The Pontiac Story of Progress and Promise – my childhood experience of the movie business!

It wasn’t a drama or a mystery but a documentary about the city I was growing up in – AND IT WAS A BIG DEAL! 

It was 1960 and the city of Pontiac, Michigan was still flourishing.  It was also the bicentennial of the town and the city fathers thought it was time to promote the possibilities of this fine local. They decided to make a film about the perks of living in the area and to share it with the world.  The plan was for the chamber of commerce to disperse it too far corners of the globe for the promotion of a solid industrial manufacturing town in the USA.  

So they decided to have a contest to find the co-star of the film and it was promoted in the local paper. My Mother found out about this and got both my older sister and I involved and soon we were rehearsing lines about Eli Whitney and his cotton gin. Yes, the audition was to memorize 2 paragraphs about Eli Whitney’s  cotton gin invention. As an added touch, my Mother decided my hair should be just a little lighter in color than the mousy brown it was. So she lightened it herself and I came out with more of a bright copper hue. When she added the sponge rollers and curled it with pin curls, I started to acquire somewhere between a Shirley Temple and Orphan Annie look.

After all the auditions I had won the part and I was suddenly on schedule to work on this film. 

I was going to be the student who quizzed “Professor” Brace Beemer (the very original Lone Ranger of radio fame) who lived in the area. 

So there were gala events about the premier, I was picked up in a limo with flowers at my little very humble falling apart home in the woods, wearing a beautiful light blue lace dress with tons of ruffles (kind of like my own ruby slippers), and whisked  away to the finest dinner, press, and premier showing any 10-year-old could imagine.  It was also shown at my grade school during an assembly that made me cringe with embarrassment.  This put a significant imprint on my childhood as I was always footnoted as(in my mind):

the one who made a movie”

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Years go by and of course, I grew up. In 1988 I was living in LA and after about 5-6 years of tipping my toes into acting classes and doing some serious theatre I decided I really should get a job that pays real money and I found myself with access to free phone calls (well, to me they were free…but someone was paying for it…) to anywhere in the country. So I would often slip in some phone calls to the Michigan Historical society, the Pontiac Libraries, all kinds of places that I would think the movie might be on file somewhere.  Nothing. No one knew anything about it.  Neither of my parents – who were divorced by now, knew anything either.  It was gone and the beautiful blue dress was gone also….like it never had happened. 

I would make small attempts to find the movie over the next 10 years but it wasn’t happening and I was convinced that it wasn’t going to show up! 

Somewhere around 2005 when the Internet is really starting to connect us all and tons of info is available I starting giving my search another swing.  Now I had ALWAYS remembered the name of the Director of the movie; Snuffy McGil

Who would ever forget the name Snuffy McGil?  So I googled his name and “lord have mercy” there he is in Port Huron, MI!  There can’t be two Snuffy McGils – so I called him on the phone!

A small frail voice answers the phone “Hello

Snuffy I hope you will remember me…I’m Mickey Burns and I made the movie with Brace Beemer about Pontiac, Mi’… 

“OF course,  I remember you….you knew your lines much better than Brace did!”   

“Any chance you know what happened to the film?” 

“Why I have a copy of it here in my library…..” 

My heart is racing now and I am so happy…I would have flown to Port Huron to pick it up if I needed to do so.  

He offered to transfer it to video cassette and he’d charge me $100.00.  I would have paid anything to get my hands on it so I was lucky..and he may have missed a chance to make some extra cash. 

So the Video ends up in my hands in CA 45 years later, and I had to be alone to watch this for the first time.  It was like traveling back in time for me…and extremely profound.  I found myself looking at my hands and thinking these are the same hands, I criticized my big forehead that I hadn’t grown into yet and the way my 10-year-old hair was styled but overall I was giddy. 

I did have the VC tape transferred to DVD and distributed them to my siblings and my kids and the local Oxford museum (Brace Beemer’s home town) got one!  Even Brace’s kids got to see the film with their dad in it. 

So you would think that might be the end of the story but no…..one more step….

