Victoria lives on a spec between mother and writer in a small town outside Madison, WI. She writes memoir, personal essay and flash fiction when she's not cooking curry or baking a triple batch of cowgirl cookies.
I cannot sit with my children. I cannot stay home day in and out cleaning bathtubs and hanging clothes to dry. We become restive, smitten by the outside, romanced by adventure.
It's this part of summer, the late season quell, that brings peace of reflection. I follow my children down sidewalks; let them pick up sticks to poke the ground, fill miniature pockets with stones, roll in the sand, and stamp dusty feet.
I'm still rebelling.
My childhood was spent at home watching Ma scrub the kitchen floor, down on her knees, buffing out the smallest scuff from black-bottom shoes. "Outside," she'd say, "Go play outside." And I'd scuttle off with my little plastic picnic basket heaping with little plastic plates and little plastic spoons.
Dirt cakes and grass pie.
Real buckle sandals impossible to do up.
An empty field of clover.
The neighborhood waited out its days in silence.
As if we were the only people left anywhere, Ma and I were home. We stayed put. I waited for the mailman. I yapped over garbage collections. By 5:30 I was hiding under the stairs expecting Dad to walk in with a pocket full of butterscotch candies, his work shoes scuffing the floor.
When I finally went to school I found out the other kids had parents who took them places on weekends and summer vacations, small adventures to lakes, boat rides, flying model airplanes over empty fields of clover.
Once a year, maybe twice, our family went camping. Governor Dodge State Park mostly.
My earliest memory: a tiny wooden chair with a hole and a tin pot waiting outside our huge yellow canvas tent, a morning of bribery, a trick to get me to sit and let it all hang out.
I'd put all of my childhood into one of those camping trips if I could, just fold it up and stamp it down. It was the marshmallows for me, I'm sure of it, marshmallows and a campfire and Dad probably breaking a hundred State Park regulations coaxing the raccoons from trees, enticing them with sweets.
I'm still a sucker for State Parks. Give me any random day with the scent of campfire on the air and I'll pack up a bag of food and two wild girls faster than you can say, "Raccoons have rabies."
These kids don't scoff at the drive, I've been hauling them every-which where since they popped their little heads out and blinked at the wide world. "What should we do today?" I ask, honestly befuddled at the openness of our schedules.
Nag Champa, a scent that carries memory. It's autumn 1993. I'm 18, not getting ready to go off for college.
I have a job at Perkins picking up after everyone else. Friends from school hang out till 4 am choking the smoking section with quotes from Monty Python and Nietzsche, sucking down coffee creamers and bending spoons into neckties. I talk too loud, give myself away to customers who shouldn't be listening, turn red, laugh it off.
The manager, just two years ahead of me in school and locally famous for organizing punk shows at TT's Hotspot calls me over to where he's standing on a ladder. He unscrews a light bulb, hands it down, "Fix this, would ya?" he says.
At 7 am I leave carrying an overburdened bag stuffed with a uniform and waitstaff training books. I walk along Milton Avenue. It's the weekend, traffic is light. A cop car pulls ahead of me into the parking lot of the KFC. He demands my ID. I think, only in Janesville do you get pulled over for walking. "You fit the description of a runaway," he says.
A cup of hot coffee turned ice cold. I still drink it, dependent on its chilly bite for a few more letters hacked out on the page.
Children's color-coded love notes pinned to the wall, I've waited lifetimes for these. Even the baby, old enough to tell me she isn't, proclaims her mastery of the arts, "See! See, Mommy, I did that!" And she did. Whatever marker scribbles taste like, she did that too with gusto.
I have a corner in a room that for five years has been the undertaker of all things not easily categorized--old journals, maternity clothes, magic cards, wedding paraphernalia, baby shoes, poster frames. Our basement is at capacity. Our extra rooms are spoken for. The attic is questionable.
We did things backward I've been told. When you buy a house you should take care of the bedroom first, this is where you will be resting, where you will recover and recoup. We did as most proud new home owners do, take care of the places people see. It seemed reasonable, the first floor is where the living happens.
