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Making Memories

Making Memories

Those lovely, insightful words came in response to birthday wishes I posted on Facebook to my friend of fifty-six years, Karen Pearlman, on her 66th Birthday. She and I became fast friends our fifth grade year at Jefferson Elementary School, in our hometown of Muscatine, Iowa.

From the very beginning, everything about Karen captivated me.

Karen was Jewish. I had no more idea of what a Jewish person was than a Catholic or a Presbyterian or a Lutheran. Labels. Like different brands of cereal you liked equally well. I knew she believed in God and said prayers. Her family was kind to me… and Karen liked me for a best friend. In my small world, that’s all that mattered.

She and her family—her dad, mom, three sisters, and grandmother—lived in a white, two-story house on West Eighth Street. My mom and I lived directly across the alley in a two-story, three-room, upstairs apartment on West Seventh Street. We literally could hop, skip and jump to one another’s houses.

I remember three distinct features about Karen’s lovely, old home: the large, screened-in front porch; the huge, black, grand piano positioned in the right corner of the living room; and the four portraits of Karen and her three sisters, hung on the wall near the piano. Until my first visit to Karen’s house, I’d never seen or plunked the keys of a real grand piano, nor observed a real portrait of someone I actually knew.

Karen’s dad—Doc Pearlman—was a dentist. Dentists terrified me. My mom couldn’t afford dental trips, so the only time I went was to have a tooth pulled. That pattern changed, when my friend’s dad became my dentist. His kind smile, and reassuring voice lessened my fears. Maybe he worked out some sort of payment schedule with my mom, or maybe he did the work for free. I never knew.

I liked Karen’s mom, Bessie, too. She wore her long, dark, graying hair pulled back in a bun. I liked coming home with Karen after school because her mom was there. She asked about our day, my day, and had snacks waiting. I enjoyed both the snacks and the interest. Bessie always seemed to be knitting something fuzzy and beautiful. She gave me my first set of knitting needles and taught me the basics… how to cast on, knit, and pearl.

One memorable afternoon, Karen and I came home to an empty house. This never happened. We rummaged through the cupboards, looking for a snack—something to tide us over—and found a box of Jell-O instant, butterscotch pudding. We followed the directions on the box. Measured and poured the milk and pudding mix into a big, plastic bowl. Stirred until thick. Then selected two, large spoons and began scooping pudding into our mouths until the big, plastic bowl was empty. When Karen’s mom came home, she found two very, sick girls, sitting side-by-side on the couch. A pudding overdose. To this day, I never pass a box of Jell-O Instant Butterscotch Pudding without thinking of Karen. I doubt she does either.

I don’t remember much about Karen’s sisters, other than Francine was the oldest, and Nancy, was referred to as the baby. Her sisters were either going somewhere or coming home from somewhere.

Making MemoriesKaren’s Grandma Lena lived upstairs in a separate apartment from the girls’ bedrooms. Quiet and gentle, she, too, wore her long, gray hair pulled back in a bun. We weren’t supposed to bother her or go inside her apartment unless invited. One afternoon, Grandma Lena, Karen, and I all happened to meet on the upstairs landing. Karen introduced her grandma and asked her to show me her tattoo. She pushed the left sleeve of her dress up over her elbow. And there it was. A long, tattooed number on her left fore arm. In a thick accent, she explained how she’d gotten the tattoo in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. She survived while so many others died. I never forgot the tattoo, and never forgot Grandma Lena.

Each day of each season that year, Karen and I walked to and from school together… talking and laughing as best friends do. One snowy, wintry day we stopped to slide on the Ninth Street hill sidewalk, a favorite sledding hill, often closed to traffic in the winter. Unlike the treaded bottoms of my boots, Karen’s were smooth and slick, and allowed for optimum sliding. She flew down the slippery sidewalk, while I watched. After a couple of speedy trips to the bottom, she shared her boots with me. Swapped so I could enjoy sliding, too. It’s what best friends do.

After a few successful, downhill runs in Karen’s boots, we sat next to each other in the snow to exchange back. My larger boots easily slipped off her smaller shoes, but my larger shoes, wouldn’t budge from inside her smaller boots. After several futile minutes, pulling and tugging, we knew we’d be late for school. Being tardy for school, back in the day, was a serious offense and could mean a trip to the Principal’s office. She slipped my boots back on, and we trudged through the deep snow as quickly as possible, arriving at school a few minutes late. Luckily, our teachers, Mr. Brace and Miss Loving, understood our predicament. Together, they patiently pried Karen’s stuck boots from my shoes, watched as we switched back, and overlooked our tardiness that long ago winter day.

