I Think That I Shall Never See…

HBSmithPhotography

HBSmithPhotography

Trees are beautiful and majestic. I remember the pine tree on the back corner of our yard at the house in Ellet. There weren’t many limbs that were good for climbing, they were too close, too thin, and too gooey with pine tar, but we still managed to hoist ourselves up through the tightly spaced branches to reach a height that made the adults look up with concern. Don’t go too high was always the admonition. It never felt that high. We climbed under the illusion of childhood invincibility, a trait we didn’t even know we possessed.

That old pine was the only real tree on our property in suburban Akron. I say real because it was years before my father planted a Sunburst Honey Locust in the front yard at my mother’s request. The locust tree was so delicate and frilly, nothing like the ancient sentinel in the backyard. We would never climb Sunny. That was the name we gave to the tree.

The last time I drove past our former home, Sunny stood head and shoulders above the little white Cape Cod where I spent my grade school years. I don’t know if the pine was still there. I drove slowly past the house but didn’t linger long enough to make anyone suspicious. I really need to see if the pine still stands. As tightly packed as the cookie cutter houses were placed, removing the pine would be a precarious job best left to the professionals. Until that sad day, I hope many more small hands grasp the gritty branches, hauling little bodies skyward, as the camphorous odor of pine sap assaults little noses.

When Did I Blink?

When Did I BlinkI’m going to conceal the identity of the boy behind the mask because he would be mortified if any of his friends knew this picture existed and found out that he still plays with Legos. However, I’m also going to leave a large clue that this is the only man-child living with me at the moment. Well, there is my husband, William, but I digress.

I’ve been working on blog posts today, and while I’ve tried to remain focused on what I’m doing, my teenager has ensured that I have several moments of hilarious distraction. Take, for instance, the moment when I’m so intent on the writing goal before me that I fail to notice the presence standing beside me to my right and within my peripheral vision. Who knows how long he has been there, perfectly still, barely breathing, until I see him and bust up laughing.

This time, he’s wearing his Lego version of some futuristic military mask that looks a lot like General Grievous and holds a Lego version of a Kriss Vector. I grab my cell to take a picture and shake my head at his goofiness, but I’m also impressed with the accuracy with which he has built his latest weapon. It’s incredibly detailed in size and appearance except for the rainbow-colored exterior courtesy of Lego.

A little later, he startles me again from the left and just behind where I’m sitting when I hear a scratching tap on the window screen and turn to see Jason from the Halloween movies. Another picture and another round of “Joshua, you little snipe, I’m trying to get some work done!” Which I am, but I’m not so busy that I can’t laugh until my eyes water, snap a photo, and write a blog post.

When Did I Blink 2

All in all, his antics make for a really good day because just a little earlier, he’d been grumping and grousing about helping his father with yardwork. There are still moments during these teen years when he accuses us of plotting ways torture him and ruin his life (I’m laughing even as I’m typing this), but lately, we’ve been in a good place.

I once wished he could stay little forever and another time that he could at least remain young. When he hit thirteen, I wished he was twenty-five and living on his own. Yes, raising a child has its ups and downs as any good parent knows. I’m again starting to wish that I could hit the pause button on his life as I watch him shoot up in height and grow hair on his legs! (More mortification via Mom right there.) I don’t remember blinking that day at the hospital when they placed the red-faced baby with a headful of long, dark hair in my arms, but apparently, I did.

Gold Plated

The following short story was based on the visual writing prompt of the swamp.  While everyone in my writing circle wrote lovely stories, mostly fantasy, that would delight readers of any genre, I took one look at the picture and decided upon a different tale.  I’ll withhold my comments on why I wrote what I did until after you’ve read this piece.  I want your unbiased opinion toward the story, so please be sure to leave feedback in the comments section.


Golden Swamp

Gold Plated

Zach stomped into the clearing and threw his book bag on the ground with all the force he could muster. He proceeded to kick it hard, heedless of the laptop inside. Two more kicks landed the black canvas satchel on the edge of the marsh.

Frickin’ parents,” he screamed, straining his chest with the force.  It was the closest his upbringing would allow him to swearing.

He collapsed on the damp leaves, his legs crossed awkwardly beneath him, the sound of blood rushing in his ears, and sat perfectly still until his heart stopped racing and his ragged breathing slowed.

Feelings of self-pity began to sting Zach’s eyes, but he refused to indulge in tears. Instead, he stood to retrieve his book bag from the water. Soggy homework, folders, and the papers he had stolen that morning from his father’s desk were removed and littered across the forest floor. He inspected his laptop for damage. Moisture hadn’t seeped into the computer case which had been shielded between his algebra and chemistry books. The books had not fared so well; water leached an inch into the pages, darkening the edges all around.

“Whatever,” he mumbled, stuffing the laptop and ruined books back into the bag.

