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Thirty-three Years and Counting

Thirty-three Years and Counting

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

                Thirty-three years ago today, at Leader Dog School, in Michigan, I received my first guide dog—a stunningly beautiful Golden Retriever who led me onto a bright and happy new stage of life. My gratitude to Leader Dog School, the trainers (now called “Guide-dog Mobility Instructors—GDMIs), the puppy-raisers of my four amazing Leader Dogs, and the support staff at Leader is deeply felt on each day of this wondrous journey with Keller, Heather, Zoe, and Willow. These four amazing Leader Dogs have enriched my life beyond measure.

                Yesterday morning when Willow, my British Black Labrador, and I were at the supermarket, where many of the regular employees know my guide dog’s name, one employee proclaimed, “Willow is so adorable!” 

                I responded, “I agree,” as Willow led me past the self-checkout area and the service counter to the exit of the store.

                Later, on Monday afternoon, Willow and I were walking down Broadway.  One of the two young men who approached us remarked, “I love your dog.” 

                What does one say to such a comment?  “Thank you, “ I said as we walked south and they walked east. To a certain extent, I have become accustomed to the attention that my guide dogs have received through these thirty-three years. During my first year with a Leader Dog, I wrote a piece about my experiences of eating at a restaurant with my Keller at my side. I compared the experience to dining out with Robert Redford. When people saw my gorgeous Golden behaving so perfectly, they came to my table and asked me a number of questions while my food became cold. While I was pleased to share information about guide dogs, I did prefer to eat hot food. Thus, I eventually learned to select a table that was in an out-of-the-way location and sit with my Leader Dog in a lesser visible spot to the general public. I realized what dining out with a celebrity was really like.

                Thinking of stories that I have not previously written about my guide dogs is challenging at this thirty-third-year mark. Nevertheless, I thought of one Heather story. One night, my 63-pound Yellow Labrador Retriever, my second guide dog, not only unusually awakened me; but she kept pacing briskly back and forth around my bed. She had never demonstrated such behavior before or after this night. I wondered what was wrong and, responding to her urging, got out of bed. From my upstairs bedroom, I went into the hallway where an east window looks out onto the circle drive which is in front of the 23-story tower, another part of the large apartment complex where I still live. Finally, I smelled smoke. Immediately thereafter, I heard sirens coming our way and then abruptly stopping on the street beside the circle drive. I opened my east window to hear what was happening. Eventually, I learned that a small fire had erupted in the wood chips around shrubbery in front of the highrise tower. The small fire was promptly extinguished, and all was well. Of course, I knew that my amazing Heather had detected the smell of smoke and alerted me to the situation—even when there was no need for the smoke alarm in my townhouse to sound. Guide dogs are not trained to do such alerts, but I always felt safer with Heather and my other Leader Dogs at my side and beside my bed.

                The bridge between Heather and Willow, as well as the bridge between my teaching career and my retirement life, was my precious third Leader Dog Zoe. Since Keller and Heather had taught me so much about guide work and about the lay of the land in my community and at my workplace (a college campus), becoming accustomed to working with Zoe (my Black Lab/Golden Retriever Mix) was unbelievably easy. For thirteen months, Heather and Zoe were best buddies. Thankfully, Heather never minded Zoe’s taking over the harness because after such a long working life, Heather was ready to enjoy her retirement life. Thus, Zoe also became the bridge between life with Heather and life without Heather. Of my four Leader Dogs, Zoe displayed a special quality of work, demeanor, grace, beauty, and love that garnered the most attention of others. In so many ways, she was the perfect guide dog for me at that particular time in my life. She adapted readily and happily to her new life with a retired Leader Dog, her new life on a college campus, then a new life away from a daily workplace. She was my “spirit” dog who was with me through significant transitions in my life. Could there ever be another Leader Dog to fill her magical, devoted, loving paws?

                Yes, a fourth Leader Dog trained by the same person (GDMI Sue Hackmann), has filled and continues to fill those amazing paws of Zoe’s quite nicely. Oh, yes, you know this Leader Dog—my Willow, who lies beside me on her pillow as I write these very brief snapshots of my four Leader Dogs—the four who bring forever joy to my heart and happy tears to my eyes as I recall these years since March 21, 1990. Keller, Heather, Zoe, and Willow have been my eyes, my path through life, and my loves.  Whenever life created a hole, one or all four of my Leader Dogs wisely and lovingly filled the hole to overflowing; and my heart overflows with gratitude.

