Tuesday, December 8, 2009

She Left Us Stories

Cyn had reason to be skeptical of my schemes. When we were little, the small, blue-eyed blonde was the no-nonsense one, fierce. And I was full of fancy.

In fifth grade, R. tore up my class picture and handed it back to me, announcing he "liked" Cyn instead. He then asked for her photo. Forget it, she said, get lost. Plus, she told the stringbean boy, "I hate your fat guts and always will." Then, she jumped on the playground swing, leaving him standing literally in the dust, speechless.

So I remember preparing carefully when she came to my house not long after that. We had been spending most of our time together at Cyn's, where we were free to roam. But sometimes Mother insisted.

I decided we would go fishing in one of the ponds in the woods. I had seen Miss A., who babysat us and did a bit of ironing for Mother, carrying a huge terrapin down the old road along the woods line. She and her husband smiled and laughed as they told my father about their catch from the pond that day. They said they were making turtle soup that night.

Mother wouldn't let Daddy give me any gear. I was 10 or so and prone to drama, excessive grieving over dead bait in fishing pails. And during my one and only fishing trip, I screamed every time I caught a fish, which was frequently. I don't know why the fish were ignoring my uncle and father, who were in the same boat. They spent the day baiting my hooks and taking off the fish because I would go limp and refuse.

But seeing Miss A. and the terrapin had seized my imagination. Cyn had been peevish. So I asked for fish hooks and bait because Cyn had talked about fishing. Mother gave us things she and her brothers used when they were children. I was unsure, but she was adamant, so I packed everything up and inserted bullwhip and hunting knife into my elastic waistband, hand-me-downs from my brother. Then I tied a black satin cape around my neck. This last item was, well, fashion.

So, off we went, jumping over the grassy ditch spanned by my father's wooden footbridges, running past the huge oak with the rope swings and the barking bird dogs. We ran past their pens with bamboo poles flailing, a black-haired girl and a blonde, and one black cape floating in our loud, laughing wake.

I will never forget the path to that pond. Through the clearing with the old tree houses, we moved past the gnarled tree where we stole honeycomb when the bees were quiet. Then a quick bounding run through the strange bright light and eerie quiet in the middle of the woods. The spooky place that didn't make sense because the leaves were so thick overhead that I never understood where that light was coming from. But soon we were out of the ghostly light, climbing the old fence, careful of the rusting barbed wire with traces of old blood left by the careless, the unsuspecting, the clumsy.

Because at the top of the barbed wire, stretching high and balancing, we could see the water of that pond flashing in the sun, the touchstone of my childhood. Yes! Just there! And I would run for that pond, fast, feet nearly soundless on the dirt banks, taking me to the tree with the big long limb that soared over the water.

With Cyn that day, we set up our fishing gear. It looked strange. My mother had given us safety pins to tie on the end of string for the bamboo poles. And for the bait? Raw bacon. Mother insisted she and her brothers had actually caught fish using these. And I believed her.

Cyn didn't. She had three brothers and knew if there were fish in that pond they weren't going to be snagged by bacon and safety pins. But we climbed into that tree and threw the lines in anyway. I stretched out on my favorite limb, the black cape fluttering in the breeze.

Cyn was irritated, argumentative. She thought she was going to be bringing home fish. But she was stuck in the woods with an idiot who thought safety pins were fish hooks. She made fun of them. I defended. I made up stories about the buckets of fish my uncles had caught.

Then she started in on the pond. She didn't see any fish. "This is an old cow pond," I think she said. And then the cape. Why was I wearing that thing? What if people saw us? They would think we were stupid. They would think WE WERE JUST GIRLS!!! A frequent argument.

I dismissed her claims. Cyn and I were not easy-going children. But she got me, finally, on one point. I was lying on the tree limb with the black cape tied tightly around my neck. It was flowing down toward the ground. The sun was beating down. She kept talking to me, but I acted like I was about to fall asleep.

"You are going to fall off that tree limb and that cape is going to break your neck, Glimmer." I remember her words, clearly, to this day.

She was afraid. It took me years to comprehend that. But I remember taking the cape off and dropping from the limb. The girl who told off my young heart's first assassin was uncomfortable. So, forget the cape.

