Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Wedding Trip


[Sunday Scribblings prompts us this week with "Somewhere..." And since my mind has been on stories of my life, I thought of a time my parents took us to Massachusetts.]

Cousin Jonathan Gets Married

My cousin Jonathan was getting married. My dad had only one brother, and my uncle had three sons. The cousins were from New York, from Brooklyn, and they were significantly older than I was, closer to the ages of my older sister and brother. I know they had visited us in the Midwest, but I mostly recalled the trips from pictures, not from my own memories. And I know we had visited them in New York, but all I remember are vague memories of a hotel room and a day-trip to a distant relative's house (also in Brooklyn).

I had been to weddings before, usually pretty close to home. We'd dress up and were reminded to mind our manners. We'd go to a church and most of the time the reception was in the church fellowship hall, decorated for the occasion. Once we left the party, we'd be home in less than 10 minutes.

But I didn't remember ever having traveled to go to a wedding before. Jonathan and Jean were getting married in Massachusetts. We had been to Massachusetts before, driving two days to get to Cape Cod for vacation. But by the time of this wedding, we had stopped going there for vacation. I think I was about 9 years old.

We flew to Boston and rented a car. I remember following along on a road map as we headed west to the center of the state. I thought the arrangement of towns was funny. Northampton was north of Southampton, and Westhampton largely west of Easthampton, but Easthampton was kind of in the middle (north to south) between Northampton and Southampton. I thought if some place were going to be in the middle of all that it should be just plan "Hampton." It made me think the people who named the places weren't very original.

I don't remember which town we stayed in, but I know we spent two or three nights in a motel, along with a lot of other people with our last name. My dad was a doctor and so were several of the other guests. And some fool phoned the motel and asked to speak to Dr. Lastname and didn't even know the first name of his doctor. Since I heard about it they must have called all the rooms to try to track down someone who knew the patient!

My aunt, mother of the groom, was a bit on edge, wanting everything to be perfect and being in control of very little. I had learned a song in Girl Scouts that had words that sounded like a native-American chant, and it had hand movements that went with it. While my younger brother and I were trying to keep ourselves amused (and knowing we'd get in trouble for playing in the parking lot) we started doing this chant and hand-movement thing. When my aunt asked what we were doing, my mom teased her by saying it was a kind of rain dance. My aunt had a fit! We were banned from singing that song until after the wedding.

As for the wedding itself, I remember very little. I had never been to a wedding with that many people at it. We were quite a ways back and I really couldn't see over people's heads. I don't know what my younger brother did to entertain himself – he must have been about 7. He might have been entertained by the yarmulkes that they had given out – he got to wear one just like the grown-up men.

At the reception, I remember my cousin Michael's wife teaching us to do the Bunny Hop. I remember dancing (the box step) with my dad, and probably with some other relatives. And I remember someone asking me how old I was. When I told them 9, they told me I was 9 going on 30. I remember asking my mom what that meant, though I don't remember what she answered.

I don't remember much else about that trip.

As it turned out, that marriage didn't last. And cousin Michael's didn't either. But I still remember how to do the Bunny Hop, in case you need to invite someone to your wedding.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Feeding the Piranhas


[My sister out-law inspired me to make a list of "My Life In Stories." I have a long list of titles and from time to time I write out one of the stories. This is one of them.]

Feeding the Piranhas

When I was very small, my family drove two days to get to the ocean for summer vacations. We went to Cape Cod in Massachusetts, back in the early post-Camelot days. The area around Hyannis was not yet built up and congested, but it was heading in that direction. The distance and the diminishing payoff for the long drive made my parents think about alternative ways to take vacations.

My parents had owned some property on Lake Sara, just an empty lot. Once in a while we'd drive over there and spend the day fishing and picnicking. We bought a wooden picnic table to keep there. As my parents were trying to decide what our alternative vacations might be, they turned their attention to the possibility of a vacation house.

They looked into the idea of building a house on that empty lot, but building a house was a large project and they weren't sure that was what they wanted to spend their time doing. They ended up buying a house on another part of Lake Sara. The house had been a full-time home for the previous owners, so it was fully winterized. It had yellow aluminum siding and it sat at the back-end of a cove on three lots of land. The house was on the first lot, the second lot was mostly flat and grassy, and the third lot was grass but with a few trees near the road including one large enough to have a tree swing on it.

