Accidentally Noticeable

When I was outside today, checking on the weather, someone walking by stopped and commented my yard, saying I have the greenest grass in town. (Not surprising since most grass around here hasn’t started greening up yet.)

It seems odd to me how often people stop to look at my yard, or comment on my hat or my car, as if I’m so very different from everyone else, and perhaps I am, though I never planned to be so noticeable. Each one of the elements of my persona (for lack of a better word) started almost by accident.

The first thing that catches people’s eye are my hats. The sun tends not to agree with me and sometimes even causes small hives on any skin left bare, so I always cover myself on sunny days. Long sleeves are a must, as are wide-brimmed hats. I used to just wear a plain straw gardening hat because it was cheap. When that disintegrated in the sun (better the hat than my head!) I started using a straw cowboy hat that Jeff had bought and never used, and then as that hat wore out, and as I found new ones, I started stocking up. People seem to have such a distaste for “hat hair” that hats have so fallen out of favor they tend to be hard to find. The decorations on my hats were also . . . not exactly accidental, but not planned, either. Several years ago, I set my then current hat next to an ornate bow I’d taken off a gift from my sister that was too pretty to dismantle. The juxtaposition seemed serendipitous, so I slipped the ribbon over the crown of the hat and oh, was it pretty! And thus “Pat in the Hat” was born.

My distinctive car is also something that happened by accident. Back when I bought my Beetle, it was the same as half the cars on the road. Nothing special. What is special is that years after the majority of those VWs disappeared, I still have mine. Over the decades, it became rather a mess, and I wasn’t sure it was worth keeping. A few car guys salivated over my bug, telling me that if I bought a new car, in five years, I’d have a piece of junk, but if I restored the bug, in five years, I’d have a little gem. In the end, it was the potentially huge automobile insurance bill that would accompany a new car that made me decide to keep — and restore — my bug. As it turned out, it was a good thing (at least until recently and the problem of getting the right part to fix the brakes). It certainly made my cross-country trip memorable because of all the people who sought me out to talk about my car and to tell me their VW Beetle stories.

The most recent thing that has set me apart is my lawn, which truly was accidental, and the attention truly surprising. I mean, it’s just grass.

But apparently not. As the passerby today said, no one in town has grass as green as mine. It’s so emerald-bright, that it’s hard to miss. The funny thing is, I had no idea what type of grass I was getting. My contractor had told a landscaper that I was interested in sodding a corner of my yard; not long afterward, the landscaper contacted him and said he had a couple of pallets leftover from a job. Even though I didn’t think it would be enough for the small square of lawn in the front corner of my lot, I said I wanted it. Well, it turns out there was about four times what I needed, so they kept laying down the sod and laying it down until it was all gone. And wow! So much green!

The rest of the landscaping, such as the path meandering around my yard, was also somewhat of an accident in that I never planned it. My contractor, knowing I was trying to elder-proof my property, suggested the paths, and I agreed to let him do it. Even the red of the path that offsets the grass so well was his choice. (Or rather the landscaping company’s choice since it was all they had in stock.)

It’s amazing how accidents and happenstance turned me and my life into a spectacle of sorts, which, come to think of it, isn’t a bad thing for someone as self-effacing as I am. Any of these things gives people a reason to stop and chat. And even if they don’t stop, they for sure know who I am.

It does make me wonder what the next thing will be that adds to my persona. I’m certainly not planning on being any more noticeable than I already am, but then, I never planned any of these things. They just . . . happened.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

On the Q.T. at the D.Q.

I made a new friend today. We’ve actually been friends (or at least friendly) for a couple of years, but until today, all of our conversations have taken place during transactions at her place of work. She’s retired now, so we decided to continue our friendship outside of the confines of her job.

I was going to invite her for tea at my place, but at the last moment decided it might be awkward, so I suggested we meet at Dairy Queen for coffee. I needn’t have worried. We had no problem talking about all sorts of things from The Bob to religion to the slap heard around the world. (Yep, even I and my sparse contact with the world at large heard about the slap.) In fact, in all that talking, we somehow forgot to order coffee. We’d like to make “having coffee” a weekly thing, but as my tea friends are aware, it’s often easy to let life get in the way and sometimes hard to make the effort. But we’ll see how it goes.

There were only two other customers in the restaurant most of the time we were there, a couple I thought I knew fairly well, but when they stopped to talk to my friend, they barely acknowledged me. Later, they came up to me, finally smiling in recognition. I wasn’t wearing a hat, you see, which is why they didn’t recognize me at first. It was cold when I walked to our meeting and so wore a stocking cap to keep my head and ears warm, and I took the hat off because it was too hot to wear inside. Apparently, “Pat in the Hat” isn’t easily identified when there isn’t a hat on her head. I didn’t purposely go to the D.Q on the Q.T., but if ever I do need to be incognito, I now know what to do — go hatless.

