Of Views and Berries

Writing 101, Day 11: Size Matters
Write about the house you lived in when you were 12. Vary the lengths of the sentences.

When I was twelve my mom remarried, and we moved from a bustling suburb of Chicago to a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee. I wanted to run away. It wasn’t that I didn’t like my new step dad – he was great – or that I didn’t like the house – it was quite nice.

When you’re twelve you may not think there would be so many differences from one suburb to the next. But 40 miles outside of Chicago and 40 miles outside of Nashville were a world apart. At the time, Mount Juliet, Tennessee, was more country than suburb.

The downtown had about two stoplights. I had a 45-minute school bus ride that passed nearly every type of home imaginable. Everyone talked with an accent and quite a few called me, “Yankee.” Some asked if we were from Canada. It took time to adjust.

Our house was walking distance to a pick-your-own peach orchard. It was a hilly walk with uneven blacktop warped by the sun. The closest store was a bait shop.

We had one of the most amazing views in the four-county area. The hill was so high that military and civilian helicopter pilots used it as a landmark. Sometimes they hovered level with our windows. The whole house shook. Once a pilot waved at us from slightly below our eye level. Ultralight pilots buzzed over the treetops too.

Along with my stepdad’s job being pretty decent, real estate prices differed significantly between the two locales. We were able to get a nice house. So nice that it was rumored to have been built by Burt Reynolds for Dinah Shore back when they were a thing. Don’t know if it’s true. The house was lovely but never struck me as Hollywood celebrity caliber. The view, however, was worthy.

The exterior of our house was made of stone and rustic wood. Against the view, it looked like it was pasted onto the hillside with a scenic poster behind. I had nightmares of it sliding right down. But we could see for many miles – trees, tiny houses in the distance, wee boats in the sections of Old Hickory lake that popped into view through the trees. It was breathtaking.

Chunks of stone covered the bottom about two feet up in the front and the entire back of the walkout basement. Rough, gray wood stretched to the roof which was much higher in the middle and, after a steep slope, spread gradually out from the left and right.

The great room, as they call it in those parts, was smack dab in the middle of the house and had a high “cathedral” ceiling. In Chicago we called it a family room no matter how high the ceiling. The kitchen, dining room, and formal living room formed a section to the left. The bedrooms and bathrooms were on the right.

The kitchen was huge. It was large enough to feature a two-level island in the middle which had space to eat, room to prepare food, and several cabinets and drawers for storage. The island alone had more surface space than our entire kitchen table in Chicago. There was a built-in desk to one side of the kitchen and room enough for a full family-size kitchen table.

The dinning room was nice, but hopelessly overshadowed by the kitchen. I think we used it all of three times. Same for the living room. Our cat liked to play there. A stash of cat toys was regularly trapped under the coffee table just out of his reach.

Windows stretched from the floor to almost the ceiling in nearly every room. It was full of light.

At the bottom of our yard we grew tomatoes. Blackberries grew wild in the rough at the edge of our lawn.

The house was both rustic and beautiful, but once I got over being quite so homesick for Chicago I liked going to my friends’ houses too.

My friend Julie’s in particular was fun. They had a whole playroom above their garage complete with board games, a pool table, craft and sewing supplies, and a record player. Their house wasn’t huge, but their backyard was flat as a pancake. Great for playing! And every growing season they had a garden with the best strawberries I’d ever had. It’s still hard to beat those strawberries today.

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All These Repairs, Writing 101, Day Six

Our Writing 101, Day Six assignment asks who is the most interesting person or people we met in 2014. The twist is to turn this into a character study. Day seven’s twist is to write dialog and, as I’m still working on seven, I included some dialog here too.

Life is pretty much work, mom stuff, daughter’s school & activity stuff, laundry, feed family, and struggle to make time to see people we already know and … repeat. I’ve not met many new people in 2014.

Thinking through the new people I did manage to meet, I realized that, aside from the most random of store clerks, every one of them has had something to do with repairs.

I had car trouble last week. A fellow commuter stopped to assist. I did not get his name, but he drove a silver vehicle and wasn’t afraid to open the hood to my steaming engine. He had lovely blue eyes which I probably shouldn’t have noticed. We topped off my coolant since I carry extra in the trunk and went on our way.

Once I got my car into a shop, a man named, Al, helped me with my car repairs. Later, Jeremy, at the same car repair shop, talked to me for a bit without actually giving me any info on my car because Al had all that info, and he’d gone for the day to pick up his kids.

