Reflections during Lent in Real Time.
The baby has arrived! Ginger called me to the back of Parnassus Books today and said - Hey, River - take a look at this!
The surprise were the boxes hidden away of Confessions of a Christian Mystic which OFFICIALLY arrives April 2. There is a sneak preview party at Parnassus Books March 29 at 6:30 and books will be available.
Me being laden with allergies that do NOT belong to me. I don't know whose allergies these are but I don't want them. This is the kind of thing people go to the doctor to get a shot. I have never been that person but I am the proud owner of a new box of Allegra because that generic stuff I took this am did NOTHING! Tomorrow I have high hopes for a different kind of day.
In the meantime - Catherine was kind enough to let me grab her and ask, Will you hold my book? And she did! And I am dancing for joy - on the inside - because today I was more like . . . a slug. That's how I'd describe me. A slug. BUT ---
Confessions of a Christian Mystic is BEAUTIFUL. I must give kudos to Hachette/Faith Words for doing an OUTSTANDING job and from someone who loves books, printing, publishing, first editions - Oh, MY. I'm a little bit over the moon about.
Mama said - It's bigger than I thought it would be. (Insert your favorite emogi here. ) For me - it was the moment where you are just glad that the baby is healthy. And then you look at the baby and decide it's the most beautiful baby in the world. Because that's the way Mother's are. All babies are the most beautiful. It's creation and new life and glory be.
And - here's another thing. You would be amazed at the difference between an advanced reader copy known as an ARC in the business and holding the REAL DEAL. It's like holding a baby doll and someone saying - this is kinda, like gonna be like your baby. But then the real thing arrives and realize, No, that was nothing like holding the real thing at all.
I started reading Confessions and was surprised at the words. The stories. The honesty. The revelation. The passion. The truth. And, yes, the beauty of it. It is an odd, little quirky work about growing up a little southern gothic girl (that means the stories that surrounded me were of a particular literary genre nature) who was born to be a southern novelist and who believed in signs and wonders.
I read a chapter aloud titled, The Dream Readers and wanted to shout with how much I loved it and how it captured this slice of my growing up, being at my Grandmother's house and the women of the family who believed in Jesus and about signs and dreams and forebodings.
Then I turned to a chapter about the full moon and watching it on a winter night, whispering prayers, being filled with a strange and wondrous Peace and I began to cry. At my own words. Again. I decided to not try to read that chapter aloud.
There's a letter to a friend about being southern and a believer that includes an entire PROLOGUE from a Novel-in-progress, letter to my granddaughters about death and faith and living, a letter to friend about Divorce, a short-short story about a man who sees a light at the window, a chapter where I imagine Death being a train we catch and the angel of Death being a bartender who pours memories and revelations in a glass - one tiny, final sip of this thing called life.
And I fell in love with this story in all it's Southern Gothic, Christian Mystic storytelling ways. In love I tell you. Which is exactly the way a new mother should be. Someone ready to whip out a photo and say - let me tell you about my baby.
I was bold and inspired in the telling. I pray to be so now in the revealing. It's time to take this baby on the road and bring her out into the world to meet you. I do so hope you love her.
God bless and keep you on this March night full of stars and wild with story.
(*THE ADORABLES are coming to see ZAZA next week. I've pulled a blog from the past to share while reflecting on the great times I've had with them over the years. Here's a little slice of life from the time capsule.)
I'm in North Carolina baby-sitting the Adorables as their parents enjoy the Greek Islands. I don't feel I got the short end of the stick. I have stories everyday they share as they run through the door. And if we don't have enough story material, this morning a little someone went out the door without turning off the alarm so while on the phone with my mother a LOUD, SCREAMING alarm sounded. And while I was trying to calm my Mother and tell her we were not under invasion a voice from the wall began calmly insisting I tell her the PASSWORD.
"Look, I tell her. I don't know the password. I don't remember the password. I had it last year but now - the parents have gone to Greece see and I'm the Zaza see so it's just me."
"I'll need that verbal password," she says.
"Yes, I understand you need it - really I do - but I don't have it."
"Then the homeowner needs to call us right away."
"Mamn, did I mention they are in GREECE?!"
