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Something inside me cracks apart, like a melon. Softly, yet surely, infusing rich inner juices throughout the brew of my being.
Something of me sloughs away, as parched skin peels revealing tender freshness.
Something washes over and through me; as ocean breezes whispering “calm.”
Something screams silently from my core, needing to be loved, cared for, adored; resists settling for anything less.
Something internal shifts, like geologic plates, gradually releasing tension, averting eruption.
Something closely guarded opens carefully, desiring expression.
Something untrusting keeps constant vigil, quietly observing, sending alert signals; able to close down as tightly as a disturbed oyster.
Before dawn we were bundled into the back of Grandpa’s red, ‘56, Studebaker station wagon. Grumbling about the late start, Grandpa reminded the universe, “damned ferry won’t just wait for us to show up, you know. Sure as hell, it’ll be gone before we get there, and we’ll be stuck in Timbuktu for Christ knows how long.” Grandma clucked under her breath as Grandpa revved the big Studebaker into gear, sped through Wenatchee, and lurched onto State Route 2; Steven's Pass.
Curled into a sleeping bag I dreamed of our island destination, with rabbits everywhere, and open season year round.
Curled into a sleeping bag, I dreamed of our island destination, where rabbits abounded, and clams, like oysters, could be plucked from mudflats at low tide.
Dad promoted the idea of a seaward vacation, knowing it would pay us back with a freezer full of fresh rabbit dinners. Living in the middle of the state, a coast holiday was always welcomed in my family. We’d spent some wonderful times at Dungeness Bay, but this was different. We were going to an island, San Juan Island, where the residents needed my dad’s and grandpa’s marksmanship to help reduce the Leporidae population.
Light barely filtered through the fog drenched mountainside, as I awoke to the grinding of gears, accentuated by well placed curses from my half Welsh, half Irish grandfather. As the Studebaker navigated through tight switchbacks on the narrow two lane road, Grandpa’s exasperation deepened. In 1959 there weren’t turn outs, nor passing lanes, just a steep, winding climb through deeply wooded Cascade mountains.
Rounding a nasty curve, Grandpa pulled up behind a Packard in much less hurry than he was. “Goddamn,” he spewed, “bastard slows down on every corner, and speeds up on the straights...son-of-a-bitch won’t let me pass!”
Grandpa loathed having any car in front of him. Already late, this added insult to injury. Fuming, he pounded the steering wheel, and through clenched teeth unleashed a torrent of epithets.
Mile upon mile of ever more treacherous terrain, Grandpa sought the moment when he could show this turd of a Packard what the ass end of a Studebaker looked like. He spied his opening on a corner, pressed the accelerator to the floor, and held his breath. As the huge red beast flailed forward past the Packard, careening into the next turn, Grandpa raised his fist in defiant triumph.
Born of immigrant parents, grandpa and grandma raised four children, including my mother, through the Great Depression. They made do. A woodsman and hunter, grandpa kept the ice house stocked with venison, duck, and rabbit. Grandma turned radishes and parsnips into something appetizing and filling.
In the early nineteen-fifties my family would visit mom’s parents at their Deer Lake resort; “Mac’s Landing.” Climbing the steep wooden stairway of the big log cabin, built into the hillside, I’d imagine what grandma would be cooking today, as fragrances of bacon, toast and coffee wafted toward me in the cool morning air.
At the ferry landing grandpa was obliged to wait, and eventually relinquish control, as the vessel churned across Rosario Straight, through Destruction Pass, then into Upright Channel to Friday Harbor. When the Studebaker trundled down the narrow dirt road into the small, county camp ground, grandpa heaved an immense sigh, and grandma released her imaginary beads.
With light and life left in the day, Mike and I clambered over the rocky shoreline, explored tide pools, and uncovered hermit crabs in whelk shells. Around the campfire, stories of the bountiful Leporidae: rabbits born from domestic and wild stock, piqued my curiosity.
“All aboard,” sent us scampering back to family. Designed to load and unload all sizes of cargo, the ferry was wide and flat with sizable openings at each end. Such an eerie feeling, as grandpa drove the Studebaker into this enormous dark cavern; I was no longer on solid land, but still in a car. Simultaneously in a car and on a boat, something I’d never experience before. After the deckhands cast off, we scrambled out to survey the craft. Across Rosario Straight our ferry steered, then churned through Destruction Pass into Upright Channel, and put in at Friday Harbor.
