Found Friday #36: Grandmother Memories

This picture popped up on my Facebook memories earlier this week.

I’ll admit it’s not a great photo. But I remember this day well, because I’m fairly certain it was the last time I had my grandmother’s chicken and dumplings.

I was visiting my parents in southwest Virginia, and my grandmother made a batch just for me. I insisted she didn’t need to do that, that I just wanted to see her and not to trouble herself over me, but stubbornness does run in the family, and she’d already made up her mind.

Looking back on it now, I’m glad I took the picture, and glad she did trouble herself. And very glad indeed that I ate almost the whole batch.

Old Friends (A Short Story)

The game was Two Truths and a Lie. The players, my best friend, Michelle, and me. The stakes: one bag of tropical-flavored Skittles.

We’d settled into the old back yard treehouse at a little after 10:00, just after peak lightning bug hour, and just before the moon crested the treetops.

It was after midnight now. We were down two bottles of Coke, one slice of the coconut cake we’d made together earlier in the day, and one shoe, which had fallen just after we’d climbed up, and which we were too lazy to retrieve. I’d never minded going barefoot.

Between bites of barbecue chips, I said, “You know I know everything about you, right? Like, this will not be a challenge.”

“Then you know I am full of surprises,” she answered.

That was true.

“You also know that I am allergic to bananas, and that I am secretly a pop star living a double life because I am super talented but also crave normalcy.”

“Too easy,” I laughed. “You’re allergic to strawberries.”

“So you acknowledge my superstardom, then?” She held her chin high, and then she laughed, too.

“That, my friend, is the plot of Hannah Montana, which we are much too old for, and I’m claiming all the Skittles for myself, since you don’t want to play fair.”

We sat in silence after that, listening to the rhythmic sounds of a summer night. Crickets, little frogs, and somewhere in the distance, revving engines and a police siren.

“That’ll be the kids racing down Main Street again,” Michelle said. “Jeez, how many of them are there?”

My mother had told us last night that racing had only recently become a problem in town, but that there also seemed to be an endless supply of foolhardy teenagers with an irrational need to win a stupid game with no actual prizes. Except maybe an arrest record.

“Can’t be that many. There aren’t that many kids in this town.”

That was also true.

“When did we get old?”

“You shut your mouth,” Michelle snorted, and punched the side of my arm. “I have never looked better.”

“Yes, the gray really brings out your eyes,” I told her.

“And the laugh lines make you look like Emma Thompson,” she told me, “but better.”

“Well, that’s good, because Botox terrifies me.”

“And I’m way too lazy for hair dye.”

Thirty-five years we’d been friends. Since elementary school, when Michelle had decided she liked me because of the unicorn on my shirt. I’d liked her because she had pink, hand-drawn scribbles on her tennis shoes. Our friendship had developed from there, mostly against the backdrop of the treehouse. It was our refuge, our secret base, and occasionally, where we’d stashed the beer and cigarettes and other sneaky teenager things. I was certain if we looked now, we’d probably find something tucked away, waiting for us.  

Michelle’s father was a doctor, and her parents had put her through an ugly, acrimonious divorce when we were in high school. It was around that time she’d started spending most of her nights at my house, and we’d gone from best friends to near sisters.

“I feel safe here,” she’d told me, one night around Christmas when we were seventeen, standing in the bathroom taking off our makeup. “This feels like what life should be.”

“This house?” I’d asked.

“No, dummy. This friendship.”

We’d slept that night in the treehouse, under a heavy blanket my parents had brought home from Greece before I was born. Michelle stole that blanket a year later, when we left for college.

“Your mom would want me to have it,” she’d said.

And she was probably right, because my mother hadn’t even mentioned it was missing.

As we’d gotten older, we’d left town, we’d left boyfriends, she’d left college early to paint and I’d left a string of unfulfilling jobs, but we’d never left each other.

“You’re stuck with me and my wrinkles,” I told her, back in the moment. “And I’m stuck with heartburn.” I rubbed four fingers flat against my chest. I could almost feel the acid bubbling. “God, why did we think this was a good idea?”

Michelle pulled a couple of Tums out of her pocket and handed them to me.

“Do you just carry those with you?”

“Yep,” she said. “You don’t?”

“I will now,” I said.

“We thought this was a good idea,” she said, “because tomorrow you turn forty-five, which means you’re practically fifty, which means you’re 75% on your way to death, which means you should eat the damn cake.”

“I think you did your math wrong,” I said.

“I still think you should eat the cake.”

“Noted,” I said. “Consider it done. Tomorrow. I’m not crawling down that ladder in the dark.”

We made a point of celebrating our birthdays together, mine in summer and Michelle’s in October. We hadn’t spent a birthday apart in years. Last year, for Michelle’s, we’d gone to Vegas. This year, for mine, I wanted something a little more simple.

“Fiji,” she’d complained. “We could have gone to Fiji, or anywhere else.”

“I know,” I’d replied, “but it’ll be nice to see my parents and just relax. Low-key doesn’t mean bad.”

“You just wait,” she’d warned me. “You’ll wish you’d done something bigger.”

