Writing contemporary family drama with a splash of humor
Author: Sheri Duff
Sheri Duff writes contemporary family drama with a splash of humor from her home in rural Colorado. Having grown up a city-girl in the suburbs of Denver, with her husband of twenty-plus years, she now finds constant laughs amid their new country lifestyle. Currently, Sheri waits impatiently for a new barn to hold her much dreamed of donkeys, which are sure to add to her stockpile of down-to-earth tales.
You will receive a letter every year on the Saturday after the anniversary of my funeral or close to it. Yes, my funeral. Not my death. Funerals are ridiculous, so it is fitting you get the letter on that day. It would be awesome if you could gather as a family to pass me along. Try to gather on a weekend when you have time to be together, to talk, listen to each other. Celebrate your lives. And listen to my words of wisdom and/or full-of-shit thoughts. I love gatherings. Laugh today. I would if I could. Actually, I’m confident I’m looking down at all of you and smiling. Yours for eternity, Mom/Mama
When Bessa found out she would not survive pancreatic cancer, she knew her three adult children weren’t ready to lose her. To help them move on, Bessa enlisted a secret accomplice to send letters to her children around the anniversary of her funeral. She also had her ashes placed in a purple kaleidoscope urn and requested her kids take turns spending time with her. Outlandish or not, a mother needs to do what a mother needs to do.
Full of laughter, love and chaos, the Larsen family spends ten years receiving letters from their mother and passing the urn from house to house, country to country—with occasional mishaps.
After close to 18 years in our home, we are moving. It’s funny how goals and priorities change. When my husband and I purchased the house nestled between two cul-de-sacs in 2001, I wanted to stay forever. I wanted to give our children the security of knowing they could always come back to their childhood home because I didn’t have mine. I went to 4 different elementary schools, three different middle schools which were called junior high schools, before settling into one high school. I don’t know what house I would consider my childhood home. However, Parker was the closest thing, and that is where my husband, Duane, and I planted our roots.
I wanted our kids to have the house that built them. But like the Miranda Lambert song, they will have to come back and knock on the door on Snowcreek to walk back into it. The ashes of our beloved Loki girl, a Boston Terrier who passed when she was too young, planted deep under the maple in the back. We would take that tree with us if we could. Duane wants to pull her out, but she runs deep with the root system and pulling her out could kill the tree. It would be like killing her all over again. Our Loki tree will live and provide shade for the next family, and Loki will always be in our hearts. The tree also has a tiny nest. We think it might be a hummingbird nest, which is super cool—I love hummingbirds. Along with Loki, the handprints of our children will remain in the tinted cement on the south side of the house. Duane said he would remove them, but cutting them out would only make a mess. As long as the new residents keep that cement, our kids’ hands will remain.
I want to turn back and never put that for sale sign in the yard. The house on Snowcreek Lane filled with memories built all of us, not just our kids. When we moved in, it had too light of carpet and plain white walls. We dirtied the carpet until we had to change the flooring to something that suited us better—wood laminate flooring and tile which took the beating of kids and dogs. We painted and repainted walls to change with our ages, moods, and the times. Emily’s once pink room is now a turquoise, which will be painted over when we leave. We finished a basement, which once was a concrete slab. The best day in that basement was before the remodel. Taking cover because of tornado warnings, we took our two kids, two dogs, and one cat to safety. I was terrified, tornadoes scare the living shit out of me because of the 1981 tornado that ripped through Thornton. Andrew, our son, found a box of Halloween costumes and entertained us. As always, his humor made it all better. This tornado passed without hitting us or doing damage to the town.
Trees, flowers, and bushes will have to stay. I pulled some bulbs up last fall, knowing I would want to take with me. Especially the Iris that came from the house on Rodeo Circle. We leave a solid house, with good bones in a great neighborhood. The houses are turning. Out with the old and in with the new. Kids are playing in the street again and the new owner has a couple children of her own. I hope she lets them all hang out in the front yard. We have a large lot and it’s always been full of neighborhood kids, which is the reason the Blue Spruce is a little cockeyed—the lower branches took a beating when we first planted it from kids with a kickball. That tree is sturdy now and holds a few nests. Our big yard kept all the kids safe.
