The Detective’s Daughter — Slither!

Kim in Baltimore watching the snow melt on the first day of spring.

I don’t like snakes, never have. Growing up in the city amongst concrete and black top, I’d really no reason to come across one, but it didn’t stop me from checking under the toilet seat or searching under my bed before I went to sleep.

Most children are afraid of the dark, afraid of some inanimate object eerily coming to life in their room, or of a monster lurking under their bed or in their closet. My fear was something I could name, a reptile I could visit in the zoo or, worse yet, at the circus my mom and Nana insisted on dragging me to every March. The circus train would pass our house each spring on its way to Penn Station. On many occasions it would stop just outside our back doorstep, waiting for what I was never sure. It was in these moments, as the train sat silently, I worried the most.

Suppose one of those slithering creatures escaped? I was never concerned about the lions or tigers, they’d be missed immediately. But how long would it take to notice a lone missing snake?

It was Thanksgiving morning. I was fourteen years old. We had just begun to prepare the relish trays, I was in charge of the pickles and my sister took care of the olives. The sirens from a radio car and fire engine broke the calm order of our holiday. We were good neighbors, so we shuffled outside, coffee mugs in hand, to stand with the rest of our block. We did our duty and showed our concern by standing on the pavement and gawking at the house where the emergency vehicles were parked.

“Kitchen fire,” said one neighbor.

“Heart attack,” said another. But there was no ambulance. Seconds later Animal Control pulled up. One man carried a large stick, the other man held what looked like a laundry bag.

“Snake,” Dad said.

The poor woman in that house had found an eight-foot python behind her stove. A young man several blocks away had been in search of his pet python, Serena was her name, all morning. Fortunately, Serena had been well fed and cared for by her owner and the woman or her Toy Poodle had not been on the python’s Thanksgiving menu.

I learned two things that day; snakes seek out warmth, and that my fear was not as unfounded as my parents led me to believe. There’s more than one benefit to sleeping in a cool room, I thought.

When I was twenty-five years old I taught preschool. A local nature center came to give a presentation one afternoon. The center was known for their care and rehabilitation of wild animals. I arranged for this program because I wanted my inner-city students to see these animals up close and to learn how to respect nature. The director of the center brought along with her quite a few animals that included an opossum, a barn owl, a hawk, and, of course, a snake.

“I need a volunteer,” she said to the crowd. My principal pushed me forward. “This was your idea, after all,” she  reminded me.

My job was to hold the snake. I thought I was going to faint. I could actually hear my heart beat in my ears along with great swooshing noises. I swallowed my fear and held out my hand for the small yellow and brown corn snake. Her name was Lipstick and her skin felt soft as silk material, not like slime or leather as I’d feared. She gently moved her body around my wrist and up my arm flicking her tongue in and out. It was the only time I’ve ever held a snake.

My dad was sixty-one years old when he came to live with me and my family after his house  burned down. As the months passed, it became apparent he was not well. It was hard for him to put sentences together or to walk very far. We turned our family room on the first floor into a bedroom for him where he’d have easy access to the bathroom and the back porch where he could go to smoke.

By year’s end he began to have mini strokes and was now unable to move around on his own. I took him all his meals and sat with him drinking endless cups of coffee while watching game and talk shows.

One evening, after everyone was asleep and  I was up reading, I began hearing odd sounds. I checked the children, but they were sleeping soundly. The dogs were curled by the fireplace. After checking each room without discovering the source of the shuffling sound, I decided to check on Dad. He had been asleep for hours. I opened the door at the top of the stairs and saw a brown pattern move on the steps. I screamed and flipped on the lights. There was Dad slithering up towards me, his tongue twitched from side to side as he slid on his belly maneuvering his way up the stairs.

“Did I scare you?” he asked and rolled over on his back. I could barely breathe. My body shook so hard I had to sit down on the floor. I reached down and touched his shoulder to reassure myself it was only my dad. His face was covered in sweat from exertion.

“I want that brown stuff in a mug,” he said.

“Coffee?” I asked. “I will bring you your coffee.” But I still couldn’t move.

“I scared you,” he said again and began to laugh.

