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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Bucket List Business

      When the year closes in I experience an oppressive feeling of accountability that sometimes propels me to get something done. For me as I age, many of my goals have become bucket list entries. I am well aware how short life can be and know that I should buckle down about my bucket list. So far I have been much better about adding things to the list instead of crossing them off. I have gotten a few done, but not as many as I'd like.
      This morning I finished a very full-hearted attempt to cross one off. I have long desired to secure "A Room of her Own", a spot in the very competitive writing retreat for women held each August at Georgia O'Keeffe's ranch in northern New Mexico. Chances are, of course, that I won't get in, but my application has been submitted, and sits somewhere under the vast starry skies that blanket Ghost Ranch. It may become part of the bone pile there, and that will be okay too. It is done.

Summer Days by Georgia O'Keeffe, 1936.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

After the Crash

     Last week at my local Indie bookstore (RiverRun Books) I went to see and hear Carolyn Roy-Bornstein, MD give a reading from her memoir Crash, A Mother, a Son, and the Journey from Grief to Gratitude. (Skirt! 2012) Her soft-spoken talk intrigued me enough to part with $23. I really wanted to read her story about dealing with TBI. Maybe there would be something in there that would help me now that I am dealing with TBI. I have finished the book. It is quite a bit better than the banal title implies. Dr. Bornstien writes well, probably from a lifetime of journaling, and shares the story of her son's accident and its aftermath honestly and at times, eloquently. Though the book is written by a medical doctor, it is a mother's story more than anything else. Here is a sample that appealed to me;
     "Maybe he needs to feel the cruelty of the situation full on, not softened by a mother's touch. Maybe he has to feel it like a cutter has to feel a knife against her skin. Because pain makes things real. Whatever the reason, his memory is what it is. I have finally come to realize that it has nothing to do with me. It is his reality and part of his healing and his journey back. And I have to honor it."
     I especially like her conclusion, though maybe it is inevitable, the only conclusion we can come to when tragedy touches us...
     You can learn more at Carolyn's blog; 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Belated Thanksgiving Post

Sarah Had A Little Wish
By Tammi J Truax

     Actually, that isn’t all too accurate. History shows that Sarah had a big wish, that she worked very hard to make it come true, and it did.
     The Sarah that I refer to is Sarah Josepha Hale, born in 1789 on East Mountain at Newport, New Hampshire. Her father, Gordon Buell, had been a revolutionary war captain. Her childhood there was typical for girls of the period, without a formal education. Her brother, Horatio, was atypical. Formally educated at Dartmouth, he in turn educated his sister at home, and she was a most willing pupil.
      Sarah is probably most well-known for writing the popular children’s rhyme, Mary Had a Little a Lamb, but it is probably the least of her accomplishments.
      At the age of 24 she married lawyer David Hale, and continued her home studies. Nine years later her husband died, and Sarah found herself without an income, four young children, and a fifth on the way.
     It wasn’t long before she saw her ability to write as a potential means of support, and with the assistance of her husband’s Freemason lodge, she published her first book; a collection of original poems titled The Genius of Oblivion. It was followed by her first novel, published in the US under the title Northwood: Life North and South. It made her well-known; as one of the first American women novelists and one of the first of either gender to write about slavery. A job offer as editor of the new Ladies’ Magazine resulted. Sarah accepted it and moved her young family to Boston.
     She did well in there and from the years 1837 to 1877 she was the editor of the very popular Godey’s Lady’s Book, sometimes called the Victorian bible of the parlor. It is still famous for its hand painted fashion plates.
     From her editorial positions the woman from a small New Hampshire town yielded considerable influence on the nation. Both in matters small and trivial, such as how to set the table, to matters large, that women often did not voice any opinion about.
     Ironically, Sarah denounced the growing women’s right movement, even as she did a great deal to advance it. Much of her lifetime’s work was clearly intended to promote higher education, professional career opportunities including in teaching and medicine, and social reform of all kinds for women, while heralding the importance and dignity of motherhood and homemaking.
     Overall though, her great loyalty was to her country. She worked tirelessly to ensure the completion of the Bunker Hill monument, for the preservation of Mount Vernon Plantation, and to give us something we should all be thankful for.
     Over a period of at least seventeen years, Sarah implored no less than five presidents to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. Previously it had been celebrated primarily in New England and at different times in different states. Sarah felt strongly that a national and official holiday would help to heal and unify the country after the civil war. Finally President Lincoln agreed and proclaimed it so in 1863. Clearly they were right, it still seems to be the one day of the year when we all come together as a nation, put our differences aside, and count our abundant blessings.

