The magazine of personal stories
2019 Issue Founding Editor C. Flanagan Flynn
Kara E. Simmers
letter from the editor Dear Readers, Welcome to the inaugural issue of Centered: The magazine of personal stories. I’m thrilled to present this collection of personal essays, memoir excerpts, flash nonfiction, photography, and artwork. It’s been an adventure of a lifetime to launch this magazine, discover new writers, and create a venue for readers and writers of personal essays and memoir. As a writer, editor, and writing teacher, I’d noticed an increasing hunger for longform personal essays and memoir excerpts, yet also saw the venues for those genres diminish. I knew I wanted Centered to showcase longer works of writing. Maybe because we live in the age of quick soundbites and because we’re too often distracted by social media and news feeds, we long for something more substantial and less transitory. I know I do. My mission with Centered was to showcase writing that invites readers into stories on a deep level. A place for readers to immerse themselves in the story’s world, become intimately familiar with its characters, and find meaningful takeaways. While not all the writing is longform, each piece offers readers an incredibly rich reading experience. The theme that organically emerged from this collection relates to travel. These stories transport readers to worlds they might not otherwise visit. An ATV expedition leads us to Paddy’s Peak in British Columbia. An arranged marriage takes us to Bangalore, India. A rainstorm dictates a couple navigate Rome’s flooded streets. Suburbanites and urbanites farm-sit a Massachusetts chicken farm. And a solemn visit takes us to the Dachau concentration camp. We, as readers, also travel back in time. We witness four childbirths in the 1960s and 1970s in France and the United States. On Rogers Lake in Connecticut, we meet a Coast Guard Academy cadet and her friends at their first crewing practice. We set out on a mission to find parts for a 1972 Pinto at a Hartford junkyard. In Pigg River, Virginia, an
African-American woman fends off hog thieves. And while Scottish Highlanders thrive on a farm in Ellington, Connecticut, we witness elephants mistreated in a Stanleyville, Florida circus performance. Some stories present questions inciting us to reflect upon women’s rage, if home is defined by where we live, a child’s shameful experience at a Poconos camp, or the bochinche of the neighborhood. We’re shown the constraints of teaching with limited time in a high school classroom, ruminations on aging and a backyard oak tree, and a young mother trying not to drown in postpartum depression. We’re invited to reflect upon the moon, gaze outside windows as a meditative practice, and learn how to cook. This issue features 21 written pieces. Our editorial process was symbiotic, and the strong pieces selected for this issue grew even stronger as we worked with writers to shape them for publication. We’re proud to represent this diverse group of writers and the over 32,000 words published within these 100-plus pages. As a writer and editor, I understand the process of working with editors and publishers is most fruitful when it’s collaborative. I couldn’t have found two better collaborators than Kara E. Simmers, Managing Editor, and Michele Palmer, Copy Editor. They’re both immensely talented writers. I admire and respect them professionally and personally. I met Kara and Michele through my writing workshops. Kara is a public speaking professional who teaches college communication courses. She recently coached students in my Six Months to Your Manuscript workshop at The Storyteller’s Cottage in Connecticut. Kara’s tenacity, creativity, and enthusiasm are boundless. Among the countless tasks she tackled so well throughout the magazine’s evolution was finessing Centered’s cover design. Michele Palmer is a thoughtful, careful, and deliberate writer and editor whose discerning eye was instrumental in the execution of Centered. Thank you both for your dedication and hard work throughout the process of putting together this magazine. As Editor in Chief of Centered, my deepest thanks to the writers who contributed to this issue: Eileen Benton, L. A. Flammang, Stacy Firth, Kara E. Simmers, Eric Arroyo, Lakshmi Iyer, Shea Benton-Reger, Michele Palmer, Nan Redmond, Linda Stallman Gibson, John Lally, Lesley Schurmann, Joyce Hausmann, Henri Adams, Amy Bowers, Joan
Seliger Sidney, Cindy Sederquest, Thomasina Clemons, and Barbara Breen. Thank you to Sarah Bousquet, Catherine Whall Smith, and Kara E. Simmers for their original artwork and photography. A special personal thanks to my son Bennett Flynn for his encouragement and his keen input. To my dear friend, Georgia O’Meara, the typeface used in this issue is Georgia in honor of you. This issue is dedicated to John Richard Flanagan, Lorraine Flanagan Barton, and Harold George Barton, family members who have since passed but who influenced me as a storyteller, writer, and person. In closing, my connection to personal stories runs deep. In addition to writing personal essays, my memoir Reunion of Broken Parts is in revision rounds. An excerpt of my memoir was a finalist for The Frank McCourt Memoir Prize, and I’ve been twice nominated for Pushcart Prizes. I write the Literary Unleashed column for Inkling Magazine. I’m also writing a nonfiction book on the benefits of writing. As a developmental editor and a writing coach, I work with writers on their manuscripts – novels and memoirs – in addition to personal essays. At The Storyteller’s Cottage, I’m the Writer in Residence where I work oneon-one with writers and also teach weekly writing workshops. Additionally, I teach at the Westport Writers’ Workshop. I can be contacted via my website: www.cflanaganflynn.com. And one final word of appreciation, the most important of all. Thanks to you, the reader. I sincerely hope you’re as moved by the stories that follow as I was upon first reading them. All my best,
C C. Flanagan Flynn Founding Editor & Editor in Chief
contents I Rage A woman explores her enduring rage. Personal Essay First Practice How does memory serve our first experiences? Personal Essay
L. A. Flammang
When It All Falls Down Standing amidst a quiet catastrophe. Personal Essay Stacy Firth The Unknown That Awaits A steampunk vampire seeks connection on mountain peaks. Personal Essay Kara E. Simmers Monty How to avoid the neighborhood bochinche? Flash Nonfiction Eric Arroyo Arranged Marriage How to handle marital expectations imposed by culture, family, and self? Memoir Excerpt Lakshmi Iyer Teaching by the Clock What to do when thereâ€™s too little time? Personal Essay
Beyond the Delaware Water Gap Summer camp in the Poconos â€“ not all fun and games. Personal Essay Michele Palmer I Would Choose the Moon The lantern of lovers and witchdoctors, the camouflage of pirates. Personal Essay Nan Redmond Partners Is a quarter-century-old oak with root rot doomed?
Linda Stallman Gibson
Anniversary Walk Rome, rain, and romance. Travel Essay
Eden Pond Farm Two suburbanites and two hipsters on a 100-acre Massachusetts farm. Personal Essay
My Window on the World What can we notice when we take the time to really look? Personal Essay
A Pinto Winter The plight of a 1972 Pinto and its DIY owner. Personal Essay
Stanleyville Busch Gardens, The Dark Continent, 1983. Personal Essay
Childbirth The French Connection. Personal Essay
Joan Seliger Sidney
Take the Photograph When knowing what to document feels impossible. Personal Essay
Kara E. Simmers
Scottish Highlanders of Ellington Shaggy, hefty beasts with large eyes hidden under thick forelocks. Photo Essay Cindy Sederquest
Water for Air Calling on the triathlon training of her younger years, a new mother struggles to stay afloat. Personal Essay
Gilda A familyâ€™s legacy and a letter to the past. Personal Essay
Whereâ€™s the Ketchup & A Simmer Sauce Recipe A simmer sauce panacea for a lifelong distaste for ketchup. Recipe Essay
I Rage Eileen Benton
I rage against the ignorance of people who blame victims of sexual assault. I rage against those who do not believe the victims. I rage against those who refuse to understand the shame. I rage against those who do not understand not speaking out. I rage against the self-righteous so attached to their dogma they deny the truth. I rage against the aggressors, perpetrators, and enablers. I rage against the boys will be boys culture. I rage against the concern for the accused and lack of concern for the victim.
I rage against the powerlessness of all victims. I rage against the endless ways assault haunts the victimsâ€™ lives. I rage against the staggering numbers of victims of this violence. I rage against the silence. I rage because I am a survivor. I rage because my possibilities were limited. I rage because of the endless effort to save my sanity. I rage because I have lived so much of life afraid. I rage because my aggressor stole my innocence. I rage because my aggressor blamed me. I rage because my aggressor lived a blameless life. I rage because my aggressor was the pillar of the community. I rage because I thought I was the only one. I rage because now I know better. I rage because many perpetrators are never known. I rage because perpetrators hold power and rise to power. I rage because I am vulnerable. I rage because I am overwhelmed. I rage because little has changed. I rage because I feel empathy. I rage!
| Author bio | Eileen Benton is a writer who taught literature and writing for over 20 years. She holds a bachelorâ€™s degree from the University of Connecticut and a masterâ€™s degree from Fairfield University.
First Practice L. A. Flammang As I recall, there were seven of us at Mr. Emerson’s that first day, a sunny April afternoon in 1979. The Coast Guard Academy had cut women’s varsity crew, so we were now a club. Kay organized us: four oarswomen from the previous year’s varsity squad, a coxswain, and Jayne and me, the two novices. (Later I would learn Mr. Emerson had borne the full cost of starting men’s varsity crew at the Academy; eight years later, he was helping the women who had lost varsity status.) Mr. Emerson met us in an open-sided shed where a fleet of small boats hung from the rafters and long canoe-like boats rested on vertical columns of wooden racks. These were the first crew shells I
saw, a collection of sculls for one or two rowers and shells for four or eight rowers. The Fours and Eights were made of cedar, and though the shed was dark, here and there, sunlight gleamed on brown wood. I wanted to touch the shells’ smooth skin but stilled my hand. He showed Kay which Four to take, and she wasted no time in lining up the experienced rowers beside their assigned seats. The coxswain called “Hands on,” and command by command, the crew edged the Four out of the racks and walked it down to the lake. Then Mr. Emerson turned to Jayne and me. I doubt he saw rowers. I was as short and slight as a coxswain, and Jayne, while she had the endurance of a rower, had the physique of a long-distance runner with a middling height. He hmmmed as he took our measure. Against the racks of shells, he appeared tall. He wore a canvas fishing hat, with a round, floppy brim. My father, a frugal child of the Depression, might have worn such a hat, neither showy nor fancy. Beneath the hat’s brim, jowls stretched Mr. Emerson’s face in a long oval, and the weariness the shape suggested made me think he must have been kind and gentle, like an old hound retired from the hunt. His adagio-paced speech and soft baritone heightened the impression. After a few minutes of private deliberation, Mr. Emerson crossed from one side of the shed to the other, moving in the murky light with the keen awareness of a crane that sees the shadow of a fish. “I will put you in a double wherry.” He lowered a shell from the rafters, using a system of pulleys. I could see it was wider than the other shells, and I knew enough about naval architecture to recognize the boat was ideal for beginners; it looked too broad in the beam to flip. And that’s all I remember from my first practice. I’m sure Mr. Emerson showed us how to carry the wherry and roll it onto the lake, how to get into the boat, how to slide our two oars through the oarlocks and hold onto the dock at the same time, how to propel the boat - to bring one hand over the other on the stroke, and how to use the oars to keep the boat balanced. He may have had us row with one oar to show us how the boat pivoted. He may also have told us oars are flotation devices, so that if we capsized, we could hold
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onto one until he came out in his launch to rescue us. I imagine he believed Coast Guard cadets knew enough about swimming and survival at sea that we wouldn’t drown. * Why don’t I remember more? Perhaps because that day on Rogers Lake I could not imagine a future in which I would be an ensign, much less a junior lieutenant for whom crew would dominate her days and nights and weekends and vacations and consume almost all her best energy. Or perhaps so much of that spring is a blank because Memory is such a caprice, butting out of mind unwelcome events and circumstances or their opposite, those occasions when we whoop with abandon among friends and family or feel recognized by someone as a someone to be recognized, so that as I reminisce about that day on Rogers Lake, I have to ask for what reason, what purpose, what evolutionary design does Memory charge against some events and not others, sending them hurtling from our little histories? It is all whim. One image remains from that spring. Jayne and I are in the center of the lake, sculling toward Mr. Emerson’s when the Four passes us on our port side, rowing in the opposite direction quietly and with a grace of velocity, so smooth and effortless that I stop sculling to watch them. Kay had found a coach at Connecticut College, across the street from the Academy, and the student-coach follows behind the Four in an aluminum launch. As the Four slips behind my field of vision, I think, That is rowing. What Jayne and I are doing is something else, recreation I guess. In the Four, Kay competed against several crews that spring. Jayne and I never graduated from our two-person tub. Yet now, forty years on, with no other memory, I can create an idyll. Every day was sunny, of course, and the water was always flat, and Jayne and I never bickered, she never had to yell at me to pay attention or get my eyes back in the boat (because I never saw a winged creature fly by and distract me). Mostly we rowed back and forth and sang all Jayne’s favorite songs. “The Atchison, Topeka and
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the Santa Fe” comes to mind. And we laughed. Heartily. We sculled on a sunlit-sparkled lake and giggled and guffawed and twittered old chestnuts. Rogers Lake was a utopia, a nirvana, our own private Idaho. Kay remembers seeing us capsize one day (had Jayne and I really?), and she still mocks us, “How do you capsize a wherry?” Oh, that’s easy, I say. You see a grey heron raise its wings and ascend with a single, almost invisible downward thrust. You sing old Judy Garland songs and forget to keep your blades close to the surface of the water. You laugh so hard you tangle your hands on the drive. You watch four beautiful rowers glide by in silent, serious concentration. * Five years after I’d graduated from the Academy, I was assigned to teach English in the Department of Humanities. The women cadets had a varsity crew team again, and I volunteered as an assistant coach. But it should have been Kay at the boathouse. Or Jayne. Or one of the other women on the first varsity team – oarswomen who learned to row in the fall, when the season begins and coaches have time to teach the stroke; rowers who were competitive; rowers who remembered their first day of practice.
| Author bio | L. A. Flammang is a writer and founder of the Depot for New Play
Readings. Previously Ms. Flammang served in the U.S. Coast Guard and was the first woman selected for the Permanent Commissioned Teaching Staff at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. She and her husband Scott live quietly in Connecticut.
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When It All Falls Down Stacy Firth
This summer, my kids and nieces and nephew piled onto my parents’ couch, in the same spot my brother and I used to as children. In its own way, my parents’ house, the place I grew up, is still home. I haven’t lived there in more than a decade, but there is a solidity in it still being there. * I haven’t always felt that way. Ten years ago, pre-kids and premarriage, I was seated in an airplane returning to Connecticut from a
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short trip to Arizona. It’d been my first time traveling so far by myself, and I loved every bit of the experience. As the plane began to descend, I started to cry. I didn’t want to be home. It felt like nothing was there for me anymore. The weightlessness I’d felt in the dry Arizona heat was replaced by the burden of winter in Connecticut, a place I didn’t want to be. I started making plans to leave. When I talked about it to friends and family, I’m not sure if anyone believed me. I’d never meant to stay in Connecticut this long and there I was, still. I couldn’t bear it any longer. I started researching Arizona, jotting down places I might like to work, areas I might like to live. I was certain I would move. I never left. This is not a bad thing. I never left because, not long after, I met my husband. By that time, I was happier anyway, the itch to leave not so strong. Now, I have a family and together we have a home of our own. The few times I’ve vaguely mentioned moving, our kindergartner gets upset. She doesn’t want to leave. I don’t know what it’s like to be worried about that; when I was five, I was already settled in the house where my parents still live. I tell her we have no real plans to move, not to worry about it. The thought of never moving makes my throat constrict, though. It makes me want to dash around, rearranging all the furniture; it makes me want to choose new paint colors; it makes me want to buy fresh art for the walls. But most of all it makes me want to pack up the few things that matter, purge the rest, and just go. Where does this wanderlust come from? It’s no longer possible to make choices solely based on my whims, and I know it’s not as easy as just packing up my kids and husband to leave. What really matters aren’t things that can be packed into boxes, neat; wrapped in layers of bubble wrap. The throat tightening. It’s an impossibility to me that we could be stuck here. I can’t imagine this being the house my kids come back to with children of their own. I don’t know why I don’t want that, can’t feel that in their future. This is home and something about it doesn’t feel like home. I’ve been restless for a long while.
