[What follows are my freewriting exercises in response to the section titled “Test I” in Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away. Topics will jump around faster than a kid on Kool-Aid so hold onto your hat. The good thing? According the Goldberg, I get an A no matter what. Ha! Enjoy . . . ]
I remember riding with my grandmother one sunny morning through the streets of Grayville, Illinois. She had a habit of waving and saying hello to nearly everyone she saw walking along the sidewalk, only she never really spoke the word “hello.” It was always a mouthed hello, as if it really wasn’t important that she actually said it but that they think she did. On this particular morning she decided to take a shot at offering some moral instruction. We got to talking about girls and she told me “You’d better just leave that thing in your pants!” I must have been around ten or so, so the thought of taking the thing out of my pants, for the reasons she meant, hadn’t really occurred to me. I don’t remember much of the conversation after that blast.
My wife enjoys gardening and wanted to try out a plot when we built our new home, so I borrowed a friend and his tiller and broke ground. Her first big success was a vine full of glistening tomatoes. She beamed with pride as her and my oldest daughter plucked them from the stems, washed each one a then sliced them up to serve on a salad. There’s nothing like the popping, succulent brilliance of a vine ripened tomato atop a pile of greens. That was perhaps the simplest and best salad I’ve ever eaten.
I had loaded the family into our van for the long drive to Evansville. The worst part of the trip is the 70 mile stretch between Indianapolis and Terre Haute. The freeway meanders through valleys filled with trees, scenery not always the most stimulating for long driving. But it was cicada season and their cacophony ripped through the tinted glass and gasketed doorframes of our van and demanded to be heard. I rolled down the windows and we were instantly bathed in the din of evolution at work. Funny how so much noise can invite such reverential silence.
My 4th grade teacher’s face betrayed a touch of bewilderment, perhaps even shock, as I stood in front of the class and gave my oral presentation on the book The Amityville Horror. I wore a t-shirt I’d painted red, for blood of course, and which also had a picture of the famous attic windows traced on it. I read a few particularly frightening passages from the text and then left them all hanging with a cliffhanger ending. She was new to our school and was young with pretty light-brown hair feathered back and resting on her shirt collar. Perhaps I wanted to impress her with my ability to read way beyond the level of my peers. Or maybe I just wanted to shock her a bit. Wake her up, for she always looked so sleepy. Mission accomplished!
Christmastime and we were at the home of some friends of my wife. They were mentors for her Mothers of Pre-Schoolers (MOPS) group and were quite wealthy – I remember her preparing her contributions in each of her two ovens, centerpieces of our host’s enormous kitchen. The dinner was more of a lunch, as we’d call it in North Dakota – a bunch of finger foods with tiny toothpicks and dips on crackers. I wasn’t a big eater at the time, having just had my bypass surgery, so the opportunity to feast on bite-sized morsels of ham and rye break or pimento cheese on wafer breads was a welcome treat. I didn’t feel out of place because I wasn’t required to clean my plate or excuse myself before dessert. The variety was staggering and I enjoyed a meal for the first time in months.
We were on our yearly pilgrimage to the SonShine Music Festival in Willmar, Minnesota. The first drops fell as we were setting up our tent, forcing our way into – invading perhaps – the gentle field of grass and dandelions. We figured it would be a brief shower, for there appeared to be clearing skies to the West. But eventually the sky lowered for good and we got wet. It showered for two straight days. Sometimes it was a gentle sprinkle, a mist really, but other times the winds howled and the rain came hard and constant. Eventually, the crowd was moved into the shelter and we kept time to the pour as it pounded the metallic skin surrounding us, holding us in, and bringing us together in fellowship and sweat.