Best wishes for a happy spring!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

March 21, 2023, Tuesday


PAWS for Beauty

March Memories

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

                As St. Patrick’s Day draws near, I fondly recall those March memories of 1990.  I prepared for my first of eventually four trips to Leader Dog School in Rochester, Michigan, during the few days before St. Patrick’s Day, thirty-three years ago.  After my arrival at Leader on March 18, 1990, I received my first Leader Dog on March 21.  What a beauty was my first guide dog Keller!  The long hair of my first guide dog was reddish-gold.  Nevertheless, each of my four guides was beautiful in her own way.  Thus, when I needed to write a few lines of poetry for contributing to a “crowdsourced” poem, the topic or theme of which was to be “beauty,” I wrote the following seven lines as I thought of not only Keller, but also of Heather (my Yellow Labrador), Zoe (my Black Lab/Golden Mix), and my current Leader Dog Willow (a British Black Labrador).  Each of my four demonstrated her beauty both outwardly and inwardly and inspired the following short poem which I presented at the March Readers’ Workshop of the writers’ group Behind Our Eyes. 

PAWS for Beauty

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Beauty walks with

the graceful, knowing stride

of a guide dog

who leads a poet

through the unseen landscape

of a rhymed life.

Best wishes for a Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

March 15, 2023, Wednesday

For Women’s History Month–My Grandma’s Story

NOTE: To mark Women’s History Month, I am sharing again with you a 2013 WORDWALK post about my maternal grandmother who was born in Italy almost 140 years ago.  As you read this piece of my family’s history, I think you will understand why I am re-posting this vignette during Women’s History Month.

* * *

Zinnias for My Grandma on the 130th Anniversary of Her Birth

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

            Before my memory begins, my one set of grandparents became known as “Grandma and Grandpa Farm” and my maternal grandmother as “Grandma Store.”  You guessed correctly:  My grandparents lived on a small farm; and my grandmother, whose husband died long before I was born, owned and operated a grocery store.  Thinking of my Grandma Store on this September 25—the 130th anniversary of her birth—I am astonished that in my youth, I spent so much time with someone who was born in 1883. 

            My memories begin to fade in when I was five and my grandmother was already 72 years of age.  Of course, to me, as a very young child, my grandma always seemed very old.  Nevertheless, as she had done for so many years, she was still working in the store—waiting on long-time customers.  Unlike most women of her era, Grandma Store was a businesswoman.  I can picture her behind the oak counter, beside the adding machine—which she never used because she preferred to add up the items of a bill in her head.  She was always wearing a mid-calf dress of black or gray print, with what appeared to me as the oldest-fashioned shoes to be made in the 1950s and 1960s.  The only other color I ever remember her wearing was a dark green sweater—except for the ever-present white, starched apron.  Throughout all these years of my memory of her, her long black hair, streaked with gray, was woven into one long braid and then twisted into a bun at the nape of her neck.  Large tortoise-shell pins held her bun in place at the back of her head.  I do not think she ever wore make-up, but she had few wrinkles and often had naturally rosy cheeks.  At that time, most older people I knew had false teeth; and I knew my grandma did also.  Dark-framed glasses covered her dark brown eyes so that she could clearly read all the obituaries in The Daily Clintonian.

On September 25, 1883, in the northern Italian village of Levone, Stefano and Lidia named their baby Domenica Marianna Allice.  Almost 67 years later, my parents named me after my maternal grandmother’s maiden name:  thus, the Italian surname “Allice” became my first name “Alice.”  I have always thought that, perhaps, I am the only “Alice” named after the Italian surname “Allice” because this surname is not at all common in the United States. 

            Sadly, I know little of my grandmother’s young life in Italy.  When she was twenty years of age, my grandfather, who had been in the United states from 1896 to 1903, returned to Italy to marry Domenica.  Then, the young married couple set sail from La Havre, France, on the ship La Lourraine, for America and arrived in New York on August 28, 1903.  When Domenica Mariana went through Ellis Island, she became “Minnie.”  Upon landing in the United States, the young couple had $80. 