We started going to the vacation house on lots of weekends, even before school was out for the summer. We'd pack a small bag (we kept toiletries and towels and even some clothes there, so we didn't have to bring much). We'd head east on Interstate 70 as far as Altamont. We'd exit and go north past the Stuckey's and if it was a Friday night, we might even stop there for the buffet dinner, but that was rare. Usually we tried to get an earlier start so we passed on and turned right onto old 40 toward the fairgrounds. We'd usually pass our turnoff toward the lake and drive through Funkhouser all the way into Effingham where we'd buy groceries.

Across from the grocery store was a pet store and sometimes we'd get to loiter and look in the window there. We had a dog, and Mom certainly wasn't about to let us have another pet, but that didn't stop us from looking. We usually only looked from the outside, but once in a while we got to go in to pick up dog food or something. One summer they had Piranhas in one of the fish tanks. We saw how their jaws looked funny (and strong) and from TV shows we knew they were killers. Once they fed them while we watched and they snapped up whatever it was faster than we could have imagined. The man in the store told us that's how he lost the end of one finger (we could see it was a little shorter than it should have been). He said he forgot to be careful around them. We believed him but we didn't want these dangerous fish for ourselves anyway. They were not at all cuddly, though they were fascinating.

After a quick stop for ice cream or a sandwich from Burger Chef, we'd retrace the path back to the turnoff and head to the lake house. When we got there, we'd first take the groceries in to the kitchen, then the bags to our room. At the beginning my brother and I shared a room when we were there, leaving the 3rd bedroom free for guests. If it was hot, the air conditioner got turned on, but often we were sent to open up all the windows in the place to get the air moving through.

Mom often drove us kids over as soon as she was ready on Friday, leaving Daddy to come once he was done with work. That meant we had two cars there, which was good in case the hospital called him to come fix somebody up.

Sometimes Daddy had some office hours on Saturday morning, so we'd spend some of the early part of the weekend cleaning up the lake house, dusting and sweeping inside and out. Then my brother and I (and the dog) would run in the grass and swing on the tire swing (us kids--not the dog). We'd pick up the mail at the mailbox and run down the gravel driveway to take it to Mom. At home we had a Post Office Box and so the only mailman we knew was at Grandma's house.

Like most lake houses, the living room faced the lake. What you saw from the road was mostly the attached garage (and the wall with the master bedroom and bath). And just toward the road from the garage was a rock garden with a giant boulder. Mom loves rock gardens and boulders too. That big, pale sandstone boulder would heat up in the sun and be a warm spot to sit when the weather wasn't hot yet. We'd sit there and try to catch the lizards that liked playing in the rocks. Someone told us that if the lizard lost its tail, it would grow another one. I new that starfish were supposed to do that, but I wasn't sure I believe them about the lizards.

We had to stay out of the woods because the ground underneath was covered with poison ivy plants. We knew how to identify the plants from the time we were pretty young. I'd never had a rash from them, but since I knew to stay away, we were never sure if I was allergic or not (and I wasn't looking to find out). There were also snakes in the woods but I think they didn't want to scare us by telling us then.

Eventually there would be fishing off the dock or from the rowboat, and swimming in the cove where the water was crystal clear all the way to the sandy bottom. Sometimes there would be neighbor kids (or neighbor grandkids) to play with. If the weather was bad, we would roller-skate in the big empty basement room where Daddy had strung ropes between the support poles, giving us something to hold onto since we hadn't yet learned how to balance ourselves.

And on Sunday morning, Mom always wanted a Sunday newspaper. Sometimes a neighbor would give us a powerboat ride across the lake to the marina. My parents would buy a newspaper and sometimes pick up some other groceries. My brother and I would beg them for coins to buy a slice or two of bread to feed the piranhas. The owner kept a stale loaf next to the cash register by the door. Since it was only a dime or a quarter, Mom or Daddy would let us and we'd be cautioned to be careful to stay dry. Leaving the grownups to talk, we'd scoot out the door and head over to the docks where the first slip or two usually were empty. We'd break off the smallest piece of bread, smaller than a pea, and toss it in the water.

And immediately the surface would boil with fishes competing for that bread. We'd toss the pieces close and far and marvel at the piranhas and be glad that they only lived on this side of the lake, not near our house.

Of course they were not piranhas, not in our climate. And we knew that, we really did. But it was so much more fun to pretend that they were. In truth they were the same bluegills that we caught with our bamboo fishing poles. Little sunfish that were more bone than meat. But when they charged over for those bread crumbs, you would have thought they could tear you apart.

Back on our side of the lake we'd fight over the comics section of the paper before being shooed outside to play. And far too soon we'd have to pack up the dirty laundry and close up the house to return back to our regular house again.

