Searchlights & Signal Flares

Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

What is the past made of? (07/15/10)

Featured writer: Connie Mygatt

Contributors this month:
Becky Povich
Bill Baker
Claudia Larson
Connie Mygatt
Don Edgers
Elaine Maikovska
Elaine Webster
Kathleen Depuydt
Mella Mincberg
Nancy Wallace-Nelson
Sara Baker
Susan Bono
Theresa Sanders

What is the Past Made of?

by Connie Mygatt

The past is made of ingredients that speak truth as best as the facts can be remembered. To these precious ingredients I can add sugar and spice as needed. Imagination is the flour that gives body and stretches out the recipes of life to make short stories or long novels.

Pictures of the past rest on a holder in my memory to be remembered and shared. It is up to me to make them tasty or bland with the varied ingredients I choose to add. The finished creation is hoped to bring a smile, sometimes a tear and hopefully a pleasing taste that will linger for a long time.

Connie Mygatt is an ever inspired writer/artist who wishes there were several conscious lifetimes to complete all that inspires her!

Bits and Pieces

  by Becky Povich

The past is made of tiny particles, too many to count, as in our Solar System. It's the air we inhaled and exhaled, during times of happiness, or sadness, or fear.

It's made of the countless tears we shed, either heartbreaking or joyous.

It's made of the dirt we tracked into our homes after walking through grassy lawns covered with the morning dew. It's also the dirt stuck to our shoes after shuffling across a dusty ball field, while taking the short-cut home.

It's made of the distant, far off whispers of giggles and laughter that have lingered for decades near the horizon.

It's made of everything we can or cannot see, can or cannot remember, can or cannot feel. Yet it always surrounds us.

Becky spends a great deal of time contemplating the past and writing about it in her memoir, That Crowbar Changed Everything! It's being published by High Hill Press and is due out sometime this fall. You can learn more about Becky

The Past: It's Everything

  by Bill Baker

I left the past, in all its fullness, thinking life surely was complete.
Next came the present, a flower in full bloom, it is so sweet.
The past, a mere seed, it must have been;
For the present was surely growing within.
Then I sensed a vision, from present to future, my thoughts were explaining;
Life can be more by expanding the remaining.

For just like the present comes from thoughts past,
Our future is born from our dreams so vast.
It's our present thoughts our dreams' full array,
That brings the dawning of the future day.
But future is fleeting, it too will not last;
Reincarnating in time becoming the seeds-- the past.

Bill Baker is a retired secondary teacher and successful cross country coach who currently works as a special education consultant. He began his freelance writing career approximately ten years ago. He can be reached at

Go Sit

  by Claudia Larson

The past lives in a small oak chair. Its carved back and caned seat were restored to charmed comfort by a man who loved wood so much that he converted his home's garage into a wood worker's dream shop. I walked through that garage, ogling the planer, the drill press and the neatly labeled canisters. I inhaled the same deep rootedness as when my brothers, sisters and I hung out in our dad's shop, which had once belonged to his father. The scent of Morrie's woodshop wasn't so much of machinery and wood, just as Dad's shop didn't so much smell of dirt and grease. The essence was of work and pleasure and earth, of minds puzzling and of hands creating.

The small oak chair now lives in my house, under a wide, white-curtained window. It was a gift from Morrie's daughter. I'd not met the man who learned to cane chairs as a youngster but his daughter intuitively knew that I'd treasure that small oak chair and the pleasure it brought her father in refurbishing it. She understood, in her deeply wise way, my delight in the ways past loops to the present, in the ways we humans connect, even if we've never met.

Claudia Larson lives in Sebastopol, CA, where she affectionately names her chickens for her aunts and former farm neighbors. It’s one of the ways she keeps the past in the present.

What is the Past Made of?

  by Connie Mygatt

The past is made of ingredients that speak truth as best as the facts can be remembered. To these precious ingredients I can add sugar and spice as needed. Imagination is the flour that gives body and stretches out the recipes of life to make short stories or long novels.

Pictures of the past rest on a holder in my memory to be remembered and shared. It is up to me to make them tasty or bland with the varied ingredients I choose to add. The finished creation is hoped to bring a smile, sometimes a tear and hopefully a pleasing taste that will linger for a long time.

