Saturday, December 17, 2016




Sheryl J. Bize Boutte

By the mid 1960’s my parents had four school-aged daughters to support and a fifth change-of –life daughter on the way. Birthday and Christmas gifts often supplemented outgrown or worn out school clothes along with the begged for doll, bike or skates.  Sometimes we got something special; something homemade, handed down or handed over that always brought a unique and precious feel to the celebration.

It was in this tradition on Christmas Day in 1966, while the color wheel changed the aluminum tree from blue to green to red and back again, my mother handed me a gold- ribboned box.  Inside was a simple frock; a multi-colored, multi-flowered shirtwaist dress with a wide belt and full skirt.  A gently worn hand-me-down from one of my mother’s wealthy acquaintances, the bottom of the hem hit just below my knobby knees and fit my unfinished 15-year-old body to a “T. “ Even though it was a spring dress, I could not wait to wear it to school.  My fingers were already turning the front doorknob, as my mother’s voice admonished, “Girl, don’t you know it is JANUARY? You are going to catch pneumonia in that thin little dress!” But I was halfway down the street and about to round the corner on my usual path to my freshman year in high school before she could finish her second sentence. My inaugural wearing of this dress would also be the day a 17-year old boy would look out of his window from the 3rd house on the right and see me for the first time.

 I knew I probably wore that dress much too often, but I had never had anything like it. It had the power to make my teenage self feel like a big gown up lady and became the favorite in my sparse wardrobe.  It also made that boy wait for me to pass his house each day and then fall into step behind me.  Stealthy and silent, he walked behind me for the five blocks to school for the rest of the school year. A bookworm and a loner, totally inside my own head as I made my way, I never thought to look back.

On a late summer day, after almost a year of following me after I rounded the corner, the forces emanating from that dress with me in it, would give that boy the courage to ring my doorbell and introduce himself.  “Hi, I’m Anthony from around the corner. Does the girl with the flowery dress live here?” he asked my sister who answered the door.  With her usual eye roll she answered, “ You must be looking for Sheryl.  She is always wearing that old-timey dress.”  She called to me to come to the door and from that day forward the boy from around the corner became my boyfriend and soon after that, my fiancé. 

On a beautiful spring day in 1971, we married in the living room of my family home with only our parents, my grandmother and a few friends in attendance.  Still waiflike at age nineteen, my wedding dress was an elegant non-flowery peach chiffon and silk, the perfect compliment to my new husband’s ruffled peach shirt and coordinating bowtie. Our reception consisted of post-wedding photos taken in my parent’s park-like backyard, while our few guests dined on crust-less tuna and chicken salad sandwiches cut into little squares accompanied by Mum’s extra dry champagne.

Settling into married life was automatic for us and as though it was always meant to be.  I finished college and my husband was at my graduation along with my parents.  Soon after I began my career with the government while my husband continued his climb in the building industry and finished his degree.  During this time, the dress became so faded the flowers were barley visible, and so threadbare it was no longer wearable. Tearfully, I threw it away.

As the years passed, my husband would often come home on my birthday, our anniversary or Christmas with a ribbon-tied box containing an exquisite dress, suit or even shoes, from a small boutique he claimed as his territory for his gifts to me.  Once he presented me with a beautiful white suit and when I asked what the occasion was, he replied, “Because its Tuesday.” He always chose the correct size and only stopped the practice when his boutique of choice went out of business.  But of all the wonderful articles of clothing he purchased, the dress, or anything like it, was never among them. 

Then one rainy December day in 1976, during one of my shopping trips through the annual major department store Christmas wish book I saw it; a multi-flowered shirtwaist dress with a white background, a full skirt and a wide belt. It did not matter to me that Christmas was near and I was ordering a dress from the catalogue’s preview for spring, I had to have it and ordered it right away. When it arrived I was a bit disappointed to find that the fabric had an unworn stiffness to it and therefore not as soft as the original, the flowers were not as vibrant as they had appeared in the catalogue picture, and the belt was a skinnier version of its predecessor.  But after so many years of dress drought, I decided this dress and I would make a pact to stay together, even though we both knew the relationship would never be ideal.

