Clarice James

Smart, Fun, Relatable Fiction


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It’s Not Always About Sex

Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. ~ Ephesians 5:4 (NIV)

I was raised in a home where “obscenity, foolish talk [and] coarse joking” were NOT the norm. Private matters were kept private and private parts had cute, little nicknames—which I will refrain from sharing at this time.

The first time I sought clarification on a word I’d heard an older boy spew on the playground, I was five years old. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Soap? But Mom . . . .

I’ll wash your mouth out with soap!

“Mommy, what does #$%& mean?”

Her response was swift—if not helpful. “If I ever hear you say that word again, I’ll wash your mouth out with soap.”

Not that I wish my family life was otherwise—I know now I was blessed—but there were times I felt uninformed, insecure, and naïve. I thought “off-color” meant dull and “double entendre” meant we could have second helpings at supper.

As I got older, my peers found my ignorance amusing. I found it humiliating. Like when I was thirteen and a member of the Camp Fire Girls. One day my troop leader motioned to one of the girls and said, “Anne won’t be participating in this afternoon’s activities because she has her friend.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Wo-He-L0 is short for Work, Health and Love

I spoke up, “We don’t mind if her friend joins in.”  I looked around, wondering where her friend was and why the rest of the troop was gawking at me.

The leader said, “No, dear, it’s her monthly visitor.”

I extended the invitation again. “Even if she can’t attend every week, it’s okay.”

I was sent home with a note. My mother read it, then produced an old, faded “You’re a Young Lady Now” booklet and sent me to my room with orders to read it.

I was horrified.  GYour a woman now

From that moment on, I was on my guard. I pretended to get jokes, giggling when others giggled, rolling my eyes when others rolled theirs. When I got my very own Webster’s Dictionary that Christmas, the first thing I did was look up words I thought I should know. I didn’t plan to use them, but I was tired of being caught unaware. (Of course, not knowing the words to look up didn’t help much.)

As a freshman, when I overheard an upper classman whisper to her friend, “Did you guys French?”, I wondered why she would ask such a dumb question since they were all in the same Spanish class.

Married right out of high school, I learned the details of having a baby through—you guessed it—another booklet. Mortified, for years I blushed every time I heard the word “stirrups.” Riding lessons are still out of the question for me.

The mandatory health class in high school was one big blackout. Which might explain why, as a new Christian at the age of thirty-two, I thought the pastor was speaking about male body parts when he spoke about St. Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles.

I was widowed at fifty and fell for some dumb lines. It took the young adults in my church group to warn me that “Want to come in for coffee?” was tantamount to “Want to come in for a nightcap?” And it took my thirty-something co-workers to discourage me from using the expression “hooking up.” Apparently, it meant more than I thought it did.

After dating David for a year, we married. It was a mixed marriage of sorts. He was a WASP from suburban DC; I was French and a former Catholic from Cape Cod. He’d been in the Navy; I had not.

One day, in the honeymoon phase of our marriage, David went out to run errands. I heard the garage door go up upon his return. When he didn’t come in right away, I looked out the window and saw a neighbor approaching him.

I was surprised when David entered the house a minute later. “You sure didn’t talk very long to Roland.”

He leaned over and kissed me. “Why would I want to talk to Roland when I’ve got a warm sandwich for you?”

A warm sandwich? My mind scrambled. I’d heard of spooning, snuggling, and canoodling, but what on earth was a warm sandwich? Was this a common WASP expression or a term specific to DC? Or worse, had he picked it up in the Navy? I panicked.

How well did I know this man anyway?

I mustered my courage. “What do you mean by that?”

“By what?”

“A warm sandwich.”

He plopped a brown paper bag on the table. “The steak and cheese sub you wanted for lunch.”

Of course. The sub. I knew that.

When will I learn? It’s not always about sex. Sometimes it’s just a warm sandwich.steak and cheese sub

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. ~ Matthew 10:16 (NIV)

PS: This was The Law of the Camp Fire Girls when I was a member:

  • Worship God
  • Seek Beauty
  • Give Service
  • Pursue Knowledge
  • Be Trustworthy
  • Hold onto Health
  • Glorify Work
  • Be Happy

 


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But That’s Okay. We’re Boomers. We’ll Figure Something Out

Welcome My Guest Blogger Kathleen D. Bailey!

KBailey-2015 - Small

Kathleen is a freelance and staff writer with a lifetime devotion to the printed, and now the digital page. Born in 1951, she was a child in the 50s, a teen in the 60s and 70s and a young mom in the 80s. Kathleen says, “It was a turbulent, colorful time to come of age. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, and written about most of it. I share some of that on my website Kathleen D. Bailey, along with book reviews and snippets from my fiction writing. Join me in the wonderful world of words!”

Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness. ~ Pr 16:31 (NIV)

I’m so happy to be asked to blog with Clarice! I’ve enjoyed getting to know her this past year. We have a lot in common, from Catholic childhoods, don’t get me started, to home decorating, to, of course, writing.

I’ve been able to cheer her on in the process of getting Double Header between covers and on to bookstore shelves. But I was dismayed to learn recently that an editor rejected her first book, Party of One, because stories about older women don’t sell. I’m not blaming them, they don’t control the market, but sheesh. As an older woman, I didn’t like hearing that I’m not all that interesting.

But wait, it’s about to get worse.

Intrigued by the promos for TV Land’s new series Younger, I decided to give it a try. I lasted about 20 minutes. I’m from the three-dot school and I thought Fifty Shades of Grey was about hair coloring. I left these 20-somethings to their courting of Chlamydia and escaped. But like Lot’s wife I looked back, not at the sexual content but at the premise.

Younger tells the story of Liza, a suburban divorcee of 40 who can’t get a job in New York Publishing because of her age. This is the same New York Publishing (capital letters intentional) where Anne Hathaway has trouble being true to herself in The Devil Wears Prada, and the stakes are higher for Liza. She’s in pretty good shape for 40 and her best friend urges her to “pass” for 26, whereupon– bingo–she lands the job.

7--year-old Dame Helen Lydia Mirren in the movie RED.

70-year-old Dame Helen Mirren in the movie RED. “But that’s okay. We’ll figure something out. We’re Boomers.”

There is so much wrong here I don’t know where to begin and I guess I’ll start with the perception of 40 as “old.” Forty was supposed to be the new 30 and if it isn’t, what is 30 not the “new” of?

I’d love to have my 40-year-old body back. The mind, not so much. I’d like to have my 40-year-old memory and sharpness, but not the judgmental spirit and bad decisions. I wouldn’t want to give up what I’ve learned, sometimes through dark places, in order to be “young” again. But I don’t need to worry. According to the TV show, 40 isn’t young.

I cringed to see “Liza” adopting her co-workers’ slang and hanging out with them. I watched long enough to see her acquire a 26-year-old boyfriend. Whatever did they talk about? Oh, right, these people don’t talk.

What were the first 40 years of her life worth? Apparently not enough when placed against the grander scheme of New York Publishing.

It’s also significant to me that the producers didn’t go for a 50-or 60-something pretending to be 40 or 30. Was it simply too impossible to make a 50-or 60-year-old hot enough? Or was it too impossible to imagine them in New York Publishing? Or was it too impossible to imagine a REALLY OLD PERSON doing something that dumb?

This isn’t resume tweaking, people. It’s a denial of who “Liza” is, who she’s spent 40 years becoming. No job is worth that.

And it’s a denial of what older people, seniors, elders, whatever, have been working toward since the Boomers began to age. The right to age with dignity, to be respected for what we’ve done and who we are. To love and learn and take risks, to keep our minds and bodies as sharp as we can for the next adventure. To matter.

Except for Betty White, who’s not typical, we’re not going to see a lot of women on the small screen who look like us. And unless some people publish independently, we’re not going to read about them. Nobody’s going to validate us unless we do it ourselves. But that’s okay. We’re Boomers. We’ll figure something out.

And Clarice will get her book between covers somehow, some time.

Because our stories need to be told.

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. ~ Isa 46:4 (NIV)

More About Kathleen:  This year, Kathleen semi-finaled in American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis, finaled in Lone Star, and won in her category in TARA. She’s an active member of Journey Church, teaching the children’s mission program and working in its homeless ministry. She also enjoys baking for college students, service people, and community events. She and her husband David live in Derry, NH. Find Kathleen on Facebook and LinkedIn. [She does kind of a lot for an “old” Baby Boomer, don’t you think? – CJ]

image001Readers (and Publishers?): Please check out these novels which feature older protagonists.

STAND-ALONE BOOKS:

SERIES:

 


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Speaking of the Pope and Things Catholic . . .

With Pope Francis’s visit to the United States upon us, I’ve been thinking back on my childhood. I was raised in a large Catholic family on Cape Cod. During my formative years, we attended St. Francis Xavier Church in Hyannis. The name may sound familiar to you because it was the same church where Jack and Jackie Kennedy attended Mass in the summer, where Arnold and Maria got married, and where Eunice Kennedy Shriver was eulogized.

Jackie Arnold etc

For some reason, all the talk of the Pope has stirred my conscience. I’ve been convicted to confess a sin I’ve been holding back for decades. Even flying under the radar as a hand-raising Protestant for the last 35 years has not removed this last bit of Catholic guilt.

