Tag Archives: long ago: community

Long Ago: Community Entry #5

The only buttons I’m pushing are on the keyboard. Ahhhh…haven.

Accepting entries through Feb. 1st.  Winner announced mid-February…

As you may know, I am spending the month of January in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.

The “Long Ago: Community” series is also a contest. The winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana. So breathe deeply into a cherished memory of yesterday and today and share with us here. We all seek community somehow. Let us know how community finds its way back to you. Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject. Please enjoy this lovely piece by Jody Casella who blogs here. yrs. Laura

Someone’s Golden Boy, by Jody Casella

When I was seven years old my mother dragged me along on an errand to the bank downtown. In the lobby there was a display of what seemed like hundreds of dolls, each dressed in a different, lovely (to my seven-year-old eyes) outfit. A lacy ball gown. A hula skirt. Flowery nightshirt and bathrobe. It took a long inspection for me to realize it was the same doll wearing different clothes. I stared at the display longingly while my mother went about her banking business and when we left I pestered her for one of the dolls.

“Sorry,” she told me. “Those are for needy kids.”

I’m not sure I understood what that meant except that I couldn’t have a doll. And I didn’t understand it later when that Christmas, I DID get one of the dolls, the one dressed like Little Red Riding Hood. That was the year my father died and my mother was instantly a young single mother with three kids under the age of seven.

I really liked my Red Riding Hood doll. It was clear to me when I opened it that Christmas that it was the best doll from the bank lobby display. I don’t know who donated it, who sewed the darling jumper and cape and hood. It was a small thing but it meant something to me, a needy kid who didn’t know she was needy.

I’ve been thinking about that anonymous sewer lately, now that I am a million miles away from the little girl I was. Today I’m not wealthy, but certainly comfortable, living a privileged and blessed life by most people’s standards, in a small, privileged, blessed community in Ohio. I’ve got a wonderful husband and two beautiful and brilliant children. I take this life for granted, going about my day to day activities, rarely coming into contact with “needy” people and, truthfully, rarely thinking about them, unless you count writing a few donation checks to worthy charities and my yearly volunteer gig at a Christmas party for under-privileged children.

Last spring my husband and I drove our son up to the college of his dreams for a pre-orientation. We attended a few of the parent activities, mentally patted ourselves on the back for our son’s accomplishments, then left him to do his thing and took a train into New York City for a couple of days to do OUR thing. We had a blast, walking around, seeing the sites, and reconnecting with each other–parents of a soon-to-be-off-to-college boy.

One of the sites on our list was the new Ground Zero Memorial. We walked there on the last day of our trip, taking our time, hitting the neighborhoods along the way, eating a nice lunch, stopping at Starbucks, and finally arriving at the church at the edge of the site, the church that somehow was left standing after the towers fell. My husband went off to find tickets, but I lingered around the church. There was a person on the curb, leaned up against the iron gate, obviously a vagrant. He held a sign and something made me step closer.

“Please help me get home to Ohio,” said the sign.

The person holding it was a teenaged boy. He was half-asleep. Or maybe he was on drugs or drunk. That was what the cynical part of me was thinking. The mother part of me, who had just dropped off a Golden Boy son at college, teared up. Oh my God. What had happened to this boy? How had he come to be on a street corner in New York City with swarms of tourists literally stepping over him? Who was waiting for him back in Ohio? Could I help him? Should I?

Here’s the thing about my husband and me. We NEVER have any cash on us. It’s almost a joke. We are the people who have to write a check at a toll booth. That moment in front of the clearly in need boy, I had eleven dollars in my pocket. My husband had nothing. We knew we needed ten dollars for the train ride back. I looked over my shoulder at the Starbucks. Could I buy the kid a cup of coffee and a Cranberry Bliss Bar? But it was hot outside and we had just walked like, fifty blocks to get there. We were tired. We had our tickets to go into the memorial site. We needed to move on. No one else was even paying attention to this kid, this vagrant.