Here is the transcript of one of Sarah’s letters to the president:
Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois.
Courtesy Library of Congress.
Philadelphia, Sept. 28th 1863.
Permit me, as Editress of the "Lady's Book", to request a few minutes of your precious time, while laying before you a subject of deep interest to myself and -- as I trust -- even to the President of our Republic, of some importance. This subject is to have the day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.
You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.
Enclosed are three papers (being printed these are easily read) which will make the idea and its progress clear and show also the popularity of the plan.
For the last fifteen years I have set forth this idea in the "Lady's Book", and placed the papers before the Governors of all the States and Territories -- also I have sent these to our Ministers abroad, and our Missionaries to the heathen -- and commanders in the Navy. From the recipients I have received, uniformly the most kind approval. Two of these letters, one from Governor (now General) Banks and one from Governor Morgan are enclosed; both gentlemen as you will see, have nobly aided to bring about the desired Thanksgiving Union.
But I find there are obstacles not possible to be overcome without legislative aid -- that each State should, by statute, make it obligatory on the Governor to appoint the last Thursday of November, annually, as Thanksgiving Day; -- or, as this way would require years to be realized, it has ocurred to me that a proclamation from the President of the United States would be the best, surest and most fitting method of National appointment.
I have written to my friend, Hon. Wm. H. Seward, and requested him to confer with President Lincoln on this subject As the President of the United States has the power of appointments for the District of Columbia and the Territories; also for the Army and Navy and all American citizens abroad who claim protection from the U. S. Flag -- could he not, with right as well as duty, issue his proclamation for a Day of National Thanksgiving for all the above classes of persons? And would it not be fitting and patriotic for him to appeal to the Governors of all the States, inviting and commending these to unite in issuing proclamations for the last Thursday in November as the Day of Thanksgiving for the people of each State? Thus the great Union Festival of America would be established.
Now the purpose of this letter is to entreat President Lincoln to put forth his Proclamation, appointing the last Thursday in November (which falls this year on the 26th) as the National Thanksgiving for all those classes of people who are under the National Government particularly, and commending this Union Thanksgiving to each State Executive: thus, by the noble example and action of the President of the United States, the permanency and unity of our Great American Festival of Thanksgiving would be forever secured.
An immediate proclamation would be necessary, so as to reach all the States in season for State appointments, also to anticipate the early appointments by Governors.
Excuse the liberty I have taken
With profound respect
Yrs truly
Editress of the "Ladys Book"

      My research of Victorian thanksgiving menus such as Sarah would have espoused showed that our traditional foods really are traditional with just a few exceptions. I share the following recipe that was popular then which I think should be re-introduced, especially here in an oystering community. Happy Thanksgiving.

OYSTER FRICASSEE from the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book of 1896

1 pint oysters.
Milk or cream.
2 tablespoons butter.
2 tablespoons flour.
1/4 teaspoon salt.
Few grains cayenne.
1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley.
1 egg.

Clean oysters, heat oyster liquor to boiling point and strain through double thickness of cheese cloth; add oysters to liquor and cook until plump. 
Remove oysters with skimmer and add enough cream to liquor to make a cupful.
Melt butter, add flour, and pour on gradually hot liquid; add salt, cayenne, parsley, oysters, and egg slightly beaten.
(Tammi’s note: A dash or two of white wine may be added while cooking. Can be served this way as a first course soup, or can be baked with buttered cracker crumbs to be served as a side dish, but be sure not to overcook delicate oysters.)

Tammi Truax likes to write on the subjects of home, hearth, and history. She can be reached at

Monday, November 19, 2012

On Murdering Dolls

     Came across this artifact while doing research today for the book I am working on. I was thrilled to find it because previous research had indicated that the Shakers did not allow little girl believers to have any dolls. I had already written a section in my novel where they did, and I was afraid I would have to kill my darling dolls. This morning when I opened my document to commit the murder I couldn't do it, instead I found a way to justify keeping them in that I thought was historically plausible, and then later today found this proof that my instincts were at least partly correct. This dolly is owned by the Museums of Old York in Maine, the state where the Shaker sister who made it lived. It is a bit later than the period that I am writing about, but not very far off. I wish I could know more about her. What do you think of her?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

What has been happening and not happening...

      Haven't been able to work in awhile. Took another one of those two-by-fours to the head that sometimes come my way, and my ability to concentrate has been cold cocked. I'll get it back, I always do. In fact, I may have to write my way out of this place. But right now I can't.
      I have wanted to blog about my writing retreat on Monhegan Island, just a few weeks ago that seem now so far behind me, as if all that good was left there when the ferry brought me back to the mainland. My productivity forgotten on the cliffs high atop the raging Atlantic. Up there, on top of those ragged cliffs, I often thought about the person who was then well, now lying in a bionic bed in the ICU at MGH in Boston. About how much he would love it there, and how he would see both the beauty and the danger there and would embrace both, probably too enthusiastically.
     I'll write about Monhegan soon, and get back to the novel that was coming along so well there, and I'll write about my friend too, someday.
      For now, one good thing I can report is that I am registered to attend the next AWP conference, as it is coming to Boston in 2013 and I can commute. It will be my first time, and I am very excited.
     I took this photo while I was hiking on Monhegan and asked my friend, Warren, if he would make me one. He said he would.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


     I like going to author readings. I think of it as part of my work, and make an effort to attend them whenever I get the chance. Fortunately I live in a town that brings in some wonderful writers. Earlier this week I went to hear Salman Rushdie speak. He read from his memoir, Joseph Anton, which I haven't read yet. I look forward to reading it and will since I was forced to buy the book in order to attend the reading. He is an engaging, and of course, interesting speaker. Actually knows how to charm a crowd.
     A couple of the most memorable things he said were that his grandfather taught him that "nothing is off limits", a rather essential philosophy for a writer to embrace. Yet as with most matters related to good writing, sounds much simpler than it actually is.
     Two other things he said stuck with me because they were about fears, and I have the very same fears as Mr. Rushdie. Well, not on being executed, but these:
     He said if he didn't write about his life "it would destroy me". I know that feeling well. He also confided that his greatest fear is "writing bad books". I worry about that too, no one wants to write bad books. I find that the former fear overrides the latter, and maybe that is the way it has to be.
      Last night I went to hear a writer at my local indie bookstore. A writer I have met before, and whose career I admire, Joyce Maynard. She read from Labor Day and talked a lot about how she saw it as a movie even when she was writing the first draft. It was most interesting to hear her talk about applying the sense of sight to writing; visualizing scene and action. She gave me something new to think about, and I'm off to think about it right now...

