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Hidden History and ADGD

Hidden History and ADGD
by Brenda Wilbee
​​I CAN NEVER LEAVE WELL ENOUGH ALONE. When my father asked me to do something with his memoir nineteen years ago I could have just published it. But no, ever the over-acheiver and infinitely curious, I am two decades later thick in the hidden history of "the Wilbees."

If Dad writes of memory lane, I write the landscape. Maps, photos, sidebars, history dating back to 1694. I'm currently finishing up his chapter on Little Grandpa, a real character who, before his life was over, created a bit of tension in the family—and sometimes down at the police station.

I MEET A MOOSE

I MEET A MOOSE
by Brenda Wilbee
"This Could Have Gone Wrong In So Many Ways."
DRIVING SOUTH ON THE AlCan HIGHWAY, I zippity-zipped up behind a double tanker full of liquid hydrogen peroxide. Not so crazy about trailing such a monster, I waited for a straight shot in the road to pass. No sooner had I cleared the truck and gotten myself back onto our side of the highway when another twist in the road took me around a bend, onto about a football field of straightaway. On the 75-yard line ahead, on the other side of the road, a moose. Walking away from me.
.

Absolute clarity took over my mind.

Fear and Faith and a Squished Banana

Fear and Faith and a Squished Banana
by Brenda Wilbee

My first memory is of fear—and faith.

I am three. The month is May and cherry blossoms are in full bloom. My mother and father and big sister climb the high, very wide steps ahead of me. I dawdle in the hum of bees and a breeze. The door slams shut at the top of the stairs. I startle. I'm alone!

What is WRONG With Me? (I'm an Orchid.)

What is WRONG With Me? (I'm an Orchid.)
by Brenda Wilbee
HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED how some people can be Mean Girl behind the scenes while publicly charming? Leaving you in a wilt? I attended a writers workshop the other day and there SHE was. Mean Girl with her smiley face a square on my computer screen. She smiled and charmed, and was oh-so-helpful and witty and wise while I spent six hours wondering why I could not function. I couldn't even manage to speak. Six hours! Why could I not get myself together? What was wrong with me?

Love and Succor In Civil War - and Beyond

Love and Succor In Civil War - and Beyond
by Brenda Wilbee
"Moon went out the night we ran away, but all I kept thinking was they gonna find us and we gonna be in for a beating. Maybe they’d kill us. Or maybe send me or Calvin away. Or maybe take my baby. By the time we got to the Union camp I couldn’t hardly breathe, I was so scared. And tears was running down my face. Sure enough, wasn’t two days later when Massah showed up at camp. . ."

Some Kind of Story

Some Kind of Story
by Brenda Wilbee
ARRIVING AT METEOR RANCH, May 16, 1962:
LATE ON THE THIRD AFTERNOON, California’s suffocating heat roared off the pavement and slammed with a punch through Betsy’s open windows. Tresa had her head hanging out again, looking like a fish too long off the ice. Her freckles were turning green too, but I was too sweaty and miserable to bother warning her

Mum plucked her map off the dash. We’d gone west into rumpled and fuzzy hills—looking like Paul Bunyan had shaken his bedding and let the blankets fall willy-nilly—and were now driving north for a change. Clear Lake popped in and out of view on Dad’s side. On mine, the rumpled hills sloped up in waves, thick with yellow grass and spotted through with oak trees, a soft and lazy land I decided—though a bit lonely in the gathering shadows. . .

MEMOIR #3: PICK AND CHOOSE

MEMOIR #3: PICK AND CHOOSE
by Brenda Wilbee
MEMOIR #3: PICK AND CHOOSE
MEMOIR is not autobiography. Autobiographies are for famous people. Autobiographies rely on the facts of a person’s life to chronicle their journeys to fame, power, wealth, talent, and triumph—like Helen Keller in her The Story of My Life. Memoirs, however, use life to serve a larger theme or idea—like J. R. Moehringer in his memoir, made into film, The Tender Bar. The story is less about J.R. and more about his identity, a bigger issue that drove J. R.’s day-to-day.

Autobiography focuses on Joe Friday’s “just the facts, Ma’am.” Memoir relies on emotions and epiphany. Readers pick up memoir not because they care two hoots about the writer but because readers like what memoirists offer: universal themes and resolution to existential crises.

