Accent

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It was late in the afternoon when the family came into the mercantile.

Mom was maybe out of her 20s. She wore her dark hair straightened and had on obvious makeup. She looked more like she was on a date at the mall than out having a nature experience.

Dad had the look of a jock whose mid-30s metabolism was slowing down. He wasn’t fat, but his middle was getting soft. He talked loud and fast and seemed accustomed to being the center of his family’s world.

The oldest kid, a son about seven or eight years old, had dark hair like his mother. He spent his entire time in the store trying to convince his parents to buy him a walking stick.

The second child was an adorable little girl, a toddler who was probably not yet three. Her hair was long and straight and blond like her father’s. She had plump, rosy cheeks and was obviously the apple of her father’s eye.

While the woman had a lot of questions about the nearby national park (How far away was it? How did they get there? How late was it open? How much did it cost to get in?), she and the man let the kids roam freely through the store. The little girl was drawn to the breakable bear figurines. Her parents never once discouraged her while she moved them around on the shelves where they were displayed. They allowed her to pick them up one after another and bring them up to the cash register. She could hardly reach to set them on the counter in front of me, but no one in her family tried to help her or take them out of her hands. For one glorious moment, I actually thought the dad was going to buy every bear the child set before me, but I quickly realized he was only letting her play with the merchandise.

All the while the mom was talking—to me, to her son, to her man, to the girl child. Something about her accent was familiar, but I wasn’t sure my guess was correct…

Where are y’all from? I asked.

Texas! the dad boomed. Near Houston.

I supposed it was a Texas accent I recognized. However, the more the woman talked, the more I was convinced it wasn’t Texas I was hearing.

She was standing near the counter when I looked at her and asked, Did you grow up in Texas?

No, she said. I grew up in Louisiana.

I knew it!

You’re Cajun! I exclaimed.

The woman seemed surprised, but confirmed her Cajunness.

Me too! I said. I told her my last name and the town where I grew up.

Cajuns: From Acadia to Louisiana
She told me her last name and the town where she grew up. Although I didn’t recognize her family name as one of the pillars of Cajun culture, I remember a book I once read that said there’s three ways to become Cajun: birth, marriage, or through the back door. Maybe she’d had a non-Cajun male ancestor who’d married a Cajun gal and assimilated. No matter what this customer’s family name was or how many years she’d lived in Texas, her accent gave her away to anyone in the know.

To his credit, the man of the family returned to their shelves all the bears his daughter had set on the checkout counter. Of course, he plunked them down any old way, and I had to arrange them artfully after the family left.

When they were gone, The Man asked me how in the world I’d known the woman was Cajun. I shrugged and told him it was all in her accent.

In Praise of a Pen

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My hands go numb when I write or type or make a hat or do macramé. Seems everything I do eventually causes a feeling of pins and needles in my hands, followed by pain, followed by numbness.

The problem started in the mid 1990s, and I blame it on alcohol, my friend The Computer Guy, and his friend Dan, on whom I had a crush. We were out drinking and The Computer Guy got an idea for a cool photo. The woman he was in love with was with us, and she was—conveniently—a photographer who, as always, had her camera.

Dig! The Computer Guy said with excitement in his voice. Dan can put Blaize on his shoulders and I’ll put Dan on my shoulders. We’ll stand under the Dragon’s Lair sign, and Gretchen can take our picture.

My beer addled brain thought it sounded like a fun idea. I certainly liked the prospect of having my legs around Dan’s head. The problem was—although I was at the thinnest of my entire life—I was still heavier than Dan. The photo Gretchen took shows The Computer Guy—strong as an ox—easily holding us both up while Dan seems to be crumpling under my weight.

Still, everything went fine until the photo was taken and we tried to disengage.

The Computer Guy lowered Dan to the ground gently, but Dan didn’t do so well with me. He must have bent over, as he tried to put me down, and I felt myself sprawling, falling. I put my arms out in front of me and caught myself with my hands.

My arms hurt for weeks. At the time I worked in a souvenir shop and the pain made even folding t-shirts impossible. When I told my dad how much I hurt, he asked if I’d seen a doctor. I just laughed. My minimum wage job didn’t offer insurance. I asked where I was going to get money to pay a doctor, hoping he might kick some down to me. He offered nothing.

The pain eventually subsided, but my hands have never been the same. There have been times when I couldn’t hold a pen long enough to sign my name. Whenever I bring my thumb and pointer finger together for more than the briefest period of time, my fingers tingle, then I feel pain, then they go numb until I can’t feel them at all, which means I can barely control them. Shaking my hands helps, as does stretching them and taking a break from the activity that’s causing the problem, but after 25 years, I think my hands will be this way for the rest of my life.

