Frying Pan Green Tomatoes

We, the sisters, the daughters, try to go to Mom’s every Saturday to help with chores around the house. Jim’s not doing well right now (he’s sick, too. He thinks it’s leftover shingles, we think it’s a likely alien infestation in is body cavity but he thinks we don’t know what we’re talking about. Like we don’t read books and watch movies, or something. Sheesh) so he’s not quite as energetic as he had been.

Most days, we go over, do the chores, Jim makes us lunch, then we sit around and visit for awhile before finishing up and heading home.

Unrelatedish thought: You know, this is the best way to lose someone. That might sound like crap but I cannot begin to express how thankful I am that we get to spend this time with our mom as a family. She said she knows that she is loved and she hopes we know that we are, too. We do. We wouldn’t have had this had she not gone through chemo; it would have been really ugly. The ugly will still come but now we’ll be better prepared because we’ve had this time to buffer, to say the things we want to say, but, most importantly, just to be together and be a dysfunctional, loving family. It’s the end of the party for her but we all get to stand at the door and chit chat for a little while before she leaves and…man, it’s been amazing.

Back to the story: We kept telling the grandkids that it was important for us all to make good memories right now. I don’t think any of us bought into that, I think we were just trying to make this all a little less horrifying for the children. But you know what? We actually have done just that, enjoyed some shining moments.

The first happened early on. Mom hadn’t started chemo yet but she’d had her hair buzzed in order to prep for the hair-falling-out part. Noelle – and let me just take a minute to say that Noelle has hair vanity like you wouldn’t believe – wanted to do something to support Mom so she suggested we all buzz our own heads. We agreed. On the day we had planned to go baldish, our uncle Charlie, Mom’s brother, and aunt Paula came out for a visit. Uncle Charlie did the hair-butchery for us. He has three boys and a girl and he was in charge of keeping those boys buzzed up all summer long for many, many years. In other words, he was old hat at this game. Speaking of hats (and heads), Charlie and Paula brought pink ballcaps for us all to wear afterward, you know, so we wouldn’t burn our fragile skulls since they’d be mostly naked, and all. Thoughtful!

It turned out to be a fun day. Mom hated it, at first. She didn’t want her daughters to look like Marines. Now, though, she references that day and loves the pictures we took.

Before

Before

After

After

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Today was another memory-making day, though totally by accident.

Our chores included tearing the tomato plants out of the greenhouse and inspecting the bodies to find any tomatoes that hadn’t been hit by the cold snap. Most of them had been frostbitten, were holey and wormy, or were too underdeveloped to ripen on the windowsill. We put all those bad tomatoes in a bucket and decided to throw them over the fence for the fun of it. But then Noelle remembered how much she loved fried green tomatoes and how do you fry green tomatoes? IN A FRYING PAN! So Britt ran off to get the fying pan that lives in the sandbox and we started a game of Whack-a-mater. It’s like if you mix cricket (the game, not the bug) and tennis…only with tomatoes and a fying pan.

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It was such a random thing but we all had the best time laughing, getting tomato splatter all over ourselves, and enjoying each other’s company in the late autumn sunshine.

Had Mom and Jim been able to do the tomato-clearance themselves, this never would have happened but because it was our job, we made a delightful memory, one we’ll talk about for years.

These are the beautiful moments that will carry us all through.

 

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Haunted Highway

You know what I hate most about having lived such an amazing life? My memory is completely shot. Too many awesome things have happened to me and I can’t keep them all in my head. That’s going to mar today’s story somewhat. We can only hope April comes over here and helps to clear things up.

This eerie little tale takes place along the A1 in Australia! (Hi, Michelle! Your forests are creepy! Well, at least one of them.) For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to say these facts are true and accurate to the best of my recollection. In reality, I think I’m making 90% of this up because I can’t remember what really happened and I didn’t write it down anywhere, which is odd in itself. Obviously, something didn’t want me to tell this story.

April and I went to Australia and it was delightful. Except for the one night when it was terrifying.

