A Closet of Memories

Another Friday Fictioneers prompt has come. This group is graciously hosted by the longsuffering Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, who blogs at Addicted to Purple. Check her blog for information about how to become part of this group and respond to the prompts. Our photo prompt has been donated by Kelvin Knight. Bear in mind that this is his photo and must not be used for any other purpose without his permission.

I looked at the prompt this morning and thought, “This is great!” No murder and mayhem in this photo; it should generate some really homey, upbeat stories. So what delicious aspect can I write about in connection with home-made bread?

Sad to say, the story that popped into my mind a moment later is one I didn’t want to write. I hate going to places like this but I feel this is the one I should tell. Genre for this one is contemporary fiction, based on a true account of a young woman’s loathing for white bread and how she discovered the reason behind her disgust.

I’ve had a few similar experiences where I felt an intense fear or negative reaction to something for years until I finally asked God, “Why?” And got a clear answer. I believe many children experience things that leave them with a closet full of dark memories. It’s so awesome, then, when you finally open that door, the skeleton inside gives one last rattle and disintegrates. The place is swept clean, the dust swirls away and you’re so glad to be rid of the mess that you feel like dancing.

So here’s my tale:

PHOTO © Kelvin M. Knight

Memories Locked Away

Pam stares at the slice Tim decorated. A wave of nausea chokes her. That heart! He doesn’t realize…

It’s just bread. Get a grip! But she barely makes it to the toilet. Chucking her breakfast, she wails, “Why, God?”

Memories click into focus. Mom never home. No food. Older brother, bread in hand, luring her…she was so hungry! Ugly stains on the bedroom ceiling…waves of shame and disgust. The bread her reward.

Then a gentle voice says, “These memories you’ve locked away, I’ll take them now.”

Waves of freedom overwhelm her. Her spirit dances like a sailboat in light breeze.

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Just A Clueless Tourist, Sir

Guilty As Charged

A writing exercise one day was: tell about an adventure you had while traveling, focusing on one particular scene during the trip. So here’s a scene from when I drove my daughter to Mississippi for a Teacher’s Summer Class.

Twelve years ago our daughter wanted to attend a week-long workshop for teachers — the event being held in Mississippi, no less. She didn’t want to drive all that way alone, so I accompanied her and did most of the driving. I was excited about the trip, having never been to the Deep South before. We were living in Quebec at this time, so had two long days on the road, entering the US at Detroit and heading more or less straight south on Interstates.

The second day found us somewhere in Kentucky on a nice four-lane highway and I was behind the wheel when we came up behind a line of about six cars, every one of them in the right lane, doing almost 50 mph. I found this curious, as the speed limit was 55 mph and the left lane was completely empty. I craned my neck and peered ahead as best I could, expecting to see some extra-wide vehicle causing this slower traffic. Nada. Just a line of ordinary-looking cars.

Now I was really curious. Had the speed limit changed and I hadn’t noticed the sign? Last thing on earth I wanted to do was get nailed for speeding in the States. I knew the chain gang was passe but I’d read some pretty awful accounts of arrests at gun-point and strip searches, etc. Not to mention fines and fees for a US lawyer.

A few minutes later we passed a sign: 55 mph. So why is everyone doing below 50? As the road went round a curve I got a better look at the lead car. A police cruiser. Aha! He was cruising along at a lower speed and the drivers behind were all meekly following, no one daring to challenge his authority. I joined the line and took it easy on the gas for another mile.

Would it surprise you if I mentioned here that I can be a rebel at times? As I drew near yet another 55 mph sign, I wondered,  “Am I going to poke along at 50 mph for an hour in deference to the whims of those officers? Can they arrest me if I don’t just meekly follow? Have they got any reason to stop me for driving at the speed limit?”

Nope. At least I sure hope not! So I pulled into the left lane, sped up to 55 mph, and slowly overtook the police car, making very sure I wasn’t speeding. If I was indeed committing some other social faux pas, I trusted my Quebec license plate would tell him I didn’t know any better.