Then there were the babies. We spared nothing on fun and function in their sweet little rooms.
Though the house has little to no curb appeal, (as proof we were ready to walk away before stepping in on that frozen January noon), the inside is warm and inviting, cozy. A three bedroom Dutch Colonial replete with hip roof and breakfast nook, it's achingly minimal on closet space. We've had to be inventive.
Finally, after bustling over clothes baskets and baby bibs, we loaded up the donation bags and cleared out the overstock. Once our room uncluttered I found myself organizing, decorating even. This isn't to say it's a finished work, not even close. I can't stand the color of the walls, all robin's egg blue and sea foam green, and our bed (blushing here) doesn't even have a frame. But there is order, a new openness, a brightness where once there were moving boxes. It feels hopeful.
And this place, this is where I'm at--a corner of one's own.
The river's dam is gorged with flying carp. I follow the dirty downtown walk way. I carry a notebook and black ink pen. It looks like rain.
It's summer on Sioux Court. I'm grown and dating. My boyfriend walks next to me. I point to the house my father built before I was born and sold when I was 7. It's gone from red to green. I wave to Stell. She doesn't know who I am.
The railroad bridge is black against a gray sky. The slightest pink edges the eastern horizon.
A sparse treeline divides the corn field from the soy. We find a knotty oak. We climb rotting slats nailed to the trunk and sit closer than we should.
Places are as important as people.
This is Penny Jar, the blog I started one year ago today with the hope of finding the story inside the life. I'm realizing that the stories I want to write and have been writing as of late are not memoir. Oh, they do as most fiction does and careen in and out of reality like so many drunken sailors on shore leave, but they certainly can't fess up to their actions (like so many drunken sailors on shore leave).
That being said, I'm not ready to leave Penny Jar behind. The examination of past events can be fascinating. The examination of past places can be even more so, which is what brings me to the slices I have laid out so far.
You cannot hold a place, it holds you.
Often where you are is insignificant to an event or moment. Later it may come back to you or you to it. I'd like to experiment with short meditations on places, similar to the writing exercises from Old Friend from Far Away.
I don't know where they will end up, but it will be some place with a story to tell.
This is kind of a lead in to an upcoming post. Since I first wrote this list a few things have changed, but let's keep it simple.
From: Friday, January 16, 2009 at 10:44am
1. The story I always come back to in life is that I am the youngest of nine children and I have been an Aunt since I was three.
2. My parents divorced when I was 7
3. Mike and I went to Burningman in 1998 and I hope someday we will be brave enough to take the kids
4. I love Facebook for bringing back people I thought were gone forever
5. I am very picky about movies I call my favorites and Harold and Maude is still at the top of the list.
6. Still use Big Mac’s quote, “Scare yourself” on a daily basis and thank him for giving me some balls
7. I do not attend church. I believe religion comes from the way life is lived.
8. I am a very crummy swimmer
9. When I was a child my favorite book was Richard Scary’s Best Word Book Ever.
10. That explains the obsession with giant dictionaries. I can cross reference for hours.
11. I want to read James Joyce’s Ulysses and have started three times
12. On November 4, 2008 I took my 72 year old mom to vote for the first time in her life
13. I am a book geek and have always been uncoordinated and non-athletic
14. I have spent years under the tutelage of supportive English teachers urging me to hone my craft and submit for publication, but I inevitably submit to laziness after the excitement wears off
15. Ivy, Azalea and Mike are the warm center the world crowds around
16. Tom Waits is my favorite lyricist. I have a soft spot for the dark and beautiful.
17. Two things that make me very happy are an excellent cup of coffee and Candinas Chocolate
18. We were the “freaks” in High School and started a cult.
19. I married a guy I knew and admired since I was 17.
20. We were married in the Redwood Forest with 6 witnesses. We honeymooned in an Oregon tree house.
21. At the park I always ride on the swing
22. Motherhood is the most important thing I have ever or will ever do
23. I started writing poetry when I was 10 because my parents never let me take music lessons. I was trying to write songs.
24. When I was in middle school I was obsessed with Poison. I know.
25. Places are as important as people.