Fiction Friday: Novelines from the Book

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Christmas had come and gone, and the New Millennium had begun.  At Maxwell Manor, burgundies, navy blues, and hunter greens had been replaced with shades of cream, ecru, and chartreuse.  Modern art had been replaced with several of Greg Olsen’s paintings, and the place began to more resemble a Mormon temple than a museum.

“Though the husband is the head of the home,” the elders of the Church had often said, “the wife is the heart.”

It was my house, too, even though I was old enough to move out , but Mother was changing everything.  The house on Harrington Court was mine now, but I would always have a place at Maxwell Manor—a room in one of David’s many mansions, and the one room, besides David’s study, that Mother would not touch.  Did that make it a shrine unto myself?

I would keep the house at Harrington Court as one would a museum, for Mother had changed nothing in it since the Mormons had come, flooding our house with their holy water and setting fire to our lives as we had known them.

He told me that I’d become as she once was, even as he believed who Mother was now, she would always be. She would never change her mind about the Church, for the Church had changed her.  

Mother had put off the natural woman to put on the spiritual, for in her eyes, the two entities could not coexist, for one would always rule over the other.  It was perhaps the first time in my life I acknowledged with defeat that a Force greater than the influences of those who loved her, led my mother now. As she drew closer to God, she withdrew from us, even as David and I grew closer than ever.  A part of me still feared losing him, if he completely lost Mother.

David thanked God for my will that I would never allow the Church to change me.  I had never heard David thank God for anything before, save that night in the hospital, and I wondered, if, in his own way, he was changing, too.

Sweet Little Nothings

If you are reading this you are beautiful and worth it chocolate

Meg Trundy was a sofa-sitting,
truffle-eating,
binge-watching pile of marshmallow fluff.
When the TV got crushed by a giant meteor
in the shape of a hard-to-find size 10 shoe,
she went to the library to change her lifestyle,
only to end up changing her life.

A Memoir of Mother Goose

All I ever really needed to know, I learned long before kindergarten, from the adults who loved me.

Mother Goose was my first exposure to literature. I grew up with my dad reading it to me, and now I read it to my child. I’ve found that having a child is not like reliving my childhood, but enjoying, in a different way, the things I once did.

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My dad, when I was a little girl.

For more than twenty years, I didn’t swing on a swing (just in porch swings, like my grandparents) or jumped on a trampoline. While my daughter colors with crayons or plays with Play-Doh—smells that bring back memories of burnt sienna and purple meatballs—I am not brought back, but rather, the past is brought to me.

That rhyme about the old woman in the shoe, who had so many children she didn’t know what to do? I remember the mother kissing them all sweetly and sending them to bed, not “whipping them all soundly,” as I have since discovered was the original rhyme. The children were also going to bed hungry, with nothing but broth and no bread to soak it up.

I grew up on Disney and its sanitization of fairy tales.

In that way, I had a magical childhood, and that is what I strive to give to my daughter. There is time enough for her to learn the not-so-good things that exist in our fallen world.

Childhood is precious and fleeting, for when else do we get to be kids, to believe in Santa Claus and friendly animals and always-happy endings?

Whenever my dad read me “Little Boy Blue,” before he would get to the part about the boy crying (if awakened), I would beg him not to finish it. When you’re a kid, you never cry because you’re happy—that’s what laughter is for.

Now I can understand why “Little Boy Blue” would cry if someone woke him up, as I feel like crying when my alarm goes off in the morning.

Rub-a-dub-dub,
Three men in a tub,
And who do you think they be?
The butcher, the baker,
The candlestick maker,
They all jumped out of a rotten potato.
Turn ‘em out, knaves all three.

When I was a “sack of potatoes,” as my dad called me, my uncle Bill would run me through the rhyme above, just to hear me say, after the first line, “Three foul balls in a tub.”

I’m sure he taught me that.

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My uncle, as I knew him when I was a child.

This was the same guy, after all, who said there was a certain hair in your nose that was connected to your brain, which would kill you if you pulled it.

I think we do things for our parents because we want to please them, but in the case of my uncle, I think I liked the laughs.

Perhaps, even then, a funny seed was planted, and a funny bone was developed.

I just wouldn’t know it was there until many years later.

Hearts, like doors, will open with ease
To very, very little keys.
And don’t forget that two of these
Are “I thank you” and “if you please.”

Every summer, from ages nine to thirteen, I spent my summer vacations in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, with my grandma and grandpa.

My Grandma Booker, a mother of two boys, always told me roughhousing was for outside and to chew with your mouth closed. She showed me the only palatable way to eat peanut butter, which was drizzled (or, in my case, drenched) with Karo syrup. She taught me that a word was only a curse if God was in front of it, which I didn’t really understand, because my parents never used the Lord’s name in vain.

Grandma and Jacques

My grandma, as I knew her when I was a child, with their dog, Jacques.

Even though she also said drinking coffee would turn your feet black, and if you swallowed a watermelon seed, melons would grow out of your ears, she still possessed plenty of wisdom. Even though I wouldn’t understand everything I heard until adulthood, I did understand when she said the three most important phrases were “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome.”

