Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Two If By Land

My daughter is just on the verge of 3 years old, but already she has a favorite story of when her mama was a little girl. It hearkens back to the days of Atlas Pit before it became a reputable fishing spot, when drunken teenagers broke their necks diving from cliffs.

I was the only subscriber to the every other week Dad Weekends. The rest of the kids were grown, and on their own or nearly so. It had to be hard for Dad, I imagine, working himself up to an entire weekend as the prime caretaker of a young girl. He would have had to have been out of his element considering his entire family history was made up of two nearly full time jobs and until then, a wife to tend the children. But, he took me on and often times I groaned to myself of the boredom. What an older father thinks is interesting to a young girl often is not.

The day my daughter dreams about came with chocolate malts and summertime. As was a normal weekend event, we went for a drive through town in Dad's big, black Chevy pick-up truck. The window behind my head was open so Butch, hot and wind-free beneath the truck topper, could drool over my shoulder. We pulled into the drive at Atlas Pit.

Dad must have thought I would be excited or impressed to see what a 4 wheel drive could do as the tires ground over a loose gravel shore. He talked about trees, water, fish. I sat, a docile, complacent child when in his presence. He wasn't a terrible man, I just feared the raising of my father's voice after hearing the pandemonium prior to my parents' separation and tried to stay under the radar.

In his talking he pointed out the shore, the trees, the ducks dropping their metallic green or spotted brown heads below the flat reservoir. He inched the truck up, closer to the shoreline, dipping the front tires like toes in a pool. I watched, disbelieving. He was driving into the water.

I held on, quiet, a slow terror rolled in my gut. This was my dad, nothing would happen, the truck is safe, the water, shallow. We rolled forward still. I looked out my window and down. Water, but not deep. Still. Water!

Out it came, a horror, my complacency denied. A cry I tried to suck up escaped into the cab, then another sob. I was terrible at swimming, frightened by the thought of not being able to touch bottom. My body required I find purchase on land, stable and safe. Though I adored any chance I had at a beach or pool, I was timid and panicked if confronted by the deep. Whatever Dad was trying to prove, this was not okay.

He didn't persist, but threw the truck into reverse and calmed me with a laugh and easy words.

My daughter is fascinated by this story, that Mama could be so small and scared. She presses for details and I give what I can. It is comforting for her, I imagine, to know the little grow big and the scared grow strong as she looks to me for guidance, for purchase on this huge overpowering land.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Leigh leaned over me, “Say, ‘Shit!’ or I’ll tell mom you swore.” She was only fifteen, but scared the forbidden word right out of me.

“I can’t,” I whined all of four feet tall and nine years the younger.

“Say it,” she threatened again and laughed with Kate, her best friend.

I can’t imagine why Mom thought it was a good idea to send me along or why Leigh agreed, but we were walking a good mile and a half up Pontiac Hill past the elementary school and Eagles grocery store, across E. Milwaukee St. to Kate’s front door. We had almost made it to the cornfield before the threats began.

“Say, ‘Shit!” she said again and I buckled.

A whisper, “Shit,” hands clenched to my mouth trying not to let the word escape.

Kate laughed. “You’re mean,” she said then laughed some more. We were in front of the flat red brick apartment building I’d see every time I went with Mom to the credit union. The front yard was always scattered with plastic riding toys and discarded whiffle balls.

Across the street the cornfield threatened, even in the day. Leigh could see I was wary of this, we’d been here before. “Watch out for the Children of the Corn,” she chided on to a new tack.