Friday, August 17, 2007

Summer doldrums of childhood




I have always had an affinity for southern lady writers.

Carson McCullers especially. And Flannery O' Connor.

Recently, I have found a kind of incarnation in the person of E. A. Monroe, though Elizabeth writes more of her childhood rather than darker themes.

Liz Monroe actually hails from Oklahoma and is a country doctor's daughter.


Now doctors' daughters seem to go two ways.

One is the rebellious chile with the high IQ feeling frustrated in a rural environment, and the other doing something with her acumen, to be a writer, to hear things and record them, to love those old country houses, the settees on front porches, the night sounds, the cicadas the howl of a coyote, the nearness of one's love, the twang of a guitar, the sure comfort of one's animals and pets.
My best comparison would be Canada's Joni Mitchell, herself a prairie writer, though in song, with her highly evocative "Songs For Aging Children Come".


Songs for aging children indeed do come.


Does the moon play only silver
As it strums the galaxies?

Echoes of of one's youth.

So much like Dylan Thomas, namesake for Bob Dylan (Bob Zimmerman knew good poetry when he himself had read it. He hoped to be as good--and he was).

And who of us was not recruited in our high school years
to take part in Dylan Thomas' immortal play for voices, those childhood reminiscences so beautifully rendered in "Under Milk Wood."

I offer below E. A. Monroe's childhood reminiscences, titled, SUMMER DOLDRUMS.



The summer doldrums come when the sun bakes the Granite Mountains into a hard boil-- scorcher and the wind, what little wind trickles through the dust and the heat waves, blows a breath that withers and browns the wild grasses growing in the fields and along the roadsides.
It’s a wind that rushes straight out of Momma’s oven and singes the eyebrows right off my face when I open the oven door. We have rebuilt our tree house in the old mesquite tree that grows beside the road a couple of times. Every year, as soon as school lets out for the summer, we tackle last year’s tree house and give it a remodel. The tree house isn’t much more than a frame of 2x4s nailed to the mesquite tree’s limbs and covered over with warped planks salvaged from the scrap heap left by the carpenters who are busy erecting another new house on our street. We scrape together all the nails we can find, plus a few nails confiscated from workbenches and garages. We nail boards to the rickety tree house and brag about how grand this summer’s tree house is gonna look, our voices droning like the cicadas high in the branches above us. I nail a couple of boards across a Y-branch higher up in the tree and claim my look out perch.

Tired of hammering and nailing, the gang sprawls on the floor and dangle their feet and legs over the edge. The tree house doesn’t have any walls and we figure the space between the supporting tree limbs and the bottom of the floorboards an excellent place to cram any “prisoners.”

Beneath the floor the boards bristle with nail spikes.“Hey, what do ya wanna do now?

“Wanna ride bikes down Tin Can Hill and jump the ditch?”“Wanna ’splore Devil’s Canyon and pick up arrow heads?”“Hey, let’s climb Mount Baldy and search for your grandpa’s treasure chest!”“Naw, it’s too hot.” ...meets every suggestion of what to do next.

We’d done everything there was to do that summer. Thanks to ideas stolen from watching too many black- and- white Tarzan movies and Johnny Weissmuller swinging from tree to tree to rescue Jane and Boy; we had hacked and trampled jungle trails through a couple acres of tall Johnson grass, posted warning signs, and laid booby traps — mostly trenches covered over with cut Johnson grass.

We’d caught, tamed and released horny toads. We’d done our best to dig a hole clear to China, before we finally gave up, splashed water into our “swimming pool” from a hose stretched across the street from our house, and wallowed in the resulting mud bath.

