Diana Edwards: Looking for Winter

Diana Edwards remembers an approaching winter in Massachusetts. She now lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

The November landscape was beige and brown, and once-soft grass crunched as we crossed the hill toward the pond. We went down to the water’s edge where we could see the ice crystals in the mud and the thin layer of winter forming around the pond’s edge.

“It’s coming!” we shouted.

Then each of us broke off a thin piece of ice and popped it onto our tongue.  The wind and cold whistled up our jacket sleeves and down the space near our collars, but we didn’t mind too much.  We made our way along the shore pushing past the stiff, brittle remains of summer. We served as the ride for the hitch-hiking seeds of fall; while the thorns on the wild berry branches scratched our cheeks and the back of our hands.

We tromped along the shore to the dam at the edge of the pond near the road that fall, when I was nine or ten. Our father built the dam that formed the pond. Many times we watched him pull a wooden slat from the top of the dam when the water was high – spilling some of the pond to the brook that ran under the road, past the orchard, to a lower pond and still another dam. I’d seen him standing on a near-dry brook bed right below the dam one summer, when he said Massachusetts was desperate for rain. That cold 1950s day, we stood at the edge of the dam and stuck a toe out toward the top plank that held the water in place. The surface was slippery and we decided not to balance the short distance to the other side. In the summer, with bare feet, it was an easy feat.

We retraced our steps along the shore and sat for a while on cold board benches that faced the fire pit at the edge of the pond.  We talked about ice skating – spins and skating backwards. I dreamed about velvet, fur-trimmed skating skirts.  We poked the fire pit with long sticks and balanced atop the benches. We longed for marshmellows, hot chocolate, and popcorn. In the distance, we heard Mother ringing the bell for us to come in.  We tossed the sticks aside and raced across the field to the house.

“I hosie telling about the ice!” my sister shouted.

Linda Thornburg: Tribute To Kay

Linda  Thornburg runs the Memories Into Story website.

My friend Kay died Saturday April 21 at 3:20 a.m. I spent three hours with her about seven hours prior to her death. When her roommate Nick called and said she was dying and could I get to the hospital, I have to admit I thought about not going. And then I thought that if it were me in that hospital bed, I would want her there. My presence probably made no difference to her; she was heavily sedated and not conscious. But her open mouth moved when someone said something interesting. Nick and his girlfriend Katie talked to her as if she could hear them. I found it harder to do. The only thing I could think to say was that I loved her. Then I squeezed her hand.

Having that time with her was a way to say goodbye, even though I didn’t know I needed that. There were only two chairs in the hospital room. Nick and Katie wanted to stay until she passed, which provided an excuse for me to leave. I don’t think I would have been able to stay until the end because of the stress. I wanted to do something and there was nothing to be done.

It happened so fast, this unexpected death. She died of a cancer that spread to her organs and her bones from her lungs. Her doctor told her she could have chemo but it would prolong her life only a month. She said she was ready to go, and then she did.

Kay was one of my best friends these past few years. I cannot yet believe I will not see her again in this life. When another good friend, seventeen years my senior, died of lung cancer ten years ago, I knew it right away even though we had not seen each other for months. She came to me in a dream and lectured me about getting more stability in my life. Kay had been sick and I had spoken with her at least twice a month over the past year and yet her rapid decline and death took me completely by surprise. She thought she had beaten the cancer. I even wrote a column on her recovery for a popular women’s magazine. She begged for more time to review it before we submitted it, saying she had taken a strong antibiotic for a sinus infection and was too dizzy to read the text. Then came an email from Nick saying she had been taken to the ER, where they found cancer in both lungs.

Her declining health started with a colostomy last year. Then there was a hysterectomy, and finally the lung cancer, which, although discovered earlier, she ignored. I asked her after the hysterectomy and radiation treatment for uterine cancer if maybe she should join a cancer survivor support group. She said, no, she didn’t think of herself as a cancer survivor. It wasn’t that she didn’t think she was a survivor; she didn’t want to believe she had cancer. But for her, cancer was not a disease that you could treat only with a positive attitude.

I met Kay at a writer’s event in her hometown and we quickly became friends. She told me in one of our early conversations that her life was devoted to learning about the idea that people create their own reality by the way they think. She was probably one of the most knowledgeable people in the world about many aspects of what she called conscious creation and was writing a book about it. She gave me some exercises to help me see how much of our reality we do indeed create – things like thinking of a color or a piece of music and then finding it everywhere. She also gave me a list of books to broaden my perspective, educate me about how conscious creation was supported by cutting edge scientific research, and get me to think differently about the effect my thoughts could have on me and on others. She told me stories of her friends who had used conscious creation techniques to change their lives.

