Monday, July 25, 2011

A Picture Worth A Hundred Words (Or So)


Patti, Debbie and Sharon inspired me last week to pay more respect to my life-long tendency to people-watch, and to weave stories from what I see.

Today - even though it's Monday - let's have some fun. Let's pull an old photo from the public domain (click here for a larger view), and weave a paragraph around it. We
ladies will go first, and then, please, dear readers, do join in.

I'll go first:

So far as she cared, Frank could keep the house with all its dusty carvings and stained glass windows. What Meredith and the girls needed was a whole lot of distance. And her husband's Packard was a distance making machine; she'd learned that just a week ago. Seven days wasn't much time to learn to drive, and the first seventy-five miles over the Cascade Mountains had been a bit rough. Lily and Pansy didn't mind, but Alice had just this moment decided that she wore the pants in the family. She didn't like eating Jujubes for breakfast. She didn't like sleeping in the car, and she didn't like her mother's driving. Well fine. Let her take the wheel a while. They only needed distance.


I know the only way to say this is to say it fast and straight out. And the only way to do it without tears is to do it in front of an audience. The girls barely count, because to them there never was such an adventure as this. But while Daddy's off collecting his pay, which he hopes will take us a few more counties west -- pay for a job so beneath a man of his goodness and ability I might add ... a job not even Denny Parker, the scoundrel of Broken Hollow, would have taken before the world lost its footing -- I'm just gonna say it out loud to Mama. Then I'm catching the Greyhound back home. Because I'm not leaving Jess. Not ever. Not with the likes of Naomi Bidwell waiting to show him her dimples. And a whole lot more.


Mama and me gave up sleeping in the rumble seat and counted enough shooting stars for a lifetime of good luck, something I wasn't expecting to gather on a camping trip with my cousin Betty. Just goes to show there's always a silver lining, just like my daddy keeps telling me. With so much luck in our pockets, Mama decided she'd had enough of camping and wanted to go home. Even with Betty sticking her tongue out at me every few minutes, the thought of going home made my stomach sour. The pineys smelled so fresh and the air lay soft on my skin. Back home the air made my skin sticky. And the smell? Let me just say I lived downwind from Grundstetner's hog farm. No matter how many times I yelled Fresh strawberries! nothing ever changed.
Aunt Lucy's eyes went all squinty when Mama told her to drive us home. "Are you kidding me, Raelyn? We're almost to the farm."

Mama climbed out of the rumble seat. "We ain't talking about this here." She tipped her head toward the lake and Aunt Lucy followed her. More than anything, I wanted to follow along, but sure if I did, Mama would tan me good. The tanning wouldn't hurt as much as stupid Betty laughing and snorting at me, trying to hold back my tears.

Betty looked at me with the same squinty eyes of her mother. "Your daddy's a bad man."

It didn't make no sense to waste words on Betty. She believed whatever she wanted to. And
the wronger she was, the more she believed it. In two shakes I was out of the car. I pulled her baggie pants to her ankles and pushed her hard into the dirt. If I earned a tanning, I wanted it to be for something worthwhile, so while Betty bawled, I ate her candy bar.





"She ain't coming back. She got into his truck and they lit out." Georgia squinted toward the horizon. "Probably in Idaho by now."

Clara huffed and tucked her hands beneath her arms for warmth. "You don't know nothin'. She wouldn't leave. She promised Mama she'd watch out for us."

Daisy started to cry and Clara pulled her close, wrapping their Mama's old quilt around her shoulders. "Now look what you done. Don't cry, Daisy. Aunt Sadie wouldn't leave us."

Merle snorted. "She'd leave us if it wasn't for the money in that valise."
Georgia reached down to the floorboard and opened the latch on the valise. "Like I was saying," she pulled it open to show the black emptiness, "she's gone, gone."


