Friday, February 25, 2011

Harvest Gold and Avocado Green

The week's memoir assignment asks you to think of the setting of your life. Settings are so significant in stories--especially our own, true stories.  How we create setting can make or break the feeling we are trying convey in our story.
YOUR ASSIGNMENT: Think of a room from your past.  It can be any type of room at all. Take a mental picture of that room.
What happened there?  What is it like?  What is the atmosphere there?  What are the smells, the sounds, the sights?  How does it feel? Now reveal that snapshot to your reader. Take us to that room. And try to do it in 750 words or less.

It was a large room. When Dad built the house, he changed the house plan, eliminating the wall between a family room and the kitchen. Instead, we had a giant kitchen. That was good because we had a pretty darn big family and where does everyone gather? You got it. The kitchen.

The windows looked out on Spring Valley Lake, far down the valley, with the Tarryall mountain range stretching along the side.  The Harvest Gold dial wall phone had a cord that was long enough I could talk on the phone and wash the dinner dishes at the same time. Mom cooked; kids washed.

On weekday mornings, Dad would make breakfast for the kids. Our Harvest Gold linoleum floors got so cold in the winter that we kids would perch up on our chairs like so many chickens, trying to keep our pink toes warm. The smell of Dad's coffee and french toast with maple syrup was especially comforting in the cold, dark winter mornings.

One end had the workspace of the kitchen: a big U with lots of cabinets and counter top. In the middle stood our huge family-size table with 8 chairs. At the far end was Mom's sewing machine in its cabinet, the two extra chairs and the door out to the enormous deck. There was plenty of room between the table and the sewing machine for forts made out of couch cushions, a folding table that became "the children's table" at holidays, the entire collection of Barbie stuff, including her camper and all the inflatable furniture. When Mom got a new refrigerator and range, the big boxes they came in stood in that spot and were a place to play for almost a week until Mom couldn't stand looking at them anymore. That was the spot in the house where we kept the little peeping chicks, in a box under a light to keep them warm, until they were big enough to go outside. It was where sick dogs were nursed back to health, and where fabric was laid out to pin down a pattern.

When we came home from school, we made a beeline for the kitchen. Dinner would be started, the kitchen would be warm from the day's use and fragrant with something good cooking. We sat at the table to do our homework, play games, eat, talk on the phone....everything.

When I smashed my finger in the oak door at school, the kitchen table was where my Dad drilled a tiny hole in my blackened nail to relieve the pressure. It was where brother bet me that he could put a whole peach in his mouth, and he did. He sat at the kitchen table while Mom cut the peach out of his mouth with a paring knife because he could neither get the peach out again nor chew it up. It's amazing how much drool a kid can create when he has a whole peach in his mouth and can't really swallow.

We played ping-pong on that table, and that same brother found out that he could stick a ping-pong ball in his mouth and shoot it clear across the room with the force of his air. That was where he found out he could hold over a hundred pieces of popcorn in his mouth. He had cheeks like Dizzy Gillespie. It was also where he got mad and quit at games he was losing. (He did grow up to be fairly normal, in case you were worried.)

We rolled out the cookie dough there, kneaded the bread, and that's where the work of canning took place. I loved to see the jars of peaches, pears, tomatoes and apples cooling on the kitchen table. For hours afterwards, we'd hear that satisfying "PING!" as the jars sealed.

It's been more than 30 years since my eyes rested on the Harvest Gold and Avocado Green of the wallpaper flowers, the butcher-block counters and the brittle cold floors of that kitchen. I have only to think for a moment, though, and I can see all the family there again. Many of them are gone now, waiting on the other side. I wonder what THAT kitchen is like. For surely, the kitchen is the heart of the home; it must be at the heart of heaven, too.

Always, feel free to comment! Trish in AZ

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Free For The Taking

This week's writing prompt:  "I don't know if you've ever seen the eBay or Craig's List ads by people selling things from someone with whom they've had a big argument or a breakup. But they can be hilarious.
We want you to imagine you've just had a fight with a friend, a co-worker, husband, significant other, child - you get the picture. You're mad. It's time for revenge. What would you sell?"