Every time I was with Kay I enjoyed her, even when she was the sickest. She almost always had courage to face her situation and strive for intellectual honesty. She was a loving, complex and humble person who reached out easily. She opened up my world. She believed there is life after life, and I know that whatever she is experiencing at this moment is good. She told Katie she would be the one waiting in the purple hat to welcome her to the other side. I plan to see her in that hat too.

The loss I feel is tempered with a gratitude for having known her. I have experienced the death of others close to me and had reactions not so sanguine. But today, although I feel loss, I also feel relief that Kay’s suffering is over and that she is on to a new adventure. Perhaps this type of feeling comes with age; perhaps with wisdom. Or perhaps, we just get more selfish as we age and so I don’t feel her death as deeply as some of those earlier deaths. But I don’t think that’s true, because my sense of her is so strong and I feel her love.

Diana Edwards: Season’s End

Diana Edwards is a writer based in Charlottesville, Virginia. This creative non-fiction piece is a  portrait of her grandmother.

Season’s End

Nellie balanced herself with two canes and snailed along the corridor as morning poured through the windows of the worn farmhouse. The sunlit runner warmed her bare feet as she shuffled forward. Her once svelte frame had thickened round the middle, and like a flower nipped by frost, her head tipped slightly forward and her limbs were stiff and angular. Her still keen eyes scanned the old familiar runner that covered the hardwoods in the upstairs hall; she had hooked the floral pattern and the runner held strong after all these years. Deep violets and varying shades of peony wool were still full-bodied and the nap solid. Soft gray hair fell below now-hunched shoulders, caressed the stretch of worn, floor-length lawn, and was corralled by a soft pink ribbon.  Fresh undergarments flopped from her wrist and jerked with each step of the cane, and three hairpins were pinched between her lips. Wood smoke wafting up from the kitchen said that her husband Whitty had stoked the stove and set the kettle on to boil.

The house shuttered softly when the door slammed and the old man left the kitchen, and Nellie heard the crunch of gravel as he crossed the drive toward the barn and chores. She smiled and turned into the bathroom.  Beyond the claw foot tub and the flutter of organdy, she could see acres of new-mown hay waiting for teddering and bailing.

Just inside the door she hooked one cane on the brass rack that held the toilet paper, and supporting herself with the broad lip of the marble sink-surround, she shuffled a few steps across the cool linoleum and hooked the other cane on the right-hand side of the sink before setting her under garments on a chair that was still within reach.  She released the hairpins to a silver dish on the edge of the sink.

Soaking a cloth with warm water she took little notice of the lines of life and laughter reflected in the oak-framed mirror, and with eyes closed against the warm cloth, she counted her blessings. Warm water – fresh out of the tap – was always right up there with all that she treasured. Whitty, of course, was always at the top of her list!  Again, she dipped and squeezed the cloth. Turning gingerly, she hitched up her nightgown before settling onto the solid wooden chair to the right of the sink.

Nellie draped her nightgown over the edge of the tub and pulled her slip on over her head and down to her hips. Then, one leg at a time, she eased her box-like panties over the stiffened ankles and knees, and supporting herself with the edge of the sink, she stood and pulled them to her waist.

“There, that’s that.” She spoke softly to no one and looked out over the meadow as she settled back on the chair.

It hadn’t always been this difficult – this business of getting dressed.  There was nothing to it in the early years – before age and arthritis.

Newly-wedded energy had transformed chores to fun during the early years on the farm. There’d been a pump near the wood shed – a bowl and pitcher, and a copper tub for a full washing.  A porcelain slop-jar sat in the corner.  The floor was wooden then – Whitty hadn’t yet laid the linoleum.

Again, the house shuttered softly – interrupting her thoughts.

She wrapped the pink hair ribbon around the faucet on the tub so it wouldn’t slip away as she brushed the tangles from her hair. With one proficient twist and twirl Nellie pinned the silken tresses to the nape of her neck. Straining against age she stood to hang her nightgown in the narrow closet that was tucked in the corner. Then, standing behind the chair, she waited and remembered.

