"...everything in life is writable...if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."..... Sylvia Plath

Monday, October 22, 2012

Early excerpts from a new memoir

Roxie Alfred and Me 

Chapter 1 

Author's Notes: I've done my first rewrite of this introductory section. I like the idea of starting right in the middle of the action but, in this case, felt compelled to start out by mentioning how close I was to my grandparents. I think it flows well and doesn't bog down in a lot of backstory. And the third graph leads right into the first scene. (The first 10 c0mments below were written before the rewrite
     I grew up not particularly close to my mother, or my father for that matter. And I never stopped to figure out why.  It was what it was. Besides, my grandmother was more like a mother to me.  Not because she loved me any more, but because there was a rapport, a special bonding between Roxie and me like no other I've ever had.

     Roxie was the rock of the family, the glue that held it together. She was smart, caring, and funny. She was a farmer's daughter who married a farmer's son. Both were capable and hard working. They stayed married for over fifty years, despite some serious ups and downs. I can still hear her calling: "Aaaal - fred" whenever she needed him..

But he wasn't Alfred to me. To me and my sister, he was Papa and we adored him. He could be cantankerous and argumentative, but not to us. To us, he was kind, generous, and funny. He told us stories, sometimes the same ones over and over, but we didn't care.  Bebe and I would go into his smelly little room and jump up on the bed and he would take us away into a land of his imagination. He had been a seaman and a ship's cook at one time, so most of his stories were about the sea.
* * * *
     The strong smell of pipe tobacco swirled around our noses whenever we entered his room. It was very small with a narrow brown metal bed built high off the floor and pushed into one corner. It was covered with a home-made quilt and khaki army blanket. Three pillows were stacked one on top of the other at the head. There was nothing on the small window above the bed except a tan paper shade. Next to the bed, was an old Oak table with spindled legs. The large square table top was littered with everything from fishing tackle to car keys to smelly tobacco.

     We poked our heads in the door.

     "Papa, can we come in?"

     Papa jumped up. His 
brown leather bedroom slippers clicked against the linoleum floor as he shuffled to the door and opened it wide, letting out some of the stuffy pipe tobacco-tinged air.  He stood, all 6 foot 4 of him, in the doorway, his beautiful full head of white hair nearly reaching the door jam.

     "Good afternoon, ladies. Do come in."

     "We came to hear some stories" I said.

     "And to have our backs scratched," my little sister, Bebe, chimed in.

     Papa's  favorite silver lighter glistened in a beam of sunlight which had somehow made it's way into the dark room. An open closet with no door stood across from the foot of the bed. Homemade pale yellow curtains were pushed to one side revealing a scant collection of worn clothing. Next to the closet was a narrow dresser where he kept all his underwear and valuables. There were two shelves tacked up over the dresser housing cardboard boxes filled with letters, cards, and old newspaper articles. A picture of Roxie sat on one side of the dresser.

     "Okay" he said. "But first, let's see what we can find in my magic purse."

     We scrambled up on the high bed, grabbing onto the army blanket and bed posts to steady our climb.

     "What's in it? What's in it?" We both giggled, as papa opened up the silver clasp on the tiny leather change purse.

     "Well, let me see now." He peered slowly into the bottom of the change purse. Bebe and I held out breaths, our eyes wide with excitement.

     I slid as close to papa's side as possible and Bebe jumped up and ran around to his back, grabbing him by the shoulders and peering over one side to get a look into the change purse. She was so excited, she nearly toppled forward over the edge of the bed. But papa caught her just in time.

      "Alfred, there you are." Roxie appeared at the doorway.  She wiped her hands on the front of her faded apron. "I've been calling you. It's dinner time. Come on girls. Your mother will be here soon to pick you up."

     Roxie was tall and still beautiful. Her shiny black hair was evidence of her Cherokee heritage. She and Alfred met in North Carolina where they were born, and married. Both were raised in large God fearing Baptist families, the kind that stuck together no matter what, and were slightly rigid and dogmatic in their thinking. But Roxie was amazingly liberal. She eventually rejected her Baptist upbringing for the Unitarian Church. She had a strong personality, was assertive, and outspoken. She definitely ruled the roost at home. Alfred complained a lot but usually, although grumbling loudly, did everything she asked.

     Roxie pulled on both oven mitts, opened the oven door and lifted out a golden brown  roasted chicken, and baked yams. I leaned over to see what she'd left in the back of the oven. There two pies side by side just waiting for us to finish our meal. I was sure one was apple and the other cherry, both my favorites. 

     Bebe and I washed our hands and sat down  close to papa who was already at the head of the table. Roxie returned to the oven and came back with a steaming bowl of rice and a covered baking dish full of collard greens and salt pork. Bebe and I hated cooked greens, but they were always the first thing papa reached for...............

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