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Asimbonanga

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Lots of people told me not to come. Not for love or money. (It was for love.) The back of apartheid had still not been broken. Stories coming out of the country were strange and terrible. “How could you even think to go and work in such a place?” “You will be lumped with the privileged white minority. Can you handle that?” Aren’t you supporting the regime if you choose to live there?” Some people thought this man had proposed to me, an American, so that he could gain entrance to our most illustrious country and escape the inevitable recompense coming to the oppressors.

I stopped telling people where I was going. I ceased sharing with them about my intended and how he worked in a rural hospital and cared for the poorest of the poor. I stopped regaling others with my story. I knew I was called to marry this man and share his fortune, whatever came. I had no doubts; there was no wavering. I packed up what I could, sold or gave away what I could not take and flew away to the “dark continent.”

I discovered an amazing country, an incredible people, a beautiful natural environment. I found a place filled with colourful and diverse cultures. I also saw huge problems and big issues. But in every concern there were people standing up, challenging the status quo, knocking holes in the national policy. Music was one of the avenues people used to spread their message. And Johnny Clegg was one of the musicians who took up the battle cry. His song “Asimbonanga” caught my attention soon after I arrived and has remained one of my favourites to this day. It also helped me learn a bit of isiZulu.

The song is written about Mandela (and other heroes in the struggle to defeat apartheid).

Asimbonanga (We have not seen him)
Asimbonang’ umandela thina (We have not seen Mandela)
Laph’ekhon (in the place where he is)
Laph’ehleli khona in the place where he is kept)

Oh the sea is cold and the sky is grey
Look across the island into the bay
We are all islands till comes the day
We cross the burning water
A seagull wings across the sea
Broken silence is what I dream
Who has the words to close the distance
Between you and me
Asimbonanga (We have not seen him)
Asimbonang’ umandela thina (We have not seen Mandela)
Laph’ekhon (in the place where he is)
Laph’ehleli khona in the place where he is kept)

Steve Biko, Victoria Mxenge Neil Aggett
Asimbonanga Asimbonang ‘umfowethu thina (We have not seen our brother/sister)
Laph’ekhona (in the place where he is)
Laph’wafela khona (in the place where he died)
Hey wena (Hey, you!)
Hey wena nawe (Hey, you — and you also)
Siyofika nini la’ siyakhona? (When will we arrive at our destination?)

I learned the words. I sang with lusty gusto. I prayed for my adopted country. I spoke with people and shared my heart and tried to break down the divisions in my own little circles. A little over a year after my arrival, Mandela was released from prison. And four years after that I stood in a long queue to vote in South Africa’s first free and fully democratic election.

I still sing this song. And now I sing because our beloved Madiba has passed into his rest, and I see a still very young South Africa struggling to implement justice for all. Some things we are getting right, some things we are getting terribly wrong. Mandela stands as a beacon for reconciliation and justice for all. So I still sing this song. Only now as I sing I am asking, “Where is Mandela? We can’t see him (in the things that we are doing – in the way in which we are doing them). Asimbonanga. The struggle lives on.

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writing101

 

 

Day Three of Writing 101:  ASSIGNMENT:

Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?

Today, try free writing. To begin, empty your mind onto the page. Don’t censor yourself; don’t think. Just let go. Let the emotions or memories connected to your three songs carry you.

NOTE:  I started writing about Asimbonanga and the 15 minutes (20 actually) just went flying.  I never got to the other songs.  If you would like to listen to the song, go here.

 

 

 

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My Go-To Place

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It is so cliché to say “I left my heart in San Francisco.” But it is true. The City by the Bay was my home for a major part of my life and I will always love it, passionately. The history of a pioneering people and their indomitable spirit, the amazing buildings, the cable cars, the streets (seriously –the streets in SF have personality), the neighborhoods, the vistas. It is a vibrant place, full of fun, rowdy people, each with a distinct quirky personality, and yet all joined together by the idea of The City.

But there is another place, my go-to place when I craved a retreat. My sanctuary, my quiet restoration: Muir Woods. On cold, rainy days when I needed solitude I would get into the small brown Pinto and drive across the Golden Gate Bridge north to Marin to Muir Woods National Monument. The drive itself would put me into a reflective mood. As I left civilization and all its noise and confusion, slowly I would unwind and enter a world of silent wonder.

The park would be empty because of the weather. I’d pull the hood of my anorak over my head, climb out of the car and step back into time, into a grove of redwoods older than recorded history. Over 550 acres of rich royal redwood forest, Muir Woods is a natural cathedral. Even when there were other visitors in the park, they were awed into reverent silence as they entered the grove. These incredible trees grow to over 250 feet high and are between 500 and 800 years old. (The oldest tree in the park is over 1 200!) I liked to lean with my back against a tree and gaze up along its strong trunk into the heavens where the tip of the tree was stirring the clouds.

