Have I mentioned how thankful I am for Kate Messner's Teacher's Write workshop? I'm finally making some headway with my latest WIP, and that familiar prickle is running along my spine, telling me this roller coaster will be off and running soon.
On Thursday, our quick write exercise had us looking at "home" and then rewriting our idea of home if it were changed to the point of no longer being home. I dropped my new MC into this quickwrite idea and here is what I came up with - completely rough and unedited! Eep!
"C'mon in! You're gonna love what I've done with the place!"
My father grins at me, wiping sweat from his dirt-smudged forehead. The Florida heat is stifling today, and it's difficult to know if my breath is so shallow from the blanket of humidity or my rattled nerves.
I follow, through the garage that remains stacked with boxes of Grandma's old fabric, and down the hallways that lead to the living room. White squares of paint blink at me from the otherwise cream-colored walls, reminding me that old family portraits and my grandmother's paintings once hung here. These halls are nothing more than an empty graveyard now. Little puffs of sawdust escape from beneath my feet with each step I take. I feel my stomach begin to tug itself inside-out, as if warning me to turn and run. But it's too late. I step into what once was my grandparent's relaxed sitting room and survey the damage.
Dad's gaze seems cemented to my face, and he watches me in that childish sort of "Look mom, no hands!" kind of joy.
I haven't been back in years, and as my stomach swirls around like a laundromat washer stuck on spin, I regret coming here today.
I squint my eyes shut in the glare of all this newness. My mind shoves it out; a film reel that's skipped a beat and come undone, spitting images out in a cacophony of light and color.
I open my eyes, seeing the colonial style red cushioned rocker that my Papa basically lived in for as many years as I knew him. When we came to visit, his face was always buried behind a crisp newspaper, wisps of vanilla-scented pipe smoke trailing up from behind his paper screen. I'd poke my head around the paper and shout, "Boo!" and in response his whole belly shook with laughter. His often stoic face flushed pink, lips breaking into a wide grin, revealing the whitest teeth I had ever seen. As a child, I marveled at those mysterious pearl teeth. I decided he must have sat around brushing them all the time to keep them so shiny.
On a good day, Papa pulled me onto his lap and grabbed a new book from the ramshackle mountain of papers, magazines, and books stacked on the wooden table beside the rocker. We read together until Grandma called me to the kitchen to help with dinner. There was one television in their home, but it was rarely on. Entertainment came from shared work, books, and conversation.
Grandma, I think to myself, and my eyes seek out the small gallery kitchen that I spent many childhood hours in, learning the basics of bread-making, vegetable peeling, and best of all, cobbler baking.
I always loved the position of Papa's rocker. From where we sat, Grandma's constant activity was a quiet comfort, like watching hummingbirds in flight. She was tucked just behind the kitchen bar, but still visible. Sometimes she hummed quietly to herself, and sometimes she merely worked in silence, only the clattering of measuring cups and bowls and knives against cutting boards to accompany the sight of her quick and constant motion.
Eventually these words would come quietly from the kitchen: "And where is my little helper hiding today?"
Papa and I grinned at one another as I slid from his lap to dash into the kitchen and report for duty.
Kitchen duty with Grandma might mean a trip to the garden to hunt down collard greens, tomatoes, and fresh berries, or it could be as simple as peeling potatoes while she prepped a huge salad. The great thing about working with Grandma was that she never forced a conversation. She shared the secrets of her recipes, spread apart lettuce leaves in the sink under a cold stream of water, explaining how to choose the very best pieces, and both amazed and frustrated me with her ability to use a spatula to transfer every last drop of cake batter from mixing bowl to pan.
Standing here, on the cusp between the once cozy parlor and lesson-rich kitchen, I could almost feel them near again.
Papa's booming voice, reading my favorite fairy tales.
Grandma's wrinkled hands guiding mine as we kneaded dough together.
But even the worst film glitch will eventually get back on track, spliced apart and mended to reveal a somewhat smilar picture. And when I open my eyes this time, the reality of Dad's monstrous renovation comes slamming into view.
Gone are the dark blue and burgundy sofas, the adored rocker, the deep cherry end tables, the tiny gallery kitchen with the scratchy bar stools I spent hours sitting at, watching my grandma at work.
I once laughingly referred to their house as The Home That Technology Forgot. No one in their right mind could say that now. The centerpiece of the newly wide, open space is a theatre-worthy flat screen TV, surrounded by a myriad of consoles, speakers, and devices I'm not even familiar with. White carpet practically sparkles beneath gleaming white chairs that rival my Papa's pearly choppers. The bar separating the living room from kitchen has been removed. In its place is a square, marble-topped island. A chrome pot rack is suspended from the ceiling just above the island. Grandma's old white stove, which held countless family meals and carefully prepared desserts, has been replaced with a sleek, alien appliance that flashes a bright blue code at me from its touch screen display panel.
There is nothing left here that resembles my sweet and solid grandparents. Nothing old and wise and funny. None of the childhood pieces I have worked for years to cherish and keep alive in a heart that otherwise could easily release the good and turn cold, forgetting what kept me afloat all those years.
Tears slip down my cheeks, betraying my need to appear unaffected by my father's selfish changes to my childhood safe place.
As usual, he misunderstands.
"Yeah, nearly brought me to tears too. Who knew this scrapyard could transform so much, right? It's a freakin' Cinderella story!"
He laughs, lost in his own amusement, and lumbers over to a slim, white laptop resting on a chrome end table.
I gulp back the words, grit my teeth against the anger that boils beneath my rib cage.
"Let me show you the network I've got set up here," he begins, his back to me as his fingers slip across the keyboard.
Another deep breath, and I let my head hang in defeat. He has erased every good memory I have, filling this house with everything about him I've attempted to forget.
Something catches my eye through the doorway that leads into the hall. A stack of unframed canvases rest like falling dominoes against the wall, hidden in the shadow cast from a nearby ladder. My breath catches in my throat.
"Hey Dad," I call, my feet already leading me away from his spot at the computer, "what's this stuff?"
He half-heartedly glances toward me, one hand waving me away.
"Eh. Just some old junk of Mom's that didn't sell in the Estate Sale. Salvation Army will be here in the morning to grab everything that's left. Now come check this out..." his words bleed away, and I hear the clicking at the laptop pick back up.
I squat by the hodgepodge of canvases, my fingers hungrily flipping through them one by one. This junk, as my father refers to it, turns out to be a collection of Grandma's oil and watercolor paintings. Brilliant beachfront sunsets, long-stemmed cattails bending in the breeze, endless sand dunes rolling across the horizon; all captured by my grandmother's steady hand.
My hands close over a selection of the paintings and I lift them to my chest. I stand, fresh tears demanding their way forward, and turn away from my dad. I slip though the hall, unnoticed. The heat slams against me when I return through the garage, embracing the treasure in my arms. I slide back into my rusted out Toyota Camry -- the same car my Grandma helped me buy not too many years ago -- place the paintings in the seat beside me, and back out of the driveway.
A smile catches itself on my lips, and I can't help but think of Papa's whole-faced grin, and the way he stood beside the stunted palm trees in the yard each time I left, one arm around Grandma, so tiny beside him, and one hand in the air, waving enthusiastically. I always honked in response, acknowledgement, but not a goodbye. I never wanted there to be a goodbye. I always knew I'd be back again soon enough.
This time, as my car glides past the yellowed yard, I wave. I wave until the house slips behind me, winking out of sight from my rear view mirror.