I found someone in town here, who could take the DVD and transfer it to YOUTUBE. So a few years ago – My movie, made it on to youtube where everyone can see it!  My job is done and the movie and I are a SOLID NOW!   Pontiac Story of Progress and Promise

 

 

 

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“The pink house on the hill”

I grew up in a very humble home in the woods in Michigan. That humble home was actually only a summer cabin, about 800 sq. feet, with 2 bedrooms, that my parents purchased to raise 4 kids.  The upside was that it was 2 big lots, 2 more big empty “woodsy” lots next to it – and the house sat on the top of nice size hill, right across the street from a magnificent lake and the entire area was covered in the strongest straightest oak trees – thus the name Oakland County and the address of 939 lakeside.

My parents had every reason to think this would work. We were little. Two boys, two girls, from 1 to 9 years old -this would work!  Bunk beds (2 to a bed), and play outside all day long from dawn to dusk was the plan.   Little kids don’t pass a lot of judgment their immediate environment unless it’s boring and this was never boring.  One of the first things my Mother did was to paint the house at 939 – PINK.  The house was stucco and this reminded her of the pink stucco houses she saw in San Diego. My Dad was stationed there while in the Marines.

My Dad would come home after his work and eat dinner and retire to his recliner to watch TV.  He wasn’t much of a house repairman and my Mom would never have even thought about outsourcing the work.  It just wouldn’t have crossed her mind.

My parents would go out on weekend nights to dance clubs in the area and they would leave us home alone to fend for ourselves.

So over time-939, the summer cabin that was now a year round home for a family of 6 – needing some tweaks that simply weren’t getting done.  There were clearly mice that were getting into the kitchen (that wasn’t black rice left on the counters in the morning but in fact mice turds…) and the drafts in the walls around the bathtub were getting bigger.

As the 4 kids got older “939” seemed to be getting smaller.

My Dad DID however, decide that the house needed to be bigger and as a draftsman had a few ideas about how to build on to 939.  He had a vision that was drawn out and I remember it as quite a compound.  But ultimately the project never got any further than one additional bedroom on top of one side of the house. He had added a tower.   939 now looked like a big PINK L on top of the hill.   The house was repainted a deeper Pink (more pepto bismo) and now 939 became know as the “pink house on the hill”.

 

The space heater that heated 939 really didn’t satisfy the need for the top of the L. That room had become my sister & my bedroom.  During Michigan winters you could put a glass of water on the windowsill and be guaranteed it would have a have a layer of ice on the top of it by morning!  I’m sure my Dad thought by adding large windows he would give the “tower” a welcome spaciousness.  What it did do is give pheasants and other birds a false sense of a fly through and they would hit one of the windows and crash to the ground with broken necks.

Over the years the kids grew up and moved out.  But before we moved out things happened that mean something.

My parents were both minor hoarders and were making weekly trips to the Salvation Army. A lot of stuff was coming into 939 with not a lot leaving.  Eventually there became kind of a smell of moldiness (ALMOST a stink) that belonged to 939 and it permeated into everyone’s clothes.

My older sister got pregnant, married and moved out @17 years old.  I moved into her house immediately after graduating from HS under the false pretense that I was spending the night there. I never came back.  Both of my brothers were out as quickly as possible also.  We began to use the term “939” as a disparaging term to describe any behavior that we wanted to diss. As in “that’s soooo 939….”

My Moms mental instability and outlandish mood swings became full blown psychosis.

My parents eventually divorced and my Mother stayed in the house.  Eventually, the electricity failed other than a few outlets.  There was no phone service. The water pump failed so she brought in bottled water to drink, but there was no functioning toilet -and there were open holes in the top of the house that would let little critters into the crawl space in the attic.  My Moms mental condition perceived these noises as the people who “were stealing “her stuff and she’d set inside 939 screaming at them all night long.  She eventually put a fresh coat of Pepto Bismo Pink paint on the house but it only went ½ way up this time…because she did it herself.

My Mom walked all over town during the day and she was known as the “walking woman” and the one who lived in the Pink house on the hill.  Even though she would never have admitted it, she was in serious trouble both mentally and physically.  One summer I decided that something needed to be done. I didn’t want to have her spend another winter there.  My mom needed to be helped and moved to a safe environment. When my mom was walking one day she was picked up by my brother and taken to the hospital where she stayed for 2 months.   One call to the health department by my other brother and the wheels were in motion to pull 939 down after 50 years of standing.