I tell myself MY birds will find me 17 miles southeast, at our new house. My yellow finches who are all named Charlie and the hummingbirds who are all named Gwendolyn and Oscar will know I’ve moved when they return this spring. The chickadees who are all named Sallie aka Darlin’ will follow the truck on moving day. I will miss my walks along the trails where Babette the Heron rests in the pond, but I can always drive to the trail and walk it. Maybe we can build a small pond on our five acres and she will find me too. Duane would build it if I asked. I won’t ask. Babette will give me a reason to return every so often.
I believe what we leave behind is not as important as what we are taking with us. We leave behind a house that helped build us, but what we take is the love in our marriage that makes the home for our family. Duane reminded me, we make the home—he’s right. Now, Duane and I are starting a new adventure for us. We are excited to move where we will have five acres with gigantic pine trees and a gorgeous view of Pikes Peak. For me, this view is a reminder of my grandparents, who lived in Colorado Springs. And as I write this, I realize their house, the one they bought when their sons were grown, was one of my many childhood homes.
Let the adventure begin. City girl to rural girl. Going back to a place where I lived 28 years ago. Elizabeth, Colorado, here we come!
For me, seventh grade was probably the best in my school years. But then the tenth grade was too. Ninth, eleventh, and even my senior year were not special. Not even my graduation sticks out. When I look back to that day, the only thing I cherish is the time spent with Allen. We walked with each other to our seats that day. He was one of my best friends—he is gone now. His life ended too soon.
Eighth grade for me was horrible—until it wasn’t. I was sneaking out of the house, hanging out with people I shouldn’t, drinking, doing drugs, and running away. Then I moved. I will say it over and over; the move to Parker saved me. It was my turning point.
So flash forward thirty-four years after eighth grade, and put me in a classroom every Wednesday morning from 7:00AM to 7:50 AM with nine truly amazing eighth-graders from Cimarron Middle School in Parker, Colorado. I just finished mentoring in a program called Ambassadors for Compassion, AOC.
I went to give, but like always when you give, you really end up receiving. Basically, it was The Breakfast Club crew, without the criminal. The so-called-criminals either don’t exist anymore or the teachers didn’t want to disrupt the setting. I hope it is the former, as I was that so-called-criminal at the beginning of eighth grade. I would have loved a program like this. I relate to kids who struggle. I understand why they’re pissed off. It’s the good ones that I rarely relate to. And it’s the good ones that help the ones who struggle. We need both.
Kids are stressed right now; they are over-worked, over-involved, bored out of their minds, over-stimulated by the web, worried about failing. In my opinion, not knowing how to fail and move on, and way too worried about how many “likes” they get on social media. For three months I sat back, and they talked. They shared their hopes, their dreams, and their fears. I listened, and they listened. Not once did I ever (I repeat, not once did I ever) need to tell one of these amazing, incredible kids to put their cell phone away. They wanted to talk. They wanted to listen.
Kids are smart. They know what they want. They even know they have to work to get what they want. They understand that the world changes and they may have to bend, wiggle, step forward and step back in their journey in life.
Failure is part of life. We all need to fail. I think it’s how we react to the failures of those around us that determine how they deal with it. I have failed at so many things, yet I don’t feel like a failure. I keep trying even when I’m scared. And I continue to put myself out there. Sometimes not enough, but I’m getting better. Like I said, I learned a ton from these kids.
So what is my point? With all the hurt and chaos that goes on in this world, I was just given the grace of comfort and peace. I watched eighth graders realize that no matter what group you are in, we all have the same struggles and fears. I think we all forget this. I want us to remember. I want us to remember our turning point. What was it that changed you? What was it that made you move forward? I hope we all can be a little of that to someone else.
For those who know me, this title is funny. For those who don’t, I will explain. I don’t play soccer, in fact, I don’t play any sport. I write about football, but truth be told, I only know enough about football to half-ass watch a game. I like high school football because of the energy and because it’s required in my house, since my husband coaches. Sports and I are like math and me—contradictory.
