non-fiction

building memories

We’re building memories as we go –

My mother and I.

We drive together. We talk a little

And laugh a little.

We remember days past

When I was a child and

She was young

We look forward to future trips –

Short ones and longer ones.

She’s proud that at 96 she can survive 1,500 miles in a car

A little thing like a short hospital stay

Doesn’t knock her out.

It can’t. You see –

We’re building memories.

— Jenny Munro

objects as memories

They’re no longer part of my mother’s house – the swans, the glass grapes, the Venetian vase.

These objects, nothing really special but always there, now live in my house along with Grace Munro Roy’s special china, a set of bamboo-design plates that came from Japan in 1952.

The swans, I think, are the oldest. I remember floating candles – home-made candles – in those swans, usually for Christmas decorations. They also housed floating blossoms, azaleas, rhododendron, a rosebud.

The red glass grapes and the red Venetian vase, once a set of two, came from Ed. I think the grapes are from Greece and the vase, of course, is from Italy. Its counterpart is with Linda, Chip’s wife, who saw it in a photo and loved it.  I also have a small bedside table that came from Ed. My mother used it in her office to store cards, but I set it beside my bed to hold my cypress knee lamp from Mr. Lake.

I haven’t used the bamboo dishes yet. I imagine their first use will come when my mother visits me.

But when I see those objects, I immediately think of her. She’s part of my home.

Of course, her presence is not new. I’ve always had part of her home in mine – the recliner, the overstuffed chair, the Richards Topical encyclopedias, the wooden lamp Daddy made and her desk, one given to her by Daddy.  I have the piano she and Daddy bought me and kept in my bedroom on Probart Street. I have the washstand from Brevard College, which looks just like the ones in Mother’s house. Over my mantle is a silk painting from Japan, one that hung over the couch in our living room.

And it’s not just my mother whose presence inhabits my home.

I have a camel teapot from Sister, my great-aunt, and a hair holder from my grandmother, Polly Munro. I have a copy of Little Gracie, Daddy’s fighter that he flew in World War II. I have the silk flowers my mother gave me for my 40th birthday and small dishes from Mary Stevenson (given by my mother) and my grandmother Munro. I have a cut-glass cookie jar that my grandmother, Maxie Jackson, gave me for my 16th birthday as well as a well-worn apron of hers.

A stuffed Tiger from my father’s ESSO station sits in my study. Daddy’s U.S. Air Force cap also rests in my study. I have a wooden vase he made in a window. A teapot from Chip and Linda graces in my kitchen window. The bellows Daddy made for our fireplace are now at mine as is the fireplace set he made as a teenager. A delicate tea cup from my great-grandmother, Belle Munro, sits on my piano. A wooden candy dish, crafted by father, sits near the television, and an ancient clay lamp from Israel came from Ed.

I’m never alone. I’m surrounded by my family and memories of them everywhere in my house.

– Jenny Munro

my childhood as i remember it

I remember …

Those words are a gate to my past and even swing open slightly to allow me to creep into the past of my mother and grandmother.  They don’t, however, open the doors to the past of my male relatives. I can’t move into a male memory, not even in my imagination.

My brother Chip and I spent three summers with my grandparents in the country outside Clio, S.C.  (half of those summers we also spent with my father’s family in Columbus, Ga.) Those years my father was stationed overseas or out west with the U.S. Air Force and my mother was earning her master’s degree at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville. I was 10 and Chip was 8 that first summer.

My grandparents’ yard was sandy, and my grandmother swept it with a straw broom. I never understood why she would sweep dirt (now I realize she was clearing away chicken droppings as the hens and roosters roamed the yard). An old well was located near the house. It seemed to me the dark, still water in it might reach halfway to the center of the earth. I avoided that well because I feared it would cave in and take me with it.

The air was heavy with heat and sometimes seemed sullen. But the house wasn’t too hot (except for the kitchen) even though my grandparents had no air conditioning and I don’t remember any electric fans.