It was shocking to realize that 939 was gone now after it was demolished.  What had we put in motion that was going to change the course of the future?   One evening in the dark…my sister and I took a bottle of wine to the location that 939 stood and walked around in the dark while drinking and stood in spots where the rooms were and pointed out what we could remember.  I went so far as to actually pee where I remembered the wobbly toilet had been located.

939 was sold and the money was to be put in a fund for my mothers well being.  It seemed to be the end of an era for growing up on 939 lakeside.  We felt like the plan was working and my Mom now lived in CO with my older Sister. But about 6 weeks later she unexpectedly died due to a pulmonary embolism. It was suggested that the higher elevation of CO living and the now lack of walking had aggravated the situation.

Shortly after that, I had heard that they were building on the lots.  I was intrigued to see what would be there now.  Within the next year I got back to Michigan and while visiting with a few of my siblings we decided to go back and see 939.

A large number of the extremely tall oak trees were cut down and I’m sure sold. The hill was sculpted and landscaped to make it almost unrecognizable but beautiful.  There was green-sodded grass everywhere and flowerbeds in front. The house that was now there was a beautiful stone ranch style house that had a two-car garage on the front of it with lovely wrap around drive.  It looked beautiful, warm and solid.

The new owners had also added a street address sign at the bottom of the drive that said in BIG BOLD NUMBERS – 939!

We took photos of course, in front of the sign and smiled and pointed to the number with the house in the background.  939 lives on and survived, things, people and situations change and adapt – and so did we!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Skirting Disaster! My performance piece on May 2014 (Telling true stories at Big Blue door)

Let me take you back to a time when I was very young…..a long time ago…We lived in the woods about 50 miles north of Detroit…if you look at your hand it’s just below where your thumb and your pointer meet..

Deep rich, colorful woods and lived in a tiny house…with big wooded lots on either side…that had tall 100-year-old oaks standing and fallen logs laying around…moss, wild mushrooms and flowers..across from a beautiful lake and dirt roads.

My Mother and Dad  were very happy to get us outside (there were 4 of us all under 9) and happy to see us stay outside either playing  or headed to the lake.

One of the things we often did was to go on a “nature hike”. My older sister (who was 9) would take us on walks and we would pick up things, or she would point out things and I am quite sure made up stuff to describe what we were looking at. Our own yard included many stopping points for a nature walk because it had been left entirely natural. There was no rolling grass…just dirt and rocks, some tree stumps and tree roots and plenty of weeds that were left to grow….

The walks were…out the door, up the small hill on our property and down a path (in the woods) to the street…..walk about 200 hundred feet and a left turn – cross the street and walk another 200 feet or so and turn a left again up into the driveway of our home and walk up the hill to get back to the house. Those numbers sound small but to little legs, this was a BIG HIKE. The image that should come to mind is of the wise mother duck showing her little ducklings the world as they waddle behind her.

So one Saturday morning we’re on a nature hike.  After picking up a few rocks to bring back, pointing out the worms underneath them and seeing some dead small animals and leaves and making up stories about what they were, we spotted a small round item.  It looked like a wooden pineapple, and it was at the foot of our mailbox under some more leaves.

So my sister picked it up and stared at it, turned it around, slipped her finger through the ring on the top, and  decided to take that one up to Dad so he could figure it out.

So we trudge back up the hill to the house. My sister, who still has her finger through the ring, is swinging the device back and forth because of its weight. My father, who was a marine in WW2 and served in the Korean war , is laying on his recliner, watching baseball and thinking all is right with the world has NO IDEA WHAT IS COMING UP THE HILL. As soon as we walk in the door, she hands the device to him, and as my father is holding it, she untangled her finger from the ring and it, along with the pin attached, separate from the body of it.

My Dad grabs the ring with the pin hanging down from it and swiftly puts it back into the device and lifts 3 feet off the recliner as he yells, ‘GOD DAMIT DORIS (that was my mothers name…) DEBBIES GOT A GRENADE!”

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My Dad ordered everyone out of the house and we ran to the neighbor’s house with my mother screaming, crying and hysterical with fear and all of us behind her looking like a troop of clown people.