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And here’s the new truth my throat can hardly handle; it makes me breathe ragged shallow breaths to even think it: right now, we cannot leave. There’s a problem. * It’s fall now, and my three-year-old son and I sit on a park bench watching squirrels hop around, gathering acorns. He asks what they’re doing, and I explain to him that they’ll take the acorns home, so they can eat all winter without having to venture out into the cold. Somewhere under the ground, they’ll have created a cozy spot for acorn-eating and cuddling during the raw New England winter. Squirrels don’t just build one home; they’re apt to build a few, storing extra nuts, giving themselves a backup plan. They’re smarter than us, I guess. We have no backup plan. Halfway up a tall tree, my son spots a hole. We daydream about what lives there: bees, he says. An owl, I say. Maybe the squirrels. I guess as the tree grows, the hole gets higher and higher in the sky, making it safer and safer for whoever lives there, more protected from the things that could harm them. Meanwhile, a few miles away, our house is falling down, the one we cannot leave. Maybe it’s getting less safe by the minute, even as we stand here contemplating squirrels. Homes in Connecticut are crumbling right now, by the tens of thousands. They’ll tell you that as many as 35,000 houses are affected by the flawed concrete that was poured over the course of 30 years, but I think we’ll watch that number rise. It’s a lot of houses, but it’s an abstract number until your home is one of them and you picture it; 35,000 families just like yours sitting around the dinner table wondering what in the hell they’re supposed to do now. Efforts to declare it a federal disaster have failed. The state has put a fund together, to help homeowners, but it’s not up and running yet when they warn they already don’t have enough money. I’m not one to wait for someone to tell me what to do, but when we try to figure this out, my husband and I talk in circles, then stop talking and just look at each other, blank faces masking a depth of
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emotion. I’m stunned by how stuck we are: can’t seem to come to a decision, can’t leave, not sure if it will always be safe to stay. So we do nothing. We wait, hopeful yet cautious, for better news to come. People have told us we could leave it all behind, walk away from our house, skip out on the mortgage. My husband is an expert at packing. Give him a box truck and a pile of belongings and he’ll see exactly how everything can fit. With steady precision it all comes together like a jigsaw puzzle. With those expert packing skills, we could neatly slip away, in the cover of night, even. Packed up perfectly, piece by piece. We could make it fit. But we don’t. We won’t. That’s the one thing we never debate, the out that we never consider. We’ll never pass the burden of a crumbling home along to anyone else. * When I lie in bed at night, my head is on the other side of the same wall where we first noticed the cracks. It feels solid enough, but there’s an eerie aspect to it; envisioning the foundation below you slowly disintegrating, in that very same space where you go for rest and refuge. Here is what is happening, right under my head: the pyrrhotite in the concrete is mixing with oxygen and water, causing the foundation to swell and crack. Then more water and air gets in, causing more swelling and cracking. The cracks run spider web-like across the foundation; they’re not the normal settling cracks you might see on a house. When you’ve seen enough of them, you can recognize them in an instant. The pyrrhotite is an unreliable time bomb; some homes started crumbling years ago, some are just starting to crumble now. Some foundations, like ours, are covered in a thin layer of stucco, so it’s only a stray chip in the stucco that even leads anyone to spot the underlying web of destruction. We have been laying our heads against a wall supported by a crumbling foundation for years, the entire time we’ve lived here. Yes, we had a home inspection when we bought this house seven years ago, with all the joy and exuberance of newlyweds beginning
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their life together. No, this was not mentioned. We didn’t know anything was wrong until last summer, when the thin layer of stucco that covered the foundation started chipping away, revealing a web of cracks. The financial burden of having to fix a foundation is large enough to be life-altering. Most houses must be raised up on stilts, the old foundation removed, the new one put in. You can’t live in your home while this is happening. (Don’t ask me where you go, or how you pay for that, too.) Some homeowners have tried easier, less expensive repairs, but they’ve proven ineffective. The only solution is to get all the old material out and put in new concrete. As it is, we are lucky. The portion of our house that is crumbling is an addition; a sizable one – half of the house – but it’s not the whole house. Also working for us is the fact that the addition has only a crawl space and not a full basement, which means the amount of foundation to be removed and repoured is less. They can dig a trench, they say, support the house with some extra beams, excavate the old stuff and pour in the new stuff. We can live here while they do this work. Our walls might crack, our floor tiles might crack, we’ll lose our deck, and maybe our shed. That damage is another thing that’s our liability. Still, it’ll cost about half of what we were expecting – high-five figures, but not six figures. Perhaps best of all is the fact that while my husband and I sleep on shaky ground, our kids are solid. Their rooms are over the stable, original 1950s concrete. Insurance companies are denying homeowners’ claims, saying that, somehow, this doesn’t fit under their definition of a home collapse. Our insurance company sends us a rejection of our claim, pointing to the technical language that explains why they won’t help us. Then they send a team out to look at the house anyway. I look them in the eye, hoping to hide my mix of desperation and hope and frustration, and say, “I don’t mean to be rude. But you rejected our claim. Why are you here?” They break eye contact when they answer, something about due diligence and better understanding the issue. A few weeks later, they send us another rejection letter, in case the first one didn’t cut deep
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enough. In it, they reiterate that they will not help us, then encourage us to protect our house and pursue repairs immediately, as though it’s a simple thing, like slapping a Band-Aid on our home, not a five-figure repair. The companies who mined and poured the faulty concrete aren’t liable, either, for reasons layered in legalese. Now that I’m immersed in the navigation of our state’s quiet catastrophe, it’s been said that the owners of the quarry and concrete companies knew what was happening, and kept doing it, home after home after home, for years, maybe decades. There’s talk that years ago, insurance companies found out about this issue and rewrote insurance policies to put the burden on the homeowner. I’ve heard of realtors who knowingly sold crumbling homes to unsuspecting buyers. These rumors are just more things I can’t make sense of. I don’t know that trying to unravel all that matters to me. How does it help to be fixated on the problem, and who knew, and when? It can feel easier when there’s someone to blame – it seems to release anger and frustration, but it doesn’t really help. Suddenly I want the solidity of home, the way I can look at my parents’ house and see it steady through the arc of time, my feet on the same floors that I’ve always walked: as a tentative kindergartner, on prom night, on my wedding day, with newborn babies in my arms. I want to know that type of home exists, like a line that tethers. I want to know that my kids have the option of walking the same floors in the future that their little feet have darted across. And me? I want to fly free. I want choice. I never wanted to be stuck here, that was always the thing in the back of my throat, but before I wasn’t actually stuck and now, somehow, impossibly, I am. * The strangest part of all might be that the throat constricting thing is accompanied by a hopeful fluttering in my chest. I don’t know what it all means, how I can feel pinned and free at the same time, the difference between a bird stuffed and on display and the eagles you see soaring high in the sky. Two disparate emotions making their home side-by-side in my body.
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Yes, the oddest thing is this: I know it will all be okay. * My husband comes home from a town meeting, steady and rattled; both. No one knows what they’re doing, he says in exasperation. And, he says aloud what I’ve been thinking: we’re lucky. He spent two hours listening to families whose homes are no longer safe to occupy; these people have nowhere to go. Picture a man, retired, in his 70s, no income to fund the repairs on a house he’s been paying a mortgage on for 30 years. Picture a family, their home so unsafe they can no longer live there. My husband looks at me. He says, you know, with the equity we have in the house…if we can get a loan, fix the foundation…we’ll be about even. We could come out of this even, maybe. Eventually. Take a few years to save up. Start again. Do I even need to tell you that “start again” was not the plan? I picture us, signing the mortgage papers. We had been married two months. This was our first house; I always thought of it that way, “first” being the designation that made the decision lighter. The other commitments we made to each other: permanent. This one, designed to be temporary. I can’t explain that; even my husband didn’t understand it, but that feeling of for now, not forever was the only way I could sign all those mortgage papers. I stepped into marriage with a knowing that made me confident about endless commitment. We purposely did not say, “’Til death do us part,” because I’ve always liked to think that even death won’t have power to part us. As capable as I am of commitment, I tentatively walked into owning this home, swayed by built-in bookshelves, my husband’s enthusiasm, and the idea of a place to build a family. When we found out our foundation was crumbling, I couldn’t hold myself together. I cried, in front of our realtor, in front of our kids, on the phone to my parents. I couldn’t believe it; it was the same as standing on the shore and watching all your dreams sail out to the middle of the sea. Or maybe our dreams were the solid land, and I found myself drifting away from them. Unmoored and mourning. What about the plans we had made for our next few years; for our life?
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Tears pricked my eyes all weekend long. And then, come Monday, I was done. A laugh bubbled up from my restricted throat, as if it had suddenly occurred to me: what else could I do but laugh? Somehow it was a chalkboard wiped clean. With our plans erased, it felt like anything was possible. It felt like there was somehow no way we would be stuck here. Even now I have no idea how that can be possible, yet it feels like the truest part of all of this. Maybe I’m a stuffed bird, still dreaming she has wings that can fly. Or maybe, somehow, I’m a free bird. Maybe there are new dreams taking flight. Maybe I’m learning that it’s only without solid ground that you can realize you know how to soar. Postscript: Since I originally wrote this essay, we applied and were accepted to the state program established to provide full financial support to homeowners with crumbling foundations. Thanks to the State of Connecticut and the Connecticut Foundation Solutions Indemnity Company, Inc., our foundation is scheduled to be repaired this summer. I was right; anything is possible. I’m a free bird.
| Author bio | Stacy Firth is a writer, content marketing strategist, mother, truth teller, and soul searcher. For years she’s been writing stories in her head, so now she’s writing them down. You can find her at www.stacyfirth.com.
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The Unknown That Awaits Kara E. Simmers
Traditional Tlingit place names are in italics, followed by names commonly used by English speakers (in parenthesis). Additional language notes are included in brackets.
I’m a vampire. A steampunk vampire with a desire to climb mountains. Admittedly, I’m also a person. One whose reality is an intricate amalgam of the actual and the imagined. I think that’s partly because I inhabit a body that is likewise a mix of the tangible and the theoretical. My many doctors tell me I have several chronic health issues. Endometriosis. Hypothyroidism. Residual symptoms of Lyme disease. And my primary care physician suspects an autoimmune disease not yet detectable in tests. Markers that provide evidence of disease are particularly shy about revealing themselves in my blood, which caused
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a delay in my Lyme disease diagnosis and also led endocrinologists to disagree about whether pernicious anemia was the culprit of a severe Vitamin B12 deficiency. Perhaps the tests aren’t designed for vampire blood. For now, this mystery disease isn’t real, but its impact on my life is very real. Although a steampunk vampire might be fictional in some circumstances, acknowledging the unusual of my reality is my way to overcome roadblocks that I can’t see and to share my experiences truthfully. In spring 2018, my experiences had consisted mostly of me stuck on the couch during my Lyme disease recovery. Frustrated with a grounded body, my soaring mind had yearned to climb mountains, and not just figuratively. When I decided to go on a cruise to Alaska [from the Aleut word Alaxsxix], I searched for the perfect excursion to accomplish this goal. Unfortunately, the most appealing options involved hiking or biking. Daunting choices for a lethargic dreamer on a couch. With pale skin from my English ancestors, possible pernicious anemia, and sun sensitivities, I’m mostly a proper vampire, but I lack other essential vampire qualities that would help me reach summits, like the ability to fly. By the time I booked the desired cruise excursion, my body was more like a flailing steampunk airship. I pictured my insides as rusting industrial gears and pipes festering in the musty confines of what was once a funky throwback to the Victorian era. Internal ovens burned intensely as firebursts flared in my joints. Out of steam, my airship body threatened to plummet. Not the best way to discover the freedom of never-ending skies from the expanse of mountaintops. Still, I was determined. In July 2018, four months after completing Lyme disease treatment, a little after sunrise I stood on a cruise ship dock in Shg̱agwéi (Skagway), Day 4 of my weeklong cruise exploring Alaska’s southeast region. While my cruise companions boarded a train excursion, I headed for the meeting place for a tour to my coveted peaks. My tour group would drive to an area an hour outside of
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Shg̱agwéi into the traditional territory of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation (in British Columbia, Canada). Then, we’d traverse by ATV to a mountainous point hikers call Paddy’s Peak, which rises between Chʼaḵúx̱ Anax̱ Dul.adi Yé (Bennett Lake) and T’ooch’ Áayi (Tutshi Lake). The excursion would give me the chance to see a glacier up close, with enough time for me to stand before it and admire its magnificence in all my romantic ridiculousness. Since Shg̱agwéi was the first port stop after three low-key days cruising up the western coast, I figured an early burst of adrenaline would carry my body headlong into adventure before I hit the brick wall of all-out exhaustion. I didn't worry about whether it was smart to haul my 39-year-old plump body up a mountain to a hidden glacier far from my home in Connecticut [from the Mohegan word Quinnitukqut]. Nor that just two months earlier, I’d been so fatigued I couldn’t complete a short errand without taking a nap in my car before driving home. I desperately wanted to prove to myself I could twirl on top of peaks! I did worry a little more as sweat flowed down my chin at 7:45 a.m. on Day 4 Shg̱agwéi after I performed the effortless task of meeting the ATV tour’s passenger van at the end of the short dock. All the videos I’d seen and reviews I’d read about Alaskan cruises had emphasized the wet and cool weather. It was one of the reasons I figured my dilapidated body could handle this vacation. None of my research had prepared me for a sunny heat wave, temperatures expected to climb to 80 degrees in Shg̱agwéi. Hoping temperatures would be cooler at the higher elevation of the mountains, I kept my blue fleece on over my long-sleeve maroon shirt as I repeatedly dabbed a tissue against my face. Heat was a factor that caused my body to swell, as did sitting or standing in one position too long. I was chancing overheating if the van wasn’t properly cooled, but the maroon shirt tended to ride up my torso and reveal my love handles. For whatever reason, my skin was highly reactive to sunscreen lately, something I’d figured out a month earlier when both my arms erupted in a throbbing, itchy red rash after I’d liberally applied the
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same brand of lotion I’d used for years. Worried about this increased propensity for rashes (no tourist wants to bump up against oozy patient zero accidentally), I preferred to keep my skin covered to avoid applying more lotion. Furthermore, the corticosteroid ointment and a moisturizer I also use to treat and prevent eczema flare-ups always make me more sensitive to the sun. Like all vampires, sun is not my friend. And not just because of my agitated skin. A condition called pigment dispersion syndrome causes overexposure of light into my eyes, which is one of the triggers for my migraines. Hormone fluctuations are another. I’d already spent the first day of my cruise curled in a nauseous ball with my eyes tightly closed hoping the hammering in my head would soon cease. During Days 2 and 3 at sea, I’d avoided alcohol and rested. However, I still felt like my steampunk airship was ping-ponging through stormy skies due to dizziness coupled with an upset stomach. No need for norovirus to distress my digestive system; my endometriosis and other agitating conditions usually guaranteed an upset stomach would arrive on long-distance adventures as consistently as my luggage. Now standing firmly on ground at Shg̱agwéi’s port in the glaring glory of a rare sun that had traveled with me through all three-and-aquarter days of the cruise thus far, I pushed my purple sunglasses up the bridge of my sweaty nose and shoved aside the lingering wooziness. I admired the mountains that stretched up around the narrow city like arms embracing me. I decided I had no choice but to greet them in return. An hour later, I sat in relative comfort in the passenger van with eight other travelers, our driver, and our ATV guide. We cruised along the wide two-lane road of the South Klondike Highway in the mountains above Shg̱agwéi headed to our destination across the border in Canada and the Taku River Tlingit First Nation Territory, near routes taken by 1890s gold-seekers during the Klondike Gold Rush.
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The sky opened to us with a brilliance that seemed ethereal and otherworldly. I kept twisting my head toward each window to get a glimpse of distant glacier fields that our driver said stretched all the way to Dzánti K'ihéeni (Juneau). Railway tracks miraculously perched on mountain edges across from us. Azure lakes sparkled like pictureperfect postcard images. I craned my neck to peer around our driver to snap a cellphone photo of a colorful mountaintop with layers of stone and rust hues piled on each other like a souvenir glass jar of sand – evidence of a plethora of minerals in the ground. I noticed the rugged trail on the side of the road that seemed perfectly proportioned for a few bicyclists or hikers to head up a mountain on our left. I was surprised when our burly van turned off the smooth pavement and managed to perfectly fit on the tunnel-like passage surrounded by trees and clinging branches. Within a few minutes, our driver efficiently maneuvered the van to a clearing that held several ATVs, an SUV, and a pickup truck. A guide greeted us and divided us into two groups. Five of the passengers were traveling together, so they were steered toward one ATV. I remained with a family of three from Malta who were on my cruise ship. The ATV guide who had ridden with us from Shg̱agwéi joined us. He was an athletic man I guessed to be in his early 30s who worked the rest of the year in search and rescue in the middle of Alaska’s interior region, approximately 700 miles from our current location. He was one of the many workers who travel great distances
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to Shg̱agwéi for the summer season, during which the city’s population surges from 1,000 to 3,000 to accommodate the nearly one million cruise ship visitors. I stood by the van and stared at the ATV that would carry us up the remainder of the mountain to Paddy’s Peak. It looked sturdy, like a cross between a pumped-up golf cart and a Jeep, with deeply grooved tires and bulging beams outlining the structure of the open-air vehicle that had only a front windshield to protect us from the elements. Two rows of bench seats fit into the interior, with the back row slightly elevated to ensure that front-row passengers did not obstruct the views. Our guide, whom I’ll call SR, looked up at the family and me and signaled us toward the vehicle. Suddenly, I felt queasy. Not the queasy I’d been experiencing from the migraine and upset stomach. Nervous queasy. I’d focused my attention so intently that morning on whether I felt well enough to climb mountains that I’d neglected to worry about whether I had the nerve to climb mountains on an ATV. I shuffled toward the vehicle on command, even though SR really didn’t demand us to board, rather he beckoned. It was a good thing he welcomed me into the ATV since vampires aren’t allowed to enter spaces where we haven’t been invited. The family – a mother, her teenaged son, and her younger daughter – followed behind me. I wasn’t sure if they’d been getting themselves organized or if they, too, felt nervous about the journey. I tried to open the front passenger door with confidence, but the gesture was more of an exaggerated swing and fumble. I plunked into my seat and ensured my backpack and camera bag were both properly situated in the vehicle with me. We vampires have long hair, so I’d braided my honey hair to ensure no rogue strands whirled into my face. I was ready. Except that I first had to figure out how to use the seatbelt. It was set to secure someone much smaller than me. I wrestled with the belt, trying to adjust the strap as I would my backpack. It didn’t budge. SR noticed my struggle and demonstrated on his belt how to change the
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strap’s length. I looked at him and got hit with sunlight, which temporarily blinded me and hid his hands in shadow. That merciless fireball often dims vampires’ vision. If only there were a midnight tour. I tried mimicking what I thought were SR’s actions, but I failed. He patiently showed me again. Still, the trick of light and shadow obscured his motions, but I eventually perceived he was pushing on a piece of the buckle. With an overly loud, “Oh!” I managed to feel both stupid and triumphant as I finally released the extra length of strap. As I settled into my seat, the sun heated my skin, reminding me of its intensity. Even though I felt self-conscious covering every inch of my body on such a pleasant day, I realized I needed to put on my orange bucket hat to shield my face and neck. A vampire’s shrieks from sun over-exposure might disturb the other travelers. After I secured the hat strap around my chin, the second ATV guide walked over and instructed me to hold onto a handle sticking out from the front window frame, slightly higher than my shoulder. I hesitated. I would need to grip the handle with my right hand, my troublesome hand. My Vitamin B12 deficiency had caused nerve damage before a neurologist diagnosed the issue six years ago. Fortunately, with treatment and time, my body has mostly healed, but my hand becomes painful and loses function. Overusing my hand causes it to release and drop objects sporadically. I wasn’t sure I could hold onto the handle for an extended period without my hand throbbing. Two minutes and ten bumps into our ride, I realized my hand would have to suck it up. The punctuated strain of the seatbelt against my persisting sensitive stomach was already making me feel like my bladder was full and bursting, even though I knew it wasn’t. I also needed to prevent my body and lime green backpack from sliding across the front bench seat into SR – who was driving the ATV. Bracing my knees rigidly against the floor wasn’t an option. My left knee is always in pain, so extra pressure on it would strain the knee and make walking more challenging once I had to get out of the vehicle, if I wasn’t careful. SR explained that the unusually sunny, warm weather had left
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the trail particularly dry, which was not the ideal condition to gain traction to ascend the mountain. The trek would not be impossible, however, since the ATV had been specially modified for this arduous journey. I immediately felt a kinship with our vehicle. Steampunk vampire on steampunk ATV! I lucked out with the front seat next to SR, while the family sat behind us. They did not engage in a lot of conversation with us, possibly due to the seating arrangements. Instead, I filled the void with almost endless questions and observations. It’s what I do when I’m nervous or excited. I can be a chatty vampire. Nothing silent and brooding about me. SR took my anxious enthusiasm in stride. He pointed out bear markings on the bark of trees just off the trail, although he reassured me they didn’t seem recent. When we passed a clearing with a small tent about 30 feet off our trail, he noted that it was the camp of a mining expedition that had left in 2006. I hadn’t realized mining had occurred so recently. I was heartened to learn they’d created the trail we were using to get up the mountain. When debating about taking this excursion, I’d read a complaint online suggesting the company had disturbed nature with this trail. I wasn’t sure if it was an isolated grumble based on misinformation or a signal of a real issue. A long history of mining had transpired in this area, and I wondered if I was one more thoughtless person intruding on the land. SR explained the tour company was maintaining the existing trail both for conducting tours and providing access for other visitors. He also informed me the tour company had permission to operate in the area from British Columbia and the First Nations. I’m not sure if I let myself off too easily upon hearing SR’s explanation, but the lingering guilt I’d been carrying washed away as our ATV drove into a rocky stream. SR stopped the ATV in the middle of the flowing water, which cascaded down the mountainside. My exhilaration threatened to burst one of the rusty pipes in me. Somehow, incredibly, I felt completely secure with gushing water passing below me. After SR took photos of us, he checked out the trail ahead and then hopped back into the vehicle to proceed.