Connie Mygatt is an ever inspired writer/artist who wishes there were several conscious lifetimes to complete all that inspires her!

284 Seasons Remembered

  by Don Edgers

Goodwill, St Vincent De Paul, antique malls can't hold a candle to the zillions of MEMORIES stored in my museum-like mind.

I am endowed with a mind that remembers and appreciates a melange of good and bad experiences of the past.

Don is starting his 285th season in Port Orchard, WA where he remembers and recounts his past in his

What's Left Behind

  by Elaine Maikovska

The past is everything I have stepped through, cried through, laughed through, gritted my teeth through. The past is the sum of all my experiences up until now. In a way, it points me in the direction I might go in the future. It is my guide. My own personal Sherpa guide.

The past shakes me aware, so very aware, of exactly how evanescent is the present. The past is a shadow cast by the present. The phrase, "You can't step into the same water twice" reverberates for me when I think of "The Past."

The present is teasingly present for only a nano second. Then it morphs into the past. The past is gone. It is all about loss. Moments gone. Moments lost. I lose my way when I get lost in the past-- for the bittersweet feelings of nostalgia-- for childhood romps, 5 cent chocolate Cokes at the soda fountain on the way home after school, my first boyfriend, my first car, a Borgward Isabella, no longer manufactured. And so much more simply gone.

The past also resides floatingly in my fleeting, vivid dreams recorded almost daily for the past 30 years, now resting shelved, awaiting review, a trip down my spiritual past.

Then there are tokens of the past. Oh so many tokens, memorabilia. I look at my pink wool baby hat and think how cute it is, how cute I was. And my sister asks me, "Was?" Okay, still am cute, but in such a different way. All these tokens of the past remind: I have lost all that. It is gone. I can continue to lose more. Have no fear; take courage in that.
The past is my teacher; I learn from her, take her lessons seriously. In the past, when I have tried keeping to a rigid writing schedule, it has never worked out. Life intervenes. My focus gets distracted. It validates the path I take: I will write, but it will never be on a regular schedule. And that's okay.

My past resides in photo albums, in stacks and stacks of photos, not yet in them, four boxes worth, of photos on the computer, at least 1000, all documenting a lively past life. It resides in my memory bank, and that of the people around me, my family and friends. It resides in the little souvenir tokens of trips taken and rituals memorializing the past-- graduations, weddings, birthdays, and funerals. But these are merely documentation of the past. That it existed. They are not the past. Not at all. So what is it really? That's a very good question.

The past is the trail of energy I leave behind as I step into the future.

Elaine Maikovska practiced law until moving to California from the Washington D. C. area in 1985. She writes fiction and her short story, “The Learned Lady”, appears in the anthology, 95% Naked, edited by Dan Coshnear, and is available from Amazon. She resides in Petaluma with her husband and standard poodle, Gigi. She may be reached at

What is the Past Made Of?

  by Elaine Webster

I'm smack in the middle of writing my memoir. I left home just after my 18th birthday in 1970 and I circled the country from New York City to Los Angeles, Central California, Canada, Spokane Washington, Northern California, and New Jersey with a final return to California in 1979.

The writing cycle has brought the past to the present. What I started in that decade still shapes my life today. I'm not that person anymore, but who I am today was born there.

It was my adult infancy. I learned to walk with many bumps and bruises.

Growing Pains

A child with no children
Ran from a childless mother
A sister with a sibling
Ran away as an only-child
A daughter with a father
Ran away from love
It is the circle; the cycle of life
That's the past is made of.

Elaine Webster, is a staff writer for the on-line publication, Greener Living Today. She’s part of the Memoir Writing group in Sebastopol sponsored by SRJC and Steve Boga is the instructor. She lives in Windsor, CA and her e-mail address is

Of Mice and Me

  by Kathleen Depuydt

The past is made up of shared stories, all colored with our personal perspective.

Our house, according to my mom, had been mouse-free for twelve years. To this day, she still wonders why the mice started to invade our attic that one summer.

My dad had unearthed a mouse nest while plowing the field. He came back to the house to take my older siblings and me out to see the baby mice.