He laughed so hard for so long he sent himself into a coughing fit. It took the fire department to get him off the steps and back in bed. He continued to tell the story and laugh about it for days afterward. I believe it was the last hearty laugh he enjoyed.

In my childhood I was not afraid of ghost or the dark, but of something slithering near me. My dad has been gone from this world for eleven years now, but there has not been one time since that evening that I have not been leery of opening that door and just a bit terrified I might find him slithering up towards me.

The Detective’s Daughter — Wanting to be Moore

kimspolicehatKim in Baltimore enjoying the warm weather. Wait…it’s still February, right?

I was ten years old and had my future mapped out fairly well for a fifth grader. I knew I wanted to move to Minneapolis on my eighteenth birthday and live in a second floor apartment in an old Victorian house on a snow-covered side street. Pop-Pop gave me a glass jar so I could begin saving for my dream. I tried to convince my best friend at the time, Denise Hampton, to go with me. She could live upstairs from me and wear a long vest and a scarf on her head. She did move, but without me and before we had even made it to middle school.

I had every detail set up perfectly in my mind. A magazine or television station would hire me and I’d have a gruff but kind-hearted boss who would guide my career. I knew this could happen, I had watched this life unfold every Saturday evening.

“You know, Mary Tyler Moore doesn’t really live in Minneapolis, don’t you?” Mom asked one morning as she filled my bowl with Cap’n Crunch cereal.

“Of course I do,” I said, hoping that in real life she lived with Dick Van Dyke in New Rochelle.

kim-auntsEvery weekday afternoon I would walk a half block from Saint Mary Star of the Sea School to my Aunt Madeleine’s house for lunch. Aunt Madeleine lived with her daughter whom the family called “Little Madeleine” despite the fact she stood nearly six-feet tall, a good foot over her mother. I was in high school before I realized that the title “little” referred to her age not her size.

Auntie would fix me what she called a “tuna plate” which consisted of a scoop of tuna salad on an ice burg lettuce leaf, carrot sticks, potato chips, and a dill pickle spear.

We sat at the counter in the kitchen watching reruns of The Dick Van Dyke Show on a black and white portable television. It was there I first fell in love with Mary Tyler Moore.

However much I adored Laura Petrie and her perfect hair and fabulous wardrobe, it was Mary Richards I aspired to be. I did not want a house in the suburbs, I wanted to be a writer. It was a career woman’s life I intended to emulate.

For ten years I was that woman, I even had an apartment in an old Victorian, but it was in a dodgy side of town rather than on a picturesque snowy road. My life seemed to reflect Bridget Jones more than Mary Richards!

Through the years as I changed from career woman to suburban mom, I followed Miss Moore’s  career and shared her movies and shows with my own children. I began to admire her more for her personal achievements than for her television accomplishments, especially her work in searching for a cure for diabetes.

This past November at Crime Bake as we celebrated the fabulous William Kent Krueger at dinner, all the attendants were given a task to write a little something that would include bits about Minnesota where Krueger’s series take place. I sat at a table with the Wicked Cozy Authors and together we created quite a lively and funny piece. Julie Hennrikus represented our table and read our creation to the audience. Sherry Harris threw a cap in the air at the final sentence mimicking the MTM show opening. Our table won for being the most creative.

kimmtmIn January I was crushed when I learned of Miss Moore’s death. I remembered being a young child and seeing Nana crying at the kitchen table. I asked her what was wrong and she said, “Our Judy died.” At the time, I didn’t understand her affection for Judy Garland, but now I’m sure I feel quite the same as she did on that day. Someone beloved had been lost to us.

Our idols, people we admire, shape our dreams and our goals. I’ve been across this country four times and have yet to visit Minneapolis. I’m determined not to let another year go by without making the trip. Mary Tyler Moore, her spunk and determination, gave me courage to reach for my dreams and to constantly remind myself that I’m going to make it after all.

Readers: What famous individual has had an influence on your life?

