Monthly Archives: August 2012

At last… the Sun!

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Finally, the intermittent rain has given  way to glorious sunshine. The natural world is in full song, chant and rasp, and my own spirits have lifted so high that they incline to whimsy. Is it any wonder that I am writing about the many voices that praise the sun?

Old Sol has been venerated by many ancient civilizations. There is the ferocious Aztec sun-god Huizilopotchli, dashing Appolo who swung his fiery chariot over the Aegean Sea, radiant Ra of ancient Egypt, and several sun goddesses including the lovely Amaterasu of Japan. Certainly my own voice has been lifted skyward many times. Once when we were in Florence during the coldest, rainiest spring known to mankind, I was inspired to improve on the famous O Sole Mio by imploring;

Oh, Solo Mio, Where the heck are you? We are so freddo (cold), we’re turning blue!

But human beings are not the only ones to welcome the return of the sun after a prolonged absence. The cicadas, for example, are some of the most vocal praise-givers, and I can imagine what they are shouting now. Now, don’t think that I have completely fallen off the edge of reality. Writers for children do talk about (and to)  the creatures of the natural world, don’t they? So imagine with me that the cicadas, who have been glum and silent during several days of cool, rainy days have suddenly seen the bright rim of the sun poking through the clouds: Wowza! There she is, and about time, too!   Wake up the gang, Myrtle, and tell them to shake an antennae! Now, if everyone can please hit middle C…Yeah, you, too, Aunt Hortensia!

Cicadas in full chorus would wake anything and anyone out of a deep sleep. Thus imagine the crickets, who have morosely packed it in during the last rainstorm, emerging to a bright new (and noisy) dawn. Yoicks! Those blighters think they actually can play music! We need to roust up the chaps and do a little jamming of our own, what? Let’s show the cicadas what a real band can do!

            Birds, not to be undone would already have sent forth peals upon peals of birdsong. Chirps, carols, warbles, trills and coos waft down from the trees. What birds are thinking is simple—Oh, joy!—they cry, as they unfold their multi-layered cantatas.

Truly, we are creatures of the sun, and as much as we long for rain and praise the fall of precious water, we seem to be most drawn to the bright magic of Old Sol. On the Science Channel, lately, I heard that somewhere in the dim reaches of space there is a system of planets revolving around not one but two suns! But since life could scarcely hope to exist under such conditions, I expect that this would be too much of a good thing.

The songs of nature

            Fill the heart with such great joy

            Words are not needed.

Spring Sun

 

           

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The Power Of ‘Perhaps’

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Last week I wrote about a little girl who grieved by the water’s edge because her parents were frolicking in the water while she stayed on the shore, alone. The image still haunts me, and so I have tried—in the only way a writer knows—to imagine her  growing up years.

Her childhood must have been bleak.  How, otherwise, when her parents offered only a cool indifference? I imagined Sybella—my name for her—as a small, slender child who was always dressed well, who was fed well, but whose emotional wellbeing was never served. Did her parents attend her school events? Did she always watch the closed door to the auditorium in hopes that this time they would come to see her dance, or sing, or speak lines in a play? And on her high school graduation day what would happen? Perhaps this:

            While the principal droned off the names of the graduates, Sybella fidgeted in her maroon and gold robe. Her mother had given her the money for the graduation robe, so she had hoped that this time she and Daddy would come to the ceremony.. Now she looked across the rows of faces for her parents knowing that they would not be there after all. Her father’s boss was giving a party for his employees in Ashville—it really was a big deal–so of course he and Mama would have to go. “You don’t mind, do you?” was what her mother had asked and had not even seen her daughter’s disappointment.

Sybella’s stomach twisted into a tighter knot, but she tossed back her head and put on that look of indifference she had perfected through the years. It didn’t matter. No, it didn’t matter. Sybella turned her involuntary sob into a cough….

No, no, no! I don’t like this at all, and I’m going to change the scene. Writers have that option—something that Life sometimes lacks the power to do. So, now, what if Sybella had met, along her way, a caring teacher and… oh, why not?… a best friend with a loving family?

