Monthly Archives: June 2014

Storytime – another Writing Exercise “The Old Desk”




The moving van is gone now, and the old desk, actually a type of desk called a secretary, is now in your den. Many times over the years you had seen your grandfather at that desk, working on correspondence or household finances, and it always seemed to be a thing of mystery – all those little pigeon holes, all those bits of rolled-up paper. The other kids liked running and playing on the old tire swing, but for you it was sitting at the desk, imagining great things. And, now…. it is yours.

Now, the mystery has come home to roost, because you have found a small secret drawer containing tantalizing pieces of a family puzzle. There are a few pages torn from a diary, where the writer, an unidentified young woman, describes a secret rendezvous with her lover. Also, there are a few old photographs, perhaps from the 40’s, of a young man, perhaps Grandfather, in various poses. There are no photos that might be Grandmother – was Grandfather perhaps indiscreet? Did Grandfather remove the diary pages? And, what is the significance of the locket in the drawer?

I decided it was time to put on my ‘detective hat’ to try to unravel this enigma. Surely there was something in the diary pages or perhaps there in the photographs that could point the way. And, that locket – it resisted my initial efforts, but finally it opened, revealing a small woman’s ring, with a French postage stamp stuck to it, wrapped around the band. Inside the gold band, I could just make out the inscription, “To my Effie”.

For now, the ring could wait. I laid out the photographs, three of them in all, and used Grandfather’s magnifying glass to examine them closely, trying to locate clues. The first photograph was the worst of them, poorly exposed and somewhat out of focus. I leaned down and peered at it, section by section, but was unable to find anything of real interest. It was the image of a young man, but it would be difficult to say who it might be, due to the poor quality of the shot. There was a large structure in the background, but even though it was evocative, I could not place it. I pushed Number 1 aside and pulled Number 2 over for my perusal.


The photo showed a young man, again, and this time I could see certain characteristics that led me to the assumption that it was indeed Grandfather. His high cheekbones and distinctive ‘widow’s peak’ hairline was pretty much proof positive. He was posed with one foot placed upon the step of a small conveyance, oh what was it called, yes, a rickshaw. How had I not noticed it before? Perhaps the thing blended in too well with the background, so a casual look wouldn’t reveal it. A rickshaw – now where could this have been? Somewhere in Asia, most likely. The photograph was a street scene, with buildings crowding in all around, with only a few in the distance sticking up to form a skyline. One of those had the look of a pagoda, but very tall and slender. Shanghai, or Hong Kong? Not enough evidence to say. Enough of Number 2, now for the last.

Number 3 was the best of them, and I was prepared to spend even longer with it, slowly examining every square millimeter. The same man, presumably Grandfather, was seen seated at a table of an outside cafe, or bistro. I leaned down once again, squinting and slowly moving the glass. After an hour or so I was rewarded with my best clue. In the middle distance was a sign in French that read, ‘Something something Indochine’. From my limited knowledge of that language, I deduced that the photograph must have been taken in Indochina, perhaps in Tonkin, now known as Hanoi, or in Saigon. The French stamp in the locket was certainly a good link, since that part of the world was under French rule at the apparent time of the old photographs.

Well, now I knew the approximate time period, and I knew that the man in the photos was Grandfather, but who was the author of the diary entries? It was likely Effie, but who was she, really? Time for some more modern research, so I pulled out my laptop and started punching in questions. I wasn’t having much luck at first because I didn’t know my grandmother’s full name. Hmmm, how could I figure this out? Was she Effie?

Then I remembered a family Bible that had been inside one of the drawers of the secretary. The first page was pre-printed as a family tree, with blanks for all the relatives. At the top there was space for two names to represent the start of the tree, and there I found Grandfather’s name, right alongside his wife’s full name, “Anastasia Euphenia Archambault”. His birthplace had been filled in as “Vienna, Austria”, and hers as “La Rochelle, France”. I had no idea that I was part of such an international family!

I tried again to use the internet to tie some of this together, and I learned that “Effie” was a nickname for many given names, one of them “Euphenia”. Bingo! It was her ring! I was quite happy, but I still wanted to know about the diary pages.

