Writing Toward Home

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Category: Stories (page 1 of 3)

Thirty in Thirty Day 28

Thirty in Thirty Day 28

 

Today I am recalling a special place from my childhood, my grandmother’s kitchen.

 

My Grandmother’s Kitchen

 

My favorite place as a child was Granny’s kitchen on Holly Street in Grove Park, a section of Atlanta. The house where my maternal grandparents lived was a small bungalow built in the 1930’s. It had two bedrooms, one bathroom, a living room, dining room, a breakfast room and that wonderful kitchen.

 

The kitchen was not large, but it is where all of my best memories take place. It had a long yellow formica counter where Granny created  culinary magic turning out pound cakes, biscuits, fried chicken, pies, and more. It was at that counter that I learned how to make apple pie and cornbread dressing just like my grandmother’s. She did not use a recipe or measure for anything she cooked so I spent many hours watching her work. She taught me to go by the smell of the combined ingredients before cooking to know when things were seasoned correctly. Whenever I make apple pie or dressing, I feel Granny’s presence with me as I take a sniff of the mixture.

I also spent many hours at the large white porcelain sink when I was younger. I loved washing dishes at Granny’s sink because she never worried about me breaking anything and she didn’t hover. She would drag up a stool for me to stand on, gird me with an apron tied under my arms and fill a plastic dish pan with soap and water. I would don a pair over large yellow rubber gloves and plunge into the suds. It was more like play than work. When I finished with the dishes, Granny would toss some empty wooden spools into the dish pan so I could blow bubbles through them. I still prefer to wash dishes rather than load and unload a dishwasher. Whenever I have a large load of dishes in the sink to wash I am transported back to that kitchen.

 

Another favorite spot in the kitchen was the drop leaf table that sat in the center.

Granny kept it covered with a white oilskin table-cloth. Even though there was much more room in the dining room or breakfast room on Sunday afternoons most of the family would end up in the kitchen clustered around that table. The leaves would be pulled out and all of the ladder back chairs from the dining and breakfast rooms were dragged up to it. The table would be covered in cups and tea glasses and plates, until my Uncle James lit up his cigar. Then the table was cleared and he would hold court. He would set to work telling stories and drawing and doodling all over the tablecloth with a blue ballpoint pen. He would draw caricatures of politicians and cartoon characters and speech balloons and funny animals as he smoked his stogie and told jokes and spun tall tales. The following Sunday the tablecloth would be miraculously clean and ready for the next installment. I started housekeeping with that drop-leaf table and 10 years later my brother took possession of it when he bought his first house.

Whenever I think of Granny, my mind drifts to that kitchen. It is a touch stone of my childhood memories.

 

What childhood place holds significance for you?

 

 

 

 

Thirty In Thirty Day 24

Thirty in Thirty Day 24    My Storytelling DNA

 

I am a person who spends a great deal of time roaming around in the riotously overgrown fields of my imagination using words as my compass. I have two  large crates of spiral notebooks, legal pads and file folders filled with my scrawled stories, essays, and memories going back over three decades. For all of the years and paper that have been given to this adventure, my publishing successes can be counted on two fingers:  an essay in a small neighborhood paper and an excerpt of a novel in an online magazine.

Question: Why do I keep doing it?

Answer: Because I can’t not do it.

I have been thinking lately about the origin of this compulsion. I need only glance at my family tree to find the answer. First of all, I am a Southerner, which means that storytelling is inborn, imprinted, and ingrained on my psyche.

 

My father was a storyteller. At night he would sit on the edge of my bed and tell my brother and I fairy tales, folk tales  and true ( well,  mostly true) stories from his childhood. We had our favorites that we requested over and over. Mine was a story called “ Bozo the Button Buster” from Rootabaga  Stories by Carl Sandburg.

 

My mother did her storytelling in the car to keep us entertained on errands. She told us “Fractured Fairytales” in which she mixed all of the stories and characters together so that Red Riding Hood might go climbing up Jack’s Beanstalk to look for the Three Little Pigs. We would beg for these silly stories that I am sure she made up on the spot. Mom also made up a song about a little fox who was always going on adventures and taunting someone to try and catch him. This song had endless verses and would have us giggling and singing along on the refrain.

