Browsing Tag

summer

Family, Fiction, Guest Posts

Love, Respect and Squirrels

April 1, 2022

Her name was Mary and we met in the summer of’66.  Our afternoons and evenings often consisted of sitting in my Pontiac GTO and admiring the Pacific Ocean.  We would listen to The Beach Boys on the radio and watch the waves roll in.  It felt like we did this at virtually every beach and lookout from Santa Barbara to San Francisco.   

I would pick her up from her parents’ house and try to avoid any confrontation with her strict, war veteran Father.  I got the feeling he had seen some things during his time in Okinawa.

Mary would usually bounce to the door in happy contrast to her solemn Father.  Her collection of summer dresses was impressive for a girl who just worked the odd shift at the local diner.

Open the door for her, get inside, awkwardly wave goodbye to her Father, turn the radio on and drive away.  We never really knew what spectacular coastal scenery awaited us each time.  Nor did we know how long we would be gone.  This may have explained the stern look her Father would give me each time.

We were too scared to show any signs of affection in the vicinity of her house.  Inevitably, she would place her hand on my thigh as we drove.  This was the sign to pullover, so we could finally share that much anticipated kiss.  Intensity and affection seemed to grow with each meeting of our lips and each chapter we added to our summer adventures.  We were in love and the salt air just magnified our lust for each other.

Despite our love for the Pacific, our most memorable date came when we visited the Giant Redwoods of Sequoia National Park.  We felt so small and insignificant holding hands as we stood beneath those giants.  It was like the outside world ceased to exist.  Mary’s love for squirrel-watching was infectious, and she soon converted me to this hobby of hers.  She fell in love with my cheesy, over-the-top commentary, as our squirrel friends chased each other around trees.  They seemed ever-present during our day, as if along for the adventure.  Curious observers to our love and laughter.

We made love for the first time that day.  It was not planned, though our escapades rarely were.  I’m not one to kiss-and-tell, but it was perfect.  Our happiness and closeness seemed to reach whole new levels.

Not everyone shared our new heights of happiness though.  My best friend, Sam, had got drafted just before summer.  My friends held a broad range of opinions about the war, from wanting to flee to Canada, to immediately volunteering upon enlistment age.  With Sam’s departure, Mary and I found ourselves increasingly adrift on our own island.  A place seemingly separated from the outside world and all the chaos it contained.

Our island was not exempt from invasion.  I was drafted too.  This news created a heightened level of intensity and urgency with our time together.  I proposed at our favorite spot overlooking Monterey Bay.  I was rather nervous.  My legs were so jelly-like, I briefly lost balance when down on my knee.  Mary laughed before giving me an enthusiastic “Yes!”

We would get married once I returned.  It gave us both something to look forward to in turbulent times.  Saying goodbye to her was more difficult than I had imagined.  Still, ever the optimists, we focused on the good things, like our future wedding, the summer we just had and the letters we would write.  Mary also gave me a gift.  She said it would be my good luck charm.  It was a small, handmade wooden squirrel.

***

The boys had been teasing me about the squirrel Mary gave me.  They had nicknamed him Gilroy, after my birth place.  A glance Gilroy’s way and I was immediately transported from the battlefields and into the embrace of Mary.

Gilroy went missing at some point during my platoon’s transfer to Khe Sanh.

I have felt particularly uneasy ever since. He had previously brought us the luck Mary promised.  He is not the only one ‘Missing in Action’ from my platoon in recent weeks.   

I got news that Sam had been sent home for shrapnel wounds to his leg.  I’m now starting to hope for something similar.  Nothing too serious, just something to get me that ticket home.  I miss Mary.  I miss that summer we shared.   I miss Gilroy.  I now understand the pain behind her Father’s eyes.

***

“I baked a cake last week for your birthday.  Cheesecake.  Even had some raspberries on top.  Remember that time you jumped over that man’s fence to steal some raspberries for me? And how you tore your sweater jumping back over? Oh, Robbie, you’re such a clutz.   My clutz.  Why did you have to go fight that stupid war?”

A light sea breeze blew Mary’s hair over her face as she stood clutching a small bunch of flowers.

“Why couldn’t we just make that summer last forever?”

A tear slid down her face, as she caught glimpse of a squirrel scampering over a headstone in the distance.

“How am I meant to look at a darn redwood again?” she laughed, momentarily composing herself.

Mary knelt down, placing the flowers on the ground.  She gently kissed her fingers and rested them atop Robbie’s grave.

“I love you”

She walked back to her accompanying Father and placed her arms around him.

He kissed her forehead, before gesturing to their car.

“I’ll be with you in a minute, love”

Mary’s Father stood in silence, before standing at attention, raising his right hand sharply, and saluting.