Free Items!
The first person who shows up to collect them:
  • About 100 grimy, slobbery tennis balls (I threw my arm out on this years ago and just can't take the pain anymore)
  • 1 used "Dog-gloo" dog house (I am no longer tough enough to drag her out of there when I have to take her someplace.)
  • 1 used, hairy, barfed-on dog bed. (Which explains why she's not allowed in the house.)
  • 1 blue dog. She's old and obedient, but entirely too smart. I want to be the dominant female around here for a change. Do you want a dog who will chase a tennis ball until one of you drops? Who will pee all over you when you try to put her in a vehicle? Who I am absolutely SURE can count? She never runs away, throws up several times a day (and always has), and bends her mighty will to your wishes on the rare occasion she feels like doing so. She doesn't eat too much, doesn't chew things up, but she does eat bird seed from under the feeder, which might be the reason why she doesn't seem to eat too much or chew. She also doesn't "sit" or "lay down", not because she doesn't know the command, but because she doesn't think I have the right to tell her what to do. Do you want a dog who doesn't bark at things unless they need barked at, but does occasionally howl in the most hair-raising, unearthly kind of way? She doesn't dig in the trash, and she doesn't poop where she shouldn't (usually), but she does barf just anywhere. She has the most amazing talent: she is able to barf more than she has eaten. I doubt it will win you any television appearences, but it might win you a bar bet.
If you want this blue, furry bundle of contradictions and all her accoutrements, please call 1-TAKE-MY-DOG

OF COURSE this is fiction...sort of. That really is my dog and I didn't even exaggerate. She really is a blue barf machine, but you can't have her because I am not willing to abdicate my crown as "Dominant Female" after having struggled so long and hard to win it....
and I actually do love her. I can't explain it.

Always, feel free to comment! Trish in AZ

Monday, February 21, 2011

My Grandma's Lap

This week's memoir prompt was to write about a childhood memory. 

I sat on my Grandmother's lap. My little cream-colored felted wool Holiday dress had appliques on it and I can remember the thick wool-on-wool texture, but I can't remember what the appliques were of. The dress had red ric-rac on it and I am sure my Mom must have made the dress. I must have been 3 or 4 years old, because we were in the house on Raleigh Drive in Toms River, NJ.

My Grandma's lap was one of my favorite places to be on any day. Especially on Christmas. I remember her long-fingered, capable hands and the cameo ring she always wore. She had worn it so long that the cameo no longer had a face, it was just a smooth pink stone.

One of my Christmas presents was a toy like an EZ Bake oven, except it was a little griddle. It's funny when I think of it now, to give a 3 or 4 year old child a toy that gets searing hot. Recalls are for sissies. I sat on my Grandma's lap and slid the little drip tray in and out and thought of the lovely grilled cheese sandwiches I would make. Grandma ooo'd and ahh'd and acted like it was the most wonderful thing she had ever seen.

It's easy for me to know why that early memory is so cherished. I loved Christmas. I loved cooking, even then. But most of all, I loved my Grandma! She was a source of unqualified support, encouragement and love all of my life. I loved the way that she never mastered the English pronoun, "I". She always used the Dutch, "Ik". She made amazing cookies and taught me how to fry smelts and led by her stellar example. She was a tower of strength, a rock of patience, a fountain of wisdom and every other inspirational cliche you can think of.  These many years after her passing, she still inspires me to be a better version of myself.

But that day, I was a very little girl in a woolen dress, feeling quite grown up to get such a toy, and wonderfully treasured because of all the many children in my family, I had the place of honor on Grandma's lap.

Always, feel free to comment! Trish in AZ

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Bit of Lace

When I was a stay-at-home Mom, my closets were straight, my drawers were organized, the refrigerator contained no science-project type leftovers.... it was a different life. Now my house is clean and usually straight, but the closets are a little scary and my dresser drawers are downright terrifying. Let's not talk about the fridge.
So I set out to reorganize my lingerie drawers. I had bras in there from before I gained these 20 pounds. Pretty sure I'll never be a C cup again, so out they go! Pantyhose with a run? Out! Gray socks that should be white? GONE. And then I spied three triangles of lace, one in black, one in white and one in cream. About 24 inches per side, they are big triangles.

I took one out and held it to my face; I could almost smell the incense that permeated it from the last time I attended a solemn high mass. You see, my Dad was a traditional Catholic. As in, from before the Second Vatican Council, finding priests who were still offering the Tridentine mass in Latin. Girls were expected to wear a skirt below the knee and keep their head covered.

Three lace head coverings that I used to wear when I went to mass. With my Dad.

I still consider myself Catholic, even though I haven't been to mass in a long time. Something is missing for me now. There isn't a Latin mass anywhere near here. The modern notion of mass is a foreign experience for me and I don't find any spiritual comfort in. Maybe it's partly because going to church was always something I did with my Dad, and I can't even imagine him sitting next to me in the pew when it's guitar music playing instead of a choir singing.

So it isn't that I fell away from the faith. Quite the contrary, I think my dear, conservative and very Catholic Dad gave me a faith strong enough to stand even without the support of a congregation of like-minded individuals. Now my faith is between me and God and no one else.

Three triangles of lace called into the light my questions about faith versus religion. Three triangles of lace reminded me of my roots. Three triangles of lace brought my Dad back to me for a few moments.