[I was going to put in a picture of piranhas but they are just too scary. Go over to and type in "piranha" to see what I mean. Then if you need to wipe that out of your mind, you can type in "bluegill" to see some much tamer critters.]

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Summer Vacation Books 2008


Maria's wish is my command (well, this time). She asked to hear about the books and I was just thinking that it was time to write about the books, here goes. In no particular order, these are what I've been reading recently (and what has been occupying my time instead of writing).

The Grand Tour
by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer
Years ago I read Sorcery & Cecelia by these same two authors. The idea behind that older book was started as a game in which each author "took" a character and then wrote letters to the other character, developing the story as it went along. According to the notes, they did that and ended up with very little communication (except once to decide how long it would take to wrap up the story lines so everything came out at the same time). They liked what came of that so well it was turned into a book about two young ladies of the Regency, one just having her coming-out season in London, the other stuck in the country with one of the aunts. It had impertinence and magic and romance and danger. It was silly and they were somewhat silly, but I enjoyed it and have read it more than once. I was not sure I'd like the sequel. But this year I gave up, bought it and dove in. Once again the story was told from first one viewpoint, then the other. The book's title page lays it out like this:
The Grand Tour or the Purloined Coronation Regalia: being a revelation of matters of High Confidentiality and Greatest Importance, including extracts from the intimate diary of a Noblewoman and the sworn testimony of a Lady of Quality
This allows for alternative views, even though they are traveling together across Europe. Again it was silly and impertinent and clever and brave, and in grave danger, as is the entire world or at least all of Europe. And I enjoyed it.

Bedlam's Edge
edited by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill
fantasy short stories and one essay
Most of these stories have elves, but not in the time or places you might think. One story has a serial killer looking for teenage mall rats as victims, another is set in the civil war, another is set in modern South Africa, and another involves a search in a very dangerous modern place for the bottle of a djinn. How the long-lived elves and other magic creatures interact with people in the modern day is the general topic of a dozen or so stories. It was a quick read for me.

Steal the Dragon
by Patricia Briggs
I have been reading a series by the author and I really liked her characters so I tried this novel set in another world. The description of the book had me a bit skeptical: the main character's tribe had been attacked by slave traders when she was a girl, but she had escaped to freedom and trained horses until the head of the spies needs someone to pretend to be a slave in the place she escaped from... It could have been dreck, but in Patricia Briggs' hands I enjoyed the story. I found the main character smart, likable, and believable. Well, as long as you buy into the magic end of things, and the chance that the enemy might be a god, and the ally might not be what he seems either. I liked it well enough I may read it again sometime.

Fantasy Gone Wrong
Edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Brittiany A. Koren
fantasy short stories
I really liked this collection of short stories where the expected tales take at least one turn for the unexpected. Most had a lot of humor in them. In one the characters start giving the author a lot of backtalk. In another the goblin is not at all what you think (and if only that baby goblin would go to sleep!) And Esther M. Friesner's contribution has this phrase near the beginning:
...As the boldest, bravest, and third-handsomest knight ever to couch lance in the service of his king, there could be only one thought going through his mind at such a solemn moment, namely:
"Why do I always get the squirrel-butt jobs?"
I gotta love them.

Cast in Shadow
by Michelle Sagara
(Yea, I know, all fantasy so far. I promise I did read some other books. Just hold on a little longer.)
I have been putting off getting this book for a while. It too had a description that made me wonder if I'd like it, but I decided I could always put it down. Except that I couldn't put it down. I was dropped in the middle of a place with so many different kinds of peoples. And the protagonist (a kind of policewoman) is forced to work with a ghost (not literally) from her past, as a nightmare of a killing spree that she survived as a child is playing out again in the slums she came from. I couldn't wait to get from one chapter to the next and I was satisfied with the ending, although it is the beginning of a longer arc of a tale that I foresee will take at least a few books to get to the bottom of. Guess I'll have to watch for the sequels now.

Sleeping with the Fishes
by Mary Janice Davidson
fantasy (but quite different)
Fred is a mermaid. She has green hair (but everyone thinks it is blue). She works in Boston's New England Aquarium (trying hard not to get wet because she likes being able to leave at night instead of being kept in a tank there) but she's having trouble getting the fish to eat because they want her to play loud music when she feeds them. She hasn't had a date in just about forever and her best friend (who everyone thinks is a gay but is really straight and in love with Fred's boss) keeps telling her she needs to get laid. And all at once, she meets a very handsome man, a visiting researcher at the Aquarium who is trying to figure out where the suddenly-high toxin levels in the harbor are from. And then the mer-Prince from the Black Sea there to do the same thing (and make Fred his wife, or so he says). A rollicking romp that had me snorting (in a good way). Did I remember to tell you that Fred can't ride in a boat? She gets seasick. And she's allergic to shellfish!

