Sad News for Members of the September, 2006 Session of Beginning Writers Workshop

I have heard from Kathy Mendenhall that she just found out that our dear colleague and talented creative writer, “Sandra Dee” (Jenny) died from lung cancer several years ago. Sandra Dee was someone whose creative efforts gave rise to the always well-received list called, “You Know You’re a Writer When…” that I continue to post in Discussion Area 11 every single session. I feel grateful to know that her writing lives on in the Beginning Writers Workshop that continues to start up again each month.

I know some of you remember this session. (I think I’ve remembered the month correctly.) It was a truly memorable group, one that included both the wonderfully talented Gullible and the endlessly entertaining Peanut Beranski. I may be forgetting some: Orlando? Walk? Perhaps you can refresh my memory. I see hundreds of names each month.

But I do remember Sandra Dee. May her spirit of adventurous humor and ongoing support for us all live on in our own efforts.

43 responses to “Sad News for Members of the September, 2006 Session of Beginning Writers Workshop

  1. So sorry too hear about Sandra, but it is truly a blessing that her words linger. This just proves once again, how fortunate that we are have this playground to share. May her family be at peace./Thank you for letting us know Ann.

  2. Kathy H Mendenhall

    Dear Ann,
    Thank you for posting the news about Jenny/Sandra Dee. I’ve tried and tried to write something here about her …how she could weave words like no other…and the impact her words have had on my life. But I can’t right right now. My words just turn into tears.

    KathyH Mendenhall

    • Kathy,
      Remind me…. Weren’t you the one who hid under her kitchen table for a while, worrying about posting your work and getting feedback? Or was that someone else? Words into tears–well said. –Ann

      • Kathy H Mendenhall

        Yes, I took up residence under the table. Quiet. Safe. I could read everyone’s work and whine with envy. And then this chattering, happy group started crawling in under the table too. Thought I was being abducted. Turns out I was being saved.

      • Cheryl aka Shaddy

        I remember joining you in that safe haven. Thankfully, it was a good-sized table.

  3. Perhaps this will help lighten our mood….Sandra loved stories, so I offer this for her and your enjoyment. It is going in my memoirs which I hope to complete in the near future.

    The Cats’ Meow

    And the winner of the Academy Award for Special Effects is Miss Patches for her role in the 1970 Concord High School production of The Diary of Anne Frank.

    I was a senior in high school in the fall of 1970 when I was chosen to play Anne in our Fall play. I had been involved in speech and theater since early in my freshman year. The role of Anne Frank was my first dramatic role in the four years of treading the boards of the Concord Stage. My nature and temperament was much more suited for Musicals or Comedies. I was more of a Carol Burnett than an Elizabeth Taylor. This role was sure to stretch my acting chops.

    On the opposite side of the spectrum was my younger sister, Chibby. She was the perfect moody diva and she had been cast in the role of Miep Gies, the shop owner who helped hide the Frank and Van Damn families in a secret annex of her building.

    It would be a drastic understatement to say the Chibby and I approached our roles from two completely different perspectives. My main focus in any part was to manage to have my lines memorized by Opening Night. If I accomplished that, I was good to go; No need to get into character until the curtains went up.

    Chib was much more of a purest….a true Method Actor. From the moment of receiving the script, she would live the role. Consequently, my little sister spent the two months leading up to our production in a constant state of paranoia and freight. She would gobble down her meals as if each was her last. She lurked in the shadows of our home with her head bowed as she listened for the slightest sound of the German army approaching. She communicated with us in hushed whispers so as not to alert the the SS troops that were sure to be listening on hidden recording devices.

    My mother was not an overly patient parent and having a daughter who was living as if she was a Jew hiding from Hitler was trying her tolerance. She warned my sister that unless she started acting like the white, adolescent, Midwest Methodist that she was raised to be, Chib would be excommunicated and shipped off to live with my Aunt in New York.