When I was growing up, I tried to play soccer. All I remember is that I hated running and during a game, I went the wrong way on the field. In elementary school and seventh grade, my extra-curricular activities include playing the piano for a short while and then playing the flute. I wasn’t bad at the flute. I actually remember going back and forth from second to first chair. I also remember going to Dairy Queen after concerts and eating banana splits to celebrate.
My brother, however, was a super jock. He played soccer and received a scholarship because he was such an excellent player. After college, he even played pro for a while. Yes, that green monster was there. I was jealous. But I was also always very proud of my brother. So was my dad. He went to all of his games and talked about him all the time. Okay, this may not be factual, but in my eyes, my father’s favorite was my brother because he was a super stud soccer player—unlike his adopted non-athletic daughter.
Oh, the pains of wanting to be the favorite child.
My dad now has seven children. Not all are from his blood. He loves each of us differently and does the best he can at being a dad to us all. Who is his favorite now? I would say it changes daily. I no longer need to be his favorite. I just need to know he loves me. And I know that.
He was visiting from Kentucky and came over for dinner. I got him to myself because it was Halloween and everyone else was busy. The need to have his undivided attention will never go away. When we talked earlier in the day, he said he was going back to my brothers to finish my book. YES! My book! I about shit my pants. My dad was reading my book—my young adult novel about a girl and boy, friendships, stepparents and football. He had forty pages to go.
He was at my soccer game, rooting me on. He said he had tears in his eyes at the end. I feel like I kicked the winning goal.
Side note—My mom read my book too. But I’ve always been her favorite, I was the first. Love you, mom. (Truth be told—I think my baby brother is actually her favorite. And now that she has grandkids, who trump all of us.)
He was visiting from Kentucky and came over for dinner. I got him to myself because it was Halloween and everyone else was busy. The need to have his undivided attention will never go away. When we talked earlier in the day, he said he was going back to my brothers to finish my book. YES! My book! I about shit my pants. My dad was reading my book – my young adult novel about a girl and boy, friendships, stepparents and football. He had forty or so pages to go.
He was at my soccer game, rooting me on. He said he had tears in his eyes at the end. I feel like I kicked the winning goal.
Side note – My mom read my book too. But I’ve always been her favorite, I was the first. Love you mom. (Truth be told – I think my baby brother is actually her favorite. And now that she has grandkids, who trump all of us.)
I’m so excited. My first novel is now available online. Thanks to my wonderful husband and family for putting up with my craziness! With them, my critique group and my wonderful editor, I would have never done this. Did I tell you I was excited? Holy Shit!
When traveling, I like to bring back a little something that will remind me of the place or the experience. The last time I visited Kentucky, my dad took my family to Fort Boonesborough. I’m not a history buff like my husband and daughter. I went for the time with my daddy. That trip, a handmade piece of pottery to fill with my daily java traveled in my luggage back to Colorado. When I use that cup, I think of that day. We ate Barbecue at a picnic table, walked in the footsteps of those who were here long ago, and spotted a gorgeous yellow flower on a popular tree. Later my son sketched the petals for my dad. My dad has the original and I have the print. I love that piece of art and so does my dad.
This trip to Kentucky, I went alone. My dad turned seventy -four in July. My dad and I have had our ups and downs over the years, some of it I’ve caused, and other times I haven’t. In the end, it doesn’t matter. This year my dad bought me a bamboo hat rack, he gave me a teapot that he had an excess of, and I found some gifts along the way for my husband, my son, and my son-in-law. This week my table arrived. The solid wood piece is tall and long, and I’ll be able to fit bar stools underneath it. It now sits in my kitchen where people will gather around it. I’m really excited about the table. But things are only things. You can’t take them with you when you go.
The most precious item I brought back isn’t tangible, but it is the most important, memories. I brought back many that are filled with love. The time that I spent with my daddy was priceless. I spent eight full days with him, ten if you include the travel days. I had his undivided attention most of the time and shared him with his kind, loving and caring significant other Debbie.