My husband loved me in this dress even though I knew it for the poseur it was. And because he loved it, I wore it to work and out to dinner.  I wore to the movies and to the supermarket.   I wore it with a shawl in the spring and with boots and a jacket in the winter. I continued to wear it after our daughter was born in 1977 and was surprised, yet happy that after I punched an extra hole in the belt for just a bit more room, it continued to fit. I wore it through my daughter’s early school years and into her entry to junior high.  After she told me how much she liked it, I wore it even more. Still, through all of that, this dress could not convince me that it was the one.

Since I could never get enough of how happy it made my family, over time the dress and I had settled into an easy truce. I came to accept the fact that it could not help me to recapture the feelings I had when I wore the anointed original.  And it seemed to know that although it was not the dress, my family’s reactions would make it a most treasured piece in my by now, extensive and often talked about wardrobe. 

Then one day, after 19 years of wear, I put the dress on and discovered I could no longer easily button it, and had run out of room for more belt holes. In defiance, I buttoned it and fastened the belt anyway, breaking a fingernail to the quick as I did so. The dress countered my orders for its cooperation with sharp and intense rib pain and taking away my ability to breathe.  We stood at loggerheads in the mirror for a few seconds before I gave in and feverishly began to free myself from its grip.  My disappearing waistline and the dress had finally conspired to betray me.  With mixed emotions I knew we would have to part ways.

Time went by and dresses with magic flowers and full skirts were often sought but not found. Over the years, I tried to replicate that special dress many times over, but it always ended in disappointment and eventual rejection; sometimes by me, but more often by the dress as the Body Mass Index continued its upward climb. Along the way, I happened upon beige and brown flowered silk shirtwaist and I bought it, but like the substitute garden scene dress I had previously outgrown, it was just not the same. I even tried other styles, and I felt I looked just fine, but I felt nothing extraordinary when they draped my frame and somehow that just continued to feel like a requirement.

From time to time, I would still pine for that original long-lost dress and the power it had to make a shy boy follow me to school, my daughter smile, and strangers stop to tell me how great I looked. Even though I was loved well, had a happy home and fulfilling work, I still wanted the all the dress had given me.

In 1995, our daughter went off to college and we became empty nesters. We moved on with life and the blessings of family and love continued as the years passed without the dress. Then on Christmas Day in 2010, my husband presented me with a golden box wrapped with a golden bow.  We had decided not to buy gifts that year, because we felt so blessed, so I was both surprised at the gift and annoyed that he had broken the pact. In the middle of a hot flash with lips pursed, I launched into my protest, “But I thought we weren’t going to…” I was stopped in mid-sentence when my smiling husband and daughter said in unison, “ Just open it!”  Their smiles grew wider and wider as I pushed through the tissue paper labeled “Zell’s Vintage” and opened the box.

 Inside was a simple frock.

 A multi-colored, multi-flowered shirtwaist dress with a wide belt and a full skirt.

The Dress was back for Christmas.

© Sheryl J. Bize Boutte 2012

This story and others appear in my book, “A Dollar Five: Stories From a Baby Boomers Ongoing Journey” available at and other booksellers

Thursday, December 1, 2016



My poem, "Singing Into the Brush" has been published in the fall edition of Write Angles. The official newsletter of the Berkeley Branch of the California Writer's Club, Write Angles also honored me as the "Featured Poet" for this edition.  A favorite at readings and book events, "Singing Into the Brush" will appear in my upcoming short story collection, "Running For The 2:10",  currently scheduled for publication in early 2017.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


These words have inspired me for many years.  I hope they do the same for you.