The graduation robe felt uncomfortably warm in the hot June sun, but she didn’t mind for here she was. In a few moments she was going to be called by the principal to receive her diploma. A quick glance across the auditorium showed her that her parents had not changed their minds at the last moment, and why would they? A party at the boss’s house trumped a graduation any day. Sybella’s heart twisted into a familiar knot.

            Still, she’d made it, right? Here she stood with the rest of her lighter hearted classmates, and unlike some of them, she knew where she was going. NCU Chapel Hill and a full scholarship was her reward for years of hitting the books. There would be years of studying… and then a graduate degree in pharmacology. That was her trajectory, that was what Mr. Morganstern had drilled into her head from the moment she had stepped across the threshold of his classroom. ‘Study and succeed, Sybella. You have a brain—it will take you as far as you want to go!” That had been her mantra for four years, and when she saw Mr. M’s bulky form sitting with the other teachers, warmth eased the painful heartknot.

 And… yes, there in the third row were Molly’s parents ,and the irrepressible  twins who were each holding up hand-written cardboard signs. One of them said, ‘Congrats, Molly,’ and the other proclaimed, ‘You GO, Syb!’

            With a mixture of determination and hope Sybella stepped onto the stage and walked towards the rest of her life.

            Now, isn’t that a better story?

If somehow we changed

            One small action, one quick word

            Marvels might ensue.

A Moment By the Sea

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I’m at the beach, lazing on a beach chair with a book loosely held in one hand and sunglasses trained to the undulations of the ocean. I love its smooth rise and fall, the curl of its waves, the fan-shaped spread of its watery hands.

The book I’m reading isn’t very interesting, so I am people watching and constructing small stories in my mind.

Take for instance that young father who is bobbing up and down with his son some distance away. The child is screaming with delight each time they bob up over a wave, but I notice that Dad has his eyes trained toward the deep. Perhaps he is looking for a big wave or… yes! He’s afraid of sharks. And he thinks: I just read about a shark attack somewhere near here. Maybe it was right here on this beach. The waves are darker out there, and a monster might be lurking. The ocean is a treacherous thing. It’s not our element. We have really no business being out here. I’m endangering my son. We have to get out of here!

So much for this poor man. I turn to a skinny teenaged girl in a red swim top and baggy shorts. She’s with her mom and at Mom’s urging is dragging herself toward the ocean. Mom is excited, but I can almost hear the girl’s whine. Why do I have to go in? I don’t want to get wet. Salt everywhere, and then I’ll have to put sunscreen all over again, and it’s a total yuck. Who needs the ocean? It smells bad, and the shells hurt my feet, and if I step on a jellyfish I’ll throw up.

Characters give vastly different personalities to places. And imagined characters give way to plots which circle lazily through my mind. Sometimes a plot touches down, and a story is born. Other times they slide past me and are lost in the ceaseless motion of the sea.

Oh, look, a woman with her young son is standing at surf’s edge. The little boy is pointing at the waves and clapping his hands, loving this huge, blue-green bath tub. He’s not sure he wants to put his feet into the water, but he is brave enough to run to the water’s edge and then scurry back when a wave comes. The lady smiles and takes photographs. Someday, I hear her thinking, he’ll grow up and it won’t be cool to love this place as I do. It’s so serene, so natural. He loves the shells, now… oh, look at him! Perhaps he’ll come to love the ocean, too. At least, I’ll have these photos…

Such a charming scene. But now, a new character arrives, a small, spindly-legged little girl with spiky curls. She wears a two-piece swimsuit which she is tugging uncomfortably, and she keeps looking seaward. At first I think she is watching the swooping pelicans, but then I realize that two people—a man and a woman—are having the time of their life in the swells. The little girl looks at them wistfully then puts a foot into the water. She draws it back. I don’t dare go out there. The waves are so big and scary… I’ll drown. But I want to go out there. I want to. I want to…

The young couple finally tires of their sport and comes back to shore. To my surprise, they are the little girl’s parents. I am indignant. What kind of parents would leave their small child alone on the beach? But I try to withhold judgment and watch as the man bends to talk to the little girl while the mother adjusts her own stylish black bikini. Then, almost reluctantly, Mom gives a hand to the small girl. Dad takes the other hand. They walk into the water, but the little one balks. Oh, no, I’m scared of the waves. If Daddy would carry me… but he drops his daughter’s hand and dives into the water. His wife does the same—and they leave the child standing there!