The Detective’s Daughter — Walking the Bridge

Kim in Baltimore still packing away Christmas decorations.

kimspolicehatJanuary is usually a month we spend making resolutions then breaking them. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, I put enough pressure on myself daily. It would be overwhelming if I saved it all up for only once a year! Anyway, isn’t each new day, week or month another opportunity to try again?

Some people see the holidays as a bridge that helps them cross over from their past to what awaits them in the future. I’ve had that feeling myself, only in my case it happened before sunrise in the middle of an ordinary week in October.

I had an extremely sheltered childhood. As you may know, I was born with a birth defect that is most commonly called a strangled limb. This stunted the growth of my right arm. I spent a great deal of time in the Children’s Hospital under the care of the brilliant Dr. Raymond Curtis who performed numerous surgeries on me and with the help of braces was able to coax my arm to grow to near normal length.

Needless to say, this caused my family a great deal of stress. My parents and my grandparents, especially my Pop-Pop, fluttered around me constantly trying to anticipate my every move in fear that I would injure myself. Truth be told, I was a bit clumsy. It was difficult to maneuver around with one side of my body being smaller and heavier (with a brace) than the other side of me. For this reason my Nana set up an entire list of things I was not allowed to do. It included no hopping, jumping, skipping and, most importantly, absolutely no running. This meant I grew up never learning basic childhood skills such as riding a bike, roller skating or jumping rope. However, one Christmas my father bought me a tricycle that I was allowed to ride in the living room under close supervision. Once they even let me out on the sidewalk to snap a photo of the event.

All the supervision in the world could not save me from calamity. I managed to break my arm three times before the age of seven. Once from falling off the bottom step (Rule #100 – no sitting unattended on stairs!), again when a folding chair collapsed with me in it (Rule #101 – no sitting in folding chairs!), and finally, even my doll’s stroller was found to be a hazard. I blame Miss Ag, though. How could I have known during a brief time when I was not being watched, and my neighbor Dianne suggested we should race our doll’s strollers, that Miss Ag would choose that particular moment to step outside? Dianne won and I ended up in the gutter with the stroller on top of me and my favorite doll in the middle of Fort Avenue.kimstroller

I never let any of this hinder other things I wanted to do. As an adult I learned to knit, type, and work a pottery wheel. It wasn’t until this past fall I was able to step out of my comfort zone and push myself to do a task I never dreamed imaginable.

There was a Mindful Writers Retreat in Pennsylvania that I attended with my good friend Ramona. We stayed in a lovely lodge and part of the agenda was to rise early each morning to go on a meditative hike. So, being the good rule-follower that I am, I arose before the birds and donned my boots to join the others. We walked silently through the woods waiting for the sun to make its appearance. After awhile everyone stopped and I looked around, but saw nothing that would hinder our path. I asked one of the women with us what we were waiting for. She answered that there was a rope bridge that could only be crossed one person at a time. I tried to see the bridge through the trees and early morning shadows, but saw nothing. Gradually we made our way, chatting a bit amongst ourselves. And then it came into view. One piece of rope strung across a stream. One rope does not equal a bridge. I became panicked. I couldn’t do this, I would surely break something! I was positive there was a rule against this somewhere.

kimbridgeSoon it was my turn, and with beating heart and sweaty palms I took my first step clinging desperately to the tension ropes to keep my balance. With each shaking step, the women around me cheered and encouraged me until finally I made it unscathed to the other side.

Women on both side of the stream were clapping and cheering for me and I felt as though my heart would burst with pride and gratitude. I looked back over the bridge and thought of all the things I had not done out of fear of being hurt. That was all behind me now.

I have a photo of me crossing that bridge on my phone that I look at each day to remind myself that I am capable. No more rules. I am fearless.

Dear readers: What hurdles in your life have you overcome?

The Detective’s Daughter — Oh Christmas Tree

kimspolicehatKim in Baltimore still decorating and shopping for Christmas.

kimI was twenty-seven years old before I found out Christmas trees came from a tree farm and didn’t magically appear in a roped-off lot in front of the hardware store on the corner. I’m a city girl, what do I know? Our tree, the one that sat on a table in my Nana’s living room, was silver and had come out of a box she kept in the back of the basement on what we called “the bank.” Each year Pop-pop would haul it upstairs and curse as he tried to match the branches with the tiny slot they fit into. Nana would bring out a boxes of glass ornaments. There were a box of red, a box of green and one of blue. Each year only one color was chosen for the tree. On the floor sat a rotating light that made a whizzing noise as it spun round changing the color of the silver tree from blue to gold, then red to green and back again.