IN every field of human endeavor, he that is first must perpetually live
in the white light of publicity. Whether the leadership be vested
in a man or in a manufactured product, emulation and envy are ever at
work. In art, in literature, in music, in industry, the reward and the
punishment are always the same. The reward is widespread recog-
nition; the punishment, fierce denial and detraction. When a man's
work becomes a standard for the whole world, it also becomes a target
for the shafts of the envious few. If his work be merely mediocre, he
will be left severely alone - if he achieve a masterpiece, it will set a million
tongues a-wagging. Jealousy does not protrude its forked tongue at
the artist who produces a commonplace painting. Whatsoever you
write, or paint, or play, or sing, or build, no one will strive to surpass, or
to slander you, unless your work be stamped with the the seal of genius.
Long, long after a great work or a good work has been done, those who
are disappointed or envious continue to cry out that it can not be done.
Spiteful little voices in the domain of art were raised against our own
Whistler as a mountebank, long after the big world had acclaimed him
its greatest artistic genius. Multitudes flocked to Bayreuth to worship
at the musical shrine of Wagner, while the little group of those whom he
had dethroned and displaced argued angrily that he was no musician at
all. The little world continued to protest that Fulton could never
build a steamboat, while the big world flocked to the river banks to see
his boat steam by. The leader is assailed because he is a leader, and
the effort to equal him is merely added proof of that leadership. Failing
to equal or to excel, the follower seeks to depreciate and to destroy - but
only confirms once more the superiority of that which he strives to
supplant. There is nothing new in this. It is as old as the world
and as old as the human passions -envy, fear, greed, ambition, and the
desire to surpass. And it all avails nothing. If the leader truly
leads, he remains - the leader. Master-poet, master-painter, master-
workman, each in his turn is assailed, and each holds his laurels through
the ages. That which is good or great makes itself known, no matter
how loud the clamor of denial. That which deserves to live - lives.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016


Bumper Sticker 1960

Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte

It was one of those scorching hot September days in Oakland. The treeless avenue allowed the sun to burn through so strongly it made the gray cement sidewalks appear to be white as they radiated the merciless heat, seeming to melt the pink rubber soles on our new white bucks.  Feeling our skins turning to toast was no detriment to our ten-year old constitutions as we embarked on our odyssey from the corner store while enjoying our freshly purchased cucumber dills. My friend Giselle and I just kept it moving; walking slowly to her house as we talked about the Kennedy-Nixon debate we had seen the night before.

With both sets of parents and virtually our entire neighborhood solidly in the Kennedy camp, it naturally followed that we were Kennedy fans as well. But we had totally different reasons for liking Kennedy than the adults did.  We thought he was just so much cuter than Nixon. After all, last night Nixon had been a sweaty, ugly mess and Kennedy had been so cool and poised. We had no idea that Nixon had been Vice President; we just knew that Kennedy’s way of talking and his thick head of hair made him handsome.

With pickles finished and our minds made up about who should be President and why, we began to sing our favorite song of the month, “Rockin’ Good Way” at the top of our lungs. We sang this song and others often as we walked from the store or the movies or wherever we were going or had been, switching off being Dinah or Brooke in this top hit “call and response” tune.

I am not sure who was singing what part when we saw the Nixon bumper sticker on the blue Ford truck parked in front of the new auto body shop. Seeing it at the same time, the sight of it in our territory was jarring enough to cut us off in mid-song. Without speaking we both instinctively knew what needed to be done. We were bent and scraping with our fingernails to remove that offending sticker within seconds.  We had managed to get most of it off when we heard a man’s voice yelling,

“Girls, girls! What on earth are you doing?”

We looked up to see a tall, dark haired young man standing in the wide opening of the shop.

The auto body shop owner had caught us. If we had stopped to consider our exposure from that gaping opening where the man now stood, hot, red-faced and looking a bit annoyed, we might have had second thoughts about removing that bumper sticker. We just knew we were going to jail or even worse, he was going to call our parents and tell them we were vandals.