After leaving their homeland—Levone and Cuneo, located in northern Italy—Domenica (Minnie) and Martino (Martin) first settled in Clinton, Indiana, and later created their home and businesses in the small rural town of Blanford, Indiana.  After the early deaths of their first two sons (one who died in infancy and one who died at age five), my grandparents were blessed with four healthy children—all of whom lived long lives.  In 1908, my grandmother gave birth to Zita; then, Peter (1910), Lydia (1912), and Mary (1914) followed.  In addition to the joy of these four children, my grandmother must have enjoyed music because my grandfather played a brass instrument in a local band.

            After establishing the grocery store in the early 1900s, my grandparents started an Italian bakery in 1914, the year of my mother’s birth.  My grandfather was the baker, in charge of the large, brick oven from where he took the crusty loaves of Italian bread and long, crispy breadsticks.  Despite the sudden loss of this husband, father, and baker in 1935—the family went on with the bakery until 1942.  At that time, my grandmother and her son Pete continued operating only the grocery store for the next four decades.  In March of 1982, Uncle Pete closed the grocery store for the final time.  Throughout all those years of having the family business, my grandparents helped numerous neighbors and extended credit to so many people—long before a credit card was even imagined.

            Since my grandfather was not only the bread baker, but also placed other main meals in the brick oven, my grandmother was not really known for her cooking skills.  Nevertheless, I remember many family members gathered around her big oak table for Thanksgiving dinner.  I distinctly recall so much lively talking that I thought I, as a young child, would never get a word into the conversation.

            Although my grandmother spoke English well, she naturally continued to speak Italian also.  We were equally embarrassed and amused by my grandmother’s shifting from English to Italian to tell a family member something about the customer who had just entered the store. 

            Despite some of her unusual ways, Grandma was quite tolerant of my cousin Carole and my making the store one of our favorite “playgrounds”—a place where we played many imaginary games, ate orange push-ups and penny candy, investigated new and old merchandise, and giggled through girlhood.  Rarely reprimanding us, Grandma was either quite patient or managed to overlook our antics. 

            Grandma’s two-story building was not only a playground for me, it was also a refuge during thunderstorms.  When my dad was working an overnight shift as a firefighter, my mother took my older sister and me to Grandma’s building each time an electrical storm popped up in the middle of the night.  I could never understand why we left our cozy house in the midst of a storm to go to Grandma’s big building.  Whether we slept in Grandma’s bed or on the roll-away bed in the living room, her very tall windows supplied a panoramic view of the lightning-streaked sky.  However, Grandma never complained about the midnight guests nor her adult daughter’s unusual fear of thunderstorms.  Grandma just quietly and calmly welcomed us into her home behind the store.  Before I was born, the bedrooms on the second story had been used, along with a spacious dance hall.  During the years I knew Grandma, her bedroom (which had once been a parlor) was always on the main floor—in a room off the kitchen/living area.

            As my Grandma Store aged and my cousin Carole and I became an age of double digits, we thought that we should be waiting on customers.  We tried to urge Grandma to sit in the back of the store—beside the large, wooden refrigerator—or in her own living area.  Waiting on customers was much easier than convincing Grandma to stay aside while we turned our well-practiced “playing store” into real transactions. 

            The store was my grandmother’s life.  After traveling all the way from Italy to Indiana, she never returned to “the old country.”  Only once did she take a long road trip:  after the death of her brother, my dad (her son-in-law) drove her to Pennsylvania so that she could attend the funeral.  Otherwise, she only left the store building to go to the homes of nearby relatives—but not often.  Once when my mother was driving my grandmother, my cousin Carole, and me back home from a visit to the farm of Grandma’s second daughter, the local deputy sheriff of St. Bernice decided that my mother was driving too fast for Highway 71.  I was astonished that my mother was pulled over by a law enforcement officer, but Grandma Store quickly converted into an award-winning actress to save her youngest daughter from receiving a ticket.  With a fine mixture of Italian and English, my grandmother very dramatically intoned: “Oh, my!  Oh, my!  I am so sick—so sick.  What a bad headache I have!  Oh, Marina, I need to go home.”  Well, that deputy took one look at my seemingly sick grandmother and gave my speedy mother only a quick verbal warning.  As soon as we drove away from the St. Bernice official, my cousin and I could no longer contain our laughter.  To the dismay of my mother and the grand-actress, my cousin and I laughed uproariously.

