Put Me Out, Put Me Out

…put me out of misery.  It’s 7:30 a.m. and the summer of ’78 is now in progress.  I slip into the car a split second before my father does, just in time to punch the button for my favorite AM radio station. If there’s one thing I love, it’s rock music.  If there’s one thing he hates, it’s rock music.

The rules are the rules.  It’s his car and he’s driving, so he’s damned if he’s going to listen to that noise, especially not first thing in the morning on his way to work. If he beats me to the car, then I’m stuck listening to WRVA, The Voice of Virginia.  My parents have tuned every radio in the house to this station, even the one radio that gets FM stations.  WRVA with Alden Aroe and Millard the Mallard, his co-host who sounds suspiciously like Donald Duck, all morning, every morning.  The songs they play when not quacking away include, “The Shrimp Boats Are A’coming, There’s Dancin’ Tonight,”  “Moments to Remember,” and Roger Whittaker’s entire catalog – a veritable Hit Parade of Music for Those Who Have Nothing To Live For.

But here’s the thing:  if I change the station before he gets behind the wheel, he might be in enough of a daze from everything he’s got on his mind that he won’t realize it right away. Then for a few minutes, I can sit in my bucket seat and rock out inwardly, while doing nothing to draw his attention outwardly, the very picture of nonchalance.

For the record, I’m the apple of my father’s eye.  But that won’t stop him from meeting me at the front door later this summer as I try to sneak in five minutes after my midnight curfew. If I can’t live by the rules of this house, then I can pack my bags and be out by morning, is what he’ll tell me.  Yes sir, is what I’ll say, all respect and fear, and that’s the last we’ll ever speak of it. I’ll have teenagers of my own before I understand the countless tragic ways they might have died when they’re five minutes late.   It’s like that song by the Police that will come out in the 80’s:  Daddy grips the wheel and stares alone into the distance—he knows that something somewhere has to break.

A word about the car.  It’s a 1967 Ford Mustang, my dad’s pride and joy.  A custom, Acapulco Blue, 8-cylinder, zero to sixty in I-don’t-know-what-but-it’s-fast machine.  He bought it used from his younger friend Ernie, whose fiancé insisted that he buy a more sensible car before they got married and started a family.   What my father was thinking when he bought this car must have gone something like this:  Christ. I got transferred from Buffalo, NY to Hopewell, VA where it’s hot and goddamned humid, I blink and I’ve got a wife and four kids.  I’m 42 years old, go to work at the plant every day, come home every night, cut the grass on Saturdays, and fix stuff on Sundays.  Screw it – I’m getting this car.

Against all odds, it’s a good fit for our family.  Mom and Dad ride in the front, I ride in the back with my little brother Will and my little sister Laura.  We take turns sitting on the hump. Our older brother, Conway, rarely goes anywhere with us anymore.  If my parents force all six of us to make a group appearance, there’s always the VW bus, or later, the International Travel-all with its spacious bench seats.

My mother loves the Mustang.  “It corners so well,” she says as she hits the tight curve of the Route 10 exit off of I-95 so fast that the centrifugal force threatens to fling us out of the car. “I don’t even have to use the brakes!”

All of us love it for its horse power, but Mom will be the only one to get a speeding ticket for going 40 in a 35 mile per hour zone at 11:00 at night when, as she points out to the officer, there’s not another soul on the road. Some people never learn when to shut their mouths, she tells us, and she should know. As the police officer stands there, debating whether or not to ticket this attractive 40-something in the hot Stang, she loses her patience and suggests that he either shit or get off the pot.

She will fight about the car during the divorce. Out of fear of not getting the best deal, Mom will insist on the brand new Ford Fairmont that my father will purchase to replace our dying International.  If the Mustang represents the pinnacle of Ford car making, the Fairmont represents the race to the bottom, but it’s so new that we don’t know that yet, and this will be yet another decision she looks back on with great bitterness.

I learn to drive in the Mustang, as do Conway, Will and Laura. Ford built this car for the more daring pursuits of my older brother, like drag racing out on Reformatory Road.  With its catch-me-if-you-can V-8 engine, this horse has to be reined in on the thirty-five mile an hour streets of Hopewell.  In high school, my friend Johncie and I drive the ‘Stang on the side streets out of sight of our parents, one of us closes her eyes and steers while the other calls out directions, both of us laughing hysterically.  Left.  Right.  Stop!  Stop!!

Now I’m home from my freshman year in college and here we are, Dad and me, driving to work together. His job in the Engineering Department at the plant allows him to get me a cushy summer job filing and typing in the Purchasing Department just down the hall.