Mike and I hatched up a plan to nab a rabbit after sundown, using a flashlight and gunny sack. When the campfire flickered, we crept beyond its view to a salal bush under a tall fir. Mike positioned us down wind of where he surmised a rabbit would emerge. Silently we crouched in anticipation. Soon the soft sound of furry feet shuffling through dry duff drew our attention. Mike flashed the light into the rabbits eye, while I grappled with the gunny sack. Frozen in place, our captor glared blindly, ears flipping in every direction, as its nose twitched frantically.
With “chicken ‘n dumplin’s” on the hob, my grandma converted a nearly meatless bird into a feast that thrilled all my senses. A tough old stewer in a pot of water started the day long journey towards dinner. Stewers, she asserted, produced heartier broth. Wet chicken meat set aside, onions and sweet peas added at just the right moment, and roux stirred in to thicken broth to sauce. Then the dumplings: flour, moisture, salt, and leavening, were carefully plopped into the simmering stew. Mouth watering, I’d wait as they bobbed to the surface, were gently turned, and finally declared done.
Gleefully, Mike, Diana and I sprang out of the hot car, concentrating on the beach before us, while our parents and grandparents set about hunting the grassy fields. Within an hour, they’d bagged plenty, and these formerly fearless San Juan rabbits had become wisely wary. On the jaunt back to our rendezvous, grandpa happened upon bed after bed of oysters. Aha! Grandpa determined, that’s why the old proprietress hesitated to let us enter.
Oysters were a delicacy my family rarely afforded. Grandpa quickly conferred with dad, and they schemed a way to ask for a few, and leave with many.
Oysters were a delicacy my family rarely afforded. The sight of hundreds this easily accessible, set grandpa scheming. Arriving, he found grandma and mom skinning a couple rabbits to present the landowner. Grandpa added another, and suggested we ask if she’d allow us do a bit of clamming on the nearby shore.
Determined to win her over, grandpa engaged her with compliments. Sensing a warming, he pointed out his three polite grandchildren, asking wistfully if we might be allowed to dig for clams before departing. Eyeing us uncertainly, she again nodded assent, and with generous aplomb, grandpa bade her farewell.
At her nod, mom and grandma, shovels in hand, trotted us to the beach. We scouted and dug, making plenty of happy noise in the search. Beyond a bend, dad and grandpa, with crowbar and chisel, were furiously filling gunny sacks.
Glancing up, grandma spotted the woman approaching, and smartly advanced with Diana in tow. Before joining them mom charged Mike and me to alert the oystersnatchers. We skipped, then dashed to dad announcing impending ruin. Dad and grandpa scurried up the embankment and sauntered easily to the car. Calling his kin with another pleasant adieu, grandpa started the engine.
In line at an outdoor market, I admired the garden-fresh carrots. When the shopper ahead bought the second-to-last bunch, the person behind inquired; “buying carrots?” I nodded empathetically, turning toward the stand. Instantaneously, a wrinkled hand shot by, snatched the carrots, and thrust them at the salesgirl. “I’ll take these,” she commanded. Wide-eyed, the girl asserted that I was next. The buttinsky’s man propelled forward. Shaking a bunch of beets, he demanded: “these too.”
Blinking disbelief with the woman behind me, I questioned aloud; “fight?...over carrots?...I don’t think so...fresh as they may be!” Bemused, smiling, I departed.
A puppy the first time we went fishing, Scooter snoozed under the bow, quickly adjusted to boat life with my parents. After a morning’s fishing, she was excited when we landed for lunch. Happily sniffing, Scooter romped about. But when the boat slowly edged from shore, watching her playground recede, her ears sank. Paws poised on the stern, Scooter was determined. Chuckling, I watched her spring waterward.
Surfacing with gulps and snorts, Scooter’s eyes flashed; “What the hell did you do to me?” “Doubt you’ll try to walk on water again!” I laughed heartily, as she, and we, paddled ashore.
Beth: apple-cheeked, mother’s most cherished, serious, musical, humorous, protective, early maturing, pretty, traditional, married, abused, divorced, fun-loving, security-seeking, the oldest of three - then four children in my family. She was round and ripe. I was a green string-bean.
