Writing has always been a way for me to get clear. Life asks so much and the mental day planner/calorie counter/checkbook/calculator/calendar can't quite keep it all straight, so writing gives me space. In the last few weeks I've been taking a Memoir Writing class. It is wonderful. My classmates are young and bright and thoughtful, and the professor is witty and wise and not only has he read every book ever written, BUT he remembers authors and quotes and correlations and philosophies, and I am in awe.
Because all of my creative juices are being expended on daily assignments, I've decided to share some of them. Now remember, if I were already an accomplished writer, I wouldn't need to keep taking classes. So as with all previous ramblings, I am a work in progress, freeing space.
My Earliest Memory
Judd’s Grocery belonged to my Dad, or so my Grandfather had him believe. It had plate glass windows facing Old Rixeyville Road and a gray metal cold drink case with the cap remover on the front next to the red Coca Cola lettering, just inside the front door. The cash register sat atop the penny candy counter and behind the glass, always covered with tiny finger prints, there were Fire Balls, Mary Jane’s and Lemon Drops wrapped in cellophane. In the back room of the store, my Dad butchered, so the floor was rough unfinished concrete that could be hosed down. He fancied himself a chef, of sorts, so there was always a pot of soup or stew cooking on the apartment sized gas stove, and everyone who entered had to “at least taste it”. The smells of cooking onions and potatoes mixed with the smell of freshly cut meat and disinfectant and danced a curious dance on a breeze that thankfully, also whispered of blooming lilacs and honeysuckle. Each day, after breakfast, I ran barefoot across the gravel driveway that separated our white cinderblock house from the white cinderblock grocery store to help myself to “just one” piece of the penny candy. The gravel was hot, but the backroom floor was always cool and moist and the black and white tile of the store front was smooth and soothing. A neighborhood store, it seemed, offered credit but no one ever seemed able to pay, and each month a decision had to be made as to which utility we could do without.
I had just turned five when I saw him. Mrs. Minter needed just a few things, (“Could you add it to my bill?”), and wanted to show “the little girl” what she had nestled into a red and white cloth at the bottom of her wicker basket. She said that he was part Toy Manchester and part Chihuahua, four weeks old, and at eight weeks she would “let him go for just $35.00”. She might as well have said thirty five million. In those days, my Dad owed everyone who didn’t owe him, and thirty-five dollars for a dog was simply out of the question.
You would think a child would die if she cried for days on end, but I never wanted anything so desperately in my life and no amount of explaining or threatening or cajoling could ease the unbridled despair only a five year old in desperate need of a million dollar puppy could understand. The crying went on for weeks.
Looking back, I feel a lump of guilt forming in my belly. My sister had died six months earlier and I hadn’t slept alone since her funeral. Apparently In grieving desperation my parents chose to strike a deal, “If you will sleep in your own bed, we’ll find a way to get you the puppy.”
He ate chocolate bunnies and didn’t die. I’m glad I didn’t know he was supposed to. He refused to walk, having to be carried for two months, when our cat had kittens. He thought nothing of relieving himself in the house and begged for food at every meal, but a little girl never loved a little dog more. He loved to ride, and would jump in the car with anyone. My Dad was mean when he drank too much, and he drank too much too often. I can’t remember my crime, but I remember my punishment. I can still see the happy excited face of my tiny black dog, looking out of the back window of my father’s car as he slowly steered down the gravel drive. He had promised to “drop” my dog on the side of the road, somewhere in the country. “Maybe next time you’ll listen.” It happened often but I was never certain which time he would actually follow through on his hateful threat.
Perhaps the human heart has a finite capacity. Once it is full, things start to seep through and are no longer held. My father found a way, in difficult times, to buy me a puppy. That puppy was always there – even when my father wasn’t.
That’s all my heart really needs to hold.