On summer evenings, Grandma would sit on a metal lawn chair on the lawn between the store building and her son’s home.  She watch the cars go by, neighbors walk by, and cars park in the lot of her eldest daughter’s Italian restaurant.  During spring and summer days, she sometimes left her store and residence to tend to her zinnias that grew in two flower beds bordered by diagonally placed upright bricks.  One bed of zinnias was to the east of the water pump, and one was to the west of the pump.  Besides the larger zinnias, Grandma had nurtured some zinnias of a smaller variety; her flowers were a myriad of colors.  I have always equated these sturdy flowers with my grandmother.

            During the seasons of giving, Grandma’s gift-giving policy was strict:  whatever she gave to one adult child, she gave to all.  The same held true for all the grandchildren.  For example, all her daughters and her daughter-in-law were given Hudson Bay blankets; then, there was the time when each received an electric mixer and then a mangle (large appliance for ironing).  While Grandma Store gave much, she guarded much also:  although cash was at easy access in the store’s wooden cash register and in the large safe in the storage room, Grandma always kept a close watch on her purse.  On many birthdays, each grandchild’s gift was a savings bond. 

            While in the final two decades of her life, Grandma Store did not want any of us to divulge her age.  If one of us began to mention Grandmother’s age, she would bring her index finger to her mouth and hush any comment about her specific age with a shake of her head. 

            When in the ‘60s and ‘70s, shouts of women’s liberation rang through the land, I was not too affected because my grandmother and all of my aunts (from both sides of the family) had always been prime examples of “working women,” of women who were modern before the more turbulent eras.  My grandmother was a strong woman who raised three very strong daughters who were extraordinarily close with each other and their one brother.  In the final years of my Grandmother’s life, her four surviving children cared for their mother.  Although my mother had a full-time job, she rarely missed driving fifteen minutes (over a road with one lane of gravel and the other of bricks) to the nursing home to visit her mother. 

            Shortly after my Grandmother’s 95th birthday, she passed away on October 10, 1978.  I only wish I had asked her many more questions about her young life in Italy and her early years in America. 

            When my sister and I returned to Indiana this past July, we went to the cemetery to pay our respects at my grandparents’ graves.  Although we placed a bouquet of silk flowers on Grandma Store’s grave, I wish we had placed there for her a bouquet of

fresh-cut zinnias.

Post-script:  In my mother’s address book, we have found much more than addresses, birthdates, and anniversaries—we have found some dates and information that I have used in this essay and in some of my other writings.  Although my mother did not keep a diary nor a journal, I do appreciate all the family information which she did diligently record over many years.  Additionally, I thank my cousins Carole and Donald, as well as my sister, who provided and/or confirmed some of the dates and places mentioned in this essay. 

            From trying to write personal narratives about my family tree, I have learned again and again one very important lesson which I want to impress upon each reader:  ask your oldest family members all the questions that you can about your family’s history; and in whatever mediums possible, record those family memories.  As you enjoy the present, keep in touch with the precious moments of the past!

            In the comment section, please leave a note about your grandmother or about Grandma Store.

Alice, one of eight grandchildren of Grandma Store

September 25, 2013, Wednesday

** Alice and Leader Dog Willow are re-posting this piece on March 8, 2023, Wednesday.

Mini-Miracle on Ice or Bread from Heaven?

Mini-Miracle on Ice or Bread from Heaven?

By Leader Dog Willow, as DOGtated to Alice Jane-Marie Massa

                Hello, fans of WORDWALK! I, Leader Dog Willow, am happy to bring you another “dog blog,” by PUP-ular demand. Now, to the true tale at hand—or at paw.

                Do you recall the “Miracle on Ice” hockey game on February 22, 1980?  Well, I will let you decide if the following tale is worthy of the title “Mini-Miracle on Ice.”

                On February 10, my Alice and I were walking east toward the big lake.  On the north side of the block on Juneau Street, I abruptly came to a dead stop.  Although my Alice tried to use the suggestion “hup up” three times, I would not budge.  So, as happens most frequently, my Alice had to investigate:  slowly she moved her booted foot ahead and tapped a small puddle upon which was a thin layer of ice.  Under her boot, the ice disappeared.  My Alice praised me with smiles and enthusiasm as she petted me.  I knew I had done my job well and had to do a little wiggling and wagging with joy.  A-a-ah, life is good!  Nevertheless, this happening is not the major tale to tell.