They say about sheep that when one sticks his head through the fence, the others will surely follow. People are much the same. When I was some distance ahead of the cruiser — we didn’t have cruise control so I kept one eye glued to the speedometer the whole way!— I saw in my rear-view mirror that other cars had pulled out and were also passing the cruiser. I suppose they’d been anxious to see if I’d get into trouble and when no lights started flashing they decided they could get away with it, too.

Now I can say I led a mini-coup — a social rebellion of sorts — in a foreign land. I can just imagine those policemen sitting at the doughnut shop later and chuckling about it, just as I am now.

What would you have done?

The Devil Laughs

A pastor friend of ours tells the story of how he and his wife heard the devil’s fiendish laugh one night and it terrified them. During the day he and his wife had gotten into some dispute and at bedtime they were still upset with each other. Silently they got ready for bed. He lie down on his side; she on hers, backs to each other, not a word exchanged. Caught up in their angry thoughts, sleep didn’t come for either of them.

Suddenly in the silence they heard the most menacing, diabolical laughter. Horrified, they both jumped out of bed; a moment later they were on their knees praying to be delivered from this evil. Whatever the issue was that caused their dispute, it seemed so foolish when they understood what a victory it gave to the forces of Satan.

He and his wife felt that God allowed them to hear for themselves how the devil gloats when he can divide couples. I believe this is what God hears when the devil succeeds in stirring up strife in homes, in churches, between friends. Don’t you think all hell shouts the victory when a Christian loses his temper, or gives in to jealousy or discouragement? When confidence is destroyed, vows are broken, and souls that could have been helped are left to go astray?

One day over the kitchen sink I was thinking about a brother who, having been a faithful pastor for some years, became too wise in his own eyes and finally lost the way. It was shocking to hear him renounce the truths he once believed and taught. Thinking back on his years of service I shook my head and thought, This is so cruelly unfair!

I was shocked when it seemed right away the devil answered my thought — no, not audibly, but I heard his reply clearly in my mind: “I love cruelly unfair!”

This is our enemy. We can’t let him win.

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith…” I Peter 5:8-9

A Classic Bait-and-Switch

Caveate Emptor
(Let the Buyer Beware)

I included this bit of wisdom in a post to Judy Dykstra brown and she was so thrilled to learn a new expression she even wrote a post on the topic. 🙂 Click here to read it.

Her reply jogged my memory. I recall an experience I had on this one myself years ago, when we were living in Montréal. And since today’s Word Press prompt word is infuse, I’ll use this example of a time where I was infused with righteous indignation.

One fine summer day…

He was standing at the entry to one of Montréal’s métro stations. Early thirties, I’d guess, rather shabby in appearance — hardly your ‘up-and-coming enterpreneur’ look — with a small bouquet of flowers in his outstretched hand. “Pretty flowers. Two dollars,” he called to the mass of people passing. The crowd, hurrying to catch the trains, ignored him.

I was part of this human tide flowing into the subway entrance, but when I saw him I paused. Yes, the flowers were pretty, neatly wrapped and ready to go. Plus he really looked like he could use the money, so I opened my purse.

When he saw me step closer and start fishing for the money, he held out the flowers so I could get a good look at them. The bouquet, which even included a rose, was colourful and fresh as a daisy. “Just two dollars,” he repeated.

He took the coin I handed him and I reached for the bouquet — but he was quick. Pulling back the flowers in his one hand, with the other he scooped up a similar bouquet from a bucket beside him, wrapped so you could just see the flowers, and held it out to me. The flowers appeared identical so I grabbed it, nodded my thanks and joined the crowd headed for the trains.

After I took my seat on the subway car I took a closer look at my purchase. Oh.

This bouquet’s best-before date passed yesterday — or the day before. The outer rose petals were withered; the mum blooms were fringed with a bit of brown; the greenery appeared a little wilted. NOT just like the one he was holding out for inspection.

