Saturday, March 14, 2009

Spring for me, but E. A Monroe did such a good job on her SUMMER DOLDRUMS memoir

by E.A. Monroe

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)


Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

This was wonderful. I could see it all as if I were watching it happen in front of me. Lazy days of childhood.
soft love,
T said...

Hi Tara,

Obviously we like it too.
I cant get over the quality.

ea monroe said...

Oh my gawd, Ivan. I can't believe that old senior picture is still floating around!

Popped over to see what kind of mischief you've been stirring up and what do I encounter? What a shocker! ;-)

I was just reading through this piece yesterday and thinking about posting it over on my myspace page. Oh the summer doldrums of nostalgia.

You're the best! Love ya! ~Liz

Charles Gramlich said...

Very nice. You can really feel the heat and the characters are very real. said...

Thanks, Charles.
Sure Liz would appreciate it.
I've had this story in my files for years and there was always a thrill when I read it again.
Heh. Eat your heart out, Dylan Thomas!...And Liz didn't know about Dylan Thomas' memories of his own childhood unti I pointed out a play or two. Original and very American!

Donnetta Lee said...

Of course this is one of my all time favorites. Yes, I know that girl! She and I had many adventures together. Whatchya think of those pretty eyes? She still got 'em! D said...


Elizabeeth was/is beautiful.
And beauty is as beauty does.
She writes beautifully.

--And you sling a mean pen yourself. said...


Also a looker. :)

the walking man said...

I think I could write an urban variation to this memoir of summer, but the kids would not be as innocent, the store owner would be arrested for food stamp fraud and the homeowners would greet the ghosties, goblins and gunslingers with the barrel of a shot gun.

I like Elizabeth's version better so I will leave the idea alone. said...

Well, Leonard Cohen waxed beautiful and poetic until he wrote "The Future". which sounded a lot like 911 before it actually,happened. Scarily prescient..
And Hank williams wrote Jambolaya before the Battle of Amu goten, which came before the end of his life.

Apocalypse seems all around now, but there are still tea and oranges that come all the way from China. Maybe bad tea and tainted oranges, but the poetry, the poetry. said...


MAD Magazine, always about thirty years ahead of "sanity", portrayed, in four colours,a future urban nightmare in 1968, while doing a riff on Sesame Street.
Murder and mayhem in the streets. They are making a porno movie upstrairs. Everybody has a mask on, including the dog, and Someone yells down through a window, "Hey, Cocaine Monster!"

benjibopper said...

Ivan and EA: really enjoy this piece - pretty sure I read it on EA's blog some time ago, enjoyed it then and still do. said...


Oh yeah. I remember asking Liz for permission to reprint the piece after it had appeared on her blog.
It somehow kept creeping up in my files and I was taken with it once again. One of these days--and it's a long way off, my hip pocket publishing company might be able to afford the paper and binding to put up a collection of Liz's stories. (Smiling devishly)--Maybe she'll even include a story or two of mine.

iv said...

p.s to Benji,

Than nice thing about electronics is that all Liz or I have to do now is google SUMMER DOLDRUMS, E.A. Monroe-- and voila, up it comes.
I guess being published by Google is something, though I have put myIsland Grove Press imprint up there to make the publishing legit.

benjibopper said...

a few writers have recently made a lot of money thanks to google's premiscuous lack of permissions.

if i can scrounge up a few hundred k i may start a publishing company some day too. said...


Write National Library, Ottawa.
They will walk you through and give you an ISBN number for any book you might publish. They are very good. Happy, goodnatured Frenchmen and women.
Thank God I'm not back in the U.S.S.R.! said...

p.s. to Benji,

I'm published by Google (of course) and a U.K. distributor called Abelard Books...I dasn't ask for money...Just glad for the exposure.

be said...

i'm reading
i'm slow
specially when it comes to foreign language on a screen......or maybe it's called impatience
just wanted u to know that
i'm reading
slowly said...

American english is a bit different from European english. More down-home.

It's in the America idiom best done by Flannery O'Connor, and to some extent, Carson McCullers, though Ms. McCullers used to write in short, declarative sentences, more the way, I'd imagine, a European (myself) would write.
For a fast and compelling read, I'd try "Balland of the Sad Cafe" by Carson McCullers. But she was from Georgia.
I do prefer Flannery O'Connor or even Willa Cather for that praire feel and idiom. I am postive Swedish people can relate. Wind howling through the plains and in the cold spring, hardly anything comes up.
I do believe we have a prairie writer in Ms. Monroe. I am convinced of it. Only one man, a Canadian, now way out of print, Hugh McLellan can come close to the way Liz writes. He wrote "As for me and My House", about an impoverished preacher in a bad marriage,in a drought-ridden, dying western Canadian town. I couldn's put it down some thirty years ago.
There has been no finer Canadian writer since, except possibly the late Margaret Laurence.
I guess I have an addiction to prairie writers. The flat landscape looking for all the world like a Polish flag, horizonal white over horizontal red or ochre--hard edge. The plain.
...And maybe some crippled girl in the foreground as in Andrew Wyeth's
Christina's World.

But Liz's story is so full of happy childhood memories that you almost want to move right in!
She and Dylant Thomas, that writer of the Welsh moors.

benjibopper said...

thanks ivan, good to know about the nat'l library.

be said...

thanx for the reading advices
when it comes to the language it's not so much how the american english is different from the's more about how english is different from swedish
;) said...


Yeah. I can dig it. People tell me that though I'm pretty hip and flip in english, the speech pattern is still Ukrainian.
Sort of like a Welshman talking english: "My sister you will not marry."