Mary Beth Writes

Barbara 1/26/2023

A-Z means I’m writing short takes on random topics and I’m going in alphabetical order. I love this quote: “Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.”

That’s the spirit I’m pursuing: Undisciplined, irreverent, and original.

  • A – Alaska (done)
  • B – Barbara
  • C – Cats
  • D – Danger
  • E – Echoes
  • F – Friend, ferns, fungi
  • G – Goulash
  • H, I, J, K, L,
  • M- Mothers
  • N, O, P, Q,
  • R – Reading
  • S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z

 If you have words for unclaimed alphabet letters, suggest them and I will try to go there. I like challenges..


I had my annual Medicare wellness checkup this week. These appointments exist simply to catch where and how our bodies and minds begin to deteriorate. For instance, the nurse says three words. More tests and five minutes later she asks what they were. Mine were banana, chair, sunshine. Words I can do.

Then she gave me a circle and instructed me to fill it in as a clock.

Bam. I was back in 3rd grade and inside at recess because the class learned how to tell time that day but I didn’t “get it.” Mrs. Chisolm assigned Barbara to tutor me.

Here’s the backstory. I went to school Kindergarten through 8th grade with the same 20 kids and I was a popular frog in that small pond. I got good grades; teachers were nice to me. My BF’s were Diane, Dawn, Ruth Ann, Jenny Sue, and Norma Jean.

 My burden to bear was Barbara.

I don’t know exactly why Barbara didn’t appeal to me. She was kind, smart, and well-behaved. She had a nice family and wore clean and tidy clothes. She did have some muscle tone issues; she walked a bit clumsily (not a lot). She talked a little slower than the rest of us, as if she was concentrating to get her mouth to move right. But she smiled amiably, played fair, and there was not one rude or mean thing about her. She was a sweetheart kid.

Maybe that was the problem. She was too sweet and too well-behaved and too eager to be my friend. She waited for me many mornings so that when I got off the bus, she was right there to ask if she could play with me that day. Every day for nine years this slow and earnest kid asked me to hang out with her. There are marriages that require less.

My parents and church indoctrinated in me that it was my obligation to always be kind and never be selfish. So I had to say yes to Barbara. I spent a lot of energy figuring out ways to say she could play with me AND THE OTHER GIRLS. I spent a lot of imagination inventing things to do that would allow all of us to play with Barbara, not just me.

In significant ways I was learning social skills. At the same time I was learning that what I wanted was not as important as what I was required to do for others. You can see I have thought about this as an adult. I wish adults would have helped me with this but they probably just saw kids playing and assumed all was well.

When I was 8-years-old Barbara taught me how to read a round clock.

I would be well into my 30’s before I learned how to say no when people asked me to do something I didn’t want to do - and like many adults, I still work at this.

Though I’m really good at telling time.




How about “Soulful” for the letter S?
Mary Beth's picture

As suggested by the mom of two dogs... Yes!

Coincidentally, last night I was thinking of a classmate I had in elementary school. I probably haven't thought of her in years. Her name was Linda and like Barbara, she had somewhat flacid muscle tone and a slow way of walking and talking. In gym she was chosen close to last or last for a team. Cruel systems we had back then. I hope that's been abolished. She didn't ask me to hang out with her although she lived quite closeby but I distinctly remember not wanting to. Looking back, I'm so relieved none of us picked on her although sadly she was somewhat of a loner. Poverty played a part in her life too. I know this because she invited me to her birthday party once and it was held at her house. Mattresses thrown down on the floor is one thing that comes to mind. A messy, bare bones house if there ever was one. I hope Linda did okay in her life.
Mary Beth's picture

It's something that all these years later, a small moment can bring these memories back so fast and so powerfully. And that we can still feel that awkward guilt. At least now we have some perspective. and we wish them well.
Leonard's picture

We have had dogs and we have had cats. Dogs will love you without reserve, and make you feel slightly guilty when you go out of the house without taking them. Cats have an eternal, "Oh, that you? Hi." look. Is it any wonder that we currently have two cats and no dogs?

Z - zealous or zoo. That could go a number of ways. Ha.

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Three Things / Story, Eclipse, Brando

1. I scheduled my Substack story to go out at 8AM this morning. I just looked to see why it didn’t show up and it says it is going to be sent at 8:49 tonight. I’m going to leave it like that. Maybe 9PM on a weekend night is a good time to send short fiction. Let me know if you have an opinion.

2. I read this quote by Marlon Brando who said this early in his career. “I’m not afraid of anything and I don’t love money.”

Even though this is probably not exactly true of me and you, I do love the bravado.

Peace Like a River / Book Report

4/3/2024 She Writes

I just finished reading Peace Like a River by Leif Enger and I am going to talk about it for a little bit before I forget how profoundly interesting and evocative this book was and is, at least to me.

I get emails from Boswell Bookstore (2559 N Downer Ave in Milwaukee). They host artist events pretty often and Monday evening, April 15th Len and I will be there for the Author Evening with Leif Enger. You can look up more of the details if you are interested. (Tickets are free but you need to reserve them.)

My Grandkids & 'Wandering Stars'


The past month has been jam-packed. The week in Mineral Point. Len’s two-day seminar in Chicago. Last week we had various grandkids here for three overnighters and yesterday our family came to Easter dinner here in our house which was clean after a week with grandkid overnighters so you know that was a piece of cake. Len smoked two hams (yes, hard to keep them lit) and I made the largest amounts of from-scratch scalloped potatoes plus macaroni and cheese that I have ever made. As in, I grated four pounds of cheese Saturday afternoon. “On Wisconsin.”

Ghost on a Post / Poetry with Third Graders


This is what I texted to Len this afternoon after I finished the poetry class with third graders. “I’m done and back. The kids were great and I’m a limp washrag, Teaching forty 8-year-olds for 90 minutes is way more energy than Everest.” I then drank half a beer (I NEVER drink in the afternoon) and fell asleep until the Mineral Point afternoon ‘change of shift siren’ shrieked for several minutes. It’s been a full day.

How 2 Write a Poem (3rd grade edition)


Next week is my Writers Week at Shake Rag Alley in Mineral Point, WI. I won this when my story “How Crow Got Out of Jail” (Read Here) won first prize in the 2023 Wisconsin Writers Association Jade Ring contest for short fiction.

Winning that contest motivated me to open my Substack account. So far I’ve published 17 stories and only published once twice. (Who noticed that?)

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