It is from your elders that you learn your manners, which are the earliest form of soft skills.

When I was a nanny in Sidney, Montana, I was chastised for calling my boss “sir,” and he said something like, “I know in the South, you do all that sir and ma’am business, but we don’t do that around here.” That was the first time I had ever been criticized for my manners.

Since I was not comfortable calling him by his first name (even Alice called Mike and Carol Mr. and Mrs. Brady, and she was practically part of the family), I just didn’t call him anything.

Now, when someone calls me ma’am, like the math tutor who is technically young enough to be my son, it makes me feel old, but I don’t ask him not to call me that, because it is a sign of respect—just like holding the door open for people, regardless of gender, is having manners.

The two signs my daughter knows more than any other is “Thank you” and “Please.” (“You’re welcome” in American Sign Language is the same as “thank you.”) I still remind her to mind her manners.

A wise old owl sat in an oak,
The more he heard, the less he spoke;
The less he spoke, the more he heard.
Why aren’t we all like that wise old bird?

In high school, I was the Bashful Dwarf, but one of my fondest memories was during my sophomore year. I had a such huge crush on an Environmental Science teacher—a man who looked like a Ken doll (except heterosexual)—that I chose a zero over getting up in front of class. Public speaking always made me break out in hives.

That said, it was all worth it not to look like a fool in front of Mr. Bauer, for whom I would’ve learned to become a botanist.

High school graduation night at Mr. Manatee's

Me, May 1999, at my high school graduation celebratory dinner at Mr. Manatee’s restaurant, which is gone now.

Years later, I would learn it’s the smart people that listened more than they spoke. Maybe that was why the other kids always assumed I was the brilliant one.

Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater,
Had another, and didn’t love her;
Peter learned to read and spell,
And then he loved her very well.

When I graduated from high school nineteen years ago, I didn’t know it, but I was looking for a place to belong; I thought I’d found it in the Mormon Church.

The Mormons say that the glory of God is intelligence. I always thought it was love, but when you think about it, intelligence increases compassion. I think that was why Jesus was so compassionate; He could see into people’s souls.

He knew why they were broken.

It’s strange, but when I was a Mormon, and a college education was encouraged (whereas a career outside the home, for a woman, was not), I was more interested in finding a husband, for a woman’s worth was so tied into being a wife, and especially a mother. It wasn’t till years after I left the Church and had a husband and one-year-old daughter that I was ready for that college education and learned that a woman was no more selfish for having a career and a family than a man was.

Perfectionism is stressed to Latter-day Saints, and whereas men take it in stride, women take it to heart. The irony is that when I stopped trying to be perfect I was happier, made more progress, and even felt closer to the God they’d recreated in their image.

Hannah Bantry, in the pantry,
Gnawing at a mutton bone;
How she gnawed it,
How she clawed it,
When she found herself alone.

I was almost thirty-two when I had my first child. It took me three days to get used to the idea (I was three months along before I knew), for I’d grown up seeing women with young children looking harried and unkempt; I didn’t want to become that, but the first time I saw my Hannah Banana in the ultrasound, I was transfixed.

For me, teaching and nursing were callings, but motherhood was a sacred calling.
I couldn’t find my cell phone half the time, and every plant I had ever owned died (so much for a botany career), so I wasn’t sure about having to keep up with this little being all the time, but a mother’s instinct kicked in when I held her for the first time.

With Hannah, I got a little more than I was expecting, though I didn’t know she wasn’t perfect, for she was perfect to me.

She still is.

Pink bundle

Me, with baby Hannah, fresh from the hospital.

My daughter is a Tuesday child, “full of grace,” and Hannah literally means grace. Hannah Beth Richards is a quirky kid, or “on the spectrum,” as some would say; I say she is every color in it.

She was so curious and into everything—opening the dishwasher and standing on the door, crawling into closets to play, and getting into the pantry, chewing through the onions and potatoes. A refrain that could often be heard was, “Hannah, out of the pantry,” though she probably thought, “Dammit, Hannah!” was her name for a while.
Though we no longer have a pantry, we have cupboards, and now our refrain is “Hannah, out of the kitchen.”

Multiplication is vexation,
Division is as bad;
The rule of three perplexes me,
And practice drives me mad.

When Hannah was a year old, I decided to enroll at Pensacola State College as a Health Information Technology student. Though I was married (and still am), I knew I’d need to make more money—I had an extra responsibility now.

I’d let math scare me away from college—just because I wasn’t naturally good at it.
When I went back to school, I took all my other classes first, pushing the math till the end. It helped to have “the wind at my back,” as my dad would say, because it was that wind that pushed me forward.

In the spring of 2018, I took College Algebra and Elementary Statistics (which was anything but elementary), so I could still qualify as a work-study student. If there’s anything I hate more than math, it’s looking for a job.

So, I stressed out for sixteen weeks, spending eighty hours in the Math Lab, ending up with two B’s; I’d never been so proud of B’s in my life.

My uncle said his brother was the only one he ever knew who went to college to “get an education.” Apart from a little substitute teaching on the side and doing taxes during tax season, Dad never used his degree for money.

