The crackling sounds of the stove filled the kitchen. The wooden rocking chair kept a slow, melodic rhythm. Opening the door to stoke the wood, a soft orange glow cascaded the darkened room.
I felt safest here.
Next to the stove in a brown paper bag sat nuts from our walnut tree. I remember my mom showing me how to shell each nut with metal nutcrackers. Shattered shells landing along the floor, I longed for a bite of the tasty nutmeat. To this day, a whiff of walnuts reminds me of this fond window of time.
“This is the last time we’ll sit here in this kitchen,” my mom said.
At that moment an emotion I had never felt washed over me: uncertainty.
The idea of leaving my farm home that was overflowing with nature and free love during the 1970s in exchange for a cold, concrete jungle rental house in the “city” made my six-year-old stomach turn.
This was the only home I knew.
Here, the hills that nestled my farm were friends. The newborn bunnies I found snuggling in the hay during the early morning were my first glimpses of birthing life. My hand-built wooden playhouse was my home. My purple and white swing set was my amusement park. The natural waterfall and swimming hole was my aquatic oasis. The soft, worn hardwood floors were my perfect ice skating rink in socks.
Now, I had arrived in a new place: fear of the unknown.
That was more than 35 years ago.
However, this same feeling returned nearly ten years ago when we uprooted our family. I recall when my husband and I bought our first house and we moved our daughter from the only home she had known. Like a rookie first-time mom, I promptly consulted with the pediatrician about how to smoothly transition our child to a new home environment.
The pediatrician crinkled her forehead when I asked the question.
“All she needs is you,” she spat, matter-of-factly.
“Me?” I asked, feeling suddenly like the simple minded TV character Gomer Pyle. I might as well of said, “Well, gollllyyyy.”
“You are connected to her. You are her everything. You represent consistency and safety,” she explained.
My mind rang with those words….everything, everything.
I looked at the sweet round face of my 16-month-old daughter and her curious almond brown eyes as she sat on my lap. I flashed to my mother and the rocking chair by the wood burning stove.
I would always be my mom’s everything.
Just like my children are now my everything.
You have just read an excerpt from my manuscript…more to come in publication.
Have you ever experienced being uprooted from your home as a child? How did it go? What were some of those “wood burning stove” memories? Have you had to relocate your family as an adult? If so, how did the transition go? Smooth? Rough waters?
Summer Blogging-a-Book Series
“Guests of Another Kind”
The year was the summer of 1977. The latest visitors had arrived to our commune farmhouse.
“Ahhhhh,” the group of Japanese exchange students exclaimed in unison as my mother showed them their sleeping accommodations in the basement.
“You’ll sleep here,” she said, motioning to the top bunk. The boy quickly pounced on the bunk while speaking in rapid fire Japanese. Clearly, this seemed to be his first time seeing, if not being on a bunk bed.
“And you, down there,” my mom said, patting her hand on the bottom bunk, motioning to the other Japanese boy. He too, settled into his new bed with the vigor and unleashed excitement of a puppy dog.
My mom walked over to the other side of the room where a small rod curtain divided boys and girls. “You two are over here,” my mom said, pointing to the remaining two female students.
Shuffling their feet, they bowed deeply before viewing the two side-by-side twin beds. They again bowed deeply, but showed less excitement than their male counterparts. It was hard to tell if they were disappointed with the ordinary sleeping accommodations, or if they were just being two shy foreigners.
Little did these naïve foreigners know, but they were about to undergo a rather unusual socio-cultural experience: for they had just landed, not in the “Leave It to Beaver” home, but in a hippie commune.
Over their stay, they wandered the Apricot and persimmon tree fields; they chased the peacocks; they watched my father attend to his pot plants; they admired our six-person rock shower; and most importantly they fed the chickens with me each morning. Carrying around small translation books, they attempted English conversations as if to test their retention.
It was rather sweet. As a child, I admired their courage to fail, and not give up. They made mistakes and laughed with each other. This was an example of real perserverance. Not only did their English improve daily, but with their increased exposure to the American culture, they increased their understanding of who we were as a people – as a society. I think they understood we are flawed people, much like them. We love beauty and nature, much like them. We love a good laugh, much like them.
Perhaps the highlight of their stay that reached frantic levels of hysteria, which could not be comprehended by my five-year-old brain: STAR WARS. These foreigners arrived in time to watch the blockbuster film on an American screen that summer. The movie was sold out in the closest adjacent town, so we had to drive to another town about 20 miles away from our farm.