Very little sun reaches the forest floor which is covered in lush greenery. The air in the sanctuary is dense and full of earthy richness. There aren’t very many birds to call out in the park, although once I heard an owl’s lament. My favorite place in the park is a small bridge built over Redwood Creek. Here I could sit or stand for hours listening to the water gurgle its way through the woods. The songs it sings and the stories it tells are secrets of the redwoods whispered for thousands and thousands of years. And if I closed my eyes and stilled my breathing I could almost understand the tune.

Although I now live over ten-thousand miles away from my beloved San Francisco and the enchanted Muir Woods, sometimes, when I need some peace and stillness in my life, I close my eyes and imagine the hallowed sanctum of giant redwoods and the murmuring prayers of the little stream.

 

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Day Two of Writing 101:  ASSIGNMENT:

Choose a place to which you’d like to be transported if you could — and tell us the backstory. How does this specific location affect you? Is it somewhere you’ve been, luring you with the power of nostalgia, or a place you’re aching to explore for the first time?

 

Waffles Waffling

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Loosen up. Loosen up.
I am tense. Not looking forward to the thirteen hour drive tomorrow. Every one else is in slumberland. I am making Cornish pasties and doing the last load of laundry and still packing and worrying that I will forget something important and gotta write that last little note to the house-sitter and make sure I put the cat food out and wash my hair in the morning, but of course we are driving away at 6 am which means I already have to be up at 5 am to pack the cool box and make the lunches and put in my last minute toiletries. Maybe I should get up at 4 am. Considering it is already 11 pm and I have 23 more minutes for the pasties to bake and 25 more minutes until the laundry is done, I don’t think there is any way that I will be ready to get out of bed at 4.
Loosen up. Loosen up.
Let’s see, I could think about how the internet went off all day and how I didn’t get to read any email or post to my blog or even see what other people were doing. I couldn’t Google (and I needed a recipe for something with chicken and brinjal –which is what people here call eggplant or aubergine or melongene or guinea squash). Funny how some vegetables have so many names. Like zucchini. Here it is called “baby marrow” if it is small (which it usually is) or just “marrow” if it is large (which is usually isn’t –and I thought marrow what was inside of your bones) and it is also called “courgette.” And, the other weird thing about marrow/zucchini/courgette is that it is actually a FRUIT! Yes, indeed. In the strictest sense of the word, zucchini is a fruit. Like tomatoes. I won’t bother to tell you that eggplant is classified as a “berry,” because you wouldn’t believe me, or that it is in the nightshade family and related to the tomato and potato and (wait for it) tobacco! I ended up making a Moroccan Chicken and Eggplant dish, a tagine, but I didn’t have an slivered almonds and had to leave out the coriander (which is also known as dhanya and cilantro Chinese parsley — although to be terribly strict here, coriander refers to the ground seed and cilantro is the green leaves) because Kevin hates cilantro. He said he read a National Geographic article (so it must be true, right?) that said you either LOVE cilantro or you HATE it. No in-between and it is genetic. So he believes he is predisposed to hating “stink weed” (his name for it) and that there is nothing he can do about it. He also hated garlic before he was forced to eat my cooking. Now he just mildly dislikes it.
Loosen up. Loosen up.
I think I am nervous about leaving the house. We had ANOTHER break in last week. I don’t want to come back from H’s graduation and find that someone uninvited has been in our house. I always feel so violated! And angry. And sad. And suspicious. And . . . STOP WORRYING!
Loosen up. Loosen up!
The pasties are smelling good. Cornish pasties. Miners used to eat them for lunch. That is why the crust is so big on the outside of the pie. They’d hold the pie there, eat the thing and then throw away the dirty crust. (Again, this is what I have heard.) I just put cubed beef and potato in mine. I had someone’s once who put in all her left-overs. Spinach, beans, carrots . . . really! Not a meat pie anymore! And definitely not Cornish, right Cornwall? Rutabaga (or turnip) — yes! But all that other stuff — no! Well, those pasties need to come out in a few minutes and it has been 20 minutes of solid writing, during which time I have been able to forget . . . oh, who am I kidding? I don’t feel any looser now than I did 22 minutes ago. BUT I did enjoy avoiding the packing. Because I HAD to write tonight!