When it was time to return, I lingered behind. Although he told us not to touch them, I reached into the nest, carefully picked up a mouse and stuck it in my training pants for a secure transport back home.

Back at the house, I ran upstairs for my nap. I jumped under the bedspread and let the little mouse go. He ran all around, side-to-side and end-to-end. He ran the length of my nearly naked body, tickling me into the giggles. It was either the laughter that caught my mother's attention, or that I had gone to take my nap on my own. My mom flipped back the bedspread, spotted the mouse and screamed, "Not in my house!"

She marched me down the stairs, opened the front door and said, "Go kill that dirty animal, NOW!"

I slowly walked down the sidewalk with the baby mouse cupped in my hands. I turned around and asked, "Mommy, how do I kill a mouse?"

"I don't know! Use a rock."

"Use a rock how?"

"Smash its head with a rock!"

I didn't understand but decided to try.

At the end of the sidewalk was our gravel driveway. With one hand, I found a flat rock twice the size of my hand and put it down on the sidewalk. I went back and found another one. I placed the mouse on one rock. I held it as I carefully placed the other one on top of it. The mouse started to squeak. I quickly removed the rock, picked the mouse up and gave him a kiss on top of his little head.

I got up and carried it back into the house.

"Mommy, it squeaks when I put the rock on it."

"Kathleen Ann, get outside right now and kill that filthy little mouse. When you are done, wash your hands and go take your nap!"

Looking back I know my mom did not have a mean bone in her body; she just was not about to co-exist with a mouse in her home. And she wasn't about to exterminate it either. For some reason she thought a four-year old could.

I went back outside, and tried the laying of the rock procedure again but I couldn't stand the squeaking noise so I put the mouse back into my training pants, went in, washed my hands and returned to my nap.

Kathleen Depuydt is a Santa Rosa writer who makes decisions about the future as she writes about the past. Her short story, "It's Lovely, No?" appears in 95% Naked, edited by Dan Coshnear.

Looking Back

  by Mella Mincberg

The past is made of images that emerge from the fog you drive through, backwards on a curvy road. You're twisted in your seat, right arm stretched out, looking over you shoulder. Or you're using the rear view mirror. Either way, you have no decent view of where you're heading.

And your mother appears. She is using a wooden spoon to taste the lentil soup: Is there enough salt? The smell of lentils and onions rides over you. You are a child safe at your mother's side. You smile at her. A wave of happiness descends.

The car groans in reverse as you catch a sideways glance of a young man with greasy black hair and chino pants. He works alongside you at the clothing store. He slips two twenty dollar bills from the cash register into his pocket. You are a teenager who clears your throat where outrage burns.

You press the accelerator to whiz by the mansion-like façade of the Galleria Borghese in Rome. You and your soon to be ex-husband are arguing over whether or not to go in, whether or not to break from the tour, but really, whether or not to ever again have sex. You are forty, your hair recently cut into a pixie style. As you turn your head, tension pulls the muscles in your neck.

The images keep on coming, hovering between the real and the imagined, sometimes a flash and sometimes a whole episode formed out of the mist. The accompanying emotions may be subtle or extreme. The road itself is mysterious and unsettling.

Mella Mincberg is a writer and traveler who makes her home in Sebastopol, CA.

According to Whom

  by Nancy Wallace-Nelson

Most of us are good at listing the dates and events of our lives as set-in-granite facts. The year we graduated high school; the year we married and then divorced and remarried; the years the children were born, and then the grandchildren, and on and on through the expandable Rolodex of events we carry within us as our past, and hold as irretrievable, unbendable truth, a weight of facts we carry onward day by day.

This fact version of the past does not hold when weighed against the reality of family story. Each family member has his personal version of a common event. Sometimes you can hear each person's version, and are sure you're not hearing the same event. Other times the story is the same, but each person makes himself central to the plot. My favorite family story is that of the four children of a writer whose creative nature was totally overwhelmed with the dailies of raising so many children, and who was often distant and distracted. The children agree that they often misbehaved to get more of her attention, and they all remember one meal when they got particularly rowdy, to the point that their very genteel mother hit one of them squarely on the head with a spoon. The amazing thing is that each of the four grew into adulthood convinced that he/she was the one who got hit. Each had a wish to be singled out with a special relationship to mother, and each made that spoon incident into his dream reality.