My memory is kind of fuzzy, but I’ll do my best to recount the event accurately—then I’ll use literary license (which is not considered lying, by the way). Here’s what I remember about that day.

St. Francis 1950s

St. Francis Xavier Church, Hyannis, MA

It was still cold out, maybe a few days before Easter–one of the two major holidays which warranted two priests and all four confessional booths. The church was packed. There were three pews full of people ahead of us.

My mother and three of my five siblings were there. I was around ten, maybe. I specifically recall wearing a dress under my winter jacket. I remember my mother’s long, powder blue coat. I always loved that coat on her.

In church, my mother always looked holy to me. She knelt with her back straight, never resting her bum on the seat like less disciplined parishioners. She bowed her head without hunching her shoulders, and folded her hands like an artist would paint them. 

Her children, however, did not. We wiggled and squiggled. Especially that day, the day I interrupted my mother’s holy pose with a whisper.

Me: “I have to go to the bathroom.”

Mom: “You’ll have to wait.”

Kennedy Plaque on Pew

Plaque on the Kennedy family pew

Me: “I can’t wait.”

Mom: “We’ll lose our turn.”

Me: “Can’t I go by myself?”

Mom: “No, because if you leave you’ll have to go to the end of the line. Besides, your father is waiting.”

Me: “But Mom—”

Mom: Shh. We’re almost there.”

All I could see was the 27 people in front of us—some of them old.  And old people always had more to confess, I knew that much.

By some miracle I made it safely into the confessional booth and knelt gratefully on the soft, red velveteen kneeler.

Seconds before the priest slid the tiny door open, I peed my pants.

St. Francis Xavier Church Hyannis

Follow the arrow, then skip this booth.

Mortified and petrified–if not physically relieved– I confessed the sins I had on my list—except the latest one. Once I received my penance (three Hail Marys and two Our Fathers), I rushed back, crying, to tell my mother. Without a word, she maneuvered my brother into the second booth and went into the booth I had vacated.

As only a mother would do, she soaked up the wet with her powder blue coat, then calmly confessed her sins, and went to the altar for her due penance.

I still have questions about that day. Did the people who used the confessional booth after us blame the person ahead of them for their wet knees? Was one of them a Kennedy? Did the Secret Service investigate?  Did they replace the velveteen? Am I the reason the bishop Gerrymandered the parish lines so we had to attend a different church the next year?

Recently,I asked my mother about this traumatic event. She said she didn’t remember it. How could a mother not remember one of her kids peeing in a confessional booth? Were we that bad that this was a minor offense easily blotted from her memory?

Perhaps God gives mothers a selective memory to keep them sane. Or does He bless them with the ability to throw their children’s sins as far as the east is from the west?

Finally, let me do what I came to do: “Forgive me Father for I have sinned. I am sorry for my sin of emission.”

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. ~ Psalm 103:11-12 (NIV)


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Like Only a Grandmother Could Fantasize

Max 9-2105 first dayFor weeks, I’d been looking forward to a sweet time of bonding with my two youngest grandchildren: Max, 7, and Margaux, 5. Wonderful ages, such bright and lively children. I planned to collect as many precious memories as I could squeeze into three days.  I coveted the time I would spend alone with them when their parents weren’t around to bother–I mean distract us.

Fantasy: First, I would interview them for my blog, making sure to record every cute and amusing answer they gave me.

Reality: After I asked one or two questions, Max informed me, “I don’t do interviews.” Margaux was a little more diplomatic. “Do we have to do this right now?”

Fantasy: I’d snuggle up with them on the couch or on their beds and entertain them with stories.

Reality: They don’t snuggle; they squirm and fidget and jump. They also don’t want me to talk while they’re watching loud Nickelodeon TV shows filled with stupid slapstick humor and canned laughter. [I can too say stupid if I want!]

Fantasy: We’d tell each other silly jokes and laugh until our stomachs hurt.

Reality: They told me one silly joke. Over and over. At one point, when I was pretend-laughing, Margaux pointed out that my teeth were a little yellow.

Fantasy: We’d prepare fun meals, which we’d then share together at the dining room table.Margaux 9-15 First day

Reality: Margaux does not eat. Period. During the three days I was there, I think she had three cheese sticks, one apple Crusher, and two yogurt smoothies. I’m still not sure she swallowed. Max’s diet consists of nothing I could actually make, or if I could, I wouldn’t get it right. And he eats at the table with half his bottom on the chair, the other half on its way to a place way more interesting than the table with me. Then it takes a half hour to wipe up after him.

Fantasy: We’d enjoy the local children’s museum, and I’d purchase each of them an educational toy from the gift shop.