Married anew, Beth longed for motherhood. Her first-born, a gregarious girl, captured her heart. Five years of anticipation later, Beth delivered her second girl. Their struggle, established preconception, continues today.
Her apple-cheeked daughter, with two growing boys, added another texture to Beth’s entwined being; grandma. Just as she creates fine patchwork quilts, so life weaves her with many joys and equal sorrows.
Beleaguered by her teachers at the convent school, at age 6 Maggie concluded lying was the best way to save her soul. Informing the Sister’s she must tend her ill mother, Maggie tramped home, cooking up the rest.
In the morning, she cheerfully accepted her lunch pail, kissed her mom good-morning, and marched onto the trail. Out of sight, Maggie watched until sure she could safely scamper back, undetected. Hiding under the ample stairway, she established her nest, eating lunch when hunger struck.
As the undergarments of the Sister’s swayed over her, bearing healing gifts for her mom, Maggie shrank.
Thirty-eight years old, with three teenage children, Maggie agonized awaiting the lab results. The odds of surviving cancer, in 1960, were slim to nothing. When the place within where she could usually be calm, gaped open, and vomited her out to stark reality, panic seeped through her veins. Gin & tonic kept the serpent at bay.
Expecting a death sentence, Maggie’s brain whirred to comprehend the report: “Pregnant?” It seemed everything had gone ‘to-hell-in-a-handbasket,’ and now she was pregnant. Damn! Better than cancer, but shit! And really, more than anything, Maggie wanted her old life back; the one before they’d moved.
In the boat, Maggie nursed her whiskey hungrily. Resentful tears coursed her wrinkling cheeks, as she breathed the evening’s coolness. Forever steeped in sadness, Maggie found it increasingly hard to shake off her blues. Solitude with a drink (and if she’d planned ahead, a bottle) was her remedy. She’d always been able to drink just about anyone under the table and walk away (or at least stagger away) leaving the others hopelessly incapacitated.
Too sad to move, Maggie slumped into her cigarette, recounting the many trials she’d endured: parents dead, menopause, rebellious children. Now even whiskey didn’t stop the pain.
Lightly frozen sidewalk snow crunched cold beneath her boots that afternoon, as Lydia entered the optometrists office. Legally blind since birth, she was six before her handicap was noticed; her first day in first grade. Before glasses, Lydia had used every sense in her system to survive. Sight, her weakest, became most precious once known.
Now, two years later, having completed the examination previously, Lydia’s new glasses were ready to be fitted & adjusted. Looking out the office window, Lydia was smitten. Literally jumping for joy, she cried out to her mother: “Oh! It’s snowing! And I can see every flake!”
She was never quite sure, but, her older sister’s death during childhood seemed the only logical reason why her mother was bent on Maggie becoming a nun. From the moment she could speak, think, and read, her mother taught Maggie to say her prayers, recite the catechism, and memorize the saints names.
When she was six, Maggie was sent to a convent school. Disapproving Maggie's shy smile and soft brown eyes, the sisters resolved to toughen her soul by punishing her gentleness. Confused and aghast, Maggie prayed for redemption. When it didn’t come, she took matters into her own hands.
Lunch-sack in hand, Maggie trod the footpath from home to school. Scared and weary from being told she was, “stupid,” “sinful,” and, “wretched,” she worked the thread of her salvation into a silent song. In her entire life, no one had ever been so cruel to her. Tearfully plodding, Maggie’s heart lifted at a meadowlark’s trill.
“Mother is quite ill,” she asserted, “I must stay home to tend her.” Granted leave, Maggie feigned sadness until beyond view of the sisters. Drinking in the fresh air, sunlight, and abundance, Maggie understood her sin. She knew she’d have to be very careful.
Maggie sat still in the undergrowth at the trail’s end, examining her family’s household movements. When the coast was clear, she scampered into her hideaway, under the backstairs. Since a very young child, she’d hidden there to avoid being bothered by her three older brothers.
Now it would be her hideout, her nest. She mulled over how she could sneak an old blanket, and maybe a worn out pillow into her sanctuary. But, for the moment, the cool dirt offered kind relief. Knowing she was doing wrong, Maggie wondered why. Why was she so bad? What was wrong with her?
