A little memoir piece that came out of someone asking me on Quora: “What was Amateur Radio like when you were first licensed?” and a little story kinda happened…

I was living in rural Pennsylvania, fortuitously in a slate roofed house high on a hill overlooking the tiny town we’d just moved to. I was in high school and shy, and ham radio seemed a cool way for a nerdy girl to get out there socially. The fact that it made me do so in Morse code was actually a motivator, because I was too shy for a microphone just yet. Two meters (handheld VHF radios) cured me of that a while later.

In a rural community, ham radio seemed more a concept than anything else. I think I fell across a CQ or QST magazine in my school library and found out what it was about from that. The kids in my school were too much about Farming and Football to know about it. Once I put it out there I was interested, my parents somehow connected with an older man who knew all the other hams in the area.

I was surprised there were so many in such a tiny town.

One of them was an Extra class who worked for the power company, and had the tallest telephone pole I’d ever seen planted in his yard by his house. He had a deep accent, perhaps Scandinavian or thereabouts (I can’t remember now), a handlebar mustache, a pristine radio setup, and was possibly the best Elmer a 16-year-old could ask for.

He and the original ham loaned me Morse code tapes and then drove me to a late night theory class in the city. It was great. They took me to my first Hamfest (a flea market for hams) where I found an old Heathkit rig, a vertical antenna I planted on a hill behind our shed, and a Morse code key.

By the time the license came in the mail, I was already copying code (practicing decoding a bunch of dits and dahs to letters on paper) from that for a while, before I finally got up the nerve to put out a call in slow Morse. I logged two contacts before my nervousness took over.

That weekend I went back to my Elmer’s and told him about it, and he said, “Let’s see!” And he fired up his rig and pointed the massive beam antenna on top to somewhere noisy. The next thing I knew I was tapping away at my first DX (long distance) contact, in New Zealand! About as far away as one can get on one planet!

My code was so slow that the Kiwi on the other end flicked a switch… I heard a hum, a piano playing in the background, and a lovely down-under accent, saying he couldn’t do Morse that slow, mind if we cross-mode chat? Turns out his son was practicing the piano in the background and his wife was clanking dishes in the sink. On the other side of the world! This was perhaps my best day ever in ham radio.

A few years later I moved from home for a job and joined a local club, which was pretty active and very family friendly. I wish I could find one like that now. I was barely 20, but far from the youngest there, since there were kids as young as 10 or so learning Morse code and having a ball. This club introduced me to Field Days, where we camped in tents out in the woods with generators, and long wires strung up in trees, and took shifts trying to log as many contacts as possible, drinking beer, or goofing off.

The club would also “band” together for antenna parties, where one ham with more money than sense would buy a used tower and a new monster beam antenna (a huge yard-sized “H”-shaped thing) and need help putting it all together.

I found out a scrawny girl didn’t have much to do at these gatherings, with all the men and their wrenches clanking and moving stuff–until they figured out I wasn’t afraid of heights (I actually love them). So when all the tower sections and beam parts were thoroughly wrenched together with lots of testosterone, I’d get to be the heroine of the day and climb to the top of a 200 foot tower and bolt the new thing in place.

I remember all of these middle-aged and elderly men staring up at me looking a little ill, or nervous for me, or perhaps a little embarrassed for not volunteering, while I shimmied up and waited for them to winch the monster to the top. I’d guide the thing in and tighten it up and watch while they tested the rotor (rotating motor–I love a portmanteau). I felt a little like a rock star for a little while.

After that, when the club was looking for a new place to install a repeater (a gizmo that “repeated” our handheld or mobile radios with more power and from a great height a much further distance), they knew who to call. I got to talk to people on simplex (person-to-person) from the top of a huge water tower, legally, just to see how far away I could get people on a little two meter handheld. Everyone on the ground was looking up at me like I was crazy, but it was fun!

I think I’ve bored you enough, but that’s what it was like back when I was a nerdlet. I realize the Internet and cell phones have done a hurting on the hobby since, but if I could find a ham radio club that was more into family fun than survivalist training in my area, I’d probably join them. It’s a shame they don’t realize they’re putting prospective young hams off by being so serious.

(A Six-Word Memoir for their monthly contest entitled “Old-School Nostalgia in just Six Words”.)