But he didn’t do either. Instead he invited us in to the shop saying he wanted to show us something.

Now, remember, we were ten and we knew that this could be a dangerous thing, but we were also curious. Plus it was two against one and at least on the schoolyard that was usually an automatic win. And when he told us we could just stand in that huge opening and listen to what he had to say, somehow we didn’t feel threatened.  Young and stupid we didn’t stop to think that there could be others in the shop who could reach out and grab us. So we stood on the steel threshold side-by-side, each with one foot in the coolness and shade of the shop, and the other in the relentless heat of the driveway concrete, poised to bolt if needed.

The man gave us a quizzical look as he turned to walk away. We watched as he went to a nearby table holding a tri-fold poster board with carefully printed words and a few pictures.  Across the top, covering all three boards were the words:


He picked up his pointer and began to make a presentation.  We didn’t know what to think.  We stood there both perplexed and fascinated.  The man appeared to be genuinely trying to teach and convince us that the Republican Party was something we should embrace. Much later Giselle and I would recall it as being in school with a nice teacher who was giving us a lesson on how to disobey our parents. We couldn’t stop listening, but we couldn’t do what he said either.

The man went on and on as he covered the material on each of the three boards. He talked about famous Republicans and who reported to whom in the organization.  He talked about what the Republicans would do for the economy and the war and jobs. We had no idea what he was talking about but kept listening because he was so sincere.  At the end of his presentation he asked us if we had any questions, which we did not. And with that he told us to not take off any more Nixon bumper stickers and sent us on our way.

We knew we had been caught up in something strange that would never be believed, so we never told anyone. Besides we couldn’t really explain it without admitting we had just broken two cardinal rules: We allowed ourselves to be lured by a stranger and we destroyed property. Those two things would get us grounded for at least a year. The trouble we would be in by telling was not worth it especially since nothing other than an odd and impromptu lecture on politics had happened.

When we got a few feet away from the shop Giselle looked over at me and said,

“ I don’t care what he says, I still like Kennedy.”

“Me too,” I replied.

And off we went into the heat of the day, continuing our journey to Giselle’s house, re-starting our rendition of  “Rockin’ Good Way.”

This time I was Dinah.

Copyright©2016 by Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte
From the upcoming book of short stories

Running For The 2:10

A Sequel to:

A Dollar Five: Stories From A Baby Boomer’s Ongoing Journey

Saturday, April 23, 2016


--> -->


Like many baby boomers, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard about President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

The whistle blew in the junior high school cafetorium with an unprecedented harshness that day in 1963 and stunned us all into unified silence.  Then the principal appeared, and standing in front of the curtains on the stage shakily announced,

“Children, I am sorry to have to tell you that President Kennedy has been killed.”

A slow moan enveloped the room.  Because our pre-teen heads were unable to fully process what we had just heard, we sat there for a few minutes in silence. Then as if controlled by some outside force we all began to cry, rise and run for the exits.  We splintered off in different directions, confused and afraid.  Since I only lived a block away, I went home and turned on the television to watch it all unfold.

Many years later, I would hear another voice making an announcement and remember where I was when I heard it.  But this time it would make us happy. Mom and I had just gotten into her green Chevy  “Big Rider” Impala to go shopping.  As we rode down the hill toward the freeway entrance, I turned on the radio.  The D. J. on KSOL was talking about a new singer. Suddenly the opening guitar strums from “I Wanna Be Your Lover” filled the car interior.  Mom turned it up.  The youthful male voice sang out, “ I ain’t got no money. I’m not like the other guys you hang around.” Oh my my my . We looked at each other and said in unison, “Who is that?” We had already heard enough to know that whoever he was, we liked what we were hearing and he was right on time.

Now at the bottom of the hill, instead of making the left to the freeway, Mom made a right at the corner. Then the unique and funky guitar rift came in between, “It’s kinda funny, but they always seem to let you down,” as he crooned on. More of that guitar.  Oooo-weee and bop bop.  “I wanna be the one that makes you come running”, he sang.   We would have been running if we had not been in the car, so instead we smoothly rode, swooned and rocked all the way to Reid’s Records on Bancroft Avenue.