As I thought about the switch he’d pulled I was infused with indignation. What a rotten trick! And a sense of injustice. The man’s dishonest — a cheat! Wounded pride. I’ve been had! Okay, it was only $2, but still… And embarrassment. I should have been watching. I should have protested when I saw him make the switch.

By the time I’d arrived back at the house, I’d decided to let it go. If he was a cheat, it would be on his conscience; I wasn’t going to lose sleep over it. I’d cut my losses — along with the flower stems — and move on.

I trimmed the stems right away, stuck the flowers in warm water and revived those I could. The mums and greenery perked up well for a few more days; the rose was too far gone. And after all, I’d only lost $2. Not worth grinding my teeth about.

I chalked it up to a relatively cheap lesson in life. Economics 101: o caveat emptor!

The Lily Bulb Rescue

My story started at the end of February 2010, a few weeks after our local Walmart received a shipment of spring bulbs. The bulbs had been packed in wood shavings and sealed in plastic bags with small air holes so they wouldn’t mould. The bags came in colourful display boxes so customers could admire the potential flowers and hopefully purchase the bulbs.

But it was still winter. Those bulbs should have been stored in a dark, cool place for another two months, but when they arrived at Walmart they were put on display in a warm, light environment. After a week or so they decided it must be spring and started sending out shoots.

Around two weeks later I happened to be in Walmart and wandered over to the display. A mental alarm bell started ringing, warning me to keep away from anything living – like plants. I already had a couple of African Violet “rescues” at home blooming their hearts out. But, drawn by the appealing colours, I yielded to temptation and checked out the lily bulbs.

I picked up several packages and examined them. This is a no-no for me, because I know what shape Walmart seasonal plants are often in: sadly neglected and suffering. And these definitely were.

By this time the shoots were from three to six inches long and reaching for light in whatever direction it could be found, hampered by those tiny bags. Some stems had grown a few inches, hit the end of the bag and turned around in a U. Some snaked like an S. They’d all grown as far as they possibly could and their topmost leaves, crammed up against plastic, would soon start to rot. It amazed me that the store hadn’t discounted them yet.

Seeing things like this always irks me. In most of these huge marts plants have a certain time to sell – a time when some effort is put forth to keep them alive – but after that initial period if it lives it lives; if it dies it dies. (Which is why I came to carry home some bedraggled looking African violets another day.) I know it’s business as usual, but these are living things. They need some care. And if things start to go south, put the plants on sale and move them out as soon as possible. Rotting leaves don’t make for an attractive display.

Okay. I have a soft heart and/or a weak mind. I searched through the plastic bags and found the bulbs with the longest, kinkiest, shoots, the ones most in danger of being hopelessly deformed. I did limit myself to three bags, though – three dozen bulbs – and carried them to the cashier, wondering all the while if I should get into therapy. When I got them home I immediately opened the packages to give the poor leaves a reprieve from the threat of mould.

Now what? It would be at least another month until I would even see the garden (now under four feet of snow.) I couldn’t leave the bulbs sit until then. Fortunately I had a bag of peat moss on hand and half a bag of potting soil, so I got a basin and mixed up a batch of soil, hunted up some old plastic pots and planted the things. When I ran out of pots, I found a stack of disposable plastic tumblers in the cupboard, and employed them in my rescue operation.

It wasn’t very easy to plant the bulbs, as kinky as their shoots were. I had to weigh down some of the pots so the heavy shoots hanging upside down over the edge wouldn’t pull the whole pot over. But I planted all thirty-six and set them in our wide, cool windowsill where they’d get the morning sun.

A couple of weeks went by and the shoots slowly reoriented themselves toward the light. Some remained a bit kinky at the base, but most of them straightened up nicely. About eight weeks later I planted them in the garden, wondering how they’d take the chilly spring nights. They held up well; every last one survived and grew into a nice, upright plant.

In July they bloomed – and they were gorgeous! I took a bouquet to the seniors’ home and the folks marvelled at their beauty, their colour and scent. One lady who was visiting there the next day called me to ask what variety they were. She thought I must have purchased some really special collection.