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We left the tree line below us, although I couldn’t see much of what lay ahead since we were climbing a steep ridge. As we progressed up the embankment, I was grateful to be on the inside of the trail, not on the outer edge, especially when SR drove closer to the edge to get around a large rock. He said it had taken multiple employees to move it from the middle of the trail so the ATVs could maneuver around it. Every moment provided breathtaking photo opportunities, but I kept my Nikon digital camera in its turquoise bag as we navigated up the trail due to all the dirt that collected on everything. Instead, I relied on my cellphone for photos since it was protected inside a dustproof and waterproof case. A thin coat of sepia dust covered the outer screen, no matter how much I tried wiping it away. To my surprise, my phone loved the dirt. While I often can’t get my finger to unlock my phone in everyday use, it immediately sprang to life. Mineral and machine were locked into each other. When we disembarked from our vehicle at a second stream, I decided to purge the dirt from my hand. I bent down and plunged my grit-covered palm into the cool water, which was clean enough to drink. I left my hand in the rushing clear liquid for around 30 seconds, as if plugging into the earth to recharge. The way the sun reflected off the crystal water, it almost looked like electrical sparks flashing around my fingers. Standing up, I followed the gushing downhill path of the stream. With my phone, I took pictures of a distant mountain range that seemed to extend indefinitely. In the other direction, I observed how the mountain trail started to level out, exposing rock, minerals, and vibrantly colored flowers in yellows and purples. While I had wondered if the bright colors of my accessories would stand out on the mountain peak, it appeared that I completely fit in. Back in our vehicle, we escalated over the last mound on our journey toward Paddy’s Peak and our glacier. At the site, SR instructed us to carefully walk over jagged gray stones to a viewing point for the glacier. I took more time and care than was probably necessary, but I was determined to stay upright and finish this tour without scraping anything and bleeding. We vampires are greedy about keeping our
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blood. Free of dust and dirt, I pulled out my Nikon to take highresolution photographs of my sought-after glacier. The glacier hugged Paddy’s Peak with its solid wall of packed ice and snow sitting several hundred feet below the summit. The warmth of early July had melted enough of the lake at the glacier’s base for the water to shimmer like a dazzling blue-green slushie, conjuring a sense of sweetness and refreshment that was further enhanced by the crisp air. Snow remained on the edges of the lake in a crescent, grinning to all who gathered in appreciation of the icy wonder. We didn’t have time to descend all the way to the glacier, and it likely wouldn’t have been safe, but standing above it – with the quiet of craved solitude – infused energy into the engines of my airship. Returning to the ATV, I realized I didn’t feel the heavy, overwhelming fatigue that had plagued me for months after my treatment for Lyme disease. I was getting stronger, perhaps bolder. Even an arctic ground squirrel we encountered as we drove to our next and final location high above Chʼaḵúx̱ Anax̱ Dul.adi Yé (Bennett Lake) showed pluck and posed for a photograph. I felt filled with a lightness that might truly have allowed me to fly like a proper vampire.
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As our ATV cruised along the tundra, we turned away from our original path and headed toward a wider area of green and burgundy grasses, large boulders, and delicate flowers to briefly reunite with the other ATV group as they finished their lunch. I had almost forgotten they were out here with us. The land rolled and expanded just enough to give each of us our own private oasis. When my group piled out of our ATV, the Malta family eagerly walked to the end of the open plain toward an area where the mountain tumbled steeply. I stayed a safe distance away from the edge. Overwhelmed by open views at great heights, vertigo makes me feel like the Earth is spinning around and over me as if I’m caught inside a rapidly rotating glass ball. From my perch, I marveled at the view of Chʼaḵúx̱ Anax̱ Dul.adi Yé, a long, narrow body of aqua water that stretches along rows of mountains on both sides. Regardless of my concerns about the cliff’s edge, I decided to ask SR to take a picture of me. He had documented my visit to the glacier, and I wanted evidence I had once stood here, too, even if I wasn’t a big fan of my portrait. He readily agreed, and I handed off my phone. He walked a short distance above me as I rotated away from the cliff to face him. Although I moved slowly, I felt off balance. I put one foot forward and leaned into the mountain. Turning my back to the heights felt scarier than looking at them. My body grew warmer. I reminded myself to breathe while I tightened my grip on my Nikon that hung on me with comforting weight. I stared intensely at my cell phone in SR’s hand as if it were a vampire hunter I was challenging, all the while questioning how long I could sustain my nerve. I kept a smile plastered on my face as I looked at SR, who was repositioning himself to get the perfect shot without the others accidentally photobombing the background. I admit the result was amazing. Perhaps a steampunk vampire could defy the tendency to disappear in photographs. The curves of my hat and my body aligned with the sinuous borders of the shoreline and the mountains. I looked intrepid, with that foot placed slightly ahead of the other, ready to conquer the wilderness.
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After returning my phone to me, SR retrieved boxed lunches and water bottles from the ATV and distributed them to the family and me. We sat on the ground and dug into our food, but SR remained standing as he ate, with his feet shoulder-width apart. He kept scanning the area around us. His alert stance and watchful eye made me uncomfortable. As usual, I reacted by asking him another slew of distracting questions, eventually commenting on our isolation on the mountain. SR observed, “This is about as remote as you can get.” I looked around at the rugged environment, considering what I had gotten myself into. I’m a woman who prefers the obnoxious sounds of city traffic to the subtle snapping of twigs by mystery critters in nature. Yet, I’d willfully brought myself to a place as remote as I could get. The longer we stayed in our seemingly serene surroundings, the more unsettled I felt. I asked SR if it was time to go. He said we had a few more minutes. My internal alarm bells shrilled, as if warning that our ATV would suddenly drive away without us if we didn’t board it immediately. Again, I asked SR if we needed to leave. I was standing now, shifting my weight on my feet, ready to sprint if need be. I sensed something was off. Maybe something was off in me. We did leave a few minutes later. I felt relief as I clicked the seatbelt buckle securely into place. I’d be powerless to ward off danger, but at least I’d be tightly strapped in. As we coasted across the open landscape one final time, I noticed an abandoned ATV sitting alongside the trail. SR admitted it was kept there in case one of the other vehicles broke down, adding that all the excursion guides were either ex-military or search-and-rescue professionals who could handle any situations that might arise. He assured me that the tour company had been operating for years without any travelers missing the return time to their cruise ships. We were on the first tour of the day, so there wasn’t a concern about arriving on ship on time. I wondered if this was doublespeak for, “No worries, no one has been so horrifically injured they were unable to return to their ship…eventually.”
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As if to prove how out-of-proportion I’d gotten with my thoughts, a monster mosquito stung the side of my hand. I smashed it before I processed what had happened. Apparently, I’m an expert vampire because I extracted quite a bit of blood when I slammed the bugger. I pulled out a tissue to scrape it off, but I couldn’t rub off the blood. Balancing my gear and a huge, bloody mosquito carcass, I couldn’t hold the ATV handle to steady myself. Just in time for the ATV to dip sharply downward upon the most perilous part of the trail, with me on the cliff side of the narrow dirt path. I already was on edge, literally and figuratively. A lump was forming on my hand from the mosquito’s stab. Ten minutes earlier, I’d basically pestered SR to get us off that mountain. Yet, here, at the most daunting part of the journey, I suddenly felt gleeful. Traversing down the steep incline, the full weight of my body fell forward against the seatbelt exactly as it used to when I was a teenager and I’d ride mega roller coasters, the kind that flung passengers upside down and sideways. I’d loved the feeling of my torso pushed against the restraints when the coasters would crest and then sail down the track. I’d not gone on a mega roller coaster in years, not since my health issues had made the swirling and whipping motions unbearable. Now, I relived the thrill. As the ATV jostled in and out of ruts, I found my balance, even without holding on. I allowed myself to bend, twist, and bounce along with the vehicle. Adrenaline rushed through my rusty pipes and cleared out all the discomfort I usually experienced. The ATV’s brakes worked hard to control our descent. I smelled something burning, but I trusted our vehicle. She was my steampunk All Terrain Vehicle, after all, with her unique collection of pieces. They would keep on working, just like my own reinvigorated All Terrain Vampire parts. The ATV demonstrated her tenacity, carrying us to land that leveled out enough for my body to rest comfortably on the bench seat. SR stopped the vehicle at a magic spot for a final photo opportunity – a mesmerizing view of T’ooch’ Áayi (Tutshi Lake), which stretches along the side of the South Klondike Highway with mountain peaks rising in the background. I took a few photos with my phone, but since
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the scattered dust and dried water droplets on the front windshield prevented me from getting any crystal clear shots, I put down the electronic device. I could have wiggled to the side of the vehicle to take an unobstructed picture, but I was content to sit where I was and gaze through the grime. Ignoring the splatter and dirt felt like concealing the truth. I’m done obscuring reality. As someone with an invisible illness, I’ve struggled with receiving compliments about how good I look on the outside and how much energy I appear to have. On the inside, I’ve often felt awful and surprised my pain wasn’t obvious to everyone. I didn’t know how to explain that disconnect between my inside and my outside, and each well-intentioned comment further isolated me. On this ATV quest, I needed to experience and accept every moment, including the very real muck that might never appear on a picture-perfect postcard image or on my smiling face. Looking back at the photographs I took of T’ooch’ Áayi through the front windshield, I can see the reflection of my green backpack overlaying the nature scene. I’m absent from the images. Vampires have no reflections. It doesn’t matter. Few traces of my experiences may remain after I’m gone, but that only compels me to create as deep and vibrant a life as I can while I exist to remember it. Covered in grit, dust, and blood (thank you, monster mosquito), I felt no sadness as we continued down the trail and crossed the original creek to return to the comforting shelter of the dense foliage. SR shifted gears, and the ATV surged forward. A laugh burst from me as I remembered the scene in Jurassic Park when the Tyrannosaurus Rex chased – and almost caught up to – a vehicle until the driver switched gears and raced ahead. I shared my thought with SR, joking that it would be cool if a T. Rex suddenly appeared behind us on the trail. SR joined in my revelry, picturing Velociraptors emerging from the tangle of low-lying trees onto the trail in front of us. “Or a sasquatch,” he added with a grin. I focused on the mountain peaks I could perceive through the tree branches and considered the possibility of a sasquatch roaming
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along the hidden dirt paths weaving between tree trunks and rocky slopes. A steampunk vampire was passing through, so why not a sasquatch, too? Safely back to the parking area, we disembarked from our vehicle and reunited with the five adventurers from the other ATV. SR greeted his new batch of afternoon travelers while our morning group loaded back into the van and left the site. As we traveled along the South Klondike Highway again, we stopped for a moose meandering across the road. A few minutes later, our driver noticed a bear off to the side, although we passed too quickly for the rest of us to see. A month after I returned home, a traveler on a tour to Paddy’s Peak posted an online review about seeing a mama grizzly bear and two cubs while on the mountain. I wondered what would have happened if we’d encountered a protective mama grizzly bear. Danger had never been far away from us, just as danger is always lurking in me. I’ve had enough frank discussions with my doctors as I’m diagnosed with new diseases to know that the issues I face today are nothing compared to the challenges I may endure in the future. The risk will always be there. As it is for all of us. The more fears I conquer and the more physical ordeals I overcome, the more I prove that I’m as durable as the minerals in this land. Even with the mining that occurred in the area, enough minerals still exist to nourish the vibrant wildflowers bursting across the tundra. Regardless of how depleted my body feels, I need to dig into my core of strength, claim my adventures, and build my memories while I know I can. Along the way, I might just morph from a woozy steampunk vampire into some tough majestic creature who is resilient enough to wander the mountains with a sasquatch and flourish in the unknown that awaits.
| Author bio | Kara E. Simmers is a steampunk vampire essayist and songwriter who
teaches college courses in communications. She enjoys exploring through her photography, including her images in this essay of the area west of T’ooch’ Áayi. When discovering information about traditional Tlingit place names, she found these websites particularly helpful: http://trtfn.com/community/traditionalterritory/ and http://tlingitlanguage.com/media/TlingitThroughPlacenames.pdf.
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Monty Eric Arroyo Monty shows up at 11:26 p.m. I hear his old Solara whine down Jefferson Boulevard, past the neat rows of hedge maple and blue garbage bins. I read once that all the blue in the world was the fingerprint of God. I wonder if that includes pissy trash cans or the painter’s tape holding Monty’s bumper together. He parks on the corner of Fairway, far from windows and street lights and old women with their bochinche. Last week, Mrs. Perez asked my mother about the “black boy” that parks in front of our house, asked why he’s there so late. Mom wasn’t happy, said all the neighbors are talking. Since then, Monty is careful to avoid the panopticon of gossips on the boulevard. I wait until 11:40 p.m. before leaving my room. Mom’s door is open. The pale blue light of her TV spills into the hall, and suddenly the fingerprint of God feels like a claw at my throat. I listen.
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Slow, rhythmic breathing, a rustling of sheets, all the sounds of sleep finger through the crack in her door. I hold my breath and skulk through the hall, nearly sprinting by the time I reach the stairs. Outside, I scan the boulevard. Blackened windows gape into the night. A tangible quiet stretches between house and hedge maple and blue garbage bin. I stare at Mrs. Perez’s house before heading to Monty. * I’m panting by the time I slide into the Solara’s passenger seat. “Peach ring?” Monty asks, holding out the bag of candy. I smile and give him my ring finger, and he slides the gummy treat over my knuckle. “I guess it’s official,” he says. We laugh nervously. I palm the candy, feeling the grit of sour sanding between thumb and forefinger. I reach a sugared hand across the center console, which until now has kept us both honest. Fingers lace with mine. “When it finally happens,” Monty says. “Who gets to be the – well, y’know?” I pop the peach ring in my mouth and say, “Me, duh.” “Um,” he says. “I’m taller, so…” “Yeah, until I fold you in half like a lawn chair.” We both go silent for a long moment, then burst into an ugly guffaw. He turns to look at me. Moonlight gilds his skin in hues of indigo and blue, and I understand that I’m looking at the very fingerprint of God. “—Montgomery—?” I say. “Yeah?”
| Author bio | Eric Arroyo is a former journalist who has interviewed key players in the
fashion industry. His writing has appeared in the globally distributed The Impression, as well as a multitude of web and print publications throughout the Northeast. He holds a degree in literature from Bard College, where his academic interests included medieval literature, paleography, and media studies. Arroyo is a prose stylist interested in experimental writing, lyrical form, and genre-bending fiction.
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Arranged Marriage Lakshmi Iyer Standing in the living room where I rented a room in Jeevan Bima Nagar in Bangalore, I tried to process what was happening. My father declared, “We are coming this weekend.” What is the hurry? I wanted to scream into the phone. It hadn’t even been a week since my last rejection as a potential bride. Instead, I asked what time their train would arrive. The older couple who owned the two-level home where I rented a room upstairs were my friend’s parents. Over the course of the few months I lived with them, they’d become surrogate parents. The maami would awaken before me in the morning. She poured her love into food like mothers do. She stayed up late for me, sometimes waiting for me to join them for dinner. Most nights, the two of us would set out for a walk around our peaceful, leafy neighborhood. “Amma enna sollara?” Maami asked. So, I spilled everything I knew. Amma and Appa had placed a classified advertisement under the matrimonial section of The Hindu on Sunday. Wheatish, tall, brahmin girl. Kaushika gotram. Age 24. B.Sc (App Sc). Working for MNC. 4.25 lacs per annum, read the sparse advert, hawking my salable features. Traditionally, brides are described as fair and beautiful. Since those terms really didn’t apply to me, my parents decided to focus on the things that could work. My salary, at that point, was the envy of my family. In contrast, my friend, an engineer with a master’s degree, made half what I made working at a multinational company. On that Sunday, Amma and Appa had been inundated by phone calls and impromptu visits by parents of grooms enamored by my salary. Appa had visited one family on Monday after a phone conversation with the potential groom’s father who impressed upon him that the boy was presently in India and God willing, should things go well, he was looking at a quick engagement and a wedding shortly thereafter. The problem with following up on leads for men living in the U.S. was it often took months for the in-person meeting to happen. And if everything worked out well, the engagement and wedding took longer owing to the distance and limited amount of times in a year the men could travel back and forth from the U.S. The fact that the boy was in India meant the engagement
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could happen quickly, with the wedding shortly thereafter. In fact, it was not unheard of for weddings to be arranged in a month or even weeks. Upon their meeting, the said boy’s manners favorably impressed Appa. In a day, horoscopes had been deemed matched, and the groom’s side was ready to visit me in Bangalore to see if I’d be a good fit for their family. Indian marriages and South Indian marriages specifically placed a big deal of importance on the matching of natal charts, also called jadagam. They were also used to reject potential matches without hurting sentiments. Even as I poured out the story, I realized how ludicrous it all seemed. Maami, however, seemed optimistic. “Kovil pogalaam. Ellam nalla padiya nadakkum,” she pronounced with the faith of someone who saw the world through rose-tinted glasses. I wished I had her faith that all it’d take was a trip to the temple for everything to fall in place, but I held my tongue. I tossed and turned that Thursday night, hardly worked the following day, and obsessed over the details Amma had sent in her email, and my responses to her. The boy lived in Philadelphia, and he worked with databases. One of two brothers, his mother had passed away during the previous year and his father was retired. I didn’t know what he looked like. Amma asked if I wanted her to scan and send a photo. “Put a donkey in front of me, and I will get married to it,” I snarked. Our conversation ended on that note. Saturday night, my parents arrived with a single suitcase. Savories and sweets from Grand Snacks lined the table. My purple mysore silk and matching blouse with a silk in-skirt sat in the suitcase, neatly pressed under their clothes. I refused to look at the boy’s picture, but the rest of them passed it around remarking he looked chamathu, the all-encompassing term meaning a “good boy.” The groom’s party was to arrive on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. The food I ate for lunch roiled and threatened to come up as I readied myself. My saree flowed as I draped, pinned, and tucked away five meters of silky material over my generous frame. “Powder potuko,” Amma insisted as I looked in the mirror. I dusted powder as she watched and then I promptly wiped it away the minute she was out of sight. Kajal lined my eyes, and a string of jasmine scented my hair. I like to think I looked sweet and simple.