The situation has improved since riding a bicycle is no longer my main source of transportation and my job doesn’t require the use of power tools. I can hold a pen now, but I do better using a fat pen instead of a regular skinny pen if I’m going to handwrite more than a few sentences.

For months and years, I’ve been using whatever pens I’ve come across as free promotional items or paid for by the pound at a Goodwill Clearance Center. Of course, most of the free and cheap pens were skinny and numbed out my hand quickly. I was so happy when I found free fat pens, but they always ran out of ink too fast.

A few months ago, I’d had enough. I was tired of trying to write with pens that were too skinny for my comfort. I was tired of finding fat pens I liked only to have them run out of ink. I went into Wal-Mart determined to find a comfortable pen I could get refills for. I found just what I wanted in the Pilot Dr. Grip gel.

My Pilot Dr. Grip gel pen. Photo by me!

The pen cost around $6, and a two-pack of refills cost under two bucks.

If I don’t lose the pen, I’ll use it for years.

The pen fits nicely in my hand; its fatness minimizes the numbness my fingers experience. I really appreciate the rubber cushion on the area where my thumb and fingers rest while I’m writing.

The gel ink flows smoothly, which means I don’t have to hold the pen with a death grip and press into the paper so my words will show. As an added bonus, I was able to dismantle some of the darker color gel pens I bought from The Man when they no longer served his needs and use those cartridges as refills in my Dr. Grip.

I like the clip on the pen which lets me attach it to my notebook or my shirt. I also like being able to put the tip away by pushing the button on the top so I don’t have to worry about losing the cap.

I’m totally happy with my Dr. Grip, and I plan on using it for a long, long time.

 

Bold and Germ-Free

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There were several customers in the mercantile. I stood next to the cash register, angled so I could see the people near the back door. The manager of the mercantile stood behind the back counter, facing the front of the store.

I noticed an older woman standing almost directly across from me, looking into the glass display case. She was definitely older than I am, in her 50s for sure, maybe in her 60s. She caught my attention by rubbing her hands together over and over, as if she were rubbing in lotion or carefully spreading hand sanitizer over her skin. I figured she had her own lotion or sanitizer or that maybe this hand rubbing was a nervous tick. It was a little strange, and our pump bottles of Purell were between her and the manager, but I tried to keep my thoughts about the woman positive. After all, I hadn’t seen her do anything wrong. I’d only witnessed her rubbing her hands together.

PURELL Naturals Advanced Hand Sanitizer - Hand Sanitizer Gel with Essential Oils, 12 fl oz Pump Bottle (Pack of 2) - 9629-06-EC
When the store cleared out, the manager took a step toward the Purell display and reached down. The hand that came back up was holding a pump bottle with the pump in a fully upright position. Someone had twisted the top so sanitizer could be pumped out of the bottle.

The manager said she smelled the sanitizer when the woman helped herself to a squirt. I hadn’t smelled anything, but said I’d seen the woman rubbing her hands.

Is it possible the woman had brought her own sanitizer into the mercantile and a squirt of her own sanitizer is what the manager smelled and I saw her rubbing on her skin? Sure, that’s possible, but the time frame is mighty suspicious.

Is it possible someone else turned the spout so sanitizer could be pumped out and the woman only helped herself to a product that was already open? Yes, that scenario is also a possibility, but using something open but not marked “tester” is still wrong. Nothing about the setup of the hand sanitizer made it seem free and available for public consumption. The woman had to know the Purell was for sale and she was using it without paying.

The manager hid all but three bottles of sanitizer. The three on display were placed close to the register, on top of the glass display case where we were able to keep an eye on them.

Before this event, I’d never imagined sanitizer theft could be an issue.

How You Can Help the Rubber Tramp Artist

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Before I get into all the ways folks can help the Rubber Tramp Artist, I want to say thanks to everyone who’s already helped. Thanks to everyone who’s bought a hat or a necklace or a collage. Thanks to everyone who’s purchased my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods either through  Amazon or directly from me.  Thanks to everyone who’s made a donation through my blog, handed me a giftcard, or helped me out of a financial pickle. Thanks for every comment, every “like,” every word of encouragment and support. I get by with the help of my friends and fans.

All that said, I can still use help, financial and otherwise. There are lots of ways you can support me and my writing. Perhaps yo can take one or more of the following actions?

#1 Do some holiday shopping through my blog. My creations make great presents, and wouldn’t it be cool to support a struggling artist?. You can give friends and family warm winter hats, hemp jewelry, and colorful collages I made with my heart and hands. (If you don’t see exactly what you want, just ask. I have many many more necklaces than what’s shown on the jewelry page, and I may be able to make a custom piece for you.)

Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods
If you order copies of my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods from me, I’ll sign them and write something super nice to your recipient.