 

The other touchstone location for my storytelling heritage was my grandmother’s kitchen table. Every Sunday afternoon, my mother’s family would gather at Granny’s house. There were usually 20 or more people there all talking, joking, laughing and telling tales. I sat at that table week after week and soaked in the comforting stew of words and stories. Even now, I can recall the timbre of the various voices, the elongated syllables of the drawls honed in the North Georgia mountains, the unique expressions of each raconteur, and the warmth and joy that enveloped me in that cozy environment.

Most of those folks are gone. But the memories, stories, and characters reside within me along with tales of my own. Each of those deserves  to be remembered, celebrated, and shared.

So I keep writing.

Thirty in Thirty Day 22 The Key

Today’s Thirty in Thirty post is the start of what I hope may turn into a short story. So far in my practice of learning to write short fiction, I am creating lots of interesting beginnings. Now I just need to figure out how to go on from there.  I guess it is all part of the process.

The envelope contained a brass key worn smooth by age and use. The wrinkled tag attached to the key contained some indecipherable scribbles in faded, water smeared script. Annie turned the tag over to the other side. The number 8 was scrawled there and nothing else. Annie looked up at the bent, old man standing at her door who had delivered the key. “Why did you bring me this?” she asked.“What is it for?”

The old man shrugged, gave her a thin-lipped smile. “ You are Annie, right?”

At her nod he winked one of his bright blue eyes at her. “You’ll figure it out.” Then he turned and scampered off the porch with more energy than Annie would have credited to him. “But…” she looked back down at the key in her hand. It gave a sort of pulse and got warmer. When she looked back up the man was nowhere in sight.

Annie looked in both directions up the street but the old man was gone. What an odd ting to happen so early on a Monday morning. What could this possibly mean? She frowned and started at the key trying to decide what it might go to. It looked like a house key but it was not quite large enough. Could it be to a trunk or…

 

The whistle of the tea kettle pulled her from her musings. She shoved the key into her jeans’ pocket and dashed to the kitchen as she heard the unmistakable sound of the kettle boiling over on the stove.

 

After wiping up the sputters from the teakettle, Annie took her mug of Earl Grey to her desk in the corner of the kitchen. She retrieved the key from her pocket and placed it in front of her. It was old-fashioned looking like something from a vintage shop. A desk key perhaps? She turned the tag over and considered the number. What was the meaning of the eight?

 

She rotated the tag and gave a gasp. It wasn’t an eight at all. It was the sign for infinity. “Of course,” she said. “ It’s been a long time.”

 

Thirty in Thirty Day 20

Thirty in Thirty  Day 20  “The Silence Rang in My Ears”

Last week I attended the 10th Annual Ashe County ( NC)  Literacy Festival, “On the Same Page.”  Four for days I had the pleasure and privilege of being among fellow writers and book lovers. It was such a treat to be in the company of my “tribe.”  I relished the chance to hear authors read from their work, to participate in workshops, and to hang out with like-minded people who appreciate the joy of the written word.

 

I filled many pages of my ever-present notebook with ideas, quotes, and helpful hints.  In one session a phrase struck a chord so I jotted it down, knowing it would show up somewhere, sometime in a writing session.

 

Today’s prompt is that phrase: “The silence rang in my ears.”

A little piece of fiction ensued.

 

Grant glared at me in the rear view mirror as I unloaded the back of the van. His impatience wrapped around me like a blanket and weighed my arms down. The trays of pansies felt as heavy as the yellow and green bags  of potting soil I had already dragged to the ground. I grabbed the handle of the hatch and slammed as hard as I could.

He gunned the motor and roared up the driveway, not caring that the gravel he scattered was pelting my legs.

It had come to this. We couldn’t even make it through a shopping trip to Lowe’s without fighting. I watched Grant stomp toward the house without a  word or a glance in my direction. The silence rang in my ears.

My thoughts turned to a familiar theme: What if David hadn’t died?

 

I pulled on my gloves and began plucking the care-worn geraniums from the rotting flower box that David had made so many years ago. Every season I feared it would fall apart as I carefully planted new flowers, but it continued to hang on, just like me.