Since no kids lived nearby and my cousins lived about five miles away on the other side of Clio, Chip and I entertained ourselves. We played paper dolls with Sears catalog cutouts. Chip spent time with Dubert, our uncle. They often drove to Bennettsville and I occasionally joined them. Mother – the name we called my grandmother – let us help her peel apples when she made jelly. We competed to create the longest peeling; we must have wasted most of the apple in that endeavor, but she never fussed.

Chip and I played in the woods across the dirt road during those sultry, lazy days. We swung on a sinuous vine that crawled up a tree. The creek ran clear and shallow and we could wade in it if we watched for snakes. We also had to be careful and avoid the briars which infested the woods. They hurt.

I read, a pastime I still enjoy.  While my grandparents didn’t have many books, a favorite one was “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” My grandmother also had a travel book I read over and over. But even the dictionary was reading material for me. I remember hearing somebody talk about rape one time. I knew enough to know that I should not ask for a definition. So I made my way to the dictionary to look up rape. There was the definition – the act of being raped. I knew no more when I finished than when I started.

My grandmother also would tell us stories about growing up in Dillon, just down the road in another county, and about some of our relatives. She also told us that the Japanese doll and oiled paper umbrella came from my parents (we lived in Japan for a year).  I wish I remembered her stories more clearly. But it never occurred to me that she would not always be around.

In my mind’s eye, I can see Mother, a sturdy woman with dull gray hair pulled back in a bun and bandages covering both legs at least part of the time. She had serious problems with varicose veins that ulcerated. But she wound those elastic bandages around her leg more neatly and smoothly than anything I have ever seen. She always seemed to be wearing an apron (I have one of them hanging on my pantry door).

Mother spent most of her time in the kitchen, puttering around. I loved her cooking except for her gravy – you had to skim the grease off but then it was delicious – and her unsalted hoe cakes (which I thought tasted like raw cornmeal). I also felt guilty for liking store-bought apple jelly better than the jelly she made, which was too sweet for my taste. But her grape preserves were to die for.

My grandfather, a farmer, was a tall, slender man with a head full of beautiful silver hair. As he aged, it gradually got whiter and thinner.  Papa would go to the gristmill and take us. He’d go to the country store and talk with the old men there. But he had to go when someone else could drive him there since he didn’t have a car. He’d also sit on the front porch with us watching the dusty road which may have seen one car an hour – if that many.

As much as I loved the old farm house, there were things I was afraid of. The outhouse was in the corn field. When the stalks were over my head, I thought I’d get lost on the way there or back. I never did.  And I always “knew” a black widow spider would bite me on the butt. I didn’t want to die in an outhouse. Besides that, I hated using newspaper or catalog pages for toilet paper.  Just as bad, however, was using a chamber pot in the house and hearing the noise it made. That was embarrassing.

I was scared of the rats in the house as well as the rat traps. I never figured out which would be worse – a rat getting on the bed with me or getting my toe caught like a mouse. After we went to bed in the middle room, Dubert would sneak around outside and scratch on the window. We knew it was him and still scared ourselves silly about someone getting in and stealing us.

But the good outweighed the potentially bad.

We had the first watermelon from the field on July 4. That’s when Papa said they were ready. I still don’t buy watermelon until then. We had homemade ice cream, made in a freezer that you churned. But even more often, my grandmother would make ice cream in ice trays – just a little for the family. Dubert made buckets of lemonade, which lemon slices and ice cubes floating there. We had home-grown vegetables from the garden. My grandmother cooked full breakfasts and she made salmon rolls, a recipe she created. She also never had a meal without both cornbread and biscuits or flour bread, which was cooked on top of the stove.