#2 If you do need to buy from a big business (and I know my wares may not please everyone on every holiday shopping list), you can go through my affiliate link when you shop at Amazon.

Say a reader wants to buy something from Amazon. The reader can go to my blog first and click through my site to get to Amazon. A reder can do this in a couple of ways.

The first way is to find the Amazon.com link in the column to the right of the main body of the post. The words “Just click here!” are in orange; that’s my link to Amazon. That link will take readers to Amazon and get me credit for items placed in their carts within 24 hours and purchased (usually) within 90 days.

If that link is too hard to find or too small on a cell phone, there’s another way to do it. On the top of every page of this blog, there’s a link for the page about my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. Go to that page. The image of the cover of my book is a link to Amazon. Click on the image of the cover of my book, and you’ll go to Amazon.com. Once a reader has gone to Amazon via either of these methods, s/he can shop for any item. Any item s/he puts in her/his cart in the next 24 hours and purchases within 90 days (usually) will earn me an advertising fee.

Going through the Rubber Tramp Artist blog to shop on Amazon costs the reader/shopper nothing extra. Amazon pays the advertising fee, not the reader/shopper.

Every month, I receive a list of items folks who clicked through my blog purchased from Amazon, but there’s absolutely no names linked to these purchases. I’ll never know who bought what items.

Of course, I’m not encouraging folks to buy things they don’t want or need. However, by going through my blog to make Amazon purchases they’d be making anyway, readers can help me earn a little money to keep me on the road.

#3 If you read Confessions of a Work Camper, review it. Whether on Amazon, Goodreads, or your Facebook page (or all three!) reviews of my book help get the word out. Reviews help people find the book, which hopefully will lead to people buying the book.

#4 If you read one of my blog posts and you like it, click the “like” button with the blue star at the bottom of the post. (You will be asked to sign in. You can either sign in with Word Press or with a Google account.)

#5 If you like a post, please please please share it. Everything on the Rubber Tramp Artist blog and the Rubber Tramp Artist Facebook page is public. If you think your friend(s) would like something I wrote, share it with them.

#6 If you see one of my posts in your Facebook feed and you like it, click “like” (or any of those other emotion icons). The more likes a post gets, the more likely it will get more attention. It’s a snowball effect, my friend The Poet says.

According to a 2014 article in Time,

If your posts keep people engaged, as measured by likes, comments, shares and time on screen, the social network will reward you with further reach.

Enough “likes” could help expand my audience.

#7 Invite your friends to like the Rubber Tramp Artist Facebook page. It’s easy! On the right side of the Rubber Tramp Artist Facebook page, under the blue “Send Message” button and rating stars, you’ll see “Community” and “Invite your friends to like this Page.” Click on the “Invite your friends” link, and you’ll be taken to a page where you can click to invite people.

#8 Leave a comment on either Facebook or at the end of a blog post. To leave a comment on blog posts, click on the “Leave a Comment” link above my bio. (The first time you leave a comment, I have to moderate it, so don’t worry if your first comment doesn’t pop up immediately.)

If you’re on Facebook, I trust you already know how to leave a comment.

I really do want to know what you think! Also, comments encourage me by letting me know folks are reading my posts.

#9 Subscribe to my blog. Subscribers get an email whenever a post pops up, so subscribers don’t have to worry about missing something new.

#10 Hit the yellow “Donate” button to the right of each post, right above “Subscribe.” I don’t charge anything for my blog posts because “free” is my favorite price. However, if you like something you read and you have a few bucks to kick down, I promise to put your dollars to good use.

Thanks to everyone who has helped and will help. I couldn’t do what I do without my fans and friends.

Photo of the Rubber Tramp Artist and Jerico by The Man.

 

Fatherless Daughter

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It’s been a year since my dad died of C. diff, and I feel as if I need to say something in recognition of that fact.

In most ways, my life hasn’t changed much without my dad. Before he died, we didn’t talk very often. I’d call him once a month or so, out of obligation, if he didn’t call me first. I tried not to bring up anything controversial during those conversations because I didn’t want to fight. I was weary of having conflict with him, although he didn’t seem to have any such aversions. He said whatever he wanted whenever he wanted with seemingly no thought of whether he might upset me.

Once we both had cellphones, I found texting with him was ok. Maybe he thought about his words before he tapped out the letters or maybe it was just more difficult for him to bait me in writing, but texting made checking in less likely to end in my anger or frustration. When he got his last smartphone, he somehow changed his settings so every text he sent to me was marked urgent. I laughed at his technological imcompotence, but I’d be glad to see one of those red exclaimation marks on a text from him now.