As I teased the pansies from the flat, I recalled an October day seven years ago when I had mistakenly ordered a gross of daffodil bulbs. David had laughed as I counted the bulbs and realized that a gross was a great many more than the forty-eight I had anticipated.

He disappeared into the house and returned with the TV from the office, which he set up on the front porch. He offered to help me plant if I promised to cheer for Georgia against Tennessee. We spent the afternoon watching the game and planting bulbs everywhere.

At half-time David told me to set out the picnic blanket and some drinks while he ran out for hoagies. We had a “tail-gate” party in the front yard, laughing and waving to our uppity neighbors as they drove by advertising their disapproval.

David remarked that he couldn’t wait to see all of our daffodils in the spring.

He was dead before the first one bloomed.

 

I brushed away tears as I heard the crunch of Grant’s feet stalking down the driveway.

He scowled and flicked his wrist in an exaggerated look at his watch.  “Aren’t you going to make some lunch or something? I have a two o’clock tee time.”

Thirty In Thirty Day 17

Thirty In Thirty Day 17

 

 

Once again, the rebel in me rejected the prompt for today provided by storyaday.org. There was nothing wrong with the prompt but it wasn’t the right one for me today. I may use it at another time. I did an internet search of prompts and found one that worked.

 

Prompt: The streets were deserted.

 

Exploring more of my middle grade fantasy by letting my protagonist, Olen, take the stage.

 

Detention again. And ten lashes on my back in front of the whole class. Master Roberts was quite angry that I interrupted his lesson to ask about Before. I didn’t cry out or shed any tears, which I think provoked him to strike me harder on the last few. My back smarted the rest of the day and the other boys steered clear of me at lunch and recess. No one wants to be seen with a boy who breaks the rules so often. I understand. It isn’t safe to question the laws or the Master. It is better this way. At least now that they are avoiding me I get beat up less often.

 

Detention was two hours of reading the Tirren Code of Laws aloud to Master Roberts over and over. I’ve done it so many times already that I have them mostly memorized. But recalling them is not the same as believing them.   After all this time I can keep reading the words and think about something else entirely. Today I thought about the stories Mama told me about the Great Sea. I would like to see that one day, if it even exists anymore.

 

When he finally dismissed me with a stern warning, Master Roberts left quickly and was out of sight by the time I reached the door. As I headed toward home something felt strange. The streets were deserted. There was no one else about. No boys playing tag, no women gathering in wash from the clothes lines, no peddlers with their carts. No one at all. I felt the hair prickle on the back of my neck. Where was everyone? I hurried down the hill toward our cottage with a sense of fear growing in my chest.

 

When I opened the door Mama wasn’t in her chair. The fireplace was empty and cold. I called out, but there was no answer. Then I noticed the note on the table.

 

 

Thirty in Thirty Day 15

Thirty in Thirty Day 15 

The prompt I am using today is the one actually posted for today on storyaday.org. Well, except for one little name change. The prompt is “Trudy hadn’t heard the news.”

 

No Trudy in my stories or on my radar, so Trudy became Reuben. You may wonder who Reuben is. Well, that’s the new name of Josiah, a character I wrote about on Day 4. I realized I had named the parents Mariah and Josiah. Oops! Obviously in a dystopian fantasy, rhyming names like that would cause problems. It makes it sound less serious. So Josiah is now Reuben.

 

I digress. So my prompt for today is “Reuben hadn’t  heard the news.”

 

I am still exploring characters and trying to decide which point-of-view to use. The first 50 or so pages were written in third person limited POV. After taking a break from that project and then picking it back up, I began to toy with the idea of using  first person POV of several characters. Using the Thirty in Thirty to explore that has been quite valuable. The jury is still out on which way it will go.

 

Today I am using third person limited POV for Reuben, just to see where it will take me.

 

 Reuben was glad to be back in Tirren after a long, exhausting trip. It  was not a warm, friendly town or even a comfortable one, but it was home. He would be glad to see Mariah and Olen and to sleep in a warm bed and rest by his own hearth. His wife wasn’t perfect but she was a good woman. He regretted the way he had left two weeks earlier, with him shouting and Mariah crying. And he was sure Olen had overheard from his bed in the loft . Still, both Mariah and Olen needed to be more careful with their words and behavior. It was dangerous to challenge or ignore the laws made by The Council.