We’d made numerous trips to Lake Lugert where our dad fished and to Craterville where we rode the Ferris Wheel and the Tilt-a-Whirl, smacked into the maze of glass walls at the Fun House, and bruised our butts at the skating rink. We’d climbed all over the mountains that rimmed our small town and played dead for the turkey vultures. We’d been to the movies a couple of times. The Craig family who owned the Five & Dime store also owned the tiny movie theatre and it was only open during the summer, except for an afternoon matinee on Christmas Eve. We’d been carted off to church and revivals and church camp; spent nights on the farm at Grandma and Grandpa’s Timmons or in Guthrie with the other grandparents. We’d played and cheated at every game we knew how to play or had invented. We’d camped out in the yard, hiked the network of bar ditches and explored all the nooks and crannies around town. We’d ridden our bikes everywhere and even played countless games of bicycle hockey with baseball bats and a baseball .One time, Momma gave us a dollar and sent us to town to buy a loaf of Mead’s Fine Bread. We almost didn’t survive the hot mile walk home from town. By the time we hiked into the yard, our tongues dragged the dirt gravel road and I had smashed the loaf of bread flatter’n a pancake. Momma was mad about the squashed bread but we figured she wouldn’t make us walk to town for bread again any time soon . “We oughta clip some coupons from the Reader’s Digest and trade ’em for candy at Cothrum & Reeser’s Grocery Store.”
The folks at the grocery store always let us trade coupons for candy; didn’t matter what kind of coupons either — 10 cents off a box of laundry detergent or 5 cents off a bar of soap. With coupons we could fetch a bunch of 1-cent candy, 2-cent cinnamon suckers, 5-cent candy bars and divvy up the sweet loot between Robert, Susan and me and any neighborhood kids hanging out with us.

“I swear it’s hotter ’n the Sahara Desert!” “So, what are we gonna do now? Can’t build any more on this old tree house without nails.” “I’m thinking,” I said, wondering why I always had to come up with all the ideas. I scratch my butt, fingertips scraping the patch Momma had zigzag stitched on the seat of my shorts after I ripped them taking another trip down the Devil’s Slide during one of our Girl Scout cookouts. I didn’t have to think too hard before an idea struck — a grand idea and maybe one of my best ideas all summer long. “Here’s what we’re gonna do, see. We’re all gonna run home, make up some kinda costume and a mask, too — don’t forget a mask if you got one — and then we’ll meet back in our yard.”

We all scrambled or jumped out of the tree house and everyone darted off home. “And don’t forget to bring a brown paper bag!”

Robert, Susan and I dash home and root through the closets looking for costume stuff. Robert still had his Mad Hatter costume from his school play; Susan only needed to add her battered straw cowboy hat, gun holster riding low on her hips and cap pistols twirling and she was Anne Oakley.

I swiped Momma’s flouncy purple and pink lace petticoat she never wore and some costume jewelry. We met the other kids in the yard, our paper bags crinkling, costumes rustling and the summer heat a dull memory lost to the fun of a wishful plan. We set off and make our circuit through the neighborhood, house by house, knocking on doors or pressing doorbells . Only this time we didn’t run away and hide. We wait until the lady of the house answers the door and then we shout, “Trick or treat!” After a surprised look and oh-my-gosh-don’t-ya’ll-look-cute laughter while we giggle and rattle our paper bags for a handout, she said, “Let me see what I’ve got in the house. Don’t ya’ll look so cute!”

We made an unexpected haul of cookies and candy that hot summer afternoon going from house to house trick-or-treating.

Later, when we sprawled around in the tree house, our feet and legs swinging over the edge of the floorboards, the torture chamber below empty of prisoners, and we feasted on our treats, we decide we’d make this an annual event — Halloween in July. We didn’t have to clip any coupons from the latest Reader’s Digest or hike to town and back. And, the best thing of all? Momma didn’t even get mad.


Trick or Treat

Smell my feet

Give me something Good to eat!


--E.A. Monroe.
(Published electronically by Island Grove Press, Ontario, Canada. ISBN number pending)




33 comments:

Josie said...

Ivan, what a lovely tribute to our Liz. I love her writing. I can identify with her stories, it feels like my own childhood, and I think tons of other folks would love her stuff too. She writes just the kind of things people love to read, and she needs to put all her stories together in a book. I love reading about her C-A-T and D-O-G too.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Josie,

So much good stuff comes our way, making us indeed identify with other people's stories. We have all been there.
...About Liz putting all her stories in a book--that's why I said ISBN number pending.
If Island Grove Press ever gets back into treeware form, maybe we could put all of Liz's stories together and have a little book run, but that's more of a pipe dream right now.

