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Tag Archive: Mark Twain

Dec 16

Telling holiday memories in six words or less

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter so I wrote a long one instead”—Mark Twain

Writing short is not easy as Mark Twain noted. Perhaps, that is why so many of our annual Christmas letters, mine included, end up being written front and back, single-spaced in a 9-point font.

Stop the presses.

That’s too many words, as a college student once remarked when I asked him to read my column. “I can’t read that much,” he frowned. “I am tired of reading all the time. I am sure it is fine but can’t you say it in 140 characters?”

That is what we have become these days, dear readers. Skimmers; not readers.

Therefore, I challenge you and myself as well to record our favorite Christmas and New Year’s memories by writing them down using only six words.

Here is how this works.

Sometime ago, I wrote a column about telling a story in six words. It was about an article I read in a magazine story, “Really short stories in half a dozen words” by Larry Smith.

The idea was based on Ernest Hemingway’s famous six-word story, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Subsequently in their 2009 December issue, the same AARP magazine published a follow-up story: “Holiday Traditions in Half a Dozen Words.”

Naturally, I could not resist creating some of my own, but first, let’s look at a few six-word holiday traditions their readers submitted.

My favorites:
* Dad was Santa; Mom was exhausted. (Pam Figge of California)
* Eating at the big people table. (Terese Haynes of Florida)
* Grandma’s grater. Scraped knuckles. Delicious latkes. (Anita Frimere of New York)

Our own holiday memories may be strictly personal and make no sense at all to anyone other than close family and friends. Still, I like the idea of remembering this special season with our own six-word family stories. If nothing else, they could serve as a headline for our long two-page Christmas letters or as a verse added to a Christmas card.

Here are some that are meaningful to me.

* There’s no Christmas in the Army. (What my mother used to say when she recalled her own WWII days and quoted General Waverly from the 50s classic “White Christmas,” her favorite movie.)

* We are booked for the holidays. (Same movie but different meaning. Now, it is what the airlines tell us if we try to book a trip too close to the holidays.)

* Missing Cousin Gene on Christmas Eve. (He’s been gone 5 years now, and I miss his laugh and the same-old story about how bad his Frigidaire is and how he wants me to keep the coffee brewing.)

Tell me yours; love to hear.
Can you say them in six?
Sayings, memories, stories you hold dear.

Nov 12

Honoring Mark Twain 100 years after his death

“The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” –Mark Twain

One hundred years after his death, Mark Twain is “alive and well” by literary standards because he is still being published. Yes, on April 21, 2010, Mark Twain will be gone from this earth for 100 years but not gone from literature lovers.

Aspiring writers can only wish for such good fortune.

In April of 2009, a collection of lost Mark Twain stories was published by HarperStudio keeping Twain’s legacy alive. The 24-piece collection of previously unpublished works, gathered by editor Robert Hirst of the University of California, is titled “Who is Mark Twain.”

The Los Angeles Times in its book section, “Jacket Copy” wrote on March 5, 2009,
“The author, born Samuel Clemens, was widely published during his lifetime. But when he died in 1910, there was a tremendous amount of material that had never been shared. The publisher HarperStudio says he left behind the largest collection of personal papers created by any 19th-century American author.”

However, Twain might not be too happy about his new book, published in April.

“You had better shove this in the stove,” Mark Twain wrote to his brother in 1865, “for I don’t want any absurd ‘literary remains’ and ‘unpublished letters of Mark Twain’ published after I am planted,” according to Allison Flood in the guardian.co.uk on the Web.

I only recently ran across this information while browsing Facebook. There, I saw a Facebook cause “Honoring Mark Twain in 2010, One-Hundred Years After His Death.”

As soon as I saw this, I remembered that somewhere in one of the many boxes of memorabilia in our basement, I saved a Life Magazine from 1968 that featured a previously unpublished Twain manuscript.

Needless to say, I went scurrying to the basement to find it. And there it was, preserved quite well.

A quick Google search told me I was not the only one who has a copy. Drat. Turns out that on eBay, one can buy (for only $3.84 with shipping fees of $4.60) the Dec. 20,1968, edition of Life Magazine featuring the unpublished Twain manuscript, “Huck Finn & Tom Sawyer Among the Indians”. Not exactly a priceless relic.

Whether worth anything or not, the magazine and manuscript are invaluable to me, even though this particular Twain story was never completed.

As Missourians, we know well Mr. Samuel Langhorne Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain). We understood his love for the Mississippi River; we remember his outrageous tales about the exploits of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn; and, we relish to this day his razor-sharp wit.

It is good to know that his writing will never cease to provide new insight and humor. Such as these oft quoted Twain quips, which are guaranteed to bring a smile today as they did 100 years ago:
• “A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”
• “Be careful about reading health books, you might die of a misprint.”
• “Apparently, there is nothing that cannot happen today.”
• And my favorite, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell.”

Aug 13

You are never too old for a summer road trip

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” — Mark Twain

A clue that I love road trips is the packed bag sitting on my closet floor, just in case the opportunity to travel cross-country or anywhere else presents itself.

I blame this trait on my parents.

You see, they loved to travel and believed that seeing unfamiliar locales via the open road was a vital part of childhood education. So do I.

Thus, that was a good enough reason for me to “suggest” quite recently that our two young adult single sons accompany us, mom and dad, on a road trip west. They have done this before and know the drill.

Yet, I worried that they are not kids anymore and might not be thrilled at the idea. My husband tried guilt to coerce them saying, “Boys, this could be the last time the four of us take a road trip together.”

I was thinking, “You have to be kidding; I plan on making them take us when we’re 88.”

Admittedly, they might have a reasonable fear of boredom and embarrassment at the idea of traveling with their parents. Yet, they embraced the road trip good-naturedly, probably because they come by wanderlust naturally.

In my youth, back in the 50s and early 60s, it was not unusual for the boys’ grandfather to come home from work on a Friday evening and announce happily, “We are going to Colorado in the morning. Do you have a bag packed?”

I learned to have mine ready.

Sometime between 3 and 5 a.m. the following morning, our family would leave our Missouri River bottom farm home for Colorado or California or other parts west (sans automobile air conditioning and thus the night travel).

For some reason, we never went east, and I have yet to figure out why. Summer after summer, we headed west toward the mountains with all our shoes piled in one open cardboard box in the back of our green woody Desoto station wagon.

Another box held a loaf of white bread and cans of Spam, apples, cookies and a jug of water for a noon picnic at a roadside park. We thought it a feast.

Those roadside parks, by the way, were usually located next to an historical marker, and I am quite certain we stopped at every one of them between Kansas City and the Pacific Ocean. That is, if my mom, a history teacher in her day job, had anything to say about it. My dad was the photographer for the trips, lining us up in front of countless such markers, and when we stopped at gas stations, he treated each of us to a bottle of soda pop (as long as we did not fight too much in the backseat).

Mostly, we read road signs and jingles, sang songs, quibbled some and laughed a lot.

A family squeezed together in a hot car on long road trips with only each other for company sears unforgettable memories into one’s psyche.

I guess I was hoping to create the same memories with our sons before they spread their wings and fly too far away.

We didn’t leave at 3 a.m., although my husband wanted to, and we did not eat Spam and white bread (it wouldn’t have surprised me if he wanted to do that, too). I never made the boys stand in front of one historical marker, although I almost did in a fleeting, nostalgic weak moment.

I guess I look at this road trip as a practice run for when we are 88 and the offspring get an urgent phone call from us asking, “Boys, do you have your bag packed? We are leaving for Colorado in the morning, and oh, by the way, will you drive us?”

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