                The next day, we set off for a walk to one of my favorite destinations—Panera.  Before turning onto Ogden, the long span of sidewalk (three blocks in length) was amazingly free of snow, ice, and salt.  Smooth sailing!  Then, suddenly, I had to stop abruptly.  Ice alert!  This time, the ice was a large expanse.  Although the ice was surprisingly very thick, the warmer temperatures brought forth a very thin layer of water atop the ice and made it even more treacherous.  My Alice went through the usual routine before realizing that trouble was ahead and that I was not moving from my “Ice Alert” stance. 

                Knowing that we did want to go to Panera for a loaf of multi-grain bread and having been thinking of that nice loaf of bread for a while, my Alice, of course, began her techniques for investigating the reason for my stopping.  Oh, was she delighted when she realized why I had come to a firm stop!  All of my seriousness was placed aside when my Alice not only praised me to the heights, but even gave me one of my special treats.  We shared that wonderful moment of  joy for a job well done!  For a few seconds, I wiggled and waggled my best; then, I was quickly back to my business. 

                My Alice wanted to determine how long the expanse of ice was.  While I held my ground, she pressed forward carefully.  Not a good idea this time!  The ice was so terribly slippery that you-know-who could not determine the expanse of the ice.  Then, she remembered that a week earlier, the area had been an expanse of slushy snow about the width of a driveway.  Oh, yes!  With great care, my Alice somehow extremely slowly turned around and stepped back onto the perfectly clear part of the sidewalk.  What a relief!  However, no Panera visit for me and no bread for my Alice. 

                Since my Alice knew that I was a little disappointed about not being able to go to Panera via another route due to construction, we headed back south and then west to walk around the ice skating rink at Red Arrow Park because my Alice knows how much I enjoy watching the ice skaters.  Yes, I know this part of my tale sounds a bit ironic.

                After three miles of walking, we returned to our front porch and front door where my Alice touched on the door handle a plastic bag.  At first, she thought advertisements or political placards were in the bag.  However, with a little more investigation, she felt the heavier weight of the bag.  What a nice surprise for my Alice!  The bag contained a loaf of bread!  When my investigator Alice felt the contour of the plastic bag, she was certain that the bag was from her favorite Italian market—Glorioso’s.  Indeed, the plastic bag was! 

                Being from ancestors of professional breadmakers, my Alice is frequently on a quest for a really good loaf of hearty bread.  A phone message confirmed what my Alice had assumed:  her longtime friend and former colleague had dropped off the gift of the bread while my Alice and I were making our way home from the Mini-Miracle on Ice.  My Alice was not at all disappointed to come home with no bread from Panera because she found the delicious Troubadour multi-grain bread  on the door handle of her townhouse.  She telephoned our friend, thanked him, and told him our tale. My Alice thinks that that “bread from Heaven”—bread from our friend–is the best bread she has eaten for a very long time. 

PAWfully yours,

Leader Dog Willow

February 15, 2023, Wednesday

A Family Recipe for February

Cherry Holiday Squares—A Family Recipe

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

            As the calendar turns to Valentine’s weekend and then Presidents’ weekend, I  am sharing with you one of my favorite dessert recipes–first posted on WORDWALK ten years ago this month.  In my baking days, I made Cherry Holiday Squares many times and hope you will consider making this pretty dessert during the month of February.

            The original recipe (by a different name which I have forgotten) was from an old cookbook comprised of recipes from postmasters.  Somewhere, I still have this print cookbook because my mother was postmaster of the Blanford, Indiana, Post Office for

twenty-eight-and-a-half years.  In addition to being active in the state organization of postmasters, she was active in the National League of Postmasters.  Thus, when I share the following recipe with you, I remember my mother, as well as my dad who shared my fondness for almost all desserts with cherries.

Cherry Holiday Squares

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and grease a “jelly roll” pan (10 inches by 15 inches).

