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First Reviews of My Book Posted

9 Sep

Two reviews have so far been posted at Amazon for my recently published book, Foleytown. I’m pleased to say they are both five-star reviews!

A couple of quotes:

 

“I found this book, as the author hoped it would be, entertaining, humorous and with warmth embedded in its pages.”

“A wistful, nostalgic delight.”

 

I hope to get many more reviews, although I’m sure they won’t all be five stars!

Thanks to the reviewers for their input.

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One of My Books is Live!

14 Jun

My book Foleytown  is finally on sale online, although the ebook hasn’t shown up at Amazon yet and I’m trying to iron that out with the publisher. But you can order the physical book for $13.99 and the ebook for $3.99 at Authorhouse; the dead-tree version is also $13.99 Amazon. Note: If you buy it from Authorhouse I get a few more shekels than if you buy it from Amazon.

Here’s a description of the book:

Foleytown is a special place…a place where there is always a shortage of money but never a shortage of laughs. Follow the children of the large, financially struggling Foley clan as they navigate through “bloody” pomegranate fights, epic games of Christmas Card War, homemade bridesmaid dresses, fears of itinerant serial killers, and the cherished summer tradition they called “Prune-Why-Oh” – all while learning how to grow up in a very unfashionable part of California.

If you order it, please leave me a review at either Authorhouse or Amazon. Thanks!

Snow Time

14 Dec

Not exactly Christmassy, but relevant for those who live in four-season climates. Here is an excerpt from a story in my book Foleytown, which is about the first time I encountered snow. It’s called The Religion of California: 

“I’ve decided that we’re going to the mountains,” my father grumbled, one early Saturday morning in late winter. “So, today, we’re all taking a car trip to see the snow.”

“Finally I will get to see and feel what snow is really like,” I told myself, gleeful beyond description. “Finally!”

We all packed into the car, my four sisters and my brother Bobby and I and my mother, and then my father drove us northward, up into the Sierra Nevada foothills, until we saw pine and fir forests and then, later, little patches of white on the ground. As we drove into higher elevations, we saw it frosting the tops of various large rocks and pine branches, and then, eventually we saw it everywhere.

The whiteness was almost blinding.

“Snow,” my father grumped. “Kids, kids—here it is, look out the window. We’ve come to the snow!”

“Oh, it’s so beautiful,” I said, excitedly pressing my face against the cold glass of the car window. “Just so, so beautiful.”

My father turned off the main highway into some small hamlet or other, and we found a little clearing with a small parking lot; it was a public park, completely buried in snow. A forlorn-looking merry-go-round and a steel jungle-gym jutted starkly out of the white snow blanket on the ground, some yards in the distance.

My mother had made us all dress in numerous layers of uncomfortable clothing and heavy rubber galoshes. She was sure that someone would come down with pneumonia, or at least a very bad cold, and she had not really approved of our trip to the snow. But she went along, resignedly.

“At least we have penicillin now,” she lectured. “When I was your age, Liz, if you got pneumonia from being out in the snow, you could die, like my poor Cousin Loppy, who passed on when he was only fourteen,” she added gloomily.

My mother was like that; she loved to look on the dark side of nearly everything. And she also had an inexhaustible supply of stories about relatives and in-laws and neighbors who had experienced dire misfortunes back there in Kentucky, usually because they did something or other that she disapproved of.

That would be things like staying out too long in the rain or snow, touching something that was infested with Germs and Disease, or playing with sharp sticks.

“Why did they call him Loppy?” I wondered aloud; I could never get my mother’s Kentucky relatives straight. It didn’t help that many of them seemed to have peculiar, scarcely human nicknames like Loppy, Bippy, Aunt Mag, and Meedge.

“Well, we called him that because he had long ears that drooped down, like a lop-eared rabbit,” my mother said. “I think that’s why he got pneumonia—his ear muffs didn’t cover them, and he got frostbite. Your Great Aunt Mag never recovered from it, poor thing—she later died from choking on a fishbone. That’s why I never let you kids eat any kind of fish, except fish sticks.”