As Reuben trudged toward the cottage he noticed that other folks seemed to be turning away from him or looking down rather than returning his greetings. It was odd. Folks were not overly friendly, but usually the Harvesters were given a  receptive welcome when they returned from their trips.  He noticed a few people whispering behind their hands and pointing. What was going on?

When he arrived home the house was empty and cold. No dinner, no fire, no Mariah, no Olen.  That was odd. Mariah rarely left the house. That was one of the things they had argued about before he left. Perhaps she had heeded his pleas and gone to the Market to shop. Maybe Olen was with her or in detention after school again.

Reuben walked around the cottage to see if is wife or son might be in the back garden. There were clothes on the line, but they were stiff as if they had been hanging there for a while. That was unlike Mariah. He looked over the back fence  toward the cemetery to see if she was there, as she often was. He noticed a new gate had been erected at the entrance with one of the Council guards on duty. Mariah wouldn’t be there. She avoided the council and especially their guards who were known to enjoy enforcing the laws a bit too much.

A small spark of panic ignited in Reuben’s chest. Where was his family? He headed toward the town square. There were few people in the streets now as curfew was drawing near.

As he reached the edge of the square Reuben felt a large hand clap on his shoulder. He turned to see Elder Phineas, leader of the Council glaring at him. “Reuben, the Council requests a meeting with you.”

A chill seized his heart. “ What is it? Where are my wife and son? I cannot meet now. I need to find them.”

Elder Phineas sneered and tightened his grip on Reuben’s shoulder. “They’re gone.  Two span ago while all of the upright citizens of Tirren were at the required council meeting. Slipped out of the gates somehow.”

 

Would love feedback  as I decide on which POV to use.  Do you prefer 1st person or 3rd when you read?  Any particular reason? 

 

Thirty In Thirty Day 11

Thirty in Thirty Day 11

As was true yesterday, the prompt from storyaday.org for today was underwhelming and a non-starter for me.  So I went back in their archives and found a prompt from 2016 that I liked much better.

 

(Self_selected ) Prompt for today: Rewrite a fairy tale: modernize it or tell it from a different character’s  Point-of-View, or create  a new ending.

 

Ah, now there’s a prompt I can work with. So, today I have a modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood  from the grandmother’s POV.

 

 

I’ll tell you what, it’s getting so’s a body can’t have any peace these days, You would think at my age I’d finally have earned the right to a quiet weekend without being bothered. I hope that Saturday’s “adventure”  isn’t a sign of things to come.

Retirement is supposed to be a slower pace. Well, if yesterday is any indication, retirement is going to be too much for me.

It’s all the fault of my meddlesome daughter-in-law. Why, she can’t  leave me alone for one minute! She wants to come over here every weekend or send that kid over for me to entertain. It’s not my fault my son’s job keeps him traveling so much.

If Ellen’s  lonely, she only has herself to blame. She’s the one who wanted to “get away from it all” and live way back down in the woods. Thought it would be peaceful and safer for little Rosie. Now neither Ellen or the kid have any friends.

I guess it was my mistake choosing a retirement village that was within walking distance –if you go through the woods. I didn’t know when I moved in that I would have to contend with Ellen’s constant calling, interference and just “dropping by.” I wanted to be close enough for the occasional visit, but it has gotten ridiculous.

Anyway, yesterday was the last straw. After four weekends in a row of entertaining Ellen and Rosie, I decided enough is enough. I wanted to have a quiet day at home so I could dive into the latest Stephen King novel and start on a new sewing project. I was all set to read and later sew while streaming jazz on my laptop.  I even had planned a special lunch for myself home-made pesto over cheese tortellini and  nice glass of chardonnay. Ellen doesn’t approve of eating gluten or drinking alcohol. When she comes for lunch it’s nothing but salads and organic juices.

Now you might be thinking that since I’m retired I could do all of those things during the week, but my schedule is packed. There’s bridge club on Tuesdays, garden club on Wednesdays’, tutoring at the adult education center on Thursdays, and of course keeping the books for the condo association on Mondays and Fridays. Weekends are my respite, unless I have a date.