It's funny what you think about when the moment you've been waiting for actually comes. I should have been rehearsing what I planned to say to her, should have been going over the words in my mind so I'd get it right.You only get one chance and after what she'd done, I wanted it to be perfect. But I wasn't practicing my speech as I walked toward Velma's Packard. I wasn't even thinking about my daughter who Velma had taken more than four days ago. I tucked Velma's own daughter, Bea, behind me pulling her along as I walked through the trees toward the woman who had ruined my life. And all I could think about was how strong the pine smelled, how it was nothing like the pine-in-a-bottle stuff I used to clean my kitchen floor. How real things aren't anything like we imagine they would be. How Velma's Packard looks peaceful sitting in the middle of a circle of cars. Like maybe it's a camp out and we're all here to experience a wilderness weekend instead of a posse to take back my girl from this crazy woman. As I put my hand on the roof of that old Packard and open my lips to say something--all that fills my mouth is pine air.




Git in the back, she told me. Git out right now, she’s ordering us all right now. Now git back in. Rearrange that quilt so the hole shows. No, these clothes aren’t stupid they’re vintage. I can hear you when you mutter stuff like that under your breath. Yes, people used to wrap up their heads like this – you wouldn’t really want to travel for hour after hour with the wind whipping your hair follicles in circles till your scalp felt like it had been sandpapered, would you?

No, the car doesn’t have to run, this isn’t a movie.

Pullease. Just sit still for one more take.

And if I catch you texting one more time. . .

There are plenty of other girls that would like to get their start. Ever heard of a resume?

You’re not looking at your mom glaring at you, but I am.

Just sit still.

Just sit still.

Good grief.

21 comments:

Bonnie Grove said...

I'm guessing everyone is furiously writing!

Nikole Hahn said...

They arrived late. Four of them--mother and three daughters. Where Mr. Robinson was one could only guess, but they arrived looking like something out of a circus. Their costumes were thrift store rejects, pieced together, but the car looked shiny, clean like Mr. Robinson had put in more care to that car than in his wife and children.

I watched from my car, waiting like everyone else for the President of the Historical Society to arrive. Mr. Robinson probably met him half way down the road wearing that suit one size too small.

We waited an hour and grew restless. That is, until the police arrived.

The detectives went straight to Mr. Robinson's wife. She sat in the back seat and no tears fell. The three kids cried loudly.

Apparently, they found his body by the creek clutching a torn fabric from the lapel of the President. And that one had yet to arrive.

susiefinkbeiner said...

We didn't never expect them mountains to be so big. Can't believe the old jalopy made it up 'em and back down again. Thought we were like to die up there. So cold. So dark at night. I swear I seen a bear sniff around the tires. Mama said I got too big a imagination.

We left our farm. It all gray and covered with dust. Looked like the snow in Christmas card pictures. 'Cept this weren't cold. Weren't wet at all. Dry as a bone set out in the sun.

Now, in California, all we seen is green. Trees, grass, fields. But ain't nobody gonna hire a bunch a' girls to pick no apples.

Alls we do is sit and wait. Feelin' the hunger rumble our bellies. Hatin' the way our lives have turned.

Mellissa said...

The house was nearly empty now, the power already cut off, just a few boxes left to carry away tomorrow. I’d left the window open wide to let in the cool night air, the sheer curtains flowing in the breeze like twin ghosts. I couldn’t sleep; the sheets, once cool, now offered no comfort, and I laid on top of them, shed down to my slip to find some relief. The moonlight’s soft glow reflected off the square of paper perched on my makeshift nightstand of weathered cardboard boxes. I reached out and picked it up again, no longer afraid that my touch would destroy the ancient photo, its deckled edges yellowed with age. I hadn’t seen this picture in years and years; I thought that mama had thrown it away, burned it with the lit tip of her cigarette during one of her angry spells. But there it was, hidden away in her old Bible, tucked away in the book of Job, left for me to discover now that she was gone for good.