Ellen McDarby in England with her pug, Rupert. She has previously written love letters, shopping lists and notes to said dog Rupert. When not writing, she can be found perusing old bookstores, sipping cups of tea and going for walks in nature. 

***

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Statement on Black Lives Matter and support for social change.

Guest Posts, memories

The Song of the Cicada

March 31, 2021
horse

By Jennifer Shneiderman

The quarter horse’s coat is shining in the sun like a freshly peeled buckeye seed. It is only 8:30 and already the humidity is up. The riding instructor, Dottie, guides the horse about by the reins, her tan muscular arms and rough hands revealing the physicality of farm life. Dottie wipes her brow with a red bandana. The suffocating Northwest Ohio heat will hover until evening when the fireflies glimmer and the sweet smell of corn washes over land cut into quilt-like agricultural squares. The buzzing of cryptic annual cicadas pulses and heaves in the heavy air.

Dottie watches as I became more confident, going around the ring, relaxing slightly into the saddle and going a little faster with each revolution. The horse trots and my internal organs adjust to the jerking movement. Next, I learn how to navigate a bridge obstacle. Dottie places a wooden platform, made of worn gray boards, on the ground. I practice having the horse step up, cross and descend. The platform is only a few inches tall, so it feels simple enough.

Suddenly, the trainer excuses herself. “I have to make a quick call,” she says abruptly. “Is that okay?” I’m too surprised to object. Sometimes, my Midwestern politeness gets in my way, to the point of endangerment. I watch her retreating figure as she hops over the fence and makes a beeline for a little white house by the weathered barn.

I sit for a while, the horse shifting, the only sound the creak of the leather saddle. I am grateful for the bit of breeze that blows through my hair and cools my reddening cheeks. I consider taking a turn around the ring on my own. I want to make progress quickly. My sister, two years older, is an avid horsewoman who disappears during these short hometown visits to go riding with her high school friends. I desperately want to join them and develop the close relationship with my sister that passed us by in our youth.

My heels dig into the horse’s flanks and I make that clicking sound with my tongue. We reach the small platform and I guide the horse on top of it. The horse’s hoof stamps down on the planks, too close to the edge, and the platform flips high in the air. The horse rears and takes off at a gallop across the field. The world goes violently sideways, blurring and jerking as the horse bucks and convulses. I fly off, hit my head and elbow and land on my back. I become acutely aware that I’m not wearing a helmet.

I lay on the ground, my head and back throbbing, my elbow a mess of dirt, grass and blood. Dottie comes running, sprinting across the field and calling my name. She reaches me, sees that I am conscious and puts her hands on her hips.

She advises sternly, “You really should get back on the horse. Otherwise, you’re gonna be scared to ride again.”

I feel a stiffness come over me, and I tell her I think I should see a doctor first. She shrugs noncommittally and, with perhaps a hint of disdain, watches me get up and limp to my rental car.

I gingerly climb into the drivers seat, my lower back throbbing. I’m not sure where to go for an exam. My family doctor died years ago. I drive to my father’s office. He works for the local newspaper, so he would know of the local businesses and medical treatment facilities. I stumble past the front office staff and they stare at me from behind their computer screens. My father is sitting at his desk engaged in what sounds like a printing press lease negotiation. I point to my bloody, pebble- encrusted elbow and he gestures toward a chair with his chin. I slowly sit down, cupping my left elbow in my right palm. I wait as he continues, his voice low and his eyes averted. I touch my head and feel the blades of grass and dirt matted in my hair. I pull them out with my fingers and drop the debris in a metal waste can. After about 10 minutes, I knock on his desk with my knuckle to get his attention. He holds up his index finger sharply for me to wait.

I get up and go to an empty desk in the front office and take out a phone book. I find an urgent care center on the edge of town and drive the mile and a quarter. The terse receptionist is leery about treating anyone from out of town, even if an insurance card is produced. She wants payment up front. I give her my Visa card and sit uncomfortably in a plastic chair. There are a few other people in the waiting room and we watch the news on a TV mounted on the wall. Madonna is being rescued from her own violent equestrian encounter. She was thrown from a horse on her English country estate, cracking three ribs and breaking her collarbone and a hand. Comparisons are  drawn to Christopher Reeves’ catastrophic accident, disability and eventual death. It dawns on me that I am getting off easy.

Finally, the doctor examines me and sends me for an X-ray. My elbow is fine and I don’t have a concussion. But my pelvis has a hairline fracture, painful but not requiring surgery, that resembles the Ohio Interstate 70 undulating horizontal line.

I cut my trip short. Driving out of town the next afternoon, I pass my  high school, a one story brick building surrounded by green corn stalks and bordered by a creek that overflows in the spring. I pull over and listen to the siren song of the male cicadas. They will return next year, the females forever silent, the deafening vibration of their hollow drum insides washing over the fields.