    My dear friend C.C. Whisler was cast to play the role of Peter Van Damn, Anne’s co-captive and love interest. I must admit that during our time working on the play, I formed a crush on C.C. He was a year my junior with a cherubic face and naturally curly hair. His smile was intoxicating and I was smitten for sure.

    The two months of preparation seemed to fly by. The set was a real work of engineering genius as we needed to have two stories and a street side view of Holland all at once. There were no scene changes in the play. In fact, there were no acts, only an intermission. This meant that we all stayed on stage for the entire production. No potty breaks or costume changes. Initially this was a stresser because if you were not in the action at the moment, you needed to find another activity that did not detract from your fellow cast members. I, as Anne, usually retreated onto my bunk and wrote in my diary. C.C., as Peter, would go into his cubical and bond with his cat, Miss Patches.

    In real life, C.C. Was a dog person, but he did grow quite fond of Miss Patches during rehearsals. It was sweet to watch their trust and friendship develop. By opening night, Peter and Patches were nearly inseparable.

    The Diary of Anne Frank was scheduled to have four performances, with closing night on Sunday. As is with most high school productions, all of our performances were sold out.

    Opening night went well. The review in our school paper was not gushy, but it was not the worst thing ever written about a play. The local newspaper critic was not overly impressed with our acting efforts, but the costumes and set were stated to be outstanding. The one thing that made a very positive impact on both critics, as well as all audiences, was C.C. ‘s ability to manage Miss Patches on stage for an hour and a half each night. He was a natural. But it helped that Patches was sort of a chilled out kitty.

    Everything changed on closing night. In the last scene of the play, The Nazis begin to break down the doors of the annex hiding place. It was all over and it was sure death for both the Frank and Van Damn family members. We needed to reflect the shear terror of that moment, which is not that easy for teenagers from the heartland of America. We had little frame of reference. We did manage to be moderately convincing in our first three performances, but closing night, we nailed it. Something happened that actually did terrorize us….we were not acting. Miss Patches began to give birth to a litter .
    Ordinarily, she would have been under Peter’s cot or on top of a make shift pillow at the head of the bed. But, as if to make sure that the audience had a completely unobstructed view of the coning events, Patches had moved to front stage center.

    With only a few minutes to go until the storm troopers would begin yelling and beating down the doors. Miss Patches started screaming and groaning and birthing babies as if they were coming out of a Pezz Candy dispenser. To quote from Gone With the Wind… C.C. “ knew nothing about birthing no babies.” None of us did. We were truly frightened and helpless. With each scream from Patches, C.C. would hyperventilate even more. I was certainly not prepared to act as midwife to a kitty nor give mouth to mouth to my co-star.

    Thankfully, the end of the play came before C.C. collapsed. The Storm Troopers forced us all from the stage to face our certain death. But before the final curtain descended completely, the tallest Nazi from backstage, Eldon, came out with a box lined with a warm blanket and he ever so gently lifted Miss Patches and her 7 kittens to safety and a bright future.

  4. Oh,no. Sandra Dee (aka Dee Dee) was THE shining star of that class. I am so sorry to hear of her passing. I corresponded with her occasionally afterwards. She was working on her MFA and sent me several of her pieces. I could see the influence of structured learning in her writing and feared that would hinder her remarkable ability to soar with words. I will miss her. Condolences to her husband and daughter.

    Other class members? Shaddy, Orlando–the one and only in his Panama hat smuggling jewelry out of Cuba, Preacher whose retelling of Bible stories were compelling, Walk–the romantic and funny Walk, Aloma, The Next Shirley Jackson, Ken and his stirring memorial to the Amish children killed in their school, , Maurabeth, Summer Goose, Gymnast Boni, Aiko and Shakesperian candle,

    I’m not sure it’s allowed, but I have hard copies of several of Sandra Dee’s pieces from BWW and could post them. They have, after all, already been circulated on the Internet.