Reality: They did enjoy the museum. Yay! I had a hard time keeping up as they ran from one interactive display to another.  At one point, I strongly suspected they were trying to ditch me.

Big surprise, there was nothing in the gift shop they wanted. So we went to Marshalls, where we found an ice cream play set for Margaux. Max couldn’t find anything he liked there, so we went to Walgreens for Pokemon cards. A part of me thought, Should I be encouraging a 7-year-old in a card game where fictional characters are captured by humans and trained to fight each other to the death? A bigger part of me just gave in.

We also bought jelly beans and gummy bears to serve as toppings for their make believe ice cream concoctions. On our way home, Margaux spilled the jelly beans on the floor of my car. [I discovered a half dozen in my pocketbook today.] When we arrived home, Max dumped the sticky gummy bears on the carpet (a.k.a. “ice cream counter”). However, we did play make believe with the ice cream set. Over and over and over and over. Up until I told them I was lactose intolerant.

Fantasy: It is possible to be a fun and responsible grandmother at the same time.

Reality: Maybe not. I said nothing when they ate the dirty jelly beans and fuzzy gummy bears and even when they shared them with their father. [As the youngest of my three kids, I figured he wouldn’t know the difference.]

Fantasy: Planning makes for more fun.

Reality: Going with the flow works best.

Fantasy: I’m as young as I feel.

Reality: After three days, I feel every bit of old. 

Fantasy: Next time it will be different.

Reality: No it won’t. And I wouldn’t change them for the world!

The Lord knows all human plans; he knows that they are futile. ~ Psalms 94:11 (NIV)

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. ~ Proverbs 19:21 (NIV)


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Arranged Marriages On the Rise in America

Arranged MarraigeAfter being widowed for a season, the idea of remarrying surfaced. You probably noticed I used the word “remarrying” rather than “getting out there,” seeing someone,” and/or “dating.”

Not that I planned to marry the first man who came along. Sheesh, I’m not that silly. I just wanted the first man who came along to be the man I wanted to marry. Made sense to me. Yet it took eight years of being single for me to realize that, no matter how hard I tried, God would not be rushed. 

During my impatient years [No wise remarks from those who know me well!], I discovered there is a big difference between the male and female’s thought process in the early stage of a relationship (or in any stage for that matter). I conducted my own simple, albeit non-scientific survey. To keep the playing field level, I chose single people of all ages from both sexes and asked them the exact same questions.

My questions required a simple “yes” or “no” answer.  Here are the questions:

  1. Do you know what a hope chest is?
  2. Have you ever googled a person’s name right before or after the first date?
  3. Have you ever paired your name with their name to see how it looks and sounds?
  4. Have you ever used Google Maps/Street View to look at a potential date’s house?
  5. Do you wonder what your friends will say about how they dress?
  6. Have you picked a church for your wedding?
  7. Do you try on engagement rings periodically?
  8. Have you ever tried on a bridal gown or a tux?
  9. Have you thought about where you want to live after you’re married?
  10. Do you have your bridesmaids and/or ushers picked out?
  11. Do you check out their Facebook photos to see if they were ever paired with someone better looking than you?
  12. Have you decided where you’ll spend the holidayswith your family or theirs?
  13. Have you ever dreamed about owning and filling a minivan?
  14. Have you considered how soon you can change his or her wardrobe?
  15. After you first visited your significant other’s home, did you make a list of what needed to go and sign up for HGTV design tips?

Here are the results of the survey:

  • All the women answered “yes” to all questions.
  • All the men answered “no” to all questions.

Here’s what the overall study revealed:

  • Arranged marriages still exist in today’s society. They’re just arranged by the bride-to-be instead of her parents.

Surprise weddingWhat was it like in my case before I remarried? David (now my husband), was quicker than most. He caught on when, on our way to an event one day, I said, “By the way, if anyone says ‘Congratulations’, just thank them and go with it, okay?”

 

“One day her mother-in-law Naomi said to Ruth, ‘My dear daughter, isn’t it about time I arranged a good home for you so you can have a happy life? And isn’t Boaz our close relative, the one with whose young women you’ve been working? Maybe it’s time to make our move. Tonight is the night of Boaz’s barley harvest at the threshing floor. Take a bath. Put on some perfume. Get all dressed up and go to the threshing floor. But don’t let him know you’re there until the party is well under way and he’s had plenty of food and drink. When you see him slipping off to sleep, watch where he lies down and then go there. Lie at his feet to let him know that you are available to him for marriage. Then wait and see what he says. He’ll tell you what to do.’ Ruth said, ‘If you say so, I’ll do it, just as you’ve told me.’ She went down to the threshing floor and put her mother-in-law’s plan into action.” ~ Ruth 3:1-6 (MSG)