We were driving The Golden Arrow (that was our rental car’s name) from Cairns to Sydney down the A1, over the Pacific Highway, along the Sunshine and Gold Coasts. Somewhere along the way, we stopped in a scary little hillbilly town in the backwoods for petrol and supplies and, from there, planned to drive until we found the next larger, not-scary town that would be able to provide a place to stay. We figured we’d just drive through the forest and when we came out the other side, it would be night, we would find a motel and we would rest our weary heads to start fresh the next day.

Oh how wrong we were.

We left the scary little hillbilly town a little before sunset, laughing about the gas station’s mostly-toothless attendant who was unintelligble to us, to me especially. April was able to figure out some of what he was saying after she made him repeat it a few times. Me? I never got it. We entered the forest, chortling and carrying on. It was lovely until it started to get dark.

Foggy Woods by Matthias via Flickr http://bit.ly/Foggywoods

Yeah, it started like this and then it just got worse. (photo from Flickr, courtesy Matthias https://www.flickr.com/photos/theowl84/)

As the light faded, the woods started getting thicker, deeper, darker and there wasn’t a bit of civilization in site, no signs telling us how far to the next town, nothing. I don’t remember which one of us was the first to crawl into the back (The Golden Arrow was a station wagon) for a nap. I think it was me. At any rate, by the time it was full-on dark, I was catnapping when, suddenly, the car swerved and April shrieked. Something had jumped out into the road to end its life and probably ours. April, though, amazing driver that she is, swerved and we all survived. The thing is, she didn’t know what it was. All she could say was that it was big and it didn’t look like any animal she recognized, not a kangaroo, not a moose, not a goanna. I didn’t think I’d be doing anymore sleeping so I slithered back up to the front seat and noticed that the trees were really crowding in and it was incredibly dark out there. A mist was creeping along the trunks and stepping gingerly onto the road. We passed something bloated and dead on the shoulder and to lighten the mood, we discussed it, settling on it being wombat road kill.

That didn’t really  help at all, though. There was something out there in the woods and we were miles from anywhere. There were no other cars on the dark, eerie two-lane road and the trees were bending over, just waiting to nudge us, prod us, send us caroming off into their trunks. There was constant peripheral movement, the mist clung as we passed through it, things were readying to jump at us as we crept through the dark.

It was like every horror movie. We expected the car, unreliable as it was, to break down and strand us, leaving us to the mercy of murderers and mythical monsters. We were so tightly strung, jaws clenched, eyes peering as hard as they could to see beyond the murky light cast by the headlamps. The road started sucking at the tires, pulling us off and into the trees. April slowed down but slowing down meant it was easier for whatever was out there to catch us. We were breathing hard, our hearts beating too fast. April was fighting to keep the car on the blacktop. She told me to keep talking, do not stop talking. But what can you talk about when you’re traveling through a nightmare?

That road, that forest, the dark and the mist, the jumpy animals and serial killers, it all went on forever. We drove and drove through the night, terror mounting with every kilometer. The constant thrum of fear bore down upon us as the mist drifted through slow-ink dark and we drifted down a lonely, forgotten stretch of highway.

I don’t know how we made it out. As the sun began to come up and the world began to turn gray, smoky, quiet, we finally emerged from the longest night of our lives. Once we were clear of that horrible, haunted forest, I took the wheel and April took the back for some much-needed sleep. We had made it out alive.

Looking at Google Maps, I would guess the forest in question would probably be Toolara State Forest, Beerburrum/Beerwah State Forests, Devils Pulpit State Forest (based solely on the name. This forest isn’t actually big enough to have taken us so many hours to drive through), or Glenugie State Forest. But your guess is as good as mine. Wherever it was, I don’t recommend driving through at night after making fun of toothless hillbillies.

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The cold soiled doves

This story makes me feel like maybe I’ve gone insane. I keep trying to find source material and I can’t, nothing exists. Maybe I dreamt it all?

When I was 13, my extended family was out for a visit. We took them to Cripple Creek, a favorite destination for visitors even before it was a gambling town.

On this particular trip, we decided to visit a whorehouse. There were more than one brothel in Cripple Creek’s heyday; now there’s only one remaining, the famous one. That’s not the one we visited. The one we went to was off the main drag (Bennett) to the southwest. It was in back of a much larger building and there was a weedy lot next door. It was a two-story red brick affair and it didn’t look like much.