Is charm part of the creative process? Both of these successful writers exude it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tea for Two

     This month marks the eighth anniversary of my column, Tea for Two, published in my hometown newspaper, The Portsmouth Herald, and partially archived at
     When I chose that name for my column I wasn't aware of the song, popular before my birth, by the same name. I wanted the title to imply the way that the stories that I share in my column come to me; through one-on-one casual conversations like one might have with a neighbor.
     I have since come to appreciate the song, covered by many wonderful artists, and share this version with you. Happy Anniversay.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

One hundred thousand poets...


     By now I hope you have heard of 100,000 Poets for Change, a global event of poets and musicians that will take place all over the world in simultaneous performances this Saturday September 29th. I am very happy to be one of the one hundred thousand. I will be featured reader this year at the Exeter, New Hampshire venue. Just one of dozens, my reading will take place at about 3:30 PM. I will be reading some original work, some of which I've never shared before. They include a brand new series of found poems from Holocaust literature. I hope you can attend the reading that is taking place closest to you. With hundreds of events planned in 115 countries that shouldn't be hard to do. Better yet join in!

Exeter Town Hall, 2nd floor in conjunction with The Vision and the Word
Saturday, September 29 12-4 PM
Sponsored in part by: Seacoast Peace Response, Veterans for Peace, The Poetry Society of New Hampshire, Social Justice Committee of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Exeter, and
The Portsmouth Poet Laureate Program
For more information:
Also, please visit:

    From event organizer Michael Rothenberg:

“What kind of CHANGE are we talking about?

The first order of change is for poets, writers, artists, anybody, to actually get together to create and perform, educate and demonstrate, simultaneously, with other communities around the world. This will change how we see our local community and the global community. We have all become incredibly alienated in recent years. We hardly know our neighbors down the street let alone our creative allies who live and share our concerns in other countries. We need to feel this kind of global solidarity. I think it will be empowering.

And of course there is the political/social change that many of us are talking about these days. There is trouble in the world. Wars, ecocide, the lack of affordable medical care, racism, the list goes on.

It appears that transformation towards a more sustainable world is a major concern and could be a global guiding principle for this event. Peace also seems to be a common cause. War is not sustainable. There is an increasing sense that we need to move forward and stop moving backwards. But I am trying not to be dogmatic. I am hoping that together we can develop our ideas of the "change/transformation" we are looking for as a group, and that each community group will decide their own specific area of focus for change for their particular event."

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mucky Murk

     I was out doing errands, driving along a long boring strip-malled stretch we call Route 1, and needed a lunch break. I was keeping an eye out for a tile store and somewhere good to get a quick bite to eat. Suddenly Betty's Kitchen caught my eye. Spontaneously swinging into the lot, I parked facing a lonely terrier tethered to a tree. He had the same unsure and hungry look in his eye as me, and we shared the sentiment for a moment. As I eyed him I thought about the last time I had been to this little country style diner. A quick math calculation using my son's age told me it had been about sixteen years. There were five of us then. Only three of us are still living today. My husband and mother wouldn't last much more than a year or two beyond that brunch. That day though they were healthy as young horses, and none of us could even imagine the cancer cells dancing inside of them even then. I took the deep, and relatively futile, cleansing breath I always take when my thoughts come to this, and walked in alone. I ordered some lunch, then leaned back to remember. But I couldn't. I pretty much couldn't remember anything. No details of that last visit would come back to me though I desperately wanted them to. Finally my food came to me, nothing else did.

      Not a single detail of my husband or my mother could I retrieve from the murky muck in my head. I couldn't remember where we sat or what we were wearing. I couldn't even remember what my little boy ate though I probably ordered for him. I couldn't even remember if we had a good time, or if my husband and mother tag teamed me as they often did, relishing in my inevitable indignation at their less then tender treatment of my various philosophies. I can't remember why we met there at all though I'm pretty sure it was at my Mom's request.
     This loss of details is what bothers me most now that I have become accustomed to living with the actual loss of them. It is as maddening as it is saddening. And I am afraid of what more my memory will let go of. The memories are all I have. If I had known then that in sixteen years time what we said, and felt, and wore, and ate for breakfast would be gone, erased, deleted, I would have held on tighter.
     You can not know when you come to the table that half of the people you are breaking bread with will be taken from you soon. If you did breakfast would be so very different...
     Maybe they wouldn't have teased me to teariness (if they did that time). Would I still have nagged him about his cholesterol (if I did that time)? Would we have let our son suck the jelly out of the little packets on the table (if he wanted to that time)? Would we have lingered longer over coffee? I hope so.
     I do have one memory of that morning that is very clear, and I cherish it.
     My mother and her friend followed us in our old Saab back to our little house in South Berwick. My mom was notoriously incapable of driving from one place to another without getting lost so it was imperative that we keep her in our sight. When we came to the Kittery traffic circle I remember my husband, Ian, suggested that we take a few extra revolutions around the rotary to confuse and amuse my mom. I vividly recall how I giggled with glee just as much from my shotgun seat as my now grown son did from his car seat.
      That's it. That is all that I remember. That one cherished memory. So I guess that's the moral of this story. Cherish more. And linger over coffee when you can.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Something a little different...