For the rest of the day, we played in and around the pond like the children we were, little wiggling snakes and all. Cyn's unease dissolved in the sun and the water.

Because she had been an ordinary girl, like me, just one year before. Then catastrophe struck. Her father took her brothers to a football game and never came home. His heart failed him.

Cyn understood, in a way I did not, that disaster unspools in the blink of an eye. That even a child must watch and be careful. Or those you love will vanish. So Cyn watched and controlled and fretted. Because she could not bear another hard loss.

But her good nature won out over the years. She turned the hard and the fanciful into stories. She worked with flowers and lightened her tales with laughter, drawing people to her along the way, so many people. Through her illness, we returned to the stories time and time again, the fishing, her "Tromper" in the woods, flaming boats sent down the creek into luminous southern nights.

And now she's gone on ahead. So I am the holder of the stories. I do not have her deep voice or the bright smile that framed the words lilting from her lips like a song. But I know them, nearly word for word. They glow like the candle I light when I put down the tales and pass them on.

She watched over us for nearly half a century. So the words are something. They are something.


  1. you are such a talented storyteller!!! love this post..again...how i miss the south..i really do...so thank you for waking these ghosts again..for us..to see..little wonders

  2. This was beautiful. You know, you had a childhood like mine. How many children are let free these days to fish in a river or a pond by themselves, to run through the woods, over barbed wire? I am so glad that you and Cyn got to do these things. Together. You made so many memories and it's so hard when a person with whom you share memories goes on. I have a theory that each of our friends is the keeper of a part of us that no one else knows and when that keeper dies, part of us, that part only they knew, goes with them.
    So please write these memories down. Share them if you want.

  3. Danielle: I am honored that you read my blog and take the time to comment. As I said, you must have be southern (U.S.) in your soul!

    Ms. Moon: We stayed where we are because the kids had a little mini environment to run free in here. It was nothing like the places you and I had -- swimming pools to our ponds and rivers, rock walls to our barbed wire, etc. Still, it was something.

    And I like your theory about the keepers. I think you're right. That's right I keep writing about the Cyn things. I can't bear losing them completely.

    I heard an old Pearl Harbor Vet talking the other day on the radio. He said that day was not nearly as hard for him as going to the funerals of all his good friends over the years. Now that was hard to hear.

  4. Wow. This is amazingly beautiful and real. I'm speechless actually. I loved loved loved Cyn telling that boy off. No wonder she has your heart. How perfect. And then not so perfect (her mood, your disappointment, her dad). I loved the mix of magic and real. Heartful, heartache. I love your cape. Your writing astonishes ME. Really. This is lovely and so moving. What stories. Thanks for sharing this, her, you...

  5. The words are in very good hands with you, Glimmer. Lovely post. Thank you.



  6. Bethany -- Cyn always told the boys off. And they loved it! And I've been partial to capes forever. I wear them to this day, a black one for everyday and a heavy wool from Ireland when it is really cold.

    And I am beyond touched at your comments. Because, of course, I put more of myself into the writing than I do in person because somehow it's just easier. Which I know you understand. I know from reading your fine blog.

  7. And you SB, of the hilarious blog telling everyone off. Not that there aren't people what need tellin' off -- I'm sort of quoting someone here.

    You're always there saying the perfect thing at the perfect time, when somebody has gone out on an emotional limb with a post (so to speak) and is sitting there quivering, thinking, "I have gone too far this time." We have your number. Keep up the telling off, though, somebody needs to do it.

  8. It made me sad to realize that Cyn had died. She must have been very introspective under the brave exterior. Maybe I am a little like her because I seem to have always had a fear of being left by those that I love. Wonderful writing Glimmer.

  9. You are right, Syd, she was. She would start to talk about it, but only for a second. She couldn't bear to, really. And you've written about that fear of the leaving, that must be an awful thing to worry about. With Cyn the source was obvious, her father dying suddenly when she was only 10. Leaving five little children.

    A few months after the dad died, Cyn's little brother brought his dad's billfold to me. He was a preschooler and said he wanted to show it to me. Cyn came into the room and got furious, grabbed it, snapped it shut and screamed, "Don't you ever touch this again!" She never talked about him to me and we were close friends for decades. Until right before she died.

    We admire the stiff upper lip. But I just can't really think it helped her any. I just can't.