But it leaves me in writing a memoir with two major problems . . . 

Barbie Doll and Missing Body Parts

Barbie Doll and Missing Body Parts
by Brenda Wilbee
AFTER BREAST CANCER and mangled attempts at reconstruction, I was looking a bit like Birch Bay Drive of WA State after a vicious storm took the road out. My friend Judy was a buoy during the storm, keeping my head above water. But she wasn't a lot of help when the tide went out and it was time to face the damage. No one was. And I wasn't about to take my clothes off just to show folks exactly what we're dealing with here.

Here's the truth, and trust me. . . 

Memoir #2: Reflection vs Documentation

Memoir #2: Reflection vs Documentation
by Brenda Wilbee

MEMOIR #2: REFLECTION Vs DOCUMENTATION
TO WRITE ABOUT OUR "UNRULY PAST" (as Laura Kalpakian names her own delicious memoir!) is by necessity a distortion of "fact" in order to name "truth." Away back when, we didn't have the words needed to name our experience. It's only time, education, and perspective that gives us the articulation we now need to make sense of what was. A memoirist therefore revisits her past with tools to reflect truth rather than document it. Except we run into a few dilemmas.

A first is . . .

"I Am Born" - Tinsy Winsy

"I Am Born" - Tinsy Winsy
by Brenda Wilbee
Tinsy Winsy opened her eyes. Where am I? she wondered, blinking two times and looking around curiously. “What an interesting room, it isn’t finished!”

She was right of course about the room. The walls were up all right, but they weren’t painted. The windows were in, but they had no glass. The floor was there, but it had no carpet. And in the middle of the floor, goodness, stood two rickety old saw horses with a long skinny tree lying down on them! Yessireebob, a tree! With all its branches sawn off, and most of its bark, too. Now what is a tree doing in a house, Tinsy Winsy wondered, more curious than ever.

A Christmas Story, Grimm Brothers

A Christmas Story, Grimm Brothers
by Brenda Wilbee
ONCE UPON A TIME a shoemaker by no fault of his own became so poor he had leather for one pair of shoes. In the evening he cut out them out. In the morning; he'd make this final pair. That night, he lay quietly down in his bed, commended himself to God, and fell asleep.

In the morning after he'd said his prayers and was about to sit down to work, the two shoes stood quite finished on his table. He was astounded! He took the shoes in his hands to more carefully examine. Not one bad stitch in them! Masterpieces both. . .

Reflection: Grownup Coloring Books, All the Rage

Reflection: Grownup Coloring Books, All the Rage
by Brenda Wilbee

Rain slides down the windows. My sisters and I are at the kitchen table, coloring. We’re chatting.

“Do you know where the silver is?” Tresa might ask.

“No,” I might say.

Linda might find it on the floor. Maybe she rummages through the 300 million crayons we keep in a Peak Freans cookie tin; most with rounded noses, peeling paper, and smelling of wax and something else perfectly and gloriously wonderful.

“What are you going to color silver?” is something I might ask.

The point is, coloring was a way for my sisters and I to enjoy each other’s company on a rainy afternoon and apparently exercise our brains, find focus, calm down, and choose colors that can heal. In recent years, adult coloring has become quite the “thing.”

So what’s the deal?

Memoir #1: On Making Stuff Up

Memoir #1: On Making Stuff Up
by Brenda Wilbee
MEMOIR #1: ON MAKING STUFF UP

"Your writing strength is scene, Brenda," so says Laura Kalpakian, a mentor of sorts. "Play to your strengths. You've zipped right through this narrative. What does the courtroom look like? Who's there? What is being said?"

The thing is, I didn't want to overly dwell on my great-great-grandfather and his day in court. I only wanted to establish the faith of grandfathers as a long-standing heritage that both helped and hindered me. Besides, Sarratt, England, doesn't and didn't have a court house. The village is a hole-in-the-wall about 30 miles NW of London and I'm not really sure where the hearing took place. More to the point, do I really want to make a scene of it?