My Dad stayed with the grenade – holding it. What Debbie had handed him was a 38m “mills bomb” that was first produced in England for WWI. There were over 75 million of them made and we had stumbled across one of them. There is a lever on them that interacts with that pin. Pull the pin, lift the lever and you have 7-4 seconds (depends on how old the “bomb” was) before it will explode. My Dad knew this.

 

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My mom called the police from the neighbors. The police came and together with my father, they put it into a metal bucket and poured gravel and dirt in on top of it.  Then they drove it in the back of their car to the lake. They then took it out in a boat and dropped it into the middle of the lake.

Now here is where it gets very interesting and you could say this says a lot about believing everything in print….My mother, who was a bit of a PT BARNUM/ BIG FISH story-teller and could take any story and make it much bigger and make it about her….took it upon herself to call the local smaller town paper to tell them what had happened…

The next day the paper read as such……Mrs. Burns reacted like a combat veteran as her 9-year-old daughter brings home a live grenade from which she has pulled the pin…Mrs. Burns snatched the grenade from her daughters hands and deposited it into a bucket and then covered it with gravel. She then called police. Then as reaction set in – she sat shivering with fear and her 4 children ranging in ages 9, 4,3 &2 while waiting for them to arrive. Once there the police agreed that it was live, and removed the bucket from the property and dumped it into Elizabeth lake. NO WHERE DID IT MENTION MY FATHER other than to say “Mr Burns is a draftsman with General Motors.” 

 

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Now as a footnote to that – the Detroit Free press also ran a story about the finding of this grenade and correctly identified my Fathers role, because they spoke with my Dad about the incident.

That is my story about skirting disaster and also a lesson from my mother in early media spin.

Thanks!

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Local song writer passes away (performance piece done on October 17th, 2013)

Local song writer passes away…that’s how her obituary started. That was the headline. At the time I wouldn’t have called my mom a songwriter. I would have called her a very sick woman who had some really rough patches and couldn’t catch a decent break. And she was haunted for her last 20 years by her own devils…..

After two decades of periodic psychiatric care often being carried away in an ambulance from her house against her will & frequent battles with my Dad, she divorced him and spent the last 10-12 years living in a house that was falling down around her.  After almost 40 years of marriage -It was tragic. There wasn’t anyone else in either’s lives.  My Dad eventually happily remarried – but not my Mom. She followed what she must have felt was her destiny.

My Mom had “them” …those were the whispering spirits that talked to my Mom so often and told her what to do….. they even whispered in her ear more than a few times to divorce my Dad because he was trying to get her committed and put away for ever!  So she did.  To be questioned about emotional stability wasn’t something that you could discuss or share without the word “crazy” being used. One didn’t ever want to be considered “crazy”…….

So my Mom lived alone. She very stoically endured and adapted to no running water, no phone, and minimal heat or electricity to carry her through cold Michigan winters and hot summers. She talked to those spirits every day.  She got very angry at night time though, because she heard them inside the house moving things or stealing from her. The spirits liked odd things like soup cans or papers she had written. The neighbors would some how let us know that they could hear screaming and yelling coming from her house at night.  She walked the streets to get to the stores to by a quick cheap meal, use the bathrooms and get to the weekend flea market where she had a table that she resold little chahkies & jewelry that she had bought at the goodwill the week before. The neighborhood knew her and for the most part did keep an eye on her. I found out that some often referred to her “as the walkin woman”…..

The spirits told her to write songs and eventually she was busy writing in old spiral bound notebook paper pads. She would send the songs off to get them copy written and filed with the Library of Congress. Mom would drop some hints every once in awhile that she had written a new song but she wasn’t going to share yet. Eventually the songs became an underlying theme in her life and her illness.  As the years went on my Mom settled into a routine that kept her head above water – barely. She was usually agitated and had a scratchy voice from yelling at her spirit devils” ……she would talk about her song writing as some of us would talk about any hobby. By  now , although she would deny it, her health was being comprised by her lifestyle and  the lack of heat and water in her house.