Had I gone to college for the same reason as my dad, I might not have sallied forth.

For Dad, education was its own reward.

For me, it was as much about the education as it was about the experience, and the most important lesson I learned was that I was smart enough for college after all.

A dillar, a dollar, a ten o’clock scholar!
What makes you come so soon?
You used to come at ten o’clock,
But now you come at noon.

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Me, December 2018, at my college graduation.

An abridged version of this piece was published in The Kilgore Review (2019), having placed first in the nonfiction category of Pensacola State College’s annual Walter F. Spara Writing Contest.

 

My community college journey

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         It has been a long four years—only because so much has happened in those years.
         I was almost thirty-three when I enrolled at the local community college—all set to get my degree in Health Information Technology to become a medical biller and coder; I was trying to be something I wasn’t, or rather, something I didn’t want to be.  The classes were excruciatingly boring (some people got all jazzed looking up medical codes, saying it was like solving a puzzle—I prefer jigsaw or mysteries), but all the while, I was taking other classes that interested me more (I needed something to keep my sanity), working towards getting my A.A., but not really realizing it until I found out that I had quite a few credits to go towards it.
         I will always have my A.S. degree as a backup (though I will still have to get my certification), but right now, I’m in that place called Contentment—a place I haven’t been for a very long time.
         Originally, I had ignored the email that was calling for students to apply for the Editor-in-Chief position for The Corsair (the college’s student-run newspaper); I didn’t want the job because I knew I wasn’t a leader (but neither am I a follower—I just like to lead myself).  I only wanted to worry about making my own deadlines, not getting others to make theirs; if someone wasn’t self-motivated, it wasn’t just their problem, but it became mine, too.
         However, I accepted the position because I saw it as a way to give back to the college that had helped me so much with scholarships and not only appreciated but celebrated my writing skills.
         I am very proud of the work I did, and, I hope, inspired others to do.  I learned a lot about myself—like that I have what it takes to become a great graphic designer.  (I just need the training.)
         Through creating Shutterfly books of my writing for friends and family and designing recruitment ads for the newspaper, I’ve become more aware of how words and pictures can complement one another.  I have the creativity and imagination, if not yet the talent or skill to choose graphic design as my vocation.
         My writing dream is to be either a nationally syndicated humor columnist or a regular contributor for The Saturday Evening Post.  I think both are a possibility within a decade. For example, my Capra-esque short story, “The Post-It Poet,” won Honorable Mention in this year’s The Saturday Evening Post’s Great American Short Story contest.  (I won the same honor a few years ago.)
         “Poet” is about a thirty-something woman who goes back to community college to “figure it all out.”  (Guess where I got that idea.) It’s also about how poetry can change the world (and did), including her own.
         Writing sure changed mine.
         My work as EIC for the paper helped me get a career service position at the college.  If there was one thing I tried to drill in to my staff, it was that the work they did on The Corsair mattered, that a missed deadline was a missed opportunity.
         So, I’m glad I did accept the position, but I’m equally glad to be moving on to other kinds of writing (thank you letters, press releases, et cetera).  I not only was the EIC for the fall semester, but I also kept up the website and Facebook page, as well as take pictures and write stories, in addition to conducting meetings and work days and writing and answering the endless emails and texts.  I even experimented a bit with video, as well as post archived material on the Facebook page (the latter to fill in the gaps between issues, as our paper is a monthly).
         Since free college is included in my new job, I will go for my Bachelor’s in graphic design next fall.  I will learn how to draw and take pictures—two things I don’t know how to do very well; whatever I learn, I will be able to use for this blog.
         The last eighteen months of my college journey were extremely hard.  It seemed like the world was throwing everything it could at me to get me to quit, but it was against my nature to give up.
         As November was coming to a close, I was wondering what was going to happen to us, as three of my four jobs were going away for the holiday, one of them permanently.  Tutoring labs don’t need to be open when kids are out of school, and you have to be at least a part-time student to be EIC.
         But then, one night, as I was driving home from my second home on campus, “Silent Night” played on the radio, and I knew that whatever happened, we would be okay.
         Then, perhaps not even a week later, I got the call, then the interview, then the job.
         And it was more than all right.
         Our college’s motto is:  Go here. Get there; for me, it’s Go here.  Stay here.
         Now it’s time for a semester-long spring break and a semester-long summer vacation.  I’ve been running on adrenaline for too long; I’ve tried to do everything at 100% when my batteries were at 10.  There were few nights when I came home to a sleeping child, which made me sad; there is nothing quite like the feeling of seeing your child through the glass of the front door, jumping up and down because she knows you’re home.  I’d be so spent that even when I was home, my body was exhausted and my mind was adrift.
         I so look forward to graduation tomorrow.  Even though someone who was with me on my journey at the beginning won’t be with me in the same way at the end of it, I think she has the best free ticket in the house.
         I’ve often thought I could’ve done all this years ago, but I wouldn’t have met the people I’ve met—might not have experienced the things I have—so I wouldn’t have had it any other way.