Tuesday, December 31, 2013

She Died in December

I worked for Glenn and Charlotte Johnson a few years ago -- their organic farm on Fir Island. They were a loving couple. Charlotte complained about Glenn all the time, and right in front of him too. Charlotte was largely disappointed in all of us. We never worked hard enough -- not as hard as she did..... I just loved her, she was so warm and beautiful.... and her complaining -- it all fit together..... Glenn would have been in a mental hospital or in prison if he didn't have that farm and Charlotte to keep him balanced. He is or was the most manic individual on planet earth, but working 18 hour days on the farm used up most of his energy, and he was able to be peaceful.

One day Charlotte drove the step van to Anacortes for the market. The van broke down on Highway 20. She called Glenn to come and help her. He was not near his phone. So she called me and I drove out there. Meanwhile the tow truck driver came, but the van was too big and heavily loaded for the tow truck to handle. Charlotte was mad enough to spit. "I have to get to the market, there are people waiting for me, my farm depends on it," she said.

The tow truck operator heard her cries of anguish, and he said, "well, I can't tow you, but if you off load your produce to the back of my truck then I can bring you and the lettuce to the market."

Charlotte said wonderful and gave him a great big hug. Working really fast, we moved all the produce boxes from the broke-down van to the tow truck and off they went. Charlotte got to the market a little late, but she sold all her produce to her loyal customers.

That's how things worked on Charlotte's farm. Everything was always breaking down, but she never gave up, and that's what I tell young people when I talk about farming. I say, it's not like farmers know how to grow things better, it's more like they just never give up.

A good life for Charlotte, and I hope the best for Glenn.

This photo shows the Snow Geese flying on Fir Island near Glenn & Charlotte's farm.
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Career Choice -- Advertising or Short Stories

My Dad showed some promise as a short story writer when he was a young man. He could have pursued that as a career and ended up living in a shack with a bad drinking habit. But he avoided that calamity and went into advertising. From advertising he made a good living, and found a pretty wife and had a nice home and five children and he put them all through college.

Advertising or short stories -- what would you have done?

(Fred E. Owens, Sr., born 1904 in St. Louis. As a young man with ambition he moved to Chicago some time in the 1920s. That's when he wrote the short stories, and that's where he later found work in advertising, first at Grey Hound Bus Lines, and then as advertising sales manager for the Sporting News.)
Speaking of Short Stories

Raymond Carver was quite the best short story writer. Here is the opening sentence to each story in the collection titled Where I'm Calling From, 1989.

Read Them Aloud and Slowly.

I could hear them out in the kitchen.

He had been reading to her from Rilke, a poet he admired, when she fell asleep with her head on his pillow.

Earl Ober was between jobs as a salesman.

This has nothing to do with me.

I am sitting over coffee and cigarettes at my friend Rita’s and I am telling her about it.

Jack got off work at three.

Bill and Arlene Miller were a happy couple.

The telephone rang while he was running the vacuum cleaner.

I was out of work.

Fact is the car needs to be sold in a hurry, and Leo sends Toni out to do it.

That morning she pours Teacher’s over my belly and licks it off.

Early that day the weather turned and the snow was melting into dirty water.

Vera’s car was there, no others, and Burt gave thanks for that.

My friend Mel McGinnis was talking.

I’ll tell you what did my father in.

My husband eats with good appetite but he seems tired, edgy.

I was getting a haircut.

I had a job and Patti didn’t.

After a lot of talking—what his wife, Inez, called assessment—Lloyd moved out of the house and into his own place.

L.D.’s wife, Maxine, told him to get out the night she came home from work and found L. D. drunk again and being abusive to Rae, their fifteen-year-old.

It had been two days since Evan Hamilton had stopped smoking, and it seemed to him everything he’d said and thought for the two days somehow suggested cigarettes.

Carlyle was in a spot.

This friend of mine from work, Bud, he asked Fran and me to supper.

Saturday afternoon she drove to the bakery in the shopping center.

I was in the room one night when I heard something in the corridor.

My mother is packed and ready to move.

The call comes in the middle of the night, three in the morning, and it nearly scares us to death.

I have some business out west anyway, so I stop off in this little town where my former wife lives.

I knew it was a mistake to let my brother have the money.

This Collection of Opening Sentences. I did not copy and paste this selection from some source on the Internet. I had a copy of Raymond Carver's book and I typed in the first sentence of every story. It was an enjoyable exercise.

Happy New Year !

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Fred Owens
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