My other story of family and selective past involves my deceased mother and her only sister. To my mother's dying day in 1985 each of them held adamantly to her version of a 1943 story. Mother was living alone in California in 1943, and Marion was still in their childhood Illinois. Mother had to have serious abdominal surgery, and knew in her version of the past that she was totally alone, while Marion was sure that she made the trip to California to be with Mother during her surgery. Mother saw herself as the lone warrior-hero, and her memory fit her image, while Marion saw herself that she is the rescuer-hero, so her version fit that image.

The more I work on my memoir, I think much of these kinds of stories people tell of the past, and I often revisit my own. I'm becoming ever more convinced that we people our past with the same dreams and wishes as we do our future. Our imagination can make us more popular or more handsome than we were or will be, or can make things worse than they were or will be. We can re-do our past because it lives only in our minds. There are no museum archives to prove us right or wrong. We're the only ones who let it weigh a thing.

Nancy Wallace-Nelson weighs her past in Mendocino, CA.

Ashes to Ashes

  by Sara Baker

The past is made of ashes stoked by the warm fires from what was once the present. They lay before me in the fireplace—-heaped together, delicate and formless—-with a bittersweet taste, soft color, and caustic smell. Each time I ignite another fire, it burns intensely for a while; then the flames begin to flicker and eventually burn out. Ultimately, more ashes accumulate on the existing pile.

If I blow on the ashes, they will gently disappear on the winds of time, and I am left to ponder, "Where did they go?" Because I can't see the ashes, bewildered, I wonder, "Did the fire ever really exist?"

I continue to speculate, "So, is the past merely a figment of my imagination? Or is it a memory of what was but, like the fire, will never be again? Or is the past a reality—-lost in the arms of infinity?"

Perhaps the past is not lost at all. Like the ashes that linger in the fireplace, the past clings to the present, subtly altering it. In that sense, the present is an elaborate tapestry where both the past and present are sewn together to make new patterns and designs.

Sometimes, the relationship of the past to the present reminds me of how language evolves throughout time. Our current language is a rich meld of many languages, cultures, and events. Shakespeare would undoubtedly have trouble understanding the present-day language.

Like Shakespeare, I do not easily comprehend the language of my present and how the language of my past has reshaped it. Yet, I instinctively know and see evidence that my past changes my present. In that sense, sometimes the past reminds me of the Rosetta Stone—-it holds the code that could help me decipher the hieroglyphics of my life.

Sara Baker is a freelance writer, technical writer, editor, and recently retired teacher who currently lives in Allen, Texas. She has been happily married to her soulmate for 27 years.

Bridges to Before

  by Susan Bono

If the past were dust, I could sweep it into piles with the bristled broom of memory. If it were stone, I could use it to build monuments to the dead. If the past were water, I could drink enough to quench my thirst for understanding. If it were fire, I could toss my childhood fears into its blaze and reduce them all to ash.

Water and ash are what the dead need to do their work for us—water for flow, ash to represent that which cannot be destroyed. We say the dead are part of the past, but the past is not made of the dead. Even though they inhabit the past, there is no past for the dead.

Stick a spade into the ground and strike bone. Is that unearthing the past? Perhaps, especially if we know the bone's story, the name it once carried in a wallet on a now chipped white hip. When given a name, dates of birth and death, scraps of clothing and jewelry caked with dirt, bones are no longer pieces of calcium phosphate strung together to form a Halloween figure. Such details connect the bones to families with attics full of camping gear and extra blankets, to picnics and 4th of July celebrations, frosty autumn mornings, hours at school desks and kitchen tables.

Here in the present there may be decks of cards bearing their former fingers' smudges, books with dog-eared pages, secrets worth keeping, combs still woven with strands of brittle hair. Bones become part of the present when their stories are known. Without the bridge of story there is no past, simply a "before."

Susan Bono is burning and building bridges in Petaluma, CA.