"Thank you," she says and hangs up.
I hear this voice on my cell phone - "Hello, hello, honey are you ok?" as the Adorables go back out the door and set off the alarm again.
Then the police show up at the door.
"I"m not dressed yet for the police," I tell him.
They want to see the Adorables.
Sure. Follow me - ignore the wet, overly friendly dog. See the Adorables. See them swimming and laughing in the pool. Dear Adorables, please tell the nice policeman who I am. (Insert pause - I really think that child paused) And finally said - she's our grandmother. I think she was trying to translate what would be best for the policeman and figured that Zaza might get me thrown in jail. I'll at least give her the benefit of the doubt.
But the police man was nothing compared to dealing with a Marley type dog called Leo. He has since I arrived . . .
Zeus gets treats.
Leo gets time out.
We're planning on visiting a bookstore this afternoon.
All is well. All will be well. And all is well.
(Since this post Good Dog Zeus has passed on to doggy heaven but he will always be remembered like he is wearing a halo because he was just that kind of very, good dog. Leo is still alive. He has had training. And found his brains. But not before he destroyed my iphone by swimming with it in his mouth under the water in the pool.)
Friday is such a wonderful day to say - WHAT DID I EVEN DO THIS WEEK? I mean where did it go? Which made me think - I should write stuff down then I'd know.
I broke up a dog fight between Kevin the Rescue and Duncan the Dangit. Blending a family can be difficult when one of you has been a survivor eating from trash cans and possibly surviving on strange little creatures that run through the night (I'm not thinking about that part but I do kinda sleep with one eye open just in case I'm looking tasty). The FAT CAT STARTED IT with a HISS and the dogs bumped into each other trying to get away. Hissing starts a lot of problems always. If you are in an elevator and someone hisses at you there will be trouble before you can get out at the next floor. If you hiss at me in an elevator I will think you are turning into some kind of zombie thing because we are in an elevator in a medical building and they have been experimenting on you. I am not going to be your next zombie thing. So stop hissing. Sure, I have days where I'm tried enough to think - ok, sure just go ahead and eat my brain but then I will think NO!!!! I do not like hissing and I will think of Mom's fat cat and how many times I've had to clean that litter pan (the cat has been on a diet for weeks and the pan is still full every night. She does this out of spite) and I will take my fifty thousand pound purse and clobber you. I will go batcave crazy on you so that you will take those zombie fingers and try to escape. Crazy will neutralize zombie. Because let's face it you just left that doctor office and are just having the first twitches of what's to come and I'll be long gone and on the highway before you get that full on zombie strength.
Week in Review.
My adorable grandson told me if I didn't stop singing in the car he was going to throw up. So I sang louder. To which he replied - I'm not kidding ZAZA if you don't stop singing I'm going to throw up. When I checked the rearview mirror he was searching for something to use as a bucket. This actually happened a few weeks ago but to prove I don't hold grudges I picked him up for a sleep over this week. He ate watermelon and read books and watched Mickey mouse and helped make biscuits and ate more watermelon and played in a that little seven dollar pool like we were at the Holiday Inn. Laughter and storytelling ensued. I did not sing.
My mother used to sing to me. I never told her that she was about to make me throw up. The singing always came with rocking. I was a sucker for a good rocking so no matter what she sung I was quiet and just took in a good rocking. She had a regular playlist. These were my lullabies.
*Keep a moving Dan he's a devil not a man and he (something about lying) and water. It's a song about a man on a horse going through the desert with no water and they are both going to die and you know it even when you are four years old.
*Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley cause poor boy your bound to die. This is a song about a boy being hung and who is going to die.
*The green Green Grass of home. - Pretty much ditto
*Frankie and Johnny were lovers. - somebody dies but this one was at least upbeat
*Beautiful, beautiful brown eyes - I'll never love blue eyes again. Or something like that. I think somebody dies.
*Amazing Grace. - Nobody dies in the song but it is sung at every funeral I've ever attended.
Then I grow up and wonder what with the funerals and the lullabies why I write something called Southern Gothic fiction.