That was another thing my mother disapproved of: eating fish. I started thinking about how often she said the bones were just too dangerous to justify eating it, as Great Aunt Mag could have clearly testified. That is, if the poor woman had lived to tell about it.

Now, for folks who didn’t approve of eating fish, it was rather hard to be a Catholic, because we were supposed to eat it every Friday. Fortunately, by the Sixties, there were frozen fish sticks easily available from the grocery store, even in a small, backwater town like Ulloa City.

Frozen fish sticks had made it possible for Mary Foley to fulfill her Friday religious obligations with an untroubled mind.

“The fish stick factory has machines that sift out all of the bones,” she’d once said, duly impressed. She had actually written a letter to the company to make sure, and they had written back to explain patiently how they de-boned all of their fish before squishing it into fish sticks.

“Thank God for Gorton’s of Gloucester, is all I can say,” my mother added.

Prune–Why–Oh

27 Mar

This are the beginning paragraphs of a short story called Prune–Why–Oh from my second book, Foleytown. It’s about picking prunes in the Sacramento Valley around 1970ish. This excerpt also explains somewhat why I call my childhood landscape of memories “Foleytown.”

Prune–Why–Oh

Foleytown was, of course, not really a place, but a state of mind; my childhood landscape of memories, encompassing the domains both spiritual and temporal of the whole Foley clan, of which I was the youngest, the “baby” of the family. Like any family, we had our little rituals and traditions, including a rather important one we called, simply, Prune-Why-Ohing

Prune-Why-Oh was the title of one of my mother’s homemade songs; she had a lot of them, most of which were either eccentric or often, just very dopey parodies of real songs. But the term was also a kind of shorthand: it stood for the many childhood summers we of the Foley clan spent picking prunes for pocket money in the fruit orchards ringing UlloaCity.

My mother, Mary Foley, created the Prune-Why-Oh song and many others to keep us busy while we scooped up the prunes and plopped them into metal buckets on long summer days. The melody was the same as the standard church hymn, Kumbaya— the beloved tune strummed by countless guitar-playing nuns at the “guitar Masses” in the Sixties and early Seventies.

The lyrics to Prune-Why-Oh were simple enough, a simple parody of the original ones, and the chorus went like this:

“Prune-Why-Oh, My Lord

Prune-Why-Oh!”

Oh, Lord, Prune-Why Oh”

Days in the fields usually started with me my mother singing the Prune-Why-Oh song very early in the morning, at 4:30 a.m. or so, while packing a picnic lunch to take with us to the orchards.

Now, we always called `the process prune picking—not plum picking—because the ripe raw, plums were all headed eventually for the SunSweet Prune Drying Plant near Sacramento. There, the plump purplish-reddish globes we picked were sorted, treated and dried into prunes.

Picking prunes was not really that hard; that’s why even a six-year-old could do it. A machine we called The Shaker detached the future prunes from their trees, and pickers like our family were employed to scoop them up, put them in buckets, and ultimately deposit the contents of the buckets into large, square wood-slatted containers called “bins.” We mostly got paid by the bin, although at least one establishment that employed us paid by the bucket—25 cents for a small one and 50 cents for a large one.

These were plum wages for the time.

“The Noble Order of the Pomegranate”

12 Oct

Pomegranates have always been special to me. They were rare and coveted when I was a child. A mysterious old man called The Pomegranate Man gave them out in my neighborhood for trick-or-treating–he was very popular on Halloween.

Today, I have all I need, with two big and fruitful pomegranate trees in my back yard. October’s the month they get ripe in California–right around Halloween (my favorite holiday of the year.)

In fact, a short story devoted to pomegranate farming in William Soroyan’s famous book, My Name is Aram, inspired me to write my second book, Foleytown. The story in Soroyan’s book is about a crazy old uncle of his who tried to grow pomegranates in the SoCal desert, and of course, the farm failed. I read it and thought, “wow, that sounds like something a member of my own family would do!” And the idea for Foleytown–a collection of comic short stories inspired by my family–was born.

Here’s an excerpt from a story in Foleytown called “The Noble Order of the Pomegranate.” The pomegranate still life at the bottom of the page is mine too, painted from the pomegranates grown in my backyard, which is for sale at my Etsy store.

