Saturday, The Day Before I Left.
I had to do pre-leaving types of things, meaning spending a couple of hours under the hood of the car of the season, everyone’s favorite gold, box-shaped Volvo with Dad. It was great: I got dirty, asked a lot of questions, and learned about cars and life in general.
There was a family birthday party to attend and then a movie with the sibs in the evening. By the end of the day, I was so tired from being busy and doing normal things that I didn’t have any extra energy to squeeze in a few extra drops of passion.
However, I spent the majority of Friday just trying to find time to write. When I finally did, I wrote and I wrote, at least twenty pages in my little notebook which probably translates to at least three or four real-people-size pages. To prove my truthfulness, some excerpts of my writing burst begun Wednesday and finished Friday:
“What are you doing in a storage closet,” she opened the conversation not with a statement or an accusation, but a question, an interesting tactic. It gave the allusion that this conversation was of a two-sided nature but I had 18 full years of experience with Mary Klein and knew this was not the case; she was great with soliloquies, speeches and plans but conversation, verbal exchange between two people, were not her strong suit.
Here she picked up speed, either because of nerves or because she knew I was interested and she wanted to hold onto my attention. “There was a boy, before your father,” here she paused dramatically. If there was any way to better get your daughter’s attention that by starting a story with “There was a boy, before your father…” I would be surprised.
We sat there staring at one another as the profoundness of her words sunk in. “Do you understand what I’m saying,” she asked gently, the way she would when I was a kid and she wanted to be sure I understood why I was being punished or why we were having such a serious conversation at age 7. This was just another lessons I needed to learn, like no hitting or do unto others. It made me feel safe and warm, being reminded that this woman who often felt like a stranger was in face the same Mommy who had stayed up all night with me when I was sick and watched with pride when I learned how to ride a horse. It made me feel like this was no bigger than getting detention for hitting a kid in school or getting a stomachache from eating too many sweets. She made it feel like this wasn’t my world breaking into two halves falling apart.
Sunday, The Day I Left.
I’m so turned around from the past two weeks—Louisiana, then Victoria and sleeping on a pull-out bed in the living room, then Houston for half a week, then Victoria for a few more days—that I’m not sure if home is backwards, forwards, sideways or South. Is it a pull-out couch in the home where I grew up, a dorm room where I lived and studied and wrote and agonized for a year (definitely not; I am constantly amazed that I been so blessed to never have to go back), or a the former guest bedroom at a relative’s house where all of the my things are where I will live for the next few months? Growing up sucks.
Madelyne Adams Smith* died in her home in the Texas hill country, near Austin, on Saturday, July 19, 2066 after cliff diving for her seventy-fifth birthday. She was treated at Cornerstone Hospital in Austin for a concussion and three broken ribs but was discharged when she got up and walked out of her room with her hospital gown flapping in the breeze. She was surrounded at her deathbed by family and friends, who were throwing her a going-away party, per her request. Her last words before breathing her last were, “I always wanted to go out with a bang.” Immediately after her demise, a six piece jazz band played Mrs. Smith’s favorite song, Bewitched by Ella Fitzgerald.
Mrs. Adams Smith was an interesting person from her very conception. Over her seventy-five years she wrote and published 28 novels, 86 short stories, three anthologies and one autobiography. She got her first tattoo on her nineteenth birthday and her last on her 74th. In 2020 she founded the publishing house, The Speckled Gecko, and ran it until her retirement in 2061 at the age of 70.
She spent her life interested in people and trying to cultivate that irresistibly fascinating type of personality you always wanted to remember and tell all of your friends about. She believed that her best work was done in the homes of strangers and was frequently making friends with people who lived in nice houses so that she might visit them for dinner and then lock herself in their bedrooms for an hour or so when she had writer’s block. She loved the outdoors and was well known for shouting, “That bitch’ll never get me!” when the topic of skin cancer came up in conversations and at random intervals in public.
She is survived by her husband, John Doe Smith, her four siblings, Katherine Anne Adams Walters, Robert Calvin Adams, Hannah Elizabeth Adams Williams, Benjamin Paul Adams, her nine children, Theodore Noah Smith, Scarlett Elizabeth Smith Brown, Adele Charmane Smith Jones, Laurence Flynn Smith, Sophia Amelia Smith, Jack Richard Smith, Molly Jane Smith Johnson, Gerard Ferdie Smith, and Owen Blaise Smith, her forty-three grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren.
