Lori Thatcher

Writing and Thinking about writing


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Far Away

The doorbell rang, but Louise ignored it.  There was no one she wanted to see in the entire state of Florida, no one she even knew except her landlady, a wrinkled, crabby old woman.

After her last fall on an icy doorstep, her husband Alan had insisted they spend the winter in a warm climate, and she felt she had to comply, but she missed  her Vermont home and family members who visited often. Now it was Christmastime.

 The doorbell rang again. “Wait,” she called, opening the door, sporting her own wrinkled, crabby-old-woman face. The young man’s smile wavered as he swayed on the doorstep balancing a big cardboard box.

“Hi, I’m Jeff, your daughter told you I’d be coming.” At Louise’s confused look, he continued. “Mrs. Alan Webster? I’m delivering a Christmas present from Sally.”

She held out her arms to take the box, but he said, “I need to set up this computer, so you can video chat.” He came in before Louise realized she had stepped back.

She woke Alan from his recliner-nap and told him to watch the boy while she called Sally.

“Mom, I forgot to tell you.” Sally apologized. “It’s our Christmas present. Everyone is coming for super tonight and I know you’re sad you can’t be here. ”

Before long the young man was showing Alan how to connect. Like magic, their daughter Sally was right there on the screen in the living room, and at suppertime, Louise and Alan grinned and waved into the screen as they spoke to each grand child.

When Sally returned to the screen, Louise had tears in her eyes. “This is the best present ever,” she said.

“Look Mom.” Sally turned the camera toward the lighted front yard, and the snow began to fall.

Red Writing Hood

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood December calendars are filling up, notes about what to cook and who to see; some of the obligations traced lovingly with a smile and some met with a frown.

This week we asked you to use the holiday season to inspire you to write a piece beginning with “The doorbell rang” and ending with “snow began to fall.”

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Beautiful

“Don’t cut my hair, Ma. I need to go to a beauty place. Please!”

My mother told me to stop whining. I knew I had only a few seconds before she would say I should go tell it to the chickens, so I talked faster. “Janey got a perm and everyone loves her hair. No one likes my hair. I hate my hair.”

“Come here.” She peered at me and I peered back from under my too-long bangs. She fluffed up my straight, shoulder-length brown hair and sighed. “We’ll go tomorrow.”

I was thrilled, even though tomorrow was Friday and I would have to wait until Monday to show off my beauty-place hair.”

Friday at school was two days long. I ran all the way from the bus stop, charging through the stubble in the corn field. Ma met me on the doorstep with her old black pocket-book. We walked to the neighbor’s house and got a ride into town.

The place smelled smoky and there were old men sitting in chairs against the wall, but I was delighted when the man draped me with a black plastic cape. I couldn’t see the mirror, but I watched the hair fall onto the floor and imagined what everyone would say. I felt special; I couldn’t remember ever going to town just for me.

Monday morning, my hair was messy, but I combed it all the way to school. I paraded in beaming and everyone smiled at my beautiful hair. When Janey asked me where I got my hair done, I said, “At the beauty place.”

She said it looked like someone had put a bowl on my head. I didn’t care. My ma hadn’t cut my hair. She took me to a beauty place, and I felt beautiful.

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood

This week we asked you to write about hair. So many of us have a love-hate relationship with it. For some of us, it’s our defining feature. Whatever it means to you – or to your characters – we want to know about it.

But we don’t want you to simply describe it. We want you to use it as a vehicle to tell us something about your character, a situation, you or your life. And you needed to keep it to 300 words.


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The Forest

“Close your eyes and think of a place where you feel relaxed and safe. You could be lying on a sandy beach or overlooking the Grand Canyon. Choose a place you can see clearly in your mind.”

I closed my eyes. The counselor was guiding me through a relaxation exercise to help me manage anxiety I was feeling during my freshman year of college. I was a high school dropout who began college as an adult with complications: a job, a marriage and a kindergartener in a parent cooperative school.