Zach slung the bag over his shoulder and took several deep breaths. For the first time, he observed his surroundings. The beauty of the golden foliage sickened him.

“Looks like freakin’ King Midas has been here. Too bad it’s so wet. This place would look great going up in flames.”

His mouth curled upward in a lopsided sneer, and his fingers caressed the lighter in his pocket.

The blaze would have been spectacular. Even though there wouldn’t be any witnesses, these events had a way of producing detailed accounts. People would be enraged when their forest succumbed to destruction at the hands of an unknown arsonist. They would swear they had seen the culprit and go so far as to describe him. Ripped jeans, a dark hoodie, both arms tatted up, and multiple piercings would be just a few of the descriptors they used when speaking with the local media about the tragedy. They would mention the exact brand of designer sneakers worn when the vandalism took place. Someone would inevitably mention that drugs were involved…probably.

The worst liars would make subtle remarks that cast aspersions on the perpetrator’s possible ethnicity.

Zach sighed, his anger spent. He brushed leaf litter from the front of his school blazer and swiped the sides of his mud-crusted dress shoes in a patch of grass. Then he pulled his iPhone from his pocket to check the time. He still had an hour before he had to meet Kevin at the library to study for the AP Chemistry test.

One more deep breath enabled him to set out for home where his parents, oblivious to his delayed arrival, would be absorbed in their own pursuits. The scent of decaying leaves reminded him of a smell somewhere between the cherry tobacco in his father’s pipe and his mother’s compost heap. A small flame of resentment flared in his heart, but Zach refused to let it take hold.

“Let ‘em divorce,” he said. “See if I care.”

Simply Walking

Blue-white diamond sunlight filters through the meager canopy of branches. Wet leaves dampen the sound of Rachel’s footfalls and cling to her bare feet. Her arms embrace each other, hands rubbing away her shivers and prickled flesh. The salt trails of her tears dry on her face leaving her skin taut.

5077bd7e-718c-42b8-b79a-0092083d321eStars littered the sky when she walked away from the house full of grief-stricken people; so many family members and friends sitting shiva for her parents. Her little brother, Bartholomew, huddled in an overstuffed armchair in the corner of her grandparents’ living room. His wide eyes searched the room for the hugs and kisses that never came. Eventually, he fell asleep.

The forest stands in stark contrast to the house she left. In the stillness of the woods she can hear her own heartbeat, her own breathing, and the rhythmic sounds soothe her. If she had brought Bartholomew, he would have peppered her with the endless questions of a five year-old. “Are Mom and Dad in Heaven? Who will we live with? What color was the truck that hit them? Was our car wrecked? Why aren’t you wearing any shoes, Rachel?”

And like she has done for the past five days since her parents were killed en route to the pediatrics conference in Florida, she would say, “Yes, Bartholomew, they are in Heaven. We will stay with Nana and Papa. It wasn’t a truck; it was an RV. We’ll get a new car in two years when I’m old enough to drive.”

As for the last question, she would have encouraged him to remove his socks and dress shoes, to feel the cool earth beneath his tender feet if only to distract him from his sadness. But he isn’t with her, and her sorrow hangs heavy in the dewy morning air.

Literacy and Democracy

Reading and writing, like everything else, improve with practice. And, of course, if there are no young readers and writers, there will shortly be no older ones. Literacy will be dead, and democracy—which many believe goes hand in hand with it—will be dead as well. ~Margaret Atwood

Since I began working at the library, I have seen a decline in the quality of books for children and teenagers.  I have even witnessed a decline in the value of those being read by adults, and it shocks me.  There is very little worth in the written word lately.

My concern is that authors aren’t putting out their best work for the sake of their readers.  I find it hard to believe that some writers are actually proud of what they are producing.  Rather, it seems as if turning a quick buck is the goal.  Again, this is cause for concern.

As a writer, I lay this burden at my own feet first.  My goal is to write a book that will engage my potential audience.  I dream about my novel becoming a classic, but, at the very least, I want to give readers something to chew on mentally.  Even if I create a book that’s just a good story, I work to make sure it’s well written.

What we feed our minds is as important as what we feed our bodies.  I’ll admit that I love a good dessert as much as the next person.  However, even desserts come in varying degrees of quality.  Then again, so does much of what we eat to sustain ourselves.  What I mean is, a diet of garbage from fast food restaurants isn’t going to provide what our bodies need.  I could probably live a better life eating my mother’s homemade desserts all the time, not that I would.

The same is true with what we choose to read.  I can’t fill my mind with endless garbage and expect to increase my knowledge and/or awareness of the world around me.  Too much cotton candy for the brain will render me useless.  I’ll die without anything of value to read.  This is the point where someone will want to debate who assigns value to what is being written and read.