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writing101

 

 

 

 

 

Day One of Writing 101:  ASSIGNMENT:

To get started, let’s loosen up. Let’s unlock the mind. Today, take twenty minutes to free write. And don’t think about what you’ll write. Just write.

Keep typing (or scribbling, if you prefer to handwrite for this exercise) until your twenty minutes are up. It doesn’t matter if what you write is incomplete, or nonsense, or not worthy of the “Publish” button.

And for your first twist? Publish this stream-of-consciousness post on your blog.

 

 

España

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It was one of those teenage desires.

I had long walked in the 1950’s pattern my family had set for me:  Be a nice girl. Smart, but not too smart.  Neat and tidy.  Clean, crisp haircut.  Fresh perky smile.  White bobby socks and Oxfords.  White blouse and skirt.  Beautiful curly handwriting.  Polite, well-mannered, speak-only-when-spoken-to young lady.

One day in eighth grade I suddenly woke up from my state of unconsciousness and realised I bore no resemblance to any of my contemporaries.  They were wearing their hair long, their skirts short.  Knee-high socks and platform heels.  Tight jeans with wide, flared bottoms. I was suddenly and profoundly embarrassed to the core.

I slowly began a metamorphosis.  The next time Mom went clothes shopping I went with her.  As she only patronised thrift stores, my sisters and I always opted out when she invited us on one of her sprees.  We’d wear the clothes she bought, but we hated the damp, dirty shops they came from. Delighted to have company Mom agreed to buy a pair of jeans I found.  “But not for school!”  she firmly stated.  I agreed, knowing that the purchase was the first hurdle.  Besides, mom left for work before we left for school, and we got home before she did.

By the time I was in tenth grade I finally looked like a child of the seventies. Mom had given up trying to get me to wear what she’d selected and we’d come to a satisfactory truce.  I could easily blend in with my peers, but I kept my outfits simple and tasteful. As long as I could find what I wanted at the secondhand outlet and we could afford it, she would purchase it for me.

But then, just before my sixteenth birthday, I discovered something I couldn’t live without.  Every time I saw someone else with one, I nearly cried with envy.  I mentioned it to Mom, suggesting that it would be a fine gift for a sweet sixteen.  Mom chortled.  “Unless we find it at Goodwill, there’s no way we can manage that!”  I knew it.  I knew it was true.  We had such a difficult time making ends meet that I had started working weekends at the nearby McDonald’s to help bring in extra cash.  “Besides,” she continued, “something worth having is worth waiting for.  If you still want it in a year, well, maybe we can make a plan.  But right now, it ain’t gonna happen.”

In my senior year I signed on to work on the school yearbook.  The entire team was comprised of kids who’d been compiling the annuals since they were sophomores.  When everyone had chosen the sections of the yearbook they wanted to assemble, I was left with the advertising chapter.  This meant I had to visit local businesses and ask them to sponsor our yearbook.  If they gave us $50 they’d get a quarter-page sized ad in the book.  $100 got them a half-page and $200 for a full-page.  We needed to raise a minimum of $2 000.  Then, once I had the sponsors, I would liaise with them in terms of what they wanted to see in their ad.  Some wanted photos, others just text.  All of them had logos.  This was back in the days when computers were the size of rooms and  only NASA used them, so each layout was an arduous work of art created by hand.

After screwing up my courage with twenty mental “You can do this!  You can do this!” phrases, I pulled open the door to McDonald’s and asked for the manager.  As I thought, Mr Hansen (my weekend boss) was more than willing to take out a page.  He signed the contract and we chatted about the basic layout of the ad.  With that achievement behind me, I marched to the next little shop.  And the next.  And the next.  No one else in the little mall seemed to value advertising in a high school yearbook.  I took a deep breathe and soldiered on.

I entered the next shop without really bothering to look at what they sold.  As soon as I glanced around I stopped dead in my tracks.  The yearbook went out of my mind.  The contract forms I held were forgotten.  Here was the object of my desires.  I walked across the room in a daze.  There, hanging by their necks from pegs in the wall, was a row of beautifully crafted acoustic guitars.  Their gorgeous wood grain lacquered to perfection, they seemed to call me.  I reached out my hand to stroke one . . .

“Beautiful, aren’t they?”  a deep voice behind me shook me out of my dream.  I turned to look at the speaker, a man in his early thirties with dark shoulder-length hair and a moustache.  He smiled.  “Hi!  I’m Skip.  What can I do for you?”

“Um, I, uh,” for some stupid reason my brain didn’t seem to be linked to my tongue.

“Do you play,” Skip queried, gesturing to the guitars.

“Uh, no,” I replied.  Then, suddenly finding my voice, “but I want to.  I really want to learn.”