She takes several steps into the water, looks sea-ward,  calls to them. She tries again and goes up to her knees. Why won’t they turn around? Don’t they know the sea is a scary place? The waves are bigger than I am. Maybe, if I’m brave I can go out to them. Maybe then they’ll play with me… but the couple never look back, and the child walks away from the ocean, her small face puckered and woeful.

I almost go to her, but I hold back. Strangers can’t heal broken hearts or change the fact that this child will most certainly grow up disliking and distrusting the sea. Perhaps she will grow up disliking herself and distrusting everyone.

No, strangers can’t do much but feel… and write. And yes, I think I will write about this small moment by the sea.

            Child by a great sea

            Shadowed by sad memories…

            Ah, the broken heart.

           

“Lorelei”

 

Another Polly, Molly, and Jolly story…

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Many summers ago, I remember telling this story to my grandchildren. Since a few kind souls have asked to have another ‘Polly, Molly, and Jolly” story, perhaps this is as good a time as any to retell:

The Adventure if the Purple Toads
 One fine summer’s day Ben, Kate and Alex were walking in the woods searching for the perfect spot in which to have a picnic.  They couldn’t agree, unfortunately. Whenever Ben found a good spot, the girls didn’t like it.  If the girls suggested a spot, Ben turned up his nose.

The three were getting discouraged when they suddenly turned a corner in the woodland path and… “Wow!” Said Ben.

There in front of them was a flat, mossy rock poised over a brook. Flowers grew like stars around the rock, and a convenient, shady tree grew nearby. The girls, who were hungry by now, agreed. “Let’s eat!” Alex cried.

But no sooner had the three seated themselves when… poof! … they were transported to the middle of… “Dang! Where the heck are we?” Ben demanded.

Nobody could answer this question. It appeared that they were in the middle of the jungle, and yet the grass around them was neatly clipped. It seemed as if they were in the tropics because of the tall palm trees and bamboo that grew around and about, but it was pretty chilly.

“Look!” Kate exclaimed. She pointed to a small thatched cottage that stood not too far away. The cottage was ringed with several stone statues. In between the statues lay a number of pink, green and purple stones. “Let’s go ask the people who live there,” Kate suggested.

Before they could move a big, weasel-like creature went waddling past them. It walked toward the thatched cottage. As it did so, it stepped on one of the purple stones.

“Whoa!” Alex gasped.

The three stared in disbelief. The weasel-like creature had turned to stone!

“It… it stepped on the purple stone,” Kate quavered.

Ben took a few steps closer. “That’s no stone,” he declared. “Those things are toads!”

“Toads?”

“Toads!”

All three looked hard  at each other. “What’s going on?” Kate demanded. “Somebody’s playing a really mean trick on us. That can only mean…”

Ben closed his eyes. “Polly,” he muttered.

“Molly and Jolly,” Alex concluded. “Don’t those guys ever get tired of their dirty tricks?”

Kate was eyeing the toads. “Ben, did you bring the Dictionary?”

Ben shook his head. “No, but I did bring the netbook computer.” He hauled it out of his pants pocket (it was a tight fit) and said, “Computer, what’s going on?”

“Du-de,” drawled the computer, “you are in deep trouble. This is the abode of the purple toads. Ever heard of them? No? Well, they are related to Medusa, you know, the chick with the snakes in her hair that turn people to stone…”

It would have gone on for a while, but Ben interrupted. “Did those creeps, Polly Molly and Jolly bring us here?” The computer beeped an assent. “Why?”

“Du-ude,” sighed the computer. “You’re slow in the noggin today, man. Of course they want to turn you all to stone. Then they can take you to their disgusting garden and use you for target practice or something.”

Ben ground his teeth. Kate rolled her eyes. Alex planted her fists on her hips. “Okay, Dude! How do we get out of here?” she demanded.