I re-read the torn-out pages, but still could not find any link to the ring or the photographs. I resolved to read them one last time, slowly, measuring each reference to place or person. It was then that I finally realized that the young woman had been using a secret special name for her lover, and I had thought it was the name of a place. She had written several times that she loved “Renault”, but at first that meant nothing, since I assumed it was a village name, but I could not locate such a village in my researches.

I went back and looked again at Grandfather’s full, legal name, “Auguste Renoir Baptiste”, and then I realized that Effie had twisted his name slightly to keep her references guarded within her diary, in case someone came snooping. Grandmother was the author, and there was no mystery woman!

I decided not to share any of this with family, lest they come to a different conclusion. I honored the memory of Grandmother and Grandfather by keeping it to myself and cherishing the thoughts of their love that spanned the world.



Movie Magic

Movie Collage

Movie Magic

I was feeling a little bored last night – wasn’t in the mood for reading, just wanted some popcorn and a little drama. No, I don’t mean picking a fight with the missus, I mean watching a play – the missus was at work, anyway.

When this particular entertainment desire comes upon me, I’ll click on the tv, see what’s on the (cheap) Encore channels, or visit my DVD library. Same as you, yes? Well, here’s how I often imagine this sequence happening, perhaps you could imagine it the same way.


So, I picked up the phone, in this case it’s the BLUE phone I use for special occasions. I called up the Character Storeroom, where they keep all the players from the movies. You know, the guy who says, “Round up the usual suspects”, or that one who says, “Frankly, Scarlett, I don’t give a damn!”

The Chooser Helper answered the phone, and I began to describe what I wanted to see. Miss Helper started trying to read my mind as we progressed into the conversation.

I told her I wanted to revisit that scene where the one guy was telling another where he could find something buried under a piece of black volcanic glass. She hemmed and hawed, then punched a few buttons. Without further delay, my tv switched to the scene in “Shawshank Redemption” where Andy DuFresne is telling Red to look for a particular hayfield near Buxton – “You know where Buxton is, right, Red?” Wonderful! Always love seeing that scene. So glad the Characters weren’t busy when I needed them.

Later, I picked up the BLUE phone again, and the lady promptly agreed to assist me. I began, “What was that scene where the fellow carrying the briefcase seemed to be walking across the surface of a lake?” This time, hardly any delay at all – she remotely turned my tv on, and the final scene from “Being There” popped up, with Chance Gardener dressed in his dapper suit and carrying that briefcase. I’ve discussed that final scene with others, by the way, and we always wondered what that last scene signified. I guess I should have asked Jerzy Kosinski – he wrote it, after all. So glad to see that played out, again. I was on a roll now, watching my favorite parts without having to spend hours waiting for them. It’s so nice, having this Character Storeroom, and the Characters are always willing to re-play their parts for me.

I picked up the BLUE phone once more. Pleasant as ever, Miss Chooser answered, ready to serve. I’m often amazed that she is ever so helpful, never short-tempered or exasperated. I rarely remember the movie titles I want, only the scenes or perhaps the character names, but she gets it right, every time. For this part of the evening, I started my description of a scene with, “ You know that one where the guy is the minister for this mining village in Wales, or Ireland, or someplace, and he is reading to the boy who is sick in bed. Does that sound familiar at all?” She chuckled a bit, then said, “Why, of course, you are talking about Mr. Gruffyd, and he is reading some of the classics to young Huw, now bedridden after his fall into the frigid stream. No problem at all!” And, in a moment, “How Green Was My Valley” was on-screen, and kindly Mr. Gruffyd was right there! How wonderful!

My evening was well gone by now, but I elected to make one more choice for my bill of fare, and I gave it a bit of thought, then picked up the…… wait for it….. BLUE PHONE, again. It was as if Miss Chooser was waiting for my call, because after I was only a few words into my request, she, without interrupting me, channeled “Zulu!” onto my screen, and the warriors on the hillside were rhythmically beating their assegai spears against their shields and chanting, making a sound much like a very large locomotive coming down the track. Ah, Rorke’s Drift, you’re in for it now!

Finally, eyelids drooping, I decided to head for the bed. I gave Miss Chooser one last call, just to thank her, and in way of parting, she directed my tv to come on, and Richard Collier and Elise McKenna walked away into the clouds, hand in hand, forever together, “Somewhere in Time”.

Pleasant dreams, Miss Chooser!