Now, it’s a point of fact that secretaries at the Air Base [where my father worked] were always giving my dad bags of things to take home with him; they felt sorry for him because they knew he had so many children to support. This particular secretary lived on a small farm outside of a town called Yorba Linda, and she had a few large trees that produced pomegranates that were almost—but not quite—as good as The Pomegranate Man’s.

My brother Bobby, my three sisters and I sorted through the gunny sack of pomegranates from the Air Base secretary eagerly. We ate pomegranates every day for more than a week, and yet there was still a big pile of them left in the sack.

“Pomegranates just aren’t fun anymore,” I complained, sitting on the top step of our front porch with Elaine, dejectedly picking out seeds from a pomegranate shell in a dish, and popping them slowing into my mouth. “They’re not special anymore when you have so many of them.”

“I don’t even like them so much now either,” Elaine replied. “They’re kind of like eating cake frosting straight from the bowl.”

“And we always thought The Pomegranate Man was being so generous in giving away all his pomegranates on Halloween,” I added. “Now we know the real truth; he was just sick of them all along, and Halloween’s just an excuse to get rid of them.”

“There’s nothing you can really do with them but eat the seeds,” Elaine pointed out, grabbing a large, juicy-looking seed from my dish. “If they were apples or something, we could get Mama to make a pie out of them, but who has ever heard of a pie made from pomegranates?”

I gagged at the thought of it; pomegranate pie. Yuck.

But then Elaine made an important discovery about pomegranate seeds.

“Look Lizzie, you can squirt them!” She squeezed her seed between her right thumb and forefinger, and a large jet of crimson juice sprayed out of it. “You can do something else with them.”

I tried it myself; it worked. Soon Elaine and I were practicing with the seeds, trying to figure out the best way to squeeze them in order to produce the longest and most voluminous squirts.

At that point, our big brother Bobby came home from shooting basketballs at the local schoolyard, and we showed him how to make the pomegranate seeds squirt, too.

He was greatly impressed.

“This is almost better than a squirt gun,” he said. “Hey, I know—what do you usually do when you have a bunch of kids and squirt guns?”

Elaine and I looked at each other, and we reached the identical conclusion at the same exact time.

“WAR!” we shouted in delighted, near-unison. “You have a WAR!”

# # #

Original Watercolor Pomegranate, Still Life, Red and Tasty Art, Kitchen Art, Kitchen Decor, Pomegranates

Foleytown, “The Noble Order of the Pomegranate”, Copyright 2012, by S. K. Cole. All rights reserved.

“Still Life With Pomegranates, 2012,” Copyright, 2012, by S. K Cole. All rights reserved.

“The Frenemies”

8 Oct

As promised yesterday, here’s an excerpt from my book of short stories, Foleytown. It’s the opening paragraphs from a story called “The Frenemies” and it’s based on one of my aunts, called “Aunt Jewel” in the story, who was obsessed with succulents and cacti of all kids. So when I think of succulents and cacti, I immediately always think of “Aunt Jewel.”

The ‘Frenemies’ *

 Two of our aunts, Abba and Jewel, had a peculiar relationship. They were a couple of older women, getting on in years, who, at heart, disliked each other rather a lot, but who, for some reason or another, kept up a decades-long relationship of pretended friendship.

Today, we would call such people “frenemies,” but the word and the concept didn’t really exist at the time that Abba and Jewel maintained their odd relationship. So we, the children of Foleytown, just called them both “strange” and “weird.”

Abba and Jewel were both my blood aunts, but they were not related to each other, and that’s one of the things that made them frenemies, instead of just relatives who argued with each other and didn’t get along.

Abba was my father’s sister and Jewel was my mother’s. The main thing they had in common was our family, the Foleys. That, and the fact that they both lived in the Inland Empire and had come out to California at about the same time, for the same reason: to get jobs in the munitions factories that had sprung up overnight in the state during World War II.

Aunt Jewel’s husband, my Uncle Dean, was a Navy man who had served overseas during the war. It was Jewel, bored and lonely after Dean was sent overseas, who convinced my mother to come along and apply for that fateful job in a World War II airplane factory, the place where she eventually met my father, Kenny Foley. As eccentric as she was, there was no denying the simple fact: Foleytown would not have existed without my Aunt Jewel.