When she asked me to visualize a place, I knew immediately where it was – a small section of forest I had stumbled upon earlier in the year.

We moved to New Bedford in 1975 for my husband, David, to complete his bachelor’s degree. Our rundown apartment was on a peninsula that separated the harbor from the cove. The setting didn’t faze me, especially since the smell of sea salt infused the air. Although the ocean was right at the end of our street, the deep channel on the other side of the sea wall was too dangerous to bring five-year-old Justin, so we brought him to play at a little beach not far away. The water was chilly but he dug channels and constructed castles and moats.

There were no facilities and after a while I left David with Justin playing in the sand and looked for an alternative convenience. I crossed an open grassy field and found a small path leading through some bushes. As I parted the branches and stepped into the deeply shaded forest, I entered another world.

The temperature dropped and surrounding noises disappeared. Only a trace of sifted sunlight reached the forest floor and the earth was like a thick sponge, covered with emerald moss and miniature ferns. Rivulets crisscrossed the ground and fingers of mist rose from each one, giving the forest a primeval aura. It was not just beautiful; it was enchanted.

I forgot my original mission. I lay down on a smooth mossy bed looking up through the pattern of leaves to tiny patches of blue sky. I listened to the raucous call of a crow and suddenly, I was the big black bird perched in the canopy surveying the scene below. I examined the cushion of moss with its little reddish capsules, like miniature flowers waving over a green lawn. I picked out a tiny path between the moss gardens. Little stick fences bordered the trail leading to a notch in the side of a tree – a diminutive door to the fairy’s bower.

I felt a deep yearning to remain in this tranquil place, divorced from the mushrooming responsibilities of my life.

It seemed only a few minutes, but my sense of time must have warped, and when I returned to the beach, we had to leave so I wouldn’t be late for my GED class. I described to my family the magical place I had found, the memory already indelible.

During David’s spring semester, he had encouraged me to apply for admission. I was full of doubt and insecurity, but I unenthusiastically signed up for a prep class for my GED. I passed easily and registered for the fall semester. Justin was enrolled in Learning Tree School, a parent cooperative in Tiverton, so we moved to Portsmouth, Rhode Island.

Once I began college, free time was non-existent. Morning car pool; a twenty mile commute to SMU; a full course load; and five to ten hours a week doing work study and tutoring at Learning Tree kept my days hectic. In addition, I worked overnight shifts 20 to 30 hours a week as a private duty nurse’s aide in Newport, Rhode Island. I was routinely sleep deprived.

When I arrived home on Saturday or Sunday mornings, I found it almost impossible to give up the day with my family just to go to sleep. I would lie awake a long time, doze for a few hours, and then drag myself out of bed to get ready for work again.

But I loved college as much as I had hated high school. Finally I hungered to learn. The other freshmen all seemed so young and carefree, but I was determined to do as well—or better—than they did. This resolve multiplied my stress.

I was feeling swamped when I saw the poster at school which mirrored my thoughts: “Feeling Overwhelmed? Our counselors can help.” I made an appointment right away.  

I used the image of the forest in meditation frequently during that year, when I was terrified before a biology test or feeling such panic that dropping out of college seemed inevitable. But I never had time to go back to the forest physically. I intended to, and I planned to, over and over again. But each time, something would intrude or some necessity would supersede my goal. When I finished my freshman year, we were bound for New Orleans. I transferred to Southeastern Louisiana University and carried the forest with me.

After many moves, we ended up returning to our home region in western Massachusetts. We added two new members to our family when David’s young nieces came to live with us after their father died, presenting new kinds of challenges. David and I were also struggling to run a fledgling automotive advertising publication.

I learned to use other methods to de-stress, different meditations and prayer, but whenever I would call the image of that forest to mind, it would spring to life complete with its peacefulness and magic.