Speaking of good stuff coming our way, I've got something by Janet L. Harvey, lately of Jamaica who has sent me this poem.
I swear to God she is writing right to me:


THINKING OF YOU HERE

I cuss this moment that tugs at my worthiness.

Tagged with wonder, should I enjoy this meal?

Not knowing if scarcity tugs your days. You’re

So far away from my extended hand. Quivering fingers

Cannot Accent this face where mouth waters in wonder.

Praying God is looking in on you, and you are ok, all of you

Conning my blood, my face, my hair my race.

Yet I cannot relinquish this recurring guilt

Piecing far beyond this soul-

Are you of thirst unquenched, pocket empty?

I don’t know. That fact chisels me, not knowing,

If you're exhausted with worry

While I feast on grass- fed lambs and hillside goats.

Yukon potatoes, and sweet maple desserts.

I wouldn’t want this meal, if your stove is cold

And your saliva is hardened from yesterday’s last dust

If the ashes in your soul would vie with the wind in mine

I wouldn’t want to live.

Your stomach should never be empty.

When the world is foul with waste. Laden, the axel uneven.

I will forever be happy, if I’m sure you have eaten,

And full of happiness, thinking of me,

your mom, your daughter, your sibling-

yearning to elevate you to be free from poverty.

Tonight when you lie with the Book in you arms

And the moon sparkling through the ocean in your eyes

Tenaciously hold the dream of plenty! Hold on

And think of me. I am pounding the rocks .

For the wine drips and you’ll forever be free.


(I think Janet Harvey should become Poetess Laureate of Canada).

Ivan

EA Monroe said...

Ivan, you are sweet and kind and up to mischief! :-) Well, Josie and you have given me something to shoot for -- I hadn't really thought about putting the stories together in a book. I better get busy writing more stories!

Janet's poem rocks right down to the soul!

You need to get all your life into a biography!! Or even your blog posts!

eric313 said...

EA Monroe is a recent discovery for me, as well. I love anything that reminds me of the south--I'm a native Tennessean transplanted in Detroit, so it's wonderful to connect with the southern folks any time I can.

Thanks for the visit. The Bukowski story was great. I'd spend more time, but I have to get going. My car's motor blew up this morning, so now everything is in the air. Including this semester that has yet to begin. But hey, that's life...

Thanks again--and I left a comment earlier, but blogger ate it. So it goes...

eric313 said...

and I linked you, if it's cool.

Trevor Record said...

Good One, Mrs. Monroe.

(Doctors Daughters, that was a book, wasn't it? Well I just looked it up and it was indeed. Perhaps this subject of these women born to rural practitioners is well known.)

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Hi eric313,

Link away. No prob. We dig poets.
Nice reference to old Kurt V. BTW. :)

Ivan

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Liz,
We're a bit like the Toronto Reference Library. Scoop up the good stuff whenever we can.
I was so pleased to reprint your childhood piece. Right decision. People like it. Very much.

Ivan

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Well known indeed, Trev, though I'm not sure if Liz has a Western romance up her sleeve.

Here is what they say about The Doctor's Daughter:

From Publishers Weekly
MacQuigg (The Price of Pride) returns to nineteenth-century Santa Fe for a second western romance. Rebeccah Randolph's mother requests on her deathbed that Rebeccah leave her aristocratic English life for a year in New Mexico with her estranged father, a frontier doctor. Though already betrothed and convinced that Americans are ruffians, Rebeccah reluctantly consents. When her stagecoach is ambushed, she is rescued by a handsome cavalry officer, Sayer MacLaren. She spends months, and chapters, denying the attraction. Her engagement aside, the biggest obstacle is MacLaren's "'fearsome reputation for Indian fighting'"-Rebeccah objects to killing, even in self-defense. Just when she's about to acknowledge her feelings, her Grandmama, matriarch and bully, arrives with Rebeccah's fiancé to complicate matters. Colonel MacLaren is also busy chasing a band of Indian robbers-a subplot that adds some mystery to an otherwise chaste romance.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Ivan

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

p.s. to Trevor Record,

I see you have a new avatar.

(Out of curiosity): Is your last name French?

Ivan

Ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

p.s. to Liz,

Who could resist putting up your high school graduation picture?...I tracked back.

Lady, you were (and likely still are) a knockout!