When she died, I happened to be the one to pick up the phone when the local paper called to file the obituary on her passing. I explained as much as I could about my Mom. I told them about her dedication to the scouting and ,how she made beautiful artificial flowers arrangements ,that she resold when we were little and in the last few seconds I happened to say…”oh, yes, and she liked to write songs….she was a song writer over the last years..”.

My Mom didn’t know how to read music, had never shown interest in writing, and surely wasn’t a singer.  How could she call herself a songwriter? BUT right there I had called her one….But she was that when you think about it…when I was able to go into her house I found some copies of the lyrics of her songs. They all talked about lost love, second chances, regret and the heartbreaking freedom that she got.

The next day her obituary came out and it was titled “local songwriter passes away…”  There was no mention of her difficult years, no mention of her struggles ,as the walking woman, and no mention of her haunting  voices that told her how to live her later years of life.

She was a songwriter, a lyricist, simply because she said she was and she was doing it.  No one measures one legitimatcy on the volume of work or the quality, but the quality of these lyrics were quite good.

Here is a sample of one of them…..

My song to you…

Remembering the lingering kiss you gave to me….

Im home, alone, as alone as can be…

Its six oclock and you didn’t come in…

I know you are gone, but where have you been?

This is our anniversary, my gift to you…

A heart beat for two…

This is my song to sing to you.

Remembering the days of WW11

And all the things I said to you

The happiniess we knew, the golden ring I picked for you..

My heart crys out and you are gone..

Your near, you  appear

Youre the ghost of my love haunting me…

The years will fly and we will all be free….

I closed my eyes and said a prayer

You returned and you stood there….

 

 

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You do get breaks, you just don’t always know it at the time.

(This is a performance piece and was done on stage in July/2013)

-I did have a crazy childhood that was often dysfunctional and exhibited very little rhyme or reason as to why things happened the way they did. HOWEVER one of the benefits of age –it gives  you a shiny longer lens to look backwards and to view things. You can see that there were chances and lucky breaks that the universe throws in there also.

Let me explain – there are clearly many types of breaks but let’s get down to the serious LIFE SAVING BREAKS….

I could tell you about the time my Mom saved my life by just happening to look out the screen door (not something she typically did) as I was walking home from school and yell at me to get to the house, as my little 7-year-old self was headed towards a single older man in a car that was asking me for directions….

Or I could reminisce  about being ejected from a car and landing in a snow bank on the other side of a six lane highway at night and after becoming conscious walking back across the highway in a dark coat, with on coming traffic. No seat belts in the mid 60’s were required.

BUT Lets talk about when I was about 5, my 9-year-old sister , would take my little brothers  and I on nature walks in those big woods, Imagine a line of little ducks…..One day she found what looked liked a small wooden pineapple at the foot of a mailbox post and adding it to the collection of leaves and rocks, to bring it back home to our WW2 marine Dad,  all the while holding by the small pin on the top. I distinctly remember my Dad lifting horizontally off the recliner and yelling “DEBBIES GOT A GRENADE”  and the entire family goes into circus panic mode…you realize when you look back, that was a BREAK. The universe gave me a big ol break in not exploding that device until it was dropped in the middle of  the lake by a police squad.  That LIFE SAVING BREAK made the newspapers…….

BACKHANDED BREAKS 

I made this up but think about it,  that’s where you get some advantage but something else in your life “bites the dust” as a result…there really interesting because it takes that longer lens to really see these…..

Example – When you are 8  and your parents bring home a squirrel monkey that lives in his cage only part of the time and has free roam of the little humble house you live in. Up and down floor to ceiling pole lamps and across curtain rods. Once when he was in his cage with a sheet over it, my sister had about invited about ½ dozen of the neighborhood boys over to impress them with our new addition, and as she pull the sheet back very magician like, the little fellow was “pleasuring himself” and the boys howled as my sister almost died because she was so mortified.  But you gain a certain “circus cool” factor notoriety in the neighborhood. That’s a backhanded BREAK! The little guy didn’t make it through more than one Michigan winter so for him it wasn’t a break at all, but for me – I mean people still remember that….I run into people who grew up around me, either on visits or on FB and they often say “ aren’t you the family that had the monkey?”