Latest column with travel photos.                   

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A poem I wrote after Katrina

It’s Not About Beads

Sitting on a corner of the quarter
leaning back in my black iron chair
sipping an Abita beer
considering the damage done here.

What it must have been like ~
boarding up these doors and windows,
heavy shutters like butterfly wings
even in the first of the winds.

The questions ~ do we stay or go?
What to leave? What to bring?
Where should we go?
What will happen to our home?

Then the water, so cold and scary,
hard and noisy from above,
slowly seeping up the avenues,
but rising, rising, ever higher.

Later, the bloated boats of bodies
typically, thankfully, floating face down
not looking up toward the sky,
now so clean, and clear,

brimful of bright stars.

copyright - Tammi J Truax

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Sage Stuff

     I found so much here of value to me, that I wanted to share it and keep it handy for future reference. See anything that might be helpful to you?

Monday, August 13, 2012

... Watching God

I've been looking at a passage from the end of Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston, one of my favorite books.

"Now, Phoeby, don't be too mean wid de rest of 'em 'cause dey's parched up from not knowin' things. Dem meatskins is got tuh rattle tuh make out they's alive. Let 'em consolate theyselves wid talk. 'Course, talkin' don't amount tuh uh hill uh beans when yuh can't do nothin' else. And listenin' tuh dat kind uh talk is jus' lak openin' yo' mouth and lettin' de moon shine down yo' throat. It's uh known fact, Phoeby, you got tuh go there to know there. Yo' papa and yo' mama and nobody else can't tell yuh and show yuh. Two things everybody's got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin' fuh theyselves." (page 192)

In it, of course, Hurston is using black American vernacular, specifically a regional dialect of the south (Florida). A spoken English she knew well, and could contrast with standard written English in other parts of the novel.The vernacular is characterized mostly by nonstandard syntax through the dropping of sounds (especially -g sound at the end of adverbs) and nonstandard pronunciation through the substitution of some sounds (dem and dat for them and that).

That it is authentic and accurate is not why it is important. It's brilliance is in how it is used as a literary device. It is a masterful use of vernacular writing for specific effect. This passage communicates, through just the use of dialect(showing, not telling), that the speaker, Janie, though she speaks only a version of English considered substandard, can and does speak that English poetically, and manages to use it to convey profound compassion and intellect. I marvel at her accomplishment in conveying that message so eloquently, even elegantly, through her writing. It still solidly stands today as powerful and persuasive writing 75 years later.


Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishing, 1937. Print.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fighting Bull

