I've written a coming-of-age novel manuscript called Hand-Me-Downs. This novel is based somewhat on journals I kept during my growing up years and even things I wrote in college. I've chosen two excerpts to post here about growing up and adjusting to college that I think might resonate with readers who sometimes might feel a little different or lost or empty:
I’m building a sandcastle on the shore while my sisters ‘lay out’ on Mama’s old floral bedspread. The radio is playing full volume as one of those airplanes flies over with a banner advertising the seafood specials at the pier restaurant. Renee looks down and pulls up the side of her bikini bottom to check her tan line. She seems pleased, glances at her watch, and rolls over onto her stomach to tan her back. Laura says something to her that I can’t hear, and Jill passes the suntan oil over to Laura who squirts some onto Renee’s back and rubs it in.
Bored, I grab a bucket and start picking up seashells to decorate my castle. As a wave breaks, I stare into the sea, wondering what’s on the other side, what’s in-between. I crouch down on the sand and just watch for a few minutes. It always amazes me that we are on the very edge of the whole United States. I think about that every time I’m at the beach. I imagine a U.S. map in my mind and picture us there on the edge of the Carolina coast and get goose bumps about the fact that our country is three thousand miles wide and yet here we are almost off of it.
My parents, my brother-in-law Mark, and the man and woman staying in the cottage next to us walk up, and Laura sits up on the blanket. Mark leans over and gives her a kiss on the lips, then grabs the raft laying on the sand. “Tootsie Pop!” he yells at me. “Ready to go back in the water?” I run toward them with the sand bucket in my hand. When I run up, everyone is talking about where to go eat supper that night. As the discussion goes on, I get tired of waiting for Mark and look back out at the ocean and get that tingly feeling inside.
“What ‘cha thinking about?” Jill asks as she gets a Sundrop drink out of the Styrofoam cooler.
“Nothing,” I reply.
“Oh, come on, what?” Renee asks. Everyone looks at me, even the couple from next door. I feel my face get red.
“It’s just –-,” I stop, not sure how to explain myself. “It’s pretty strange to think the United States is so wide, and here we are on the edge of the whole country, ya know?” They are all staring at me like I’m speaking German. “The whole country,” I repeat to make my idea clear. “Isn’t that sort of neat?” Everybody starts laughing, and my face gets redder. Laura reaches over and tousles my hair.
“Isn’t that a cute thought,” the lady neighbor says, giggling. I wish I hadn’t said anything. I’ll never bring up anything like that again, because it was a wondrous thought to me, not funny. As everybody starts talking about where to eat again, Mark looks at me, catches my eye. He winks and nods slowly a couple of times like he knows what I meant about being on the edge of the country. He grabs the raft and motions for me to race him to the water. I smile and run after him, both of us leaving footprints in the wet sand.
Through the car window, I watched the rolling hills of Piedmont North Carolina between Chapel Hill and Raleigh – better known as Highway 54, a skinny, winding road that’s always full of traffic. I was in the back seat of my parents' Ford station wagon, heading home for the weekend and my two-day fall break. I was really looking forward to being a daughter again instead of a student. After all the stuff with Greg, I felt depressed and just needed to get away from campus for a few days. The car radio was tuned to one of those beautiful music stations that tended to put me to sleep."Can't we play something else besides dentist-office music?” I asked.
My mother leaned over and fiddled with the radio dial until she heard a song she thought I'd like. "I Can't Tell You Why" by The Eagles. "How's that?" she asked.
"O.K." I looked out the window, preoccupied with my thoughts.
Mama said, "What's the matter, honey?"
"You seem upset." Mama talked while Daddy drove; he rarely got himself into such conversations.
"I'm not upset."
"Did somebody do something at school?"
"Mama, I'm just tired." Mama looked at me over the top of the seat and then turned and gave Daddy a worried glance. She sighed and looked out of her own window, picking up the signal that I was not in a talking mood. But I hated to hurt her feelings so I felt like I had to say something, although I wasn’t sure I could explain it very well. "Mama, I don't know what's wrong. I've been at school for over two months now, and I don't know--I just keep thinking . . . is this all there is?"
Mama turned and looked at me with that motherly look of deep worry that I've come to know so well. "Don't you like college?"
"Yes, I like college, but I hope y'all realize it's hard to go to college. It's not something you like all the time."
“I remember Laura had some tough times at college.”
"Mama, that was a decade ago. It's changed a lot since then." Hell, yeah, I think to myself. Guys weren't even allowed in the dorms then, much less able to sleep over the way they now were. If that had happened back then, shit would have hit the fan. Of course, they found places other than the dorm room to have sex back then, but it was just so much more accepted now. Even expected.
Then Daddy joined the conversation. "Things change over time,” he said. “That's only natural."
"Yeah, but, it's just not what I expected is all," I replied, clearly not explaining my feelings the way I had hoped. "I just thought people would be taking life more seriously in college than they did in high school. I'm just disappointed, I guess."
"Can't you talk to that girl from Harrisboro?" my mother asked.