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They arrived in two cars, a jumble of them pouring out, gloriously loud and rowdy. I watched through the window before I was pushed upstairs by Maami. I sat on the stairs leading to my room, hearing the voices and trying to figure out which voice belonged to whom. The groom-to-be, Kannan, his father, his brother, his aunt, and his newly married cousin all crowded into the living room. My appa and maama made conversation while Amma and Maami hurried to and from the kitchen bringing out snacks, sweets, and coffee. A clear voice rang out asking Amma and Maami to please sit and talk; the food can wait, it insisted. I later learned it was Kannan. Maami beckoned to me, thrusting a plate with over six tumblers of coffee arranged on it. I entered, a demure picture. I paused for a few seconds, taking in the room. Kannan’s father sat across from me, his youngest son next to him. Kannan sat all the way in the corner, my appa and maama in between him and his father. All the women sat on the bright colored diwan, their eyes appraising me. I decided to start with Kannan’s father, walking around the room counterclockwise until the women were served. I had this routine pat, my eyes glued to the floor, my mind trying hard to still my trembling hands as I handed out each tumbler. I could feel Kannan’s eyes on me as I handed him his tumbler. I lifted my eyes and was startled by the warmth in his. “Namaskaram pannu,” Appa instructed, and I prostrated at the feet of the older gentleman in front of me. My cheeks burned, I picked myself up and retreated to the stairs. It never got old, this sense of humiliation as I fell at the feet of strangers. Tears threatened to fall. I blinked them back and tried to focus on the conversation in the other room. “Ponnu paiyan oda pesanum nu nenekara,” I heard Maami’s voice. There was a chorus of responses teasing me for my request to meet with Kannan alone. The raucous laughter irritated me as Kannan made his way up the stairs to my bedroom. I perched at one corner of the bed in an already tiny room while he sat at the other end of the bed and tried to make himself comfortable. The irony of the setting was not lost on me. I looked at this man sitting across from me in a blue silk shirt and neatly pressed black pants. His hair, oiled and parted to one side, reflected the natural light in the room. His glasses were oval, almost rimless, and framed his large eyes. His large forehead was beaded with sweat. His lips looked tender for a man, his nose rather large for his face. He was clean shaven and clearly waiting for me to start the conversation.
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I held out my palm for a handshake as I introduced myself. His grip was firm, his palms soft and warm to touch. After an awkward pause, I decided to get to the crux of why we were meeting. “Do you have anything specific you want to talk about?” “No,” he responded. “Good! Because I have a lot to talk about,” I said. I launched into a 45-minute spiel on what marriage and partnership meant to me. I talked about equality, sharing, friendship, and my identity as a working woman. He listened. His eyes were warm and sympathetic, and they never strayed from mine. He was definitely interested. When I was done, I asked if he had anything to say. His voice was tentative as he asked if I’d be open to relocating back to India as he didn’t see the U.S. as a permanent home. I asked if we could discuss that after I had a chance to experience America to make an informed decision. He nodded agreement, and we decided there was nothing left to speak about. With that we rose and made our way downstairs. We hadn’t talked about kids. Neither had we discussed films, books, or other interests because I’d been laser-focused on conveying what meant the most to me. I sensed he was overwhelmed at the amount of thought I’d put into the institution of marriage. Kannan and his family, his aunt, and his cousin all left as abruptly as they’d come, sucking all the cheerful effervescence out the door with them, leaving the house cloaked in silence. I changed into comfortable clothes and decided to stay in my room instead of dissecting the afternoon, parsing the visitors’ body language and comments for indication of interest like we usually did. Perhaps it was the fact that I was nearly 25, the oldest unmarried girl in the family, the only one who had the reputation of having called off an earlier engagement. It all weighed on me. I realized I couldn’t do this anymore; this charade of appearing before people, talking about my future with strangers, and dealing with the uncertainty of waiting for others to deem me worthy (or unworthy) of marriage. Appa stopped by my room upstairs to ask me if I liked Kannan. He stood by the doorway respecting my need for space. I could see him torn between the responsibility that weighed him down and a need to set me free from this continual charade. His veshti from the morning now looked crumpled. His eyes were weary. I longed to hug him, to ease his burden, to reassure him that all would be okay, even if this boy did not like me.
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“I do,” I said simply, indicating the conversation was over. I wasn’t even sure I had a choice. It had been five years since I’d agreed to an arranged marriage. I’d been part of a dozen or more bride viewings. I also had a broken engagement to my credit. I was getting to be a harder sell with each iteration. I honestly didn’t know how much longer I could subject myself to the matrimonial scrutiny that now felt like a form of torture. The single life looked more appealing than ever. I couldn’t nap. I lay on the bed listening to snatches of conversation filtering upstairs. Time slowed down as it does when you want it to hurry up. The four adults sat in the living room waiting for the phone to ring. I refused to think about the outcome, focusing my energies on my parents leaving so I could go back to my single, working-woman life. Just as the clock struck 6 p.m., the phone rang, startling all of us. I heard my appa’s voice murmur a string of yeses and hang up the phone. There was a brief silence before congratulations rang out from below. Amma and Maami called out to me. “Ponnu pidichu irruku sollita. Kalyanam dhaan!” (They like the girl. It’s a wedding!) It must have been relief I felt for I sank down and sat on the steps and cried. I cried for all the times I’d been rejected. I cried because I could see how happy my parents were. I cried because I knew between this day and the day I eventually got married, my family would brace themselves hoping neither Kannan nor his family changed their minds. We celebrated by eating mysorepak, a sweet made from chickpea flour fried in ghee with copious amounts of sugar added, and then we walked to the nearest temple to offer a coconut for Lord Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. The sweetness of the mysorepak was cloying, its sugar overwhelming everything in my mouth and my head. I thirsted for water, for something to wash down the taste and how artificial it all felt. Amma and Maami went inside as if on a mission, buying coconut, betel leaves, betel nuts, a string of jasmine, and a bunch of bananas for an archanai, an offering to Ganesha. They stood in line to get a ticket for the archanai while I stood a little to the side, away from the madding crowd, a desperate effort to claim a moment to process what had happened. The people around me jostled, their eyes searching for the Supreme, their collective bodies an automaton, throbbing, moving, searching, and yearning for divine release. The priest reached for the ticket in Maami’s hands, and Amma indicated for me to join them. I walked over, and the priest seemed happy to hear of the
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impending nuptials. It seemed like the prayers were extra long. Even the God himself seemed to smile benevolently on me. I closed my eyes and said thank you and woke to the feeling of holy water being sprinkled on me. Clutching one half of a newly opened coconut, one banana, and a string of flowers, I followed Amma outside. I spied a roadside vendor hawking elaneer, the refreshing water from tender coconuts, just the antidote to the lingering sweetness in my mouth. I urged the rest of them to walk ahead, taking my time to drink and get my thoughts in order. One day at a time, I repeated to myself. During the next day, my parents prepared to return to Madras. Their minds were already planning the nischayadartham, a gathering of the families of the bride and groom to formally solemnize the engagement. The groomâ€™s side of the family arranged the nischayadartham, but my amma and appa had to buy a golden chain for the groom and possibly a diamond ring for him. They also had to buy an elaborate silk saree for me and clothes for the sambandhi, the family of the groom. Maami and Maama plied them with food and ideas on what to do once they arrived home. I think, for once, being away from home helped Amma and Appa relax before what was bound to be a busy few months ahead. They left, carrying their single suitcase, climbing into an auto, and waving until I could no longer see them. I felt an impending sense of change seeping into me. I eventually received Kannanâ€™s email a few days later. We chatted briefly about our engagement date, set for two weeks later on February 28 in Madras. I persuaded him to visit me the weekend in between. Our first meeting had been arranged, but I wanted to get to know him while he was still in India, where I was sure of my footing. That weekend we ate out and walked around town, careful not to get too close to each other. We sat across from each other in the sprawling campus of ISKCON in Bangalore and talked for five hours straight. We talked about my battles with body image and his rapidly greying hair. We talked about friendship and our friends. We talked about our tastes in music and movies. He liked Tamil music and Ilayaraaja. I preferred English music and pop songs. He urged me to be physically active. I urged him to read my favorite books. We held hands on the way back home. We got engaged in a small ceremony in front of our families. Our parents exchanged ceremonial plates with new clothes, gold jewelry, and flowers as they made a formal commitment to proceed with the marriage. Kannan and I
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exchanged flower garlands. We stood for pictures afterward wearing matching maroon silks. We look tired in the pictures, but I know I was happy. The wedding was set for June, with Kannan returning to the U.S. in between. I traveled to Madras every weekend while he was still there. We watched movies and walked along the beach. He pinned flowers to my hair, and I held his hand possessively as we sat in the auto going back home. I spent the next three months wrapping up work, polishing my resume, and shopping for my wedding trousseau. Sarees, nightwear, lingerie, salwar kameez, jeans, and tee shirts filled my shopping bags. I left Bangalore for good at the end of May with seven boxes that carried my life of five years as an independent working woman. In the two weeks leading up to the wedding, I walked with Amma along Pondy bazaar buying steel cookware and picking out matching accessories for my sarees. I bought my first ever pair of sneakers, Adidas, the brand I had eyed covetously when my brother left for the U.S. to earn his masterâ€™s degree a couple of years back. The branded sneakers represented to me opportunity, a gateway to things I previously had marked untenable in my head. I met friends daily and indulged in ice creams and snacks. I tried to pack in as much of Madras and India as I could by way of memories in my head. The wedding itself was a grand affair spread over three days. My cheeks hurt from smiling and my scalp from all the elaborate hairdos. My girlfriends stuck to my side and advised me
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on everything from makeup to my wedding night. Kannan tied the mangalsutra, the wedding chain, around my neck to a crescendo of nadaswaram and thavil beats. My family smiled with relief, while Kannan cried remembering his mother. Six years from the time my mom first pulled out my horoscope, finally married, I was excited about starting my new life with my new husband in a new country.
| Author bio | Lakshmi Iyer is an alumnus of the Yale Writersâ€™ Workshop. She has a certificate in creative writing from Simon Fraser University. Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Chicago Now, Adoptive Families, Mutha Magazine, and Womenâ€™s Web. Her family is the subject of a documentary on transracial adoption currently in production (@ourdaughters.com). She blogs at www.lgiyer.com and is active on Twitter @ lakshgiri.
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Red Upright Piano. Montreal, Canada, 2018, C. Flanagan Flynn
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Teaching by the Clock Shea Benton-Reger As a teacher, the day is a constantly ticking clock. You arrive at school 20 minutes before youâ€™re contractually obligated and 15 minutes before students are supposed to be in your
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classroom. Freshmen will be waiting at the door when you get there; seniors will be late to class. You teach four classes, each 83 minutes long. The morning announcements can last up to eight minutes. There are six minutes between classes. You need three minutes to run to the bathroom from your classroom and back if there isn’t another teacher using it. If someone is, you’ll need to teach another class and wait 83 minutes to try again. Fire drills usually take 20 minutes. Your lunch is 25 minutes, but really 22 when you account for walking time. You can grade 65 one-page analytical response assignments in an hour and 30 minutes. You wait 30 seconds after asking the class a question to allow processing time before calling on a student to give an answer. You wish you had more time to listen when the students want to really talk. Sometimes, it’s on topic with a lesson, but more often it’s not. The really tempting off-topic topic is politics because there’s a chance for real-world application to what you’re reading in class. If you disregard the clock for this unplanned terrain, prepare to spend precious after-school time explaining yourself to the assistant principal if the discussion isn’t in line with every parent’s ideals. No, no time for that. So, you pass up the opportunity to talk about connections between Trump or Obama and Julius Caesar, or modernday racism and To Kill A Mockingbird. Maybe the students want to discuss an argument they’ve had with their parents. But, there never seems to be a good day for that. You’re struggling to keep on track with the curriculum because of the five snow days, the pep rally tomorrow, and the lengthy lockdown drill that surprised you yesterday. You stress about the scarce computer lab time available for the students to finish their end-of-unit group project to make up for two of those days. You need to get them to the lab now rather than indulge a student in a conversation about why she had to leave home two days ago. Plus, you may end up having to go to her guidance counselor
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during your lunch to report the issue. (As a mandated reporter, you can face a multitude of unpleasant consequences if there’s even a whiff of evidence that you knew something and said nothing.) In the end, you probably usher the class to the lab and pull the student aside to make sure everything is okay because you won’t be able to live with yourself otherwise. When a student chooses to swing by your room to chat during your lunch, you always remember it’s a compliment. You don’t want to pass up this time, so you grade papers while he talks about his terrible math teacher, who is in fact terrible. You absentmindedly inhale your peanut butter and jelly sandwich, silently giving in to the fact that you definitely won’t be making it to your mailbox until the end of the day. Trying to push the clock out of your mind, you focus your attention on the student. Back in class, you circulate the room, checking in with each student about their work. You spend little time on those who understand the assignment focusing instead on those who are lost, but they need more time than you have. You need to read through the assigned novel’s next ten pages, so students can do their homework because there aren’t enough copies of the book to send home. Thirty minutes to check in with 28 students as they finish a prompt about which characters demonstrate idealism and whether or not it’s a positive trait. Your 83-minute prep time is reserved for the things you can’t do when teaching – make copies, check in with in-school suspended students on their work, create action plans with colleagues for students about whom you’re concerned, and craft emails to parents defending your grading or expressing worry about a student’s behavior. There’s also the required 504 and PPT meetings which crop up. And if you don’t go to the bathroom now, your next opportunity won’t be for three hours. After school meetings usually happen two or three times a week. You meet so you can say that you met. There are faculty meetings, department meetings, Professional Learning Community meetings, and don’t forget the clubs you advise because it’s not enough to teach.
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Administrators look down on teachers if they don’t oversee an extracurricular or two. It’s all part of the teacher-as-part-of-thecommunity idea compelling you to take on more while the administrators have less. You stay an hour and 15 minutes past your contractual work day every day and still end up grading while you give your child a bath or while you sit next to him at bedtime as his eyes slowly close. You grade in the waiting room for doctor’s appointments, in the car as your husband drives, and at the park. You never have enough time to grade it all, listen to it all, teach it all, breathe it all. Just make sure there are enough grades in the grade book, so that everyone is happy enough to avoid complaining. You’d still sign up for it if it felt meaningful, but you know, deep down, that this isn’t teaching. It’s timekeeping. You feel like a fraud. A fraud with a very keen sense of time without enough to have a life.
| Author bio | Shea Benton-Reger is a high school English teacher, mother of two young boys, and a resident of Simsbury, Connecticut. She’s forever in search of more time and relishes in moments where it appears to slow, usually in the presence of good food, a riveting book, or the laughter of her husband and sons.
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Beyond the Delaware Water Gap Michele Palmer “It’s for your own good,” my mother insisted for the umpteenth time. I almost repeated, “It’s for your own good, too,” but I didn’t. It was too late to protest. We were already standing on the platform of the North Philadelphia Train Station. In a few minutes, I’d be leaving for Summit Lake, an overnight camp in the Pocono Mountains, hours from home. I was seven years old and had never been separated from my mother even for a day, let alone an entire summer. Yes, it was for my own good. The threat of polio hung over the city like a dark cloud each year, and the summer of 1949 was predicted
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to be the worst ever. Away at camp, in the clean, fresh air of the mountains, I’d be safe, my mother promised. Safe from the hot, crowded city, safe from swimming in public pools where, everyone believed, polio was contracted. Besides, my mother also promised that I’d enjoy camp, detailing a long list of activities awaiting me: swimming and boating in the lake, arts and crafts, archery, and horseback riding. “What’s not to like?” she asked. No answer was expected, so I gave none, only a shrug. She reached into the large canvas tote she was holding and, like a magician producing rabbits out of a hat, she pulled out twin baby dolls wrapped in a blanket and presented them to me. “They’ll keep you company on your trip,” she said. I clutched the dolls to my chest and willed myself not to cry. There was barely time to thank her, let alone say goodbye, as I was swept along into a wave of children hurrying to board the train. I found a seat next to a window and searched for my mother amid all the strangers on the platform. There she was, smiling and waving to me. I moved one of the doll’s arms up and down to wave back to her, a gesture which coincided with the train’s own movement. It lurched forward and backward before it slowly pulled away from the station. Pressing my nose to the window, I watched my mother grow smaller as the train gained speed. When she was no more than a dot in the distance, I sat back and glanced across the aisle, hoping to find a friendly face. Two older girls I didn't know were giggling and whispering between themselves. I turned to the dolls, setting them on my lap. Each one, no longer than a ruler, wore a pink flannel nightgown. Their white and pink flowered blanket: stitched down the middle to form two separate pouches. Their only hint of hair: a few wavy lines on top of their molded rubber heads. Their faces: identical except one’s eyes were painted open, and the other one’s painted shut. Their tiny cupid lips: parted, like little birds’ beaks waiting to be fed.
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I peeked under the nightgowns to inspect their bodies. Their arms and legs were molded of the same rubber material as their heads, but their soft, stuffed torsos were covered with a coarse cotton fabric. Rigid plastic bottles, filled with a milky-looking liquid sealed inside, were attached to each one’s wrist with a pink ribbon. I untied the bottles and fed the dolls; then feeling satisfied that they were nourished, tucked each one into her pouch and placed them on the seat next to me. Lulled by the motion of the train, I must have dozed off. The next thing I remember was someone shouting, “Look, there’s the Delaware Water Gap.” Children crowded around the windows across the aisle from me. I stood up to see over their heads. Two huge round mountains, separated by the Delaware River winding between them, loomed ahead. Twin mountains, beautiful and frightening at the same time. I wondered what lay beyond them. The other kids already knew. They were excited, not because of the awesome sight itself, but because it meant we were nearing camp. About ten minutes later, the train stopped at a small station. The Summit Lake campers, including me with my dolls, trooped off the train and boarded a waiting bus for the last leg of the trip. Some of the kids started singing “A Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” and eventually I joined in too. We hadn’t even reached “fifty” when we arrived at the flagpole turnaround in the center of camp. After we exited the bus, we mulled around the dusty circle, waiting for roll call. When my name was read, I joined a group of six other campers and followed them and our counselor – a pretty woman with dark, curly hair and a toothy smile – to a wooden cabin on a hill, surrounded by identical cabins on either side. Steps led up to a small porch and a screen door opened into the cabin itself. I don’t remember the rest of the day, but as the first weeks passed, I fell into a welcome routine: reveille at seven, breakfast at eight, straightening cubbies and making beds, a morning swim in the lake, lunch at noon, rest time, arts and crafts, an afternoon swim, dinner at five-thirty, a movie or campfire, taps, and lights-out by nine. The regimentation and constant activity left little time to play with my dolls, but helped my homesickness, at least during the day. In bed at
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night, though, I held the twin dolls close to me and sometimes cried myself to sleep. Then something happened. I said something or did something or didn't do something that made my counselor yell at me. Had I talked back to her? Wet my bed? Forgotten to straighten my cubbies? Did she hear me crying at night? No matter the crime, the punishment was to strip off my clothes and stand naked on the porch of our cabin. To add to my humiliation, she called over the director of the junior camp, a short, round man with a Hitler-style mustache. She pointed to me and told him of my misdeed, whatever it might have been. Then she went back inside the cabin, slamming the screen door behind her, while yelling a warning for me to stay on the porch. I crouched in the corner, folding my arms across my chest, then eased onto the hot, splintery wooden bench, crossing my legs tight. I caught glimpses of my bunkmates peering out the screen door and heard the snickers of other campers – girls and boys – passing by, while I sat there trying to hide my nakedness and shame. Finally, after minutes or hours, the counselor opened the screen door and told me to hurry in and get dressed for dinner, as if it was my fault for being late. The rest of the summer continued without anyone ever mentioning the incident on the porch. I learned how to do the dead man’s float. I learned how to mount a horse and take him for a slow ride along a trail. Sitting around a campfire, I learned the lyrics to “In the Evening by the Moonlight.” (Ra-de-dew-dah.) Once, a troupe of Indians (that’s what we called Native Americans then) came to entertain us. They danced and chanted to the beat of their drums and wore headdresses and beaded leather clothing and moccasins. In arts and crafts, we made necklaces and pouches out of tiny seed beads, and pretended we were Indians. I even made tiny beaded necklaces for the dolls. My parents came up for Visitors’ Day, and my mother handed me a giant, swirly, rainbow-colored all-day-sucker, which left sores on the sides of my mouth. I didn’t tell her what had happened on the porch. Not then, not ever.