“We can go to Fiji next year,” I’d said. “Or when I turn fifty. Or when you turn fifty.”

“I claim Fiji, then” she’d said.

And knowing Michelle, she was already making plans.

“I broke my arm in third grade,” I said, as I popped open the Skittles and poured a generous helping into my palm. “And I don’t really like people most of the time.”

“I think both of those things are true,” Michelle said. “Or did you actually break you arm in second grade?”

“Thanks for coming,” I said to her, “even though it’s boring.”

“Well, thanks for existing,” she answered, “even though you probably have better things to do.”

I looked around the treehouse, at our blanket nest and the pile of wrappers and bottles we were in the process of creating, just like old times, and at Michelle.

“Nah,” I said. “I don’t think there’s anything better than this, right now.”

“That,” Michelle said, “is actually, surprisingly, very true.”

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Thank you for reading! This is the sixth of twelve stories I’ll write as part of my 2021 Short Story Challenge. Twelve months, twelve stories, and the theme this year is: Home.

Here are the first five stories, if you’d like to read them: 

The Roads

This Place

Talk Out the Fire

Quiet Neighbors

The Return

And if you want to join in the fun, here’s more information. I hope you do! But just reading is good, too, and I’m glad you’re here!

The next story will be posted at the end of July.

Nothing (A Poem)

They say,
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,”
and knowing I can choose,
I’d certainly rather venture,
even if it means I lose.
See, it so happens that
I know a little something
about nothing,
that sad default,
that frustrating non-finish line.
Nothing:
What I say when I can’t find the words.
Nothing:
What I do when the world is too much.
Nothing:
What changes when I don’t.
Nothing,
safe though it may be,
just isn’t enough
for me.

Found Friday #35: Summer Daze

It’s a beautiful, warm, sunny day here in my little corner of the world. The birds are happy and singing. The breeze is gentle. The leaves are green and lush. The clouds are few and wispy.

Makes it hard to focus on much of anything except being outside and taking it all in. And you know, that’s just fine.

Real Talk: I’m in a reading rut.

I mentioned in my Q&A last week that my non-writing life has been unexpectedly chaotic this year. I’ve not been able to hike as much as I’ve wanted to, and I’ve not had time to work on some of my other creative goals. These things, I expected. Something has to give, right? But a surprising consequence of the chaos has been that I’m in a bit of a reading rut.

I read a lot. Normally over 100 books a year. I like reading. It’s a thing.

But this year, I’ve only read 24 book so far, and I’m having trouble getting excited about new books or looking for my next read. It’s weird, actually, and I’m certain it’s not permanent.

Which is where I hope y’all can come in! What are some of your favorite reads from this year so far? What should I read next? What book can I absolutely not miss? Send me recommendations! I like lots of different genres, and I love discovering new things. If you read it and liked it, tell me about it.

And I’ll get myself out of this rut, one story at a time.  

Dog Days (A Summer Poem)

The longest of days,
high sun, heavy heat,
and the creeping feeling
that a storm’s on the way.
Summer greets the world,
slow and hazy,
fierce and free,
all promise and no rules,
except these:
Be ready for anything,
and bring bug spray.

Everyone’s Friend (A Father’s Day Poem)

Music maker,
dreamer,
driver,
fearless motorcycle rider,
and friend to everybody:
That’s my dad.
Dad, you gave me
rhythm and time,
and you made your story part of mine.
You taught me how to live free,
(but with responsibility)
and to love fiercely
(but smartly, too).
Bold and kind and clever,
you gave me the best parts of you.
Forever isn’t long enough
to be grateful.
But it’s what I can do.

Found Friday #34: A most welcome visitor!

You guys! Look!

I’d lamented last week that I hadn’t seen a single cicada in my yard, and who should stop by shortly after but this little weirdo! I didn’t see him in person, sadly. He was hanging out on the bush that Graham can see from his desk, and Graham snapped a picture before he flew away. Not ideal, sure, but I’ll take what I can get!

Bonus Post! More Q&A!

Y’all, I missed some questions! With apologies to Shivani (whose blog you should definitely visit!), I’m answering them now. Because they’re good questions. 😊

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When writing a story, what’s the first thing you take care of?

It varies. Sometimes a voice will come to me first and I’ll start with a character, and sometimes, I’ll have a setting in mind. It just depends on what kind of mood I’m in that day and what’s standing out most to me. That being said, the first thing I usually do when I sit down to write a story is to make myself a cup of coffee (sometimes tea, but usually coffee) and to write a few journal pages, just to get any messy thoughts and anxieties out of my head. I find everything comes out a little more smoothly after that.

How do you decide on a catchy title for a story?

Honestly, I have no idea, and sometimes, I don’t. Choosing a title is sometimes more difficult for me than actually writing the story. It’s usually the last thing I do in the process, and by then, I just hope that the story is good enough. My best advice is probably just to keep it simple. The story’s the real work and the real reward.

EDITED TO ADD:

Are you sure your house isn’t haunted?

LOL, no! It’s almost 3:00 a.m., and I’m still up writing, and the washing machine just turned itself on and off twice in a row. Do you think the ghosts want me to go to bed already so they can do their ghost things before the morning?