The small theatre was crammed as we searched for open seats with our guests. As they took their seats close to the front of the movie screen, you could hear the excitement in their raised voices and the rhythm of their language picked up pace. They nodded and pointed as the lights dimmed and a black screen appeared in a galaxy far, far away…
I thought to myself: how will they ever understand the movie? To them, I don’t think it mattered.
You have just read an excerpt from my manuscript…more to come in publication.
Have you ever hosted a foreign exchange student or family? Any cool stories or memories you’d like to share?Follow
Summer Blogging-a-Book Series
“Dreamy White Cadillac”
Every Fourth of July I think of this…
The white beauty gleamed with its sleek lines and perfectly rounded curves. The jet-shaped fins were a graceful extension of the back end. Opening the heavy door of the vehicle you were transportated to the 1960s. Things were built strong and meant to last. A person’s word translated into more than any contract. Hard work was, well, hard work.
The once new velvety red leather interior had faded into a soft saddlebag texture that I stroked with my fingers each time I entered the caddy. The seat cushions felt like a springy, worn-out mattress bed. The oversized steering wheel just made you want to cruise. The choices of entertainment besides the jokes being told were limited to AM-only stations, which appeared in oversized white lettering on the turn dial. The conversion from open-air vehicle to closed-top was transformed by hand – no fancy electric convertible tops.
When staring down the dreamy white hood of the car, you couldn’t help but notice its unique symbol of luxury and elite transportation: the prominent silver-plated Cadillac emblem in the shape of a “V.” As a kid, I always thought the hood ornament magically guided my grandfather as he drove.
My grandfather proudly showcased the car in weddings and parades. It was also the car we viewed our annual fireworks display as a family each year. However, this white Cadillac was more than just one of my grandfather’s most prized vehicles in his antique car collection.
It was my grandfather.
Sliding into the leather seats, I would usually sit next to my grandfather in the front dead center to the striking hood ornament. The rest of the family would cram into the remaining open spots. With the purring of the engine, we’d drive about 10 miles away to a local sleepy beach town. There, we’d set up our view spot in the parking lot of a small steeple church. Each year my grandfather would repeat the same story.
“I’m real good friends with the preacher, you see. He’s my friend so he let us park here to watch the fireworks,” he’d explain in his soft Texan drawl. I’d nod my head quietly as if I had only heard the story for the first time.
Sitting next to him, he’d wrap his arm around the leather seat, the southwestern silver band watch reflecting off the chrome of the car. His eyes lighting up before the sun went down, he knew this was his chance to tell a few jokes to the crowd while he had our undivided attention. Of course, these were jokes that we had heard for what it seemed like a hundred times.
But to me, his jokes never got old.
As it grew darker, another car or two would park near us. Naturally, my grandfather, who was known for greeting strangers of all walks of life, would go over to shake hands, and offer his well wishes on Fourth of the July. It wasn’t uncommon for us to enter a greasy diner for a bite to eat, and you’d find him saying hello to each booth and table. He’d sometimes even sit down with his newly found friends to “shoot the bull.”
He followed simple rules of life. If a waiter at a restaurant did not keep his water glass full during the entire meal, he judged it poor service and did not leave a generous tip. He did not believe in credit cards, and paid cash for nearly all of his products and services. He did not drink alcohol, or smoke. He believed coffee was a drug. He was scared of mice as one crawled into his bed one night while sleeping. He loved cats – except for those superstitious black cats.
He was also one of the most selfless, giving people I knew – ever. If someone needed food, he’d get in his car and drive a meal to their house. If someone’s car was broken down on the side of the road, he’d pull over to help fix it. He loved entertaining crowds of people with his Santa Maria style Tri Tip and homemade pies. “The more the merrier” seemed to be his mantra for life.
He rarely missed church on a Sunday, and prayed every day to his Heavenly Father. As God is judging us on our love of Him and of people – my grandpa went straight to the Golden Gates.
Back in the church parking lot, he finally returned to the caddy after giving the proper greeting to the newcomers. Sitting next to me, we all watched the fireworks. Even though I was in my mid twenties, he still held my hand in his just like when I was a little girl.
Little did I know this was the last time I would hold my grandfather’s hand in the white caddy – or at all in this life. I am grateful he taught me so much about how to be a good, decent person.
So you could say the Fourth of July has special meaning to me. It’s no wonder I think of him and his dreamy white Cadillac each year.
Sure do miss you grandpa.