Monday, February 17, 2020

Goodbye to Jeanne Howard Writes

I don't even remember the exact year.

It was during my tenure at Lower Camden County Regional High School in Winslow Township that I started learning the basics of building a website. So it must have been in the mid-90s.

In 2001, I published a romance novel, Seasons of Forgetting, using iUniverse as the company to produce the book. I thought it was a masterpiece that would bring me Nora Robertsesque fame and fortune.

It was no masterpiece. It went nowhere and no one knew it existed.

So I built my first website, Jeanne Howard Writes, using the pseudonym I thought was just catchy enough to draw attention. Never mind there was already a famous Howard, Linda by name, who was in a league far above mine.The site was pretty and so was I in the glamour shot I'd paid for. It was hard to recognize myself in that professionally made-up and dressed gal in the head shot.

When I wrote the second novel, Jared's Promise, and signed on with Wings ePress to produce the ebook and the paperback, I brought Seasons of Forgetting with me. 
It got a new cover and a fresh edit and was by far a better book than the first attempt.
My friends, and even a lot of people I didn't know, read both books and claimed they stayed up at night until the finished them, piles of damp tissues next to their chairs. Bless them, they kept my confidence in myself as a writer alive for a very long time.

But, I don't write novels any more. After the second one, whatever Muse that had visited me fled, taking storylines, ideas and new characters with her to gift to others. Instead of writing, I spend hours each day editing the writing of others, all of them more versatile, prolific and determined to tell their stories than I was.

But I kept the old website alive, reluctant to toss all the work it took to design it into the computer's trash bin. xUntil yesterday. Yesterday, I did it.

With one keystroke, I sent it into oblivion. It wasn't as sad an occasion as I thought it would be.

It was just necessary to turn the page, to look ahead instead of back.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Hearts and Flowers

He was nearly eighty-five.
She was a mere youngster of eighty.
Together, they’d raised a family of eleven children to adulthood.
There had been others... those who died at birth or in infancy but were never forgotten.
In stereotypical Italian fashion, they lived in a large homestead on a big corner property in Atlantic County, New Jersey. As the children grew, they helped the family by working in the gigantic truck garden that supplied some of the food for their generous table.
Many of the children went to college…the boys in particular…while all attained a level of
accomplishment that would make any parent proud.
The unmarried children lived at home, helping with the chores as their parents aged. Finally, they held the responsibility for the entire household…its financing, upkeep and the family activities that never seemed to cease.
Because my mother’s sister married into this clan of Cairones, we were often guests at the Sunday feasts. It’s a memory that often comes back when one of my kids asks if she can bring someone to dinner and I’m tempted to refuse.
No one was ever refused a place at Cairones’.
The dining room dominated the entire household. And the table literally filled the room. Only the very slender attempted to move about once everyone was seated…there was no room to maneuver around the table, except for the chairs at the doorways to adjoining rooms.
Out of one of those rooms came some of the best Italian food ever produced…the Cairone kitchen sent forth mountains of spaghetti, roast beef, salads, vegetables and always a dessert or two.
Grandmother Cairone, petite and dainty, always presided over the dinner and made sure everyone ate plenty.
Grandfather Cairone was a quiet man.
As a kid, I often wondered what he was like when he was young, since his silence didn’t betray many personality traits. Even allowing for my age, I knew enough to figure he must have said something within this brood…must have done something that encouraged them all…to have ended up with such fine offspring.
As a romantic teenager, I wondered what kind of marriage these two people had.
Of course I knew they’d done their bit and more for posterity by helping to populate the planet, but I wondered how much was just family-arranged pairing and how much was real feeling.
Did they really love each other like the stars in the brand new television shows they called soap operas?
Was there any passion in their lives as they struggled and worked to support so many children?
Did they genuinely care for each other or was their married life staying power simply done because it was the “right” thing to do?
In many years of Sunday dinners, I never saw or heard anything that might betray any emotion.

One Sunday, just before I left home to go off to college, we were again at the Cairones’ dinner table.
Grandmother, having serious health problems, reigned over the family from a chair nearby.
My mother, who operated a small beauty shop in our home, had brought her cutting shears with her to do Grandmother’s hair. Illness had made it hard to handle, since its generous length had never been shorn, but tucked securely into a large knot at the nape of her neck.
With her eyes closed against the shock of the loss of her hair, Grandmother allowed Mom to
cut it away.
A few minutes later, sporting a stylish, shorter “do,” she opened her eyes and checked the reactions of those around her for a hint as to the result.
None of us really mattered, though, as she finally settled on her husband and said in that tiny voice of hers, “Well? How do I look?”
His reaction has stayed with me all these years.
It’s been my definition of a perfect Valentine.
He rose from his chair, walked unsteadily to hers and knelt painfully in front of this woman he’d lived with for well over sixty-five years.
Taking her perfect little oval face in both his work-worn hands, he whispered, just loudly enough for her and those of us nearest to her to hear, “Antoinette, you’re always beautiful to me.”
That love was no accident, no sham.
It was what many seek throughout their lifetimes, but never achieve.
It was lovely to behold, those two aged souls having eyes for only each other in a room of
noisy onlookers.
Grandmother died shortly after that.
Grandfather lived a few years longer, but in near silence and increasing frailty.
Life without the one was nothing for the other.
They gave meaning to the words “I love you.”
Even though we never heard them uttered.