(I guess that's mischief on my part. :)

Ivan

EA Monroe said...

LOL, Ivan. I deleted that old senior pic, but it's still floating around out there in the blog-o-sphere! :-) Ah, immortality! LOL

Western Romance... well, I did spend several years designing and laying out Pro World Rodeo's magazine and one day, to my surprise, a bronco busting scene made it into my "altered reality" fantasy novel. I'm thinking of a Native American western story though and I use a lot of those elements and twist them around into something useful for my purposes. Whatever that might be at the time!

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

A native American western episode might be a good thing to weave into your project.

This is the year of the Aboriginal writer and actor, it seems.
I just saw Adam Beach intereviewed on major, major Canadian television.

He was good in The Wind Talkers and is startlingly good as Ira Hayes,

Major grant money now available in Canada for aboriginal writers, especially for TV.

Ivan

Donnetta Lee said...

That's my Elizabeth! So proud to know her, read her, and count her as a friend and sister. God certainly smiled on me (and everybody else) when he made her! Enjoyed this piece so much. Good choice, Ivan!
Donnetta

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Donnetta,

Yep. One God's creations.
Not just a pretty face.

Her feline companion, Roo The Terror Cat is also a looker and is demanding equal time.

Ivan

TomCat said...

Ivan, I just started visiting Liz and had no idea she was this talented. Her attention to detail and folksy tone makes the scene come to life.

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

Ivan,

I remember when I first read this piece feeling happy and gld to know such fun things happened in childhoods.
I love reading everything she writes, because, like Joisie yet again, EA brings out the joy people want to remember even if they didn't have it to begin with. How wonderful of you to acknowledge her this way.

Ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Hi tomcat,

Thanks for visiting again.

Yeah, Liz. Ain't she something?

I can't for the life of me understand why this kind of talent is more often than not kept under a bushel.

I guess we're all a little bit success-shy.

(Every time I make ~or gigolo~ a
million dollars, I have to throw it all away so I can pick up butts and bum cigarettes off skateboard kids).

I guess in stock market terms, I play the S&M 500. Heh.

...I see by your blog that it's more Bush than bushel over there.
Keep up the good work.

Ivan

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Thanks, "Inside".

There are so many talented writers out there and you are one of them.

Art, of course sometimes exacts a real price.

I just got a note from Janet Harvey, another poet-- from Jamaica.
There is a terible hurricane just hitting Jamaica today...I was concerned. What if she was visiting "home"?
...But she wrote in from Florida, so I guess she'll be all right.


Ivan

EA Monroe said...

Ivan, I hope Janet is okay. We're getting a little hurricane rain here in OK this weekend. Nice showers -- not like the deluge we had in June!

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Liz,
Janet not in Jamaica, thank god.
Safe in Florid

There has been a terrible drought here in Central Onario. Farmers bitching and complaining, though some have irrigation.

No serious rain for five weeks.
Also hotter than Trevor Record with a video of Hermione Granger--sorry Trev. :).
It might take Hurricane Dean's backblow to finally give Ontario some rain Wed.

Ivan

Josie said...

Ivan, I just read Trevor's blog. He's an amazing writer too. And he's so young...!

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Josie,

A whole bunch of us think the kid is all right and we have said so on his blog.
His humourous screed is a lot like
Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto, but in a humorous vein--and old Karl wasn't ever known for his humour!
I am almost positive Trevor has never read the Manifesto, but he has produced one nevertheless, a manifesto against the fools who lead us, the people so steeped in realpolitik that they have lost their sense of reality.

Writing is a cutthroat business, you're always tripping over someone's ego, but I sincerely hope Trevor does well.
What a business to be in! Your chance of success is about the same as wining the 649.

Ivan

eric313 said...

Thanks for the welcome. Things are looking up. The car is still dead, but I may be going to MSU soon, instead of Wayne State. I still have chances and options that many don't ever get. I may be a nervous wreck at times, but it would be shameful to squander anything in life--whether it's wasting a shot to become a prof one day, or just wasting my meager talent by drifting away from my path because it got a little rough.