“We-el,” the computer mused, “you could…. No, that’s too difficult. Or you might… nah, too dangerous. But maybe you should…” it paused, whirred, clicked, and a sidebar popped up on the screen that said, “Do Not Disturb. Thinking.”

“Oh, terrific,” Kate sighed. “I guess we have to figure out how to get out of here by ourselves.”

Ben had been eyeing the cottage. “Let’s think this through,” he said. “If I know PM&J, they are waiting around somewhere to see if we have turned into stone. The thing to do is to pretend to turn into stone and wait for them.” He frowned. “I didn’t bring any magic with me. Did you?”

“I’m wearing my flying dress,” Kate exclaimed. “I thought it might come in useful on our picnic.” She sighed, thinking of her peanut butter sandwich sitting near the mossy stone. “Alex, did you bring your flying hat?”

Alex shoved a hand into her jeans pocket and pulled out a crumpled object. “Yep.”

“Then we are good to go,” Ben said.  “Now, the computer talked about PURPLE toads but not about pink or green ones. The thing is, we have to be careful not to step on those purple things.”

“How do we know the other ones are safe?” Kate demanded.

For answer, Ben took a small branch and threw it at one of the pink toads. The branch just bounced off. He next threw something that looked like an acorn at one of the green toads. Nothing happened.  He then repeated the experiment with one of the purple toads, and instantly a stone acorn plopped down to the ground.

“Good thinking,” Alex approved. “But we have to be re-al careful. I don’t want to end up in any garden.”

“Especially not in their garden,” Kate muttered.

Carefully the three tiptoed amongst the toads. Once Kate almost stepped on one of the purple toads, but Ben grabbed her arm just in time. Alex was muttering to herself. “Pink is perfect,” she was saying, “green is good, purple is poison!”

When they had advanced a little way toward the cottage, Ben raised a hand. “Okay. Now, pretend to be a stone statue. Freeze!”

Since the three had played this game many times, it was easy to pretend to be a statue. How long they stood motionless is anyone’s guess, but soon enough there was a crackling in the brush around the cottage and slowly, carefully, Polly, Molly and Jolly emerged.

“Ho, ho, HO!~” exclaimed Polly. “We gots them!”

“Yah, yah, yah,” agreed Jolly. Molly said nothing, but his smile was the most disagreeable thing the three had ever seen.

“Let’s get ‘em and take ‘em back home,” Jolly said. He rubbed his nasty looking hands and winked wickedly at his brothers. “Molly, you get the big one. Jolly, you get the one with the long black hair. Me, I will take the small one.”

They advanced carefully toward the three. “Watch where you’re going, Stoopid,” Molly snarled as Jolly nearly trod on a purple toad. “You want to be a statue forever? Good thing for you Polly’s got the anty-dote back in his backpack.”

He reached out to grab at Ben, who said, “Hello! Having a nice day?”

Molly shrieked, took a big step backward. His foot landed on a purple toad. Immediately, Molly turned into a Mollystone.

At the same time  Kate began to sing.

Jolly yelled something that sounded like, “Eee-yikes!” and back stepped onto a purple toad. Instantly, he turned to stone.

Meanwhile, Alex had turned her head and was glaring at Polly, who tumbled over, landing on half a dozen purple toads. He suffered the same fate as his brothers.

“Okay, girls,” Ben called out. Kate immediately began to fly upward. She caught Ben’s right hand. Alex, whose flying hat was already getting her airborne took his left hand. All three then flew up and over the many toads.

Once safely on the other side of the toads, Kate said, “Well, do we?”

“Do we what?” Ben asked innocently.

“You know what! Do we get the antidote and turn them back into—er— humans again?”

“Do we have to?” groaned Alex.

The three stared at the ugly statues. They looked at each other.  “Oh, well,” Ben said at last. “I know they’re creeps and sneaks and bums, but we can’t, you know, leave them like this. Besides they make really horrible statues.”

The girls  sighed, shrugged and went to search for Polly’s back pack. They soon found it under a particularly miserable thorn bush. Inside the backpack was a large brown bottle labeled: “AUNTY-DOTTY.”