Still, the couple did eventually recognize me, and we had a nice chat before they headed out the door.

These three weren’t the only people I visited with today. On the way to Dairy Queen, I stopped at the bank and saw my contractor. We had a nice visit, catching up on each other’s news (nonexistent in my case) and talking about the work still needing to be done around my place.

I’ve often wondered what my social life will be like when my job inevitably comes to an end. I don’t want to go back to the senior center and play games. I don’t want to do the three-times-a-week lunches at the center or the once-a-month dinner put on by the churches. And, because of The Bob, it will be a long time before I am willing to be in a crowd or around a lot of strangers. I’m hoping, of course, to be able to have tea with friends more often, and perhaps if obligations aren’t tugging at me, it will be easier to make arrangements.

But then, going by today, I won’t need to do much of anything if I want to be social — just step out my door, do whatever it is I need to do, and chances are I’ll see someone I know. Of course, I’ll need to be sure to wear a hat so people will recognize me, but considering that warmer weather is coming, it’s a sure bet I’ll have on a topper.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

The Limelight

I’ve never thought of myself as particularly conceited or self-absorbed beyond what is normal and healthy. In fact, I tend to be more self-effacing than is probably good for me and am seldom comfortable seeking the limelight.

[I had to pause here to look up “limelight.” Interesting to note that it actually was a “lime” light — a cylindrical piece of the mineral lime that when lit produced a bright white light that was used to light theater stages in the early l800s. By the late 1800s, “limelight” had already taken on its present meaning of being the center of attention.]

Despite my unease at being the center of attention, there are times that I enjoy being noticed, or should I say, there are things about me that I enjoy being noticed. For example, my car. When I took my various trips, from coast to coast and border to border, it thrilled me that so many people noticed and commented on my vintage VW. It’s the same with my hats — people notice me because of my fancy headgear (actually, it’s not me they notice but the hats. Without a hat on my head, I’m not sure as many people would recognize me).

And now, I have my grass. When I am out there watering, passersby all comment on my gorgeous lawn. The color is bright, for one thing, and for another, there I am, in the middle of November, watering the greenery when everyone else has let their grass turn brown. Of course, “everyone else” hasn’t recently spent a small fortune on their lawns, so it behooves me to take care of my investment.

[Yet another aside: my silly self is acting up, wondering if a horse can be said to be behooved.]

You’d think my books would be on that list of accoutrements that bring me notice, but although they originated with me, they’re not part of my personage. You can’t tell I’m a writer by looking at me the way you can tell that I am “Pat in the Hat.” In some way, my books don’t feel as if they are a part of me at all, though I do take the credit when someone tells me they like one or another of my tales. Now, if I were a recognized “name,” things might be different, and who knows, there still could come a time when I can test that theory.

But for now, I take my fame — and the limelight — where I can get it.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Hat Head

People often tell me how lucky I am that I have a hat head so that I look good in hats. I’m not sure what’s lucky about that — I would wear them anyway. My hats were never a fashion statement. I’ve always worn hats outside, for warmth in the winter and for coolness in the summer. That the hats became anything more, turning me into a woman people refer to as “Pat in the Hat,” was sheer happenstance.

My sister is very creative, and the bows she puts on gifts are works of art. I never knew what to do with them except to reuse for my own gift-giving, so I always carefully packed them away. One day, I’d dropped my hat on the table by one of her ribbon and bow creations I’d removed from a gift, and just for fun, I slipped the bow around the crown of the hat. I probably never would have given decorating hats another thought, except that after a few days, the ribbon disappeared. It had been a windy day, and my surmise is that the bow had blown off. I retraced my steps again and again, and I never did find it. This was shortly after Jeff died, when any loss, even the loss of a ribbon threw me back into full grief mode.

I eventually used another ribbon for the hat, more to make myself feel better (at least there was one thing I could replace!). Then, when that hat wore out, I went shopping for others. The irony is that if anything makes me look good in hats it’s that I have a relatively small head, so the hat more or less balances things out, but most hats are way too big for me. So I got in the habit of collecting the hats as well as ribbons and bows, so that I would always have a hat to wear.

Over the years, it’s become an identifying factor, but the truth is, everyone looks good in hats. It’s just a matter of finding the right style to fit one’s head and frame one’s face. In fact, most church-going women of a certain age have an assortment of hats to wear to church, and as far as I know, no one ever went up to one of these women and said, “Oh, my. You look terrible in hats!” Because they didn’t look terrible. They looked dressed up.