And EA's metaphor of constructing the treehouse has a new spin when re-reading it. Suddenly, it's about me right now. I need to just go get more wood and nails, that's it. May cost me, but it's better than longing for a treehouse and not doing a thing to earn it's natural comfort and escape from the din of life. So much better to work hard at something and persevere, and then enjoy the rewards--you know, fight for every scrap of recognition one can get. It sounds like it doesn't get easier after graduation, but at least I have the scouting report from you on that subject.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

eric313,

Our own late Margaret Laurence, no "local" writer, had a tree house in Ontario; Norman Mailer has some sort of loft where he writes.

I take it MSU is a notch up from Wayne State.

Some years ago, I was contemplating the very thing you are about to do. Was pondering my relative obscurity. I applied at Northwestern, was accepted by the late Dean Albert Sutton into their Master's Journalism program, but life got in the way.
When I was again ready for a move like this, Dr. Sutton was gone and the new dean wanted a whole bunch of stuff which included my parents' occupation, my grades at Ryerson Polytech here and my work at the University of Toronto.
Ivy League was acting very Ivy League!
I went instead to a satellite campus of the University of California...Not altogether a cool move, since I hear the very best programme in Creative Writing is right at Irvine, Los Angeles.
Anyway, I came back with an MFA when life again threw me a curve, but not before I regained my position as head of creative writing at Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology, Toronto area.
I was kind of a Bukowski sort of prof who often drank with his students.
This was a good thing or a bad thing. The Dean was not necessarily impressed.

Anyway, go and break a leg out there.
I am told by people in the Toronto publishing know that a PhD is just as rewarding as having a novel out; also helps to be something of a nerd.
I found in my university days that it was best to park my car and live close to the college. This, of course is probably not a practical decision in Detroit.

Luck on you.

Ivan

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

Ivan,

I agree there are many good writers here. Shameful that we cannot produce a magaine between a few of us here and get it circulating in both countries. Wouldn't that be a huge accomplishment, but then you are already into that field already aren't you.

Good to know that Janet is safe. Now if we can get Oklahoma and Texas to settle down a bit.

Josie said...

Ivan, Adam Beach is gorgeous...! If anyone hasn't heard of him, click on this link. I first saw him in an American movie called "Smoke Signals" and he was WONDERFUL.

He's a Saulteaux First Nations Canadian, and really easy on the eyes.

If anyone hasn't seen "Smoke Signals" rent it. Watch it. Amazing movie.

Cheers,
Josie

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Yes, Adam Beach. Great talent, great guy from what I get from CBC interviews.

Canadian (and American) First nations artists are coming to the fore.
I guess way back, there was Jay Silverheels, and even father back, Tom Longboat the great runner from
Brantford.And Robbier Robertson, wizard on the guitar, pal of Bob Dylan.
I wish we Ofays in Canadian Literature could get out act together.
Lately, it's been all grant money
and feeble product at the end.
Um, well. I'be had grant money. :)

Ivan

ivan@cretivewriting.ca said...

"Inside",

I have certainly produced a number of underground newspapers--and at one point, we made money.
Kind of a drag though, being your own adman sometimes and giving the businessman reasons why he should take out an ad.
And then some of the busines people would choke on their breakfast over the Allen Ginsberg-style copy some of us would put out.
Back in those days we had a team of young people and energy galore.
I am frittering away my energies these days.(Colonel Jack D. Ripper, from Dr. Stranglove "They want our body fluids, Mandrake.")

But overground is where the big bucks are.
I wanted out after I interviewed my third baton twirler, a real little champ, with broken teeth from the practising.
I think out late Mordecai Richler called it "The Orangeman's Flamenco."
Good for Mordy to say, but I had to make a living in those days.

I am in contact with only one magazine these days and they're into civic boosterism too. "That's the kind of stuff we want, Ivan."--More baton twirlers!

Ivan

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Hey, Sienna (Pam) has just come back from a Bob Dylan concert in Melbourne, Australia.
Says that even at 60+, Bob is incandescent! especially on keyboard and vocals. Pam says Bob's voice is deeper and groovier now.

Ivan

Josie said...

I saw Bob a couple of years ago. He was fabulous. Beyond words. He did my favorite 'Lay, Lady Lay'. I was in 7th Heaven.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Nice run of chords.

Evocative,seductive song.


Ivan

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