Skip put his hands on one of the guitars and lowered it down from its peg on the wall.  “It’s a great instrument to learn.  You can strum chords to accompany vocals or you can play classical.  There are some serious pieces written for this baby!”  As he spoke he drew the instrument to himself and sat down on a piano bench and began to play.  I stood transfixed watching his fingers fly around the frets.  The rich, mellow sound of this guitar was so soothing.  The ache to own a guitar grew into a sharp pain.

Skip stopped playing. He smiled up at me and then rose to put the guitar back.  NO!  I wanted to shout.  Please keep playing.  Skip turned to me, looked at the papers in my hand and observed, “But you didn’t come here to listen to me play.  What can I do for you?”

I explained to Skip about the yearbook and the sponsorship and asked if he’d be interested in taking out an ad.  I expected him to brush me off, but he didn’t.  He started by apologising. He’d just moved into the mall, rent was sky-high and he hadn’t made many sales.  He’d love to take out  a whole-page, but would it be okay if he just did a half-page?  “Wow!” I exclaimed, having expected another sorry-no. “A half-page is fantastic!”  I bubbled.  “Are you sure, though?  Will it be okay.”

Skip smiled and chortled.  “Are you trying to talk me out of it?” he quipped.

“No, I mean, it’s a lot of money.”

“I can manage. And I’d like to do it.  Who knows, maybe your entire senior class will come buy guitars!”

” Yeah, maybe!” I answered.  Then I got a bit brave.  “How much is that guitar you were playing?”

Skip went over and touched it again.  “It isn’t one of our more expensive ones, but I like it because it has such a rich tone.” He took it down and handed it to me.  I took it with great trepidation and reverence.  “It’s an España.  Made in Finland.  Everybody is going for Yamahas and Ovations.  But you’re paying for the name.  This little España has class and half the price.”

He didn’t tell me how much it cost.  I saw the tag.  $300.  $300!  My heart sank and my eyes welled with tears.  There was no way I could ever afford this treasure.  I brought home $32.60 each week from McDonald’s.  And $30 of that I gave to Mom.  In the fifteen months I had been working there I managed to save $50.  At that rate I would have to work five more years before I could even hope to have enough money to buy this guitar.  I handed it back to Skip and tried to smile.  “Thank you.” I said.

Four months went by.  I’d managed to sell ten pages of advertising and was nearly finished with all the layouts.  It was time to work on the divider page, the double-spread that would introduce the section of the yearbook.  We’d decided to use a banner of photographs across each divider page, and my spread would be filled with pictures of students shopping at the establishments of the biggest supporters.  I booked Alex the yearbook photographer (who also conveniently had a car) on a Friday and asked several of my friends to be at the various locations for a photo-shoot.

First up, McDonald’s. This was easy.  Half of the student body went to the burger place after school anyway, so we got some nice shots of the manager and kids laughing and enjoying themselves.  The next location was a car wash.  We also had a blast here as we had several students drive their cars through the twirling foam cylinders coming out with bright cars and bright faces.

Near the end of the day as we were walking down the mall I asked Alex to stop with me at Skip’s Music.  I hadn’t actually planned on putting Skip on the divider page, just the full-page sponsors.  I’d been in the shop several time since our first meeting, the last time about a week before, to get his approval on the galley proof.  Skip was always by himself in the shop.  I thought maybe he couldn’t afford to hire anyone to help.  Each time I went in I tried to avoid looking at the brilliant row of guitars, but the sweet España seemed to draw my attention like a fly to honey.  It was no different this day.  But to my horror, there was a space where the España usually hung.

Skip welcomed me with tremendous enthusiasm as he always did.  I introduced him to Alex and told him that I wanted to put a picture of his shop on the divider page.  “Wow!  Well, what did you have in mind?   Want an outside shot of the sign?”

“No, I’d like a picture of you playing guitar.  Just like the first time I came in here.  You and a guitar.”

“This ugly mug?” he joked, pointing to his face.

“Yeah,” I smiled.  “That ugly mug.  And I wanted you to be playing the España, but I see it’s gone.”  I looked up at the huge gap.  I thought that if I got a picture of Skip and the España that I could carry a piece of it with me, and maybe some day I could afford one of my own.

“Oh!” he said. “It isn’t gone.  I’ve got it in the back room.  Let me go get it.”

We took the picture, the warmth of Skip’s smile with the España in his hands made it the best pic on the divider page.  I was pleased with the page and hoped Skip would be pleased too.  One Friday afternoon in late May I took his complimentary copy of the yearbook to him.  Again my eyes flew to the España the moment I came through the tinkling door.