The Eternal Present

  by Theresa Sanders

When my grandfather fell ill with terminal cancer, he and my grandmother were forced to move to an assisted living community. They also had to face the quite daunting task of preparing their long-time home to be sold, so they decided to have a garage sale. On one of those garage-sale days, I sat side by side with Granddad in lawn chairs, seeing in his eyes an encroaching sadness. Strangers came and went, carrying off pieces of his material life, and all he could do was watch.

"It's like seeing my past walk down the driveway and disappear," he told me, trying to keep his voice steady.

My voice was unsteady too. "The past doesn't disappear, Granddad. It's always with us."

To my mind, those words sounded pat and cliché, but I didn't know what else to offer. It broke my heart to see this strong man I loved so much in such emotional pain. Clearly, he believed his past was gone and would not come again.

In retrospect, I think what I was trying to convey to my beloved grandfather that day was that the past doesn't need to come again, because it's already here. The past is made up of memory upon memory, stitched together to create not only our collective human history, but our individual histories too. The past is "in here" and "out there," within us and without us, flows through us. It is what makes us "us."

Looking "out there" gives us a glimpse of just how connected the present is to the past. Light from the nearest stars took over four years to reach us, so in a very real sense, when we gaze at the stars, we are gazing into the past. More, the life we are living right here, right now, in the eternal present, is making up the past of our future. We are all connected through time-—past, present, and future—-and whether that connectivity is macroscopic or microscopic, memory or molecule, it doesn't really matter. It's all part of the mystery, part of the miracle.

We don't have all the big answers, and I don't think we ever will. For me, it's enough to remember that I sat with my grandfather one sad spring day, that I patted his hand and hopefully gave him some comfort. My memory of him, and of his past, is still very much alive within me, in the eternal present.

Theresa Sanders lives in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband, and is the mother of four grown children, her greatest joy and accomplishment. An award-winning technical writer and consultant, she managed a documentation and training department before turning to her first love, creative writing. She contributes frequently to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, and is completing a novel. Theresa welcomes email

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono


C. Larson, B. Povich, M. Petty, C. Crawford, T. Sanders

Columnists Emeriti: Christine Falcone, David S. Johnson, Betty Rodgers, Jordan E. Rosenfeld, Betty Winslow

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer living in Petaluma, CA. She has published Tiny Lights: A Journal of Personal Narrative since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at She conducts creative writing classes in Petaluma and Santa Rosa and co-hosts the quarterly Speakeasy Literary Saloon at the Aqus Café in Petaluma. She's on the boards of Petaluma Readers Theatre and the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference. She is still writing a postcard a day. Her most recent publishing credits include Petaluma Readers Theatre, KRCB’s Mouthful, Milk and Ink, and Passager Magazine.

Marilyn Petty is a dyed-in-the wool Midwesterner, a long-ago émigré to California and a fortunate resident of Sonoma County, CA. She taught weaving through the SRJC for 8 years and was the reporter, essayist, editor and publisher of the Redwood Empire Handweavers and Spinners Guild for 10 years. When not tangling with yarns, she is unknotting words, writing poetry and personal essays. She putters in the garden when words fail her.

Catherine Crawford is a former technical writer, editor, and course materials developer for high tech industries. She has taught college English at the four-year degree level, published two award winning chapbooks of poetry, and written articles for, a Portland, Oregon online travel magazine. She works as an editor in Vancouver, Washington. Her email:

Claudia Larson, in her childhood, wrote long letters to her best-friend cousin and enthralled herself by writing a heart-rending story of two orphans. She writes fewer letters nowadays and prefers writing poetry and memoirs of her North Dakotan farm girl days. She is not yet an orphan, has six siblings and lives in Sebastopol, CA.

Becky Povich lives near St. Louis, Missouri. Although not young in "people years," she's only been writing for ten of those. Getting her first book completed, a memoir, is her current short-term goal. She can be reached at, or visit her blog at

Theresa Sanders lives in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, where she is completing a novel. A former award-winning technical writer and consultant, she managed a Documentation and Training department before turning to her first love, creative writing. Her stories appear regularly in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Theresa welcomes email and would love to hear from you. Contact her at:

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