For one, brief year—before my mother and I moved again—I felt safe in the upstairs apartment just a hop, skip, and a jump across the alley from my friend. I felt secure at Jefferson Elementary, with the same teacher, same classmates… same best friend.

For one, wonderful year, Karen and I trick-or-treated, shared cake and ice cream on our birthdays, and whispered and giggled late into the night during a couple of sleepovers. I learned to knit, read the Diary of Ann Frank because of her Grandma’s tattoo, tasted wine-filled candy she sneaked on Hanukkah. And my sweet, Jewish friend, Karen Pearlman, let me borrow her new, one-size-too-small, beginner heels for the mandatory Good Friday Christian Easter service held at the First Presbyterian Church. I’m certain I prayed to be Jewish on that particular Good Friday.

But the sweetest memory of all? Getting stuck in Karen’s boots one snowy, wintry day on the way to school.

Without realizing it, Karen and I created more than friendship that year. We created lovely, recollections from a shared place in time called childhood, and all that word evokes… innocence, wonder, trust, fairness, acceptance, and love. We created best memories for one another.

All of us have past memories in common, many from childhood… some are best memories, some are not. Nevertheless, we collectively share them. As a writer, I use my creativity and imagination to tap into our common memories—both physical and emotional—whenever I write a poem, a story, a novel.

For me, beginning any written work is like beginning a new friendship… a friendship between author and reader. As the author, I tap into and establish common memories—thoughts, feelings, experiences—with you, the reader. I do this through setting, character development, and story line. By the end of the writing process, you know something about me through the words.

You get it. You understand. You’ve been there.

And now you know, I’ve been there, too.

You (the reader) have now shared time with a new friend, (the author) who gave you some of your best memories while reading the words of a poem, a story, or a novel.

Now isn’t that amazing?

* * * * * * *

Making Memories is the first in an 8-part series called Bits & Pieces … Behind the Scenes with C.L. Gillmore

Making Memories

The Muscatine Journal Features C.L. Gillmore ~ Returning to Her Roots


MUSCATINE, Iowa – An author’s bond with her past prose helped forge her role as a professional wordsmith. Now, she’s returning home to Muscatine to reconnect with friends and family – including one friend who might just bring back a flood of memories.

When Cheryl Gillmore Kobel returns to Muscatine for her 45th class reunion, her classmates can read about what she’s been up to – under her pen name of C.L. Gillmore.

Read the full article here.

Going Back Online

Excerpts from “Of Roots, Shoes and Rhymes”

By ~ C L Gillmore

Going Back Online

“Why can’t we just go back again to the way it was before?”

Never even realizing he had shut the door once more.

His words of love so easily spoken in passing conversation.

Had touched her heart in a way he would never comprehend.

Oh, when friendship turns to love, it’s never the same again.

You’ve Got a Friend…

Excerpt from A Friend Request…sequel novel to Uncommon Bond  

There were a lot of kids I knew from high school attending Illinois State. There were also a lot of new kids from surrounding Illinois and out-of-state towns that I didn’t know. That was one of the reasons I was going to the Battle of the Bands “mixer” at the Student Union tonight. But the main reason was Jerry Parker.

I met … Jerry the first day of classes last month. He was one of those new kids. We both had Psych 101 at 7:20 a.m. in the huge, tiered lecture hall. He came strolling into class that first Monday morning 15 minutes late! The professor had already taken roll and was explaining the syllabus when Jerry stopped by his desk, pointed to his name on the roster and then headed for the nearest empty seat…right next to me.

Tall and thin with long dark hair almost to his shoulders and sporting wire-rimmed glasses, Jerry wasn’t that clean cut, all-American preppy kid that I was used to seeing in Macomb. Instead he was dressed in faded bell bottom jeans, an army jacket with a black t-shirt underneath and sandals. Somehow it all worked. He had that hippie look. Whatever it was he had working for him, it was working on me. I liked him the minute I saw him. Jerry was 19.

He appeared a bit disheveled and disorganized as he slid into the desk chair next to mine. He shoved all but the psych book underneath the chair and then picked up several cigarettes he’d dropped, shoving them back into the pack he kept in a pocket of his army jacket. Once he was settled he looked over and checked the page number I was on, turned in his book to that page and then flashed this wide, friendly grin at me and said quietly, in almost a whisper…

“Hi! I’m Jerry Parker and you are?”

And with those few words…my friendship with Jerry Parker began.



James Taylor & Carole King – You’ve Got a Friend