All Together Dead
by Charlaine Harris
Another Sookie Stackhouse novel in which our intrepid heroine now has a boyfriend with no (apparent) ulterior motives. He is a shape-shifter, but that's better than her erstwhile vampire lover (whom Sookie is trying to ignore). Sookie had promised to travel with the Louisiana Queen of the Vampires to the Vampire Conference in Chicago (Sookie had never been that far north) in order to mind-read the other humans who might be accompanying the other Vampire courts. If you are confused, you need to back up and read the books in order. Or else the part about where her brother wants to get married might be a bit confusing.
As for this installment, well. I like Sookie, I really do. But she just HAS to start learning to say "No." Weird things are going to find their way into her life without her having to practically go looking for them. All-in-all a good story, and I'll be back for the next installment.

A Deeper Sleep
by Dana Stabenow
I don't read many mysteries these days (though we have plenty in the house because they seem to be Chelle's favorite genre) but Kate Shugak novels are ones I try to keep up with. In this one, Kate and others know who did it. But the trick is proving it. And when he goes to trial, they can't believe that the charges didn't stick. Now how to keep him from killing again...
The crimes are horrible and are described from the viewpoint of the victims. But other things in the book are lighter. Especially the change in Kate and Jim Chopin's relationship. Cracked up up a few times! He should know better!

Confessions of a Teen Sleuth
by Chelsea Cain
I was still pretty young when I found a copy of The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene at my grandma's house. I guess it had belonged to my older sister. I read it and was hooked. I read all the other Nancy Drew books I could find in the local library, and then had them order the others from the inter-library loan. Somehow I never was drawn into any of the other teen-sleuth stories, but I knew of quite a few. I later read that Keene didn't actually write all the books, many (most?) were written by a consortium of writers. All of that, and the fact that I have a twisted sense of humor, means I was the perfect target audience for this book by Chelsea Cain. Here is a sense of what's inside from the Introduction:
...As many of you know me only as a character in a series of books written by a former friend of mine named Carolyn Keene, let me make one thing clear: Carolyn Keene used my name without my permission and made a career for herself telling stories of my adventures, many of which were fraught with error and some of which were patently false.
...I feared that if I revealed myself, details might come to light that could embarrass my husband and child.
Yet the time is now ripe for Nancy Drew to do just that. Reveal herself and the truth behind the stories in those teen-sleuth novels, and the other mysteries that she faced in her adult life too. I chuckled throughout the whole thing. If you don't know much about the teen sleuths of those old books, then much of the parody will be lost on you. But I thought it was a riot.

Between the Bridge and the River
by Craig Ferguson
I love Craig Ferguson, although I hate to admit I am ever up long enough to see him on late, late night T.V. I always thought he was smart and when I heard he had written a novel, I put it on my list. Now it seemed to me that the story must have something to do with suicide (and someone jumping from a bridge) and before you get too far into this book you do encounter someone on his way to commit just such an act. But this book has so much more in it. With a large cast of characters (and I do mean characters, all writ large) on both sides of the Atlantic, the author gives even the minor walk-on parts depth and history. And linkage. A lot of interconnectedness flows through the braided stories and it should come as no surprise that one of the characters regularly talks with the dead Carl Jung. From Scottish schoolboys to American con-artists, a sad-beautiful French woman fated to love men about to die to a deadly-snake-handling reverend from Florida, this book ranges from topic to topic, but ties it all together through dreams and inspiration and shear coincidence.
It has graphic sex and violence. It has politics or the drama that stands in for politics. The characters are not afraid to state their piece whether or not it will offend someone. It has cynicism but also optimism. And I think it works beautifully.

In addition to those, Chelle and I are maybe half-way through the last Harry Potter book (don't spoil the ending, please!) and I'm half-way through yet another fantasy novel. More on them when we finish.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

I'm Back


Hi, all. I am back from vacation, well-rested now.

As it turns out, I didn't write anything (!) while I was on vacation. No memories, no essays, not even a single poem. But I did read a ton. I'll soon post about the books I finished.

I'll be around sometime in the next week to see what I missed. Can't wait to catch up.