Another example – My entire youth was spent either twirling baton, and or pantomiming songs in these talent shows, or events that would be around our town to entertain people.  Just picture a small 9-year-old kid up on a stage belting out a lip-synched Carol Burnett song.  My Dad would be up on the stage in the back spinning the tune on a small 45  record player hooked up to some speakers.  I really think they were the last vestiges of vaudeville shows or a pre cursor to Honey Boo Boo. The people always seemed to enjoy them though, and my Mom and Dad took a lot of stock in how well I did in these performances. As I got older the focus switched to competitive baton twirling.  I can still hear to this day the question “ Did you practice your baton?” as the answer to most requests I made to go somewhere or do something that may have put my parents out. They cared a lot about how much effort I put into these things. Much much more than how I did academically.  They never once looked at my report card. I had no fear of getting in front of an audience and I was on student council and president of my junior class but my academics were absolutely in the gutter-

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a classic back handed break!

So I was visiting my sister in Michigan in April and we went with my Dad to his cabin on the Muskegon river.  On the drive up I convinced my sister to give me her very cool earrings that she was wearing – I put on these clips that were big old silver nuggets..  Dad  is very proud of his latest salvation army purchase of a big 12 foot metal canoe with all the gear and Debbie and I decide to do some canoeing  which I had never done – I don’t know that my sister had either but she took the alpha role and I let her.  Dad dropped us off at a site about 3 miles up river and left us. So I take a paddle, climb in the back , and my Dad pushes us off.  Feeling bold,  and thinking “I have got this….”, within 2 minutes, I say something about taking a closer look at the “flora and fauna” and start to head for a closer look at the opposite shore line and we were going so swiftly that I realize my sister has  ducked for the oncoming tree branches and we tipped over! I was stunned and realized the canoe is upside down, the seat cushions are leaving us on the current and I can’t touch the bottom, and the water is much colder than I expected.

Ojibwe birchbark canoe, 1910

Ojibwe birchbark canoe, 1910 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are two mid 40-year-old women who are complete novices at canoeing and maybe in trouble, but the visual on this is pretty funny because it’s really hard to get out of water and into a boat by upper body strength only when you are built like low to the ground like my sister and I both are…

We eventually get the canoe on its right side ,finally get our bodies back into the canoe and start paddling again with about a foot of water still inside and we have switched places…so now I am in the front and somehow our trajectory is now directly across to the other bank on the other side of the river….we looked like a pinball machine canoe bouncing from side to side and as soon as we got near the bank  there are tree branches and we are trying to back out of it , pushing away  and I saw a SNAKE hanging from a tree branch right above my head…SO I WACKED IT WITH THE PADDLE! Snake went flying and I tipped over the canoe again…..so now I am in the water with the snake I have just hit (I am petrified of snakes btw) and I also realize I only have one earring on!   I am panic-stricken now as I realize this is bad on so many levels and my sister might kill me. 

A kindly older man and woman came out of their cabin and helped us get back into the canoe, after I inquired if they might help protect me from my sister who had totally blamed me for the entire mess.  We ultimately got back to my Dads cabin.  I think his first words were something like “What took ya so long?” We told him and he laughed and then wondered why in the hell we had lost the seat cushions!!

The bruises and the exhausting stress were awful, and I have never been canoeing again.  This is a double backhanded break!   I did loose one of the earrings that I got my sister to give to me, but I turned the remaining one into an awesome ring!  The snake probably didn’t do to well, but my sister and I got great story that we still get a lot of laughs out of.

Thank you for listening and good night!

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She believed, so it was…

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December 1994 Pontiac, Michigan

LOCAL SONGWRITER PASSES AWAY…….

That was the headline of my mothers obituary.   At the time, I wouldn’t have called her a songwriter. I would have called her a very mentally ill woman who had some really rough patches and never was able to catch a  break.

Three decades of on again -off again psychiatric care never seemed to help. She was in and out of mental institutions, usually by court order and that meant being taken in an ambulance against her will.  Frequent battles with my Dad, and that caused him to have frequent battles with her siblings. After 36 years of marriage she divorced him.  My Father was shaken to the core because he still loved her and never expected this. She seemed to shrug off her loss.  She spent the last 10-12 years living by herself, appearing to the neighborhood as a “bag lady”, in a house that was falling down around her.