“Hey, Skip!  I brought you the final copy!”  I told him as he came out from the back chewing on the other half of the sandwich in his hand. He held up a finger while he swallowed, put the rest of the sandwich on some papers on the counter and wiped his hands on his jeans.

“Let’s see it,” he intoned eagerly.  He skipped the pages and pages of mug shots and pictures of spirit rallies and club photos and flipped straight to the back.  He found the divider page for the advertising and grinned at himself.  He pointed and said, “And the España!”

“Yup!  And the España,” I repeated.

“Well, this deserves a celebration,” he said.  “Stay there!” and he pushed me onto a piano bench and disappeared into the back with the yearbook.  He reappeared a minute later with two cans of Coke.  “Sorry,” he said as he handed me the one can, “no glasses.  BUT,” he pulled something from his back pocket with a flourish, “I do have straws!”  We laughed and talked and drank our celebratory Cokes.  He asked about the next year and I told him that I was going to SF State on a scholarship to study to become a teacher.  He told me that business had picked up and that it looked like he was going to make it, although his financial advisor (his brother-in-law) warned him that no small business ever broke even in the first three years.

Then he got very serious.  “Loreen,” he began, “I want you to listen to me.  I have been thinking about something since the first time I met you.  I see the way you look at that España and I know you can’t afford it.”  I started getting a bit of a panicked feeling in my stomach.  “If I could I would give it to you.  I really would!”

My eyes got misty.  “Oh, wow, Skip . . .”

“Wait, let me finish.  I’ve thought about it and I’ve thought about it, and I came up with a plan.  What if you gave me what you could now, whatever, it doesn’t matter, and then paid me whatever you can over the next year or so?”

I didn’t know what to say.  I think my mouth must have been open, but nothing was coming out.

“Please.  I want you to have it, probably as much as you want it.  It’d really make me happy to know where that little España is!”

I can’t remember any more of the details of that conversation.  I must have agreed because I was walking out of the shop 30 minutes later with a guitar case (which Skip threw in for free) in my hands and tears streaming down my face.

I managed to pay off the España in ten months.  My family helped by giving me monetary gifts at Christmas and for my birthday.  I visited Skip every university break, bringing the España with me, and the two of us would sit and play together.

That was 38 years ago.  I now live on the other side of the planet, teaching eager young children how to read, write and do ‘rithmatic.  And I teach them how to sing.  The España and I teach them how to sing.

 

 

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For our final assignment, tell the tale of your most-prized possession.

If you’re up for a twist, go long — experiment with longform and push yourself to write more than usual.

Therapeutic Imagination

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I’ve really got too many balls to juggle all at once.  Keeping them all in the air was easy when there were two.  Three wasn’t too much more difficult.  Four was a bit tricky.  Five made me a bit anxious.  Six gave me heart palpitations.  And I can see you there, holding that seventh ball with an evil sort of grin on your face.  Don’t you dare throw it.  Don’t you dare.  Balls fall.  I fall. We all fall down.

Now I am sitting on the floor — balls all around me.  They seem to keep multiplying.  It is almost like I am in one of those funny playrooms at McDonald’s.  I AM in one of those funny playrooms.  And the balls keep on multiplying.  They are rather pretty. Blue. Red. Green. Yellow.  Lots of pretty plastic balls. Up to my chin.  Over my head.  I am covered in balls — drowning in balls.

The floor dissolves and the balls begin to shrink.  They lose their colour and all go white.  I reach out my arms and my body tips so that I am lying on my belly on little white balls.  They are made out of styrofoam and they continue to shrivel up, smaller and smaller and smaller.  They support my weight brilliantly and I feel lighter than air.  But they are getting too small.  I have to close my eyes and I am breathing them up into my nostrils.  No.  I can’t inhale.  I can’t.  They’ll fill my lungs.  But the need to breathe is too powerful and I suck them in.  In they go like so much cotton wool.

It actually isn’t too bad.  I can breathe them in and breathe them out.  They aren’t styrofoam any longer.  It’s water vapour.  Water vapour. I open my eyes and I am in a cloud.  I am part of a big white fluffy floating-above-the-earth cloud.  I roll over onto my back and gaze at the blue sky above me.  Deep rich royal brilliant blue. Blue floods my eyes and makes them water.  Tears pour forth from my eyes, roll tickling into my ears, then down toward the earth.  The tears turn into rivers and water flows down raining upon the dark hard dusty earth.

I slowly shrivel up, wrung out like an old cloth.   I am thin, so thin I am transparent.  A breeze comes up and gently blows me through the air, across the sky, tossing me this way according to its whim.  I am dandelion fluff.  One small seed, one tiny speck of wild potential being carried on the wind, hanging on to a wispy white piece of fuzz.