The real issue seems to be “hat head” of a different sort, so called because when one removes a hat, one’s hair is mashed down, making it very obvious that one had been wearing a hat.

I’ve never really cared. I walk so much (or used to until the knee issues showed up) so it was always more important for me to be comfortable.

Being known as “Pat in the Hat” has its advantages. It’s easy for people to remember my name, and if anyone has a nice hat they want to get rid of, they know exactly who to give it to. And, of course, hats are a good conversation opener. Everyone notices my hats.

So maybe it’s not so much that I’m lucky to have a hat head, but that I don’t mind having hat head after I remove the hat.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Small Town Encounters

When I was at the post office yesterday, I noticed my mail deliverer working the window. “So this is why my mail is always late,” I quipped. She explained they were shorthanded, so she was basically working two jobs, but that she’d be by later with my mail. We chatted a few minutes, then, as I headed out the door, a woman I didn’t recognize walked in and said,  “Hi, Pat.” I stopped and studied her for a second. Before I could come across as rude, I said hastily, “I’m sorry. I don’t remember your name.”

She smiled. “I only remember your name because of the hat.” She then told me her name, which didn’t ring a bell, but when she mentioned her affiliation with a local church, I finally remembered meeting her. At a pie auction at a local church, she’d stopped me and asked, “Why do they call you Pat in the Hat?”

“Because I always wear a hat,” was my answer. So apparently, not only am I easy to remember because of my hats, so is my name easy to remember.

Although I make is seem as if this is an ideal small town, it isn’t, though some things truly are ideal. A library within walking distance? Priceless!

Other things, not so much. Although I still have no problem with walking to do errands, I’ve developed an inexplicable aversion to walking just to be walking, Well, today I had a few graphic examples that helped explain why I don’t enjoy walking as much as I once did. For one, dogs run loose — not all of them, and not all the time, but enough to be a problem, and I definitely do not like encountering strange and hostile dogs. There is a leash law here, but apparently, the sheriff’s department doesn’t care, and neither do the owners. As one woman told me, “If I were a dog, I would prefer to run loose, even if I end up getting run over.” And, since the dog disappeared shortly after she told me that, I’m sure she, if not her dog, got her preference.

Another issue is the cars. I don’t think people here are used to pedestrians. Too often, if I’m crossing a street or cutting through a parking lot to a store, drivers will simply ignore me or mow me down as if I weren’t even there. I have to be extra vigilant because of those who aren’t at all vigilant.

And then there are all the young men of working age who apparently don’t work. I detoured to avoid encountering a couple of small groups of men and several single wanderers. Good thing I haven’t lost my big city wariness.

I sure do miss having a wilderness area to wander around without all the unpleasant encounters. (Well, there were a coyote or two, and an occasional snake, but I could handle those.) I suppose I could drive somewhere to walk, but really, where’s the sense in that?

Once the garage is finished and I can get my storage items out of my exercise room, I’ll be able to use my elliptical again, but that’s only for a few minutes at a time and doesn’t at all take the place of walking. I have been adding more time to my dance workouts, but even that doesn’t take the place of walking.

I often encounter neighbors walking around the block across the street, and I might have to do that, too. And there is a fairly safe, though rather short street I sometimes walk. Meantime, I try to do a lot of errands!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Ornaments!

Next week I am supposed to bring a Christmas ornament to a party and tell the story of the ornament and why it’s special to me. It’s not really my thing, maybe because my grade school never had show and tell, so I hadn’t planned on doing it. Now I can’t. Too many to choose from!

Today I got a gift from my sister (who definitely sends the best presents ever) with instructions to open it right away. Inside the box were five small prettily wrapped gifts — Christmas ornaments for my first tree and my first Christmas in my first house.

Each ornament illustrated a facet of my life.

A nod to my new house, of course.

Books, definitely.

My car, naturally.

A dragon because we all need a dragon to guard and protect.

And . . . Pat in the Hat. (Front and back)

I’m not sure I ever mentioned how I became Pat in the Hat. I’ve always been a big walker, but it wasn’t until my middle years that I wised up and started to wear a hat to protect me from the sun. Back then, the hats I wore weren’t anything special — ball caps or straw hats, anything cheap and accessible.

Later, when I lived with my father, my sister would send the two of us ornately wrapped gifts with gorgeous bows. My father tore off the wrappings, and tossed them away, but I rescued the bows. They were simply too nice to throw away. I didn’t really have any use for those ribbons, but one day, when I came in from a walk, I tossed my hat on table where I’d put the most recent offering, and something clicked. I wrapped the ribbon around the hat, and was thrilled with the festivity of it all.