 I digress.  Suffice it to say I had my day all planned when Ellen called and wanted to go into town and go shopping-again. So I told her I was sick with a cold and I planned to rest. Well, I could tell she was concerned and she agreed that I should stay home.

Little did I know she would get so worked up. Instead of going on shopping and leaving me alone she began baking and making soup for me. At about 12:00 she sent little Rosie through the woods to deliver a basket of chicken soup ( which I detest), watercress sandwiches on gluten-free bread ( ditto), some nasty looking  green juice, plus cold pills and aspirin.

I didn’t know all of this until a bit later. I had taken a break from reading and sewing and was getting ready to practice my yoga via YouTube when I heard a knock on my door.  Through the privacy glass on my  door I could see the distorted image of Rosie in her red coat and hood.( She wears that coat constantly. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t made it for her.) I hurried to grab my bathrobe, flung myself down on the couch and called out in my best feeble voice for her to come in.

Rosie entered and hurried over to me without closing the door. I had just opened my mouth to tell her to close it when a huge hairy-looking creature burst into the room. It looked like a wolf. Rosie screamed. Goodness gracious that girl’s shrieks could pierce concrete.

I jumped up from the couch, grabbed her by the hand and dashed into the bathroom where I flipped the lock. Rosie continued screeching. I reached over and pushed the emergency button. All of the bathrooms at the retirement village have them, You know, in case someone falls or something foolish like that.

The sounds outside the bathroom turned from growling to what sounded like laughter. A muffled voice called out, “ Hey Thelma it’s just me.”

Then the security  people showed up shouting and radios crackling. I opened the door and peeked out. The officers had the wolf cornered and then dragged him outside.

Turns out the “wolf” was one of my son’s weirdo friends from high school.  That fool, Wally,  had gotten himself  a role in a rock video. After the taping he had gotten drunk  and decided to show up in costume and scare me. Wally never did like me. Needless to say the feeling is mutual.  Now he is in jail charged with home invasion.

 


 

 

 

Thirty in Thirty Day 10

Thirty in Thirty Day 10

 

I have been following the prompts from storyaday.org for my Thirty in Thirty challenge. The website says feel free to ignore a prompt when it really doesn’t resonate, so today I am doing so. The prompt was to write without following punctuation and other conventions. So instead I am continuing with my exploration of characters in my middle-grade fantasy.

 

 

Today I am taking the POV of Elder Phineas, the leader of the ruling council in the town of Tirren, the setting for the beginning of my story.

 

My patience is running out. No, that is a falsehood. The truth is it ran out long ago. If Josiah wasn’t the best harvester in the village I would have long ago advised, no forced the council to censure his family. There’s that crazy wife of his, Mariah, who skulks around the cemetery, but otherwise refuses to leave her house. She is not following Decree 35 of the Covenant Laws of Tirren that all adults should contribute to and participate in village life. I have decided that the council needs to pass a law forbidding entry into the cemetery except for funerals. All of this moaning over dead children is not productive. Every family lost children. If they were not strong enough to survive, they would have been a drain on the village. There is no place  for weakness or sentimentality in Tirren.

 

Then there is Josiah’s worthless son, Olen. By all accounts he is a bright lad, but he is not obedient. He daydreams during lessons and questions the teaching of the Masters at school. He has been thrashed and punished frequently for his attitude, but it has not changed anything. He continues to ask about Before and about the outside world. That should’ve been indoctrinated out of him much earlier. I think his mother is undermining the school teachings. Talking about Before is forbidden under Law 10 of the Covenant.

 

So we have reason to charge Mariah on two counts of law breaking. We could banish her. As for that boy, he will be 12 soon. Then he will be answerable as an adult.

 

I think that it is time to take advantage of Josiah’s absence and pay an official visit to Mariah. I will have Master Gregson accompany me. We will make it clear what is at stake. Besides there have been rumors that Mariah is in the possession of forbidden items-books. Yes, I think tonight we will pay call on Mariah and Olen.

Thirty in Thirty Day 4

Thirty in Thirty Day 4

 

Continuing to explore characters from my Work-in-Progress. Today Olen’s father, Josiah gets his turn to speak.