I miss my dad whenever something goes wrong with my van. My dad and I could discuss automotive issues without getting too personal. He enjoyed showing off knowledge I didn’t have, and I honestly appreciated his advice. Recently my van stalled and would’t start again. More than anything, I wanted to call my dad and ask for his opinion. It hasn’t fully sunk in that I’ll never be able to ask him for automotive advice again. When I do remember, recognition comes with a jolt of–if not quite sadness–a sense that something is missing from my life.

I think about him too when I get a good deal or have a frugal success. Dad will be so proud! I think when I realize I’ve tucked away screws I can use in place of the ones I’ve just lost in the dirt or get a flat repaired for free at a friendly tire shop. Again, I feel as if something is missing when I realize I’ll never be able to share my victories with my father.

Recently a friend of my sibling was watching the news and saw a report about extreme weather in the Gulf South. The friend wrote to my sibling, Dad ok? in reference to my father.

My sibling wrote, Hahah! He’s fine…sort of; he died last year.

The friend replied, I’m sorry…Was watching the news…and thinking of him.

I found the whole exchange hilarious, and it took me a long time to stop laughing. I chimed in, Hurricane ain’t gonna hurt Dad no more!

My sibling responded, I know, right?!!…it actually made me oddly happy and I laughed, that I don’t have to worry about the weather in Dad’s life anymore.

For me, it’s a relief to not have to worry about anything in Dad’s life anymore. I don’t have to worry about him being washed away by a hurricane. I don’t have to worry about him not having enough money to pay his bills. I don’t have to worry he will get sick and I’ll be the one expected to care for him. I don’t have to worry he’s going to say something to piss me off, and I don’t have to worry that he’s going to die because he’s already dead.

Despite the title of this post, I don’t actually think of myself as a fatherless daughter. Having a dead father is not some huge part of my identity, but every now and again, I do miss the best parts of my dad.

Shelia

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When I was a toddler, before my sibling was born, my father worked for a pet supply company. Free stock photo of reptile, exotic, snake, constrictorSomehow his pet supply connections led him to bring home a boa constrictor named Shelia.

I don’t remember Shelia, but throughout my life both of my parents recounted the story of my love for her.

At the time, my parents and I lived in a farmhouse on my grandparents’ property. The farmhouse is part of my earliest memories, and I remember it as big, although it may have only seemed big because I was so little. In any case, the house was big enough for Shelia to have her own room.

My mother didn’t care much for Shelia. Whether this was related to her own mother’s fear of snakes or just because snakes aren’t cute in a cuddly, mammalian way, I don’t know. Whatever the reason, my mother’s dislike for Shelia earned the reptile a place in a room with door that shut. My mother had nothing to do with her.

Little toddler me, on the other hand, loved Shelia. Whenever my dad went into the room to see Shelia, I wanted to go with him. I was particularly interested in Shelia’s feeding.

Shelia lived in an aquarium in the spare room. When it came time to feed her, my dad dropped a small rodent (hamster? gerbil?) into her aquarium home. The rodents, also procured through pet supply connections, would run over Shelia where she lay curled in her tank, practically frolicking over her coils until she slowly, slowly squeezed out their lives.

One day it was time to feed Shelia. My mom wanted nothing to do with the procedure, but I happily followed my dad around while he made preparations. We went into the room and Dad dropped the rodent in with Shelia. I don’t know if we stuck around to watch Shelia put the squeeze on it.

Some time passed after my father and I left Shelia’s room. My dad went about his business, then realized he hadn’t seen or heard me for a while. He casually checked with my mother to determine I wasn’t with her. He looked in my bedroom, but I wasn’t there either. He noticed the door to Shelia’s room was open just a crack. The open door got his attention because he was always careful to close the door completely and securely when he left the room.

He opened the door and saw me climbing into Shelia’s tank. Family lore has it that I had one fat little toddler leg in the tank when he found me, and I was just about to swing my whole self in. Apparently, I loved Shelia so much that I wanted to be right there in the tank with her.

(As an adult, I wonder why there was no cover on top of that aquarium, or if there was, why a toddler was able to remove it.)

My dad lifted me away from the tank. He told me to never go into the room without him again. When we left the room, he made certain he closed the door securely behind us. (Maybe some sort of lock would have been a good idea as well.)

My dad let some time pass (days? weeks? I don’t know) before he nonchalantly mentioned to my mother how he’s found me climbing into Shelia’s cage. My mother—of course—freaked out and demanded he find another home for the snake. My dad contended Shelia had been harmless because she’d just eaten. She was satiated and sluggish and uninterested in a toddler who might have been about to lie on top of her. My mother countered by asking what might have happened if Shelia hadn’t just been fed. My dad didn’t have much more to say. I suppose I was small enough and Shelia was big enough that she could have squeezed the life out of me had the conditions been right.

My dad used his pet supply connections to find Shelia a new home.

Image from https://www.pexels.com/search/boa%20constrictor%20imperator/.