A Simple Time

The memory, so sharp I can taste it, returns with the muffled yet still loud rumble of the lawnmower outside my window.

In my mind’s eye, the long ago vision is restored. That sense of comfort and ease of a simple time.

It’s the heat of summer. The young girl that I am hears the mower Daddy pushes in the backyard, but my focus is out the front window. Grandma and Grandpa, who never say a cross word, who live their lives in a kind and gentle manner, are making the hour and a half drive to our house.

The lawnmower shuts off and the sliding glass door that leads up to our backyard, opens.

“Carolyn?”

I jump off the bed and make it to the family room where, hours later, the sofa will transform into a bed for my sister and I.

“Time to shuck the corn,” Daddy says.

Mom busies herself in the kitchen while Daddy and I sit on the back porch, my mouth watering at the smell of barbecue coming from the grill next to us. I yank on the husks until they are forever severed from the corn, then throw them in the paper bag. If we are having green beans, I will snap those as well.

And after a day of food and joy, smiles and laughter, all is quiet except for the grandfather clock ticking on the mantle. I lay next to my older sister on the sofa bed knowing my parents and grandparents are just down the hall. The sofa mattress is lumpy, the springs too close to the surface. It is the most comfortable place in the world.

Memories, senses filled with sounds, smells and tastes of, not only summer, but of love and joy and calm.

Cursing the Cursor

The blank canvas doesn’t bother me. Maybe because I’ve left the paints outside and they are too dried up to use.

But the blank sheet of paper – aka – the white blank screen is excruciating. The cursor’s vertical line blinks and screams, “Do something! Poke a key!”

I curse the cursor and tell it to wait a damn minute. “You can’t rush a good thought,” I tell it.

Blink. Blink. Blink.

Two of my novels came to me serendipitously. A dream of an old farmer trying to pull open his screen door, repeatedly unable to enter. The last novel, an image of of man disappearing into an eery thicket as his daughter watches with curiosity.

Blink. Blink. Blink.

Where is that new image, that thought that develops into a story? The one that is supposed to be novel #4? The one with characters who show up at whim for my entertainment and force me to write their words upon a page.

Maybe I shouldn’t be waiting for a character. Maybe I should be waiting for a thing, some object of curiosity. Like a musical instrument (The Red Violin).

Or an element of nature that throws a young girl into a new land. But not a tornado.

In the meantime, I’ll blog and give my cursor a little something to do.

Preparing

Lately, we’ve been conversing more. About when we first met, how he grew to love a tennis ball. Man, that boy of mine could catch a ball 50 feet out and never once made me feel bad when I threw poorly. Tireless, never giving up on the yellow ball, never keeping it out of his sight, wedging it under my butt if I didn’t pick it up when he dropped it at my feet.

We talk about how, in his younger days, he wasn’t a swimmer. Yet he stood on the edge of the pool to catch all the water splashes coming his way.

Cole, my shadow. After 15 years of chasing balls, his four mini-Aussie legs don’t work so well anymore. Now I must carry his thirty pounds up and down the stairs so he can be with me. He’s sad, worried, when I’m not around.

Now, the ball is just another object he has to maneuver around. And digging an imaginary dirt hole in the carpet to rest is no longer an option. Walking out to the grass to do his business seems to take forever (for him, not me).

Palliative care, says the vet. Okay, we can do that.

We talk about that horrible time he had to go to doggy jail for nipping at a UPS man in our driveway. The price he had to pay for protecting me. And no, I had no visitation rights. But after 8 days, we were reunited, kisses and licks abound.

I remind him how I promised to care of him. He agreed that I had. I told him that part of taking care of him meant I wouldn’t let him suffer, but that he has to tell me when life has become too hard. He licked me and said he would.

But, as of now, he eats and drinks. His cataract-ridden eyes glisten and widen when I pull out his turkey treat. His old teeth chomp down on the hard strip until it disappears. He heads for the water bowl.

And when the time comes, I’ll remind him of how he took such good care of him, that he performed his job flawlessly. I’ll tell him he worked hard and deserves to rest. That it will be okay.

