Monday, January 28, 2013

Semicolon Junkie

I am a semicolon junkie; I absolutely crave semicolons and use them as often as I can in my writing. 

Using a semicolon is a deliberate, stylistic choice; as a result, I love them.

The semicolon is dual in nature; it resembles both the comma and the period, and its function is a little of both. When used in place of either, the eye flies over it almost as fast as it would a comma; however, it also yields for a nanosecond (but doesn’t come to a complete stop) like it would for a period. 

The primary function of a semicolon is to connect two closely related sentences (main clauses or thoughts); consequently, the savvy eye knows to search for the connection.  It might be in the form of an extended explanation; it might be in the form of a comparison or a contrast (most often an antithetical statement).

It mends the comma splice; it fixes the run-on sentence; it signals a pause when in the presence of a conjunctive adverb or a transitional expression.

Sometimes the semicolon is used to thin a congestion of commas in a sentence; it can also eliminate a surplus of short sentences in a paragraph. By substituting for unnecessary or clumsy conjunctions, prepositions and other excess wordage, the sentence is streamlined; its meaning is tightened. The semicolon can also bundle a series of short sentences into denser, more complex sentences; thereby, it smoothes the paragraph’s choppy staccato into a more liquid rhythm. 

The next time you encounter a semicolon in print, stop and marvel at this mysterious maverick of the punctuation world; furthermore, challenge yourself to use the semicolon more often in your writing.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

Family Album

It sits on the very top shelf of the bookcase, gathering dust.  To get it down I have to climb on a chair though my knees are weak and I am not as limber as I once was. Black marker on a torn piece of masking tape stuck on its front cover says that it is mine, made for me by my mother twenty-odd years ago when I thought I had lost all my family albums.  
Remembrances of yesterdays –
1968- a black and white, 5 X 7, a family portrait taken the summer after I graduated from high school and was to start college and before my older brother got drafted and ended up in Vietnam. Seven of us smile back to someone or something stage right.  We were all younger, thinner, more na├»ve back then. If I could go back in time, what would I say to each of them?  Would they listen?
1973 – a faded 8 X 10 wedding picture done in some golden hue that was supposed to make everything look romantic.  It is one of the few I did not rip into pieces and throw into the fireplace.   The dreams and the promises of that day are as faded as the portrait. To regret that marriage and wish it had never happened would be to regret my three children.  To regret that fated relationship would be to regret the lessons learned.
1953 – a 3 X 5, black and white studio picture of a little sister smiling at her frowning brother.  She steals the show as he watches. Now that he is gone there is no way to make up for lost time and lost moments.  
1975 – a small Polaroid of three smiling women and a baby.  My mother holds my son in his baptismal outfit.  My grandmother and I stand beside her. The baby stares at the camera and the commotion, not realizing the importance of the four generations, not realizing that we live on through our children.
1992 – a color photo captures a young boy (ten or so) holding a Spurs jersey up to his chest.  Christmas wrappings lie everywhere.  A very young (and thin) me smiles at him.  It is obvious that I love him.
1957 – a black and white school photo, wallet size, of a little girl in a Catholic school uniform.  I smile into the camera, oblivious of the missing teeth and the terrible home perm my mother gave me. I don’t care.  Life for a second grader is nothing but great.  
1950 – a home photo, black and white, with a beautiful embroidered edge.  A six-month-old, barefoot baby girl in a pink sundress fights to stand. Nothing will keep her down. My handsome daddy, always the gentleman, offers his arm and I accept eagerly.  I cannot wait to get on with this life.  I cannot wait to live and learn and love.

Monday, January 14, 2013


You wake up in the morning and the day laughs at your pain. It is sunny and bright, cheerful and promising; everything opposite of how you feel. 

You count the days in minuses.  First a few seconds separate you from the person you loved, then the seconds melt into minutes and hurry into hours.  The minuses become days, weeks, and months.

You reach into a drawer, a closet, a cabinet and find you didn’t get rid of everything as well as you thought. Memories hide in the most unsuspecting places.  