– Jenny Munro

the weight of mercy

by Deb Richardson-Moore

 

Prologue

      I had the dream again, the one where I’m in the back seat of a speeding car and it dawns on me there’s no one driving. Somehow the car remains on the road but I don’t know how, and the scenery whizzing by paralyzes me.
      I see a red light, and look around frantically for oncoming cars. There are none and my car whooshes through the intersection. My heart is hammering and I wonder if I should climb over the seat to take the steering wheel, but I’m confused and heavy-limbed. I see a curve ahead and I panic, but the car hugs the white line and races on. Apparently the hairpin has triggered a ringing, and I turn to look behind me for a police car, maybe, or an ambulance. But those vehicles don’t ring, exactly, do they? My mind isn’t working properly, and I can’t figure out where that ringing is coming from.
      I rolled to Vince’s side of the bed, and clawed my way to consciousness, the ringing rising to the surface with me. Vince was already in the dining room, eating cereal and reading the newspaper, but our bedroom remained coolly shadowed. I could have slept another three hours on this Thursday off, if not for that ringing.
      “Hello,” I answered, my voice sleep-clogged.
      “This is the alarm company. The alarm at 222 Rutherford Street has been activated. A police unit is on the way.”
      I groaned. I’d been on the job just eight weeks and this was at least the eighth alarm. Squirrels, it seemed, could set it off. Mice. Spiders. Not to mention, men.
      The facilities manager typically got the first call, but he was on vacation. I tugged on a pair of jeans and a lightweight sweater. The morning looked foggy and gray, though it was late September, a summer month in this part of the South. I brushed my teeth and ran my fingers through my hair, not bothering with make-up. That’ll serve the intruder right, I thought irritably.
      As I drove the seven miles from my house in the suburbs to the church just blocks from Main Street, the scenery changed from trimmed lawns and shaded houses to industrial buildings, windowless bars, a nursing home, abandoned gas stations. The closer I got, the deeper the dread settled in my stomach. I hated this job. I hated the creaky old church building. I hated what I’d gotten into, and I was close to hating God for getting me into it.
     I repeated a mantra I used to soothe myself. Eight weeks down, and what, maybe thirty to go? Forty-four at the outside. I doubted I could last a year.
     The early morning traffic was brisk on four-lane Rutherford Street, pronounced Rul-therford, a denizen of Old Greenville corrected me recently, rolling the absent “l” in his throat. I’m sure he summers on Pawley’s – make that Pahhwl-ee’s – Island, which prints bumper stickers declaring itself “arrogantly shabby,” if that tells you anything.
     Old Greenville passed this church every day. But it didn’t stop.
     The red brick sanctuary was handsome, especially compared to the nearby three-story education building with its broken windows and rusted air-conditioners discoloring the façade in green streams. It was a brave little church, too, hanging on in this outpost of a dying mill village; I’d give it that.
      Rutherford Street was separated from the sanctuary stoop by a sidewalk and a strip of dead grass. No one was stirring at the Salvation Army Thrift Store across the street, but Tommy’s Country Ham House next door was filled with a breakfast crowd of businessmen, blue-collar workers, and retirees getting their day started with bacon and eggs, toast and grits, coffee and conversation.
      I parked in the pitted lot behind the church and trotted up the sidewalk and around the corner to the sanctuary’s side door. This morning’s alarm was not the work of critters. Someone had kicked in the heavy wooden door, splintering the doorjamb. Someone, no doubt, who had eaten in the church’s soup kitchen, taken clothes from its closet, received groceries from its pantry.
      A police officer met me at the broken door, and together we entered the chapel, hushed and lovely even with its leaky roof, streaks of mildew and blistered plaster. Despite the dimness, I could see that the brass cross and offering plates were undisturbed. The stained glass windows picturing the tablets of the Ten Commandments, Jesus in Gethsemane, and pinwheel designs in blues, golds and reds, were untouched. The honey-colored pews were as they’d been the previous Sunday, only empty now of sleeping bodies reclined against bedrolls.
     The young policeman and I walked in silence down the maroon carpeting past the raised stage where the wooden pulpit stood, flanked by the thrones that pass for chairs in the world of religious furnishings. A paneled door leading to a rear hallway was flung open. There we found what the burglar was after – a plain, waist-high cabinet of cleaning supplies. Bottles of floor cleaner and cans of Pledge tumbled over the wood floor. The policeman raised an eyebrow.
     “He was looking for something to huff,” I said.
     He nodded, and asked what I wanted to do about the busted door. He then waited outside while I ran down to the basement and found a board, hammer, and nails. He and I pulled the listing door into its shattered doorjamb, and he pounded the board snugly across.
     He stepped back, and smiled sympathetically. “Are you gonna be all right?” he asked. I swallowed the lump in my throat, and made a mental note to call the police chief and tell him how kind this young man had been.
     I leaned against the brick wall of the breezeway, where the smell of urine wafted through the morning mist. I stared at the ugly patch job, and wondered: What kind of church nails its doors shut?
     That would be the Triune Mercy Center.
     And I am its pastor.
 

