Heading West

Writing prompts: today the Ragtag Daily Prompt was FIXER-UPPER and I was able to work it in with another writing challenge, the one I gave to Judy Dykstra-Brown last night. You’re welcome to try it too, if you like. The goal is to Use at least three words in a poem or story.

Judy has already written her poem in response (Click here to read it) and now here’s mine. I hope you can bear with this long tale. 🙂

Original image created by DarkMoon Art for Pixabay

HEADING WEST

Sunshine and blue skies. A glorious day to start on an adventure!

One of the scouts stuffs a couple of flasks in his saddlebag as I pass. He nods when he sees me observing him. “Strictly for medicinal purposes, ma’am.” Then he has the nerve to wink at me. I don’t know about that fellow. Altogether too forward. Heaven knows what kind of women he’s associated with ’til now.

I smile to myself as I reached my wagon. What I have in my luggage is strictly for medicinal purposes also: two medical books. Father would never hear of me studying formally, but from these I’ve learned a lot about human anatomy.

The scout probably sees me as a frightfully brash thing, attaching myself to this train like I have. My family thinks I’m mad. You should have heard the gasps when I announced that I’d bought a covered wagon, hired young Clancy Fitzhugh to drive it, and was heading west to assist old Dr James in his practice.

My brother Charles sputtered and eyed me suspiciously. Did he think I’d robbed a bank? Or was stealing some of his inheritance? And my sisters-in-law! “Foolishness! Far too daring! Out there among gunfighters and thieves. No respectable woman would ever…” and on and on. They see me at thirty-one as a spinster for life. A lost penny that will obligingly roll along from house to house. Well, I refuse to be dependent on them for the rest of my life.

It cheered me very much this morning to receive a letter from my good friend Sally. Won’t I have things to tell her when I get the chance? She’ll be astounded.

I miss her so much! We were good friends all through school, after all. Then a year after we graduated a young man from England stopped in our town on his tour of the American Midwest. He courted her and won her heart, married her and carried her back to England. Now she writes such interesting letters about her life over there – so different from anything we know! In her last letter she sent along a picture of a hedgehog that her son drew. She told me her children think they’re cute and put out treats to lure them into the garden.

Something catches my eye, a glitter by the front wheel of my wagon. Someone has lost a penny – and I’ve found it! I snatch it up and examine it, feeling lighter of heart. Surely this is a good sign?

Isn’t it amazing how things happen right at the time you need them? If I hadn’t happened to catch Mother sliding a small hearthstone into place one day, I’d never have known about the money she was squirreling away. Someone else would have gotten that windfall if I hadn’t discovered her secret.

“Your father will no doubt leave everything to your brothers in his will, with instructions to look after us,” she explained. “And knowing how careful your brothers are with money, even if they’ll let us have a little house of our own I can see us having to give account for every dollar we spend. I want us to have some money of our own when that day comes.”

Mother was right. Father was generous to her, but he’d will everything to the boys. I can just hear him saying, “Why would women need money when they have family to look after them?”

I knew Mother was good at lacework and sold some from time to time; now she told me she was setting aside some of the housekeeping money. She was looking ahead, but didn’t foresee they’d die together. Their deaths happened when our horse spooked and upset their carriage; Mother died instantly; Father lived only a few days.

My parents’ dear friend Dr James made a special trip back for the funeral. Some years back, hearing about an acute need for doctors, he’d gone out West to a small mining town in Montana to set up a practice and we hadn’t seen him since. Chatting with them I could feel he was happy about what he was doing, even patching up gamblers and gunslingers. The day after my parents’ funeral I shared my own dream with him, knowing he’d understand.

Ever since we lost my sister Millie I’ve had a burning desire to help other women make it through childbirth. Could Millie have been saved if she’d had a more competent midwife assisting her? Who can say? But since the day we buried Millie and her newborn girl, I’ve studied and assisted one of the local midwives, with the dream of saving other women’s lives.

He commended me, said my services would be most welcome in their area, especially since one of the midwives there had such a rough time with her last delivery she may never assist him again. I should consider joining him there.

“I’m sure you can could get a room with Mrs. Greggs will take you on as a boarder. In fact, I’ll even pay for your board for the first few months if you’ll do nursing for me. Mrs Greggs is an older widow, quite a respectable woman who swears by ginger tea as a cure-all and feeds me gingersnaps every time I stop in.”

I had to wonder if he stopped in quite often…

Three weeks after the funeral Charles came over to announce, “We’ve decided to put the house up for sale. This property is too valuable for you to live here alone. But you needn’t worry; you can live with one of us. Or we can buy you a small cottage.” I can still see him standing there, a glass of iced tea in his hand, handing me such a bleak future, with not so much as a “by your leave.”

Oh, yes, they said they’d see I was cared for if I stayed here, but I know how that would go. The thought of being shuffled from one home to another, an obligation, an unpaid servant, underfoot too often. Or in a little fixer-upper cottage, dependent on them to do the repairs. Once he left I pulled Mother’s savings from the niche in the hearth and counted it, breathing a sigh of thanks for her foresight.

I’m striking out on my own, come what may. The wagon-master’s shouting and the teams are all shaking their reins impatiently. Time to head West!

Blissful Retreat

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning was BLISS. And Frank Prem writes about wanting to attend their annual Rainforest Writing Retreat. What a blissful thought!

Actually the thought of any retreat where you can kick back and relax with friends/fellow writers sounds great, especially when their official website invites you to “Escape reality with your fellow writers in Australia’s lush mountain rainforest at O’Reilly’s in Lamington National Park!”

Yes, BLISS! Just a continent and a small fortune away. Sigh. Frank laments that he can’t go either now, because of new COVID restrictions in their area.