I am ashamed to say that I bent down and put one crumpled dollar bill in the boy’s hand. We looked at each other, and I said, “I’m sorry I can’t give you more.”

On the long drive home to Ohio my son chattered about all the cool things going on at the college, the awesome people he met, the interesting classes he would take. My husband and I were thrilled for him. Our son’s dreams were coming true! But I couldn’t stop thinking about somebody else’s son back at the church. I should’ve given him the eleven dollars at least. My husband and I could’ve hit an ATM on the way to the train station. I should’ve gone over to Starbucks. The Cranberry Bliss Bar would’ve been better than nothing. Forget that. I should’ve gone to an ATM and taken out enough money to buy him a plane ticket back to Ohio. We could’ve freaking DRIVEN him back to Ohio.

Why didn’t we help him when we had the chance? What was wrong with us?

I asked my husband this question. We lamented our actions but then started to rationalize. Maybe the boy wasn’t a needy Ohio kid. He was probably a scammer, a thief, plunked out on the sidewalk purposely manipulating out-of-town tourists.

But we can’t know that. And does it even matter?

I know we live in a country that likes to divide people into groups, label others as takers. It’s true there are takers. But I think that labeling helps us, the blessed ones, the lucky ones, feel better about ignoring those who are genuinely in need. Not only that, we mock them, show disdain for them, assume the worst. Or maybe it’s just that there is so much need that we don’t even know where to start, whom to help. We’re paralyzed. Easier to look away, to step over the kid on the street corner. There are so many of those needy people, and he’s not even the worst off.

A few hours from Ohio, some guy stopped us at a rest area and said he needed just a few dollars for gas to make it to his destination. Obvious scam, my husband and I thought, but we dug around for change and gave it to him. A few weeks later we found out that someone we went to school with died, leaving a daughter in college and in need of money for books. We wrote a check immediately and sent it to her. This Christmas we spent more time buying presents for kids we picked for our volunteer gig than we did buying for our own kids. When I heard that an acquaintance’s home was damaged by the recent hurricane, I mailed her a Home Depot gift card.

It’s not enough. It will never be enough. But once upon a time I was a needy girl who received a donated doll for Christmas, a little thing that meant a lot, and I will never step over someone else’s Golden Boy again.

—————————————————–
Jody Casella

YA Writer on the Verge

http://www.jodycasella.com/

THIN SPACE– Sept. 10, 2013
Beyond Words/Simon & Schuster

17 Comments

Filed under Blog series-- Long Ago: Community, My Posts

Long Ago: Community Entry #2

“There are certainly times when my own everyday life seems to retreat so the life of the story can take me over. That is why a writer often needs space and time, so that he or she can abandon ordinary life and “live” with the characters.” –Margaret Mahy

The solace of the Montana woods fuels the muse...

As you may know, I am spending the month of January in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.

The “Long Ago: Community” series is also a contest. The winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana. So breathe deeply into a cherished memory of yesterday and today and share with us here. We all seek community somehow. Let us know how community finds its way back to you. Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject. Please enjoy this lovely piece by Donna Jones Koppelman who blogs here. yrs. Laura

LONG AGO: COMMUNITY on the Outer Banks, by Donna Jones Koppelman

As a child, our family spent a great deal of time on the Outer Banks.  The house was in Buxton, near the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, and we spent glorious summer days exploring the beach.  At that time, the area had only a small number of vacationers, and we would often go days without seeing others on the beach.  We had each other and the sea for companionship, and it was splendid.

For excitement, my siblings and I would walk up to the local tackle shop and admire the fishing lures.  Every so often, the man at the register would say the magic words, “Tell your daddy there’s action at the pier.”  We would run back to the cottage, give Dad the news, and then beg to come along.

Some days, we could see schools of fish, thick and dark in the water, and we’d pull the fish in one after another. Other days, a school of particularly large fish hung out by the pier to tempt us.  Often, one lucky fisherman or woman had caught something particularly large or unique.