Rosary services will be held Sunday evening at 5 p.m. at the home of the late Madelyne Adams Smith and funeral services have been arranged for Monday morning at 9 a.m. on a hillside near the Adams Smith estate.
Her family would like to thank all of the friends, acquaintances and strangers who had ever had to put up with Mrs. Adams Smith and hope that you will forgive them and remember her as fondly as you are able but understand if you can’t.
From the chlorine at the pool. I told Morgan that I didn’t know they could do that but she said that it’s possible because her eyes are all fire and lightning from the overabundance of chemicals in the water today. Like most days when I tread water for three hours in the deep end, I’m starving for the biggest, greasiest enchilada your face has ever seen. My skin is dry but soft and smells like summer.
Anticipating traffic on my drive to the pool today, I got there fifteen minutes early when there proved to be none. To waste some time, I drove by the old house.
Sometimes, when I imagine my future, I wonder what it would be like to move back into the old house, the house where I grew up. The house where I remember every single book that I read as a child that felt as if it changed my life (most writing by Tamora Pierce). I remember the time I ran my head into the wall (pretending to be Bambi fighting that other deer like he does once he gets his grown-up boy antlers) and left a hole there that my dad never fixed until we moved out. I remember Dad telling us we had to stay outside unless we had to go to the bathroom; it was summer and I had to go to the bathroom far too many times that day that humanly possible.
I remember the sidewalks, the way they burned my feet when it was hot and the way the grass felt when I stepped off the sidewalk to cool my soles. I remember every crack, bump, rise and dip; the places where the water would pool after the rain that I could ride my bike through and the tires making the whirr-ing sound as they rolled through the water. I remember each house: the one we would play at when the grandkids were in; the one which was always good for buying the candy bars and which ones would buy the raffle tickets; the ones which never bought anything; the ones with the pools where we would be over there year-round begging them to let us take a dip, that we didn’t think it was that cold, honest.
The place where I learned I wanted to be a writer was at 203 Nottingham. I learned lessons that I would, have and will use for the rest of my life. I have stories to tell from there and stories I read there that inspired me to pursue that elusively successful profession of storymaking.
Over the last Christmas break I spent my weeks helping clean up the house, sanding floorboards, scrubbing from top to bottom and while I worked I listened to the Barnes & Noble Meet the Writers podcast. I thought, if they can do it, I can do it; I’ll know that I’ve made it when I get to sit down and be interviewed by Steve Bertrand and tell my story about how I became a writer. For several months, I would dream about my interview right before I went to bed. I would think about the jokes I would make and the stories I would tell. And then he would ask me how I got started. And it will always start at 203 Nottingham.
Unless it’s not. Just because it’s not here, don’t believe that it didn’t happen. Also, this thought:
“But surprises were nothing new to her. Like opening a can of mushroom soup and finding tomato; be grateful and eat it anyway.”
This from Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. An unexpectedly delightful and delicious read. Absolutely my sort of book. If you’ve ever wondered how my soul would read if I put it into word form—all of the hopes, literary techniques and characterization—then you should read Garden Spells. It’s everything I never knew I wanted to write like.
I’ve been staring at my toes lately. It comes with spending all this time in the car. When I travel there are constants you can always expect of me: I’ll need a pillow in my lap, a book, something to write with if necessary, occasionally some music to listen to. If I sit in the front seat, my feet go on the dash and my knees touch my chin as slouch low in the chair.
Thibodeaux toes. That means they look like fat little sausages crammed onto my can of a foot. They’re solid, square, pudgy, stubborn toes prone to dirt and blood. They look best when framed by grass and dirt. They look best when barefoot.
These are sturdy toes, working toes. They’re meant for digging deep into the cool dirtiness of the mud and for staying firm and solid when my foot arches and my body pushes against gravity to go higher and higher. These are toes I’ve seen on cousins and uncles and family members, all who have the same light-hearted, determined and hard-working souls that I respect.
My feet aren’t beautiful or dainty by any means but they have a bit of perfection to them I can’t help but stare at every time I look down to my toes. From my toes I draw the strength that feeds the rest of my body: legs, torso, heart, soul, mind.
“Our soul is in the place where our feet touch the ground.” Dagoberto Gilb.