Jennifer Shneiderman is a writer and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Indolent Book’s HIV Here and Now, The Rubbertop Review, Writers Resist, the Poetry in the Time of COVID-19, Vol 2, anthology, Variant Literature, Bright Flash Literary Review, Trouvaille Review, Montana Mouthful, the Daily Drunk, Sybil Journal, Unique Poetry, Anti-Heroin Chic, Terror House, Thirteen Myna Birds, Potato Soup Journal, Awakened Voices, GreenPrints, Prospectus, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, and The Perch. She was the recipient of an Honorable Mention in the 2020 Laura Riding Jackson poetry competition.

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And So It Is, Awe & Wonder, Guest Posts

The Art Of Doing Nothing. By Mirela Gegprifti

July 29, 2013

The Art Of Doing Nothing. By Mirela Gegprifti.

I think I have always loved the Italian language. Having a BA in Italian language and literature makes this fact by no means a surprise. Growing up and watching RAI – one of the Italian TV channels – somewhat instilled in me the love for this melodious language. I studied Italian for eight years and God knows how many componimenti (essays) I have had to write and analyze Italian poets, writers, and scholars.

Learning a new language is a transformative process – one learns of a country’s culture and point of view on different subjects: love, social attitudes and customs, likes and dislikes, history and politics. To this day, whenever I communicate and engage in Italian, I feel transported to another dimension of my being.

Through the years I have also had my share of heartbreaks with it too. I have fallen in love with different Italian poets and eventually ‘cheated’ on some of my favorite writers. It is never hard to have a favorite Italian tune on the tip of my tongue either, whether I am cleaning my apartment or just being in a good mood.

The list of likes is substantive when it comes to anything Italian. My critique of it follows too, but that would be another essay altogether. Yet, my love for this beautiful language, its singers, food, capuccino (or cappuccio as the Italians call it) as well as my fascination with this rich culture simply resist time.

In the midst of such vast cultural repertoire where so much can be admired and appreciated, oddly – at first sight – my love of it does not land in Gabrielle D’Annunzio’s and Francesco Petrarca’s (Petrarch) poems, which I joyfully used to memorize during high school, nor does it go in the direction of Dante’s fascinating idea of Inferno, aka karma (hey, you only rip what you sow!), or towards a long list of past and current writers and scholars. Instead, it lands in one particular verb: Oziare.

I respectfully like to add that the translation of this word to English just doesn’t do justice to its embodied conceptual and cultural richness. Idleness is but one of the connotations of oziare as the rest would be reflecting, absorbing, enjoying and cherishing – all in the NOW. The idea of being present in the now, while applying all of the above, is what oziare is all about. It is an active act of relaxation – one where while almost doing nothing, the subject is submitting him/herself to a meditative process of sorts.

With this semantic background in mind, and realizing this is a word that comes from a civilization that has given so much to the human tradition, would you be surprised if I speculated that the great Leonardo da Vinci would take time for some serious oziare in order to create the cupolas that hundreds of years later don’t cease to wow us?

But let’s not speculate at all actually. Any culture that has dedicated an actual word to the process of oziare needs to be applauded and studied carefully. In a way or another, a good part of the creative process consists exactly of this concept: doing ‘nothing’ on the outside, i.e., physically, while mentally, emotionally and intuitively one crosses worlds and runs through universes in search of a brush stroke, a musical note, or just a word.

Oziare. In Italy the act of taking time to enjoy food, be with yourself and family, is an art with deep roots. Those who have traveled there know way too well that people sit around the dinner table for a while, in order to enjoy each other’s company and conversation. Sadly, however, as globalization trends continue to sweep the globe we see how such customs start to change at least at a generational level where youth, for instance, start to adopt a lifestyle that emulates more and more the American culture.

Before summer is over, make it a point to pronounce this word out loud to yourself and actually live it even for an hour. Next time you decide to give yourself some time, as you lay on a beach chair, sand, or close to the one you love, say it like you mean it – mi piace oziare! (I love to rest!). Take your time to savor the moment – a moment that will never repeat itself in its full entirety.

We don’t always have the good fortune to travel to faraway wonderful places but luckily, we can let our minds and attitudes rest for a while as we adopt the best that cultures have to offer.

Wherever you are this summer give yourself permission for some well-deserved Oziare experience.

Make this your summer of Oziare.

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image001Mirela Gegprifti is an Ayurveda Consultant, in-training, with the renowned Kripalu Center. She is also an avid yoga practitioner and a student of Paramahansa Yogananda; a published poet; and writer with an interest in wellbeing and culture. A passionate advocate of self and human development–with a Master’s degree in Feminist Literary Theory and another in International Education–you can follow her reflections in her new bloghttps://LivingLightClub.wordpress.com/.

**To join Jen on her next invite only Italian retreat please email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com or click here