It was my photo by rights—I was in it, right there with Aunt Jean and Sissie and Mary Margaret. I was a seed in Mama’s tummy, barely a possibility, hardly an afterthought of the last night that she’d spent with Daddy. And he was part of the picture, too, although he was even less visible than I was. It was Daddy holding the camera, taking the snapshot, catching the sisters off guard as they stood in the yard gossiping about God knows what, or who. That last moment, just before he yelled out, “Come on gals, the party’s getting started without us.” And Mama’d gotten up out of the rumble seat of that old Model A he couldn’t bear to part with that had nearly rusted away beneath them, and linked arms with her sister and her husband as they climbed the stairs to Uncle Sonny’s house. That’s when the drinking started in earnest, while Sissie and Mary Margaret played with baby dolls under the steps, trying to stay out of the way of the grown-ups, who were getting louder and clumsier with every bottle of Jack.

That last moment, frozen in time, before the shouting started, before the shots rang out through that cold November afternoon. This old picture was the last thing—the only thing--I had that connected him and me, the both of us somehow there together, the day my daddy died.

Marian said...

"Don't look now, but there is someone taking a photograph of us."
"Why would anyone do that?"
I don't know, maybe to put on the internet."
"Is that like a hair net?"
"No, it's something we don't know about yet."
"So, how do you know about it?"
"It just makes sense, today a camera and a car, next they'll take pictures of everything and then make a machine that shows everything to people and they won't need to go places no more. They can just sit in their own place and look at every place."
"You mean like on a virtual road?"
"Yup."
"What about the smells? They can't smell these pine tree on a machine?"
They'll figure out a way to bottle all the smells and spray out the ones they want when they want them."
"Betsy, you certainly are full of peculiar ideas."

Sharon K. Souza said...

Wow, great opening paragraphs! Good job, all.

Karen Schravemade said...

Ah, ladies. Your talent takes my breath away. This was fun to read

And Susie... what a voice. I could hear this like the girl was speaking right to me. Amazing.

susiefinkbeiner said...

Thank you, Karen!

Sandra Stiles said...

I looked at the photo I’d found among mama’s things. I remember my brother snapping the picture, although I can’t think why he thought it important. I could almost smell the cold in the air as I stood behind mama. To this day I can feel the tension that hung in the air like a clothesline strung too tight, ready to snap under the weight of the situation. I had kept my head down, afraid I would start cryin’ again. I heard the pleading tone in my mama’s voice.

“Now Lucy you know daddy didn’t mean nothin’ by what he said. He just woke up grumpy today.”

“Raleen, that man’s been grumpy since before I was born and you know it. He had no right saying those things to Joe. Lord knows we been through enough with the fire. Took a lot of guts for him to come here and ask for help.

"Well he's right about one thing Lucy, it's too cold for you and Lindy sue to be ridng through these mountains with that ratty old quilt."

"It's not like he really cares Raleen, and this ratty old quilt is all I got left of mama. She threw it out the upstairs window the day daddy kicked me out for sayin' I was gonna marry Joe. It's a warm reminder of mama's love that kept out the cold of daddy's heart."

I looked at the picture and the pained look on mama’s face. She knew when Aunt Lucy left this time she would never come back, and mama would lose her sister once again. It was a sadness mama carried with her the rest of her life.

Bonnie Grove said...

Loving the diversity of the paragraphs. Everyone taking such different, yet connected views of the picture. Really goes to show there are a million ways to interpret any one situation.

I'm amazed how many people have chosen to have the characters speak low English "git", "ain't", etc. It never occurred to me and now I'm wondering if I've missed something!

Great paragraphs!! Keep going!

Patti Hill said...

Thanks, dear Novel Matters readers for joining in so beautifully. I thoroughly enjoyed your offerings. It is amazing that we can all look at the same picture and "see" something unique. Well done.

Latayne C Scott said...

Bonnie asked why so many of us used Southern U.S. colloquialisms. I can't answer for others but the picture made me think of images from the movie, The Grapes of Wrath," in which rural Oklahomans (who would speak that way, whether or not they actually do in the movie) are in desperate straits.

susiefinkbeiner said...

Latayne said exactly what I was thinking. I'm a Steinbeck freakazoid. I'm always thinking about The Grapes of Wrath. Ya'll jest put it right in me mind.

Kathleen Popa said...

This was fun. Thank you, everyone, for furiously writing. I've loved reading all your different takes on the story clearly taking place in this photo.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

You came! Oh if you only knew what this year of waiting has been for me! Knowing you are ill and your family unable to pay for treatment and unable to bring you if you didn't bring them.
Are you changed? Will this be our last year together? I can't bear to think of life without you even if I only see you one week in the year, I wait, I only exist the rest of the days...
I love you, even if you are so much older than me and have more experience and probably wouldn't even look at me...but the miracle is you did and you still do.
I love every spot of rust, every dent and scrape and worn patch on your tires...........

Marcia said...

The smell of smoke on my clothes makes me want to gag, my teeth are chattering in the fifty-degree weather, and we just roasted our last package of hot dogs.

“It's gonna rain,” I say, huddling in the rumble seat, wondering if my headache is due to the altitude or the thought of sitting through another three-hour meeting. “We could get down the mountain before--”

Mary Claire straightens, looking down at me from her superior stance. “Brother Hodges will be preaching tonight and tomorrow morning,” she reminds me, as if I could forget.

The twins side with me. “I'm tired of sleeping in the tent,” Millie says.

“There's rocks under our sleeping bags,” Annie adds.

“Listen, they're starting to sing already.” Mary Claire holds out her hand to me. “It's the Barrington Quartet. Oh, the harmony! Come on, it'll be warmer in there with all the people.”

The thought of the hard wooden pews and the saw dust floor make my backside ache almost as much as my head. My two weak legs tremble. “Why... why don't you go ahead, Sis? I'll be warmer here with the quilt.”

That's when she leans forward, looks me straight in the eyes,and says in a voice just above a whisper, pitched so low my nieces can't hear, “Really, Susan, how are you going to be healed if you don't have faith?”

Ashten said...

The fires had come faster and swifter than we ever thought they might that late August night.
The roar of it woke Mama...we can thank God for that much. We didn't expect them for another week and Mama was hopin' to harvest a little more food from the garden before we packed up and left our little shack of a home. But Mama's a planner and she had everything packed but that last harvest and as soon as she heard the roar, she plucked us all from our dusty old mattresses and we hiked out of the fourth home of my 8-year-old life. I can still see the orange glow blazin' up the trees comin' for that shack. "Good riddens"...and then "but what now?"
Ever since Daddy died, I've lived in a nice state of pity. I follow Mama around like a shadow feedin' on her every emotion. I don't like surprises. I don't like not knowin', and that seems to be all I've known all my life. Just one "not-knowin'" after another.
I took a look around at these other folks driven out like ants from an anthill just like us. Some of those youngun's, their eyes are big and they look scared. I'm not scared. I guess you could say I'm just plain mad. Both the angry and the crazy kind. Mama looks at me with those tired eyes and tells me not to go thinkin' my angry thoughts. She knows her girl. I just stare at her. I get the crazy angry from her and that's how she knows me.
But I can't hold it back; I'm plum without hope. I say it a little too anxiously...a little too tragically I know. But when an eight-year-old is starvin' and without hope...even I know that's a bad place to be.
"What prayer we got now Mama? What prayer we got now?"

sally apokedak said...

wow, there is some wonderful writing here.

I also thought of the dust bowl The Grapes of Wrath.

Sharon K. Souza said...

Ashten, I love some of your phrasing. Very, very nice. "Just one not-knowin' after another." Love it.

Ashten said...

O Sharon...you can't know what your kindness means! Thank you! In the words of Anne Shirley from "Anne of Green Gables"...
"it gave me such a thrill" to write that...you ladies are so inspiring you are!

Bonnie Grove said...

Goodness! I have chills. This is great fun. I can't get over the diversity of POV, time shifts, plot. Excellent!
Melissa, foster your talent.
Marcia: I love how you've set up an entire story with your beginning. Nice!
Marian: So funny to do your scene all in dialogue. Tricky, but you managed to end it on a high note. Good job!

I'm still reading!!!!