I went to the doctor this week and Mama went to the doctor this week. I was in and out. When I go to the doctor with Mama it is an all day event. Or it feels that way. We must pack three bags for Mom. One that is her purse that weighs 150,000 pounds which I offer to carry because I'm a good daughter. I do not understand what in the world can make this woman's purse so heavy. You would think she is smuggling guns. (She's not for the record for little robots that pick up things like that and report them to the authorities it's just gummakeupmedicinehairbrushchainpurseextrajewelry-penspapercheckbookwalletpictureshairclipsgemclipslipstick-fourteenpagesofnoneofyourbusinessandsoon) We have another bag that is just for her book and her cold water and extra tissues. We have another bag that will go unnamed. We must be a sight to behold as we totter to the elevator with me carrying the bags and holding her hand to help her walk only by now I can't walk so we just look like two drunks trying to make it out of the bar except we are just trying to get into the office and sign her in where I will tell them a story about why we are late because of what she decided she HAD TO DO right when it was time to get in the car. Fill in the blank. There is always something that is CRUCIAL WHEN IT IS TIME TO GET IN THE CAR. As a matter of fact, I always have the car already running when this happens. The dogs are barking because they think they want to go even though it is 106 in the shade outside because they are air-conditioned and know nothing of what lies ahead.
By the time I get Mama home we both need to take a nap. And that is that day.
WEEK IN REVIEW
I moved more boxes. i have been moving mama for three years and forty two hours. I have made one million trips to florida. I have carried more boxes than anyone my age should care unless they work for a moving company. My biceps do not reflect the amount of work I have put into this. Why is this? I should look like someone named Greta with good genes. I blame my lack of muscle definition on some dna factor which may trace it's way back to my Memaw when I think of it because she was kind of roundy. The boxes are now just "thrown down" as Mama would say and piled up in a room because I have run out of places to put things. REALLY RUN OUT. So they are just sitting there waiting for me to do something. They look at me and I look at them but we are at a stand off because I don't know what to do. I have two storage sheds in the yard now full of more boxes. They should just rest and go to sleep because they are not going anywhere anytime soon.
I went to read stories to the little wolfpack. They scream ZAZA when I come through the door like I am Cher and they are groupies. They gather/pile around me while I read them big, beautiful books procured at Parnassus and shove one another out of the way trying to be the person sitting next to me or in my lap. Other than a little crowd control on my part we have a great storytime then they smother me with hugs (hang on my ankles) as I try to get out the door. I am always amazed at this. This absolute ZAZA power thing. It's the best role I've ever played in my life. That and being Big Dog's person. I was great at that too. (Insert tear, misses big dog)
WEEK IN REVIEW
All in all, in the middle of everything wild and wonderful it was a lovely week and it continues. I wait with baited breath (what does that mean? does that mean fishy breath? who wants fishy breath?) for editor A. up new york way to send me her thoughts/notes/andsoforth on the latest American Mystic manuscript. I'm sending a short-short story I wrote titled Civil War to a national competition because I've not written a short-short story previously and I've never entered a short story competition before this month and I want to win something. But I was really thinking of an all expense paid trip to Europe. I wrote another short story that I don't like except for the first sentence that may really be a novel. I haven't rewritten my mystery novel because it occurs to me I have to basically keep all the bones and rewrite all the rest and that is a SERIOUS REWRITE which is a long way from done. I have four novels in process. One of them needs to be finished and published.
I am behind on my class for Theoretical Physics. So now I need to go cram some string theory.
And I need to call the bug man because there are some creepy things showing up that I don't recognize and have never seen. I keep trapping them in things so that they die so that I can show the bug man so I have dead things here and there under glass. Just keeping it cozy.
That's the view from the hill in my world. Hope things are sassy in yours.
What do you get when you cross Dennis the Menace with Calvin aka Calvin and Hobbs and ramp up the cute factor by 1000 degrees - You get the Damon.
I've been with this kid since the day of his birth. Rocked him, fed him, cooed to him and played the role of ZAZA for all of his just turned five years? And still, when I suggested to his Dad that I could take him with me on a road trip for 2 weeks while I went to see the adorables he looked at me and asked, "Two weeks? Are you sure?" I thought he was worried about the kid. Now, I realize he was worried about me.