Looking back,  its tragic how they just fell apart. I mean there wasn’t anyone else in either’s lives.

But she was bipolar and her “bad times” just connected in one straight line after awhile.  Those were different time and the medical care, the therapy and medications weren’t available yet. All she knew was if anyone was going to question her emotional stability then she must be “crazy”.  One didn’t want to ever be considered “crazy”, because that might just get you locked away in an attic as far as she knew.

Looking back on my family history,  I would have expected her to live alone in the final years of her life. It was almost like a “badge of  stubborn courage” to wear at the most vulnerable time of life.

Somewhere in that last decade though, she began to write songs.  She would hand write them on tattered notebook paper and then send them off to be  copy written with the library of Congress. She would proudly talk about each of these songs, but it was dismissed as an underlying theme in her illness by most of us.

My Mom didn’t know how to read music, had never shown any interest in writing and surely wasn’t a singer. How could she call herself a songwriter? But when you think about it…she was writing songs.

When she died, the local paper called to file the obituary on her passing. I happened to pick up the phone while at my brothers house. I told them as much as I could about my Mom. I reached back to those earlier years and talked about her dedication to the Brownie and Girl Scout organization.  How she made the most beautiful artificial flowers that people ordered months in advance for the holidays. Just before the call ended I happened to say…”oh yes, and she liked to write songs…she was a songwriter over the last years”.

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The next day her obituary was in the newspaper. In a big bold font  “LOCAL SONGWRITER PASSES AWAY….” and I thought of how happy my Mom would have been to have been referred to as a songwriter.

I recently opened some files I had kept and rediscovered a few of the songs she wrote. They talk about lost love, second chances, regret and heartbreaking freedom that she lived with.

-MY SONG TO YOU

Remembering the lingering kiss you gave to me

I’m home, alone, as alone as can be.

It’s six o’clock and you didn’t come in

I know you’re gone, but where have you been?

This is our anniversary, my Valentine to you

A heartbeat for two

This is my song to sing to you.

Remembering the days of World War II

And all the things I said to you

The happiness we knew, the golden ring I picked for you.

My heart cries out and you are gone

Your near, you appear

You’re the ghost of my love haunting me.

The years will fly and we’ll all be free

I close my eyes and said a prayer

You returned and you stood there.

-LOST IN A PENTHOUSE

Lost in a Penthouse

Lost in your arms

Lost in our romance

Lost in your charm

Through all my tears you returned to me

Through heartache and hell would we ever be free?

After all these years you heard my call

And I knew I loved you after all.

Lost in a Penthouse

Lost in your arms

Lost in our romance

With a second chance.

-THIS IS YOUR ROSE

I stopped by the rose and you were there

Your beautiful smile

The fragrance of your hair.

Your beautiful eyes how they talked to me

Was it all worthwhile

Now that we are free?

Time has gone by and remembering all

The things we said in the early fall

School days and night times and kisses and proms

Bouquets of roses and your open arms

I love you my darling, I always will

The love of the rose will never be still.

Songs written by Doris Burns between 1990-1995

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Gigantes in Barcelona!

ImageAhhhh the giants of Barcelona!  I was in the past a big fan of “The Amazing Race”.  I love to travel and the idea of racing around the World for 1 million dollars sounds to me like my personal heaven.  In fact right after the first season aired, my sister and I actually created and submitted a video in an attempt to be on the show. I had started to explain to my employee’s and my family that they should expect me to be gone for 30 days when this thing started to film – but it became evident that we weren’t selected and I was seriously perplexed as to why. I mean -seriously perplexed.

Anyway, in one of the shows the racing participants had to engage or do something with the “Gigantes” of Barcelona, Spain. These giants were 12-15 feet tall, big headed and elegantly dressed in turn of the century garments characters. Some looked like royalty and some looked like noblemen.  All had an elegant facial expression with eyes straight ahead as they glided through the streets and the people joined them. It appeared that everyone loved to see the giants and considered it a gift when they appeared, outside of a scheduled annual festival.