  5. Dang, Ann, I’m blushing at your compliment. Thank you.

  6. The one regret about learning to love new friends through a online class like BWW is that we never meet face to face. We learn about each other’s heart and soul, we become as close as those that we daily on a personal level, always hoping that one day, lkwe can give each other a physical hug and sit and tell stories and tip a glass to our health. Thus its a sad day when we hear that we will never have the chance to sit and listen to Sandra Dee spin a story just for us.

    I don’t remember where it was exactly, maybe in BWW, but we talked of a time where we’d meet on Gully’s deck with our laptops and write. Maybe that will be a part of Heaven, Sandra Dee waiting on us with her glass raised.

    • I treasure that fantasy. Thanks for your good words!

    • Walk, I’m laughing out loud right now after reading about sitting on my deck with our laptops. The who9le thing originated when a number of us admitted how bashful we are in public, how difficult it would be to talk in person with each other. Then, someone asked how we’d communicate if we all got together on my deck. Sending emails from our laptops, of course.

    • Cheryl aka Shaddy

      I remember you, Maureen.

  7. Cheryl aka Shaddy

    To the Class of 2006

    Those were the days my friends,
    We thought they’d never end,
    We’d sing and dance forever and a day…..

    Unfortunately, Sandra Dee has been taken from us, yet her written words and our memories of her will continue to sing and dance forever and a day.

  8. Shaddy! I lay in bed last night trying to come up with your nickname. As you may know (or hopefully you’re younger than I am), our memories are not always on call when we want them. I’m so glad you shared your thoughts. What a group that was!

  9. The following is the first of Sandra Dee’s many stories I came across today. More to follow as we bid our friend farewell.

    In her incarnation as Dee Dee (the darker side of Sandra Dee), Jenny wrote this:

    Today, I
    paid the bills,
    returned library books,
    got to the office early,
    worked through lunch, stayed late.
    Today, I
    swept the floor, put away dishes,
    folded laundry,
    helped with homework.
    Today, I
    kissed my husband,
    fed the birds,
    walked the dogs,
    called my mom.
    Today, I
    played it straight,
    followed all the rules,’did everything by the book.
    (Christ, how I hate it!)
    Tomorrow, whatever shall I do?

    Thereafter, messages from her classmates followed:

    KathyH: DeeDee–whatever you decide to do tomorrow, swing by here and pick me up. I’ve done all the washing and cooking I can tolerate. Get me outta here!!!!!

    Orlando: Since you asked what you should be doing tomorrow, let me give you some suggestions: for one day, forget about the laundry, the bills, the dishes and the homework. Call your husband at the office and tell him you two are going out for dinner (no excuses, no buts, no rain checks). Then dress up in your beautiful black satin like dress, that one with the thin straps on top, put on your pearls collar, apply a low tone mascara and smile when he comes home. Go have a nice dinner, in i a good place, have a dry martini, and enjoy the other side of life. That is, the side in where there are no preoccupations or concerns about what could happen next. OK, I took care of tomorrow. The next day is up to you. Good luck.

    Aiko: The day after Orlando’s night out you need to play it not-so-straight, bend some of the rules,
    edit the book,
    and find the other side of life
    right there in the very center
    of the place you call home.

    Today, I
    Read your poem,
    Ate it for supper,
    Want more for breakfast,
    Isn’t it fun
    To just let words come
    Like finger painting
    On the walls.
    Thank you, Dee Dee

    And Gully added:

    In every line of your story I see a potential story. In the replies of KathyH, Orlando, and Aiko, I see more stories. If what you wrote is autobiographical, consider your life a bottomless well of stories. If not autobiographical, it’s a powerful piece of work that hits home with everyone who feels they live a life of drudgery, missed chances, and no import. We writers (ahem!) have been given wings to rise above all that.


    (This poem by Sandra Dee inspired me to write one in the same format, with an entirely different viewpoint, that remains one of my favorites to this day. Thanks, DeeDee, for the inspiration. Love, Gully)

    • Cheryl aka Shaddy

      Reading my comment of long ago, I see that I missed the desperation in Jenny’s words. I regret that now. Thankfully, she received wonderful and appropriate comments from many of you.