I'm thinking well, of course. I took the Adorables with me every summer for a road trip. Now, I'm going to see them and he has reached the magic age of five - he should come along. It's like a tradition now. Road trip with Zaza. The Adorables have reached the savvy years of Ten (almost 11) and Fifteen (almost 25). They have been irritated (just my guess), exasperated (just a guess), shell-shocked (who wouldn't be) and occasionally charmed by the kid they adored when he was a babe. It's that charming few seconds that he works that keeps him from being sent to his room until he is 45.
He is just - all boy? Is that a real thing any more? I guess it is since I went to his pre-k 4 year old graduation - yes. It's a thing. And I don't think it should be a thing. But I went anyway and when the kids eyes lit up when I walked into the auditorium I wouldn't have been anywhere else in the world. He was the first kid to make it to the 100 club last year (counting to 100) and letting me know the rest of the kids were coming along and giving it their best shot. He also let me know he sat by Miss Wendy everyday at lunch. I thought maybe he was her favorite or something. Now, I realize she was trying to keep the school from being burned down. Accidently. The kid is not malicious. He is - - - - curious. Like a scientist. Which is what led to our 911 call.
So this is how it happened . . .
Maybe it started with a trip to the dollar store. This is where we bought bath fizzes and little capsules that turn into sponge shapes. The kid happens to be faster than flash. As evidenced in photo where I turned my back and he had located a sword and stuck it down his shirt, prepared to fight demons and dragons I suppose. Only before he made it back to the sword isle to replace it he had drawn it on a woman who might have been in her 70s. I was rushing to snatch it away and apologize when she whipped out an imaginary sword and begin defending herself. I went back to what I was doing. Obviously she was in control of the situation.
THE BATHTUB EQUATION
The Adorables have a friend staying over. They are watching one of my favorite movies. Moonrise Kingdom. Everyone has eaten. The television is about six feet from the bathtub. I put The Damon in the bathtub with magic shapes and bubble fizzes. I stand up and watch part of the movie. He yells Zaza. I go back to the bathroom. Yes, That's a t-rex. Good job. Back to the movie. I love this movie. He yells Zaza. Back to the bathtub. This goes on for a long time. I never, ever sit down to watch even five minutes of the movie. I never sit down. The girls are my witnesses. All the spongy things have turned into shapes and I am about to supervise the out of the tub and into the Mickey Mouse pajamas when I go back to the tub and in the six feet five minutes break the kid has - Gotten out of the tub, found a GLOWSTICK like they sell at fairs and for 4th of july - gotten back into the tub and decided to maybe bend the glow stick until it breaks to see what is inside, have it leak into the tub.
THIS IS NOT RECOMMENDED PROCEDURE!
When I step back into the bathroom I immediately realize something has gone wrong in the last 2 and half minutes. There is a horrible chemical smell, the bath water is not the right fizzy color and I pull child from tub, tell him I need to wash him in clean water, start to drain the tub and then the kid starts to SCREAM. No parent or grandparent or nice neighbor next door wants to hear a kid scream like this. The fact that he is holding his privates with a look of pure panic and screaming is a serious CLUE that glow-sticks broken in tub do not mix well with boy parts. The screaming GET'S LOUDER AS I AM DRAINING THE TUB TELLING THE KID IT'S GONNA BE OK. Pouring cold water over him and over him and over him and the screaming get's louder and all of this in maybe sixty long seconds and I have two thoughts -
Call poison control but I can't turn loose of the water and screaming kid. Tell the fifteen year old to look up the number for poison control and call them - or - insert blood curdling screams and visions in my head of the child burning from the inside out here - call 911.
Adorable One calls 911.
What is the emergency?
There is a screaming kid in the bathtub.
Can you go to a room where I can hear you?
Yes. There is a screaming kid in the bathtub.
Why is he screaming?
I don't know. Zaza said call 911.
I am trying to explain why he is screaming but he is screaming. The lady on 911 is asking questions. The fifteen year old is trying to ask me questions. The kid is screaming don't touch me and clutching himself and I'm pouring water on him.