There were tours of this old pleasure  house on weekends so we signed right up. I believe our group consisted of my large family and another smaller family. The tour commenced, the kids were bored and the adults were just happy to be out of the heat. However, once the stories started, we were all captivated. The rooms were roped off; we could only stare in from the hallways as we heard about the happenings throughout the house. It was exciting and interesting. I remember the wallpaper, handmade and opulent. Imagine making wallpaper!

Colorado soiled dove

Upstairs, we viewed the girls’ rooms, heard tales, and when we came to one room at the end of the hall, my mom stopped. My sister stopped. My grandmother stopped. They all lingered. Finally my grandmother and sister moved along and I joined Mom at the little fence in the doorway, peering around her to see what was so interesting. It was just another room. Mom said, “Do you notice how cold it is in here?” and I said, “Not really.” She said, “This room should be hot. It’s a late midsummer afternoon on the second floor of a brick building that’s had sun shining on it all day. This room should be much warmer than it is.” I rolled my eyes and moved along.

The tour was soon finished and a new one had begun; we listened to the other tourress begin her story. Our delightful guide, a retired woman who loved Cripple Creek history, bade her group members farewell. My mother lingered, as did my grandmother. Our guide, seeing no one else in the room, told them they were correct – the upstairs room was cold. A girl had died of a belladonna overdose in that room. There had been a murder in there, as well. I don’t remember if the man killed the woman or the woman killed the man but someone had died violently and restless spirits remained.

Colorado soiled dove

One of Colorado’s soiled doves.

My mother looked at me smugly. I hurried out of the whorehouse.

I went back years later when I was in my 20’s. The building had been torn down to accommodate parking for the new gambling hordes. Only The Homestead House remained. I cannot find mention of my brothel anywhere. Was it just a dream?

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Happy October First!

I’m going to skip the part where I make excuses for my long absence and, instead, jump straight into the meat of things: It is time for HALLOWEEN!

That means it is time for stories and this all crept up on me, despite my watchfulness, so my first ghost story is going to be one that is short and sweet, though a little sad.

I’ve mentioned a time or two that ghosts and I don’t exist on the same plane. I can’t see them, feel them, hear them, sense them. They pass right through me (haunted humor – I’m hilarious) and I am unaware.

Except for this one time.

To back up: A couple of weeks before I was born, my grandmother’s Siamese cat had kittens, a whole litter of ‘em. After I was born, my mom and I lived with my grandparents so the kittens and I were raised together. No joke.

Because these kittens were made to be sold, they all found new homes pretty quickly. One was kept for me. They named him Chopin. Apparently, he and I got on quite well and the Household felt we should grow up together and so we did.

When Chopin and I were around 12, he came down with Feline Leukemia and was put to sleep. Well, not all in one day, but it did all happen in a short span of time.

I’d gone to school knowing my cat was sick and I came home to find no cat at all. That was a really hard day, probably the worst of my life up to that point. It still rates in the top 10.

I cried myself to sleep that night. I was so lonely. My bed companion, a constant for my entire life, was gone. There was an empty, cold space where he would have slept. It was horrible.

But then, in the wee, dark hours of the morning, I woke up for no reason. The moonlight was seeping in, I could hear my sisters breathing in their part of the room, and I felt Chopin jump onto my bed. I looked for him and he wasn’t there but all the same, he walked up my side, sat down and purred. I pet him, pet where he was supposed to be and I couldn’t feel him but I could feel him. There was no warmth, no fur, no softness but I could trace his outline all the same. He purred. I cried. And then he was gone. Forever.

He came to tell me goodbye.

Not all ghost stories are scary.

Tonight, I am going to start my cider. I will figure out how to put my Halloween costume together. I will revel in the beginning of my most-favorite season and I think I’m going to take a moment to thank Chopin, my cat, for taking such good care of me.

Welcome to October, my friends. The fun begins!

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Promises, tears, and magic

Remember back when I won a book on Goodreads and it led to me accidentally working with an author?