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Today’s assignment:  Free writing day.
Write at least four-hundred words, and once you start typing, don’t stop.
No self-editing, no trash-talking, and no second guessing: just go.
Four-hundred words. One at a time. Go.
Bonus points if you tackle an idea you’ve been playing with but think is too silly to post about.

Mrs. Pauley

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I’ve never known Roosevelt Circle without Mrs. Pauley.  She was here ‘fore me.  I was born here twelve years ago.  Well, not here ‘xactly.  The family was livin’ here and Momma brought me home fresh from the Wellstar Hospital.  After that Mamma couldn’t have no more kids, so she called me “Li’l One.”  Still calls me that, even though I told her to stop.  “Mamma, I’m nearly the tallest in the seventh grade.” But she says it gives her great comfort to call me that, so I stopped moaning at her.

She needs all the comfort she can get.  Ain’t been easy for her, tryin’ to raise four hon’ry boys and then me, after our daddy left.  Said he heard there was good jobs goin’ out Montgomery way.  But he ain’t never come back.  An’ Mamma says she don’t care.  She said he never did a lick of work anyways and was just a bum sitting around drinking up all her hard earned money that she makes from the Tip Top Poultry.  I don’t ‘member him much cuz he done left when I was jus’ a baby.  But I heard plenty about him from Mamma and the boys to know I don’t ever want him to come back.

Sometimes I imagine him walking up our drive like some peacock puttin’ on airs.  I’d be sittin’ here on the front porch readin’ my latest library book  like I usually do and he’d come struttin’ up like he owned the place.  I’d be all cool and collected.  And when he stopped there in front of me I’d just look up at him from that book into his cock-eyed smile.  “Whatch you want?” I’d say and then I’d spit. Right on his shoes.  Mamma says spittin’ is not lady-like and she’s forbade me from doin’ it, but I think in that case she’d approve. My fantasy never went no farther than that, so I don’t rightly know what would happen next.  I don’t wanna waste my time thinkin’ ’bout it.

Mamma says I think too much.  She says I spend too much time with my head in the clouds.  She says I always got my nose in a book, which is true.  But I think she likes it, cuz she says it kinda braggin’ like. “Oh, my Maybell!  You know she just ’bout read up every book in that library.”  My teacher says I’m the best reader in our whole middle school.  I think she’s exaggeratin’ a bit.  She says I could be a writer myself someday, cuz I can tell a mean story.  She says it comes from all the stories I done read.

I could tell you some stories about Roosevelt Circle.  First of all, it is not a circle.  I would love to know who named it that, cuz it’s shaped more like a capital C.  It is stretched out between Cole Street and the Parkway.  We live on the Cole side.  Second, it is named after the second president to have that name.  I know he was the second one, cuz last year for my class project I memorized every president we ever had — from Washington right down to Obama.  Mrs. Pauley helped me learn them all. The first Roosevelt was named Teddy. Our street is named after Franklin Delano.

Used to be, Mrs. Pauley told me, families filled the houses on Roosevelt. She said the houses were built in 1958.  They were mostly all the same – three-bedrooms, one bathroom, and two porches, a big one in front and a smaller one in back.  She and Mr. Pauley done lived in number 309 for forty years.  They moved to Marietta with their six sons when Mr. Pauley got a new job in Atlanta.   By the time we moved across the street into 312 the Pauleys had already been there for 25 years.  As a matter of fact, ‘fore I was even born, all their boys had moved out.

I only ever met one of them.  Named Jasper.  He came to visit his folks once at Thanksgivin’ when I was about eight.  He’d come to tell them that he was gettin’ married (for the third time) to an Australian girl he met on some internet chat room. Said he didn’t know when he’d ever be able to come back to call.  Said he’d keep in touch.  The rest of them boys were scattered all over the place.  One was in California. One was in prison. And one had been lost in a car accident.  Momma said the Pauleys had a hard time of it.  She said boys were mostly like that.  They grew up and they went off to have themselves a good time.  She said girls were mostly different. They are homebodies.  Then she gave me a big hug and called me “Li’l One” again.

I got to know Mrs. Pauley pretty well.  Started when I was just five years old.  Mrs. Pauley has the finest garden in the whole neighborhood.  All the houses on our block are rentals and mean ol’  Mr. Granger the landlord won’t ever let us forget it.  So most of the people who live here don’t take good care of the places.  Yards are full of weeds.  Windows are broken.  Gutters falling off.  Maybe if Mr. Granger were a bit nicer.  Nobody can whack Mr. Granger, so they whack his houses instead.  Except for Mrs. Pauley.  She takes care of 309 like it belongs to her.  She plants lots of pretty flowers.  Her speciality is roses.  She told me that they are the most delicate things and need to be spoiled like a baby.