Okay, the actual truth; I had to share him with Cleo, his mastiff, who I’ve nicknamed Sister, and the four cats, Bones, Tom, Fletcher, and Francis. Francis is sick and she will not get better. She is my favorite because she needed more love, which allowed me to love more. Don’t tell Cleo.
I’m very blessed. Except for my father, my side of the Duff clan lives in Colorado and we are close. My mom is a few miles away and even though I don’t see her every day, I could. I know she is there if I need anything and I’m glad she has all of her children in the same state so that we can take care of her when she needs it. My dad does come to Colorado four times a year. It’s great when he’s here. But he has seven kids and nine grandkids that he needs to see, so getting time with him alone is hard. It would be selfish to hoard his time.
On my much-needed vacation to Kentucky, every morning that I shuffled to the kitchen for my tea, my daddy was there. When you are young, you take that for granted. We didn’t do a ton, which was exactly what I needed and wanted. I could edit my manuscript, read a book, watch too many episodes of Once Upon a Time, eat thick Chris Duff (my dad) milkshakes every night, run errands, really look at sunsets, spend hours at antique stores without rushing because my dad loves them more than I do, go to doctor’s appointments, cook, and eat. Not only did he teach me how to make beef stroganoff, but my daddy also made it for me. I had it for breakfast the day I left to come home. I need to make that for dinner this week. And every night he told me he loved me. I didn’t literally get tucked into bed as that would be seriously weird, but each night I got my hug and kiss.
When he dropped me off at the Cincinnati airport, I got the hug of a lifetime and I clung on tight. I don’t believe this will be the last time I see my dad, but it may very well be the sweetest memory I will ever have with him. It was precious because I will always know how much daddy loves me.
As for the table, it will be my everyday reminder of the time I spent with my daddy, not that I need it. The memories are tightly held in my heart. I’m thinking we probably get to take the memories when we go.
My room is almost done, only the trim and the curtains to go. I love this space. It’s full of me: My faith, my family, and my favorite things. There is a little piece of almost every part of my life from birth until now. Some things are transparent to who I am or where I have been, while other things hold meaning only I would know. Regardless of what people think they know about me, or who they think I should be, in my room I get to be just me.
My family tree is pretty crazy. Brothers from another Father. Sisters from another Mother. Brothers from another Mother. Sister’s from another Father. Step’s galore. In-laws and Outlaws. Uncles that are my age. First Cousins my kid’s age. A sister that is a year older than my daughter. Blood. Half-blood, but not Muggle’s – my son likes to call them Point Five O. No blood at all, but I love as if your blood ran through mine. The family that I see regularly, and the family that I only see or have only met on Facebook. Some may not think they are a part of me, but they are because I attach them to me in some crazy way. It’s hard to get together with everyone, especially when our lives take different paths. We all are so different, but I’m sure we are more alike than we will ever know. I’m blessed that each of them has crossed my path for a short time, a continues time, and maybe time to come. With each of them, I would have not lived and loved fully. I love each and every one of them. And am glad they are my family. I always win at the crazy family tree. If I had to draw it, the flowchart would reach across the state of Colorado. Okay, maybe not, but it would be cool if it did.
Without diversity, I would not have the friends I’ve been blessed with. Without diversity, I would not have my son. Without diversity, I would not have my niece. Without diversity, I would not have had an extended family that helped me raise my children. Without diversity, I wouldn’t know how to make tamales—food is very important. I weave the friendships I have into my stories because I don’t know any different. We are a mixture of different worlds that should be celebrated.
I’m going to write. I’m going to write. Should I blog? Should I tweet? Do I let FB suck me in? Or will I look at the pictures of my kids they post on social media? What I should do is send out queries for my finished manuscript and edit the other that’s in progress. That is too frightening. So instead, I start a blog. A random blog that I will post my work, because this way I may get over my fears. And learn how to blog. Maybe I’ll just go feed the dogs. Or sleep. Sleep is always good.