Saturday, July 23, 2005

A Lie, a Truth, and Crepes Suzette

Four years ago, Bede and I attended a bi-weekly writing group. The following story is a writing sample from that time. I tried to make a longer story out of it, but it remained a writing sample. I have had a number of close friends throughout my life, but Marla is the best friend I wish I had in the early years, when I lived at the head of the holler in Newhall, West Virginia. I offer this story as a token of thanks for all of my best friends, past and present. I hope there will be more and better writing samples to come.--A the G

Marla’s dad makes chocolate-chip pancakes for breakfast on Saturday mornings, and doesn’t think your teeth will rot if you forget to brush from time to time. Whenever I stay over at Marla’s house on a Friday night, which is bingo night for the ladies in Shepherd’s Creek holler, Mom asks, “Will Mrs. Brewster be there?” Mrs. Brewster is Marla’s mother. If I say, “Yes,” then Mom lets out her breath in relief. If I say, “No, Mrs. Brewster’s going out to play bingo with the ladies,” the v-line crease between her eyebrows deepens, and she says, “We’ll have to discuss this with your father first.”

The last time I stayed over at Marla’s house was over a month ago. Marla’s dad was teaching us to make Crepes Suzette. We didn’t have any long matches, so we found some wooden skewers to light instead. Marla was the one who ended up calling the fire department. By the time the county fire trucks came up to the end of Shepherd’s Creek, Marla’s dad had put the fire out with baking soda. No one got hurt, but my parents were mad! They said I couldn’t stay at Marla’s house again unless Mrs. Brewster stayed home too.

On Saturday mornings, after the chocolate-chip pancake breakfast, Marla’s dad hoists the rowboat inside his truck and takes us fishing down the Boyne River. We never catch anything because he talks so much. Marla’s dad says he has worked on the fishing boats in Alaska and caught crabs that could break a man’s arm off with one claw. Once, he caught a shark in the nets and struggled with it until that shark slammed him with its tail and sent him overboard. Thank goodness, Marla’s dad says, there was a submarine nearby to rescue him. After that, Marla’s dad stowed away on a cruise ship to Europe and studied at a fancy cooking school in Paris, France. That’s where he learned to make Crepes Suzette. (I told my father about the cooking school after the fire trucks came to Marla’s house. “What rubbish,” my father replied. “Mr. Brewster has lived in Shepherd’s Creek his entire life. I doubt he’s ever left the county.”)

When we go fishing, we sit in the boat all day and eat marshmallow peanut-butter sandwiches. We drink watermelon pop out of plastic thermoses. At home, I’m not allowed to eat candy, chew gum, or drink pop, but Marla’s dad thinks a little sugar never harmed anybody. Marla’s dad gives us each a piece of Juicy Fruit gum to help us think of a lie and a truth. If Marla’s dad guesses the lie, we have to row the boat home. If we fool him, he gets to row the boat home and take us out for banana splits.

We buy fresh trout from the store at the bottom of the holler before we go home in the evening. “Look what we caught!” Marla’s dad says, as he holds up the trout by the tails. “Though nothing here’s as big as the fish that got away from this fierce girl,” he says, winking at me. “I think she almost caught an octopus!”

Mrs. Brewster isn’t fooled, and she says, “You’re filling those girls’ heads with foolishness.” Marla’s dad pokes Mrs. Brewster in the ribs until she surrenders a small smile. Then, Marla’s dad cleans the trout, Mrs. Brewster fries it up, and we eat it with green beans, cole slaw and raspberry jello salad.

Before bed, Marla and I pick out three different picture books to read. Marla’s dad reads each one to us, and then tells us stories about what life was like when he was a little boy. “What was it like for girls?” I asked. Marla’s dad thinks about that for a moment.

“My sisters and I played a lot of the same games until we got older,” he says. “We used to make mud-pies and build club-houses in the woods. In the summertime, none of us wore shirts and we ran wild around the swimming hole. After school started, we all had to put on clean clothes and good manners. Before too long, my sisters started putting their hair up and we forgot how to play together.”

Marla’s dad kisses us on our foreheads, tucks us in, and closes the door behind him. Marla and I lie in the bed and pull the pillows over our ears so we can’t hear Mrs. Brewster yell at Marla’s dad. The shouting goes on for hours, we think. “When I grow up, I’m not going to yell at my husband,” Marla whispers to me.

“Me neither,” I whisper back. We promise each other that we will also be nice to our kids and not give them too many rules to follow. If our husbands accidentally set fire to the kitchen, we’ll try to understand why they did it, and not think they were just trying to make trouble.

In the middle of the night, we sneak downstairs to the dining room. Marla’s dad sits at the table with his head resting in his hands. “How about a root beer float?” he says. We gather around one huge glass and poke the vanilla ice cream with our straws.

We three are in conspiracy. Someday, Marla and I are going to leave this place. We’ll take our fishing gear and head down the river with Marla’s dad. We’ll eat banana splits and Crepes Suzette until our teeth fall out.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Here is another phrase for you:

"drive the bus"