    • Kathy H Mendenhall

      Thank you for posting some of Jenny’s writing. I saved most of them but haven’t read them in quite some time. What a gifted writer….

  10. One of Sandra Dee’s most powerful:

    Daddy’s Cross
    Submitted by Sandra Dee-Dee-Dee

    “Morality is a figment of the human imagination.”
    “Your right to life is equivalent to your ability to defend it.”
    “Happiness is the absence of stress.”

    My dad, the streetcorner philosopher. Did he realize, I wonder, that his words would be scrawled in permanent marker across my psyche, like bleak graffiti on a subway wall? That their incessant refrain would provide the chanting Greek chorus of my life? That one day, my ultimate goal would be to break from the curse imposed by three wretched, little words?

    “Never go backwards.”

    Ah, daddy, thanks for the cross. If only I had the guts, the strength, to lay it down, you know what I would do?

    I would say good-bye to my big, fancy-pants title and my big, fancy-pants organization, and all those cute little zeroes in my big, fancy-pants salary.

    I would abandon my most deeply help convictions, such as “If I drop even one of these spinning plates, a secret trap door will open and I will plunge headlong into the snake pit,” or “If I let this balloon touch the floor, the world will blow up,” or (my current favorite) “If I waiver, even slightly, even for a split second, from an endless forward progression, I will end up a pathetic, homeless old hag, mumbling to herself and her plastic bags, begging change on a street corner from the successful ones, the ones who listened to their daddies, the ones who Never Went Backwards.

    I would rick failure.

    I would risk your disapproval.

    I would set the demons free.

    • Cheryl aka Shaddy

      I do vaguely remember this.

      This is an extremely moving piece. Thanks, Gully. I fear I was so wrapped up in my own creativity that I didn’t always appreciate and embrace the words of others to the degree I should have.

  11. So honest. So real. As if she is an Aztec shaman, ripping out her own beating heart and holding it up for us to see.

  12. Jenny and I did meet, hug, lift our glasses to the setting sun while sharing stories. She even brought a bag of gummy bears. You would have had to have been in the 9/20 class to understand what compelled her to do that. Nor only was she a gifted writer, she was funny, kind and so easy to talk to and laugh with. Her daughter was adorable and charming. They had just finished horse-back riding in Pescadero and we met them in Half Moon Bay at the Half Moon Bay Brewery. I remember sitting there waiting for her and hoping she would be fat and homely. I mean, something had to be wrong with her, right? Nope. She had all the beauty and energy of someone who loved life and lived it to the fullest. I would guess that she and her daughter traveled to most parts of the world. What wonderful memories May must have.
    I urge all of you who want to meet, to do so. Doesn’t matter if it’s on Gully’s deck or at a brewery… just do it. ( I had to use ellipses to aggravate Ann).

    Rest in Peace, Jenny – DeeDee – Sandra Dee. Each and every one of you was admired and loved.

    PS Kathy, thanks for letting us scramble under the table with you. I guess we’re under there again in our grief. Now pass the wine and the tissues. I’ll bring the gummy bears…

    • Aloma, did you not bolt Kathy’s table to the ceiling to make room for all of us under it? SO nice to hear from you.

      I’m happy to see so many still around and communicating with each other. I wonder where Bertha is? And Orlando? And Ken, Parson, etc, etc.

      • If I’m remembering right, I think I was Bertha. I do jump into the discussion area as someone other than myself from time to time, especially when I’m getting inspired by the group. When I do, I use the name Bertha. I hope I’m not stepping on the toes of a real student named Bertha!

      • Cheryl aka Shaddy

        I have to ask if you completed lessons from a treetop restaurant perhaps in the Caribbean? I remember a Bertha who blew me away with that bit of info.