This morning, I’m particularly fortunate, because he hasn’t yet noticed the station change and they’re playing my new favorite Rolling Stones hit – Beast of Burden.  The Stones will never replace Little Feat in my heart— I‘ve considered leaving school to become a groupie because of my obsession with Lowell George— but Some Girls is a great album. My friends and I debate whether Mic Jagger is handsome or homely, but we all agree that we’d jump off a cliff for him, and here he is, singing the first song of the morning.

So already it’s a great day. I’m sailing down Route 10 in a Car of Great Power with my father, whom I love dearly—taste in music aside— and as soon as I get off work, I’ll see my boyfriend, whom I also love dearly. He’s my very first boyfriend, and by that I mean first kiss, first all the way, first everything.  Daddy says I’ll outgrow him, but I hardly see how that is possible because he’s a full eight years older than I am. This will be yet another thing my father will be right about, and I’ll be broken hearted, but for now, ignorance is bliss.

I’ll be back in school by the time my mother calls to say she’s leaving my father.  Lowell George won’t die until next year, and my boyfriend and I will hang tough for another 3 years.  We’re driving toward all that, but for now it’s out of sight,  a little further down the road.

Back in the Mustang, Mic Jagger is wailing away about how he’ll never be my beast of burden, and he’s about to get to my favorite part:  But put me out.  Put me out.  Put me out of misery.  Out of the corner of my eye, I’ll see Daddy’s boxy index finger with its clipped nail reach down and jab at the buttons on the radio.  I’ll put you out of misery, he’ll say under his breath.

But that’s seconds from now.  Here in this moment, I anticipate only Mic’s next line, as happy as a girl can be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

English and Chemistry

Hopewell High School, 1972.  Freshman English class.  “That was my first year of teaching,” Brenda Pleasant said.

I don’t remember that.  I do remember a not-so-easy A, and a worse-than-that conduct grade after I accepted Greg Davis’ dare to perform a cartwheel down the aisle during a test.  And I recall something else.

There’s a knock on the classroom door and a lanky, long-haired guy in a jean jacket saunters in, motorcycle helmet hanging casually from one hand.  Gangly 14-year olds gawk as Ms. Pleasant excuses herself and steps into the hallway.  She floats back in on a cloud of giddy and it dawns on us that just maybe this bubbly teacher has more going on than parts of speech, sentence structure and critical analyses.  This might be English class, but right now it’s all about chemistry.

One of the great pleasures of growing up in a small town is returning over the years to meet teachers as adults, to watch each other’s families grow, and catch up on life’s achievements and challenges, if not always in person, then on Facebook.

When I took up creative nonfiction in my 50’s, it was no surprise that Brenda became a reader of my work, providing encouragement that kept me writing even as the rejections came fast and furious.

I watched from afar as she supported her husband through his illness, teaching me once again, this time lessons in fidelity to a person, a place and a way of life.  Her last years without him were difficult, but she carried on as mother, daughter, sister, friend.

She left the world without warning. When I think of last Tuesday, I imagine her climbing into bed and pulling up the covers.  As she drifts off to sleep, she finds herself in front of her English class, the lesson interrupted by a knock at the door.  The kids look up as a lanky young man in a jean jacket saunters in carrying not one, but two helmets.  With a wink and one last look over her shoulder, they walk hand in hand out the door into the light and she rides off with the man of her dreams.

Quick Update

 

 

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Hi Friends and Family!

The birds are singing, the days are getting longer and I come with great news on the writing front!  I was recently published in Minerva Rising’s Issue 12, “Fathers”.   I’m such a Daddy’s girl, but you all knew that by now.

I’d love for you to read what I’ve written and support this independent literary press.

Minerva Rising’s motto is “Celebrating the creativity and wisdom in every woman.” Help me celebrate my publication. Click on this link to purchase a subscription or buy the latest Issue 12 containing my piece. Your patronage means a lot; your friendship is priceless!

Thank you for reading!

Linda

 

Swimming with the Sharks

Greetings people.  I know it’s been a while. And I’m not exactly blogging at the moment.  I’m referring you to an essay of mine that was published today in Full Grown People.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Swimming with the Sharks

Stay safe out there!!

Hugs, Linda

On Rejection

Rejection letter1I am a failure when my goal is to get published. When I revise my goal to gathering as many rejections as I can, I become an overnight success.

I consider revising my goal to obtain not just a form rejection, but a personal rejection. Maybe even one day some advice or an edit, but I’m not quite ready to become a failure again. Just keep the bar low, I tell myself. Seek only rejection. Unqualified rejection.