Yes, sir, if there was action forty years ago on the Outer Banks, it was most likely on a pier.  Even if the fish weren’t biting, the pier acted as a gathering spot, a news center, and a social hub.

I don’t know if elderly people liked this particular pier or the population drifted toward the older and wiser set, but I remember my dad was always the young whippersnapper.  All the fishermen knew him by name, and he knew theirs.  But more importantly, they knew each other by their catches.  “Big Fred here caught the biggest shark anybody’s ever landed,” “One time Walter caught a marlin with a Rolex watch in his belly” and “Your daddy can clean a bluefish quicker and cleaner than a man twice his age.”  I knew which old woman had been hungry enough to stew an octopus, which men fished from their boats when the wind changed, who fed his cat fresh fish every night,  and where all their children had moved off to.

I learned a lot about life from these folks.  When I asked to pet a particularly charming  fish swimming around in a cooler, I was told, “Back off my supper, kid, this ain’t no damn aquarium.”   For the first time, I saw people who fished to eat, not for the sport of it.  And they all seemed pretty happy and content with that life.   I learned about sun damage long before anyone else talked about it.  These folks looked way older than their actual ages due to the lines and patterns of wrinkles that covered their faces and the backs of their hands,but I liked how it showed the world all they had seen and done.

These salty old men taught me how to read the sky for storms, how the wind direction affected the tide and the odds of catching certain kinds of fish.  They recalled in vivid detail the damages of every major hurricane of their lives, and described the year they got the ‘light lines’.    I learned that on a pier on the Outer Banks, a girl was treated no differently than a boy.

Back in my traditional southern hometown, I would have been told to stand back at a safe distance.  But here amongst these men and women, I baited slippery hooks and grabbed wriggly fish off a line because I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t know how.

But that community also valued safety.  They scolded my dad when they heard he had gone flounder gigging alone.  “Son, respect the water.”   They reminded him to “Straighten up those kids while you can”  and  “Make sure your kids know how to work.  If a man knows how to work, he can do anything.”   Old Fred used to say to me, “Do your sums and master that primer.”  I always agreed, but I had no idea he spoke of math and reading.

Every time we came to the pier, there was big news of some kind.  Mostly, it had to do with who had caught what in our absence, but often local politics and gossip crept into the conversations.  I realized that tourism had another side to it. Houses were springing up all over the place.  “Bigger than any fool needs,” they said.  I came to appreciate the simplicity of their living.  They might fish for hours, but when it came time to go home, they took what they needed for their dinner.  Then they shared the rest. That’s how they approached the picturesque coastlines of the Outer Banks, too.  “They can come and look all they want,” one woman used to say, “but don’t cover up our pretty beach with a house that sits empty most of the year.”

Once, after a hurricane, the piergoers stood around quietly until the regular crowd had gathered.  No one so much as opened a tackle box until they saw that everyone was okay.   Then they finally relaxed and resumed the usual joking and chatter.  They all agreed they had much to clean up and repair after the storm, but they had to eat, didn’t they?  But I knew they just needed to lay their eyes on their friends.  Even as a youngster, I saw how much they meant to each other.

One day I watched a woman give away some fresh fish.  “Go ahead,” she had insisted. “I have what I need for tonight.”

Even though I only saw them in the summertime, that community set the standard for me.  As an adult, when my husband and I searched for a place to raise our children,  we looked for a community like that pier on the Outer Banks, and we found it.  When my fourth baby was born, neighbors and friends brought us dinner for forty-four nights in a row.  And you know, I have brought them all dinner, too. Never have I caught that dinner on a hook, but I learned from those people on the pier the importance of sharing with my community.