Not too long afterward, I noticed that the ribbon was gone, and it devastated me that I couldn’t find it. This was shortly after Jeff had died, when any loss, no matter how insignificant, set me on a downward spiral of grief. Although I retraced my steps several times, I never found that bow. Luckily, I had another one packed away. This time, I made sure to tack my makeshift hatband to the hat to keep from losing another ribbon. I still have a stash of ribbons from my sister, as well as a few things I bought to decorate whatever hat I happened to have.

Now, delightfully, not only is she providing decorations for my hat, but also my tree — my dad’s tree, actually, and come to think of it, my sister bought it for him.

For a person who isn’t that fond of show and tell, I sure do a lot of here! Maybe that’s why I don’t need to do it in person.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Fun Raiser

Yesterday the art guild had a wreath-making day just for fun. (Not a fundraiser as we usually do, but a fun raiser.)

The art guild president (who happens to be half of the couple I bought my house from) set out tools and supplies along with tubs of ribbons and ornaments all sorted by color, and let us rummage for whatever we fancied. Apparently, I was in a blue mood — or mode — because the tub of blue sure caught my attention.

Although I’ve done many different crafts, I’d never made a wreath before, so I followed her instructions as best as I could and ended up with a froth of blue.

The color doesn’t match anything inside or outside my house — the outside trim is a completely different shade of blue — but I kept the wreath anyway. One day, if the foundation and floor of my garage are ever finished being fixed, I’ll be turning one wall into an art gallery for all the pictures and projects I’ve been collecting. Unlike most people, I prefer plain walls in my living quarters, and yet, the pictures and decorations deserve to be hung.

As if the wreath weren’t enough to satisfy my taste for blue yesterday, and since there was still time while the others finished their projects, I had to decorate a hat. (The folks around here call me Pat in the Hat for a reason!)

So, the day was a success. We not only ended up with several wreaths (and one hat) but we did what we intended, and raised some fun.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Fun and Clever and Unique

I love talking about my books, though I seldom get a chance. Luckily for me, the following conversation with my sister was caught on text!

SISTER: I’m into chapter 6 of Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare and I have so many questions and comments!!!!!!

ME: You like it, though?

SISTER: Love it! It’s fun and clever and unique. Is the cover photo actually one of your dance mates?? Is there a Deb character in your class? How fun that you condensed your family into one representative sister and brother.

ME: Almost all the people are real. Yes there is a Deb, though she is a composite character and caricatured a bit. The first few chapters tell the true story of the story so the cover is exactly as described in the book. The woman on the floor is Grace, the one who suggested the project.

SISTER: That is so fun!

ME: Many of the conversations in the book actually took place. Buffy really did say, “I’m not the one who volunteered to be the victim.” Oddly, after the book was written, Grace asked how I picked her. She had forgotten the whole thing was her idea.

ME: Perhaps the only truly fictional character is Pat. I’m not sure she exists. 🙂

SISTER: Pat???? Are you referring to Pat in the Hat? Trust me, she’s very real.

ME: It was fun writing as me. I didn’t have to worry about a character arc. Just show my feelings. It’s amazing how much of those first chapters are as they happened.  The cops kept showing up (going to lunch at a nearby restaurant) and it was a bit freaky to see them when we were talking about killing Grace.

SISTER: And btw, it’s very surreal to be reading a book by Pat featuring a character who is Pat, while texting with Pat (the writer? the person? the character?) hah!

ME: Now you know how it felt writing the book. I kept thinking Grace was dead, and then she’d show up for class. At one point, I really did consider asking one of the lunching cops what the procedure would be if she died, and I remember thinking, “I don’t need to ask. I’ll find out when she’s dead.” The whole thing was totally surreal.

SISTER: I can imagine!

ME: Don’t be surprised if your “surreal” comment shows up on my blog.

SISTER: For the record, I don’t mind being quoted.

ME: Remember that blog I did when I asked you  if it was bizarre reading a sex scene written by your sister? Well, that is one of the highest “hits” on my blog because of the juxtaposition of those two words: s e x and sister. You would not believe how many people in the world google, “how to have s e x with my sister,” or “how to get my sister to have s e x with me,” or the ever popular, “how to f*** my sister.” Truly bizarre.

SISTER: OMG, that is wild. And in the vernacular of today: ew

ME: I know. Totally ew.

Let’s hope this blog doesn’t have the same ew factor.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.