Growing up in the 70s, with a recently-divorced mom trying to fend for four pre-teen kids (and adopted stray cats), we would come home from school, or not, and have the house to ourselves. Now they make movies about a child left in a house alone (Gasp!), as if it’s a thing. Somehow we survived. We didn’t burn down the place, or poison ourselves, or decapitate each other by accident, although I once put a rusty nail through my hand digging in someone’s back yard. Back when it was okay to be somewhere in the neighborhood playing until sunset, without a worry or a cellphone. At dinnertime, the sound of adult voices calling kids’ names echoing over the block. It makes you wonder what has happened to America that there are so many dangers we have to keep our kids safe from now. I wonder, is this called progress?

(A Six-Word Memoir for their contest “What’s the Family Resemblance in Six?”, and relating to the poem posted here)

It had been three years since they heard from me, I had been so afraid to tell them I’d escaped the closet they had unknowingly locked me in. But here they were, searching for me, afraid for me, needing to know I was okay. I was better than okay, I told them. I was finally happy, living my life. When I reconnected with my family, I told them the truth, because that’s what you do for the people you love. They feigned acceptance at first, but then it became clear: their religion proclaimed that my death would have been better news. It’s ten years later: they search no longer, afraid of me, the deadly rainbow in their black and white world. I still love them, but they’re too busy mourning the death of someone who never existed, the shadow in a dark closet. Family unable to see the light.

Despite how much hope and love you have for the people in your life, sometimes you just need a little closure, even from family.


Your time is up
A window of opportunity
Your silence begets

Five years I gave you
To decide
Am I human … or not

Patiently I watched you all
Dig your holes of hypocrisy
So deep
You can’t climb out

Traded sharp words
Knives in my back
Now you fear bleeding to death
To remove them

In family love is unconditional
Until you have to explain
Me to your friends
Sharing blood is not done in

Five years waiting for you
To make an effort to

Life continues on
One day you’ll wake to find
You wasted it being

With love to my mom, who has been quietly wonderful, but all too far away. Hugs!! ^.^

I’m not sure what in my karma has caused me to be host to so many insane felines during this life. But it seems unnatural to be without them. There’s something about a cat that reminds us not to take life too seriously. This little story is set just after I graduated from high school and set out on my own. It goes something like this . . .


The first roommate I ever had who truly understood me wore a beautiful fur coat every day of the year and owned the two-story townhouse we inhabited in Annapolis, Maryland, although she allowed me to pay the mortgage, since she had not an inkling of how money worked. She had beautiful green eyes and a lovely regal expressiveness. We had special dishes from which only she ate, and did so very deliberately from the kitchen floor. Her name was Marble, after the swirling gray and black coat she wore. She’d known me from kittenhood and thought she pretty much had the entire relationship worked out by the time my first big, human relationship had broken down and we were left to our own devices.

She would keep an eye on the place while I was at work, far above being troubled with doing the dishes or cleaning—she despised the vacuum cleaner. She never cooked a single meal, although she spent a lot of time sitting on the stove; but I was always happy to see her at the end of the day. She seemed likewise as happy to see me, too, as long as I kept up on the state of her food and water dishes.

After a while I began to worry that she might be getting lonely staying home alone so much, so one day I stopped by the pet shelter and surveyed the foster mammals there. A dog was definitely out of the question; both Marble and I were both confirmed cat-people, so it had to be another cat. I’m not usually superstitious, but the last thing I was looking for was a black cat; my vacuum cleaner wasn’t ready for a long-hair; and for reasons of my own, there was no way I wanted a male. How that crazy, jet black, little furry guy talked me into bringing him home is a mystery to this day.

I was immediately informed of my mistake from Marble’s incredulous look and the way she avoided both of us for the next few weeks. He was not worth thinking about and I was clearly in the doghouse. But I stuck it out, thinking she was just being stubborn. She stuck it out, thinking I was just being pigheaded and stupid, even for a human.

