Monthly Archives: May 2014

Sea Glass

The sun is up and peeking through my window begging me to come out give him a proper greeting. As I slip out of bed, a warm breeze tugs at my night gown, hurrying me along. I dash downstairs, out the door and climb the dune, stretching my arms out wide, letting the sun warm my skin. Mom calls me to breakfast, so I race the rising sun back down yelling, “I win,” as I reach the door before he is completely over the dunes. My mom smiles and shakes her head as she hands me my raspberries, buttery bagel and milk. I sit out on the upstairs deck watching the pelicans glide over the sea, just barely above the waves.

After breakfast, I snatch my still-damp bathing suit off the line and run to my room to change. I race my brother over the dunes and down to the beach where we spread out a blanket. We sit and wait for the dolphins to come and play in the surf. Finally, they appear, and we watch, barely breathing, while they jump, dive and splash just beyond the breakers. They chatter happily to each other then, with a flip of a tail and splash of a flipper, they say goodbye. My brother goes off to find Billy to play beach volleyball, and I go in search of the perfect piece of seaglass to add to my collection.

When I was little, my mom told me the story of seaglass. Once there was a mermaid who lived deep in the ocean. She was happy there, swimming with the dolphins and chatting with the whales. One day, a dark shape moved across the water above her. She was afraid but also curious. Suddenly, there was a splash and a creature she’d never seen before was swimming on the surface, so she swam up for a closer look. The creature looked a little like her brothers, but instead of a fin, it had two limbs. It was a human boy! She remembered her father’s stories about them. This one was pretty, with long red-gold hair and white skin. She fell instantly in love with him and, when his ship sailed away, she followed. When they arrived back in the harbor where he lived, she swam close to the boat, hoping to get another look at him. She went too close, and he saw her and how beautiful she was and he, too, fell in love. They met every day at the beach and talked to each other. One day, though, the boy didn’t come. Days passed with no sign of him. She risked swimming into the harbor to see if she could find him there. He wasn’t on his boat, but she did hear some fishermen talking about a boy, her boy, who had taken sick and died. She was inconsolable; her tears poured down her face and, as they touched the sea, they turned into smoky drops of glass all the colors of the rainbow; the seaglass was the joy seeping out of her heart. I know it’s just a story but it makes me a little sad for her broken heart.  I think about my family, the people I love most, as I collect the beautiful pieces of glass.

The rays of the sun warm my shoulders as I half walk, half crawl along the sand. Soon my stomach reminds me that its time for lunch. I look down and see that I am standing directly on top of my shadow, which is the sun’s way of telling me my stomach is right. I turn around and hurry back home, but slowly enough to make sure I haven’t missed anything.

After lunch, I curl up in the rope swing on the shady side of the house and read my favorite book for the tenth time. I never get tired of reading about how Sara, a rich girl who became a scullery maid, imagines delicious feasts that magically appear in the attic for her and her friend, Becky! I close my eyes after a while and breathe deeply the salty sea air. I smell the earthy sweetness of the seagrass mixed with the slightly rotten smell of dead fish and crabs washed up on the shore. It’s my favorite smell in the world!

Late afternoon arrives with its deepening colors and quiet as I help mom with dinner, grilled swordfish that dad caught, Yum! We sit around the picnic table and talk about our day. It’s my brother’s turn to do the dishes so I scoot out the screen door before he can try to bribe me to do the for him.

I continue my search for sea glass until dusk turns everything shades of purplish pink, and it’s time to turn back. I meet my family on the beach. We sit and watch ships pass so far out that all we see are tiny blinking lights floating on the water. The stars begin to come out as the soft, dark blue velvet night surrounds us like a well worn blanket. We point out our favorite constellations and tell stories we’ve made up about them. Soon, Mom begins to sing in her creamy, smooth voice and Dad joins in with his strong deep one. I lean my head against my dad’s shoulder, and he pulls me against him, wrapping his arms around me. I’m really too old to be rocked to sleep in my dad’s lap, but I don’t think anyone will laugh. I drift off to sleep surrounded by love and dream of finding the perfect piece of seaglass.

 

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Fun assignments

Here’s another really fun paragraph that is the result of an assignment in my Creative Writing class. The professor gave us a list of opening lines from which we were to choose. We were to complete the sentence then write an opening paragraph to go with it. I chose the line, “I don’t normally dress this way, but…” and the ensuing paragraph is loosely based on the wedding of one Maggie Thrash, one of my many favorite former students, a writer in her own right.