I told her, “Yes, in fact I did.” And she laughed when I told her about their “upbringing.”

Word Press daily prompt word: Reprieve

The Fire That Changed Her Name

One evening in Hull, England, Maud and her mum decided to go to the “flicks” (silent movies) — and see Norma Talmadge in Camille. Maud says that wonderful actress “could really turn on their waterworks.” While they were sobbing trough tear-jerking scenes at the theatre, another “scene” was rolling at their home, one that would change their lives forever.

The house had been shut up and some washing, set in front of the fireplace to dry, caught on fire. At least this was the conclusion they came to. The fire smouldered until Maud’s  father had come home from his club and opened the front door. Fresh oxygen fed the blaze and hot flames flashed out at him. It was too late to save anything; the interior of the house was an inferno.

After the movie, as Maud and her mother got closer to their street, they saw “a huge orange cloud lighting up the sky.” They began to run and soon realized the awful truth: their house was the one burning! Several red fire engines raced by them and stopped in front of their house. Firemen piled out and dragged hoses along, pumping water from a tank on one of the trucks.

Panicked, Maud and her mom ran toward their home. A crowd had already gathered. Maud was determined to rush in and save some of their belongings but one of the firemen caught her as she reached the door and put paid to that idea. So she stood outside with the others and watched the house burn, feeling herself the heroine of a great drama. She hated to lose their piano but wasn’t sad about all the old trinkets and whatnot her mum had collected over the years.

After the fire her mother decided to stay with her maternal grandparents, the Waites, who lived nearby, until the house could be restored. Maud could have joined them but some of her school friends were offering her a place to stay and that had a lot more appeal. Maud found being an only child rather boring, and had no qualms about accepting when best friend Phyllis Holmes invited her to come live with them awhile.

Here was a family where there would always be some action going on! Phyllis’ older sister, Cathy, was engaged to be married. She also had three brothers: Ted, the oldest, was an organ builder in Scotland; Harry was a cowboy on a ranch in somewhere out in the wilds of western Canada; Noel, still living at home, was an office worker. Phyllis, three years older than Maud, was an incurable romantic and a tease. She’d often say, “Just wait till Harry sees you. I’m sure he’ll fall for you!”

Phyllis did Maud a great favour while she was living at their home. Maud had always hated her name, especially when pronounced with a broad Yorkshire “u” — and even more when folks called her Maudie. Yuck! One evening she and Phyllis went to the theatre to see Peg O’ My Heart. Afterward Phyllis said, “She’s just like you! From now on you’re not Maud, you’re Peggy, and I’m never going to call you anything else.”

Maud — now Peggy — was delighted. She had some qualms about telling her parents, though, and her name change did indeed bring on a major row when she informed them, but they finally gave in and she was Peggy ever after. Some years later when she moved to Alberta with her husband, she was so thankful Phyllis had dubbed her Peggy, since it seemed every mule in Canada was called Maud. 🙂

You see, when Phyllis’ brother Harry came home from western Canada on a visit, he changed Peggy’s last name to Holmes and took her off to the bush country north of Edmonton, Alberta, to live on his homestead. 🙂

That proved to be a very useful fire indeed.

Word Press daily prompt: qualms

When Children Divide the Nickels

Back in 1899 a thirteen-year-old Ontario girl named Christina Young kept a diary for that year of her life. One of her entries tells of a day her father had taken her and her sister Annie, two years older, to town when he had some shopping to do.

He gave the girls some money and let them choose some candy from the General Store; to Annie he gave 10¢ and to Christina 5¢ – probably a generous sum in those days.

However, Christina protested that Annie had gotten more. “That’s because Annie’s older,” he explained. And back in those days a child didn’t dare contradict a parent, especially Father.

Nevertheless Christina felt the sting of injustice. That night she grumbled in her diary: “It wasn’t very fair. After all, it’s not my fault that Annie’s older. And I can eat just as much candy as she can.”