I’m waiting on a couple of rejection letters, I tell my husband. Where from this time, he asks, and I tell him. Sure enough, they trickle in, sometimes in the mailbox, sometimes via email.

In the mailbox, there’s little question. When you’re staring at an envelope addressed to yourself in your own handwriting, you just kind of know what it is. I open it and pull out the standard rejection: Your piece is not right for our publication.

Bullshit, I think. Or sometimes, you’ll rue the day. But mostly I know my writing just isn’t good enough yet, and that rejection—and the writing itself—is part of the process that will change that. Someday. Someday soon, I hope.

In my email, I’ll see the name of the publication in the “from” column, and the name of my piece in the “subject” column. And there is some question. Because this is not a self-addressed, self-stamped envelope. I get many, many, many, many rejections (that why I’m such a success, remember?) and this one is probably no different, but maybe, just maybe. After all, it’s very late in the process for this publication. And I read somewhere that the later the response, the better the chance that the editors are actually considering your piece.   So there is hope.

So I don’t open it right away. I go about my typical email routine, deleting the obvious marketing ones, reading the anecdotes from my sister, the missives from my boss.

And then I can’t stand it anymore. My finger hovers over the touch pad for a second more, and then I tap it to open the message. And it’s . . .

. . . a knife to the heart.

In the form of a personal rejection of the nicest sort, with a tone of kindness I never dreamed possible in an email. My piece was among those in the final group considered for publication. But.   And they hope to see more of my writing in the future.

I see now that the personal rejection is much more of a bummer than your form rejection. The form rejection is a short harsh buzzer, like in a TV game show when the contestant guesses wrong. BRRNT! Over. Done. On to the next thing.

The personal rejection lets you know that you just… didn’t… quite… get there. Others were just… that… much… better.

Which drives me back to my submission and I go over it again with an even finer toothed comb than before and then torment myself. If I’d switched those two words around. If I hadn’t used quotation marks there. If I’d wanted it more. If I hadn’t slugged that kid in kindergarten. If I were a better person.

 If I were a better writer. The thing is filled with flaws. Tension and emotion, yes. But little flaws too. So while I imagine this editor making a case for my piece, I picture all the other editors around the table fighting for their writers, also. Writers whose essays wouldn’t need quite as much work.

So it’s back to the writing desk. Writing and rewriting. Visioning and re-visioning. Submitting.

I’m waiting on a few new rejections, I tell my husband. Where from, he asks, and I tell him.

The Last Firing

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It’s only when Kevin muds up the door of the anagama that I get teary-eyed. For all that has passed in front of this stoke hole. For all that we’ve been given. For everything and everyone that has wandered in and out of our lives.

For all the prayers that have been stoked along with the wood. For the hopes, the disappointments, the heartbreaks, the unions, the births, the funerals. The moving-ons, the staying-puts. The hellos and good-byes. The escapes. The rescues. The tears, the hurt, the gratitude, the healing.

All against the soundtrack of birdsong at dawn, music jams at night, raucous bursts of laughter, low hum of conversation. The crackling of the fire, the roar and whisper of the draft.

The first firing of this kiln took place scant hours after planes sent towers crashing to the ground—potters on our first crew had watched a column of smoke rise from the Pentagon. Here in the woods amidst songs of the whippoorwill and the wood thrush, we mourned and healed in turns as we sent smoke of another kind skyward with our prayers.

We emerged from that firing a family where four days earlier we had been only acquaintances. I wanted to hold them here as one by one they headed back into a world that for all we knew might still be under attack. As I think back on all this, Mary Oliver’s words speak to me most clearly:

There is only one question: how to love this world.

Fourteen years later, the make-up of the kiln crew has changed. Some moved, some simply moved on, always new potters ready to step up to the stoke hole and keep the fire burning. I no longer fear what comes next. It’s just so hard to let them go.

Now Kevin seals up this anagama for the last time. By this time next year, a new kiln will take its place. Though smudged with soot and smoke, I can still make out Jane Hirshfield’s words stenciled around the arch:

Everything’s connected. Everything changes. Pay attention.

Old kiln, thank you. New kiln, here we come. Eyes wide open.

How About Nothing?

State Seal 2As Virginia’s General Assembly considers its policy for regulating gifts to delegates, I have a suggestion. No gifts.

No gifts from Dominion, Star Scientific, chemical companies, railroads, airlines, real estate developers, road contractors. No gifts. None.

But what about meals, the delegates ask. We have to eat, don’t we? Buy your own meals. You’re perfectly capable of feeding yourselves.