You hear a voice and you turn, a smile on your face, ready to answer, forgetting for one second that it is not him or her.

You think of a question, hear a joke, remember a story and you reach for the phone before you realize he won’t answer at the other end.

A couple holds hands, a baby cries, you overhear a conversation , and you pray no one saw the look of grief on your face before you walked away.

Why wasn’t he more careful, more obedient, more diligent? Did he not know how much he would be missed?  Did he not realize how much his death would affect everyone?

You regret words you said or didn’t, you miss all the moments you shared or didn’t, you wish you had stolen one more kiss, hug or smile. Unfinished business will forever stay unfinished.

You yell at anything and anyone – God, the loved one, the accident, the disease, the passing of time - realizing that nothing assuages your pain.

But most wounds heal.  They might leave a scar but they heal. The wound that surrounds your heart, that empty space, will one day fill instead with good memories, with forgiveness, with acceptance. It was better to have known and lost than to have never known at all.  

Monday, January 7, 2013

Pretty in Pink

I love all my siblings but M and I have a special bond, one forged by the same traumatic, childhood experience – we both survived our mother’s attempt to dress us in haute couture at holidays. (Or about as haute couture as one can get in suburbia in the late fifties/early sixties off the Sears sales rack.)

M and I dreaded major holidays because we knew that somewhere lurking among the gaily-wrapped Christmas presents or among the cellophane-covered Easter baskets were our dreaded holiday outfits.

Mom would pull them out with a flourish and force us to wear them to church – stiff, itchy, girly dresses with big poufy sleeves and huge sashes she would tie into enormous bows that bounced off our backsides like old-fashioned bustles.

We weren’t allowed to complain that we hated the dresses or that the material gave us rashes or that we hated the colors. They came in pink and yellow – colors that never complimented our skin tones –, or worse yet, one Christmas M and I had to wear outfits in fat, horizontal neon stripes; I was orange and M was lime green.  This may be why we now have extensive wardrobes in basic black.

Sometimes she made us wear so many petticoats that we took up most of the back seat of the Ford and more than our share of the church pew.  We looked like fat Q-tips. Sometimes they had so many ruffles and so much lace that we looked like court jesters.
Oh but our misery didn’t end there – oh no, there were also HATS.

M and I inherited the thin, baby fine, Martinez hair.  It has a mind of its own and refuses to be styled, regardless how much goo or spray is loaded onto it. Mom would perch these flat, little hats decorated in lace and ribbons and floppy flowers on our heads.  She would either pin them into our scalp with mean, old hat pins or secure them with frilly ribbons under our chins.  I felt like Ma Kettle a ‘going to market, and from the terror in my sister’s face, she wasn’t too happy either.  

The piece de resistance of all the hats we wore over the years was the furry, white headband Mom bought each of us one Christmas.  The fake fur gave off so much static, it hissed and crackled like a mean, old, alley cat. It even wrapped itself around our stringy hair just like a cat does when it loves its master.

The headbands dug into our scalps, giving us headaches.  They were so small that they would slowly work their way up our heads, threatening to launch off at any moment, so Mom would bobby pin them into our scalps, making the headache even worse.  Our complaints were ignored; we were told to hush. 

Something had to be done.

I decided to hide one of the hats (maybe throw it away) but knew that I would be the unlucky one to have to wear the survivor, so I hid both of them in a back bedroom under some blankets we never used and never moved.  Mom searched for them and searched for them, accusing us of hiding them. I was able to lie my innocence until she left me alone. In our hurry to get to church, Mom pulled out some less offensive chapeaus, hats that Laura Ingalls probably wore in Little House in the Prairie.

Our torture stopped when our baby sister came along.  We were teenagers by then and more able to resist, so Mom turned her attention to her.   The torture may have stopped but not the memory.

When my sister and I get together it does not take long before one of us will mention the hats and the outfits, and that’s all it takes to start the laughter and to remind us of our special bond.