Fighting Bull

By Tammi J Truax
Published by Seacoast Media Group, September 2008

     This summer marked a relatively major milestone for me; I took my first transatlantic trip alone, southern Spain in June. I saw and did many wonderful things while I was there. I could go on forever about just the museums in Madrid, or just not go on at all, and die happy over tapas and sangria by the Mediterranean Sea.
     One traditional tourist activity that I weighed heavily both before and after my trip was Corridas de Toros, a bullfight.  I decided, after much thought and study, to go - “when in Spain”.  I wanted to see and judge for myself what Hemingway called “a wonderful nightmare”.  There is intense controversy all over the world and within Spain about the ethics of the bullfight.  It has never been more intense, or more in the bull’s favor, than it is now, but anti-bullfighting sentiment is apparently not new.
     I was surprised to learn while viewing an exhibit on Francisco De Goya at the Prado Museum that he had passionate feelings about the subject when he created the series of prints called La Tauromaquia in 1815 and 16. (You can view these as a slideshow on YouTube.)  Art historians contend that the etchings show “Goya’s need to express his criticism of man’s deep rooted cruelty … brutality, which is explicit from the outset of the series, is an inherent characteristic of the figures from this world as a veiled critique of human barbarity.”
     To truly understand the bull fight, which may in fact be impossible for those of us who are not part of the Spanish culture, one must at least evaluate it within its current cultural context, and its significant historical context.
     The bullrings, themselves sometimes architecturally visit-worthy, probably originated as temples (Celtic-Iberian) and the rituals that took place in them were about sacrificing bulls to the gods, practices that ancient peoples almost certainly saw as necessary to their own survival. Stories of such sacrifices can be found in the bible and other ancient texts.  The bull was the supreme sacrifice because it was the largest of the domesticated animals to offer.  Under primarily Roman influence, over what was obviously a very long period of time, the religious significance waned and the rituals became more about entertainment. Though for another lengthy period of time Catholicism became entwined in the entertainment as it did in most aspects of Spanish culture. James Michener wrote elegantly of this entanglement in his novel Miracle in Seville. Now of course, no religious connection whatsoever can be made, and in fact, bullfighting was declared as “cruel and disgraceful exhibitions of devils” by Pope St. Pius V, who forbade attendance under penalty of excommunication. Nowadays, some seriously call it a sport, and some seriously call it art and as such integral to the culture, and some just call it a spectacle, including many Spaniards.
     I tried to keep an open mind about all of this when I purchased my terribly expensive ($110.US) ticket for a non-luxurious seat in the sun at an unimportant fight on a Sunday afternoon in Marbella.
     The adherence to the antediluvian rituals of the ceremonial opening may indeed have artistic merit. Regalia is almost always arresting. But the work of the matadors, though I was not seeing the rock-stars of the bullfighting world, really didn’t reflect what I would call artistry. Frankly, I have seen better moves on the dance floor, and I was watching hard for, maybe even hoping for, an artistic rationalization, as I had read about, what is supposed to be a spiritual symbiosis between man and beast. I didn’t see it.
     What I saw was a very predictable series of grossly unfair fights between a lot of men, and one bewildered animal after another. Each fight went down in exactly the same way so that it became almost boring. I found myself unable to be impressed when a young man, no matter how handsome, stabbed an animal, and then paraded himself, in a rather girly get-up, around the ring to receive applause while over gesticulating to the crowd. The act of hacking off the dead bull’s ear to toss to someone in the crowd as a gift, though deeply entrenched in tradition, seems absurd. I may have been impressed if anything at all had been in the bull’s favor during the fight, but it wasn’t. The matador who makes the final kill has a whole team of men working to weaken the bull first, and when anyone is in any danger they jump behind a wooden partition that the bull rams into, or if too far away from the well placed partitions they just jump the wall. We did see one matador get into what may be one of the most hazardous positions he could be in when he lost hold of his cape, and there was nothing artistic about the way he threw himself into the stands like a rodeo clown, causing my young American companion to remark, “Funny how fighting a bull becomes a lot more difficult when you lose your blanky.”
     In truth, the bullfights have clearly changed a lot over the last decade or two, largely in response to global demands.  It has become as humane as an animal killing ritual can probably get.  The elimination of the goriness there once was has also eliminated much of the peril that has rendered the show relatively facile, and really an almost risk free farce.
     Still, in the end, it is about killing. A bull fight is not over until either bull or man is dead, except for in rare instances when an unusually impressive bull is pardoned by the presiding authority. The kill itself, which has been called “the coup de grace”, does appear to be as merciful and skilled as an execution can be. The matador makes one swift thrust of his sword near the base of the skull, which severs the spinal cord, and death is supposed to be instant and painless. Of course, by this time the bull has been physically worn down by a series of other injuries that were not painless. During one bout I heard a bull cry, and I am not sure I’ve ever heard a sadder sound.
     I did not enjoy attending a bull fight. I did not enjoy the admonishment of my Madridian amigos several days later claiming that it is tourists like me who keep the bull fights operating. That may be partially true, but the Spanish are ultimately responsible. Some cities, like Barcelona, have outlawed bullfighting. Attendance all over the country is at an all time low, as is commercial sponsorship and televised fights, which were common not long ago. Still there are government funded bull ranches and bull fighting schools in Spain, and money is still being made.
    In the end though, it is hard for me to completely condemn the bullfight. It feels too hypocritical, as condemnation usually does to me. The Toro bravo is actually a distinct species of bull, bred for aggression, supposedly of an ancient race conserved only in Spain, and they are revered animals by the Spanish. They are raised in relative luxury and leisure, especially in comparison to most of the ungulates on this planet. They have to work only once in their lives, when and if they are chosen to enter the ring at the age of four, having been respectfully cared for and even blessed. Though I could not verify it, it is said that the dead bulls are always eaten, served in elaborate banquets to the townspeople or fed to the poor.
     If I were a bovine I would much rather go out that way then to be raised in an assembly line, live a brief and unnatural life, until killed by mechanical slaughter, and ultimately ordered up as a burger through a plastic clown’s head in a drive-thru eatery at an ugly American strip mall. Give me; give us all, a dignified death.

     This image is from one of my favorite children's books, Ferdinand the Bull by Munro Leaf (1936). Ironically, it is a story about pacifism. Ferdinand has always reminded me of my son, Spence.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Some Fan Mail

============================================================================================Mickey Zangari: Classic American story
I think he still misses the old neighborhood, although he hasn't lived there for almost 75 years. The neighborhood isn't really even there anymore.
Dominic "Mickey" Zangari was born in 1926 in a house on Charles Street, right in the heart of Puddle Dock, near where the Dunaway Restaurant is now. Some of the houses and businesses that made up his boyhood world still stand, but have become part of Strawbery Banke, and the landscape has changed drastically with the times.
His parents, Marianna and Dominic Sr., came here from Calabria, Italy, separately. They met here in Portsmouth by way of formal introduction. They had three children while living on the Puddle Dock, then when they could afford to, moved the family to Bridge Street when Mickey was about 9 years old. That house is also gone now, in its place is a parking lot.
His parents both labored long hard days for local cleaners. His mom in the Liberty Bridge Laundry, which was located near the Liberty pole in what is now Prescott Park. She fed clothes through a mangle all week for the flat rate of $9.99, not a penny more. By the time he was 6 years old, Mickey was working, too. He stood in front of the old post office on Pleasant Street daily and peddled the Portsmouth Herald for two cents each, which earned him a 100 percent profit.
Although children worked through the Depression, they found time to play too, and there were always lots of other children around to play with. Favorite pastimes included fishing off the wharf, swimming in the dirty river (right off the edge of Puddle Dock where sewerage was dumped in), sledding down Gardner Street or Liberty Hill, and going downtown to see a movie when they could scrape up a dime. "We were poorer than church mice," Mickey says with a smile.
Wanting nothing more than to earn a decent living, he quit school and took an apprenticeship in sheet metal at the shipyard when he was 16, while his brother Nick joined the army. As soon as he could get his parents to sign the papers, he volunteered for the Navy, and at 17 became a Seabee with the 35th Battalion.