Chapter 1

      I thought I’d be wise by now.
     I thought my experience with drug addicts and alcoholics and the mentally ill and people suddenly, brutally, surprised by homelessness would gel into wisdom. I thought I’d have something to teach people about how to deal with those who live under bridges and in vacant houses and in the woods – how to love them, how to haul them out of the quicksand and onto the solid red clay that underlies our little piece of South Carolina.
     I thought I’d graduate from the Triune Mercy Center with compassion and wisdom.
    People in Greenville sure give me credit for it. I’m always speaking at prayer breakfasts and mission luncheons and book clubs about homelessness and, especially, our Christian response to it.
     But I don’t feel at all wise. I feel, by turns, cranky, humbled, incredulous, deflated, energized, furious, exhilarated, tired.
     I suppose the lessons I was seeking are simply too complicated, too messy – not unlike our lives in this place. So I won’t try to tell you what it all meant, my time at the Triune Mercy Center. I’ll just tell you what happened.
 
     Excerpt: The Weight of Mercy: A Novice Pastor on the City Streets by Deb Richardson-Moore, published 2012 by Monarch Books. ©Deb Richardson-Moore.

six sure-fire ways to get the creative words flowing

by: Sheila M. Good

We’ve all had days when our minds seem devoid of creative ideas. On many occasions, I’ve accused my muse of abandoning me, going on vacation, or seeking out another more fertile, imaginative mind. The problem wasn’t my muse. The truth was I suffering from writing fatigue and boredom. I needed inspiration to get the creative words flowing again. I couldn’t escape to the cow pasture, like I used to do as a young girl; I had to come up with more appropriate avenues. I came up with six sure-fire ways to get the creative words flowing again and the funny thing about it, everyone of them were right there all along.

1. People Watching : This is my personal favorite and with 313.9 million people (2012 Census) in the United States of all nationalities, imaginations can soar. Any crowded venue will suffice. With a notebook in hand, you can be a mindful observer of human interaction and body language. Let your senses engage, note the setting, atmosphere, and listen to the many conversations, thanks to technology, people share with the world in public places. An astute observer, grab a snippet of conversation; it’s great fodder for a story.

2. Prompts: Write something every day even if it’s rubbish. By doing so you’re developing a habit, honing your craft. An excellent exercise in free writing, oneword.com gives you 60 seconds to write about the daily word prompt. Figment.com focuses on character, setting, dialogue, essays, and other prompts from acclaimed authors with the aim to help writers improve. If you need a reminder and accountability, 750 Words.com is a wonderful site.

3. Critique: Utilize a critique checklist or outline to break down the first chapter of a favorite author’s novel. Did the opening line and paragraph hook you? What was the inciting event? How did the author portray the setting? How was the main character introduced? Was there depth? Can you picture the main character? And so on. Taking a critical eye to a successful, accomplished author’s work will spark creative thoughts when you turn back to your own.

4. Brainstorm with a writing friend or mentor. Do word associations or bounce ideas off each other. Those of you who are familiar with Scrivener may enjoy the new mind mapping software, Scapple, now available (MACS) Mind mapping is a wonderful tool to help start the flow of creative ideas and once on paper can be used to form a quick outline.

5. READ: A hallmark must-do for every writer. You don’t need to stick to your favorite genre; in fact, I recommend you branch out. You might discover you’re a better writer in another genre. Magazines and newspapers can provide innumerable sparks of inspiration. Sometimes a news story will prompt an emotion or memory and an idea for a story is born.