We still didn’t know the name of the artist when we got to the counter at Reid’s, but we had been so struck by what we had just heard, I was able to sing a few lines.  The good people at Reid’s knew right away who it was and handed us a vinyl album with this longhaired, shirtless, beautiful young man on the cover with one name: Prince.

“Two, please,” I said, and shopping forgotten we got back in to the green “Big Rider” and headed back to Mom’s to play this new miracle of music.

Over the years, my family and I would add everything Prince to our collection of his masterful work.  He would become a part of our family life. And as a family member, he would often weave his way into my writing.  In my unpublished short story “Nick at Night Before Christmas” I write,

We grew to seven women, three generations, drinking eggnog and dancing to Chubby Checker, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and the Pips and finally Prince.  We wore a thin white groove into the vinyl version of “I Wanna Be Your Lover” playing it constantly over the objections of my secular music-hating grandmother.  Every now and then we would catch her tapping her foot, ever so slightly.

And in my essay, “A Mother’s Love,” about the history of the city of Oakland, I call on him again with,

I am the origin of the “West Coast Blues”, the Mai Tai cocktail and Rocky Road Ice Cream.  One of my sons invented the Popsicle and one of my daughters was lost to me when she took her famous solo flight from my airport.  A man who usually prefers purple once bought another of my daughters a turquoise Mercedes.

For us, Prince became, and remains, a precious familial connection

for my sister who shares his birth-date and year and had just seen him perform on March 4, 2016 in Oakland;

for my husband who suddenly stopped dancing with the rest of us at a Prince concert and when I asked what was wrong he replied,
“Nothing is wrong. Everything is right. I just had to stop and take in the fact that I am actually in the presence of this gifted and wonderful soul;”

for my daughter, who writes,
“The loss of Prince is tough to explain to people who do not have the generational appreciation of his art as we do.  I can still feel the bass of his music pulsating from the hi-fi, and I vividly remember the dance I did to “When Doves Cry” with my girl cousins that made the boys giggle.  I see us singing along with Prince in every car we have owned over many, many years, while some stared but most rolled down windows to join in.  I see Prince. I see us.”

Prince is the purple silken thread in the rainbow of our life tapestry, helping to meld it together with grace, lyric and memories.

We were blessed to see him perform in concert several times, the last time from floor seats only twelve feet away.  He kept us in awe. We couldn’t wait to see what he would do next.  And whatever he did, we had to have, to touch, to hear, to experience.

In 2009, I started my consulting business in one of our  “empty nester” bedrooms.  Without even consciously making the connection, I painted the walls soft lavender.  Vases, flowers, picture frames; all purple. The first picture I hung on the wall was of Prince sitting on that motorcycle from the movie “Purple Rain.”  When I look up at him, our eyes seem to meet. From his perch above my desk, he has watched me write for the last several years and is my inspiration for remaining an independent writer.

On April 21, 2016, as I sat down to write with the “Price is Right” ding dinging on the TV in the background, the always scary program interruption came on announcing that Prince had died. 

I screamed. 

I screamed again.

And when I finally stopped, my comfort granting muse took me back to my junior high school cafetorium.  Only this time when I left to walk home, the now purple  “Big Rider” was waiting for me with engine running and radio blasting  “Affirmation” in three.

 I could see myself leaning back into the soft leather passenger seat in a car filled with family as we made our way to Reid’s Records, the place where we would first meet our Prince and be anointed by his gift of love and music eternal.

And so as we walk

in the “Purple Rain”

or the April snow,

 for “A Million Days”

and a million more,

we will sing the family Prince.

Copyright © 2016 by Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte


Wednesday, April 20, 2016



“A parable for the times, where an honest collard green becomes exile.

Sad, telling, entertaining…..”