 

Prompt: “ The sunsets were dazzling…”

 

 

This time we were gone for almost two weeks. The harvesting trips take longer and longer as we must travel farther to make our quota. The best part of the trip was seeing the dazzling sunsets. We ventured so far east this time we could actually see the oranges and pinks in the sky. I had not seen one in years. Back home there’s only gloom and mist. I hate leaving Mariah and Olen alone for so long, but what else can I do? I have to make a living somehow. Still, my son and my wife are ill-equipped for the harsh life in Tirren. They are different and Tirren is not kind to different. Mariah thinks I don’t care when I tell her to stop talking about Before, and to get on with the life we have now.  I, too, long for that better, easier life, but it does no good to stay in the past. That time is gone forever and she might as well pull herself together. I haven’t told her yet, but the Elders have already spoken to me about her not participating in village life. The Council’s patience with her “odd ways” is growing thin. They comment about her visiting our children’s graves so much. She thinks that has gone unnoticed, but she is wrong. Every family has lost children and loved ones, but Mariah cannot let go. Those children are better off, anyway. I know she misses our old life. I do, too. I was a craftsman, a wood-carver. She was an artist. We enjoyed a happy life filled with books, music, and creative pursuits. But now life is about survival. And in Tirren survival means fitting in and getting along. She has filled Olen’s mind with her wishes and dreams and that, too ,is bringing trouble. He is a target for punishment at school and attacks from the other boys. He does not confide in me but I see the bruises and cuts. Olen asks questions during school lessons rather than parroting back the answers as expected. In a way I am proud of his independent thinking but it is dangerous. I worry that I will lose my job because of my wife and son. I think it is only because of my skill as a harvester that the Elders have not called them to judgment already. There has already been a threat to cut our rations. When I get home tonight I am going to have to be more firm. My other fear is that any unwanted attention may cause them to search our house. What if they find the books?

Thirty in Thirty Day 2

Thirty in Thirty Day 2

 

I am using the prompts from 30 in 30 as a way to get to know some of the characters in one of my Works-in-Progress, a middle grade dystopian fantasy. I started it in a free-writing circle group using a prompt 2 years ago. I have worked on it as other prompts in the writing group suggested a scene. What I have are a lot of scenes and not much else. I need to know more about the characters that have shown up in the timed writing exercises.

 

Prompt: “The problem with going through life one day at a time each on order…”

 

Yesterday I let Olen have the stage. Today his mother, Mariah gets her turn.

The problem with going through life one day at a time, each in order is that as far as I can see down the dim corridor of the future, there is nothing but bleak sameness to look forward to. Each day I stay shut inside this dreary hut, hiding from the prying eyes of the village, knitting or tending the fire, or boiling the clothes. The only break in the monotony is market day. Oh no, I don’t go to the market , I send Olen. Poor Olen. I know he is tormented by the other boys about doing women’s work, but I cannot bear the looks, sneers, and hissing whispers from the women. No, on market day I go to the cemetery to visit my other children. While everyone else is in the shops I can slip off through the side streets without being noticed. I go talk to Bryan, Cecilia, Althea and Anna. I tend their graves and tell them how much I miss them. I also tell them how lucky they are. Yes, lucky. It’s the ones of us who remain who are the unfortunate ones. This life is no life at all. It is hard, dark, and uncertain. If my dear ones had remained, I would have watched as their innocent laughter and sparkling eyes turned to grim resignation and tears, just as I have watched it happen in Olen. He is a good boy, but he does not fit into the village any more than I do. We are dreamers, he and I. Tirren is no place for dreamers. It crushes dreams and hopes into dust. It has ground me down to almost nothing. I think of leaving. When I am in the cemetery, I watch the comings and goings out of the gate nearby. Only men, the Elders and the Sky Harvesters, are permitted to leave. I observe and plot ways to escape. The men say it is unsafe and unpleasant in the Outside, outside the gates. I cannot think it could be much worse than inside. It would not trouble me much to leave Josiah. He is so busy with his work and away for longer and longer periods of time as the harvesting becomes more difficult. He has no patience with me anymore. He tells me to stop hiding at home and get out. He doesn’t understand. He used to though. It would be hard to leave Olen. But, it might make life easier on him to not be the boy with the crazy mother. He is tough, a survivor. And he is smart. I think it might be time to show him my books.

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