Recently, I visited the pier closest to our home on the Outer Banks.  It is our favorite summer hang-out. The ten cent boiled shrimp, the cold beer specials, and the nightly beach band make it the perfect evening destination.   We sit at tables and eat together, catching up on the local politics and news that another house is coming up “bigger than any fool needs”.  Most of us don’t fish for our supper, we nod at the waitress to bring us the special.  Some of us know each other by name, and some of us know each other by the beer we drink, the food we favor, or the band that brings us out.  But it’s still a community.  We scans the crowd after a big storm to make sure all the familiar faces are there.  We still teach each other’s children things as they scamper around the deck.  “Don’t eat the tail of the shrimp. Pinch it off, like that.”  And “Respect the water, son.”   We talk about Hurricane Isabel and more recently, Hurricanes Irene and Sandy.

“We take care of each other around here,” someone always says.  “We look in on our neighbors.”

Because that’s what a good community does, and I am extraordinarily blessed to be a part of it.

7 Comments

Filed under Blog series-- Long Ago: Community, My Posts

Long Ago: Community Entry #1

As you may know, I am spending the month of January in the dormancy of winter, working on a book.  And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you.  Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability.  This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present.  I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills.  Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments. 

The “Long Ago:  Community” series is also a contest.  The winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana.  So breathe deeply into a cherished memory of yesterday and today and share with us here.  We all seek community somehow.  Let us know how community finds its way back to you.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.  Please enjoy this lovely piece by Mary Novaria.  yrs. Laura

The Saltwater Cure, by Mary Novaria

“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient.  One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.”

 –Anne Morrow Lindbergh

My mother grew up in a town by the sea. Her mother did as well. The women who came before them were mostly born and buried in Ireland, surrounded by the sea—except for a few who managed to escape the poor and inhospitable place in the 1880s. Born in Ballyvourney, or Baile Bhuirne in Gaelic, meaning “Town of the Beloved,” my great grandmother Nora crossed the Atlantic to the port of Boston on the SS Pavonia when she was 17 years old. Just a few years prior, my other great grandmother, Katherine, had arrived via the SS Samaria at the tender age of 15 from the County Limerick town of Abbeyfeale. Years later whenaher children began to pool their funds so they could send her back for a visit, Katherine told them not to bother, that she certainly had no intention of returning, however briefly. Her aversion to Ireland surely was fed by bitter recollections of famine, hardship and death in a land that later would be romanticized, idealized even, by my mother’s generation and my own.

I think about their blood—Nora’s and Katherine’s—running through my own. Even more so, I think of the sea, the punishing Atlantic that carried them humbly in steerage class to Boston, where they’d meet their mates (also from Ireland) and launch our family’s journey in America. Were they cold? Racked with seasickness? Were they frightened? Alone? I like to imagine there were shipboard romances, but I suspect there were not.

The sea was releasing them from somewhere as much as drawing them toward anyplace else. And so it is for me when I stand barefoot on the shore. Just as I have idealized my ancestors’ birthplace, so have I affixed some grand and majestic qualities to the sea. I wouldn’t be the first though, would I? How dare I, really, when others—Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Rumi, the Psalmist—have said pretty much all there is to say? And yet I do stand there feeling not only a connection to these women who came across—women I have never met in life, but perchance in spirit once before or, hopefully, in the future—but I am bonded to the ocean. Is it because of them I feel most at home by the sea? Or is it the sea that ties me to these women?

Their sea allowed them to escape. I doubt they looked upon the Atlantic—from either shore—as anything more than utilitarian, a place for men to fish or go off to war and, for Nora and Katherine, a means to an end, a way to get from there to here.

My life is not their life. I have never sent a man off to sea, or relied on it for my livelihood. When I flee it is by choice, running toward happiness and not, very often, from misery. My sea is my escape. I don’t have to board a steamship or slip into a kayak to be lost in it, although I do love to get my feet wet. Always have, and that must be innate. Unlike my mother and my grandmother, I was not raised in a town by the sea, unless you count Lake Michigan, which some call the “inland sea.” I don’t count it, though, because it is not salty and the preservative nature of salt somehow seems essential to my connection with the ocean.