Maggie’s guilt glowed so high next morning, she was afraid her mother would notice as she handed Maggie her lunch-sack. Though Maggie had uttered some small untruths in her life, never before had she contrived anything so bold. Quivering inwardly, she set off on the trail toward school, circling back within minutes.
Her brother’s arrival home from his school was Maggie’s signal to creep to the trail, and complete the ruse. With an empty lunch-sack and vague answers about her day, Maggie satisfied her Mother. Dashing to her room to change, the thrill of her success rushed through her body.
For three more days Maggie left for school, spent the day in her hideout, and ‘returned’ without her mother suspecting anything. Each day it became easier for Maggie as her sense of relief by removing herself from the convent school soon overcame any residue of guilt she felt for her dishonesty.
On the fifth day, Maggie awakened from her nap to the sound of women’s voices on the trail. Peeking through the shrubs, Maggie was horrified. The nuns were approaching. She scrunched into the farthest corner, hands over her mouth, as the nun’s in their habits rustled up the stairs.
“We’ve come to visit Maggie’s ailing mother,” they announced as the door opened. Dumbfounded, Maggie’s Mother welcomed the nuns, pronouncing herself, “quite well; fit as a fiddle, whatever made you think I was ill?”
When the door closed, Maggie’s panic soared. “Oh!” she lamented, “I’ve let Mother down so, she’ll never allow me to do anything fun again. I’ll have to go back to that awful school, and they’ll be even more hideous toward me than before!”
Learning the details of Maggie's fabrication, her Mother thanked the nuns, and assured them she and Maggie’s father would tend to the matter.
In her innocent heart, Maggie knew she was a good girl. Talking quietly to herself, she sobbed into her rag doll as she reviewed the harsh treatment she’d been subjected to at school. What was wrong with her? Why did the nuns hate her so? Utterly confused and intimidated by her situation, a shroud of helplessness enveloped Maggie; a condition that recurred in stressful times throughout her life.
Promising always to be virtuous, Maggie concluded her goodnight prayers beseeching God to help her. Drifting into dreams, she wrestled with red-tailed demons in long black gowns; their eyes blazing, mouths frowning.
“What do I do now?” Maggie thought to herself, settling into the blanket she’d hidden under the stairs. A strange consciousness crept upon her. At once she felt warm and wonderful, even elated. She’d rarely experienced such an awareness; like ‘walking on air.’ Maggie recalled a similar sensation when she’d received a special present on her sixth birthday. Her euphoria soon would be scattered by self-doubt.
Silently eating lunch, Maggie’s stomach tightened. Swallowing hard, her heart fluttered in her chest. Her limbs seemed heavy and awkward, like she was stuck in mud, trying to swim out, but unable to move.
Napping under the stairs, Maggie had vivid, disturbing dreams. In one, she was at end of her father’s dock, ready to dive into the pristine waters of Deer Lake. Before she could plunge, the water transformed into a shallow, muddy pothole. Longing to feel the coolness: on her fingers, her arms, her head, her whole body, Maggie ached to stroke through the freshness.
Moaning, she awakened in a fright. Blinking herself into consciousness, a wave of dread washed over her. She was stuck. The thought of simply returning to school caused an even deeper ripple of anxiety to grip her.
Turning to one side, head resting on her hand, Maggie glance between the shrubs. Noticing a spider repairing it’s orb web, Maggie studied its movements closely. Fascinated, she observed the spider attach a trap line of silk to the center of it’s web, then conceal itself nearby. Waiting with the spider, she contemplated her situation.
Maggie felt more like the bug that would be trapped and consumed, than like the spider with it’s lifeline that could swing into the breeze to escape. Weariness such as she’d never experienced was interrupted by intervals of desperate fear. Would mother ever forgive her?
When her mother called for her, Maggie emerged: head hanging, tears streaming. Still flabbergasted by her daughter’s conduct, and unsure how she should react, Maggie’s mother scolded in hushed tones declaring she needed to talk with Maggie’s father before deciding on punishment. Resting quietly in her room, Maggie felt her burden lift. Whatever consequences she received for her actions, would be worth it in the end.
Listening to his daughter’s explanation for her behavior, Maggie’s father softened. “We won’t send you back to convent school,” he declared, and in the morning he walked Maggie to the nearby public elementary school.
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