On May 13th, that manuscript, the one I got to read and puzzle over and love – it was published.

Suzy (I call her that cuz we’re tight, remember?) and I probably shot pieces of this book back and forth over the course of four or five months? Let’s call it six because that makes it sound like we did half a year’s worth of hard work and let me tell you, writing is hard work. She’s a total hack-n-slasher; she’ll remove entire sections, if necessary, in order to make her story go the right way. It’s like she is all the forces of nature wreaking havoc upon her poor characters but the result is amazing. In turn, her early readers are like FEMA workers in that they have to see what the lay of the land looks like after the restructuring. We’re responsible for testing the new spots, making sure everything fits together, sometimes reading the same thing over and over again. It’s a lot of work and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed or taken as seriously any other project in my entire grown-up life.

Anyhow, when time was up and she had to relinquish her baby to the publishing house, she told me I’d been a big help. I don’t know how much I believed her – my opinions are only opinions, after all – but it was nice to hear nonetheless. She reaffirmed she was going to put me in the acknowledgements, something she’d said a million times already, but this time she said I would be first. Again, I don’t know that I fully believed her because I know I get overly-enthusiastic about stuff from time to time and make promises only to forget them later. She asked me how I wanted my name to appear and if I wanted her to say anything specific. I said I wanted my full name because I’m vain and no one would be able to doubt it was me she was acknowledging but, otherwise, she could say whatever she wanted. Then I promptly forgot about all of this. Well, not forgot but it sort of went to my background consciousness.

As the publication date drew closer, I started hyping the book to co-workers, friends, and family, using the “You should buy this book because I’ll be in the acknowledgements” line but even then, I don’t think I really knew what that meant until April 18th when Suzy announced on Facebook that the pre-order was live and that if you went to Amazon and did the “Look inside!” trick, you’d see the people she’d tagged in the acknowledgements. I did as instructed and then died.

Talk about making good on promises.

People, when you say you’re going to do something, do it big like Suzanne Palmieri. I cannot tell you what this did to me (but I’m going to anyway).

Here’s the book:

Go get this book. If this isn't your kind of story, buy it as a gift for someone else. Just go get it.

Go get this book. If this isn’t your kind of story, buy it as a gift for someone else. Just go get it.

And here’s the Acknowledgements page which is right at the beginning:

Yes. That's me. The very first acknowledgement, just as promised.

Yes. That’s me. The very first acknowledgement, just as promised.

Not only am I first, but I have my own sentence. Two of them, actually. If you read the book, you’ll appreciate the sweetness of “shine,” too.

When I saw this, I cried. Not pretty little tears trickling down my cheek at a beautiful pace. No, it was the out-n-out snotty nose, puffy eyes cry, the Ugly Cry. You would think ugly-crying would not be the proper response to finding out you were mentioned with gratitude in a book and got a place of honor surrounded by swirly, lovely words but the thing is, not only had I not been expecting something this big, this special, but about ten days earlier, I had found out my mom has cancer and I’d been in a bad place ever since. So seeing this was a gift, a hug, a bit of love on the wind coming to give me comfort during a turbulent bit of life. Yes, of course, part of my joy was centered around my vanity – who doesn’t want to see her name in print, right? But it was more than that, two things more, to be precise.

One: My mother was going to be able to see this before she dies. I owe her and her mother, ZZ, credit for my reading addiction. Because they showed me how to love words, my name gets to live with words. My mom always wanted to be a novelist but never got around to it. I think she has the same hope for me but even if I never make it, this is close. I loved seeing her smile when I gave her this book and she read those words. I can keep that with me forever.

Two: Praise is a wonderful thing but, for me, it’s what’s behind the praise that means the most. I know that I helped Suzy, that I gave her a piece of me and she was able to weave my thoughts and suggestions into her story, that she was able to take what we all gave her and she made something that was already good into something absolutely…well…magical.

I feel the shine. Can’t you?

The Witch of Belladonna Bay is available at Barnes & Noble, Target, Amazon, and other fine book retailers or you can order it through your local bookstore. Can’t buy it? Try the library!

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