Afterward, I will trudge back up the stairs to my office, thirty pounds lighter, yet hundreds of pounds heavier in heart. I will remind myself that I did the right thing. Yet, I know my heart won’t believe me.

But today, we still have each other. As I type, Cole lays beside me snoring softly, his tired legs still. At this moment, there is still time for more hugs and kisses. I will continue to whisper assurances that, when the hard part comes, we’ll be together.

Tech support is no sports bra

Word processing on a Mac shouldn’t be so hard. It didn’t used to be until Mr. WP said, “Nope. I don’t like the way you run.”

So I put on a better sports bra and called Microsoft tech support. “It’s an Apple problem,” they said.

Apple replies, “It’s a Microsoft problem.”

Sometimes, Mr. WP decides to be cooperative and lets my fingers fly across the keyboard without distraction. Other times, just when one of my novel’s character’s decides to say something important, he spins his little colorful circle, and I swear, he watches my face contort through the Mac’s camera as the endless minutes tick by.

Pages works fine … until you have to save it as a WP document. Then all hell breaks loose. Unless, that is, you like staring at the new formatting that might as well be a Rorschach inkblot.

What’s a writer to do?

Just stop with the hacking already

Most of the people I know don’t speak Japanese and I certainly can’t write it. So when you hacked my website, I wonder what you said. Did it benefit you? Did you get a little smirk on your face at the little joke you played on me? Well, let me tell you, I put my armor on, did a little behind the scenes work, and now I’m back swinging on a chandelier. So take that, you slacker hacker!

Lying Tongues

Before the spring carnival, the worst thing that happened to my family was the amputation of Choppers’ leg five years before. Then, after the three of us adapted to one less appendage, drastic change returned to the easy kind. Like cutting my hair into a fashionable bob and wearing shorter dresses. Or Miss Helen coming up with another name for her moonshine and having to glue new labels on all the Mason jars.

Anticipated changes, like spring turning into summer, were rehearsed, old friends. So when the 1928 March page was forever ripped off our Coca-Cola wall calendar, the upcoming months were supposed to be a blueprint of the ones before. I thought I knew what to expect and ignorantly planned accordingly.

I pictured Betty, Mama’s best friend, showing me how to bloom wild and carefree like the Texas bluebonnets and Indian blankets. And, like the wildflowers, Betty would provide our cross timber and prairie land with much-needed color. She would continue to add pizazz to our small town and laugh at the rolling eyes of gossipers.

I believed Mama would drive us to Mineral Wells to picture shows, and Charlene and I to church picnics. While amongst the not-so-holy-rollers, we would place bets on which Methodist would be the first to get ossified on Miss Helen’s moonshine. Then we’d up the ante and guess which upstanding churchgoer would be first to holler at Sheriff Gunny Gibbons to “keep up the good work” — which really meant, “thanks for ignoring prohibition.”

Summer would turn into a heat that bore into our Texas bones like a drill pumping for oil. Except for keeping an eye out for rattlers, the heat wouldn’t stop us. The Brazos River     was at our ready for splashing and squealing longenough to bring our boy talk to a brief halt. And on those warm summer evenings, the fireflies would almost provide us enough light for reading. These were my expectations, easy days when a calamity meant the latest Sears and Roebuck catalog was overdue on its delivery.

I counted on the everyday rhythm of sounds that, so deeply rooted in my marrow, had synced with myheartbeat. Miss Helen’s moonshine distillery thumping and hissing next door. Her son, Scooter, calling out to me, “It’s gonna grow, Emma June,” after he buried one of her kitchen utensils or some other what-not in their yard. Jazz music floating out from our Victor Victrola when Mama played her favorite records. The steady ticking of our grandfather clock. Cricket music soothing me to sleep. The hazy rumbling away of Ol’ Bess as Daddy left for the dairy each morning before the first rooster crowed. All familiar, promising sounds.

But, as I wore naive like the latest fashion, all normalcy came to a grinding halt. The crickets stopped chirping. The clock inside our once-respectable house stood still and silent. Because the snakes didn’t wait for summer to coil at our feet. They came on carnival night, flicked their lying tongues, and took Mama with them.

(Excerpt from Distilling Secrets by Carolyn Dennis-Willingham)

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