maggieWhite Wedding

I don’t normally dress this way, but it’s Halloween and Maggie is getting married. The venue is out in the country where huge trees shrouded in Spanish moss crowd around an old barn. Its windows emit a flickering glow that comes from the lanterns clinging to its rafters. Many of the guests are decked out in elaborate costumes. There, by the bar, is a beautiful harlequin sporting a costume of red, white and purple with bells hanging from his hat that tinkle cheerfully every time he moves. Standing beside him is a skeleton dressed in a full length black velvet cape, his silver glasses framing empty eye sockets.  A tiny Scooby Doo and a lovely little Alice just darted in front of me; in search of the mysterious Mad Hatter, perhaps? On the dance floor, husband and wife are dancing an Irish jig. Maggie is wrapped in a lacy gown that is layered so that it looks like a mummy’s shroud. It hugs her slim, pale shoulders then falls away like a cloud of dust to the floor. Her death-black lips whisper in her husband’s ear. Nico is handsome in his top hat, pinstripe tails and vampire-white face. His pointed, pearly fangs graze Maggie’s throat. Music from the bagpipes wails like a banshee, oops, there she goes now, tripping over her tattered robe.

 

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Lessie Belle

Here’s a story about my grandmother I wrote as part of an assignment for my Creative Writing course. The assignment was to write a verbal portrait of someone important in my life. Granny is one of the most important people for me!

Lessie Belle

She, of the cloud-white hair and clacking dentures, holds a place near and dear to the hearts of her children and grandchildren. Granny, mother, Lessie Belle, are all names to which she answered. Her short arms are always open wide, ready for a hug. The slightly mischievous smile on her face begs for a conspirator to come play. That invitation in her sun-faded blue eyes is something few can resist.

As a child, she taught me how to make “Granny Candy”. We would spread wax paper on the kitchen table so the mess would be somewhat contained. We separated the egg yolk from the white using the eggshell and mixed the whites with the powdered sugar, much of which ended up dusting our clothes. Then she would let me roll out the dough and spread the peanut butter; that was my favorite part. I loved (and still love) peanut butter. When we rolled it into a log, it was almost done. The candy was chilled and sliced, and she and I would be the first ones to sample the sweet, salty treat. The dough would melt in my mouth like sweet cream and the peanut butter would coat my tongue with delicious gooiness. Nothing in this world tasted better.

Every so often, all four of Granny’s daughters and their families would gather at her house at Christmas time. She would be waiting at the door, asking if we wanted anything to eat. There would be a cornucopia of snacks on the dining room table for us to sample with only a playful warning from her, “Now don’t spoil your dinner. I have enough food for an army.” Granny seemed to be everywhere at once, not an easy feat in a house so full of grown-ups, teenagers, little kids, and babies. She wanted to catch up on all of our lives. When she sat me down to chat, I felt like I was the only person in the room because her eyes never wavered from my face, and she would reach out and touch my hand every so often. She asked about school, my friends whose names she miraculously remembered, my piano lessons, and how I was doing since my dog died. I felt like I could tell her anything. Back then, we would only get to come to Granny’s a few times a year. I always wished that we lived closer.

The greatest gift of my life was going to college in the same town where Granny lived. I would go to her house almost weekly to do laundry or eat dinner or just to talk. She would make me a cup of hot chocolate, and we’d sit in the den where she’d ask what was going on. She had the same intuition that her daughter, my mother, had and seemed always to know when something was bothering me. I would pour my heart out to her about my roommate troubles, the boy I liked who only wanted to have sex with me, and why my dad was such an ass. Her explanation for the first two was simple; my roommate “had bedroom eyes and boys just knew which girls would ‘put out’. You are not one of those girls.” She added, “Someday you will find a nice boy and he will be wonderful and will make you laugh.” My father, she would explain, was a complicated man, but he loved me very much. It took many, many more discussions to convince me of that.

During those years, Granny spent hours patiently teaching me how to crochet, a skill that everyone in her family had benefitted from in the form of a warm afghan in which to wrap up. My skills improved with every project, and it earned me the nickname, Mama Donna at school. I told Granny about that and she said, “Well, there are worse names I’ve heard.” My crocheting is her legacy that I passed on to my dearest friends when they had babies. Each time I would make an afghan, I would hear her voice in my ear encouraging me when I made a mistake and telling me what a good job I was doing. Her love is woven into every stitch.

My trips to Granny’s weren’t always about me. Some days, I would take her shopping at her favorite dress shop down town. She was a short, roundish woman who wore half sizes, back when they made those. She was a 14 ½ petite, to be exact. She’d search the racks for fabrics she liked, and I would get them down and make sure they were her size. The dresses were old-fashioned with tiny pearl buttons or zippers in the front, floral or plaid prints and made from lightweight material because she still had hot flashes. We never left the shop without buying something new, which was a good thing since she never wore anything but dresses, ever. The only time I’ve ever even seen her in a pair of pants was when Gaynelle, her oldest daughter, bought her a pair of sweatpants with a matching sweatshirt. It had a mama duck with “Granny” on it followed by four adorable baby ducks with the names of Gaynelle’s children embroidered on them. We have a picture of that outrageous outfit; had she been a teenager, the camera would have caught her rolling her eyes.