In the meantime, the little black hairball began to explore his surroundings, insinuating himself into every fold of both of our lives at home until he could be ignored no longer. At first she considered him to be a nuisance, when at last she tired of hissing at him and only getting a dopey kittenish look back, then something to be discouraged—which was impossible, since discouragement wasn’t in his vocabulary. Finally one day I saw her waking up to find him snuggled up against her. She looked ready to bolt in disgust, but then seemed to say “oh, the hell with it,” and went back to sleep. He’d done the same thing to me and it was surprisingly warm, all that fur.

It was a hard thing at first trying to figure out what to call the little bugger. Hairy, Hairball, Fuzzball and lame attempts to find words that alluded to black or darkness were all too obvious and lacked originality. I was sure that once I witnessed enough of his personality a proper monicker would soon present itself.

And witness I did. I ended up naming him Notso, by how often the term fit him.

Where Marble loved to play with string, laser-dots and play ping-pong with tiny bits of balled up paper, Notso preferred to make up his own toys. I once found him attacking a wooden spoon he had rescued from the kitchen counter, spinning it under furniture and flicking it into the air like a projectile. He also favored dust bunnies, sunbeams, and a few things that seemed not to exist at all. Life was a great adventure to him, instigating yoga poses and attack sequences even Marble found incredible.

Not so normal, this one, although his inventiveness was a privilege to behold. Marble tried her best to feign disinterest as much as possible.

Soon I realized how often I had noticed her staring at her once pristine litter box, deep in thought. Where once she kept a fastidiously managed facility, everything properly covered and regraded, these days there would often be a single deposit in the center—emphatically not her own—perched upon a desert island of litter, while the rest of the litter had been strangely pushed over the edge of the pan and onto my shag carpeting. A challenge my aging vacuum cleaner was growing tired of. No amount of coaxing could get Notso to realize he was burying in the wrong direction. I could almost imagine he was attempting some kind of art. Marble was not impressed.

Where Marble kept her coat perfectly groomed, Notso always had at least two or three nasty snarls of hair protruding from his carcass—not that it seemed to faze him whatsoever. I regularly ended up taking the scissors to him. Not so well-groomed.

On more than one occasion, the three of us would be watching a show on television when Notso would spontaneously invent a game during a commercial break, usually involving attacking something furiously evasive and just as nonexistent running across some vertical part of the sofa. Invariable he would end up pitching off the back unexpectedly and landing with a thump behind. I’d turn to Marble and say, “Not so well coordinated either.” Marble usually returned a look that said, “Ya think?”

Over time Marble and I tallied all the ways he lived up to his name: Not so well coordinated, not so neat, not so predictable, not so dainty, not so normal, not so easy to ignore. While his distractions were often entertaining to me, Marble’s orderly world had become a nightmare, although Notso would try his best to cheer her up or include her in his adventures. After a time, she would finally break down and chase him, which he loved, although I don’t know exactly what her intentions were. I would get used to her looking at me in a “what were you thinking, bringing that thing into the house?” way.

It was just my luck that I tend to fall in love with people who are allergic to cats, and it was a sticking point to the advancing relationship for a while. This happened a couple of years after Notso came on the scene, but halfway through Marbles life. Becoming closer to this person and our respective jobs meant selling the townhouse and moving to an apartment, one that did not allow pets. Although the relationship was long and wonderful, I still regret the necessity of finding new homes for my feline family. One day a man answered my ad and asked to see the cats, showing up with his shy tiny daughter. Marble, the more beautiful of the pair, who now looked at me with disdain, quickly disappeared. But Notso was immediately mesmerized by the little girl, following her everywhere, talking to her in his mysterious cat language, playing and impressing her father with his silliness. It turned out they were only looking for one cat, so Notso found a new, happy home almost immediately.

Marble was more of a challenge. Although she tried to hide it, she moped around the townhouse, revisiting his favorite haunts, his odd toys, barely bothering to arrange the litter box so carefully as she once had. It was obvious I had let her down once more and she almost seemed relieved to be carted off by another family after a few more weeks. A decade later, I still wish I could have kept them together. Although I can only hope they both prospered in their new homes, I’m pretty sure Notso, for one, had no problem keeping himself happy.

Another pair of felines, Bunny and Teddy, adopted me soon after I moved back to Portland. The kitten I sadly left behind in Hawaii (I don’t want to talk about it) must have sent them a text, since I was forced from the beginning to make a pact with them to never ever let another relationship get between me and my furry family.