Al was very by-the-book as far as repairs went. Replace broken part with same part. Not much creativity or love for working mechanics to find better solutions. Probably a good thing for new cars, but my older car often benefits from some creativity. The plastic coolant section of the intake manifold is a weak spot on some Saturns so many folks have used a more durable metal repair and been happy with it. Even the parts supplier that Al’s shop uses carries the more durable metal fix. Al is doing his job.

The other guy at the repair shop, Jeremy, was fairly interesting to talk with and I learned that he used to work in finance “telling rich people what to do with their money.” First working in a BMW repair shop, he found the world of car repair more exciting.

Jeremy also mentioned that not long ago he changed his eating habits and lost a lot of weight – he wanted to be healthier for his kids. His dark frame was trim. Bananas hung from a holder on his desk and beyond that a bag of gummy bears. He said that gave up all other sugar. He held up the bag – only genuine Haribo bears for him. He used to live in Germany.

Jeremy might have been open to exploring a better way to repair my car than Al. But Al got my car got fixed and for a fairly hefty price. I can actually drive my car now without spewing coolant all over the place. That’s a good thing, so I’ll take it.

I met a new doctor in 2014. Doctors do repair work of sorts, but I know nothing about her other than where she works.

If we’re going by the rule of most interesting person I met in 2014, it would be the Repair Liaison for our condominium community.

Repairs have been ongoing for around two years and are very necessary in our community. Our home owners’ association is now on its fourth Repair Liaison. Yep, four. It can be stressful.

Homeowners have a lot of pent up anger at having to undergo the repairs – the builder’s fault – but the Repair Liaison is the messenger. And we all know how that can turn out. I’m pretty sure the folks who are doing the actual repairs alert him to absolutely nothing until the last minute. So the Liaison, Mr. Edwards, is left to deal with homeowners who become even more upset when they get little notice that, by-the-way, we’ll be covering all your windows and temporarily blocking off one or two hundred square feet from your home. “How’s tomorrow work for ya?”

When I first spoke with him on the phone I’d pictured a gnarled construction type in his 40s or 50s with brown hair. But when I met him his hair was totally white. Hopefully dealing with homeowners for a month didn’t do that to him.

He seemed like a grandfather who’d just come out of retirement and is still learning the smart phone he inherited from his many predecessors.

So far, one of his most endearing qualities is that he seems to be able to keep track of virtually nothing as far as our home’s state of repair. You might think I’m kidding. But truly it is comical and hard to be mad at him when he’s trying yet somehow manages to get it all wrong.

In one of our first exchanges with him he said, “workers need to get into your unit to take down your security walls.” We had no temporary security walls at that point.

He said he “doesn’t have it in his notes” whether our home is getting temporary walls installed or if they’re coming down, but, “it’s one of those.” If you have temporary walls up they’re coming down. No walls? They need to put them up. “It really needs to be done by Wednesday. Thank you for scheduling this. Some people refuse to let us inside. That only delays everything.” Poor guy.

In later conversation he phoned us, “The plumber is coming up, and he’ll tap on your window in just a minute.”

“We don’t have any windows right now.”

“He’ll tap on your balcony door then.”

“Nope, don’t have one of those now either. No windows. No balcony door. We only have the pink temporary walls.”

“Okay then, I’ll radio him that he needs to come to your front door.”

“Thank you.”

He has a sweet, raspy voice that manages to sound genuinely helpful and appreciative, yet he’s not afraid to leave an urgent note on your door when work must get done and you didn’t yet manage to return his call. And most important he is still our Repair Liaison. It’s going on six months now, and he hasn’t run away screaming. There’s something to be said for that.

Writing 101, Day Four: Why Does It Look So Clean?

Written for The Daily Post’s Writing 101, Day Four: The Serial Killer

Write about a loss. The twist: make it the first post in a three-post series.

My post is here:
Why Does It Look So Clean?

I felt upset thinking about it again.

M is for

The path was still muddy from Wednesday’s derecho when I tripped on a tree root. An envelope caked in thick mud stuck to my hand. I carefully unfolded the letter inside. It read:

Anna, Meet me Friday at 3:00 at the burger joint on Madison and Elm. I’ve waited for this for so long! I miss you terribly. Have you thought about my question? If I don’t see you there, I’ll know your answer is no, and you won’t hear from me again … All my love, M.

I flipped the letter over — nothing.

Today is Saturday. Too late. My heart sank.