In the 60s and early 70s, Aunt Jewel lived on several acres of land on the outskirts of a HighDesert town called HighlandHeights. She lived there because she loved the Mojave Desert deeply–unlike most of the people in the Inland Empire, who avoided it because they thought it was full of poisonous snakes, inhospitable wild donkeys, and Gila monsters.

The snakes and Gila monsters of the desert didn’t bother Jewel that much though. She adored the plant life of the desert–more specifically, she loved the native cactus plants and their cousins, the succulents.  She was even known, on occasion, to drive out into the Mojave and dig a few of them up, to add to an ever-burgeoning collection she kept at her little, ramshackle bungalow.

In the far-right corner of Aunt Jewel’s front yard stood an impressively large blue agave succulent plant, seven feet high at the least, and as many feet wide. Prickly pear cacti and rosette-shaped succulents were planted in the flower beds all around her bungalow. Plus, her front and back patios were both crammed with pot after pot of cactus and succulents, and there were many more inside her crowded little home, as well.

They sat on coffee tables, side tables, windowsills, atop the TV and the radio, even atop the toilet tank in the bathroom. Perhaps she had three or four hundred of them in all–maybe more.

She liked the prickly pears the best, though, because they could be trained to grow in the shape of the faces of rabbits or mice, and she thought that was adorable. She would push the resemblance, too, by taking a razor blade and scratching eyes, mouths, and noses into her prickly pears. Sometimes she would even adorn them with little jackets or bow ties or hats, which she lovingly cut out of multi-colored construction paper or felt.

Aunt Jewel’s devotion to her cactus plants was no doubt excessive, but she was very fond of excess, to put it a bit on the mild side.

And that was the other major thing she had in common with Aunt Abba: they both loved things–vast, excessive, mind-numbing quantities of things. The more tacky and worthless and peculiar-looking their things were, the better.

They collected knickknacks and figurines of all kinds, in plaster, plastic, and porcelain; bowls of rubber or plastic fruit, flowers and vegetables; enormous piles of costume jewelry in Bakelite, plastic and glass; black velvet paintings of celebrities or hillside Tuscan villages, and vast closets full of  polyester double-knit pantsuits in every pastel and Day-Glo color available.

At the very heart of the frenemy status of the two aunts was an intense, fought-to-the-death shopping competition. They both haunted discount stores with names like Pic ‘N Save, Two Guys, Sir Save-a-Lot, Wheelin’ & Dealin’, and Pixie Pack ‘N Pay, as they pursued their quest for things, more things, and even more things.

Prisoners were never taken, and mercy was never granted. They kept up their competitive shopping for fifteen, eighteen, twenty years—I’m not sure exactly sure of the dates involved, because they knew each other long before I was even born. And a truce was never even contemplated, if memory serves me well.

It went like this: if Aunt Abba bought a new bunch of plastic bananas at the Fontana Pic ‘N Save to add to the vast fake fruit collection proudly displayed on her dining room table, Aunt Jewel would buy two of them. And then call Abba on the phone afterward, providing a lengthy, highly detailed play-by-play of her shopping triumph.

Aunt Abba would listen patiently and pretend enthusiasm for Aunt Jewel’s competitive purchases, but she always managed to get in her own subtle digs, too.

“Yes, Jewel, that’s wonderful, dear. I’m so glad you found those cute bananas on sale for two for a dollar. When I bought mine, they were a dollar apiece—highway robbery. Although I do think the ones they put out later for sale weren’t as nice as the ones they had earlier. Mine has a sticker on the bottom that says ‘hand-painted in Korea.’ “

And of course, when they hung up, Aunt Jewel would run off to find her two new bunches of fake bananas, grimly in pursuit of certain stickers reading “hand-painted in Korea.” And God help the hapless manager of the Fontana, California Pic ‘N Save if there were no such stickers to be found on Aunt Jewel’s bananas.

*Copyright 2012, by S. K. Cole, 2012, “The Frenemies,” Foleytown. All rights reserved.