Granny saw all of her girls married and had a special relationship with her grandchildren. She even got to meet a few of her great grandchildren. In 1996, it happened that three of her four daughters were visiting one weekend. I was also there, on my way to finish up classes for my Master’s degree. Granny was 92 and still had her sense of humor, though we could tell that she was just a bit off. She was looking out the windows of the sunroom watching a turtle trundle through the back yard. She would ask, “What is that crawling through the grass?” We would tell her what it was only to have her ask again moments later. There’s a pond in the pasture behind the house and turtles always found their way into the yard. Her not recognizing the plodding creature was disconcerting. I left for school on Sunday; she had an episode with her heart and died a few days later without ever regaining consciousness. I was very thankful that I had just been there and able to give her one last hug. The pastor who spoke at her funeral captured her spirit. We laughed through our tears, as he regaled us with funny stories about her pets, her daughters, and her grandchildren. That is how I like to remember her…laughing with that mischievous glint in her eyes.

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Unpeopled Spaces

Here’s another story I wrote based on a house that sits on the edge of the river near where I live.

riverhouseIt’s quiet here on the shore of this lazy river. I am old, now, so the solitude suits me. Day in and day out, I watch. My eyes look out through cracked and dingy frames, as the tides ebb and flow. My skin is dry and cracking, but I am still here. It’s winter now and the wind whipping the water is bitterly cold. Most days, the sky is gray and forbidding. I like summer the best, when speeding boats tow squealing children on inner tubes and the sun warms my bones right down to these rocks on which I sit. I like watching the fishermen sitting still and I like the pontoon boats puttering by with their raucous passengers raising glasses and bottles for a toast. Sometimes, though, I yearn for someone to come close so I can hear their voices. I miss the chatter of people.

There used to be a family here. Stan was a waterman from a long line of men who lived and breathed river water. Each morning, long before the sun was up, he would go into his children’s rooms. He would give them a kiss and leave a little note scrawled on a scrap of paper next to their beds. He did not say much because he was a reserved sort of man, but he liked to make them smile. “I hope you weather the storm of good friends,” his daughter’s might say. “Be a fisher of pretty girls,” he told his teenaged son. For Marie’s note, he wrote on fine linen paper that his mother gave him for Christmas. “My love, you are the waves that bring me home,” he’d write, blushing even after all these years of marriage. He left it for her in the kitchen where she would find it next to the coffee pot which was ready for her morning cup. Then, he would go down to the dock and take his boat out to check his crab pots and fishing lines. A few hours later, the sun would wake up his family. Eight-year-old Sherry would read her note then with a giggle, put it into her jewelry box with a ballerina on top. Michael would read his, roll his eyes with disdain as only teenagers can do, and then a small smile would appear, and he would fold it up really small and put it in an old Coke bottle with all the others. Marie read hers while she sipped her coffee. She closed her eyes and smiled, as though she had a delicious secret. Later, after the children left for school, she would add it to the ever growing stack in her desk drawer, tied together with purple, satin ribbon. They were so happy here…until they were not.

It happened slowly. At first, there were terse conversations late at night. When the yelling began, it shook the rafters. Sometimes I thought I could hear them over the wind whistling through the rushes, just behind me. They argued about money; the isolation of this riverfront home; Stan’s long absences during fishing season; even the weather could bring on a fresh torrent of angry words. After a while, though, a heavy silence fell around us. The children grew sullen and sad. Sherry would hide in her closet, tears coursing down her once-rosy cheeks. They dropped silently into the floorboards soaking the polished wood with her misery. Michael wore the strain on him like armor, brows drawn together, fists clenched. He got into trouble at school on a weekly basis. Marie’s disappointment turned into liquid rage; the dishes they got as wedding gifts shattered against my walls. Stan seemed to become an old man overnight. Worry added more lines to his sun-wrinkled face. When his sadness brought water to his eye, Marie angrily grumbled that he wept smelly, brown river water. Soon, he stopped writing notes and kissing foreheads on his way out of the door. Then, one gray evening with snow falling silently, Stan came home to an empty house. Each room was scrubbed clean as if to erase all traces of the occupants. All that was left was a stack of letters tied up with purple satin ribbon sitting next to an empty coffee machine, pieces of an old coke bottle and an empty jewelry box with a broken ballerina on top.

Now, alone with only egrets and osprey to keep me company, I wonder how long before I will be taken away by the river; parts of me floating down, under the bridge, over the dam, into the bay and, finally succumbing to the ocean waves. Winter, with its bitter breath and icy fingers, prys its way into my bones. My joints creak and my frame is bowed and weary from standing all these years here on the shore of this lazy river with naught but the wood mites eating what’s left of this old house.

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