Writing 101, Day Three: Three Songs, a Trilogy

My take on assignment three is up. Check it out
The Daily Post Writing 101, Day Three: Three Songs, a Trilogy

The twist is to commit to a writing practice — the frequency and amount of time is up to us, but a minimum of fifteen uninterrupted minutes is recommended. I did that for assignment three — fifteen uninterrupted minutes, amazingly enough. I even tried to keep writing the entire time — keep my fingers moving — and not go back to edit anything as I wrote. Though, I admit to a bit of backspacing for an actual typo or two as I went — that’s practically reflex for me. I use a computer not paper. I let the words flow from a relatively uninterrupted stream of thought. After the fifteen minutes, I went back and edited a few more typos, punctuation, and a word or two. Nothing in the guidelines said we couldn’t do that. But I tried to keep the original stream primarily intact.

Going forward, I’m only going to commit to ten uninterrupted minutes five days a week because that’s a whole lot more likely, so I’m less likely to get frustrated when I can’t do it. I will, however, try for a longer stretch from time to time.

Three Songs, a Trilogy

It’s the song you hear when Darth Vader walks into a room, The March. It’s there instantly telling you how to feel about this tall man, if we can call him a man, in a mask and dark robes. It’s energizing and pulls at both our fears and our sense of awe and wonder. There’s power there. At this point only a few notes are needed, and that part of our brain is engaged.

The Star Wars Main Theme does about the same. Those first few notes and you are there — transported, instantly, not just to the world of Star Wars but to that time in your life when you had all that awe and wow and popcorn grease on your fingers. And you didn’t know that Luke Skywalker was quite as whiney and cheesy as he would turn out to be. And you didn’t know how dangerous it was to fall for guys like Han Solo — you can change them in the movies but maybe not so much in real life. Those pesky scoundrels. Those bad boys. And you didn’t yet know that when Leia would kiss Luke in Empire that they would turn out to be siblings.

So those two songs, if we can call them that. I’ve never been sure. Do songs have to have lyrics? Those two songs are an important part of my life. From middle school through nearly all of high school I’d set up the album on my good ol’ record player and fall asleep listening to the music of Star Wars.

There’s one more significant song, again from Star Wars. It plays when the droids are escaping at the begining of the movie. I don’t know why, but it always resonated with me. It was, maybe, a song of friendship and adventure and rescue (or escape) and safety. So that when it would come on I would be transported, as I could by the Star Wars Main Title and The Imperial March. That third song isn’t as easily recognizable in an instant as are the other two, but it could nonetheless take me to another place. I’d set up the record payer with the machine set to turn off when that side of the album stopped and drift off to sleep. It was a reassuring lullaby that would ensure my dreams were neither boring nor too scary. I could let go and drift off like the droids in the escape pod.

Popular music has not had the same effect on my psyche, though there are many songs I like and some may creep in as favorites. My tie to the original Star Wars sound tracks is hard to beat even today — a time far enough in the future that Star Wars has actually become “long ago.” I had a friend who had the Imperial March as a ring tone. I’ve thought about that, but at this point I don’t want to hear it too much for fear that it will become too ordinary and loose it’s ability to transport me to that other world. I have a Doctor Who ringtone instead. It works well for my blue phone. But perhaps someday that will change.

Editing to add that this was for WordPress Writing 101: Third Assignment: Write about the three most important songs of your life. In the order that I wrong about them, the Songs are:
The Imperial March (Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, original soundtrack, but the march notes can be heard on many tracks of the soundtrack)
Main Title/Rebel Blockade Runner (Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope, but Main Title/The Ice Planet Hoth from ESB is similar and ranks up there. I might even like it better than the original. Probably do.)
Imperial Attack (third track on Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope, I had to look up the title of this one because I remember it being the music that played while R2D2 and C-3PO were escaping to Tatooine from the boarded rebel ship early in the original Star Wars movie. I associate it more with the droids than with imperials.)

First Writing 101 WordPress Assignment

Here’s my blog entry from yesterday’s assignment:
WordPress: Writing 101, just write for 20 minutes and for a twist actually publish it. I did actually publish it, but technically not until this morning, Tuesday morning. I started it on Monday, so when I published it the date is Monday. It’s interesting to know that WordPress does that. Maybe because I started it on my phone? I completed it within 24 hours of the assignment, though, so I’m counting it for now.

Of note, I’m probably going to have to write most of my entries in evenings and nights with possibly carryover to the next morning. So yeah.

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