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When I returned home at the end of the summer, two new dolls stood on my bureau, a welcome home gift. They looked like miniature contestants for Miss America and Miss Israel, each one holding a tiny flag representing her country. With their perfectly coiffed hair and satin gowns glued to their plastic bodies, they were meant to be decorations rather than toys, so I left them on the bureau and played with the twin baby dolls instead. One day I carried the baby dolls to the small porch outside my parents’ bedroom. I laid them down on two plump, dark green pillows atop a black wrought iron chaise lounge. The gap between the pillows reminded me of the Delaware River flowing between the huge twin mountains on the way to camp. I pulled off the dolls’ pink nightgowns and studied their naked bodies. I felt my cheeks burn as my whole body filled with rage. I grabbed one of their pointy-tipped bottles and began stabbing at the flesh-colored fabric, jabbing their chests and bellies, thrusting it between their legs, over and over, anger and shame flowing through me into their innocence. I stopped suddenly when I heard a noise – a shuffling sound coming from the porch next door. I turned and saw a strange woman standing on my neighbors’ porch, staring at me. New shame flooded through me. Who was she? Had she seen me attacking the dolls? Would she tell the neighbors? Would they tell my mother? I quickly dressed the dolls and pretended to feed them; their instrument of torture now turned back into a source of nourishment. When I was sure the woman had left, I went inside my house. As I placed the dolls in the tiny carriage in the playroom, I heard my mother calling me from downstairs. I held my breath and walked slowly toward the top of the stairs. She was standing at the bottom, shaking a manila envelope in the air. “The camp pictures just came in the mail.” We sat on the sofa and looked at the glossy black and white photographs together. The group picture of the entire camp. The picture of me wading into the lake. And finally, the picture of me with
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my bunkmates, my counselor, and the head of the junior camp. All of us were smiling; my counselor’s smile toothier than ever. My mother smiled at our smiles. Her promises had been fulfilled. I had been kept safe from polio, and, from what she could tell, I had enjoyed camp. Indeed, it seemed as if nothing unusual had happened that summer. Nothing unusual at all.
| Author bio | Michele Palmer has been writing since her first story called “Blueberry the Frog” at age eight. Since then, she has been a newspaper reporter, freelance writer, and oral historian. She has published twelve books, both fiction and nonfiction, including three children’s books under the pseudonym Malka Penn. In 2017, she established the Malka Penn Award for Human Rights in Children’s Literature at the University of Connecticut.
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I Would Choose the Moon Nan Redmond
I would choose the moon. Yes. If I had to pick just one of all the heavenly bodies around us, the moon would be my star. Itâ€™s not a star, of course. And thatâ€™s really kind of the point. The firmament is stuffed with stars. Billions. Zillions. More.
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And sure, stars are amazing in a flashy kind of fashion. They have their constellations, their dippers, their Milky Way. And the charm they impart to the stratosphere is fine. But there also are dark spots on those balls of spark and dazzle, and they push me toward a lunar frame of mind. Take the sun, for instance. There’s a showoff, and a diva too! It’s a mass of hot fumes, that solar prima donna. Fickle as a Twitter tweet as well. Every day, it keeps people waiting, worrying, weighing the odds of whether it will deign to show its face. Uneasy mortals study iffy forecasts, unsure whether to move forward or back. “Is it going to come out? Is it going to stay in? Do I need a hat? Can we go to the beach? Can I wear my new shoes to work?” And of course, there’s more at stake here than our footwear and hairdos; we need those rays to even stay alive. To see where we are going, to not freeze into ice chunks, to grow ourselves some spinach and some kale. We are as helpless as newborns, totally reliant – and don’t think that big gas ball doesn’t know. With regrets to Leonardo in his perch on the Titanic, the real king of the world is the SUN. Even the Beatles knew its sway. “Here Comes the Sun,” “Good Day Sunshine” and “I’ll Follow the Sun” are just three of their solarpowered hits. Heck, the sun is where their yellow sub set sail. So yes, the sun has loyal fans, and famous ones to boot. But still I say that even with all its Fahrenheits ablazing, the sun can’t hold a candle to the moon. The moon! Oh, my stars – now there’s an awesome orb! So much more elusive and discreet. A ghostly galleon, a silvery cradle, the bar the nursery rhyme cow just had to jump. The word itself is a poem inside your mouth: Moooooooon. Its every context smolders with allure: moon dance, moon dust, moonstone, honeymoon. The very definition of fantasy! While the sun casts down its burning rays, the moon exudes halos and beams. Its phases and hues are so many and so varied, scientists and poets struggle to give each its due. Harvest Moon. Hunter’s Moon. Wolf, Tiger, Buck. Blue Moon, Black Moon, Paper, Flower, Snow. Micromoon. Supermoon. Super Blue Blood Moon.
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It’s the lantern of lovers and witchdoctors, the camouflage of pirates and spies. In my mind, I see it hanging above gothic castles and gleaming oceans, cowboy prairies and fields of harvest wheat. It’s a beacon between mountain peaks and dusky rooftops, over wildflowers and glittering snow, all equally enchanted by its ethereal, blue-gold light. There’s one more thing that makes the moon my choice for celestial sovereign, that sets it apart from every other body in the sky. The moon has a face, a person, a man. It’s a friend that weathers every storm. Unlike the sun, it doesn’t threaten your retinas with ultraviolet waves. You can gaze at its visage all you want. And it looks back in silence, with a shadow of solace. The man in the moon is a listener not a talker. It doesn’t ask, it doesn’t judge, it just abides. Yes, I would choose the moon.
| Author bio | Nan Redmond is an essayist and avid student of life. She enjoyed a long career in corporate communications and now writes her reflections on moments of wonder, heartache, fury, and delight. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College and is the ever-grateful mom of two 20-something sons and a 13-year-old beagle. Nan lives in Fairfield, Connecticut.
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Partners Linda Stallman Gibson Sam, my arborist, wasted no time delivering his verdict. “Take it down before it falls down.” His words pierced me. Standing in the dining room, we gazed out the back window at my red oak, a sylvan beauty, 70 feet tall, centered mid-way up the hill behind my split-level home. Tall, slender, and strong – always my favorite physical type. Sam estimated its age at 75. I turned 75 a month ago. “What’s the name of its disease?” “Phytophthora cactorum. Root rot.”
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The speed with which Sam responded left no doubt about his view of the seriousness of the decay. The cavity at the base of the trunk on the uphill side was the visible symptom of its ailment; the tough, callus tissue around the opening, testimony to the tree’s effort to withstand the invasion of contaminating fungi. I understood the need to toughen up against adversity. “You can suppress the disease, but you can’t eradicate it. Basically, you’re just delaying the inevitable.” I was quiet. Similar to my aging system of veins and arteries – my medicine helped, but it didn’t cure. Mid-August and the oak’s leaves still looked as fresh and green as they had in May. That wasn’t the case last year. Then, the leaves had a ragged look, wearied, it seemed, by violent summer storms. That was when I noticed how gnarled the lower limbs appeared, resembling grotesque versions of the arthritic joints on my battered hands and feet. Within weeks, thousands of acorns would drop. Every October for the past three years, my young grandson and I had filled empty flower pots with the light green nuts. “Shiny faces without features,” I’d called them. “Wearing helmets,” he’d added. At the end of December, we’d carried the pots up the hill and emptied the acorns at the base of the sleeping giant, a final helping for woodland creatures preparing to hibernate. Dormancy, the oak conveyed, was the best way to defend against the cold. I took its cue, glided into slow motion, contented to modify my energy output. “What did the needle test tell you?” I asked the arborist. Not long before, I’d watched Sam and Dr. Neil, the company tree surgeon, use a special drilling device to check the extent of interior decay. “In fact, the test showed about ten to twelve inches before we hit decay on the front side.” “That sounds hopeful.” “Except that on the back side, we hit the soft stuff at only two to four inches. That’s where the holding roots are.”
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I knew the rest of the story. If the holding roots gave way and the oak fell forward, it could demolish my house and me. I bit my lip and kept my gaze on the oak – silent, still, unperturbed. My neighbor had a gorgeous, healthy, white oak removed. Had the oak capsized, it wouldn’t have crushed her house. It hung over her garden in a way she thought ominous. Her arborist advised her to take it down to quell her fears. As far as I was concerned, her decision was vindictive, the assassination of an innocent bystander. The squirrels caught my attention, two of them chasing an apparent interloper around the trunk of the oak. The trespasser scampered to the end of a finger-thin limb and vaulted to another tree, several feet away, landing on a branch that dipped perilously under its weight. I’d watched these chase games dozens of times and had yet to see a hurdler muff a landing. Sam began to pace the room while relating information. “Of course, if the tree weren’t high risk to life and property, we would treat it with bark spray, fungicide, and fertilizer.” I turned to face him. This was the first time Sam suggested there was any alternative. “Yes? And?” He shrugged. “And we wouldn’t prune it because we’d want to keep as much leaf surface in the tree as possible.” Sounded like a regular wellness program. We sat down at the dining room table. “Nor would we cable it because it wouldn’t be able to give in certain situations.” “Like Hurricane Sandy?” “Yep, a humdinger like that or even smaller.” It had been four years since the superstorm clobbered the East Coast. When it touched down, I sat outside and admired the bend and sway of the oak limbs in the wind, a many-armed Medusa moving with balletic grace. It had never seemed more alive, a dancer, like I’d been, so long ago. I considered sharing this experience with Sam. His lingering squint stifled my impulse. I skipped instead to my decision. “I want to do everything possible to preserve the oak.” Sam’s eyebrows lifted. “You mean, you agree to the risk?”
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“I do.” I’d chosen this home and this property because of the sheer majesty of the oak’s towering presence. Such grandeur brought threat. Both sick and healthy trees could blow over in the wind. I’d more or less accepted that danger once I moved in and became soul mates with the red oak. “I do,” I repeated, savoring the fact that accepting the risk made it sound as if the oak and I were officially a couple. Sam calculated the cost of the care program – not surprisingly, in the hundreds of dollars – and offered advice. “One thing I want to say. In the event of another major storm, it would be a good idea for you to stay at a hotel.” His tone was somber, his concern genuine. We shook hands and he left. I whispered my thanks to my red oak mate. A faint breeze rustled the lower branches, a shiver of delight. We understood departure was in sight, that sooner or later inevitabilities would have their way with us. But that didn’t mean the battle was over, just that the management stage had begun in earnest. For better or for worse, love and luck would serve as our escorts through this next phase of our lives.
| Author bio | Besides caring for her oak trees, Linda Stallman Gibson, retired professor Queens College CUNY, spent thirty years teaching and writing for educators of young children (Word Play and Language Learning for Children and Literacy Learning in the Early Years: Through Children’s Eyes). A recent graduate of the MFA program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, she is at work on a memoir about raising our young for an uncertain future.
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Anniversary Walk John Lally A heavy rain pelted the worn, ancient cobblestone piazza outside of the Hotel Nazionale in the center of Rome. We watched from the lobby as an elderly British couple climbed into a taxi to be whisked away to an unknown destination. My wife Laura and I were next in line as the hotel concierge called for a taxi. We had dinner reservations at ImĂ go. It was September 23, 2015, and we were celebrating our 37th wedding anniversary. I wore a new sport coat for the occasion, and Laura glowed in her shimmering silver blouse and new black slacks. Weâ€™d been
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planning the Rome trip for over a year, and we were intent on making it one to remember. Four months prior, I’d googled “Best Restaurants in Rome, Italy.” The top-rated restaurant was entirely booked for the date we wanted. I contacted Imàgo (the runner up), a Michelin-starred restaurant in the Hotel Hassler, and secured a reservation for two. We were ecstatic. Though not “foodies” we were determined to have a fivestar experience for our anniversary celebration. As time passed in the hotel lobby, the concierge apologized for her unsuccessful attempts at hailing a taxi for us. The heavy rain had created an unusual demand for taxis. Our chance of getting one in time for our reservation was looking bleaker by the minute. The only other option was borrowing an umbrella from the hotel and walking the mile to our dinner destination, but the rain was coming down nearly sideways from the strong gusts of wind, so that seemed a last resort. Precious time was passing. We were determined not to let Mother Nature defeat us. I grabbed the complimentary umbrella and stepped out into the cold, wet Piazza di Monte Citorio. In other conditions, we might have noticed the enchanting reflection of Rome’s glittering lights along our path. Not tonight. The walk was tenuous and challenging. Time-weathered stones beneath our feet were as slippery as ice. We tried to sidestep cold puddles, but they were everywhere since the city’s drainage system couldn’t keep up with the rain. My new loafers and Laura’s open-toed shoes were no match for the storm’s fury. Our feet were soon waterlogged as we slogged down the Via del Corso. Even the umbrella proved nearly useless. We were soaked from the waist down. “Are we having fun yet?” asked Laura, only half-jokingly. I was in no mood to reply. Instead I focused on gingerly putting one foot in front of the other. I was having doubts about the evening. Even if we eventually made it to the Hotel Hassler, would we be too cold and drenched to enjoy our meal? We were turning a corner at the Via dei Condotti as I happened upon a gift from the Roman Gods. Across the street was an off-duty taxi with the taxista (driver) nearby having a smoke. I appealed to his
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compassion, or maybe it was his pity, for two rain-drenched out-oftowners on a mission to celebrate their anniversary. The taxista agreed to take us to our destination. Within minutes we arrived in front of the Hotel Hassler, which was perched high above the Spanish Steps. We’d sat on those timeworn steps just the day before, enjoying a cool gelato as we’d watched tourists taking selfies. We’d reveled in the shared wonder and beauty of Rome. The sun was warm and bright as we’d savored our icy delights. Tonight was a totally different experience. The hotel doorman, in his white top hat and tails, escorted us through the lobby and to the elevator to Imàgo on the top floor. I wondered what he thought of the two scraggly looking Americans leaving wet footsteps across the carpet of the opulent hotel lobby. My wife and I stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for the sixth floor. As the elevator doors opened, thoughts of our unfortunate journey quickly faded away. As we stepped into the restaurant, we were transported into a world of elegance. A maître d’ greeted us, leading us past a reception desk and bar on the way to our table. The starched linen tablecloth was adorned with crystal and sparkled with silver cutlery. As we sat down, Laura and I looked up. We were awed by the ceiling, which was dotted by hundreds of tiny random lights, suggesting a view of the starry night sky. “We are not in Kansas anymore,” I said to Laura while we took in the ambiance of the room. “Far from it. This is beautiful,” she added. I reflected aloud that maybe we were in above our heads, dining in such a world-class restaurant. “We’ve worked hard to make this possible and certainly deserve to treat ourselves,” Laura assured. The staff graciously made no reference to our weathered appearance, and soon that was a thing of the past. Our damp feet quickly warmed in the radiance of the room, and we relaxed into our soft cushioned seats.
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Our window table overlooked the center of Rome, illuminated romantically as if arranged just for our anniversary. Large picture windows along three walls of the restaurant provided a panoramic view of the city. Even though raindrops dotted the glass panes, we could clearly see the dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican and the spires of the Trinità dei Monti Church in the distance. The dimly lit interior served to enhance the exterior view. The maître d’ brought over a poggiapiedi, a low white padded ottoman, and placed it next to Laura’s chair. “For your purse, Signora.” We knew we were in for something special. As if with military precision, another staff member brought us a small plate with seven assorted hors d’oeuvres, colorful and artfully plated. We slowly enjoyed each morsel, though having no idea what we were eating. Normally a finicky and unimaginative eater, I ate everything offered. On this exquisite evening, I was determined to step out of my comfort zone. The restaurant appeared to be full, but despite the clanging of silverware and Babelian experience of multilingual conversations around us, we felt in our own world with private attendants anticipating our every need. The sommelier, dressed in an impeccable black tuxedo, recommended that we try a special Italian wine for our occasion. He brought us a bottle of Schioppettino di Cialla, a dry wine from the Province of Venice in northeastern Italy. The cool “pop” of the cork was just a tease for the delights to come. We savored the wine, as we did each of the next five enticingly prepared and delicious courses. We were served additional appetizers, a pasta course, then the entrees. I had a wonderfully prepared filet mignon drizzled with a balsamic sauce while Laura feasted on a roasted turbot with white prawns. All the while, outside on the window ledge that framed our splendid view of Rome, a huge white seagull marched unfazed by the continuing rainstorm. He remained on the ledge throughout our entire evening, staring at us, as if hoping we’d let him in to share our culinary feast.
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Il culmine (the culmination) of our feast was our shared dessert, topped with a single small candle for the occasion. For our anniversary celebration, the chef had specially prepared a small chocolate cake with a sculpted confectionary heart perched on top. Though we were full, we enjoyed every succulent morsel, slowly consumed in the dimmed light of this exquisite room, atop this magnificent city. We were in no hurry for this enchanting evening to end, so we decided to have a digestif. I enjoyed a wonderful golden cognac in a handsome brandy snifter while Laura relished a nice Earl Grey tea served in a polished silver teapot that reflected the images of two seasoned lovers luxuriating in the intoxicating ambiance. The inevitable time had come. A small leather folder, brought to us on a silver platter, held evidence of the cost of our evening. We tried not to react to the numbers on the check. After all, these were euros not dollars, and wouldn’t have to be reconciled until we returned home to Connecticut and the real world. In all, our evening’s saga had mirrored our marriage experience. In 1978 we’d started out energetic and enthusiastic with much promise and optimism, confident about the future. Over the next 37 years, we’d run into disappointments and challenging obstacles, but through perseverance and some luck, we’d weathered many storms and shown commitment to our partnership to now revel in the fruits of our achievement. From how we’d made it from the Hotel Nazionale that evening in the rain to our dinner at Imàgo, we’d relived our love story in a few short hours.
| Author bio | John Lally is a retired Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. As part of the next
chapter of his life, he's joined a writing workshop where he honed this personal essay. He's also been published in The Good Men Project, The Hartford Courant, and is Executive Director of Today I Matter, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the shame and stigma of mental illness through education, advocacy, and support. In service of this mission, he has been a featured public speaker at addiction awareness events around Connecticut and appeared multiple times on television news programs. He blogs at Addiction: From the Front Lines at www.blog.todayimatter.org.
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Eden Pond Farm Lesley Schurmann Iâ€™m watching chickens being coaxed to vomit. It isnâ€™t the cruelty of deranged teenagers, but a technique intended to help a hen clear its blocked crop. On this overcast Saturday afternoon in September 2018, my husband Kip and our friend Cris, a farmer of free-range pastured poultry and eggs, each grasps a reddish-brown Freedom Ranger. They tip the struggling birds forward, and stroke upwards from breast to neck. Earlier in the day, the hens had been plied with a mixture of peanut butter, molasses, Epsom salts, and yogurt.