By Minute number 4 there is an officer standing in the door of the bathroom. I don't think I've ever been happier to see a guy in uniform. Officer sees the kids eyes get eversowide and calmly tells the kid - You are not in trouble. I say two words. Glow-stick. Bathtub. My eyes as wide as the kids. He looks at my wide eyes and says - Not Toxic. These are two of the sweetest words I've ever heard.
INSERT a little backstory.
At the grocery store the day before a police officer was standing next to some people taking a report when Damon asked -what are the police doing at the store? and a certain Zaza MIGHT have said - looking for little boys running through the store that don't mind their Zaza's. Then the kid wouldn't get out of his carseat. When I asked why. He said -Are you kidding?! I can't go in there! The police are looking for me!
(Don't lecture me on proper parenting and telling kids police are their friends. I've been on the road for weeks)
BACK TO BATHTUB -
I explain to the kid in my calm it's not toxic voice - This man has all the same body parts you do. I'm sure he'll know exactly what we need to do.
(I think this is pretty brilliant reasoning tactics. If you ever have to deal with boys of any age I suggest it. They seem to take this part seriously.)
At which point the screaming subsides, I'm still pouring cold water and the kid is calming down. Then there is all that detailed stuff like - another officer is guarding the door outside (not sure why) I have to explain that yes, I am the guardian and look - I have witnesses - i've been in this bathroom all night - minus those 2 minutes.
The fire rescue guy arrives. I must show my id, sign a form, and do all the things one does to help the emergency a) determine nothing wicked is going on and b) people wrap up this visit and go off to help people in danger from worse things than a glow stick.
When they leave the kid is wearing his Mickey Mouse jammies and eating watermelon. But he doesn't let the Rescue guy leave until ---
"Do you like slime? Do you have any slime? Here, see my slime? I have blue slime. Touch it, go ahead just touch it! "
Rescue guy touches slime. Says he's got his own slime he has to get back to. Says goodnight.
"Still burning?" I ask the kid when he leaves.
"Yeah, it still burns."
Four ginger ales and four trips to the bathroom later we safely call it a night. I don't want to hear my son tell me one time - "I told you so."
On the backside of Father's Day I have to write about what was heavy on my heart yesterday. It was father's day and this is a photo of my father better known as my Daddy and my sons who knew him as Pawpaw. He sits on his boat which after 22 years in the Army (including twelve years in Airborne) was the best place to be. Those cocky little kids on the boat were the best present I ever gave him.
All of our growing up years on Panama City Beach were spent making weekly pilgrimages a stones throw back up in the woods to Holmes creek. This eight acre little spread was down on the water lined with Cypress. The creek was filled with fish, nested by long legged herons and swamped enough to hold a few alligators. It was the beating of my Daddy's heart. And, now - it's gone.
This property has been in the family for generations. My great-grandaddy pulled the ferry across the creek with his old horse, Maude. Back then the creek was just slightly wider and cars would ferry on and ferry off. Years later my daddy as a young man would be one of the first on the crew that built the first bridge that went across. My young years were spent exploring the creek and like every kid and cousin for miles around hanging out under the bridge was a part of that ritual into adulthood. We read the names scratched underneath. Who hearted who. Years of graduation. Simple things. No F-bombs. Nothing crude, lewd or something you'd find in a bar at 2 am. Just kids being kids. The ground underneath the bridge was filled with piles of sandbags filled with cement that had solidified into a thing of it's own. This mound. Which is where we sat listening to the rare car coming a long way off and then thump, thump, thump as they slowly crossed the bridge checking the water.
Checking the water has been a part of that ritual of growing up. Is it high? Getting higher? Reaching flood level? Is it low? Are the fish biting? If they are - what's biting? Catfish, shellcrackers, mullet? What you usin' to catch'em?
When I was a little girl this tiny place was an actual working farm-ish. There were plenty of chickens, a big pig that always had little pigs back in the pen, a horse named Maude (still alive) and a barn we called the corn crib. There were barn cats which meant barn kittens that were beautiful and ferrel and meant to be mouser's not cuddle cats. ON more than one occasion we caught one and took it home to our house where they learned not all cats are born to be barn cats. It's where my sister had a little horse, where old Maude went wild one day with me riding her bareback, where family reunions were held down by the water but where ever day was a reunion. It's where Memaw worked hard and then watched her stories then we would all take a nap with the box fans in the window cooling us in the heat of the day.