One of his favorite stories to tell about the war is the time in 1944 while he was in the Philippines, he unexpectedly crossed paths with his brother whom he hadn't seen in more than two years.
Both boys made it home to Portsmouth, and eventually Mickey went back to work at the shipyard, where he'd stay for 34 years. In 1956, he made a telephone call that would change his life, because he married the operator on the line, a local girl, Maxine LeVassseur.
After starting their married life in Admiralty Village, they sold their double house for $9,000 (a whopping profit) and built the house in Kittery, Maine, they still share, most recently with an adorable rescue puppy. They raised two daughters, and have five grandchildren, but the Zangari name, which was once well known in Portsmouth, may not be carried on.
Mickey feels thankful for his life, especially for the shipyard, which he says allowed him and many other locals to lift themselves out of poverty, for it isn't the hardships of the old neighborhoods that people miss, it's the camaraderie.
Tammi Truax is a freelance writer, community activist and single mom who can be reached
Looking back at lessons learned
As next month marks the beginning of my seventh year writing this column I decided to spend some time reflecting on what I have learned from those 84 columns, and on how I can improve the column in the future. And of course I have been thinking a lot about the people I have profiled, and on how they have touched my life, and maybe in turn, yours.
This may have all been triggered by the death a couple of weeks ago of my dear friend Hugh Harter, whom I wrote about more than anyone else. The only other person whom I have profiled more than once was another old local I was quite fond of, Harrison "Workie" Workman. Funny how the old Memorial Bridge always makes me think of both of those guys. Hugh Harter, on his Bow Street deck in the twilight of his years and the day, sipping a martini and watching the boats come and go, and Workie as a wild young man flying his biplane underneath it to show off for his future bride, Sweetness. Most of the subjects of my column have passed on, which makes looking back a little sad.
Of course, I'm not surprised by this. My intention was to gather oral histories and preserve and share stories that might otherwise be lost forever in a way that honors those who tell them. Sometimes I have succeeded with that. Sometimes people become shy about telling their tales. The column did lead to a radio program with a similar objective, which I now co-produce with Terry Farish. It's called "Seacoast Journal" and can be heard on WSCA Portsmouth Community Radio 106.1 FM. When planning Tea for Two I especially wanted to talk to people about how their lives have played out here so that newcomers or young people might gain a better appreciation for what was here before them. I am not at all sure if I have succeeded at that. I hope so.
It isn't easy to tell what effect the column has had on people. Most of my readers remain silent, though I do get a fair amount of recognition and positive feedback when I am out and about. Just a few people write and those notes are usually quite touching. The only time that I know of where my column was the most "hit on" (I've never otherwise received that title!) article of the day was the one titled Oldest Surviving Puddle Docker. Millie Pecunies scratched out a living that could only be described as happy hardship, sometimes unable to pay the $5 per month rent for her Liberty Street apartment. She, like Mickey Zangari, who grew up on Charles Street, talked of still missing the old neighborhood decades after they had moved. Dancing on Jefferson Street, sledding on Gardner, baked beans on Saturday night, happy memories of an old way of life. Other activities I often heard about were ice skating at Gunnison's, USO dances and going to hear big bands, and going to the movies in the several theaters that were downtown, to name a few.
Another of the most popular columns was the one profiling yet another Puddle Docker, Clarence Cunningham, who had to fight for the right to enter local barber shops. Of him I wrote, "Over the course of his 96 years Clarence has been witness to an evolution of equality in America that few of us can understand. From being rocked by his grandmother Priscilla, a former slave, to the swearing in of the first black president, it was the long hard years of quiet contribution to our society by Clarence, and countless others, that led us from the former to the latter."
There were many others who left a legacy from the hard work that they did while they were here. I often think of Don Ricklefs whose fine carpentry can be found all over town, but is always seen in the Freedom Shield on the liberty pole in Prescott Park. I think of Louise McGee every time I am on Ceres Street and am so grateful that she fought to save it. I think of Mickey Hussey every time I go to the library and see the local veterans' memorial there. I wonder how the class of 1940 gets along without her. So many others who made quiet contributions to this community like Fran and Harold Lampert who gave most of their life's savings to the local temple for improvements and Gene Morrill who served on New Castle committees for more than 60 years but in the end hardly knew anyone in his town. Sometimes the legacy rippled out far beyond our borders as with Dave Kiley Jr., Portsmouth's "only and original river pirate."
I have written about more artists and musicians than I realized I would, and I hope their legacies will remain with us always. One of them, Tom Hall, The Shantyman* got me more blog hits via Facebook than any other column. Another, my youngest interviewee ever, about Jeanne Givens and her Vaughan Mall tribute to the Memorial Bridge, seems more pertinent than ever now, and the heritage keeping work of Richard Haynes will be important forever.
Not surprisingly I have written about many veterans, each though with their own unique story. Workie Workman, the first Portsmouth man drafted into World War II, and Ann Ford Peaslee, who worked aboard the largest hospital ship the world had ever known. The astonishing story of the Gardner family of Northwest Street, who sent more sons into World War II than Hollywood's Mrs. Ryan, and all six of them came home alive though only my subject, Herb, with a Bronze Star from President Truman, and the Lawrence family when both Frank Jr. and Sr. enlisted and both came home to run a filling station on Vaughan Street. I still wince when I recall hearing of the physical anguish endured by Tony Vaccaro, a Flying Tiger who weighed 130 pounds when he enlisted and lost 40, and smile at the story of Bob Nilson, who was recruited to contribute his personal expertise about Chinese junks during the Korean conflict.
There have been too many connections to the shipyard to count. It was amazing to hear from Leon Valley of Rye, who had been the primary builder for the USS Thresher. Some shipyard connections went back generations, most notably, my first subject ever, William Brooke Jr., a third-generation shipyard retiree whose grandfather had been the yard's oxen team driver. Speaking of large animals, one of the oddest stories I ever wrote about was the time elephants stopped by to wet their long whistles at the Newington home of Dorothy Watson as a traveling circus passed by.
It has been interesting to hear from readers months, even years, after the fact as they find the article online. It is fascinating to hear from people far away. My favorite after-story though was the time my column on Norman Phillips came out and he was aboard the QE2 and read it to everyone at his dining table.
I have frequently reported on a permanent loss of a way of life that I feel is important for us to reflect on. Some of those losses are simple ones; swimming in the coves, kid caught flounder for supper, playing in the streets, the Coleman clam basket, Audubon walks in Frank Jones' parks, and wild blueberry fields. But overriding all is not so much the loss of open land (did you know we once had a pet cemetery and a race track?) but of people's homes. I have heard so many tales of the loss of cherished homes by eminent domain all over town. Sometimes urgently to build war housing, air bases and bridges. Sometimes less so to build museums, parks, and hotels. Unfortunately I am hearing the same generation lament far too often about the new loss of old homes that their working children can't afford to take on after them because of the tax burden. This is especially sad in cases when the home has been in the family for three or more generations like the Martine Cottage on Little Harbor or the Coleman Farm in Newington.
Perhaps most sad of all is when we lose the family forever as Ray Harris explained in my December 2005 column, "This is my wife's city. She was born and raised here. We raised our children here, but my children won't be able to raise their kids here. They are being forced to move to towns in the north that are more affordable." I hope to keep bringing you stories from our elders, but hope I don't have to report on that last one anymore. Time will tell. Do respond to a column if you are so moved, and continue sending me suggestions of people to talk to. I'll be listening.
Tammi Truax is a freelance writer, graduate student, and community activist. She can be reached