More like Day 11, if we’re going off of summer starting with the first day without a class or final. Or Day 7 if summer began the day I got back to Victoria. Or Day -8 if summer begins the first day of June (-7 if it begins once I get back to CStat). Maybe it would be Day 10 if summer began the moment I left College Station; this is the least likely possibility because, if that was the cause, then summer would end the moment I went back. As I am aiming to be back inside it’s city limits by May 31st, this would make my summer a rather short one. The point: today is as good a day as any to say that my summer begins now.
I’ve always been a fan of projects. Whether I designate it as such or plan weeks in advance to tackle it, every single activity of my life is a project. Reading a book: begin with something undone, work steadily at it until complete, learn lessons along the way. Cooking is a project, breathing is a project, moving from place to place, dealing with people, living, writing, getting dressed: it’s all a series of projects built upon one another to create the biggest finished product of all.
I’ve never been a terribly consistent writer except for the fact that I always write. They say that to be better, you have to develop a routine where you sit down and write for a certain amount of time each day. My passion to write is consistent but the will power required to put this passion into effect is often in short supply, coming in waves and bursts, visiting for a month and abandoning me for five more.
Yesterday, we went into downtown Houston for my cousin’s graduation from South Texas Law School. Afterwards, a party at a family friend’s house. Possibly, it could’ve been one of the fanciest houses I’ve ever been to. It’s those houses you drive by in the nice neighborhoods and lust after but know you’ll never be able to afford, even if you do become a lawyer or a doctor or, if you have ambitions like mine, a fairly successful writer. The best part, thought you might not realize it then, is that you don’t get to go into those houses. Because if you go inside, you get sucked in even more into the fantasy that things like that—the house, the expensive minamalist style of decorating—are tangible and attainable. You should stay outside, dreaming about the house for as long as it is in your sight and then forgetting about it as soon as it’s out of sight. Keep your sights and ambitions fixed one something closer to your own stratosphere. However, despite the fact that I can’t get their lovely home out of my daydreams, it was a fantastic day nonetheless.
Since I have nothing to do for the next week, I’m in Houston for a few more days, watching Addison. After we got back from the party, I put her in Chad and Katie’s big tub and filled it up. She went bathtub swimming and then after that became passe, we switched to sliding around the floor of the shower stall. When it came time to wash her hair, it took some negotiating but I got her to agree to let me apply that delicious smelling watermelon No-Tears stuff, like the 2-in-1 shampoo from when we were kids? The kind that came in the bottle shaped like a fish? Fantastic stuff! When she started to fuss, I scooted forward to help her rinse it off and scooted off a piece of my leg on the corner of the shower door. A nice gouge to begin my summer off with. Keep your fingers crossed it doesn’t get infected in the ensuing weeks and months of hours and days spent in the sun and pool.
Today was more babysitting. It makes me wonder what kind of parent I’m going to be to my own kids. I’m sure I spoil Addison too much and at McDonald’s I couldn’t help but envisioning all of the horrible ways she was going to fall out of the Playscape and DIE or something every time I looked away. For a moment, I started to worry about my own style of parenting, then breathed a sigh of relief when I realized I’ve still got a bit of time.
Also, my children will learn to read at a young age and not be allowed to leave the house for outings without a book to keep them occupied. A la my own childhood, my children will be locked out of the house during the daytime, forcing them to play inside, unless they decide to seek asylum in what my-as-of-yet-nonexistent-but-will-one-day-be-very-real-even-if-it-means-one-of-my-children-won’t-have-a-bedroom library and read.
When Addison wouldn’t take a nap, out came the arsenal of activities designed to induce an unconcious state. I set up the baby pool in the back with the inflatible elephant water slide and fountain/sprinkler snout water-sprayer thing and we stripped down—her to her skivvies and me to my undies—and frolicked in the outdoors.
Day One of writing is complete.
It was cloudy yesterday but already I have lines beginning to form an outline on my back of my swimsuit. Either the sun was stronger than I was paying attention to, or my skin is just so familiar with the pattern, it soaked it right up. The second theory sounds more fun.
Everything I know, love and remember about Louisiana begins and ends at my Ma Wheezy’s house. As soon as it comes into sight and we begin up the drive, it’s like a bomb of the primal sorts of memories goes off on my senses: the way something smells or the taste of a good meal or tiny details of a tactile nature. The bayou accent of Louise Briscoe, my great-aunt, and her immediate kin is what I associate with the sound of a true Cajun; French words obscured by an Acadian dialect and way of speaking that defy French phonetics and way of spelling.