On the Friday before Mother’s Day I walked home from kindergarten with nothin’ for Mamma.  I’d been punished for pushin’ a girl at recess, so I’d sat in the corner while everybody else made cards.  I was feelin’ right sorry for myself as I dragged my feet along, until I saw Mrs. Pauley’s roses.  Right then a great idea came to me.  I didn’t need no stinkin’ card!  I could give Mamma pretty flowers!  I walked right into the Pauley’s garden and started tearin’ into a rose bush.  It was harder than I thought to pick those flowers and I had quite a few scratches on my arms for my effort.

Mrs. Pauley saw me and came runnin’ out of her house.  I knew right then that I’d done something wrong.  I froze.  But Mrs. Pauley didn’t yell at me or nothin’.  She smiled a funny smile on that wrinkly old face of hers and told me to wait right there.  She went back into her house and got some special flower scissors.  She showed me how to cut the roses off the bush and then told me how to put them in water with an aspirin to make them last longer.  We were friends from that day on.

Mamma works late shift at the chicken factory.  When I was five my oldest brother had already graduated and moved out.  Not one of the rest was interested in spendin’ time with the “Li’l One,” so I was bored out of my mind every afternoon.  Mrs. Pauley must’ve been lonely too, because she started invitin’ me over to her house.  She told me stories about growin’ up in depression and about wars and presidents and roses.  She made me cookies and gave me milk to dunk them in.  She helped me learn to read and then when I got better at it I started readin’ stories to her and Mr. Pauley.  She taught me how to crochet and we made a blanket for my bed in all colors of the rainbow.

One mornin’ about three months ago, a few days after Mrs. Pauley and I’d put on a special birthday party for Mr. Pauley’s 80th, he didn’t wake up.  I’d just walked out the door on my way to school and I saw the ambulance.  It drove away and there was Mrs. Pauley standin’ in her front door way, both fists up to her mouth and tears runnin’ down her face.  She was watchin’ the ambulance go down the street and didn’t see me.  I went right over and spent the day with her.  In fact I didn’t go to school the rest of that week until after the funeral.  “Oh, Maybell,” she said.  “What am I gonna do without him?  What am I gonna do?”  I didn’t know what to say.

I was wantin’ to spend more time with Mrs. Pauley, but  she kept tellin’ me that she was just so tired she couldn’t think straight.  “I hope you don’t mind, Maybell.  I’ll just lay down for a little while.  You come back over in a few hours, okay?”  So I’d find myself on the porch readin’ by myself.  I’d think a lot.  I’d think about Mamma and how she always has a smile no matter how hard life gets.  I’d think about Mrs. Pauley and all them boys who disappeared and never came back.  I’d think about how long she’d lived at 309 and all the stories and stuff she’d told me.

Then yesterday, as I was half-readin’ and half-thinkin’ on our front porch, one of them big yellow Hummers came drivin’ down the road.  We don’t get much through-traffic and nobody ’round here drives that kinda car, so it caught my attention.  It pulled up outside of Mrs. Pauley’s house.  Right behind it was a small black car, blue lights on top and “COBB COUNTY POLICE” written across the doors.  I stood up as men got out of the cars.  I watched them take the steps up to Mrs. Pauley’s porch two at a time, one guy from the Hummer and two policemen.  The Hummer guy was first.  He banged on Mrs. Pauley’s door and yelled her name.  “Cynthia Pauley!  Cynthia Pauley!”

I dropped my book and ran across the street.  “Whatch you want?”  I asked.  “Mrs. Pauley’s sleepin’.  She’s tired.”

The guy at the door turned and looked at me.  He had greasy dark hair and was wearing RayBans.  “Go away, little girl.  This doesn’t concern you.”  He banged on the door again and yelled.

The policemen looked at each other, one standin’ with his arms crossed, the other with his thumbs hooked in his pockets.  The taller one said, “Listen, Mr. Granger, it doesn’t appear that Mrs. Pauley is able to receive us now.  Let’s come back in an hour or so.”

Mr. Granger!  The landlord.  “No, dammit,” Mr Granger said.  “I came all this way and I’m here now.  I’m getting my money or she’s getting out!”  Mr. Granger banged on the door again.  But no one answered.  “Okay,” he said.  “If that’s how she wants it, we’ll just go in and get her!” and he stuck his hand in his pocket and took out a key.