But just for a moment, let’s be logical.  A steady stream of unintelligent reading is harmful.  Like cotton candy, it’s fun for the moment, but it won’t sustain you.  Train your brain to crave the weightier reads the way you teach your body to desire healthy food.  I promise you, there are no negative side effects to nourishing your mind.

As for the link to democracy, even if someone lies to you about a situation, you will know better because you took the time to read and find out.  You will not be led around by the nose.  You’ll be mentally strong enough to meet their attempted deception head on.  You will understand what is being said to you.  What’s more, you’ll be prepared to fight back.

So I implore you:  seek out quality reading.  Treasure it and share it with the upcoming generations.  Write the very best you have to offer.  By providing worthy literature, poetry, screenplays, etc., you will leave a foundation for the youth.  In return, they will know how to take care of you in your golden years as well as prepare for the generation coming up under them.

Collie Mercer’s Cornbread

Buttermilk Cornbread Ingredients

Buttermilk Cornbread Ingredients

There are probably as many recipes for cornbread as there are people. Well, at least as many as there are people in the southern part of North America. I chose the following recipe because it was the one I had in mind when I wrote my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles.

The year is 1907. For the three oldest Welles children, Stanley, James, and Eunice, December will hold an extra surprise this year. They will receive an early Christmas presents in the form of a new baby brother. Each has an opinion on whether or not another sibling is a good thing for their family.

After the three children get a peek at their baby brother, the midwife, Collie Mercer, sends them off to do their chores. Collie is a brusque, but kind woman, who makes sure the children have food in their stomachs before heading out into the cold. She directs them to cornbread and buttermilk on the kitchen table with the promise of a real breakfast once they return from the barn.

I love this recipe because it is rich and moist. Usually, I serve it with butter and honey, but the recipe is also good with the inclusion of herbs or spices, cheese, green onions or chiles; whatever you choose to add to make it your own. It is great crumbled up in chili, soaking up the broth from brown beans, or toasted and served with apple butter.

Enjoy!

Served With Butter & Honey

Served With Butter & Honey

Collie Mercer’s Cornbread

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 cup cornmeal

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar (I use raw)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Cooking Spray

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly grease an 8-inch baking dish.

In a large bowl, mix together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs, buttermilk, and butter.

Pour the buttermilk mixture into the cornmeal mixture and fold together until there are no dry spots (the batter will still be lumpy). Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish.

Bake until the top is golden brown and tester inserted into the middle of the corn bread comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the cornbread from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes before serving.

The Three Baers

Stacey Baer closed the door of the cab as a sheet of rain slammed the side of the vehicle. Victory over the weather cheered her considerably until she saw the congested roads ahead. She groaned and opened her brief case removing a small laptop. The long trip home would be well spent marking portions of the deposition she took today. As she worked, her cell phone rang.

“Baer,” she answered.

“Stacey, it’s Doug.”

“So help me God, if you cancel on me—”

“Babe, this dinner is just as important to me as it is to you.”

“Obviously not, Douglas.”

“I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

He hung up without waiting for her reply, trusting that she would give him another chance. Whether or not she forgave him wasn’t his concern.

Stacey tried not to obsess about being stood up again. Instead, she turned her thoughts to dinner and the fact that nothing had been defrosted. Perhaps there was still a carton of Chinese in the fridge. Forty-five minutes later, she unlocked the door to her apartment and walked into the smell of cooking.

“Mom?” she called.

“In here, honey,” Golda Baer replied.

Stacey found her mother in the kitchen pulling a roast chicken from the oven. A platter of latkes and bowl of warm applesauce had been placed in the middle of the table.

“Grab some plates and pour the wine,” Golda said.

“Mom, what are you doing?”

“Making dinner, what does it look like?”

“Doug and I made reservations at Piatto.”

“Well, he called and cancelled your dinner plans.”

“Did you listen to my messages again?”

“No, I answered the phone when he called. Now sit down and let’s eat.”

Stacey slammed her briefcase and purse on the countertop. “Mom, I love you, but you cannot keep making these intrusions into my life. I gave you a key to my apartment for emergencies.”

“This is an emergency. I’m trying to feed my unmarried daughter who always eats alone, and when she does eat, it’s takeout.”

“Yes, well, I really just want you to leave,” Stacey said. “Mom, did you hear me? Please put down the chicken and go.”

“I don’t understand this. I just want to have dinner with my daughter.”

“You don’t respect me or my choices, so… ”

“What? You choose to be single and take every meal by yourself? That’s not healthy. I’m being kicked out because you chose a putz for a boyfriend?”

Stacey walked to the door and opened it. She couldn’t look at her mother when Golda passed.

– – – – –

Theo Baer tapped decorative finish nails into the chair he was reupholstering. He heard the door to his workshop open and his mother call out Hello.

“Over here, Ma,” he said with nails held between his lips.

“Theo, what on earth are you doing?” Golda asked.