Isak Dinesen, the Danish author best known for Out of Africa and Babette’s Feast, once wrote, “The cure for anything is salt water—sweat, tears, or the sea.” It’s been a mantra of mine for many years now, as appropriate in the Pacific as it is in the Atlantic. In the four corners of this country and on foreign shores, I can count on the steady, healing presence of the ocean whether its mood is angry or light, its countenance threatening or playful, its color Caribbean blue or a steely New Hampshire gray. She’s a faithful friend, the sea. She listens and soothes. She reminds me of the relative smallness of my problems and nothing else seems as monumental or important as I tend to make it before I ground myself on her shore.

In 1905, my father’s father crossed to New York at age 18 to escape Northern Ireland, eloping with an older neighbor girl against his mother’s wishes. Five years later, he would return briefly to County Tyrone, a widower entrusting his four-year-old daughter Rose to the care of his sister in the family homestead. Charles returned to New York where he married my grandmother and had four more children, including my dad, who was the youngest. More than my grandmother or my father’s other siblings, it’s his half-sister Rose who’s forever lodged in my heart. All I know of her I’ve learned in the twelve years since my father’s death, from genealogy research and conversations with long lost family–still living on the homestead–in Tyrone, and Rose’s granddaughter, Marie, in New Jersey, the cousin I never knew I had.

I have nearly wept at Rose’s abandonment by my grandfather, a man I never knew and of whom my father rarely spoke. I’ve decided, perhaps unfairly, that he must have been another of Ireland’s angry, mean drunks, remote and authoritarian, harsh with his children. But what do I know of his pain for losing his first love? Still, it is Rose’s pain that resonates within me. What was it like, that voyage from New York to the port of Londonderry? In steerage, of course. They departed less than two months after Rose’s mother died. Was my grandfather loving and protective of her? Or was he off drinking with the men, anesthetizing his grief, leaving his daughter in the care of unfamiliar women? Did she have any idea her father was about to walk out of her life for the next fifteen years? That when she returned to New York as a young woman of 19, her father would have four more children with a new wife, including my dad, the youngest, at three years old? Whenever I picture Rose, I see her standing on the deck of that ship, tiny and alone, and I always wonder if she had a warm enough coat.

I never met Rose. I’ve never met her granddaughter, my cousin Marie, in person, although we’ve corresponded since we found each other several years ago. We share blood and history and, naturally, our love of the sea. It wouldn’t surprise me if Rose wasn’t too crazy about the sea, considering it separated her from her father for most of her life, but I don’t know. I’ll have to ask Marie about that.

I don’t recall my grandmother ever coming to the beach with us, as near as it was to her home. She was fair, redheaded and freckled and perhaps knew better than to subject herself to the sun. My mom has always loved being near the water; even on the water in a sizable boat was okay. But she’s never been comfortable in the water since she was caught in the undertow, nearly drowning at Plum Island, when she was three years old. You can bet I’ve carried that bit of trauma within my mother-self, always cautious with my kids at the shore.

More than six decades after my mom nearly drowned, our family gathered at Plum Island to fling my dad’s ashes into the sea—the same sea that once delivered our forebears to this shore, now somehow uniting for eternity ash and blood and sea water. I close my eyes and recall the salty spray of the Atlantic that day and imagine sweat and tears and sea. I wonder how many tears have been shed over the comings and goings of the sea. I picture Nora, Katherine, Rose—and me. I marvel that, through the sea, I am inextricably tied, like the most expert sailing knot, to these unmet, beloved women and I am in awe. Within that awe lies the truth: You can’t have a love affair with the sea without having the requisite amount of respect for its cataclysmic capabilities. You can’t see only its power to heal without knowing its authority to destroy. Therein is the reminder of its magnificent ability to give and to take. And that even after its most turbulent seizures the sea returns to a semblance of calm, leaving little treasures for us to pick up from the sand.

Mary Novaria lives between two slices of bread, trying to maintain her sanity, a sense of humor and some semblance of grace.  She is writing a sandwich
generation memoir. Find her blog, A Work in Progress, at
www.marynovaria.com or www.facebook.com/Mimsy811

20 Comments

Filed under Blog series-- Long Ago: Community, My Posts