Upstairs in our apartment my mom had bought our tree from Montgomery Wards. It also had branches that needed to be pushed into the base of the tree. We had a beautiful star that glowed on top and dozens of feathered angels hanging from the branches. Not one person in my family had a Christmas tree that needed to be watered.

When I met my husband, he told me the most amazing thing. He said he worked on a Christmas tree farm. Now, I knew every year that there was a huge tree in New York City and that it came from some far off land like Maine or Vermont, but I had no idea you could get such a thing here in Maryland!

kimtreeoutsideThe first year we were married we set off one freezing cold morning in search of the perfect tree. I was in charge of carrying the saw. We drove for nearly an hour and then walked for another, at least it felt that way. Soon my nose was frozen and I would have agreed to a branch in a vase of water for a Christmas tree. My husband cut down the tree and we dragged it to the road to wait to be picked up. “This is fun, right?” my husband asked. Sure, I nodded, and tried to stomp feeling back into my feet. Yet, for the next twenty-three years with dogs and kids alongside us, we trekked across fields in search of our tree.

Then a few years ago I had a lung infection and was told by my doctor that I could no longer have a live tree in my house. I mourned the end of our family tradition. I missed the stinging cold on my face as we walked and the way my children’s voices echoed in the fields, the soothing warmth of the little shed that sold hot kimtreechocolate and cider. It would all be just photos and memories now.

This year we pull the branches out of the box and debate as to which goes where on the base. I make the hot chocolate and we unwind the lights and another Christmas tree is adorned.

Readers: What kind of tree do you have at your house? Or if you don’t have a Christmas tree what other decorations do you pull out every year?

The Detective’s Daughter – Adventures in Book Publishing.

by Kim in Dedham, Massachusetts enjoying Crime Bake.

windwardcoverToday is my day for the giveaway! Leave a comment by midnight to be entered to win an autographed copy of Windward: Best New England Crime Stories.

Well, it’s finally happened. This weekend we launched our first anthology as the new editors of Level Best Books. Windward has been a labor of love and I am proud to be a part of the team along with Harriette Sackler, Shawn Reilly Simmons, and Verena Rose.

It was a year ago this weekend that Level Best Books was passed from one Wicked Cozy editor (Barbara Ross) to another (that would be me!). I had spent the last five autumns coming to New England for the fabulous Crime Bake conference and have many of the anthologies that the previous Level Best Books editors had published. I was happy to pick up the torch and carry on the tradition of this wonderful New England anthology.

alblanchard

P. Jo Anne Burgh, winner of the 2016 Al Blanchard Award

The submissions came rolling in from January 1st. – May 31st. at a high rate of speed. All in all there were 225 stories to read. In the end thirty- three stories were selected that included the Al Blanchard Award winner.

I am happy to announce we will be publishing additional anthologies with Busted: Arresting Stories from the Beat to be released in April 2017.

It has been an exciting weekend for all involved and I would like to thank the Crime Bake committee for their warm welcome and assistance, the talented authors who submitted their stories and most of all Barbara Ross who gave me one pep talk after another and filled me with the encouragement I needed to see this project through.

We are winding up another spectacular conference weekend. There were plenty of laughs, lots of dancing and, most of all, a strong writers community to support and cheer for each other.

Join us next year, won’t you?

Do you enjoy reading and/or writing short stories? Which story has been the most memorable?

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The Detective’s Daughter — Making Halloween Costumes

kimspolicehatKim in Baltimore admiring the big moon.

Halloween is only a few weeks away and I’m not ready. The decorations are still packed, the candy has yet to be bought and the pumpkins I planted didn’t even get a chance to ripen before becoming a delicious snack for the squirrels. At least I have no costumes to worry with this year. My children are grown and are quite capable of putting together their own disguises.