But what about access? Let the corporate lobbyists do what the rest of us have to do. Write letters, send emails, make phone calls, schedule appointments to visit you and your staff in your Richmond office, or when you’re back in your district.

No gifts. It’s simple. And think of the money the companies will save on pens, mugs, water bottles, Rolex watches, green fees, big city shopping trips, wedding receptions, vehicle leases, chartered jets, exotic vacations—money that quite possibly can be returned to you as dividends in the stock that you own. You may get a little personal benefit out of some public integrity yet.

Think how good it will feel when you’ve tackled once and for all how much and what kind of gifts you may receive as a side benefit of your good paying, part-time job as public servant.

Along the spectrum of all or nothing—how about nothing?

This One’s For You

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Fanfare for the Common Man (see link below) premiered this month in 1943, when Aaron Copland presented the world with those solo trumpet notes that pierced the hearts of his fellow Americans—citizens who couldn’t know that they were only half way through the horrors of World War II.

I can never hear this music without stopping mid-thought or mid-sentence to listen, and visualize a March morning decades ago, the first few rays of sun breaking over the horizon, Old Glory on her way up flagpoles across the land, service flags with their blue and gold stars in the windows of every house. Milkman delivering his clanking bottles, farmer chugging his way out to the fields, mother off to the factory in support of the war effort, children dressing for school. Brother in basic training, father abroad in a muddy trench.

The common man loomed even larger in my mind this week after a visit to the Quartermaster Museum at Fort Lee, where I learned about Sergeant Elbert E. Legg, a young Graves Registration Specialist. Graves Registration Specialists, or Mortuary Affairs Specialists as they are known today, deploy around the world in war and peacetime to conduct the important mission of insuring that the fallen are properly identified, returned to their families, and properly buried.

Born the eldest of 11 children in Clay County, West Virginia, Elbert Excell Legg attended a one-room schoolhouse, and was studying agriculture at West Virginia University when World War II changed his plans.

His unit was not scheduled to land in France until days after the invasion. The Army knew that the death toll to establish the beachhead would be high, but when estimates began to circulate of 10,000 American bodies, Legg volunteered to fly in a glider with the 82nd Airborne Division to participate in the invasion on June 6, 1944.

His plane crash-landed behind enemy lines in a field in Normandy. Unharmed, he immediately began to mark off a temporary cemetery in a nearby field. Sergeant Legg had never touched a dead body prior to D-Day, but in the first 24 hours, he processed more than fifty bodies—glider personnel, paratroopers and infantry. Frenchmen from the nearby town dug graves and helped bury the soldiers. He processed hundreds over the next few days. Seven days later, a portion of his unit joined him and by the end of the month, 6,000 Allied troops and hundreds of German soldiers were interred in this field.

Who raises the children and feeds the family?

Who makes the machines? Who runs them?

Who marches off to war? Who returns in defeat or victory?

Ordinary and extraordinary times alike are peopled with common men and women. Aaron Copland knew that, and in 1943 he presented this fanfare to honor them. Elbert Excell Legg – this one’s for you.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLMVB0B1_Ts

NO PIPELINE

NO PIPELINE 1We’ve heard a lot from Dominion about the public benefit and utter necessity of this pipeline here in Nelson County, Virginia. But in fact much of this gas will be exported to foreign countries. Gas that was extracted in this country with a process that causes earthquakes, and puts unknown chemicals in our water.

If men wearing black ski masks, carrying foreign passports were caught doing this, they would be arrested on suspicion of terrorism and tortured until they gave up the names of these chemicals. Work for an American energy corporation, and it’s all perfectly legal.

While the necessity of this project is in question, what the pipeline represents for certain is additional degradation of our water, and the plants and animals and jobs that depend on this water, from here all the way to the Chesapeake Bay.

It represents a greater potential for landslides in an area that has seen its share of loss to life and property from cascading rock and mud.

It represents endangerment to our citizens through risk of gas leaks and explosions.

It represents a loss to the many small business owners who invested in the beauty of this county with their livelihoods and their families.

This pipeline is a poster child for a lack of imagination that in my opinion is un-American

Seventy years ago, when this grief-stricken country needed to bring about an end to a painful and costly World War, our government assembled the brightest minds in the world around a single project. Working together over two years, these scientists unleashed the awesome energy of the atom.

It’s high time we assembled the brightest minds around the development of pollution-free renewable energy sources. This is America. Our problems are often hard, but never impossible. And we’re not talking about splitting the atom. We’re talking about building a better battery. So let’s get to it.

FERC representatives – you work for the government. If you want to do something that is truly in the public interest, DO NOT approve this pipeline.