L.B. Oakland, California

Monday, April 4, 2016



Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte

The path of the writer can be a lonely one.  Few become best selling authors or have their stories turned into screenplays that become blockbuster movies. 

You write and you write.  Other authors sign their books that you purchased at the signing with the words ‘keep on writing” even if they have never read a word of your work, and it makes you feel warm and connected anyway. 

Acknowledgment for the writer can be sparse and at times, completely absent.  The love of words and the spinning of the tale keeps many of us going. 

In his 1970’s piece, “Why I Write”, my college creative writing teacher and mentor, John Eckels, shared one of his reasons for writing through the lens of the times:

“I am writing under obligation. Although I feel that I owe a debt of love to each person in the world---partially because of my extreme awareness that we share a common beginning and ending---I do not believe that such brutal agony which now my heart knows and utters would be demanded by any human being alive.  I then, am writing under obligation…to the hope of all things as they converge and form, what I in my impetuous humility about “I”, and what I with deliberate pride whisper “I.”

Inspired (or bedeviled?) by the obligation, I continue… I write on, for when obligation has a man, it has him for life.”

It was through this lens of obligation and hope that I began my writing career. Along the way, I have grown and changed and my writing has done the same.  Some forty years after my graduation from college, I was given the opportunity to look back on those years and write an article for the alumni magazine.  The piece, about my experiences as a woman of color at a prestigious women’s college in the 1970’s, met with mixed reviews.  Those who loved it were touched by it.  Those who hated it seemed to hate me as well for writing it. Except for one email from an alumna who said she was moved by it, the article seemed to have been largely ignored. Or so I thought until today, when this arrived via email (names removed for privacy):

“Hi Sheryl,

I wanted to take a moment to pass along some compliments paid to you by another alumna…She wrote the M Center about getting a copy of her transcript and sent them the following:

"I will be requesting my transcripts because I received a job offer from the University of Wisconsin.

For my in person interview, I was asked to make a speech on "engaging alumni/alumnae to recruit international students." I was given the theme ahead of time, and I had no idea how to approach the subject. One day I happened to start reading my Mills Quarterly from back in the Fall of 2015. (I keep them all!) There was an article on "Pride and Pain; Coming of age as a black woman at Mills" by Sheryl Bize-Boutte. It was about her experiences at Mills, as a member of the entering class of black women in 1969. She wrote a newspaper column, "Sheryl Raps," and the title of one of her columns was "Mills Thrusts White Values on Black Students." She was writing about "what she saw wrong at Mills, and...was given absolute freedom to do so."

Reading this article touched me very deeply. I started thinking about the theme of my speech for the UW interview, and decided to use the "approach" of  how/why alumni/alumnae are inspired to recruit students. In other words, alumni/alumnae must be  truly inspired by their alma maters, obviously, if they are to help recruit. I took Sheryl's article with me to Wisconsin, and read to my audience from her article. I am not a black woman, but I grew up in the South in the '60s and '70s and had friends who had to deal with similar struggles as she. It was so beautifully written.

To summarize: I wanted to thank Mills College as a place that has always encouraged absolute freedom of expression---even when the expression is controversial. I can't tell you how proud I am to be a Mills graduate. And, by the way, I think sharing Sheryl's article with the University of Wisconsin folks contributed to my being selected for the position."

She added in a later message that you are an incredible writer and have touched so many alumnae with your words.

Thank you!”

Back in 1970, Professor Eckels helped me to tune my voice.  He helped me to understand and embrace my obligation.  An obligation that feeds my motivation to keep writing.

 And on a day like today, an obligation that answers the “why” and brings me immeasurable joy.

Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte is the author of “A Dollar Five: Stories From a Baby Boomer’s Ongoing Journey” and “All That and More’s Wedding” both available at and other major booksellers.  Her article “Pride and Pain; Coming of Age as a Black Woman at Mills” can be read at:

copyright ©  2016 by Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte