A Mother Who Read to Me

mother and daughter

The Reading Mother

by

Strickland Gillilan

I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea,
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth,
“Blackbirds” stowed in the hold beneath.

I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.

I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness blent with his final breath.

I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings–
Stories that stir with an upward touch,
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be–
I had a Mother who read to me.

FICTION: Words Said In Confidence

Christmas on Fifth Avenue by Alice Barber Stephens
Christmas on Fifth Avenue by Alice Barber Stephens

After learning that Fred has taken his girl, Buck Crenshaw advises his sister Thankful against marriage.

Buck and Thankful could hear their parents bickering below them in the parlor.

“I wish they would just divorce!” Thankful complained.

“Marriage is foolish,” Buck said, feeling even more hopeless. “I won’t consider it again.”

“You say that now, but one day . . .” Thankful began.

“It’s impossible,” Buck insisted, closing the subject. “And what about you, sis? Anyone in town who strikes your fancy?”

Thankful played with her curls and rolled her eyes. “No, no one who’s in town.”

“So someone who’s gone out of town then?” Buck laughed. “Someone I know?”

“Yes, but he hasn’t noticed me and he’s in the West.”

“Not William?”

“I know you don’t like him, but. . .” Thankful began.

“He’s a moron!” Buck moaned. “No, Willy won’t do.”

“William is not a moron. He knows about art and other things too– if only you got to know him you’d see. And he’s so kind to his parents—the way he helps his father—it’s so—chivalrous. And he helped me out of a puddle and took it so seriously,” Thankful said as if she might swoon.

“So you want someone who can splash around in puddles with his morphine-addicted father? Very high standards you have, sis. And how would Willy earn his keep? It’s so like him to become an artist of all things. Maybe Father could bankroll the bastard,” Buck said, getting to his feet.

“Stop it, Buck,” Thankful replied, holding out her hand for Buck to help her up. “Why are you so jealous?”

“I’m not. It’s only I don’t understand why women and even Father are so impressed with a morose, coddled little cripple.”

“I suppose we should all be impressed with a thin, violet-eyed cadet who gets in heaps of trouble,” Thankful teased. “Was it his fault that he fell from a horse? I might go and visit William sometime.”

Buck laughed. “Good luck getting permission for that. You’re such a dreamer.”

“Why shouldn’t I go?” Thankful asked, hands on hips. “You boys go wherever and all I do is watch babies. I wish Father and Mama would stop it. I don’t see how they still do it with all that fighting.”

“They’re idiots.”

Thankful laughed. “Land sakes, you have a kind word for everyone this Christmas.”

“Well, I like you, Thankful.”

“Thanks, Buckie, I’m honored.”

Buck took her by the chin. “You don’t want to go west. If a man wants you, let him come.”

“Maybe William has already met a nice girl.”

“In the West? I doubt it. But maybe he doesn’t want a nice girl.” Buck meant to insult William, but saw it hurt Thankful. “Stay home till I graduate and we’ll take a bully trip together.”

Thankful embraced Buck with her eyes on the door. She had her own plans.

 

***FOR MORE ALICE BARBER STEPHENS: AMERICAN GALLERY

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw and his misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

PART ONE HERE

PART TWO HERE

PART THREE HERE

PART FOUR HERE

PART FIVE HERE

PART SIX HERE

PART SEVEN HERE

PART EIGHT HERE

PART NINE HERE

PART TEN HERE

PART ELEVEN HERE

PART TWELVE HERE

PART THIRTEEN HERE

PART FOURTEEN HERE

PART FIFTEEN HERE

PART SIXTEEN HERE

PART SEVENTEEN HERE

PART EIGHTEEN HERE

PART NINETEEN HERE

PART TWENTY HERE

PART TWENTY ONE HERE

Reunion with the Dead

008Family relations in a one room schoolhouse, stuffy with the smell of mildew and dishes to pass round, enlivens a part of me that never seeks simplicity. I thrive on the complexity of DNA. A tall, thin man in his late 60’s, dressed impeccably after a morning barbecuing chicken for veterans greets me as if for the first time, but I’ve known him forever.

There in his eyes is that friendly detachment so common to people in the country–my country. Intimacy may be too much a risk, but I see in the way this man talks about his daughter that heartbreaking mix of embarrassment, worry and love one has for a disabled adult child and I fall in love, claiming him as one of my own. On rare occasions under old trees by a glorious pond, this family gives you a quick look into their soul and you’re hooked. This push and pull between detachment and openness lives on in my mother who only in movies and novels enjoys the pastoral.

As I road between mountains I wondered about the farmers eking a living  on the green but sloping terrain. I don’t believe my forefathers ever stood still long enough to watch grass grow. They fought at Lexington and were captured in Quebec and the men picked quiet, stoic women. This man who is my not-so-distant cousin doesn’t go  against type in marriage. His German wife gladly followed him around the world from one army post to another before settling down in this beautifully remote and forgotten region of New York State.  For every thriving farm there are three or four tumbled down buildings, some on wheels in weed-choked lots.

What do people do here? I ask myself as the clouds cast quickly moving shadows over yet another abandoned hay field? The answer is that most move. My great-grandfather Orson made cabinets in New Jersey after leaving Cortland County. He and his twin drove Cadillacs and nothing else. Orson lost his wife to cancer. Back then some people still believed a person caught the disease by living a dirty life.  I wonder if he blamed my rebel grandmother (his daughter) like my great-aunt did.

My cousin retired from the army and knew for certain that he’d move to his DNA territory. He shepherds what’s left of the family like a good pastor. He’s a keeper of memories–always so many memories of Solon Pond. How did students at the school ever pay attention when the windows overlooked men cutting ice from the pond? One day a horse fell into the icy water. Another horse was sent to drag it out. The men covered the horse with stinky wool blankets briefly before sending the animal back to the heavy labor of ice harvesting.

009

Do we save old school houses and churches as a reminder of a simpler life? Or do we hold onto these crumbling buildings as the only simple things in any time period. For brief moments we all stand erect with our intricate DNA combinations leading the way.

And what of our soul memories? We see another with our blood. Do we imagine a spiritual connection? Ten years ago I visited the cemetery in Virgil, NY and traced my fingers over the name of my great-great grandfather on his limestone marker, the weather having softened the letters to near extinction. This weekend his name was gone. A sudden exhilaration mixed with my disappointment. My fear of death briefly lifted. The names did not need to be there for me to feel my kindred bond to the others. The wind kicked up and I left. If I died tomorrow I would meet them face to face.

029

PASTORAL

Inducement: A Bedtime Story

“I was thinking about killing you. With a knife,” the little girl says.

“Really. Hmm,” I reply.

“NO, I mean I’m not really going to kill you. You’re a sweet person, but if I did kill you (with a knife) would you be in the hospital or dead?” she asks, flipping the pages of the story book we were reading.

“Well, first off, I’d never let you kill me, but let’s just say you did. I don’t know where I’d be, but you’d be in jail.”

Her eyes widen. “But kids don’t go to jail.”

“Yeah, they do. Juvenile detention is one place they go. So it’s really your choice. You could live with us where everyone loves each other or you could become a killer every time someone doesn’t give you a 5th brownie and land in jail with other kid killers.”

“Oh,” she says. “Well, I would never kill you anyway.”

“Yeah, I didn’t think so because then we couldn’t be friends–obviously. And you’d have no chance with Grant from Kid’s Bop because he seriously wouldn’t date a killer,” I point out.

The little girl mulls it over. “Adrienne, I think I see what your saying. Can we go to the library tomorrow and  maybe to Starbucks and I can get one of those cupcakes–you know the red ones . . .”

“Red velvet?”

“Yeah, because I really love them. Didn’t we have fun the last time?”

“Yes.”

The little girl flips the pages again (we’d need to work on her handling of library books). “My mom tried to kill my sisters and I had to protect them. Did you know that?”

“Yeah, I heard something about it.”

“She kept our heads underwater in the bath tub and once she taped me to a chair and covered my mouth with silver tape and left me for days. I had to break free to go to the bathroom in the closet.”

I have nothing to say.

“So Adrienne, you know I love you and I would never hurt you. Did I upset you?”

“No, not really. I think I get where you’re coming from. But it’s safe here. See, we covered the windows so the wolves won’t get you, and there’s the dog lying there to protect you. Now what do you do if you’re scared during the night?”

The little girl sighs, plugs in her mp3 player and says, “I’ll knock on your door.”

 

**INDUCEMENT: With no words required, one person sets up a situation to make another person feel just what that first person feels.

Reasons I’m Still Not Writing

Oh, what a beautiful morning . . .
Oh, what a beautiful morning . . .

When I wake up to this I tend to linger a little longer in the yard. Even the turkeys spend more time on their “deck.”

They gobble in excitement as I walk up to feed them.
They gobble in excitement as I walk up to feed them.

Before it gets too hot and guests arrive I pickle and can beets (my sister loves them so I grow and preserve them for her visits).

Pickled beets are pretty, don't you think?
Pickled beets are pretty, don’t you think?

The guests arrive and want to do farmy things. I’m all for help finding potatoes with my nieces.

The girls meet Clare, the crippled chicken and fall in love with her.

farm2 014

They love riding on the back of the truck,too.

farm2 076

We decided to get a few lambs and the day comes to pick them up. Goats don’t pee when in minivans, but sheep do. A lesson learned. Does anyone know a good way to get the smell of sheep urine out of carpeting?

Lila, Tyra and Becky lambs.
Lila, Tyra and Becky.

We also build a house for our new ram, Smash Williams. So while I’d like to say I write no matter what, every day without fail I really can’t. The sun sets and another Upstate New York evening enthralls me and my visitors.

075

We sit in the yard. Buck Crenshaw and his world wait for me to return, but for now I just enjoy reality.

What Is Your Aural History?

What have you heard?
What have you heard?

For Northerners in Antebellum America the shouts of commerce rang out everywhere in their big cities; police whistles, horse hooves over cobblestone, workers yelling after hours at taverns and children–hoards of them hawking papers while calling out the latest headlines. Progress and wealth had a booming noise to it and with it a sense that things were getting done.

Southerners had their bells and their quietude.* When the slaves ran away the owners stayed in bed waiting for the morning bells that never came. But before that they heard the cicadas and the quiet (though not silent) sounds of servitude. Silence was stark and worrisome–were the dark-eyed fieldworkers readying themselves for rebellion? Quietude was different–a hum of rural bliss, a fairytale of peace and plenty.

When the noisy Union forces tramped into this fairytale of quietude the slaves listened hard. The sounds of big guns and wagon-wheels thrilled their hearts to bursting though they must remain in waiting, lips tightly closed around their excitement, for the right moment to escape to enemy lines.

Church bells were some of the first things to go. Some were melted down into cannons and some were hidden from the locust-like Union men. Bells held memories; the celebrations and mourning services of the Southern people were called out with bells. The heady air of  early war was crowded with the ringing. And then came the mournful bells of death before the bells went away.

No declaring, no owning of sounds any longer. Silence, waiting and defeat. Crass Northern noise moving in jolted Southern sensibilities. Many planters and slaves remembered the intonation of the words spoken from the front yards of lush plantations: “You are free to leave us now.”

And some went and some stayed and all wondered at the changing sounds of life.

As a child I remember the freight trains at 3 am rumbling through the next town. I’d lie awake wondering about cargo and places I’d never been. On sunny afternoons in late summer I’d be carried away by the sound of small plane engines overhead as I swung high on my swing. My father’s laughter and the screen door banging endlessly–these are some of my first aural memories. I live in a quiet place now and sometimes miss those screen doors.

What are some of your aural memories and how have they changed over the years?

*Thoughts inspired by: The War Was You and Me