“Finishing this chair, what does it look like?”

Golda harrumphed. “That old thing? I thought it had been thrown on the trash heap years ago.”

“Do you remember the chair?”

“Of course I remember it. How could I forget the chair your father died in?”

“Yes, well, I thought you would remember it as the chair he spent so much time in while he was alive,” Theo said.

“I remember he watched endless baseball in that chair while I raised you kids.”

“And he read bedtime stories to me and the girls every night,” Theo offered weakly. “I wanted to surprise you by fixing it up.”

“Oh, you surprised me all right.  Surprised me by leaving a perfectly good job as a stock broker to become a carpenter. I should have named you after he whose name shall not be mentioned. How do you expect to support your family playing at this?” Golda gestured to Theo’s saw-dusted covered clothes. “Besides, that fabric is the wrong color.”

“What do you mean? I took a swatch of the old fabric with me to choose. It is twenty years old. I did the best I could.”

Golda waved her hands to dismiss her son’s comment. “That’s not the point. Green was never the right color for that chair to begin with. You should have asked me and I could have told you blue would have been a much better choice.”

“Well, I‘m asking you now, Ma, to please—just leave.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“What wrong? Ma, I can’t take your constant criticism anymore. Or your disappointment. Nancy totally supports my decision to take over Dad’s furniture business.”

“Nancy gave up grad school to open a flower shop,” Golda said.

“Please, Ma, make sure the door latches on the way out.”

– – – – –

Gwen Baer was exhausted after a night of grading test papers. She turned back the covers and was about to slip into bed when she heard the doorbell ringing insistently. With a groan, she dragged herself downstairs to the front door.

“Momma, what are you doing here at this hour of the night?”

Golda brushed past her youngest daughter and looked around. “Are you alone?”

“Of course I am. Who did you expect to find here?”

“Well certainly not your husband.”

“Ex-husband, Momma. Rick is my ex now,” Gwen sighed.

“You didn’t waste any time relegating him to that role, now did you?”

“What did you expect? We are divorced.”

“Never mind. I came by to make sure you made it home okay.”

“You can see that I did.”

“This neighborhood isn’t so good, Gwenie.”

“Momma, we’ve been over this several times. I couldn’t afford the house I shared with Rick after the divorce.”

“But you can afford to go out every night?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’ve been getting reports at temple that you’ve been burning the midnight oil and not coming home. They tell me you’ve been sleeping around.” Golda whispered the last two words.

Gwen laughed. “So a few old biddies at temple have been gossiping about me? What do I care?”

“You should care about your reputation, little girl. Come home once in a while and sleep in your own bed.”

“Good grief, Momma, you make me sound like a slut.”

Golda shrugged and whined an I don’t know in her throat.

“I’m just saying that a fast girl won’t be looked at twice by a suitable man. You do want a husband, don’t you?”

“No, Momma. I just got rid of a husband who cheated on me all six years of our marriage. Being a good girl didn’t save our relationship,” Gwen said.

“That’s no reason to go sleeping with so many other men.”

“Who said I was? No, forget it. I don’t want to know.”

“And why is your nightgown so short? Who are you trying to catch, Gwenie?”

Gwen grasped handfuls of her hair and screamed through clenched teeth. “That’s it, Momma, you have to go. Now, please.”

“Is someone upstairs, honey?”

“No. I just need you to go and take your judgmental condemnation with you.”

Gwen stormed back upstairs without waiting to make sure her mother had left.

– – – – –

Golda sat on the subway alone, her handbag clutched on her lap. She crunched a peppermint, and then searched her purse for a comb to rake through her hair.

Two teenage boys shared the car with her. Their pants were low on their hips exposing plaid boxers, their expensive sneakers unlaced. Every other word out of their mouth was a swear word.

“Hey—quit that cussing,” Golda snapped.

“Mind your own business, old woman.”

“I tried to mind it, but they didn’t want to hear what I had to say.”

She rambled on and on about her unappreciative children until the boys became annoyed. They shook their heads at the crazy old lady talking to herself. She was such an easy target sitting on the seat alone, not paying attention. They mugged her for four dollars and a gold Timex watch.

As Golda sat in the now empty subway car, stunned and bruised from being roughed up, she wondered what the hell was wrong with kids these days. Their parents ought to be ashamed at the way they disrespected their elders. Why Golda herself would have died if her own three children had ever behaved in such a fashion.

She pulled her cellphone from her inner coat pocket. Little monsters didn’t think to check there, she thought. Stacey’s number was dialed first, and then Theo and Gwen were conferenced in.

“I’m making brisket and honey cake for dinner on Friday. Be there at 5:30 on the dot.”

Three voices chorused Yes, Mom, and then she hung up.

“They’re good kids,” Golda said to her own reflection across the aisle. “They just need some direction.”

%d bloggers like this: