It’s Five O’Clock


Yes, I took advantage of the snow, the 2 feet of snow, to do a little writing. The first piece I wrote about was a Nor ‘Easter that nearly killed good friends on Mums and how they came to stay with us after they nearly drowned in the lower level of their Drakes Island home.

It’s the second piece, however, that has left me with both perspective and a sense of loss. The piece is entitled A Case of the Blues. As I wrote about my mother’s lack of happiness trying to understand if it was depression, or sadness from a string of unhappy events combined with fears and worries, or something else I hadn’t considered, I couldn’t help by question my role. Did the things I chose to do, add to her sadness?

I would not change the fact that I left Maine and her to pursue my dreams, my life, but I wondered if I could have changed how I responded to her pain and her fear. The answer is a clear, yes. I could have been more understanding. I could have been kinder. With the things I could have changed, there was one thing I did right. Mum so desperately wanted to be involved in my life. Some would argue she lived vicariously through me. Perhaps that is true. Regardless, the truth is I wanted to share my life with her. So nearly every evening (weekday, not as much on the weekends), I called my mother around 5:00 p.m. – the cocktail hour, and we talked about our respective days.

Even now, nearly 20 years after her death, my internal alarm clock goes off letting me know it’s five o’clock – time to call Mum.


Photo courtesy of

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Let it Snow…

Snow, snow, snow…


To some the fluffy white stuff means shoveling and inconvenience. To me, snow means time to write.

So I’ve been getting amped up like a school kid since last night when the snow predictions began rolling in. When I got up this morning, the predictions called for 8-12 inches falling on Saturday. By the time I got to work, the predictions ranged from 8-24+ inches of snow for the greater Philadelphia area. Yes, that was a potential for TWO FEET of snow.

I could already envision myself setting up at the dining room table, looking out as the snow fell, heavy at times, maybe even blizzard conditions. As the snow fell, my mind would be churning out more stories about Mum. I would look up from my laptop every so often, take a sip of my steaming tea, take a bite of a fresh chocolate chip cookie, and smile as the wind whipped the snow around in the back yard, feeling the urge to get up and measure the accumulation every couple of hours.

It was easy to envision because two years ago during three separate snow events, I wrote and revised, and revised again, until I finished what would be the final draft of my young adult novel. After a final read and copyediting, I’m now querying agents.

The only problem…the weather forecasters are all over the place. As of this evening, the totals for my neighborhood have dropped from 2+ feet to less than 6 inches. If it snows, even for a few hours, I will sit and write, but if it is a complete bust, I’ll likely be out of the house doing “other” non-writing things.

There is still time for things to shift. I’m hoping the shift will be in the write direction. I’d like to write about the storm we had one Christmas, I was maybe 4 or 5, and a huge pain in the ass. It was the Christmas when I got the kitchen set, the baby doll carriage, and other larger things. When we got home after being away for a couple of days, the snowdrifts in our driveway were taller than 5 or 6 feet. Mum wanted to leave everything in the car until morning, but I whined and whined until she brought it all inside. Or I might write about the last snowstorm Mum and I were together, I was 27. It was a late storm and we got dumped with 3 feet of snow.

Whether I write about a Mum and snow, I will most certainly write another vignette about Mum as I continue down this journey to discover my mother – the real Barbara Hilton Converse.


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Pennies from Heaven

Pennies: some shiny and new, others old and grimy.


Mum was rather superstitious. If a black cat crossed our path, we had to turn around and find another route, and if one was not available, Mum worried about it for the rest of the day, and if something happened, you get it – the black cat was blamed. Bad things happen in threes, walking under a ladder, opening an umbrella in the house were all superstitions Mum didn’t care to challenge. My favorite, however, was if your nosed itched, Mum would say, “Gonna have a fight or kiss a fool.”

While I am not nearly as superstitious as my mother was, I have a tendency here and there. For example, if I am looking down at a sidewalk, I still try not to step on the cracks – step on a crack and break your mother’s back – why, since my mother is dead, would it matter – just something held over from middle school. Now, I have two black cats, both cross my path multiple times a day, but broken mirrors cause some concern.

At any rate, years ago I stopped picking up pennies on the street when someone told me that it was bad luck. I likely had had a bad week at work or just broken up with a boyfriend, so not wanting to bring forth any additional bad juju, I avoided picking up pennies. Then in November as I began this project, I heard someone (I honestly can’t recall where) say that when you find a penny on the ground it’s a sign from someone in heaven letting you know s/he is thinking about you. From that moment on I began seeing pennies everywhere. One day, I decided to pick one up and hold it in my hand. Now when I see a penny, I think Mum is sending me a little message to keep going.


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Okay, I have to admit it…I’m in a bit of a writing funk. I am suffering from internal conflict. I want to ensure that I portray my mother as the loving, funny, talented, intelligent, quick-witted person she was, while also being honest. As people we are a mixture of wonderful and strange, brilliant and stupid, generous and selfish, loving and sometimes spiteful. My mother, like everyone else was also a mixture. I don’t want to sanitize anything, but I also don’t want to give the wrong impression.

I am learning things about my mother that I never knew – some things that go against the principles she so adamantly impressed upon me. I’m not mad with her for not telling me, and I have to accept that there are pieces to her life puzzle that I may never be able to put together or understand. There is, of course, frustration in that, and I sure would love to sit and have a cocktail with her and ask her a bunch of questions.


If I ever want to get this project truly off the ground, I have to get back to writing. I have to find a way to dig deep, while seeking the truth. There is a balance. But perhaps I have to get the thoughts and words on paper and the truth will rise to the surface through the editing process.


photo courtesy of healthy

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Happy New Year – Who is This Mystery Baby?

I just returned from seeing “Spotlight.” It was very well done – I expect there will be some big awards. I was most impressed with the portrayal of the investigative journalism. It got me to thinking about the mystery baby, the close proximity between Don’s 35-day leave in the summer of 1945 and the wedding date of October 11, 1946 to Raymond, and the date stamp on the back of a photo of Mum and Don.

I wish I had two things:

  • Closer proximity to Boston (Fall River)
  • Better investigative skills

Since I don’t live close enough to Boston to just visit for a day, I will have to wait until I can visit. But before I can do that I need to sharpen my investigative skills. I think what that really means is being able to look at something – a piece of information, a picture – look beyond it, ask questions, and think about it differently.

So here is the picture of the mystery baby, here’s what I see:


Mum is holding “mystery baby,” Don is sitting next to her, looking uncomfortable. He is wearing his uniform, and had his coat draped over his shoes. The baby doesn’t appear to be any older than four-to-six months. I can’t tell if the baby is a boy or a girl, but the facial features are different from my half brother, Christopher, who was born in 1947. Since Don is wearing his uniform, and I know he served in the armed forces for 6 months after the end of the war, and she is wearing a wedding ring, I can conclude that this picture was taken somewhere between 1943 and early 1946. Since there are leaves on the trees, I can also conclude that it is June to September 1943 or June to September 1944 or June to September 1945. I also know that he was overseas from at least February 1945 until the summer when he had a 35-day leave. This helps narrow the possibilities a bit more, but I still don’t have an answer.

So, here’s what I need:

  • Don’s military records
  • Mum and Don’s divorce decree
  • Mum’s medical records

Although I won’t get these today or tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, I can at delve in and think about the missing pieces to Mum’s life puzzle and make lists, so when an opportunity presents itself, I can take full advantage.

Tell me about your investigative skills…


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Place is Everything…

While I was in Maine a couple of weeks ago – memories – some simple moments in time, like a snapshot, others like mini movies, popped into my head. As we drove down Water Street, I remembered helping the Stevens clear an empty lot alongside the river to build a skating rink, which made me remember the year someone dammed up the Lake Brook across the street from what is now On the Marsh restaurant. With the cold winter temperatures, the brook froze back for what seemed like a mile. Mum bought me new skates at the Ski Barn. On the way to the dammed up brook, Mum told me about how when she was 12, her mother bought her ice skates for Christmas. Every day after school, Mum unwrapped the box and took the skates down to the local pond and skated, until she fell through the ice on a warm day and her picture appeared on the front page of the newspaper.

My point in this little trip down memory lane is when writing memoir, it is important to return to those places that defined us. Those familiar streets, buildings, neighborhoods, playgrounds, etc. will inevitably jar memories from their deep permanent residences. They jarred forgotten memories for me. And for a few fleeting moments, I thought I could actually hear Mum’s voice. That is a gift I had not expected.

So take your trip, return home, go back to that place that defined you and see just what you might find. For me, I found a little more of me and a little more of Mum.


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Yes, I Believe…


Christmas is a little bitter sweet for me. Of course I miss my mother throughout the year, but I really miss her at Christmas. She was instrumental in my long-held belief in Santa Claus.

In our house, Christmas began on December 1st with the advent calendar. In the early years, I couldn’t wait to open the little doors or windows to see what was revealed. In later years, Mum made a counted-cross stitch one in which a small gift was attached to a small red ring for each day. The small gifts ranged from a quarter to a pack of gum or candy cane. My anticipation rose a little more with each passing day.

Once Christmas Eve finally arrived, Mum solicited help from Gordie and Uncle Bill Grimes to perpetuate my belief. When Gordie was in place up in the attic, Mum came upstairs in the Dover house and woke me just enough, and then Gordie began ringing sleigh bells. I immediately insisted I had to go back to sleep or Santa would leave. And in the morning, as if the excitement of the hanging stocking was not enough, there were deer hoof prints and sleigh tracks in the snow.

As an adult who did much of the same things with my kids, I know how magical it was to watch my children’s reactions. I nearly cried when Emily was 18 months old and was still awake when we went to bed on Christmas Eve. I asked her what she was doing as she sat in her bed (against a wall with a window) with her head behind the window shade. “Waiting for Santa Mama.” Mum was gone then, but I felt so close to her in that moment as my child so outwardly expressed her belief.

For me, part of the magic was also in the number of “Christmases” we celebrated. Christmas morning was spent in Dover with Aunt Barbara and Uncle Bill, Gail Gordie (and later his family), and the Osmonds, who were Jewish, but loved to celebrate with us. From there we drove back to Kennebunk and had dinner and opened more presents at Uncle Dick and Aunt Jan’s, and after Aunt Jan passed, it was with Aunt Barbara and her family. The day was long and wonderful and chaotic and loud.

I took the magic and belief my mother so lovingly gave me and passed it along to my children. When Emily came to me in fourth grade and asked me if Santa was real, I had no problem answering her question. I told her, “A man in a red suit doesn’t shimmy down chimneys, but I believe in the spirit of Santa Claus, the spirit of giving and love, and in the magic that happens this time of year. So yes, I believe in Santa Claus.”

Merry Christmas!


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