When I was a child, my mom made every costume I ever wore. Now that I think about it, she made quite a few for me when I was an adult, too. Mom has always been an excellent kimwhitedressseamstress. She made a lot of her own formal wear as well as many of my outfits and my Barbie clothes. Halloween costumes were her specialty.

Every year I could count on a beautiful gown to be either a princess, or a bride. One year she actually used a pair of lavender Priscilla curtains to make a gown and hat for me to be a Southern Belle. I won first place at the recreation center’s Halloween party that year.

The year Dad became involved in the costume making, he decided I would be a devil. My mom sewed the suit and Dad made my horns, tail and pitchfork.  I was not amused. He made another attempt a few years later, but fortunately it was the year of my curtain dress. My sister was not so lucky. He dressed her as a turtle.

kimredI had high expectations of myself when it came to making my own children’s costumes. The problem was I didn’t know how to sew. I solved that by investing in a glue gun and one of those super-duper staplers. My kids could only wear the costume once because it had to be pulled  apart to get them out of it. By the time they were old enough for school they were begging me for store bought costumes. I must admit, I was a bit broken-hearted and felt like a failure. They were so excited, though, to pick out the costumes that I soon realized what the costumes meant.

kimbeeIt wasn’t really what I wore that I remembered so vividly, it was the time I had spent with my mom, times where I had her undivided attention. I can still picture how she looked as I stood on the ottoman in our living room as she hemmed my dress, or the nights I sat with her while she sewed and listened to Connie Francis records. I couldn’t sew a beautiful costume, but I could give my children my undivided attention.

Every year it was a special event to buy just the right costume. We always ended up with an extra mask…just in case, and ended our shopping trip with lunch at one of our favorite restaurants. On the way home, my kids liked to wear their masks to see the reactions they would get from the people we passed.

This year I’ll admire all the costumes of the children who come to my door, store bought or homemade, each one has a special story.

Readers: What are your favorite Halloween memories? Which costume was your favorite or which was the most embarrassing?

The Detective’s Daughter – Hollywood Glamour

Good morning – we interrupt our regularly scheduled programming with a special announcement!

The winners of the Jess Lourey and Shannon Baker contests are:

Gail Arnold (Shannon’s winner)
Ann Mason (Jess’s winner)

Gail and Ann, message us your emails on the WCA Facebook page and we’ll put you in touch.

Now, over to Kim!

kimspolicehat

Kim in Baltimore melting from the intense heat.

A few months ago I read a book called Design for Dying by Renee Patrick which I highly recommend. I love reading about old Hollywood and show business, in fact I’m a bit obsessed with it. I blame my grandmother. She had subscriptions to Photoplay magazine and Rona Barrett’s Hollywood. We spent hours – and I do mean hours – flipping through the glossy pages covered with updates on everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Paul Newman. While other girls on my block were dreaming of Robby Benson and Parker Stevenson, I was setting my alarm to get up at 3am to see a Robert Mitchum movie. The best nights were the ones where a Barbara Stanwyck film followed.
As much as I enjoyed the movies and magazines, what I really loved were imageNana’s stories of her older brother Al. Al was a bandleader who had his own club in the D. C. area in the 1940’s. I was fascinated with the photos of his orchestra and the many acts that had performed in his club. I could picture William Powell and Myrna Loy sipping martinis and watching as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers glided around the dance floor.image
Just like all good Hollywood pictures, Al Norton’s life had a dramatic end. Nana told me many times how her brother, dejected by the woman he loved, died of a broken heart in his kitchen. Many years later I found a newspaper clipping about his death that revealed the truth; it wasn’t so much his broken heart that killed him as it was the gas on his stove he had purposefully turned on. Nana would never admit to that, but would tell me two notes were left. She burned hers after reading it.image
Though I never met this man, he has been a great influence on my life; from the books I read to the cocktails I drink. When I find a delightful book like Design for Dying or watch I Love Lucy reruns, I can’t help wishing to be sent back to that glamorous era.

Readers,
If you could be transported back in time, where would you want to go? Would you want to meet one of your ancestors or a famous historical figure?