6. Quiet time and reflection: Whether it’s work, family, or other things demanding our attention, time is, perhaps, our most scarce commodity. Yet, having downtime for our minds to wander playfully through fields of imagination is, for the writer, essential. My friend and writing mentor, Nan Lundeen, author of Moo of Writing: How to Milk Your Potential, writes often of relaxation, meditation, and fresh air facilitating our creative expressions from our mind to the pages, we just have to get out of the way. So take a walk around the block, park, library, sit quietly in a corner café, or find you a cow pasture. According to Nan, they’re Zen masters. Fifteen to thirty minutes a day for creative renewal is a good start. We waste that much time surfing the net.

We all have beautiful, moving, harrowing, breathtaking stories within us if we take time to listen, believe, and give ourselves permission to let our mind and imagination run free. Happy writing.

visit Sheila M. Good at  http://www.cowpasturechronicles.com

poetry we can understand

by: Nan Lundeen

For you, what is good poetry? Our educational system lumps poets together much as we lump music by style into jazz, blues, country. So, with poems. For instance, we have the beats, we have the lyrical, the confessional, we have the metaphysical, we have contemporary (whatever that is), and those who wouldn’t touch a poem with a sidelong glance, stick poetry into one category: unfathomable.

“I don’t get it,” they say. Well, there’s a lot to “not get” among the poets, but for me, there’s also beauty, sustenance, and nurturance for the soul.

My friend Jenny Munro recently heard North Carolina Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti read and liked him so much she bought his book, partly because his poetry was understandable. In the past, she hadn’t cared for poetry because it baffled her.

I am a fan of understandable poets. Sharon Olds took the 2013 Pulitzer for her book, Stag’s Leap. Her work shows us that brilliant talent need not be opaque. Instead, talent can glow like a wild animal’s eyes in black woods.

Olds writes a painfully personal book about the loss of her husband of 32 years through divorce. She excels at writing about the body, yet it is adeptly woven with meaning beyond the physical, clear yet fully nuanced with layers of meaning. I looked for a line or two to quote for you so that you could see what I mean, and the brilliance became even more evident to me because I could not choose a line or two, could not even choose the title of a poem or two, because the poems are whole, of one cloth, and the book is whole, a cloth trailing love, its celebration, its blessings, its loss.

Poets who are brilliant and understandable abound, my fellow writers, and I rejoice to find them. Maxine Kumin moves me with her work’s stark beauty. Mary Oliver’s every poem astounds because she sees nature anew from her own, surprising perspective. Billy Collins presents everyday life in a simple and profound way. And Maya Angelou—who could not be uplifted by her spirit.

Some splendid poetry sticks in the brain like cockleburs used to stick to my father’s overalls. I heard Anne Sexton, one of the confessional poets of the 1960s, read at Western Michigan University. I cannot forget her lines about her daughter in which she refers to her as a stringbean. I’ve written poems for my daughter, but have never written anything to touch the immortality of Sexton’s lines about her little girl.

Writing your own stuff can lock you into a sort of groove—a lock step approach that’s difficult to break. Some days, writing feels like slogging through a bog, when what I want to do is ride up and down on a teeter-totter with a new author in a new (for me) genre.

Discovering poets that appeal to you can give you that joyful, teeter-tottering gift.

Happy writing!

Nan Lundeen

www.nanlundeen.com

this column first appeared in the SCWW Quill

green pastures for artists and writers

We are building a community of artists and writers who practice a creative process based on relaxation. We find that deep breathing, relaxing exercise, such as yoga or walking outdoors, free writing, and meditation beckon artistic expressions in words and images from our unconscious minds onto the page. We welcome your ideas and your creative pursuits. This is a place of sharing, a place to honor ourselves and each other with offerings of the heart.

Photo by: Ron DeKett
Nan Lundeen
Photo by: Ron DeKett

 

“Cows are Zen masters. They’ve been known to utter the sound that is spelled mu rather than moo. Mu is a Zen koan, a phrase or a question that leads to contemplation. In writing, you relax and you work hard.  Mu invites you to step aside and get out of your own way. When you stay out of your way, you find your way.”
— Nan Lundeen, Moo of Writing: How to Milk Your Potential, www.nanlundeen.com

 

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