover of poetry, I was drawn to the poem being recited and the fact that it was written by an Air Force pilot who died in the line of duty. I particularly loved the end, because I knew it said exactly what pilots must feel.

I spent a lot of time looking for the exact version I heard as a child and finally came across it here: 

I hope you enjoy it. :)

Of course, the night wasn’t over until the static started, and before that happened, we saw three things:

  1. The National Association of Broadcasters’ Seal of Good Practice - I never understood why all the stations insisted on displaying this image. I guess it was supposed to prove that they were following the rules, though I was never quite sure what those rules were.
  2. The Test Pattern - This was a very interesting image. Notice the Indian Chief in the middle. (Sorry, that’s what we called Native Americans back then. No offense intended.) I always thought that was a very odd thing to have in a test pattern, but apparently it was important, because all versions of the test pattern contained that guy’s picture in some form.
  3. The Color Bars - These were always accompanied by a tone that droned on and on. I think this was intended to wake us up, so we could turn off the TV, since no one would be crazy enough to be up watching it otherwise.

Once I’d made it through the video and all three of these images, I felt like I’d won and could give up the day to sleep at last. It was a satisfying feeling, and the world was as it should have been, each day with a defined beginning and ending.

I miss that a little bit. It’s nice to stay up and watch TV late into the night, but it would be comforting to see a test pattern or hear that tone droning on. It would make me feel like someone was out there looking out for us, like Mom and Dad used to. “Go to bed, kiddies. The test pattern is on. Nothing to see here.”

Instead, I think I’ll go out and catch an old rerun somewhere. Waking up on the couch at 3am isn’t so bad.