I doubt I'll ever use them again, but I folded them neatly and tucked them back into the drawer.

Always, feel free to comment! Trish in AZ

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Flight of Imagination

The assignment for this week's prompt is to write a piece that begins with the line, "I could never have imagined" and ends with the line, "Then the whole world shifted." We're going to stick with the 600-word limit this week.

I could never have imagined that I, The Queen Chicken of the World, me...the one who doesn't even like to stand on a chair...would be standing at the open door of an airplane with a parachute strapped to my back. Me. Getting ready to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. Oh. My. God.

Well, OK. There was a very fine looking "instructor" between me and the parachute. Good-looking, rugged young guy. I figured the powers that be were giving a little eye candy to a middle-aged Queen Chicken as a reward for my bravery. He tried to be reassuring and confident. I'm sure he felt my panic rising, because he finally just repeated the word, "Breathe."

The engine noise was deafening, so the instructor leaned close to my ear and said it again, "Breathe." I tried. I really did. I tried to breathe. I gasped and I panted and I hyperventilated, but I'm not sure I ever managed to breathe. The instructor repeated his other directions, put my hand over the cord, and counted down.

"Ready? We jump on three! One.....two......three.......!"
And out we went. Into the clear blue nothingness of an Arizona autumn sky.

The world became silent. Except for the scream, but that was just inside my chicken brain. The instructor leaned in again and quietly repeated his new mantra and mine: "breathe".

I breathed. I realized that I was actually doing this ridiculously stupid and brave thing, and I was still alive. I conquered the fear. I had done it! I pulled the cord and the chute opened like a perfect (and very LOUD) flower. I would live through this experience.

I had done it. In the moments floating earthward, the many things I had never done flashed before my eyes. I threw my fear to the wind along with my caution and with no grace at all, my tired, old, out-of-shape ass lit on the grassy landing field.

I stood up, fully conscious of the fact that I had let my life be orchestrated by my fears. I had conquered the first of those many fears. Then, in that moment, for me, the whole world shifted.

Always, feel free to comment!

(I bet you thought my parachute wouldn't open, huh? And yes, this is a work of complete fiction because you will NEVER see my tired, old, out-of-shape ass jumping willingly out of any airplanes!)

Trish in AZ

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Mirrors Mirrors

This week's writing prompt was to write a piece of flash fiction - it should be no more than 600 words and should take no longer than 3 minutes to read aloud. And the requirement for this particular one is a character MUST tell a joke and a character MUST cry. One character can do both.

There Are Mirrors, And Then There Are Mirrors

Janelle sat at the far end of the bar, asked for a dirty martini and tried to look normal. Inside, she felt nowhere near normal. She had just left her weight loss group meeting knowing that she hadn't lost anything in the 8 weeks she'd been going. Nothing. Not one pound. She had deprived, dieted and denied and kept every single ounce.

As she looked at her reflection in the mirror behind the bar, she felt like a total failure. The first martini she'd tasted in 2 long months and she wasn't even enjoying it. Her eyes filled with despair and overflowed. She dabbed at her leaking eyes with her bar napkin while she fished an olive out of her glass.  She wanted to get back to a size 6. She wanted to look like her sister, or Taylor Swift, or anybody. She was tired of shopping for bras online because no one carried an E cup. She was tired of having to have clothes tailored. She wanted to burn her Spanx and eat a real dinner.

The televisions at each end of the bar were both tuned to the food channel. Every guy in the place had his eyes on a TV. Janelle wondered if it was some kind of evil cosmic joke on her, that she goes in there feeling defeated at losing weight, only to find them watch food shows. Men watching cooking? Then she realized that they weren't watching the cooking, they were watching the cook. She heard quiet comments and a few lewd remarks about the host of the show.

"Geez I wish my wife would dress like that when she cooks."
"I just wish my girlfriend would EAT. She nibbles at stinkin' rabbit food and watches every calorie. It's stupid, she looks great like she is."
"Are you kidding, Steve? Your girlfriend is so skinny now that she has to staple her panty hose on to keep 'em from falling down."
Steve groaned and rolled his eyes. "That's an old one, and she's not THAT skinny. Yet."
"Yeah, have you seen Noah's new girlfriend? That girl has curves in ALL the right places."
Everyone nodded, smiling.
"Oooo, look! She's gonna lean forward here...."

The television host leaned forward to put a platter of chicken cacciatore in front of the camera and every eye in the bar was on the neckline of her blouse.

A tall man with waving brown hair sat down next to Janelle and asked her name.

Janelle looked at him, glanced back at the television. The tears, still standing on her lashes, were freshened as she laughed so hard she almost couldn't say it..."Hi, I'm Janelle. Nice to meet you."