“Wait,” I yelled.  “You just can’t go bargin’ in to someone else’s house.  She’s sleepin”!”

Mr. Granger turned around to face me.  “I told you to go away.  This is none of your business!”

“Let me go wake her up,” I said.  “I’ll tell her you’re here.”

“That’s a good idea, Mr. Granger,” the other cop said.  “It’ll give you a chance to calm down.”

“I don’t need to calm down!” he yelled, but he handed me the key.

I opened the door and walked softly to Mrs. Pauley’s room.  I was shakin’.  I didn’t know if it was cuz I was angry or afraid.  Maybe both.  I knocked quietly on her door.  “Mrs. Pauley,” I called.  “There are some people here to see you.  Mrs. Pauley?”  Her door opened a crack.  I saw her laying on her bed.  Her arms were wrapped around her body, like she was huggin’ herself.  There was a smile on her face.  I walked over to the bed and touched one of her hands.  It was ice cold.  “Mrs. Pauley?”  My voice was kinda shaky.  “Mrs Pauley?”

“Mrs. Pauley!” a hard voice, Mr. Granger’s voice, sounded behind me.  They’d followed me in.

I turned and glared at Mr. Granger.  “She’s gone.”  Tears started comin’ down my cheeks.

He pushed past me and shook Mrs. Pauley’s body.  “Where’s my money?” he yelled.  Both cops rushed up and grabbed Mr Granger away from the bed.  He shook himself loose.  “Dying in MY house.”

“Let’s go, Mr. Granger.  We’ll call Emergency Services and they’ll come take care of the body. There’s nothing you can do here now.”  One policeman walked out the door and the other pulled Mr. Granger by his arm.

“Stupid old woman!” Mr Granger mumbled.

I filled my mouth with spit and let it fly.

 

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The neighbourhood has seen better days, but Mrs. Pauley has lived there since before anyone can remember. She raised a family of six boys, who’ve all grown up and moved away. Since Mr. Pauley died three months ago, she’d had no income. She’s fallen behind in the rent. The landlord, accompanied by the police, have come to evict Mrs. Pauley from the house she’s lived in for forty years.

Today’s assignment:  Write this story in first person, told by the twelve-year-old sitting on the stoop across the street.
Today’s twist: For those of you who want an extra challenge, think about more than simply writing in first-person point of view — build this twelve-year-old as a character. Reveal at least one personality quirk, for example, either through spoken dialogue or inner monologue.

Borborosophobia

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Dr F G Manheim, MD, PhD
Psychiatry
354 Plumber Road

(045) 621 5555

 

7 October 2014

To Whom it May Concern:

Lydia Morgan has been under my care for the past month.  She has been diagnosed with an acute phobia.  This intense fear is specifically centred around driving a vehicle through mud or running water.

Ms Morgan’s particular phobia can be traced back to specific triggering events.  The first event occurred nearly 20 years ago.  Ms Morgan was responsible for getting her mother and children down a mountain pass.  The dirt road had turned into a river of mud due to excessive rain.  Ms Morgan explains how the car slid down the mountain road and that she had no control of the steering. She was overcome with a feeling of panic.  The vehicle got stuck and was eventually pulled out, but the fear remained.

The second event happened on a family outing in northern Mpumalanga approximately 15 years ago.   A deluge of rain fell overnight causing the rivers in the area to go into flood.  The Morgans had to cross a river on their way home.  The water was flowing rapidly over the causeway.  Ms Morgan was in the passenger seat and could see the water rushing over the bridge and pushing up against the car as it made its way over the causeway.  The vehicle made it safely over the bridge, but Ms Morgan subsequently learned that three other vehicles which have followed after them (including a tractor) were washed down the river and one person drowned.

Ms Morgan’s condition is a true phobia.  It has been noted that when she is travelling in a vehicle and has to go through even the smallest amount of mud or water, she experiences elevated levels of fear which, if not quickly alleviated, rapidly accelerate into terror.  I have diagnosed her with a severe anxiety disorder.

Phobia treatment is a specialised procedure. This care will involve teaching Ms Morgan to learn how to face her fear of mud.  This will be done in careful, measured steps.  Therefore, I am requesting that you give her a paid leave of absence for the next three months as she attends special counselling sessions with our team of experts.

Should you have any questions. please do not hesitate to contact me on the above number.

 

Dr F G Manheim, MD, PhD

 

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Today’s assignment:  We all have anxieties, worries, and fears. What are you scared of? Address one of your worst fears.

Today’s twist: Write this post in a style distinct from your own.

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