    • Kathy H Mendenhall

      Hi Aloma
      Yes, Jenny was beautiful inside and out and such a free spirited writer. We had planned, somewhat, to meet years ago…maybe horseback riding…but I kept the thought at a distance. I put off getting serious about planning it with her. You want to know why? Because I didn’t want her to know how plain and ordinary I am. I mean, what in the world would I talk about to Sandra Dee? So I missed out. And I will live with that regret the rest of my life. At the same time, I am so grateful to have met her and the rest of you writers at BWW. I’m glad you have those wonderful memories of spending the afternoon with Jenny and her daughter. It anyone deserves it, it’s you.

      • Cheryl aka Shaddy

        I know that paralyzing fear of not being able to carry on an interesting conversation with people I would otherwise want to know.

  13. In Lesson 7, Ann posted four sentences for us to revise. Sandra Dee’s made me fall in love with her writing and realize what a remarkable talent she had. I’ll post Ann’s first and then Sandra Dee’s

    Ann: There were so many winding curves as I drove in the blazingly bright orange sunlit glare of the everlasting road that I was utterly exhausted by the endless ordeal and though I might faint if given half the chance.

    Sandra Dee: Mile after mile. Two days without real food, just Red Bull and cigarettes. Burning eyes, white knuckles, aching shoulders. Sudden swerves, stray dogs, oil spills, police bullets, alien death rays, “Dude, how long you gonna play that thing?”

    (Now, my personal favorite.)

    Ann: The leaves were red,

    Sandra Dee:
    As the congregation knelt in prayer,
    tiny red devils
    danced and skittered
    in the churchyard.

    Ann: That horrible tornado was like a raging bull charging a red cape so it could blast everything we owned to smithereens once and for all.

    Sandra Dee:

    She knew it was coming–read the ominous skies, heard the warning siren–but when it actually hit, WHAM! She never dreamed it would rip the ring right off her finger, divide her home, steal her children, leave her exposed and alone, a solitary figure amid the wreckage.

    Ann: John thought Jane was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, and he knew he would love her forever.

    Sandra Dee:

    “Of course we can skip the Three Tenors, John dear. I’d much rather go to the Monster Truck rally with you and Fred.”

  14. Oh, yes, Gully… That table had to be bolted to the ceiling at 920 Heming Way. i think it was you who was grateful because “the old knees ain’t what they used to be”.
    I love re-reading Jennie’s work. Thanks for posting some of her best.

  15. Ann, I must tell you I always suspected you were really Bertha. Not kidding here. Something about the writing.Something about the infrequent posts. Something I can’t put my finger on.

  16. Wait. I always suspected Bertha was really you.

  17. Kathy, I don’t know how to let you know how much Jennie loved your writing and would have not wanted to be placed on a pedestal that would create distance between the two of you (or anyone else). We talked for a long time and she was looking forward to meeting you. As a matter of fact, she mentioned on how close she felt to you. Damn. I wish everyone could full-out shoot that critic that runs rampant in our heads (especially writers) who keeps telling us that we’re just not good enough.

    She also wanted everyone in our session to know she was “normal”. Some of her writing would contradict that but, man, she was having fun with words and didn’t let any critic get in her head. And, yes, she was normal.

    Someday (maybe) I’ll write in detail about things we talked about and how wine almost shot out of my nose by laughing at some of her stories.

    Be gentle with yourself.

    • She did write some dandies. I’ll see if I can find some. Lots of paper to look through.

    • Kathy H Mendenhall

      Yes, I know Jenny was normal. Just like the rest of us. (trying not to chuckle as I write that!) I mean, “normal” is such a strong word! What is astonishing to me is how a person can be normal, do normal things like go to work, raise the kids, sort the dirty laundry but then sit down and create thoughts and images that show up on paper and it all turns to magic. And your piece that you wrote, “920 Hemming Way” was just that. Magic.

      What fun we all had in BWW–to drop “normal” off at the curb and head straight for that creative playground.

  18. Found my way back here today.
    Not sure what I’d find.
    Glad many of you are still here. Sad others are not.
    I’ve missed you, my friends.

  19. Found my way back here today.
    Not sure what I would find.
    Glad many of you are still here. Sad others are not.
    I’ve missed you, my friends.

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