RETREATS: An Absence of Real-World Temptations

Twenty-five years ago I knew a lady in Montreal who went on several retreats. Not the blissful kind, though. Over time she paid out what amounted to a small fortune to spend time at a holistic health retreat in the country, where she did nothing but NOT EAT. For $70 a day she was given a tiny room with a bed, a dresser and not much space to move, where she spend several weeks at a time just resting, supposedly cleansing her body of toxins, reading, meditating, praying. She could walk around, but there was no encouragement to exercise; folks were there to purify their bodies.

She felt this effort brought her closer to God, but she also had practical motives: lose weight and quit smoking. Someday I’ll write more about her episodes, but suffice it to say, the plan didn’t work in the long run. Living only on water and juices, of course she lost weight. Back in the real world food and nicotine tempted her as always. Coming home after a retreat one time, she ordered an extra-large pizza — and ate the whole thing. Then her body was suddenly overloaded and she suffered. In all that enforced deprivation, she’d let self-discipline slip away.

So I shall forgo rainforest retreats until my ship comes in. Even being in a gorgeous, low-stress setting, surrounded by all those good vibes, won’t guarantee that a person would spend the time in her seat writing every day once she’s home again. The enthusiasm and inspiration would be a boost any writer would enjoy and you’d come away with fresh inspiration. However, it still takes self-discipline to keep pounding the keyboard when those temptations to skip off and play come beckoning. 🙂

Pixabay image

Another Fence Down

According to Sue Mattingly’s post this morning, April has been designated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as “Distracted Driving Month.”

This is a very important message and I couldn’t help but do a few senryu-of-sorts for the cause.

as she turns a corner
her boy in the back seat barfs
new car shopping

oncoming headlights
insistent cell phone jangling
fender bender

the GPS says
turn here! brakes –
and more brakes

get a load of that
chick mowing her lawn!
another fence down

An Impromptu Tea Party

Looking for inspiration, I rambled through my STORY files this afternoon and found this mini-fiction scene written ten years ago, in March of 2011. It was my response to my writing group’s challenge of that month: to use the words BROOM, FRIDGE, ALMOND and DOUGHNUT.

And I see Fandango’s One-Word Challenge today is IMPROMPTU, so here goes…

THE TEA PARTY

Spring fever attacked me full force that morning when my little girl begged me to come out and play. She said she’d baked a cake and we could have tea. Who could resist? I threw my “TO DO” list on the counter for “LATER” and gave myself to the sunshine, the little girl inside, and the little girl outside.

When I arrived at the playhouse she was sculpting her “Tea cake” that looked like a huge mud doughnut. Using her sweater sleeve as a broom, my gracious hostess swept off one of the chairs so I could sit down. I donated two elderly chipped mugs and a plate of real cookies to the celebration.

“I wish I had some nice sprinkles for the icing,” she sighed as she shredded some grass blades and tossed them on the cake. I had to agree: the green shreds weren’t very aesthetic.

“I have an idea,” I said, taking her hand and leading her to our flowering almond shrub. “Just a few,” I said, “for this really special cake.” How many times had I told her she mustn’t pick these blossoms because we wanted to see them blooming on the tree? They made lovely sprinkles.

She poured imaginary tea into the cups, then took a pitcher of “cream” from the cardboard box fridge and added some to the tea. “Would you like sugar, too?” she asked, handing me a bowl of ice melt granules.

“Yes, I’d love some.”

She gave me her biggest smile. “Mom, you should come for tea every day.”

I think of what older ladies have often told me: “Children grow up so fast; enjoy them while you can.”

“Well, maybe I should look over my To-Do list and see if I can fit a tea party in once a week,” I agreed. “If you’ll help me pick up the toys after supper every day.”

Her eyes sparkled as she accepted the challenge. We had a lovely tea party — one I’ll remember a lot longer than the folded laundry, the cleaned cutlery drawer and the emptied dishwasher that I did manage to do in spite of taking time out to play.

Less is More

I just finished reading a blog post by Martha Kennedy with this same title. She starts out with a terse bit of editing wisdom from author Truman Capote: “I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”

I heartily agree with what she says. Less is more. Author Jerry Jenkins stresses this over and over in his writing course: “Don’t use two adjectives; one is enough. Better yet, choose a stronger action verb.” Adverbs have similarly fallen out of style, I hear.

Mark Twain once gave wannabe writers similar advice, with a wry wit in the delivery: “When you see an adjective, kill it.”

Awhile back I read a book that reminded me of his quip. A good story, but the author seems to over-use adjectives and adverbs, often as a way to pat characters on the back.
– Jill generously gave him a huge slice of pie.
– Jack unselfishly offered to drive them to the mall.
– He appreciated Jill’s considerate offer to look after his sister.
– Jack sighed appreciatively after Jill’s extremely satisfying dinner.
– Jill admired Jack’s dashing good looks.
– Jack’s humble way of suggesting…
– Jack found Jill extremely attractive.
– Jack’s unstinting effort to find the owner pleased Jill immensely.

Get my point?

These seasonings are okay when lightly sprinkled through the book, and I like stories about kind, thoughtful people. However, if superlatives appear too often it can sound like the writer’s trying to impress on forgetful readers what a wonderful, thoughtful, generous character this is. I don’t have to be told twenty times that the hero is smart, generous, and handsome or gorgeous. Perversely, this inclines me to dislike Mr/Ms goodie-two-shoes.

No matter what you’re saying about your characters’ qualities, more than three or four times is overkill. Don’t try to sneak them past the reader by embellishing their wonderful acts, either. Let the reader decide if that your character’s a keeper.