Q&A! (Long promised, finally delivered!)

As promised, here I am with a Q&A. Hope you enjoy it!

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Why did you start this blog?

I started this blog back in 2016. I’d left a corporate job to pursue writing full time, and starting a blog as part of that shift just sort of felt like the sensible thing to do. It never felt quite right, though, and looking back, I realize now that I was scared. I didn’t want to put my creative writing out there, because I was afraid people wouldn’t like it. And I didn’t want to share too much of myself, because I was afraid people wouldn’t like me. I more or less rebooted this blog (and myself, really) in very early 2020, after my grandmother died. She was my last grandparent, and cliché as it sounds, losing her made me realize how fast life goes, and how quickly everything can change. I stopped worrying about being liked, and started thinking about what I wanted to create and how I could get it out into the world. And here we are today.

What do you have in mind for the blog in the next three months?

More stories, more poems, maybe a couple of travel posts. I’m also really intrigued by the six-word stories I’ve been reading, so that would be fun, I think. And I’ve thought about incorporating more posts about my writing process, and more inside looks at how I build stories. Is that something y’all would want to read? Let me know!

Weren’t you going to start a YouTube channel?

Yes! And it’s coming, I promise! My non-writing life has been pretty unexpectedly chaotic this year, and I’ve had to put off really digging in and getting started making videos, but I’m still planning to make it happen. I might even write some posts about how it’s going, once I get started. 😉

Still working on your novel?

Which one? I mean, yes. I have a love/hate relationship with my novel(s) at the moment. But we’re working through it.

Who’s your favorite writer?

Neil Gaiman. I’m also very fond of Kazuo Ishiguro.

What’s your favorite book?

That’s like asking me to pick a favorite star in the sky! I really like Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I read it many years ago and it’s stuck with me all that time. Recently, I’ve been reading Yona of the Dawn, which is a manga series and yes, I know that’s not the same thing as a book (or is it??), and I’m really invested in the story. Would recommend. And I still find myself thinking about The Song of Achilles, which I read at the beginning of this year. So, so good!

What does your name mean?

My personal name? Katie means “pure.” My mom chose it because she liked it. I’ve come around to liking it, too, but I desperately wanted a more unique name when I was a kid. I think a lot of kids do, actually. As for my blog name, I’ve lived in Virginia all my life, and I love it here. There are lots of places I’d like to see, and I can’t wait to be able to travel again, but no matter where I end up, Virginia will always be home.

Have you ever visited Waterford, VA?

Yes, I have! It’s a lovely little village here in Virginia, named after the one in Ireland, I believe, with some interesting Quaker history and lots of immaculately preserved historic structures. Graham and I actually looked at a house in Waterford, when we were searching for a historic home. It was our second choice, but a strong one, and I think we would have been quite happy there. Or in Ireland.

Tell me more about your house.

Well, I’ll start by saying that you don’t live in an old house so much as you experience it. And you’re not really the owner of an old house so much as you’re the steward. At least, that’s how I’ve always looked at it. I grew up in a small town with lots of history, and two main streets lined by beautiful old homes, and it was always a dream of mine to own a historic home of my own. It took over a year to find the right one.

Is it ancestral?

No. It’s housed many a family in its long lifetime, and I’m sure Graham and I won’t be the last.

Did you restore it?

We’ve done a few projects, and we have a few more to do. We bought it in good shape, though.

What’s your favorite part of the house?

I have several! I write in a comfy chair by the window and fireplace in my living room, and so I’m quite fond of that spot.

I also love the stone walls in the basement.

And the view. I love the view.

And I know it might be hard to believe, but I really love my small, practical kitchen.

Easy to use, but more importantly, easy to clean!

Is it haunted?

Depends on who you ask. Graham doesn’t think so and I’m pretty sure it’s not, but some of our friends are totally convinced it is. Either way, I think it’s a happy house, and we’ve always felt very comfortable. I did have a friend ask to come in and do a ghost hunt, and I was like, “No! Absolutely not! I have to live here when you leave!”

Tell me a funny story about when you were in school.

Here’s me, in high school, playing Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I once argued with a high school English teacher over whether Welsh sounds like French. (It doesn’t.) I should have just kept my mouth shut, but I was the kind of kid who…well, who just couldn’t. I also got in trouble in kindergarten for using paint brushes as drum sticks. Oh, and I broke my arm pretending to be a monkey on a set of monkey bars (isn’t that what they’re for???). Is any of that funny? I don’t know. I was an academic, musical kid, and I took myself super seriously. It wasn’t until I was out of college that I really embraced my silly side.

Do you have a favorite friend?

I’m fortunate to have a great group of wonderful friends, and since I’ve been working on the Better Friendships podcast, I’ve really started looking at friends and friendships differently. All of my friends bring happiness and value to my life in their own ways, and I treasure them for who they are and for how they each make my life a little better.

What do you think of The Gondwanaland?

I’m a fan! 😊 Thanks for asking, so I could say so!

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And that’s it! This was kind of fun, I admit. Maybe I’ll do another one when I hit 500 followers. We shall see!