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Cris’ chicken spews first. A thin yellow stream drips from its beak onto the grass at her feet. Izzy, the aging lab-mix, laps it up. “Am I doing this right,” Kip, a novice, asks. Cris nods. “Just don’t push too hard or she might…” And with that, the bird shakes like an unbalanced washing machine and violently sprays the contents of her crop onto Kip’s jeans. Lucky for Kip, he packed another pair. This is my sixth visit to Eden Pond Farm, 100 acres in western Massachusetts, owned by our friends, Cris and Roland. So I’ve been long disabused of my quaint notion that raising and selling poultry and eggs for profit is like an episode of Martha Stewart Living I’ve watched. Back when she still owned Turkey Hill Farm, I doubt Martha ever caused even one of her 80 laying hens to vomit in front of their pristine white coop. I’ve found that gathering eggs is the best part of chicken farming. Not only do I get to use a cute wire basket for this grown-up hunt, but I can also grab every one of the warm brown eggs, not having to pretend that some wobbly toddler in bunny ears saw it first. Yet many aspects of pasture poultry are far from magazine glossy. Cris and Roland, like many farmers, came to hands-on agriculture later in life. Cris, an attorney, was previously a high-level legislative aide in Washington, D.C. More recently, she’s been in the nonprofit land conservation sector, which is how she and Kip met. Roland, a Vietnam veteran, retired from working as a master electrician in various federal buildings, including the FBI. Is life as small-scale farmers, with its copious chicken effluvia, an improvement on their previous day jobs? I’m loath to ask. I’ve great respect for agriculture and gratitude for the farmers who sustain us. As a human nutrition major at Cornell University, I endured many of the same sciences as the agricultural studies majors (aggies), striving alongside them and the premeds in lecture halls and labs. Kip, a soil scientist, has kept me apprised of evolving conservation practices and policies ever since I met him in our coed dorm in 1977 BCC (before climate change). I’ve been to dozens of ag fairs. And have dug, planted, watered, weeded, and picked in our large
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family garden. But the rigor and risk of farming were intellectual exercises for me until we visited Eden Pond. There I garnered more of a hands-on appreciation of animal husbandry – a world far removed from my nine-to-five universe working for an educational nonprofit. On a 2017 visit, I witnessed the difficult debate about the most humane way to “put down” injured and ill poultry. Is it better to let a hen with misshapen legs die naturally – that is, starve, become prey, or be pecked to death by her peers? Or is a swift, gut-wrenching twist of the neck more compassionate? Then, how to return the feathered body to the earth without attracting more predators to the farm. What would Martha Stewart do? I imagined her calmly concocting an herbal sleeping potion, expertly wrapping the limp bird in a monogrammed, coyote-proof shroud, and then efficiently interring it in a spatter-painted crypt under a handcrafted stone wall. I was a less planful angel of death. When asked to transfer an ailing chicken to the large cage that served as an ICU, I pictured myself as the Florence Nightingale of fowl. But the bird died in my arms before I could set it down on its bed of straw, confirming the decision I’d made decades earlier not to become a nurse. I was bereft. Kip, who’d done some neck wringing earlier that day, was clearly envious I’d been assigned a less brutal task. Among our many Eden Pond visits, our 2014 Labor Day weekend visit was the most instructive. We’d volunteered to watch the poultry houses (four mobile coops) while Cris, Roland, and their teens attended an out-of-state wedding. Our daughter Lauren and her friend Marie joined us on the country jaunt, each escaping their cramped Brooklyn, NY, apartments. Both were excited by the chance to be weekend farm hands, especially bird-loving Lauren. We considered Bacon and Crispen, her two pet cockatiels, to be our grand-birds. The pair always delighted us with their affections and antics – just as the girls imagined those chickens would. We arrived Friday afternoon, so Cris could walk us through our chores. They’d be gone on Saturday before the cock crowed. I was relieved that there’d be four of us, rather than just Kip and me, to haul buckets of water and feed twice a day, and to collect eggs. We’d work
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together to roll the coops to fresher spots in the pasture, where the grass hadn’t yet been eaten or fertilized by scores of birds. Pushing the poultry houses on wheels wasn’t difficult, but it could be tricky to adjust the movable perimeter fencing with its posts which were like bendable pitchforks. Then, at night, we’d need to corral the “girls and guys,” a few hundred laying and meat birds, and lock them in. A few days before we arrived, more than a dozen birds had disappeared in the night without a trace. No blood, no feathers, no sound. Cris joked about a possible alien abduction, but I secretly considered it. On a visit the prior winter, Cris, Kip, and I had gone out after dinner to watch the night sky. We’d all witnessed a large Christmas-tree-shaped collection of green and red lights hovering above the hills for what seemed liked minutes. It’d vanished suddenly as if an unearthly pilot had flipped a switch. Could Cris’ frosty cosmos, those delicious pink drinks, have been the cause of a shared hallucination? We’d each drunk two but were far from stumbling or slurring, so that seemed unlikely. As compensation for our chicken-sitting labors, Kip and I would stay in the fully appointed Airbnb apartment over the barn, with its private terrace and pastoral view. Lauren and Marie could choose from among the many beds and couches in the warren of rooms in the barn where Cris and Roland’s teenagers hung out. We’d have farm fresh eggs for breakfast, their golden yolks smiling up like little suns from our Fiestaware plates. We’d have the use of a grill and fire pit, perfect for making end-of-summer s’mores with our two city girls who’d requested them. And of course, as a break from our work, we’d have the walking trails, and the clear, spring-fed Eden Pond for fishing and swimming. It sounded heavenly, befitting of the farm name that Cris and Roland had chosen. “Wouldn’t this be the ideal setting for a writing retreat?” I enthused to Kip. Saturday morning rounds went off without incident. Lauren and Marie charmed the laying hens with corn cobs they’d saved from the previous night’s dinner when Kip had exercised the decency to turn his back to the coops as he grilled chicken breasts and veggie burgers. At
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the sight of the treat, the curious chickens slowed enough to be snatched up by Lauren and Marie for a hug. All the while making soft clucks of pleasure like purring cats as the girls stroked their fat bodies. After a light lunch the young women suited up, grabbed a couple of inner tubes, and strolled down to the pond for a swim. Kip and I lazily filled a bushel basket with windfall heirloom apples to feed to the resident donkey, Eeyore. Then I headed into the apartment for my book, Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings. Kip went to the car for his fishing rod and tackle box. It was time to join the girls at the pond. I could already envision iridescent dragonflies hovering and diving over the sunny dock as I dipped my toes into the cool water. Instead, from the kitchen window, I discovered that thunderheads had amassed in the west, while we’d been turned to the tempting apple trees in the east. We’d known there was a small chance of storms. In the event of rain or worse, Cris and Roland stressed it would be critical to get the younger meat birds into their coops ASAP to protect the investment. Not fully “feathered out” yet, they were vulnerable to chills if they got wet. I slid open the window and yelled down to Kip as the first fat raindrops plinked against the glass. He waved and shouted to the girls, in turn, but they didn’t hear or budge. So he jumped into the Odyssey, raced to the pond, scooped them up, and circled back into the driveway, gravel flying. Two bikini-clad 20-somethings leapt from the Honda minivan and over the fence with a fluidity that belied their identities as urban-dwelling artists. They flew through the yard as though competing in an avian Olympics, grabbing skittering birds, and flinging them into the coops. I’d just dragged the excitable Izzy into the house when I heard a faint rumbling like a distant train. A gust of wind picked up one of the mobile coops and flung it against the fence, scattering chickens everywhere. Kip and the girls wrestled it into a more secure position as I ran to check on the laying hens on the other side of the house. Older, calmer, and wiser than their meat bird cousins, they were huddled under their coop, safe from the downpour and the wind.
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The storm passed. We all dried off, then later that evening completed our Saturday rounds, all the while joking about being caught in a chickenado. We briefly considered keeping the incident from Cris and Roland, like a sympathetic babysitter who sweeps up the broken glass without mentioning it, relieved that we didn’t need to explain any broken chickens. But a microburst had felled trees and blocked the roadway home from the wedding. There was no hiding the fact that there had been a legitimate weather emergency. And we, the greenhorns, hadn’t lost a single Freedom Ranger in the eternal battle of humans vs. nature. As a chicken-tending apprentice, I’ve experienced the gamut from “Can this chicken be saved?” to “How can this chicken be saved?” to “Should this chicken be saved?” I can’t help but wonder what lessons await me in 2019 at Eden Pond Farm.
| Author bio | Lesley Schurmann has written professionally about food, health, and
literacy. This is her first personal essay since “Reflections on an Empty Beer Mug” was published in Praxis, a college literary magazine, in 1976.
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My Window on the World Joyce Hausmann Now that I’m retired and have the blessing of time, I’ve vowed to daily take stock of something wondrous out the first window I pass upon waking. I throw up the sash to sample the air and survey the woods beyond in my backyard. It’s not a cultivated part of the yard but a Connecticut forest of oaks, scant maples, and black birch. I linger to seek the beauty, to dig deeper into what is there and so often unnoticed. I find myself more mindful of the wildlife that thrives in these woods. I’ve become fond of the squirrels playing and the secret lives of bunnies that seem to have a warren underneath the wild raspberries.
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Listening to the birds and the coo of what I think are nesting peahens, I occasionally see a fox darting after a fleeing chipmunk or vole. My view varies from season to season. In summer the wood’s edge is green and densely covered with leafy foliage of wild raspberries, native Itea, and summer sweet Clethra. Kalmia, or native mountain laurel, shows off with its clusters of flowers in pink that fade to white as they linger on the bush. Native winter berry or holly blooms faintly in white until the berries form, first green and then red as the season passes. In the summer I can’t see into the forest floor far. It’s adorned with the sporadic bloom of the native species. I have to look carefully to see the fox in his shaggy summer coat of sun-bleached fur. In the fall everything changes into the rich palette of colorful foliage that varies from muted brown to copper and brilliant yellow. It changes daily as winter settles into linear shapes of the trunks and limbs. In the distance a house becomes visible. Scant green remains from the Kalmia, creeping pine, and a few seedlings of white pines. Holly now displays its red ripened berries advertising a meal for the birds. Some of the sapling birch leaves hold their buttery yellow well into the winter. The view is enriched by the arrival of snowfall. Winter brings shadows as sunlight falls at an oblique angle through the trees forming intriguing blue patterns. Tree trunks’ hues emerge in ultramarine and purple midst the burnt sienna, while green moss clings to the bark on the north side. With the foliage gone I can see the squirrels still playing acrobatic games flitting here and there. Their winter nests are the clumps of leaves in the upper branches of the aged oaks. Cardinals and purple finches show their colors vividly against the darker background. I can hear the joyful sound of the chickadees calling out to one another. I’m blessed with bluebirds in recent winters. They seem to love the patches of berries and the shelter of shrubs in the yard. The feeders are alive with activity. Once in a while the forest is blanketed in a deeper layer of snow making a marshmallow masterpiece. Now Mr. Fox is decked out in his rich thick coat of red fur, his tail a magnificent plume. Come spring the view changes again. Now the subtle pastel colors begin to show the growth of new leaves in celery green and even
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a tinge of pink. Bird activity increases with the arrival of the redbreasted robins. Come April I can expect the first sightings of redthroated hummingbirds. Itea sets out its pendulant, dainty, lacy white flowers. My sampling of the day out the window used to hint at what to wear, and what I’d do. Would I head to the garden, drive the kids to the beach, rake leaves, shovel snow, or help build snow forts? Today enjoying the day is simpler. Whether the air feels brisk and cool, sultry and hot, or frigid with frost or damp with dew, a mood is set. As I inhale damp and humid, fetid smelling air a feeling stirs me. A different mood is evoked by brisk, fresh, sweet-smelling air, or frigid zephyr carried air. Can I be the only one who notices? I gauge the day. I often throw open the same window at day’s end. Sometimes it’s so dark that there is nothing to see, but there’s much to be learned by peering into the dark. Is there the blink of a firefly, or the lights of a distant house? There is much to be noticed as I hear the first peepers of spring, the cicadas of the summer nights, the whirr of tires on a distant highway, or a far-off siren of an emergency vehicle rushing somewhere. At times I’ve heard the howling of distant coyotes. In the darkness of night, I am more aware of the scents of the seasons, a neighbor’s firepit, dinner on the grill, or a wood-burning fireplace. Summer sweet Clethra and Kalmia perfume the air, each in its season. My daily habit allows me to slow down and prepare myself to enjoy whatever the day will bring and climb into bed, knowing that all is well from my window on the world.
| Author bio | After a career in teaching the language arts as a reading consultant, Joyce
Hausmann has written a collection of personal essays, some poetry, and a few short stories. After she retired, she decided to tackle writing. She’d been told to write about her life experiences and decided it important to learn how to shape her stories to engage and hold her readers’ interest. As an artist, she felt it vital to make her writing as vivid as her paintings.
| Artist bio | Sarah Bousquet’s “Redwoods” is an oil on canvas painting paired with
Joyce Hausmann’s essay, My Window on the World. Sarah Bousquet is an art educator, artist, and writer. She lives in coastal Connecticut with her husband and daughter.
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A Pinto Winter Henri Adams I purchased the 1972 Ford Pinto in 1978 from a used car dealer in Plainfield, New Jersey, with the $2,000 Iâ€™d saved from working as a laboratory technician at a sewage treatment plant in Elizabeth, New Jersey. My Pinto had a pleasing, metallic flake, medium-brown color exterior that had been freshly painted. It had a four-speed manual stick shift, complete with brown vinyl bucket seats. With its rack and pinion steering, it was like a knockoff low budget sports car. I loved shifting gears on the manual transmission, fantasizing I was instead driving a race car.
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Unbeknownst to me when I purchased the '72 Pinto, it’d become the subject of numerous lawsuits due to design flaws. The gas tank could explode in rear-end collisions causing a fiery demise for the car’s occupants. After I became aware of this deadly defect, I continued to drive the Pinto for two years before I eventually drove the car to a dealership to repair the design flaw. A year after purchasing the Pinto, I was still driving the potentially explosive car. I’d landed a job as a health inspector trainee at the Connecticut Department of Health. As a civil servant state employee, I lived on a tight budget and thus had to become an expert cheapskate. When a car problem developed with the Pinto, I’d troubleshoot its cause, then replace the defective part with the aid of my manual, regardless of the weather at the time. This DIY part-time hobby would save me thousands of dollars in labor and parts over many years of used car ownership. By the fourth year I’d owned the car, as it approached its tenth birthday, it started frequently breaking down. It was common knowledge that American-made cars of that era were designed to last for ten years or less, or up to 100,000 miles. As an earlier owner of an old Dodge Dart and then the Pinto, I became all too aware that car problems arise at inopportune moments and often under bad conditions: frigid temperatures, heavy rainstorms, heat waves, and rarely close to home. One day my brakes failed on Route 44 in central Connecticut as I was descending the steep Wickham Park hill in East Hartford. Initially, I panicked. I have no brakes! What can I do? Visions of me in a deadly fiery crash surged into my head. Luckily, my selfpreservation instincts took over. Traffic was light, so I down-shifted and cruised to a stop in a nearby empty parking lot. After regaining my composure, I made it home safely by operating the hand brake. Consulting my manual, I determined the master brake cylinder had failed. After removing the part, I examined it to determine why it failed, further dismantling the part before replacing it with a rebuilt one. One early afternoon in mid-December of 1980, I drove to an
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automotive junkyard in north Hartford, to find a replacement part for my broken defroster and heater. The mechanical controls (by levers and cables) operate various vents to defrost the windshield and to distribute heat inside the car, a necessity for New England winter driving. This particularly frigid day was no exception. On the drive to the junkyard, I leaned to the middle of the car to peer into a four-inch defrosted hole directly above the center vent, as heated air trickled out in a futile effort to defrost the iced-over windshield. At the junkyard, holding the broken mechanical controls, I approached the man behind the counter. “Hi, I’m looking for this heat control for a '72 Ford Pinto,” I said, assuming he’d quickly retrieve one from a shelf somewhere inside the building. The young man, with greasy, dark, work clothes and equally greasy hair, grumbled, “It’s in the back.” He tilted his head in a direction behind him. “You’ll have to get it yourself, and then bring it to the counter.” Not happy with this extra task, I walked out the side door and spotted a beat-up Pinto of similar vintage to mine in the auto graveyard. Smashed and broken automobiles, many from serious accidents, were strewn haphazardly about the lot, sometimes piled two and even three cars high. I didn't want to think about the many people hurt in these accidents. I was sure some had died. The faint scent of automotive fluids and an odor of burned rubber permeated through the damp cold air. Walking on packed, partly-frozen mud that was littered with debris, I noticed another mangled Pinto balanced upside down on the roof of the car whose part I sought. The upside-down Pinto, with its tires to the sky, had crushed the bottom Pinto car roof below it several inches downward. Luckily, I always carried tools in my car, so I was prepared for anything. After all I owned an aging Pinto and a beat-up, unreliable Dart before that. I looked uneasily at the stacked vehicles and wondered if the upside-down Pinto might teeter off or crush the Pinto it was pinning to the ground if I tried to extract the part I needed. Wasn’t it the auto junkyard’s responsibility to remove the parts? I grumbled to myself. Reluctantly with my right hand, I pushed on the roof of the top
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Pinto. It wobbled precariously. I took a deep breath, then gathered my courage and slithered on my stomach into the vehicle through the open window of the driver's door. As quickly and as carefully as I could, I extracted the heating controls. Snaking back out with my prize, elated I was unscathed, I returned to the junkyard’s office. After paying for the part, which should have been discounted (but wasn’t) as a hazardous work compensation, I headed home towards East Hartford. The quickest and easiest way back took me into downtown Hartford. While stopped at a traffic light on Morgan Street, it suddenly began to snow heavily. I switched on my windshield wipers as I waited for the light to change in the deserted downtown (typical for a Saturday afternoon). As I sat there, I noticed the wipers were not moving in synchronicity with each other. One wiper moved a little faster than the other, causing them to collide into each other. I pulled to the side of the road and watched the wipers with a mixed sense of dread and amusement amid the increasingly heavy snow squall. Unexpectedly, the wipers locked against each other like “Rock’Em Sock’Em Robots” trying to push the other down in a fight to the finish. The driver-side wiper pushed hard against the opponent wiper and seemed to be winning when the passenger-side wiper pushed back, regaining its position on the windshield. Continuing the battle, the locked wipers momentarily left the windshield bowing out towards the hood and back to the surface again to my utter amazement. I sat and watched, mesmerized, uncertain of the outcome. With what seemed like extra effort, one wiper achieved dominance and flung its rival clear off the car in a decisive victory. Its vanquished opponent lay still on the side of the road. I jumped out of the car to retrieve the defeated wiper. Unfortunately for me, the winning wiper was on the passenger’s side. Crap! Now I’d have to drive home into the snowstorm with only the passenger-side wiper working and with no heat or defroster controls. Alternating between peering into a small frost-free spot in the center of the windshield and leaning my head out my door window (heavy snow beating against my bespeckled face), I was somehow able to navigate back home without
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further incident. At home, I investigated the wiper problem. I realized the connecting part that controlled both wipers had broken. This costly part would be difficult to remove and replace, and it’d be expensive to hire someone to replace it. My DIY solution was to remove the passenger-side wiper and put it on the driver side so I could see – yet avoid a wiper rematch. My modified car now became a one-wiperblade Pinto. As it turned out, my Pinto soon developed other chronic problems just as difficult and costly to repair, such as a leaky exhaust manifold. Several months later, I sold the Pinto for $25 to the same junkyard where I found the heater controls. Just before the sale, like any diehard DIY-er, I rescued the new car battery I’d recently installed leaving a dead battery in its place. This was a fitting end to my now deceased, but beloved, Pinto, joining its brethren “death trap” Pintos in its final resting place.
| Author bio | Henri Adams received a BS in Physical Sciences from Rutgers University
in 1978. He retired as an engineer and health inspector from the Connecticut Department of Health (CTDPH) after 32 years. He coauthored a published EPA study titled, “The Occurrence of Giardia in Connecticut Water Supplies and Watershed Animals” and investigated water quality contaminant and water quantity issues for the CTDPH. He’s an artist who paints with oils and is versed in DIY automobile and home repair. He’s currently writing a memoir about his 1977 cross country motorcycle trip on a Honda 350CB.