2.  Cream one cup butter with one-and-one-half cups sugar.

3.  Add four eggs and beat the mixture well.

4.  Blend in one teaspoon vanilla and one teaspoon almond extract.  (Instead of vanilla and almond extract, the original recipe called for one tablespoon of lemon juice.)

5.  Blend in two cups white flour.

6.  Pour batter into well-greased “jelly roll” pan (10 inches by 15 inches).

7.  Using one (15-ounce) can of cherry pie filling and imagining a grid of 20 or 24 squares on the batter, gently drop a spoonful of the cherry pie filling atop the batter so that the cherry pie filling will eventually be atop the middle of each square or rectangle which you will later cut into 20 or 24 pieces after baking.

8.  Bake at 350 degrees for thirty to forty minutes.  (Do not underbake!  Toothpick, inserted into a portion of the cake, should come out clean.)

9.  When slightly warm or when cool, the dessert may be cut into squares and/or rectangles—with the cherry filling being the center of each piece.  Enjoy!

10. Cherry Holiday Squares keep well for three days, but may also be served warm. 

Variations:  Instead of cherry pie filling, you may try blueberry, raspberry, peach, apricot, or apple pie filling.

Happy baking!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

February 10, 2023, Friday

A Poet’s Credo

A Poet’s Credo

poem by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

I believe

in the reading and writing,

the creativity of poetry.

I believe in

the uplifting quality , wonder, tension, tenderness,

translucency, and tranquility

of the mirror of poetry.

I believe

in the angel wings of muses

that gently brush the poet.

I believe I have written poetry

with a plume

which was once an angel’s feather.

when I could no longer write with the plume,

I used the bold-nibbed fountain pen that bled into

the porous beige paper that wrapped around the bundles of

The Daily Clintonian.

When angel feathers and fountain pens

had to be put aside,

I turned to poetry

penned with a bold felt-tipped marker

and bold-line paper.

For a brief while,

white letters on a very large and dark screen

of a closed-circuit television (CCTV)

magnified my poetic world for me.

As my world was draped

with more and more curtains of gray,

a talking computer

came my way on an angel’s wing

so that still I could write

plenty of poetry.

Alas, the dancing feet of angels

stepped on my blank pages

and embossed the magical dots of braille

so that I could read aloud for others to hear

the poetry—

my poetry—

in which my heart


* * *

NOTE:  On January 19, I wrote this poem to share with my monthly critique group which met on January 26.  Would you like to write an “I believe” poem or essay?  I highly recommend the book entitled THIS I BELIEVE (Series, Book 1, copyright 2007) which is a collection of short personal essays by a variety of individuals.  This book is based on the NPR series of the same name.  During my later years of teaching, I used this book for a unit in one of my college-level writing courses.

Best wishes for a happy February!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

February 1, 2023, Wednesday

Midwinter Muses for a Midwestern Poet

NOTE:  Although we have had a relatively mild winter by Milwaukee standards, we did have about three inches or so of snow today to give a pretty brightness to this gray winter.  On a shorter walk than usual this morning, Leader Dog Willow and I were blessed with snowflakes and enjoyed walking through the still unsalted, snowy sidewalks.  I was ready to build a snowman; however, after shoveling, I forgot all notions of crafting a snowman. 

                I wrote the following poem in November of 2022; this poem was a part of the December issue of the audio magazine NEWSREEL.  For additional information about NEWSREEL (a magazine to which I have subscribed since 1984), visit:

Welcome to Newsreel Magazine

Midwinter Muses for a Midwestern Poet

poem by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

In the midst of a long Midwestern winter,

poetry comes.

Yes, poetry comes

on the delicate lace of a snowflake,

midst the feathery wings of a snow angel,

but also in the stinging bites of sleet

around the snowdrifting barnyard.

Poetry also comes

beneath the streetlights of salt-covered sidewalks,

on the rosy cheeks of a happy child,

and under the big hat of a forever smiling snowman.

Still, still in the midst of a long Midwestern winter,

poetry comes.

Ah, yes, poetry comes

alongside the clear chimes of the cathedral bells,

in the snap of Jack Frost’s fingers,

upon the cutting sounds of gliding ice skates,

in the padded applause of mittened hands,

within the whirl of a wintry wind,

with the muffled laughter of sledders on a sloping terrain.