In the mid-1990s, we took a snorkeling trip toRhode Island, but met rough surf so we followed the coast toNew Bedford looking for a sheltered cove. As we approached the familiar, yet unfamiliar, beach, I found myself holding my breath, excited but with an underlying trepidation. How would time have tainted my haven? The small beach hadn’t changed much, although the nearby parking lot was somewhat spiffed up.

While everyone went to the water, I veered away, pausing to orient myself. Although I located the grassy area behind the beach, I could not find my forest. It hadn’t been replaced by development; it just wasn’t where I remembered it. I walked back and forth, trying to recreate my path. In one area, a fence barred my way, but beyond was an open rocky knoll which probably didn’t  replace the moist low area of the forest. At times, I thought I caught a whiff of the sweet moist loam and swamp decay, but it dissipated with any slight turn of my head. 

I searched until I heard the others calling for me. I was tired, but reluctant to involve my companions in the hunt, so I left without finding the forest. Curiously, there was a strange relief in my leaving, as if, by not locating it, I had preserved something precious. Was I hesitant to perhaps discover that it was not all that I remembered?  I’m not sure, but somehow I haven’t felt like going back to try to find it since.

The memory of the forest remains etched in my mind as vividly as if I walked there yesterday, with an added ethereal property springing from my failure to find it again.  The explanation is probably simple, that it seemed much closer when I was twenty years younger. Still, I can’t help fantasizing that it was like Brigadoon, appearing only once every hundred years, or like Shangri-La only being findable to someone who really needed it.


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What is your biggest frustration about driving?

Scott Berkun | September 10, 2011 at 9:33 am |
Topic #246:
What is your biggest frustration about driving?
Is it people who don’t know how to merge? Or the ones who leave their turn signals on for decades? Maybe it’s simply the horrors of a daily commute in traffic? Identify your biggest annoyance and explain why it frustrates you so much.

My answer:
The only thing that actually makes me frustrated is drunk driving or dangerous driving. If someone is going too slow or a bit too fast, or merging too slowly, or using the breakdown lane in a traffic jam – that’s no more than a minor inconvenience to me and so what?. I figure the world is full of imperfect people and I have pretty much made every mistake or foolish move that any other driver has. Why spend my time worrying their moves? If I have to go slower I try to savor the extra quiet time. If I’m stopped in a traffic jam – I take out my binoculars and examine details of a nearby structure or a beautiful tree in the distance. Life is too damn short to fill it with anger towards my fellow drivers, and every moment of life is worthwhile.
I know this seems a bit too “peace and love,” for me but it’s actually mostly self-preservation. I can’t have all that emotion battering me every time I drive, and I have wasted too much time worrying about other people’s behavior.


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Poetic Asides Wednesday Poeming

For this week’s prompt, write a “don’t start that again” poem.

Voices in My Head

It always was the same lame apology:
don’t risk or reach or be a bother,
fear embraces limits and barriers, after all.
Excuses are cuddled and dare rocked to sleep.

The ceaseless gnawing on the bone of confidence
the narration of lack and challenge of merit
All these voices in my head, I thought you had gone
Don’t start that again. Don’t.


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Poem-a-Day day 23

April

Early each day I get the prompt

and struggle to post a poem

most of the time I just feel stomped

and could dent a jeroboam

the words of the poem just don’t seem right

they follow me around all day

they argue and morph and sometimes bite

as each tries to get its way

If I cut one out it haunts me still

demanding its place in the sun

if I add one more, it seems like fill

and the poem just doesn’t feel done

Finally happy, I put it to rest

I can re-post if it just won’t let go

I think its not bad, maybe one of the best

‘til I read ones by Walt, de or Joe

(or RJ or Pam or PKP or Connie or Andrew or The Doctor, or PCS or MiskMask or Jacqueline or mike M or Mike G or Buddah or Linda or  Dare or JD or Daniel or Paula or Rob or Karen or lain or Nina or……. I give up……)