Going off of things I learned at her house from a young age, I founded a stereotype of the Cajun culture at age seven that, despite years of evidence to the contrary, I still believe in. At this tender young age I learned that residents of Louisiana regarded to be Acadians were in the possession of a cheerful, loud and loyal disposition. They have sun-weather and tanned skin, calloused hands, and bodies disposed to the possession of extra fluff as a result of good food. They raise sheep and are known by names that in no way resemble their given Christian birthnames; I didn’t know why we called her Ma Wheezy, only that we did, and it was until I was sending out graduation announcements that I discovered her husband’s name, who we had always called Whitey, was Lincoln, of all things.
The smell of her house, the sound of the linoleum creaking under my feet as I walk down the hall, everything is familiar. From the time that we were playing hide and go seek and I was too scared to step through the barbed wire fence even if someone held it apart for me so one of my bigger cousins just had to throw me over, to the ‘buried treasure’ we spent one summer digging for, to the dinners out on their screened-in porch: these are things I think of when I hear that we’re going to Louisiana. Texas is my home but Louisiana is a close second.
There aren’t any books being written anymore the way they used to be when I was kid. Those books were about fantasy and believing in things and imagination. Books these days are depressing with shadowy covers that tell me life is much more depressing than I realized.
I got a letter from God today. It’s in my handwriting and I know that I wrote it, but I don’t remember putting these exact words down.
You are so much more than this world says you can be. Your beauty lies in your strength. Don’t be afraid to be courageous and let that beauty shine. Don’t forget that you are a woman, a daughter of mine first and foremost, and have faith in your gentleness and use that delicacy to touch others. Together, we will change lives. Don’t be afraid of yourself and the things we can do together. I am here, your religion is here, to help you discover the strengths you never knew you have and develop fully the ones you’ve always been half-aware of; you don’t even know half of the potential I have instilled in you. Hold on, we’re going to do great things.
God Bless, with love,
There are two reasons why my family would go back to Louisiana: for a funeral or a wedding. There are never enough weddings to outnumber and overwhelm the more frequent and sadder excuse of going back for a funeral. I wish we went for happier things, everyday occurrences like birthdays and baptisms, reunions and anniversary parties, and then maybe I wouldn’t have to name my trips by who we were putting in the ground that time.
I watch the generation that shaped and raised me, who made me fall in love with that place, that culture with their seafood and accents, slowly fade away. It makes me wonder what will happen when they’re all gone and I have fewer reasons to go back.
Rules To Follow, by Madelyne Adams
1. Manners always. Don’t ever, never ever, be rude.
2. Don’t panic, stay calm.
3. Don’t blow your nose with toilet paper; use a tissue.
When I think back to my childhood, it always seems to be the memories from summer that I remember the most: riding on bikes over to the Shenandoah pool and hanging out there until the sun went down and the lights came on, birthday parties (who doesn’t love to be a summer baby?), endless afternoons spent lying on my stomach staring at the carpet in my bedroom wondering what I could do next. It seems as if my whole childhood consisted of one endless summer.
So it would seem safe to assume that we live our lives during the rest of the year so that you can make it to the summer. Nine other months blend together and are suddenly forgotten when the summer sun (different from the rest-of-the-year sun) bursts out and radiates enough heat to let us know that June is here. The skin can taste the difference between summer sun and rest-of-the-year sun; it burns brighter, leaves a darker mark, and inspires insipid musical songs whose choruses begin, “What time is it?”
For me summer means work. It means my skin turning a shade of brown that gives me visions of a future rife with skin cancer, it means my hair reverting to the light blond color of my youth, it means spending so much time in the water teaching children how not to drown that standing on solid ground feels funny.
It means that I spend so much time with small children whose names I often forget or cannot pronounce that “honey”, “sweetie”, “sweetheart”, “baby”, and “hey you” become part of my automatic vocabulary. It means spending so much time in a swimsuit, wearing clothes becomes a novelty and wearing underwear even more rare.
It means that euphoric moment when you’ve reached the point of your skin burning, your pores sweating, and your breathing parched and ragged and then you dive in and your body is spiraling deeper into the water and for a few seconds you sit on the bottom of the pool, savoring the silence, before the need for oxygen jerks you to the surface.
But maybe this only seems so magical because I grew up in Texas where every season seems like a teaser for a summer: hot enough to be July but the pools are already closed.