From the mesmerizing stillness of a below-zero night,

oh, at this midnight hour,

poetry has come

and has settled into my old wooden rocking chair,

is kept warm with this woolen afghan

beside which my Leader Dog Willow

softly sleeps.

* * *

May your January close with smiles, safety, and peace!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

January 25, 2023, Wednesday

Thinking of Ten Years Ago Today–My First Walk on WORDWALK

Thinking of Ten Years Ago:  The First Walk on WORDWALK

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

                Do you recall what you were doing on January 19, 2013?  I certainly do!  On that Saturday afternoon, ten years ago–my longtime reader and still friend Jenna, my third Leader Dog Zoe, and I were gathered around my computer desk.  Relatively newly retired from teaching, I was wanting to do more with my writing during my retirement years.  A somewhat new member of the international writers’ group Behind Our Eyes, I was positively influenced by writer members Deon Lyons, Abbie Johnson Taylor, and John Wesley Smith—all of whom had successful blogs—to try to initiate a blog of my own.  With Jenna’s positive attitude, encouragement, and help—I did begin my WORDWALK blog within a couple of hours on that Saturday afternoon.  On that day in 2013, I never dreamed that I would still be independently blogging ten years later.  Although there have been times or particular weeks when I have seriously thought of discontinuing my weekly blog, I am happy to have met this ten-year milestone with now my fourth Leader Dog Willow lying beside my computer desk as I write.

                Besides Willow, I have officially seventy-six followers of my blog and am always grateful to all who read my blog posts.  While I have been very touched and encourage to continue with my blog by a number of comments which I have received on this blog, I am thankful for all of you who have taken the time to comment during these past ten years.  A couple of distant relatives have found some of my family history pieces when they were doing genealogical research online.  What a pleasant surprise to hear from these distant cousins—thanks to WORDWALK! 

                To mark this tenth anniversary on WORDWALK, I am sharing again with you my very first blog post on WORDWALK.  Now, I do wonder what the little girl about whom I wrote is doing today. 

Big Shoes on Little Feet

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

                Clippity-clop.  Clippity-clop.  The approximately three-year-old child was trying as hard as an Olympic competitor to keep up with her impatient, young mother.  The scene unfurled in front of me as my second guide dog Heather and I walked down the State Street sidewalk toward the Big Lake—Lake Michigan.  The obviously too big shoes for the little feet were tugging at my heart strings and my wallet.  How I wanted to buy the little girl a pair of shoes of the perfect size! 

                As I walked with my Leader Dog, I wondered how I could approach the young mother who was assuredly in a hurry.  What exactly would I say?  As a teacher for most of my adult life, I was accustomed to telling people what to do, offering suggestions of what to do, counseling individuals.  Fortunately or unfortunately, my thrusting out my opinions was never limited to the classroom:  A need to teach has always exuded from my being whenever and wherever circumstances arose.  Nevertheless, on this one occasion with the clippity-clop reverberating in front of me, I could not step into the scene.  I just thought:  I did not act.

                Although I am blessed with having few regrets in my life, just observing and not entering this scene is one of my regrets.  Even though this incident occurred more than a half dozen years ago, the scene periodically replays in my mind.  Was the young mother taking the little girl to the park?  Was the mother taking her daughter to day-care before hurrying to a job or job interview?  I thought I would meet them again sometime on a walk, but I never have.  I have only met my regrets.

                When my sister Mary Elizabeth and I were young, our parents took us either to McCoy Shoe Store (on the square of Paris, Illinois) or to Horning and Hahn (a shoe store in Terre Haute, Indiana).  At both stores, my feet were carefully measured to insure a good fit on my growing feet.  Although the people at McCoy’s were quite nice, I especially enjoyed going to the shoe store in Terre Haute because it had a life-size, beautifully-painted, wooden horse I could ride back and forth, back and forth.  Growing up, I always had at least a pair of play shoes and a pair of dress shoes that were well-fitted.  Additionally, my cousin Carole had patent leather tap shoes and shiny pink ballet slippers.  Of course, we had house slippers and boots also.  I do remember having a pair of boots that seemed a bit too large for my feet; however, I never experienced trying to walk quickly in shoes that were so very much bigger than my feet as the little girl on State Street.