Our Memaw cooked three meals a day the old fashioned way. That means with a stove. Her's being gas and an oven that turned out seven layer peanut butter cakes that we would fight for. The supper meant fried chicken and peas, fresh corn, and cornbread. Or fish caught that day from the multitude of folks that paid to launch their boats. When my great-grandaddy was alive he had a few boats he rented out for the day. The last chore of the evening of his was to bail those boats out and pull them to the shore.
My Daddy was raised here, in this place. My sister and I also. My sons, her children. My grandchildren have visited, played in the creek, listened to the stories. All of them. Of the Christmases past and of old lying Uncle Eddie Lewis and of so many silly wonderful simple days.
I once asked my Daddy where of all the places he'd been in his Army days was the best of all of them. Without hesitation he said - right here - with a grin that was his trademark. He was serious. If a person can be a place itself then Daddy was the creek.
As we got older a slew of teenage friends went with us spring, summer, fall to paddle the creek. Kids swam near the bank and we hang out in this paradise that we took for granted because it always had been and therefore always would be.
When Daddy died there was a comfort in knowing that as long as we had the creek, we had him. That somehow having the creek tied us to the past of every good thing. It was our north star and our touchstone. Our taproot. it tethered us to our lives and to each other.
But times, they do change. Old people die. Sometimes way too soon and too young. The Corn crib barn fell to ruin eventually. There hadn't been a hog in the hog-pen for twenty, maybe thirty years. Maude died finally before Grandaddy Skipper. Memaw passed away. The little house that had housed a multitude and fed an army every week got older and tired like people do. Even though it was propped up and nailed and had a new tin roof, it still leaked and sagged. It was ready I think to give up the ghost.
We have a few photos that all belong in a big immortal album but they are yet to be collected. Of us growing up and then our children posing down by the water or running across the sandy yard in a game of something born straight out of imagination. The photos that are missing are ones that are still in my heart. The time my sister and I were on the boat with Daddy, fishing just there at the edge of the bank on a quiet summer day. The dragonflies flitting at the waters edge. The wind stirring the surface so that I'd lift up my pole, check my hook, plop the red cork back down. Daddy would say - It's just the wind, not a bite - but I couldn't tell the difference. I was more aware of the song of the cicadas, the sun on my shoulders, the sound of my mother a lullybye softly as rocked one of the baby's to sleep, the melody but not the words lilting and finding their way to our ears.
I once told my mom we could tear it down and build something new. Maybe just put a little trailer there. She said that she wouldn't even want to be there anymore without the house there. It wouldn't feel the same.
Last night I dreamed of I was driving in storms, lost and trying desperately to find my way home. I finally pulled over and asked someone to help me. "I have to get to North Florida," I told them. When I woke I understood. My crush and longing from yesterday filtering into my dreams.
The creek was sold last week to a lovely family. Word is they are distant relatives, that somehow if this is actually possible their people owned the creek before our people did and then the families married and so on. I hope this is true. It helps take the sting out of the heartbreak.
It was time. It had to be done. But as much as my sister and I, my sons, my niece and nephew and kept a stiff upper lip - I'm afraid we've come undone. At least for Daddy Day. Maybe this week we'll all get back on track. I hope so. There's things to be done.
As a writer I know that all our memories have not disappeared but will now cross over into the place of myth. Where the power of story grows stronger with each passing year. Nothing can take away this from us. Our stories are ours to tell and tell well. It's the way legend's are born and men like my Daddy live forever.
Once upon a time there once was a Creek - and that story is never-ending.
But if you happen to be out for a drive in North Florida and find that you've wandered your way back up in the woods, turn down Miller's Ferry Road and drive till you come to a bridge - you'll know the one. When you cross please do us a favor, slow down to a crawl, roll down your window and check the water. Honk the horn twice to let folks know you've arrived. That you are crossing that bridge, making your way home.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.