“Before we use it, though,” Ben said, “let’s see if the computer has a way of getting us back home.”

“Du-ude,” said the computer cheerfully when asked this question. “It’s simple. All you have to do is put your big toe on a pink toad.”

“You’re sure about that?” Alex demanded. “I don’t want to turn into a mushroom or anything like that.”

The computer assured them that all would be well. Even so, they decided that one of them should put this to the test. “If we do turn into something else, you can use the Antidote,” Ben added.

“I’ll do it,” Kate said, bravely. She walked up to the nearest pink toad and gingerly put a toe on it. POOF! Instantly, Kate disappeared.

“I guess it works,” Alex said. “You go last, Ben. You have to… you know.”

Ben nodded. While Alex was resting her toe on a pink toad, he sprinkled a little of the antidote on each of the stone creatures, saving Polly, Molly, and Jolly for last. Then he, too, touched the pink toad nearest him with his big toe. “This had better work,” he muttered.

POOF!
The girls were already eating their sandwiches on the green, mossy stone by the brook. Ben took a deep breath and walked toward them. I’d better eat up, he thought, before anything else happens. And with PM&J on the loose something was likely to happen at any time!

 

 

 

“Going Up!”

Those Old Rooms

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The article about an old family porch caught my eye on a sultry summer’s evening and enveloped me in a haze of nostalgia. Everything the writer said hit nerve ends and stirred memories.

I think that we all have a special place in our memory for some special place, and that the memory is so vivid that we can feel the very floorboards under your feet. One friend told me that for her it was the basement workshop where her father stored his tools and where she used to sit, hour after hour, watching and talking. “The tools had their own scent,” she said, “and if I think about it, I can smell them now.” Another remembered her grandmother’s kitchen and the taste of the old fashioned pickles Grandma used to make.

For me, there are three rooms, each in a different house. There is my aunt Juliette’s front room where I spent many happy summer afternoons shifting through boxes of her embroidery patterns and investigating her glistening skeins of silk. The room had doors open to the garden and bamboo shades that sighed and shifted with the wind, so that I could sit bathed in dappled sunlight and in the spicy scent of geraniums that grew by the wall. Sometimes we chose patterns and ironed them onto fabric to make cushions or table runners. Othertimes, we simply sat and talked, or listened to birdsong and the rustle of the bamboo shades.

Now I remember

            Sunshine of long summers past

            That I spent with you.

The second of ‘my’ rooms is my Uncle Harry’s dining room. If I close my eyes now I can walk those smooth stones that made a path to the stairs, climb them and push open the door. It is winter and cold outside, and the warmth of the pot-bellied stove in the entryway makes my cheeks tingle. There is a scent of paper white narcissi in pots that Aunt Francine has forced, and the rustle of a book that Harry is reading, and the chink of china from the long wooden table set for tea that calls out “Welcome, welcome, stay and be happy.”

And so I lingered

            And the bleak, winter’s morning

            Became beautiful.

My parent’s house was so familiar while I was growing up that I mever thought of a favorite among the many rooms. It was only when I returned ‘home’ after I had been married and away for many years that I realized where I had spent so much of my time. Now, remembering, I relive that homecoming: how I open the front door, step into the cool hall with its silken screen and arrangement of flowers, then climb the stairs to what used to be my own room. And there it is, untouched by years. I walk through the bedroom to the connecting sun room and see my old desk, my ancient typewriter, the birdcage that holds Dickie, the old lovebird and his mate. My books are still there, and a pile of manuscripts labored over when I was growing up, and poems, and diaries, and packets of letters—all written and read and treasured so earnestly in this small, sunny space. When I look out of the windows, I see the emerald stretch of gardens below, and my mother’s arched trellis with flowers that change with the seasons—wisteria in springtime, and vines of flaming orange flowers in summer. In the near distance glows the blue curve of Osaka Bay.

These rooms are all gone, now, but in my mind they are whole and full of life, and  I can always open doors to a past that will endure as long as memory, and which are as precious as love.

Was it yesterday

            That looking from this window

            I saw flowers bloom?

“Spring”