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Stanleyville Amy Bowers
Itâ€™s 1983, my family and I enter the open air, sunken Stanleyville Theatre at Busch Gardens: The Dark Continent; anticipation palpable. Iâ€™m ten years old and, as season ticket holders, we spend many weekends strolling through the park, riding jerky roller coasters and seeking refuge in climate-controlled animal shows. Air-conditioned, a manufactured breeze blows over my sweaty body, and Iâ€™m instantly chilly. I relish the goosebumps and breathe deeply, savoring the smell of refrigerant, a relief from the unrelenting Florida sun. We choose a seat in the center and settle in, hoping the shallow moat surrounding the stage is enough to maintain the segregation of the audience and the entertainment, to keep us safe. The elephant show is about to begin. A repetitive, pumping disco beat fills the rough-hewn stone room; brightly colored light bulbs chase each other around the
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proscenium. As the cold, aluminum bench seats begin to nip into the back of our legs, the trainer enters wearing a tight, royal-blue, satin jumpsuit. Red and amber sequined flames run up his chest ending at his widely splayed collar which mimics his thick black mustache. He speaks grandly for a moment about wonder, amazement, and wildness tamed. Then, finally, the elephants file out in a line; tails in trunks, the trio stuns the audience. Grossly outsized for the round, carpeted stage. I feel the danger heighten as the trainer uses his bullhook to continuously strike the elephants’ dusty, grey thighs. Disgruntled trumpets protest the blows before they begrudgingly perform their tricks. The elephants’ face-plates and the showgirls, who ride on their backs, drip with sequins refracting the spotlights as the elephants maneuver into headstands, walk on their back legs, and balance on balls while slowly moving across the stage. It’s a disturbing perversion of nature, a pushing of things past their limit. A grab for grandeur that makes humans so dreadful. For this bedazzled, gawping kid, who spends her days following rules or getting in trouble for not following rules, it’s also darkly thrilling. I’m inspired by the elephants’ leviathan strength and apparent restraint. But secretly I want one of the elephants to stomp on a showgirl who looks too perfect. Right on her soft middle. My desire for violence surprises me, as does how much I despise her. Why is she doing this? The swishing strings of beads hanging from her leotard can be heard in the audience and call attention to her shapely torso and long legs. This public scrutiny is unbearable and feels like school, where kids hawkishly monitor and comment on every ounce of breast growth, whiff of body odor, and skin blemish on girls like me. I try to imagine what might happen if we, at 10, 11, or 12-years-old, collectively un-hunched our bodies and strutted. The showgirl, spangled and luminescent, wears decorative, glittery cuffs, just like the beasts she rides, and they call to mind the iron shackles elephants wear between shows. Elephants are often kept on short chains they could easily rip from the earth, yet they are
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conditioned from calf-hood to underestimate their strength. Now that I think about it, I want the elephant to crush the trainer instead. The audience is shushed as she prepares to perform the most daring trick of all. It’s risky the audience is told, “At this point in the program we ask for complete silence as this next piece requires absolute concentration and trust on the part of the elephant, the trainer, and his assistant.” The soundtrack’s volume lowers to a slow, resonant heartbeat. We hold our breath as the assistant lays on the ground and the pachyderm straddles and then settles on top of her. The assistant’s tiny feathered head sticks out from beneath the animal’s chest. I'm confused and unsure why we’re supposed to be awestruck. Is the pose suggesting sex with an elephant? I look around and everyone is just staring at the stage with wide eyes, barely breathing. I feel foolish or like a pervert for thinking this. Am I the only one who doesn’t understand? I wonder, are the elephants embarrassed to be performing such undignified tricks, things they would never do in the wild? I’m embarrassed watching. The trainer tells us how much the elephants love learning new things and how well they are pampered at Busch Gardens. But I want to hear the elephants’ rumbles, cries, and trumpets unleashed. I want to see them run and splash into the moat, up the stairs of the theatre, and thunder through the fake Nairobi streets to the real Hillsborough River where they might be left alone. I want to see their trunks swing wildly at anything that is in their way. I want the rampage, and I like knowing that it is possible. Each time I’ve sat through this show over the years, it’s become increasingly more uncomfortable for me, even now as the trainer gentle assures, “They like it. We would never hurt them. They’re like family. They’re safer here than in their natural habitat.” But I see something in the elephants’ eyes, a sadness or deep loneliness or a numbed disconnection. I look around me and feel the other children must see the sadness, too. As the show closes, the elephants sit on their haunches with their front legs cantilevered in front of them for a photo finish. The showgirl
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stands, right leg bent, hip thrust out, smiling closed-mouthed. The trainer proudly throws his hands into the air, satin and sequins ablaze in the lights, to claim full credit for the astounding acts we just witnessed. I clap half-heartedly along with the crowd as if I, too, am a trained animal. As we file out into the brilliant sunshine, my eyes smart, quickly readjust, and then begin to see clearly as we make our way to the next amusement.
| Author bio | Amy Bowers is a Floridan now living in the rusty Northeast. Her work is
published or forthcoming in Mabel Magazine, Bella Grace, and [Pank]. She is currently working on her MFA in nonfiction at Bennington College where she is busy researching habitat dioramas, domestic advice literature, and the natural world.
Transfusion #3. Catherine Whall Smith
| Artist bio | Catherine Whall Smith is a contemporary Fiber Artist, living in Connecticut. In her art she explores traditional hand-quilting techniques combined with original abstract designs to add a dynamic quality to her work. Her awardwinning fiber art has been published in many publications and exhibited in juried shows and galleries throughout New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
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Childbirth The French Connection Joan Seliger Sidney
New Haven, Connecticut, Fall 1966 What do I know about childbirth? Nothing, so I look forward to learning “everything you need to know,” my obstetrician (OB) says about a four-week hospital course. What do I learn? There’s pain. There’s medication. A Peridural to dull labor pain, Demerol to dull episiotomy pain. The Yale New Haven Hospital tour takes us through cold, stark, unfriendly labor and delivery rooms. As a naïve first-timer, I have no idea childbirth that can be different than this. I trust my OB. I trust the hospital. I believe doctors know best. The traffic light turns green. As I waddle across York Street, an older woman coming in the other direction stares at my belly. “You’re going to have a boy.” “Thanks,” wondering if she’s right, how she knows. As I near my due date, I ask a friend with a new baby, “What’s giving birth like?” “It’s like shitting a watermelon.” I ask my mother. “The worst pain I ever experienced,” Mom says. “I didn’t want to tell you, Joanie.” That’s enough information. Too much. But I’m young and fearless.
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Two weeks past my due date when I feel as though I’ll be pregnant forever, serious contractions start. After I settle in the stark labor room, my OB tells my husband Stu, “Go grab a sandwich, then come back and we’ll tell you what your wife had.” Who is this monster I’ve been seeing throughout my pregnancy? How dare he send Stu away at a time when we need each other even more than at our wedding. Why doesn’t Stu refuse? I turn but he’s gone, so I keep quiet. I’m afraid to make a scene and alienate my doctor, who disappears along with the nurse, after she takes my vitals. I’m alone in a chilly labor room. My abdomen tightens as the contractions hit me back to back. Although I have a high pain threshold, when the anesthesiologist comes to give me the Peridural, I’m ready. For hours I drift in and out of a drug-induced haze. December 2, 1966. After fifteen hours of labor and delivery – average for a first baby – Daniel Alan is out in our world. Seven pounds, twenty inches. I’m thrilled with my beautiful boy, but when a nurse helps me out of bed and walks me to the toilet, I hold on tight to her waist. My legs are numb. I feel nothing. How will I take care of my baby if my legs can’t carry us? Has my unnamed illness returned after less than fourteen months? First Attack i was entering my twenty-fourth year when a bolt of lightning struck my knee & sparks flew toe to thigh six weeks married i had no time for anything but sex & teaching still fears sneaked in through the door that didn’t shut till i gave myself to doctors believing they knew everything or with a snap of fingers their genie would figure it out did you & your husband fight
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asked the hospital physician this could be newly-married hysteria (Freud twisting weeping women’s minds around icy bodies) no i said from my bed i watched leaves on the maple tree outside shrivel & flee across the street in between as perfect patient i was passed from machine to machine
When I see my OB six weeks later, I ask, “Why did you send Stu away?” “Hospital policy,” he says. End of conversation. New Haven, Fall 1969 More than two years after Danny’s birth I’m pregnant with my second, my only planned pregnancy out of four. Because of Stu’s first teaching job we live in Yale faculty housing, an apartment complex of young families. Although we see each other hanging wet clothes on clotheslines, and have tea while our toddlers play together, why do we women rarely talk about family planning and contraception? Exceptions: my closest friend tells me she discovered a pin-hole prick in her diaphragm, causing her surprise pregnancy. Another woman with four children in five years jokes, “If my husband looks at me, I get pregnant.” As I carry up a basket of clean clothes from the basement laundry room, my bag of waters breaks, soaking me and starting contractions. This time my OB’s young partner, the more progressive doctor, is on call. He lets Stu look through the labor room window and speak to me by intercom. Hearing his voice reassures me. If only we were together. The OB starts a Pitocin drip to speed my labor. What’s his rush? To get home early? My body becomes a rollercoaster of contractions. In no time my cervix is fully dilated. He injects Demerol, snips, slips forceps around the baby’s head, delivering him a few minutes before midnight. Five hours of labor-delivery. Another December 2nd son.
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Raymond Mark. Seven pounds, five ounces, twenty inches. Although his head is elongated and fishlike from the forceps, he’s our adorable boy. New Haven, June 1971 In contrast to my blowing off the diaphragm, which led to Danny, I’m strict about using the Preceptin Gel my OB prescribed after I healed from Ray’s birth. It’s easy, all I do is fill the syringe, insert into my vagina, and squirt. Exciting times: we’re going to France. Stu’s new employer, the University of Connecticut Math Department, has set a precedent by granting him a year’s leave before he starts teaching. Stu is busy taking an intensive French conversation course at Yale. Though he studied Spanish, Latin, and Russian, he knows no French and is highly motivated (and scared) about teaching in French. I’m psyched. Finally I’ll use the language I studied for seven years. Since Grenoble is in the Alps, the home of the 1968 Winter Olympics, I’ll even ski. All of a sudden, I’m pregnant again. How is that possible? I’ve been so careful to use Preceptin Gel every time. Wasn’t it strong enough to kill Stu’s sperm? Is this a joke my OB played on me and other patients? Has Zero Population Growth (ZPG) decimated his practice? This baby I don’t want is due late February. I want to ski the Alps, not change diapers. We have our two beautiful boys. After our year abroad, Danny will enter first grade, Ray pre-school. I want to resume teaching, restart my career, not wait several more years for a newborn to start school. Along with lots of friends, I believe in ZPG. Can its almost 35,000 members be wrong? How long will it take before the Earth will be unable to feed its out-of-control population? What seemed impossible to me then is a looming reality. “Enough babies,” I tell my new obstetrician, from Yale’s first health plan. As of July 1, abortion will become legal in Connecticut. “Sign me up. I’ll be the first.” I’m totally convinced. Or think I am. Still, except for Stu and my parents, I tell no one, not even my in-laws (who had three boys), or my closest friends. Am I afraid they’ll talk me out of it? Especially the friends with three kids I adore?
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“O.K.,” the OB says. “The law requires you to see a social worker before.” Appointments in hand, I’m set. Or so I think. At the neighborhood playground, Danny climbs onto a swing and I slide Ray into another. As I go back and forth pushing them higher and higher, I notice a man watching his three young children climb the monkey bars. He’s humming a happy song. The kids are chasing each other. Through unexpected tears I keep pushing my boys. Why am I crying? Aren’t I certain my family’s perfect? Or am I? As if I, too, were swinging, doubt tosses me off-balance. “I saw a man at the playground with three kids,” I tell Stu after our boys are in bed. “If he can have more than two, so can I.” Stu hugs me. “I didn’t want to discourage you, but I’m thrilled you changed your mind.” So are my parents. I am, too. Gières and Saint-Martin-d'Hères, Late August 1971 Before leaving New Haven, Yale friends who’ve lived and worked in Grenoble advise us to go straight to the American Library on the university campus, that Madame de Bertrand, the director, who knows everyone, will help us make connections with American expats. Who cares? Stu and I are not coming to France to spend the year with Americans. But on our first sortie to campus, we do stop at the American Library, only to find this sign posted on the locked door: The library is closed for August. It will reopen September 1st. Cordially, Madame de Bertrand. Par for France, August when almost everyone goes on vacation. More good luck. Weeks later we meet the middle-aged Madame de Bertrand. As soon as she notices my belly, she says, “You must go to Dr. Boennec. He’s a Harvard-trained obstetrician who delivers all the American babies in our community. He doesn’t want women to suffer, so he’ll put you to sleep and take out your baby, like they do in America.” Yes, knock’em out and yank the baby. Fortunately by the time we meet Madame de Bertrand, we’re set with my Lamaze OBs.
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Grenoble, Fall 1971 As my uterus expands to accommodate my developing fetus, I’m determined to give birth as French women are doing, by l’accouchement sans douleur. The title is intriguing: “childbirth without pain.” Is even the thought possible? A neighbor sends us to Le Planning Familial in search of an obstetrician to train us in the Lamaze Method. They recommend Pierre and François Sikirdji, brothers in joint practice. Each week one or the other educates and prepares us to give birth without pain. We hear how, in 1951, Dr. Fernand Lamaze watched in awe as women in the Soviet Union, using psychoprophylaxis, gave birth relaxed and smiling. No medication. How he returned to France to train sagefemmes and patients. Following in his footsteps, the Sikirdjis strive to eliminate the pain of childbirth through education about the physiological process of labor and delivery, through the trained relaxation response to uterine contractions, and through patterned breathing. Women work with their labor instead of turning to drugs. Arielle Greenberg and Rachel Zucker, in HOME/BIRTH: a poemic (2010), complain, “… birth has become something a woman is not supposed to feel. How not feeling anything has become something to be desired.” After their hospital births, the two friends chose homebirths. Their experiences with doulas convinced them, “Birth can be a gift, a sacred passage, a moment of transformation.” But, “most American women are deprived of it.” Stu and I sit in the Sikirdjis's crowded classroom. All eyes focus as Pierre enters. Already he’s the charismatic actor he’ll become when he retires in fifteen years. How can he mesmerize us with facts? His lion’s mane of black hair and striking profile? Other nights François charms us with stories of women overcoming fear and pain. Together they teach us to take charge of our labor and delivery, not to let the medical establishment rob us of our peak experience. To experience childbirth as an adventure, not a curse. “Childbirth is very hard work, like running a marathon,” the brothers say in our class.
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Besides attending Pierre and François’s lectures, we couples carry two bed pillows to work with either Claudie or Odette, their wives, who teach the practical side, breathing techniques to relax and work with contractions. Inhale, drop chin, hold-hold-hold as you push your baby out. Claudie is a water-colorist/oil painter and English teacher. Odette is a nurse. Women with their own children, their professions, fitting their husbands’ pregnant patients into their busy lives. In addition, they squat down on the floor with us, teaching and practicing exercises, doing significant physical work. Their doctor-husbands perform as they lecture, acquiring a substantial fan club, while their wives do the nitty-gritty. Whose job is easier? Why did it take me forty-six years to ask this question? To realize the Sikirdji brothers swept me off my feet. Two doctors dedicated to awakening and liberating their pregnant patients but not their wives. Even in France, the birthplace of Simone de Beauvoir’s Le Deuxième Sexe, husbands still take charge. Even Pierre and François.
Saint-Martin-d’Uriage, February 24, 1972 One night close to my due date we have dinner at a visiting German mathematician’s house. He’s the one who ended his colloquium lecture with, “Je suis fini.” When his colleagues cracked up, Stu explained why. “Instead of saying, ‘I’m finished,’ you said, ‘I’m dead.’” He’d mastered that idiom in his eight-week intensive French course at Yale before we left for France. Stu was brave. Never having studied French, in May when his colleague Alain Bernard came to lecture at Yale, he assured him, “Yes, I will be able teach in French,” at a time when it was obvious Stu knew not a word.