For seven seasons Whitty did the work of two and saved enough money to buy their farm.  With deed in hand and on bended knee, he’d asked Nellie to be his bride. She and Albert – her Whitty – arrived in the spring of 1899 to begin married life on the hilltop of the small Massachusetts town.

She remembered now when they ran the indoor plumbing for the bathroom and Whitty had scared her half to death the first morning after the pipes were run. With the lid-iron from the wood stove, Whitty had tapped out “I Love You” in Morse code on the hot-water pipe leading from the kitchen stove to the bathroom. She thought the pipes were breaking apart! For years he’d doubled-up laughing about it, and she’d reminded him that it wasn’t she who’d worked as a telegrapher, and would have had no way of “deciphering anything from that racket!”

Decades later Nellie stood near the pipe that snaked up the wall to connect to the tub.  It was silent, but she waited in the corner, hairbrush in hand, for she’d learned to respond with the same sweet song.

Clank!  The first note came from the old man in the kitchen.

Again, Clank! Clank! The lines on Nellie’s gentle face beamed upward and she nodded in tune to the poetry of some sixty years.  Her blue eyes sparkled!

Clank!  Her heart kept time!

Whitty had sent this message nearly every morning since the plumbing went in, and Nellie had been responding in kind for just about as long.

She knew nothing about Morse code, but she was sure she knew enough about music to translate Whitty’s dots and dashes into notes. A few days after that first hair-raising message was sent, Nellie stood ready, pencil poised for the transcription. The next morning she compared his message against the notes she’d made. She knew she had it right!  And wasn’t Whitty startled when she tapped out a response!  He’d run up the stairs and taken her in his arms, laughing all the while!

Again, Clank!

And then Nellie heard a clatter in the distance. For a moment she didn’t move.  Then – in a split second –she dropped her hairbrush, reached for the chair with one hand and unhooked the cane from the sink with the other. Floundering past the toilet she reached her other cane, and headed – stiff joints straining -toward the stairs. A solid banister met Nellie’s iron-clad grip.

“Oh Dear God!” she prayed aloud, “Help me!”

“Whitty!  I’m coming!  I’m coming!” she hollered down the stairwell.

With one cane hooked over the arm that gripped the rail, and using the other cane for balance, she began her descent.

“I’m half-way down!” she shouted.

“Whitty! I’m off the stairs!”

Nellie's House

Nellie turned the corner towards the kitchen, calling for her husband as she went. She kept her eyes on the floor as she negotiated the route, but nearing the kitchen she paused to look up.  Only then did she see the coffee spilling slowly from the cup on the floor and Whitty’s arm. At the threshold, she let fall one cane, and clinging to door and knob, lowered herself to the floor and struggled towards her beloved.

With silver hair breaking free of its pins, and draped in her silk-soft slip, she wailed, “Oh, Whitty, don’t leave without saying good-by!”©

Beverly Ann Brown Ball: “Back Home Again in Indiana…” Along the Elkhart River

Sometimes memoir takes the form of poetry. Beverly Ann Brown Ball wrote this poem for her family using a technique called branching after a workshop on writing memoirs in the summer of 2011.

I was born in Elkhart Township,

in Elkhart County,

along the Elkhart River

(in north-cental Indiana),

when my father was Elkhart County

Agricultural Agent –

My mother used to tease me saying


She almost named me ‘Elkhart’!

‘Along the Elkhart River’ …

is where I was born;

It’s where, after dark & a long dusty day in the fields,

it’s where,

70 years or so ago,

I remember the excitement of being afloat & paddling –

my very first swimming.

Along the Elkhart River,

on Grandpa Brown’s adjoining farm barnyard,

on Sunday afternoons,

Amish courting couples parked their buggies,

went across the bridge to Bruces’

& rented  rowboats –

Brown cousins, too,

played catch in the Elkhart River,

then went running to Bruces



their ball was floating down the river!

In cold weather

these Brown cousins ice skated

beside the shore of the Elkhart River –

Years later,

(in the 90s’),

when we both worked in the

the Elkhart County Courthouse,

during lunch break,

Alice took me to her home,

‘Down by the Riverside’,

where we had played

& called to one another across the river

when we were girls growing up –

(as had  her mother

& Aunt Catherine,

Until Grandma stopped them,

saying it was “undignified”)

In the early 30s’,

during her cross-country auto trip,

My mother wrote in her diary that

the Elkhart River

was the loveliest spot that she had seen,


When she died,

some 60 years later,

I was glad to stay

with Alice & her husband

so near the Elkhart River

‘Elkhart River’, ‘Elkhart River’,

Elkhart River in Elkhart Township,

Elkhart County, Indiana –

Elkhart River: Here runs some of my Fondest Memories of

Back Home Again in Indiana”


Joyce Amato Moore: Parents’ Life

Joyce Amato Moore is writing about her parents’ life in Italy and the United States. You can contact her at joyce@rggld.org with feedback or information about Misilmeri, Trapani or Palermo.