Sweetbriar Updated and Illustrated: Chap 1

Sweetbriar Updated and Illustrated: Chap 1
by Brenda Wilbee
Louisa tried to pray, but the words came hard. She wasn’t accustomed to kneeling at her bed fully clothed, and thoughts of her plans kept interrupting. It felt even stranger to be lying in bed with her shoes on, the blankets piled high. But she couldn’t run the risk of Ma coming in and finding her dressed. The blankets would have to stay.

i am engaged

i am engaged
by Brenda Wilbee

FIFTY YEARS AGO, flu had been going around the small Southern Baptist college I attended. I was ill, running a temperature; nonetheless, I’d been dragged off to church. Sunday night. Halloween. Full moon. Service finally over, the man I’d reluctantly been dating turned off Camelback Road of Phoenix, Arizona, onto the college campus. But instead of driving straight on and taking the road that ran out to the girls’ dormitory, Norris made an immediate right and came to a stop outside the library—a hunkered down building of stone that sat square on its haunches to stare through blank windows onto a circular fountain eerily stark and empty. Water turned off for winter.

“What are you doing?”

Meet Narcissa: Chap1, Scene A

Meet Narcissa: Chap1, Scene A
by Brenda Wilbee
The day I met Dr. Whitman, a heavy bank of silver cloud threatened snowfall, pressing low over the house Father had built for us on the forest edge outside of Amity, Allegany County, Western New York State. A house similar to the one he'd built us in Prattsburg, where I'd grown up. He in fact used the same blueprints, giving a sensation of new—yet old and familiar. White clapboard. Green shutters. A narrow porch along the front. A house so new the floorboards had yet to complain. Indoors, fires crackled behind their hearths—parlor excepted. This was being cleaned. But on its mantle and throughout the house lamplight flickered a happy yellow. In the kitchen, heavy condensation beaded the muntins of Mother’s twelve-pane window positioned above the sink while my bread, divided into six loaf pans, fluffed under tea towels atop the cast iron stove. More than the regular baking had to be done today. Prayer concert was at our house tonight and all was a flurry. Dr. Whitman would be here.

I had mixed feelings about the affair...

Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth
by Brenda Wilbee

She Could Out Pray and Out Preach White Patriarchy 
Born a slave in 1797​​​​ on the estate of Colonel Johannes Hardenbergh Jr. - a Revolutionary War hero and wealthy landowner 95 miles north of New York City - Isabella (Belle) was born child #9 to James Baumfree and Elizabeth Bett. She carried no memory of her older siblings; the Colonel had a habit of selling them off. Nor did she remember the Colonel. She was a toddler when he died in 1799.

She did remember his son...

Fugitive Slave Law, Last Straw

Fugitive Slave Law, Last Straw
by Brenda Wilbee
I DIDN’T KNOW when I wrote Sweetbriar that the Boren, Latimer, and Denny families of Cherry Grove, IL, were part of the Underground Railroad and that passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850 was a determining factor in their decision to leave. For everyone in Cherry Grove, three miles south of the main station in Galesburg, IL, this was something of a problem. I’ve added this new information, and even though I might be a little foot loose with the dates, the truth remains...

Justice and Silence. An Unintentional Lesson.

Justice and Silence. An Unintentional Lesson.
by Brenda Wilbee

“Why did you make Santa’s nose that color?” Jerry jeered.

My six-year-old self stiffened, helpless against the red-headed, freckle-faced boy who sat in the desk ahead of me. Daddy had told me Jerry taunted because he liked me. A terrible worry. If boys made fun of you when they liked you, what did they do if they didn’t? I stared at the cherry red crayon in my hand, fire in my cheeks.


“Santa’s nose isn’t cherry!” he sneered. I instantly felt everyone turn to stare and fell to my usual frantic prayer: Jesus, open a hole so I can fall in.


Invisible, no one could hurt me.

An Unheard of Journey for a Woman

An Unheard of Journey for a Woman
by Brenda Wilbee

A LONG TIME AGO, "The Oregon" of North America’s mid-Pacific Coastline was a far-away region jointly accupied by England and America. England’s Hudson’s Bay Company had been there forever and over the years various American companies arrived, all vying for furs provided by native tribes. To The Oregon, then, is where Narcissa headed in 1836 to be a missionary, traveliing with her new husband and, unexpextedly, her old nemesis—bitter because Narcissa had once refused his hand. Awkward...