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 Memory Marks

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PostSubject: Memory Marks   Sun Jul 15, 2012 6:15 pm

The Big Red Barn on the side of Highway 101 has always been a reminder of my grandma. It sits on the corner of the highway and the long country lane which leads to her home. Here, nestled in the midst of a black oak forest in the Watsonville/Salinas hills, my grandpa built the house after all of their children had grown. Even so, this five acre plot of land has been a central gathering place for our family.

Every Easter, from the time I was born until I married, was spent here searching for eggs. Mom and Dad packed us into the car after Sunday morning church and off we went to grandma’s house. Inevitably all of us children fell asleep and woke up just in time to see the Big Red Barn. Eager to escape the car and dirty our Easter best, we shouted for joy as the car turned onto the steep country lane. Pictures were taken quickly. The extra clothes were then dragged from the car so the pretty dresses would have a better chance of survival. Only then were the children allowed to romp while the adults prepared the enormous dinner.
Christmases were spent here as well. We frolicked in the house due to the lower temperatures and higher likelihood of five acres of mud waiting outside. Shouts of exasperation pursued us from the kitchen to wherever we might try to flee. After a huge meal, we gathered in the otherwise forbidden White Room. Entrance too early rattled grandma’s nerves for fear of her white carpets and glass coffee table. Presents labeled “From Santa” were passed out and opened. We always ran to grandma and grandpa to thank them for the gifts. They never fooled anyone, we knew from whose pocketbook the gifts originated.

Summers were spent here a week at a time. Grandma usually cooked our favorite breakfast, fresh poached eggs from the chicken coop and toast. On cold mornings, grandma poured a little coffee in our hot cereal. That’ll warm you up inside. We learned how to ride the horse, Pepperina, and helped grandpa feed her in the morning. During the day, we played in her trough and tried to catch the goldfish which lived in her water tank. One summer we helped grandpa and Shawna build a tree house. For many summers afterward, we would play Robinson Crusoe, or “The Russians are Coming!” Alas, the fort was overrun by poison oak and abandoned to the threat of black widow spiders. In the evenings we went on walks with grandpa. He pointed out deer, hawks, and the rodents that crossed our path. When we returned home, he read us stories about wild animals, perhaps one we had seen that evening. At the end of the story there was always a parallel to God, either in a characteristic of the animal or the circumstances in which the animal found itself.

Grandma’s house provided the backdrop for all kinds of memories; adventure, tragedy, drama, comedy and even horror. On our trips home from family events, I used to close my eyes in fright as we descended the country lane under the cover of night and the even darker tree limbs. When I did open my eyes, I saw giant arms with long spindly fingers reaching to engulf our family van and drag it into the forest. Quickly, I shut my eyes only to open them, after falling asleep, in the safety of our driveway.

When I was in the fourth grade, we went on a field trip to Mission San Juan Baptista. Because the mission was a mere fifteen minutes from grandma’s house. Mom arranged for our entire class to have lunch and spend the rest of the afternoon on the property. That afternoon, my classmates were introduced to the country girl I was at heart. I introduced Pepperina to the class, demonstrated my skill on the hand-swing, and led them on expeditions through the woods. I wonder how many of them brought home the souvenir of poison oak.

In Grandma’s front yard, they installed a beautiful wooden gazebo. Beneath this structure, two of my aunts were married. I wanted to carry on this tradition, but circumstances dictated otherwise and I was married in a church in the middle of winter. As far as traditions go, it is healthier for my marriage that I did not wed under the gazebo, for both marriages that began there ended relatively soon afterward.

My uncle spent the last year of his life in this house. The spring of 1990, he spent withering away on a hospital bed in the downstairs bedroom. His condition was caused by the combination of having AIDS and the complications of his constant battle with pneumonia. We visited him that Easter when we went to grandma’s house. The festivities were not at all similar this time, for the Easter Bunny himself was lying in bed dying. We gathered around his bed and sang some of the songs we had heard in church that morning, some well-known Easter songs and a few songs Mom knew he liked as a child. If he could stand, he would have measured six feet, but his eighty pounds only left room for his skeleton, his internal organs and his skin. Tears filled all eyes as we sang of the Resurrection and gave him hugs and kisses goodbye. The tears rolling down his sunken cheeks were the only indication that he had heard us, for by this time; he could not move or even speak. A few days later and a week before his birthday, Grandma called and told us he had died. He would have been thirty years old.

My cousin, Shawna, had lived at Grandma’s for a number of years, sometimes with her mother and sometimes without. Once, I was allowed to go to school with her. At the end of the school day, the school bus dropped us off at the big red barn. Shawna enlightened me as to the flea market nature of the barn. We started up the long road towards Grandma’s house. Though the road cannot be longer than a few miles, the journey seemed to take all afternoon. We stopped at the mailboxes to retrieve the mail. We passed several small ponds and crossed a quaint stream which connected them. We picked berries and fruit from the trees and bushes that hung over fences. We climbed the last steep hill walking backwards, in order to give our quadriceps a rest. We were ready for the snack grandma had prepared and waiting for us at our destination, the porch swing.

Many years later, my then boyfriend and I were on our way to Christmas dinner at grandma’s house when we got lost and ended up running out of gas just as we reached the Big Red Barn. At 10:00 PM, on Christmas Eve, no gas station had been open for hours. So we got out and started to walk that little country road. No lights, no cars, and nobody was around - only us, the black oaks and the creatures who live in them. The journey reminded me of the trip taken with my cousin and I pictured the road as it was in the daylight. Hand in hand, we talked of memories, family, and future plans. The conversation was delightfully distracting and the trek translated easily into a midnight walk in the park. Until, we reached the last hill. Suddenly all the fears and nightmares born from these trees and this lonely stretch of road, resurfaced and took my breath away. Poor Chris’ arm must have been encircled by bruises from my fingers. That night, I was forced to open a part of my heart I would have never willingly allowed him to see. He stepped into the closet of my fears and chose to love me anyway. When we arrived at the house, everyone else had left and so we feasted ravenously on the remains of dinner. One year later, we combined our hopes, dreams, memories and even fears and were married.

I walk this road again not as a child but as a mother, not as one insecure in a relationship but as one rooted in the foundation of a commitment. For years Grandma and Grandpa have owned a piece of property in Colorado. Now, grandpa wants to return to his roots and Grandma wants to fulfill a dream. No one knows if this the last time a family gathering will be held here, in these woods on these hills. I have changed and the world has changed around me, but this road and the Big Red Barn at its origin has not. As I hike, I wonder if any of Grandma’s knickknacks will find themselves for sale in the landmark at the corner of the highway. If and when Grandma and Grandpa leave, I know that I will always have my memories, my pictures and the Big Red Barn.
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Lora
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PostSubject: Re: Memory Marks   Mon Jul 16, 2012 2:24 pm

I love all the little snapshots of childhood at the grandparent's house and the big red barn. You did a great job of describing it and the environment. I could picture the woods and the black oak trees. One can get a little sense of the warmth of family and endearing childhood memories. I could picture the little things like the following scene. It made me chuckle.

Eager to escape the car and dirty our Easter best, we shouted for joy as
the car turned onto the steep country lane. Pictures were taken
quickly.

If you wanted to make this story touch the reader even more, consider adding dialog and rounding out some of the characters in this story. For example, you could put into dialog for some of the shouts of exasperation that were actually spoken in the following sentence:

Shouts of exasperation pursued us from the kitchen to wherever we might try to flee.

And you could give grandma and grandpa a voice in the following parts of the story:
On cold mornings, grandma poured a little coffee in our hot cereal. That’ll warm you up inside.
We learned how to ride the horse, Pepperina, and helped grandpa feed her in the morning.

I couldn't make out who Shawna was in this part of the story, so I wasn't able to connect to it as much as I wanted to. I would have also loved to hear the details of what actually happened when you helped build the tree house.
One summer we helped grandpa and Shawna build a tree house.

I think this part of the story is your meat and potatoes, so-to-speak. It adds tension and really gives the reader something to sink his/her teeth into. I realize that these things happened a long time ago, and it might make it a little difficult to remember the details, but it's a great opportunity to reconnect with family members and ask questions to get more detail to add to the story.
His condition was caused by the combination of having AIDS and the complications of his constant battle with pneumonia.

The following sentence was a little confusing. I couldn't figure out what the "flea market nature" of the barn was. It's also a great opportunity to give us some back and forth dialog between you and your cousin.
Shawna enlightened me as to the flea market nature of the barn.

Here's another great opportunity for some back and forth dialog:
That night, I was forced to open a part of my heart I would have never willingly allowed him to see.

If you really wanted to bring this one home, you might consider making each snapshot of a scene in this story it's own chapter and describe specific moments, put in dialog, express the characters and their qualities more. At this point, the reader doesn't know what anyone in the story looks like, if they had any peculiar qualities about their personalities, behaviors, or appearance. Consider adding more detail to fill all five senses of the reader, sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. What did that hot cereal with a little bit of coffee taste like anyway? I can picture the kids flying off the walls after a shot of that stuff. LOL

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PostSubject: Re: Memory Marks   Tue Jul 17, 2012 9:46 pm

Yes, we were an obnoxious bunch, even without the coffee.

I am finding that dialogue is a difficult thing for me to put into my writing. Being rather a introverted and introspective person, dialogue is a hard thing for me to master in real life, let alone in ink.

I will post another story which has a lot of dialogue in it, at least for me. wink

Kristen
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