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Few Things Finished

Already have three submissions out this week!
And I have finished the following home work assignment, that I have decided to share with you. I am taking a class in linguistics. It was a class I was dreading as I concede grammar is a weakness of mine. For example, I have been criticized for writing in fragments. I choose to do that. I consider it a choice of style.
   This week my professor in linguistics asked us to find and correct an example of a stylistic error. I am somewhat confused as how glaring errors in grammar can be considered stylistic, but when contemplating that I began to think of the former president, well known for grammar gaffes. The sentence I am using as an example is in a list of Bushisms listed under that entry on Wikipedia, in the category on education.
      "Then you wake up at the high school level and find out that the illiteracy level of our children are appalling." —Washington, D.C.; January 23, 2004.
       I think there are several problems with this sentence which is quite poorly constructed, but I will focus on the one that Wikipedia is emphasizing. The president's use (or misuse) of the word are instead of is, which is a matter of subject-verb agreement. The term children is plural, making the singular is grammatically incorrect.
       I would rewrite the sentence as follows;
     When you examine high school test scores in America, you find that the literacy level of our children is appalling.
      I think that my example communicates the speaker’s intended message far more effectively. He opened with a phrase that didn’t really make any sense, and then muddled his real message with poor grammar, though it was possible to figure out what he meant.
      A writer friend says she can find six errors in the sentence, but I am not that good. Anyone else?
      If you would like to hear the statement as it was spoken in 2004 here it is;

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The men I've known haven't been John Wayne either.

       I was surprised, I don't know why, at her frailty when she was escorted out onto the stage. Joan Didion is a tiny little woman, wearing winter clothes to warm her bitty body on a warm June night. As I watched her fill a fraction of her chair, the words empress dowager came to my mind. Her reading voice was a bit stronger then her appearance suggested it might be. Strong in it's style more than it's power. She read in a way that lets you know it is your job to follow along and not hers to lead you. A grandmother's voice. One that knows it possesses wisdom, but is also wise enough to know the grandchild may take or leave the lesson.
       Last night I was taking the lesson. I haven't been able to read her latest book, Blue Nights, the subject of losing a child too horrific for me to visit at this time in my life, but I greatly appreciate that her last two books have been about grief, which she said she would rather not have had to do. Of course. She told a fan, "I don't recommend grief for anything." And a quote she is well known for explains why she, and I, and thousands of others, write about grief, "I don't know what I think until I write it down". Writing brings clarity to many of us. Catharsis to some. And as Joan alluded to, if reading about it helps someone else, that is a great bonus.
      She isn't sure what she will write next, but doesn't think the next work will be about grief. I am anxious to know what comes after. I've included a link below to Joan's famous essay about John Wayne. I hope that she knows that to many aspiring writers like me she has as big boots to fill as the duke.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