I want you to meet Giusto D’Amato and Concetta Maria Milazzo. Neither is born in 1900, but they are destined to meet each other and fall in love. This is more than their love story.   This is their story of perseverance and commitment.
Before I introduce Giusto, I need to introduce the place where he was born.  What happens in this time and place shaped his life before his life was even conceived.   Misilmeri is a village in Sicily rising out of a hilly agricultural area. When the story begins less than 8,000 people live there.   Misilmeri derives its name from Arabic, meaning ‘the summer home of the Emir’. It has a rich history and records that go back almost a thousand years.
In Misilmeri pivotal decisions and sometime actions were made by men of power. Just outside of the village, the Normans fought in 1062 to gain control of Misilmeri and the valley. Two years later the Normans went on to conquer Palermo.  The Norman Conquest of Sicily brought it into an enlightened period where all religions were tolerated. This was two years before another group of Normans invaded England. In the spring of 1860 in Misilmeri’s main square Garibaldi finalized his plan of attack to free Palermo from the Bourbon rule.
Perhaps Misilmeri attracted and kept independent minded people early in its history. Perhaps it contained a higher ratio of people willing to respect the curious beliefs of others in order to live in peace. One thing is certain. In Misilmeri there was tolerance for freedom of thought, as long as each group kept their dignity by keeping their own beliefs within their group. It was here where Giusto’s family lived for hundreds of years.
By no means are the D’Amatos nobles or of ‘high birth’.  For centuries in Sicily, and still in 1900 people were considered either of high birth or peasants. The D’Amato name tells that the family is ‘of the Amato’s’ – a people formerly owned, indentured, or working for the Amato family.
In 1900 Pietro and Caterina D’Amato, Giusto’s parents, have been married for ten years. Physically they are a striking couple. He is six foot six inches tall in a time when most men are no taller than five foot five. Caterina is as tall, if not taller, than most of the men in Misilmeri.
To someone in the twenty-first century they might appear cool, even distant or unaffectionate.  This was not true about either of them, especially towards each other.  But the culture of the times dictated that affection never be shown in public, not even between married couples. Affection was something to be displayed only in the privacy of one’s one home.
Pietro at 26 and Caterina at 22 were older than many others in their village when they married. The initial discussions that led to their arranged marriage started between their families because Pietro was the only unmarried man taller than Caterina. Discussion concluded when Pietro saw the value of this woman with dark chocolate eyes and mocha colored hair, who was not afraid of hard work and when directly asked her opinion spoke her mind, but generally preferred to let her actions speak for her.
 It was ingrained into Petro’s nature to be an astute observer — to the point that even when he didn’t want see things in people’s behavior he generally could not help himself.  Still, it took awhile for Pietro to discover Caterina’s attributes. While the D’Amato and Lo Franco families negotiated, he used every occasion he could to secretly observe Caterina away from the required formal meetings between their families. As was the custom, Caterina never left her house unless she was escorted by a male relative, who needed to be older than twelve, or she was in the company of two married women. Pietro could barely see her hair, covered as it was by the ever present, ever required shawl she wore when she went outside.
In 1900, their only living child was eight-year-old Nunzia, their first born. Giovanni, their first surviving son, was born in 1902, their second son, Giusto was born in 1904, and Angelina in 1906. Four other children were born to Pietro and Caterina and died either in infancy or at a young age in the years between Nunzia and Giovanni.
In Pietro’s family each generation worked hard and each bought a small parcel of land closest the last parcel purchased. While Pietro was quietly proud that he now had enough land to grow sufficient amounts of oranges, olives, and lemons to sell in Palermo, Caterina quietly worried that they might not have enough sons to work with him to make a good life. She tried not to be too protective of her children, but she had lost two sons and two daughters so young. 
These were Giusto’s parents and family, and the village where he started his life. The place he began his path with twists and turns like the road to Palermo; a path that took him to the love of his life. As Giusto’s and Concetta’s story unfold, the alternating chapters will be in their own voices.©