"Yes, thank God, I can talk to Ann. I don’t think I could have made it this far without her because she makes me feel like-- like I'm not that different from her, ya know?" Mama nodded and smiled, said something about how important friendship was, but I wasn’t really listening anymore. I was daydreaming, looking out my window again and thinking about how I used to ride the bus home in the afternoons from elementary school and how I couldn't wait to get home. I felt a little like that again.
Elementary school. I remembered how I loved the smell of the Doublemint gum Mama chewed whenever she went out the door with Daddy to go to a PTA meeting at the school. Daddy, smelling of Aqua Velva and Zemo, and Mama, smelling of Doublemint. I leaned my head back on the seat and closed my eyes, those smells conjuring sweet memories. I always loved to hear what my teachers had said about me to my parents, and I would bombard them with questions as soon as they were back from the PTA meeting. I did well in school so I never had anything to fear.
Now I was studying my brains out, and I was still not sure if I’d be able to pull up that D in my Math 103 course. My other grades were A's and B's, but math was usually what gave me a rough time. I looked out the window again, at Highway 54 stretching out ahead of me, leading the way home. A long and winding road. The Beatles' "A Long and Winding Road" was the class song at Tommy's high school prom. Since he went to a different high school than me, we went to two proms, his and mine. At Tommy's prom all the seniors gathered in a circle in the middle of the floor, held hands, and sang "The Long and Winding Road". But not many of the seniors knew the words.
I remember looking at Tommy and seeing him stumble over the words, open and close his mouth every now and then like he was really singing. He looked so young, so vulnerable standing there in that circle in his rented tuxedo, and for a moment my heart ached for him, maybe even loved him. For suddenly I didn't see him as a sex-crazed beer-loving teenage boyfriend, but as a 17-year-old who was as scared and as uncertain about relationships and about the future as I was. And whenever I heard that song, the melancholy sound of Paul McCartney's voice, I would remember the innocence I saw in Tommy's face that night. He looked lost, and I stood there that night by the punch bowl, silently praying that Tommy would be able to find his way down that winding road, that someone would tell him the words, that everything would work out all right for him. For all of us so unsure of what words to say, what things to do, who to be.
I wanted to share with you a few things I've written over the years that I wrote with the intention of giving hope to readers. Of course, my momsofboys.org site has some of my humorous writing. But here I've added some of my other writings below.
Good Housekeeping magazine article about a bone marrow transplant. Click link & zoom in to read:
This is an article I wrote about my young nephew's diagnosis of a rare leukemia, his bone marrow transplant, and some of the experiences we had along the way to finding his bone marrow donor. His bone marrow transplant was in 1993, and this article was published in Good Housekeeping in August of 1999. He is now married to a wonderful young woman, is a college graduate from NC State, has a great job in Research Triangle Park -- and is cancer-free. He is our miracle. I will never forget the role that hope played in his journey.
"Here I Am, Lord," the song that is mentioned in this article, is a beautiful and inspiring song, and I'm linking it here for so you can listen.
Bluebirds Fly -- News & Observer (Raleigh, NC) feature in the Sunday Reader, 2002. Click link to zoom in and read.
Bluebirds Fly is a short story I wrote based on the experience of my mother growing up in the North Carolina tobacco fields in 1939, trying to keep her dreams alive -- with the help of the movie, The Wizard of Oz. Part of this is also used as a coming of age novel I've written called Hand-Me-Downs. I always think of my mother when I hear Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
Newspaper column about Inspiring High School English teacher; written for The Cary News, 2003 - Click link below to read.
This is an article I wrote about my high school English teacher, Muriel Waters Allison. Other than my parents, she was the most influential person I encountered in my high school years. In addition to teaching us grammar and about comma splices and semicolon use, she taught us about ideas and putting them down on paper in an effective way. We did read some bleak or depressing novels, but Mrs. Allison presented them in a way that wasn't depressing; she always talked about hope and how people could make a difference. If characters in these novels made made choices, she let us know they were bad choices and didn't glamorize them or their bad choices. She found a way to put tragic events into a broader context so that these events did stand by themselves, they didn't haunt us.
If we were discussing a particularly depressing part of a book, she would lighten it with humor. She humanized these novels through her personal comments. Mrs. Allison allowed her students to know HER, to know her soul - not to just know her as teacher presenting a novel for an assignment. That made all the difference. I will never forget that night our class went to a dinner theater and tears streamed down Mrs. Allison's face as she watched the young boy in the play shout, "Camelot!" as King Arthur encouraged him to "Run, boy" and tell everyone there was once a such a bright and shining place. And that someday it can exist again. Check out this clip from a national touring company performance of Camelot -- the last scene with the boy. I did have the movie version with Richard Harris here, but the video link stopped working. This scene means more to me because I saw what it meant to my teacher that night.
King Arthur quote: "One of what we all are, Pelly. Less than a drop in the great blue motion of the sunlit sea. But it seems some of the drops sparkle, Pelly. Some of them do sparkle! Run, boy!"
In the article, I also write about the Robert Browning quote that Mrs. Allison wrote in my yearbook my senior year and how many times I've contemplated it over the years: 'Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,Or what's a heaven for?' . . . This song reminds me of that quote and Mrs. Allison.