On Grieving

     Here is my column; just off the presses this morning. This one was for the grieving, which I guess is most of us. Just yesterday I was missing my dear friend Hugh Harter who passed away a few months ago. I was thinking of him as people remembered the storming of the beach on Normandy, an occasion that forever caused Hugh to live in an almost perpetual state of grief that he could not recover from. Being a hero didn't seem to change that very much. Though he enjoyed showing me his medals, they did nothing to alleviate his nightmares. Here also is a piece I wrote about Hugh, and below that a photo a reader sent me of him this morning. It was taken in the fifties with his then girlfriend, the composer Dana Suesse, who would be the inspiration for a character in one of his books many years later. I love that!

      Rest in peace Hugh.

courtesy photo: Mintun

Monday, May 28, 2012

For Memorial Day

     For Memorial Day I thought I would share an excerpt from my recently completed novel, because it is the story of  an American war veteran, just one neglected veteran, and how all of society loses when our veterans are not cared for.  Feedback most welcome.

     An excerpt of Holy Buckets, by Tammi J Truax

     Her rayon skirt rippled with the strong spring wind and made her think of the flag that her tired eyes were fixed on. Old Glory, the American flag, was draped across the casket that entombed her Uncle Jimmy. Somehow it had been pinned securely to the casket though the wind wanted to take it. She noticed that the blue field of fifty stars lay at the head of the casket, and it made her mind wander to the crown of stars mentioned in Revelations.  Sarah felt somehow relieved that the flag was there. As if somehow it comforted her uncle lying therein. As if somehow it offered some protection, for him, for her. She was painfully uncomfortable here. She hadn't been to a funeral since her mother had died two years ago, and this occasion was bringing back all the memories of that loss, as if they were as fresh as the flowers blossoming in bunches all around the cemetery. June flowers though, are a soft touch. The searing loss Sarah had experienced at the loss of her family one by one over the course of her twenty-four years of life was a harsh reality that couldn’t be softened, only accommodated and tolerated, like the freckles on her face. It was part of her person, and she felt it was visible to anyone who looked at her, like her freckles and her curly auburn hair or hazel green eyes. Now she was here burying her last local relative. Her father’s brother, Uncle Jimmy, a quiet old Korean War veteran and life-long bachelor that she had never been able to really get to know. And now it was too late. He had passed away, as quietly and unceremoniously as he had lived. Sarah was surprised at the degree of guilt she was suddenly feeling.

     Standing at the back of the small crowd gathered at the burial, a young man named Richard caught a glimpse of sweet white thigh as a girl's skirt fought the wind in the front near the casket, and managed to show no reaction to it on his face, though he did have a reaction. He turned his face away, standing at attention as his body was still accustomed to doing, while the retired US Army chaplain stepped to the front of the small gathering and silently commanded everyone’s attention.
     Richard Morang had known Jim Kelley for just a couple of years since the younger man had returned home from Iraq and taken a job as a laborer in a trucking warehouse where Jim had been employed since he had been discharged from the service himself, and was now a supervising foreman. The guy had always been decent to him, clearly understanding the challenges of reintegrating into civilian life after doing combat duty. He had been just about the only person Richard had been able to talk to about his experiences, both overseas and since coming home. Jim had been a good listener, and Richard had come to the funeral service today to pay his final respects. Richard didn't have a lot of friends, wasn't a very outgoing guy, but he thought of old Jim as a friend. He would miss that man, though he regretted how little he had bothered to really get to know him. And now, thoroughly distracted by a brief flash of leg, he was surprised at the degree of guilt he was feeling.
     He turned his attention to the chaplain, who because he did not really know the deceased man either, began to give a traditional talk about the thirteen folds of the flag; ...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Saturday, May 19, 2012

On Walden Pond

     Took a wonderful literary road trip with BFF Barb Z. to Concord, Massachusetts a few days ago. On an absolutely perfect May day we toured Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House. I controlled myself in the gift shop and bought only one book! Hospital Sketches, Louisa's account of her experiences as a civil war nurse. I was unfamiliar with it, and it will serve as research for my current novel which is set in the same era. After a lunch break on the porch of the Concord Inn, we explored Author's Ridge in the local cemetery and found the graves of a great many literary giants. It was rather sweet to see the Alcott sisters side by side, a line of little women.    
     With a touch of guilt we read the notes a pilgrimage of men had lately left for Thoreau, all thanking him for what he had done for them. It piqued my already strong interest in going to see the site of Thoreau's cabin, which was our last stop. It could not have been more lovely. Walden Pond is still peaceful and quiet and calm, even with the endless parade of people paying homage to the spot that was all about being alone. The hike out to the site, along the waters edge, is still breathtakingly beautiful. The water surprisingly clear. I wanted to stay, to camp out in the woods, for just one night, to see the stars from that very spot, . . . to get up with the birds and bathe in the pond,. . . and then climb in a canoe and paddle out to the center of the pond, to the very pupil of "Earth's eye". . . to sit there a spell, in silence.  . . and then to go home, . . . and go confidently in the direction of my dreams, to live the life I've imagined.