Fortunately for me, an international company meeting was looming in the future and I was invited to speak at it. This particular meeting was going to be in Barcelona that year and I was excited to sign on as an attendee.  Not only was this going to be a great chance to travel in Europe again, but also to visit a country I hadn’t been to yet.  I would also get to see the GIANTS! I began to do my homework and started to read the travel books about Barcelona and what to see there. It was clearly going to be a great trip with exposure to Gaudi’s work, great tapas and fine Spanish red wines.

Unfortunately as I read more I realized there were no festivals on the calendar while I was in Barcelona and with that in mind, I shouldn’t expect to see the “gigantes” . After all of that excitement it was becoming clear that they would not be part of my experience and although I was disappointed I knew it would still be a great trip.

My friend Pat, who I had traveled with so much prior to this, joined me again, meeting me at the airport and we had quite a trip planned. Barcelona was everything you could wish for.  It was beautiful and exciting, the tapas bars were delicious and the Spanish wines were plentiful from morning to night if you wished.  La Rambla is the main boulevard in central Barcelona, where all the action seems to take place for dining, drinking and shopping.  It was typical on these trips that my travel buddy Pat and I would start out early in the day and venture out to explore.  Our explorations often lead us to many churches and museums and we had plenty to see in Barcelona. After a beautiful visit to the Sagrada Familia we went to visit the famed apartment building that Gaudi also designed. It’s the one that has the almost alien looking heads on top of the building. Image

So after a great deal of walking and exploring, it called for some refortifications at the café / bar on the street, even though it was not quite noon in Barcelona. That never seemed to matter because it could be justified for drinking delicious Spanish wines early in the day. I would try the time difference but that doesn’t really work because Spain is at least 9 hours ahead of California (where I was living at the time). I mean ask yourself – why NOT drink strong delicious red wine at what is really still 3am for you?

ImageSo here we are getting refortified on La Rambla, and just about the time I am starting to feel the effect of the wine, I look up and the GIANTS ARE COMING DOWN THE BLVD!  Pat can’t see them yet as she has her back to them so I stand up and start yelling, “THE GIANTS! IT’S THE GIANTS”! -waving my arms and knocking the table as I quickly stand up! These huge figures are towering above the crowd, they are moving swiftly, spinning sometimes which make their arms swing out,  while a  percussion group is beating out a rhythm on drums that is starting to drive the crowd wild. The “gigantes” are in their glory! With the wine effects still swirling in my head, I grabbed my camera and start to walk backwards in front of them while they smoothly glide down the blvd.  This is no easy feat and I am trying not to walk so fast that I will trip over my own feet.  I realize that it would be a romantic way to die – being run over by a “gigante” in Barcelona – but I thought its not my time yet.

Pat joins me once she realizes what is going on and we end up following the crowd into a town square where seated musicians are playing and people are dancing in the loveliest style of hands clasped with each other, held high and  all the while stepping in unison with almost ballet like movement. The colorful flags are flying within the square and there is tremendous pride beaming from the faces of the performers, which appeared to be everyone who was in there.

ImageAs they danced a few people reached out to invite me into the movements.  I was unsure of how they did the steps, say nothing of the wine effects,  and I chose to not join in but just observe with a big smile on my face and hands clapping to the beat.  I did try to have a chat with one of the dancers who had invited me in, an older woman and a few of her friends, after she had stopped. I held my hand over my heart and explained to her that Spain was very beautiful and how touched I was to be there.  She said “ NO SPAIN! Barcelona is Catalonia! “ while she held her finger in the air and wagged it back and forth. I blushed a bit to have my geo-social ignorance exposed and will never forget that moment.

But I have heard since, that I was lucky to see the “gigantes” and I sincerely think so.  I have come to find out that they have a rich history, but no one knows exactly where they started. They most likely came from old theatrical rituals that story telling based on beliefs of the people. They are a big part of the Catalan popular culture I discovered and they are part of all festivals. I also found out that each city or parish has it’s own set of giants who usually represent historical or popular characters in the towns history.

What a treasured moment that probably couldn’t have been any better if it had been scripted. As I write this however, I am seriously thinking hard about wishing for something unique again in another beautiful region of the world. Maybe I can at least let the universe know what I am looking for and if “she” wants to offer it up – then I will be always open to receiving it!

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