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With a gourmet dinner in our bellies, Stu drives the winding mountain road from Saint-Martin-d’Uriage. The moon is a waxing crescent, the sky a blanket of stars. We hit a bump. I hear a pop and feel warm water soaking my panties, slacks, and my wool poncho, stretched under my butt. “What was that pop?” “My bag of waters.” We laugh at this start of our Lamaze adventure. Julie, the American student/babysitter I met in the linguistique appliqué course I've been auditing at l’Université de Grenoble, agrees to stay over. Stu grabs my overnight case and off we go to Clinique Belledonne. No free room on the labor floor, a nurse wheels me onto the elevator to a room upstairs. Slides her gloved finger into my cervix. “Labor’s starting, call me when contractions are one minute apart.” Stu takes out our course notebook, pen, and watch. For the first time in three pregnancies, we know what to do. Slow deep breathing relaxes me as Stu times each contraction and records them for posterity. As the contractions quicken, my breathing shifts to shallow quick ins and outs. In no time, they’re one minute apart. “You must be eight centimeters,” Stu says. He calls the nurse. “Eight centimeters,” she confirms, calls Pierre, and wheels me to the delivery floor. Legs splayed, feet in stirrups, shaved stained pubis bright Betadine gold, my cervix at ten centimeters stars in Stu’s Super 8 movie camera. Crazy, you say. Tossed like a baseball (Pierre’s idea) and caught by the only Americans in Lamaze class. Smiling, I wave at the camera, reach for my baby. “Under his armpits, not around his neck,” Pierre reminds me. Close call. I slip my arms under my baby’s armpits, guiding as he slides out. No episiotomy needed. February 25, 1972. After five plus hours, we greet Lawrence Hugh. Six pounds twelve ounces, eighteen and a half inches. I'm in the Clinique for a week, grace à Sécurité Sociale. My friends visit with gifts. I picture one of the women working full-time at
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the Faculty, juggling young school-age children and an academic husband, wishing she could change places, put her feet up on the bed and close her eyes. Even in France, it’s expected that women who work outside are still in charge of the home. How can we call our countries “developed nations?” When will men really listen to women? No numbness, no tingling, I’m pumped from the adventure of childbirth, the pleasure of sharing this with Stu, and, of course, the joy of another healthy boy. Lucky for me, I came to France, and experienced l’accouchement sans douleur. After returning to Connecticut, I become certified to teach Lamaze Prepared Childbirth Classes to help U.S. women take back what modern medicine had stolen from them. Manchester Hospital, Connecticut, 1973 I’m pregnant again. Billie, the nurse at my new OB’s office, belongs to a small group of nurses who call themselves, “monitrices.” Besides being certified Lamaze instructors, they’re on-call to help pregnant women during delivery. Doulas before doulas become popular. I’m delighted Billie and the most progressive OB in the practice are my medical team at the hospital. Of course since France, Stu and I are Lamaze experts. Although the labor and Lamaze delivery take fifteen hours, I’m relaxed and able to work with contractions. With an overhead mirror in place, as I push, I watch the baby’s head crown. Another push and the baby slides out. Seven pounds, twenty inches. Our third on December 2. We name the baby Jennifer Ellen. It’s a girl!
| Author bio | Joan Seliger Sidney is writer-in-residence at the University of Connecticut’s
Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life. She’s the author of The Way the Past Comes Back (The Kutenai Press), Body of Diminishing Motion: Poems and a Memoir (CavanKerry Press), and Bereft and Blessed (Antrim). In addition, Joan is busy translating French poems by Mireille Gansel and revising picture books and creative nonfiction essays. The unknown illness she writes about in her essay recurred in 1976. She was later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
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Take the Photograph Kara E. Simmers I don’t want to take the photograph. I raise my cell phone and position it, sort of framing the shot but not able to stare long enough at the object I’m capturing. The object. It’s not an object. It’s a devouring beast. I don’t want to take the photograph. What if someone looks at the photos on my phone? What will they think when they see this image? Will they believe I wanted this photo for some sick desire to exploit or gawk at tragedy? Does it matter what anyone thinks? I think it’s gruesome. A photo memory of this moment feels wrong. I’m standing in hell. I don’t want to take the photograph. But, I must. This hell is the former crematorium at the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site outside of Munich. The original ovens where prisoners’ bodies were burned because so many of them were dying. Starved. Worked to exhaustion. Tortured. Shoved into cramped, diseaseridden bunkers. Murdered. Stripped of life for not fitting into a despicable box of what was damningly deemed appropriate or superior. Obliterated. After World War II, this area of the site was designed as a memorial reminiscent of a cemetery, to honor those whose lives were taken. A larger crematorium and gas chamber loom on my left side, also preserved in this haunted place to remember the deceased and educate the living. Survivors of the camp created Dachau’s memorial site, which opened in 1965. They recognized the importance of exposing the horror to prevent a repeat of these atrocious acts.
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I should take the photograph. I can’t ignore these ovens hulking in the middle of an oddly cozy structure, which is nestled amongst trees as if waiting to play its part as the creepy cottage stumbled upon in a Grimm fairy tale. This isn’t a fairy tale, and certainly not a story to be blurred by the manipulations of Nazi propaganda or the passage of time. The ovens in front of me glow ominously under display lights, sinister in the intruding gloom of the day’s end. I will take the photograph. I must remember and understand and look closely at every revolting remnant, even more so because I could so easily look away. I am white – Protestant – cisgender – straight. Some of my many advantages. I even have blond hair and blue eyes. I am Privileged with a capital P. I must stare deeply into the obscured, menacing spaces surrounding the illuminated ovens. Hold my eyes open so long that the frigid dread settles into my heart and pumps throughout my body. So, I can’t deny it. Instead, feel it. Know it. I hesitate to take the photograph. But, the world is rumbling with a call of hate in the amassing darkness. Even in this moment – as I face these ovens in December 2016 – I realize we don’t have much light left before sunset. Will light rise tomorrow if I shove my phone in my pocket and walk away? What terrors are developing in the shadows as I stand here doing nothing? I take the photograph. And another. Should I take a third? What is enough to document? What is too much? When does it become a spectacle? The iciness overtakes me. It never fully leaves. It shouldn’t. The tortured and terrorized can’t be the only ones who bear the burden of remembering.
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I don’t want to keep the photographs. Yet, they are crucial evidence of horror, loss, and pain. A horror that shreds happiness like a monster ripping apart everyone in its path, leaving only hollowed family trees. After I leave the site, a vision of the ovens appears in my mind like ghostly whispers on a double exposed image. They reignite the chill that has seeped into every corner of my being. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to look at what I’ve captured. Still, I save the photographs. They stay on my phone, sitting between images of twinkling winter lights and Christmas market stalls. Amongst festive photos of holiday mugs and mulled wine. Bumped against the vibrant colors of celebrations. The photographs are backed up on the cloud. I will not lose them. It’s my responsibility to protect them. To document. To remember. To focus my Privilege on fighting against the surge of hostility that rises. And now, I share the story of these photographs. In doing so, I hope to ensure that the stark and horrific truth of what happened is never erased. These ovens exist. And, people used them to callously demolish the evidence of precious lives. The photographs are a part of me, as piercing pictures attached to the most vital pages of my heart’s memory book. I will make sure they do not fade.
| Author bio | Kara E. Simmers is an essayist, songwriter, and public relations
professional who teaches college courses in communications. She’s also created video documentaries, one chronicling the experiences of young adult cancer survivors and another featuring skateboarders seeking the legal right to use Philadelphia’s LOVE Park. She holds a master of liberal arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania. To learn more about the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, visit https://www.kz-gedenkstaette-dachau.de/index-e.html.
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Scottish Highlanders of Ellington Cindy Sederquest
March roared in like a lion during an overnight storm that left hills, valleys, and towns covered with deep, white snow. The thaw began mid-morning, glazing a top crust on snowbanks during a slow, silent melt. A fragrant, sweet smell of fresh hay filled the air. On a small hill in Ellington, Connecticut, in the far distance, stood the Highlanders: a bull, two cows, and a young heifer. They were shaggy, hefty beasts with large eyes hidden under thick forelocks. Their long horns curved outwards from their heads. Each was a
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different color of the earth â€“ black, amber, gold, red-sienna â€“ resembling pre-historic woolly mammoth ancestors. Cold or inclement weather was no challenge for them, with their genetic links to the highlands of Scotland, where the terrain is rugged and conditions harsh. These intelligent bovines were gentle, curious, and serene. Enduring.
| Author bio | Cindy's passions include reading, writing, watercolor painting, and
photography. A retired educator with over 25 years of experience teaching art, gifted and talented students, as well as remedial reading and language arts, Cindy now substitute teaches and explores Connecticut's rural corners which inspire her artwork.
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Water for Air Stacy Firth Years before she got pregnant, she trained for a triathlon. Swim. Run. Bike. She had done those things before – for entertainment, a way to pass a sunny summer afternoon – not like this. One of the first things she learned about swimming was that form mattered: stretch your arms straight and forward; kick your legs in small, smooth motions; tilt your head to the side, away from the water, and breathe in perfect rhythm with every third stroke. Stretch. Kick. Stretch. Kick. Stretch. Kick. Tilt. Most important of all, the thing that could make or break your efforts: if you get kicked in the face, or if you forget to breathe right and you inhale the murky lake water instead of air, you should flip onto your back and swim in slow, steady strokes for a few beats. Don’t give up, but also don’t try to keep going the way you were. She forgot this after she gave birth. Her baby had been born in the bright summer sun, but she kept the curtains closed, light filtering in through the depths. Did she want
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to go for a walk? No. Did she want to take the baby outside, run an errand, go to the park? No. She was so busy desperately keeping form; it was all she could do. The postpartum weeks were a kick to the face, and she never flipped onto her back. She kept her head down and swam, stretching out her arms as straight and far as she could, focusing on perfect form. She didn’t slow down, even when gasping for air. Play. Feed. Sleep. Play. Feed. Sleep. The cycle ran into itself, hours on hours and days on days. She put on music and sang along; she picked up books and read in animated voices; she narrated her every move: laundry, dishes, sweeping. “This is the washing machine! It cleans the clothes! This is a fork! It goes here, in the drawer!” She said it aloud to keep a specific feeling at bay, the one where there suddenly seems to be no air in the room anymore. She read the same books each day, in the same buoyant tone, a voice that belied the exhaustion of trying so hard. “The sun has set not long ago. Now everybody goes below,” the book began. She said it like it was a happy thing, but she understood it differently; she was going below, too. She had entirely forgotten what she was supposed to do after a kick to the face. She was there and she wasn’t. It felt a bit like opening her eyes underwater; everything was murky. She couldn’t see clearly, and she knew that no one was really seeing her. Nothing was as it seemed. Her logical mind screamed, “This is everything you have always wanted!” Berated, “This baby is even better than you dreamed!” And yet. She couldn’t make that feeling reach her. She was keenly aware that if she dared to stop, she would realize she wasn’t near shore. That she had drifted. That she couldn’t touch the bottom. That she was inhaling water instead of air. If you looked at her, you would not see this. You would see a woman; strong, capable. A good mother. You would see those long, sweeping strokes she made and not realize she was desperately trying to stay afloat. It was a secret she wasn’t trying to keep; she was too busy trying to breathe. She knew that she was okay and also not okay.
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That despite her efforts she felt desperately unprepared; she was drained by the notion that, minute by minute, stroke by stroke, she’d have to keep up the ruse of graceful swimmer. It took her years to remember to flip onto her back and float, but only weeks to learn to forget perfect form and instead value the art of treading water. She did that for a long time. The thing about treading water is that something takes you, the current, or perhaps the wind, and as you try not to drown you still move slightly. There is a force, be it the treading or floating, be it the wind or your own incessant striving, that will lead you to shore, and as you straggle up onto solid ground, the effort and strain will slide away. You will collapse and emerge with a new form, syncopated rhythm, growing ever steadier. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
| Author bio | Stacy Firth is a writer, content marketing strategist, mother, truth teller, and soul searcher. For years she’s been writing stories in her head, so now she’s writing them down. You can find her at www.stacyfirth.com.
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Gilda Thomasina Clemons Since 2017, I’ve been writing “Letters to Dead People” as a way to share a storehouse of family experiences I’ve collected during my eight decades of life. As a Black American woman, I’m embarking on this mission for future generations, especially my grandnephew Rodney, who is awaiting the letters. He’s a history buff, and I’m the sole remaining source of even misinformation on the Clemons side. *
Gilda Clemons: My great-grandmother may have been born in the early 1850s. No one in our family ever heard mention of the time or place of her death. What is known is that she was from a family of freedmen near Roanoke, Virginia. Pigg River often arose in the telling of Gilda’s tale because the family farm was on the Pigg River. She’s my earliest ancestor on Daddy’s side. Her daughter Adeline is my grandmother. I can recall only one event of her life.
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Dear Grandmother Gilda, Did you receive the letter I wrote to you? It is difficult here on Earth to know if written messages survive the trip to heaven. In the event that a galactic or heavenly post office lost it, let me introduce myself. I am Thomasina, the baby daughter of Charlie who was Adelineâ€™s first born. He did not tell me about you. His wife and my mother, Fannie, the storyteller and keeper of family lore, told us all. Too bad she did not write it down. She was the one who told us about your farm and the names of most of your children and all your grandchildren. She said that your family was free; however, she never mentioned how they became free or when. Another point of greater interest to me, Grandmother, is that she referred to the farm as your farm. In those days, women rarely were permitted to own property. Did your father or husband die and leave it to you? Who was your husband? Mother never told me that and I, being a child, did not think to ask. It is pretty clear that you had a husband since you had several children. Plus, you could not have performed all the farming chores alone. The only story Mother told about you was very funny. She said you owned a prize-winning hog that was widely admired. A group of white men decided to take it from you. Did I mention this to you in my 2017 letter? Well, over the years, I have forgotten if you were three months pregnant or five months pregnant. Also, I am not certain if there were three white men or five white men. Whatever the correct numbers, you fended them off and they never again tried to take your hog or any other property. Five months pregnant and three men or three months pregnant and five men. Who cares? I think itâ€™s a hoot. One thing you may have been told about me is that I will not let anything rest. I have been tossing the numbers around since the 2017 letter. My conclusion is that a prize-winning hog, even in the mid-19th century, would be a hefty animal. One worth stealing might have been even larger, with enough fat to be juicy, yet not too much muscle. A second point is that a farmer who lusted after someoneâ€™s prize hog did not want to eat it. He wanted to breed it, meaning that he may have been well-to-do with hired hands to do the dirty work. A professional breeder would not want two men wrestling with the prize and injuring it. Can you imagine two yokels trying to hog-tie that
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beast, tow it to the cart, and hoist it into the cart bed? Once they coaxed it from the pen, the monster would start running and drag its tormenters behind him. I have a vision of them holding onto the ropes and being dragged through briar bushes. The hog would feel no pain, but the men would have scrapes for months. They would have been unable to let go because they might lose their jobs. Thus, the smart-alecky breeder would have likely sent three or four men. Seeing himself to be a smooth talker, rich – and therefore attractive to women – even his day-to-day work breeches would have been neatly stitched with patches that closely matched his pants fabric. In his fancily-mended breeches, he would employ his skills to keep you distracted until the henchmen had the pig. Any woman who would raise and show a prize hog would be tough. But, he could handle you or so he thought. Mother did not mention anyone helping you fight. I suppose that you would have been near the house. The barn, chicken yard, well, and pig pen were likely near the house. On a workday, everyone else but babies would have been far off in the fields. Mr. Smarty Patched Pants overlooked the fact that he would be on your turf. Wherever he encountered you, once you saw what was happening, you had lethal weapons close at hand. Hatchet, axe handle, short pitchfork, standard pitchfork. You were fast, strong, and committed to your mission. Virginia law may not have punished him if he’d won, but he lost and had been outdone by a woman. You humiliated him. That family story was always amusing. It may be more than that. I do not know what you looked like, but I saw a picture of Grandma Adeline and met Aunt Rena who also was known for being a strong-willed lady… According to historical accounts, Virginia’s freedmen were the minority among the Black population; but, there and visible enough. They were actually free and could not legally be re-enslaved. Were you aware of that or were you too busy working your farm? Did you know or care that America’s hot love story had transpired a few years earlier about one-hundred-and-thirty miles northeast of your farm? We are still talking about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. Well, guess I’ll say goodbye now. I promise never to forget you. Love, Thomasina
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After Miss Gilda’s passing, her daughter Adeline (my grandmother) took over the farm. Grandma Adeline’s children and siblings had migrated to West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. She was the very last resident of the farm and, obviously, could not maintain it alone. Mother said she simply abandoned the property and joined Daddy and Mother in West Virginia in the 1920s. Recently, I found a record stating that several farms from that area were acquired by the Virginia Freedmen’s Bureau in February 1919. I hope Gilda’s was among them, so that it’s no longer abandoned but instead is owned by history.
| Author bio | Thomasina Clemons was born and lived in Charleston, West Virginia, and moved to Connecticut at 19. She’s attracted to human rights and social justice issues, topics which dominate her essays and letters. Humor often finds its way into the serious subject matter. She served on the Connecticut House of Representatives for three terms and prior to that served for 20 years as the University of Connecticut’s Director of Affirmative Action Programs.
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Where’s the Ketchup?
When I was in elementary school, Mom always made breakfast for the family. My brother, Dick, and I were the oldest. We often ate breakfast together before walking with friends the short distance to school. Mom often fed us cereal, usually Cheerios or Rice Krispies with milk and a sliced banana. If Mom felt more inspired, she’d cook scrambled eggs and buttered toast. I’d gobble down the eggs before my brother was served because he’d smother his with ketchup. I couldn’t stand the smell of ketchup, and when he’d uncap the bottle, he’d pass it under my nose to annoy me. The sight of the thick, bloody-like substance covering his eggs disgusted me. My stomach would churn and tumble as I sat at the table. Even the sound of him pounding the bottle and forcing the goop to blurt out onto his eggs made me queasy, as did his, “Boy, these bloody eggs are good. I can’t get enough of this bloody breakfast.” Years later, I’ve grown to love scrambled eggs, plain – no ketchup, just a little salt and pepper. I’d always kept a small ketchup bottle in my refrigerator for guests, but over the years I threw out many unused, expired bottles fearing they’d gone bad. Because ketchup was already bad to me, I imagined it tasting possibly worse. I never suggested to my own three children to put ketchup on their eggs. The thought of ketchup on hamburgers, French fries, or anything else still makes me lose my appetite. I completely avoid the condiment. If I have guests for breakfast or brunch, I avoid serving scrambled eggs for fear someone will ask, “Where’s the ketchup?” Instead of ketchup, I substitute a homemade sauce, Tomato Basil Simmer Sauce. You can use it as a dipping sauce for grilled cheese sandwiches or chicken, hamburgers, and French fries. It has a wonderful flavor. The French basil, oregano, thyme, and parsley complement the tomatoes. It reminds me of my grandmother’s pasta sauce. I came across this recipe about eight years ago in an issue of Better Homes & Gardens magazine. When local tomatoes are ripe, I often make this ketchup substitute. Tomato Basil Simmer Sauce 12 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled 3 tablespoons packed brown sugar 4 teaspoons salt 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar 1 teaspoon ground black pepper 2 cups fresh basil leaves, chopped 1 cup assorted fresh herbs (such as oregano, thyme, parsley), chopped 6 tablespoons lemon juice Cut peeled tomatoes into chunks. Put chunks into a food processor and blend until finely chopped. Transfer to a large, heavy nonreactive pot. Stir in sugar, salt, vinegar, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Cook uncovered for about an hour (or 1 ½ hours), stirring often until reduced to 11 cups of desired consistency. Remove from heat and stir in all the herbs. To can: Divide lemon juice into 6 pint jars. Fill with the sauce. Cap the jars and process them in a water bath canner for 35 minutes. Alternatively: If you’d rather freeze, add the lemon juice to the sauce in appropriate containers and freeze. Defrost as needed.
| Author bio | Barbara Breen holds a master’s degree in Education, as well as one in Marriage and
Family Therapy. Her passion is food and cooking. She lives in a log cabin she built in 1973 in Tolland, Connecticut. Over the years she has raised goats, chickens, pigs, and an assortment of other animals. In a vast garden on her property, she grows green beans, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and spices which she uses to create her exotic kitchen concoctions.
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C e n t e r e d The magazine of personal stories © 2019
© 2019 A PUBLICATION OF ROBENFLY PUBLISHING
Founder, Publisher, Editor in Chief: C. Flanagan Flynn www.cflanaganflynn.com Unless otherwise credited, stock photography obtained from Unsplash and Pixabay.
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