                At the onset of another new year, I do make resolutions.  One of my resolutions for 2013 is to live all twelve months without regrets.  Finding a way to offer help to someone who needs help is a wonderful path to walk and avoid regrets during any year.  I wonder if that little girl is now in the fourth grade.  I wonder if she is now walking in perfectly-sized jogging shoes.  I wonder how she is doing, and I hope that she is living her days with happy feet and a happy heart—with no regrets.

* * *

                I hope that you enjoyed reading this “post from the past” and that you will visit WORDWALK each week of this new year. 

Many thanks, and cheers to my WORDWALK readers!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

January 19, 2023, Thursday

Hark! A New Year!

Hark!  A New Year!

(Taking the ‘H’ Challenge of 2023)

poem by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Hello, New Year!

I see halos around 2023.

While “Hark! The Herald Angels sing,”

I bring to this new year


for more hope and humor,

for a hiatus from harsh words and harder feelings.

Resolution of the healthy kind?

Oh, yes, each day, I want to hydrate more.

Throughout this young year, I want to heighten my expectations

and expect a hefty load of happiness.

I plan to hoist all havoc behind

and hobnob only with very positive people.

Along the “Yellow-brick Road” of 2023,

I want to shake more hands,

also bring my hands together to applaud

hundreds of good deeds and good people.

Finally, I want  to continue holding onto the harness

of my most faithful and wonderful guide—nine-year-old Leader Dog Willow—

as we hasten through

these 354 remaining days of 2023

to write poems of hometown, history, and hearts

for heralded, heavenly you.

Best wishes for a creative and productive writing new year!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

January 11, 2023, Wednesday

Happy 214th Birthday, Louis Braille!

Honoring Louis Braille on the 214th Anniversary of His Birth

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

                Can you recall something special that you did at age twelve?  From my seventh-grade school year, I recall that I was, at my elementary school, the only seventh-grader who took a science project, along with one eighth-grader and my encouraging teacher Mrs. Whitlock, to the Science Fair at the Science Building of Indiana State University.  The hallways were filled with science projects which were much more sophisticated than my endeavor of determining the best type of water for watering geraniums.  (Yes, from a young age, I was interested in geraniums.)  Throughout the day, people paraded by all of the displays of science projects.  I heard one person remark about my project, “There is one of those projects every year.”  The comment did not at all diminish my joy in having my display at the Science Fair.  Although I knew that judging was taking place, I was fully content to have the certificate of participation.  Over five years later, I took university classes in this same building.

                Do you wonder why I am asking about your memories from age twelve and share my humble happening from seventh grade?  I ask because Louis Braille is always on my mind during the first week of each new year and because Louis Braille was only twelve years old when he began working toward a new system of reading and writing for people who are blind.  How amazing that such a young boy would set forth on such a remarkable goal!  Within three years, the teen from Coupvray, France, put the final touches on his system—the same code that we call “braille” in his everlasting honor.  The pianist, organist, and teacher also developed music braille (which I learned ten years ago). 

                Today, January 4, is “World Braille Day” because Louis Braille was born on this day in 1809.  Sadly, due to tuberculosis, Louis Braille lived only two days past his 43rd birthday:  he passed at 7:30 on the evening of Epiphany (January 6).  Even though his system of tactile reading and writing was not officially accepted by the French government until two years after his death, braille is used in almost every country of the world still today. 

                Perhaps, due to my coming to braille somewhat later in life, around age thirty, I am enormously grateful for the genius of Louis Braille:  I do not take his outstanding invention for granted.  His dots are miracle dots, and I am highly pleased to honor him each January.  Louis Braille’s gift to the world allows me to start off each new year with hope and gratitude. 

                Again this year, I highly recommend that you read the definitive book about the life of Louis Braille—a beautiful book with photos, published by National Braille Press, copyright 2006, by C. Michael Mellor.  The title of this wonderful book is LOUIS BRAILLE:  A TOUCH OF GENIUS.  Besides being available in print, the biography is also available from BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download of the National Library Service) in four braille  volumes (BR 16790) and in audio (DB 63350, eight hours and 15 minutes).  While you may find numerous other books about Braille’s life, the Mellor book is the most well-researched and, therefore, the best for learning more about Louis Braille.

Happy reading throughout this new year!  Best Wishes for a Happy 2023!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

January 4, 2023, Wednesday