On the Orangedale Road….

This story developed from journal notes taken during our recent trip to Canada, and time with our friends on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. I’ve written several stories from this travel journal. On the Orangedale Road appeared in the Alleghany News November 8, 2017.

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We turn down the Orangedale road. It’s the same sign. No real show of wear. But it’s only been five years. How much could change in that short period of time?

The curves. I remember those curves. Dodging the potholes. Making a game of it. Seeing how fast the old Silverado could go. The April night when snowflakes big as salad plates slid like wet meringue down the windshield as I crept across a one-car bridge with no side rails. This time Melvin drives, and I work hard to cram in as many memories as possible. I want to capture precious bits for future savoring. A little squirrel gathering nuts to relish in hibernation.

Around the last corner, bordering the property line we used to call ours, there is a For Sale sign.  I gasp. The road opens to a clearing at the water’s edge. The current owners have taken out the patches of scrub that blocked the full view of the lake from the house. They’ve etched a gravel path and created a boat ramp. The entrance to the inlet has been dredged. There is a mooring ball bobbing in the distance.

Taken on the day we closed on the property. It was definitely a “fixer upper!” We tore down walls inside and reconfigured the floor plan. Old siding came off, a new porch and deck went on. It went from a 3-bedroom ranch with an indoor pool and in-law suite to a 4-bedroom with a large master suite, spa bath, and new kitchen.

Melvin and I suffer pangs of jealousy. We wanted to do those things. They were on our to-do list. But in the end, we knew this was not our forever home. It was our adventure house, so we renovated, landscaped, and decorated, having lots of fun in the process.

We are hailed from the front porch of our former home and invited up. They are Carl and Teresa, a carpenter and a teacher from the Nunavut Territory, north of the Arctic Circle. Our adventure house has become their forever home. Besides the work at the shoreline there’s a new workshop partially constructed, and Carl has started to blaze a trail 80 acres back to a small lake on the property’s edge.

They are developing the land to fit their needs and enriching its contribution to the scenery along the Orangedale-Iona Road, a heritage road, (meaning dirt and gravel) which is the local route along the Bras d’Or Lakes shoreline.

Taken from the air soon after we took possession of the property.

It’s a road thick with maples, spruce, and white birch. Add a sprinkling of neat, little houses. I remembered that there was one particular bridge across a wide creek that always had someone fishing off the side, and dogs would bark at your passing car for the length of their property line. It was the unique character of this scenic road that first attracted us to the location.

 

We felt that same attraction on our first drive up Shawtown Road in Alleghany County, North Carolina. We had seen so many pieces of property. Some were obviously not right for us, and others were just not the perfect fit we were hoping for, but as the car wound up Shawtown we felt a spark. When we made the turn onto the worn-in tire tracks leading back from the road, we came over a little rise to a flat stretch of hayfield rimmed with evergreen, farmland in the short distance, mountains in the long distance. And there it was, the spot where we would build our forever home. Just as Carl and Teresa saw Cape Breton as the place to set down their roots, we knew this piece of Alleghany County was the land we wanted to shape into our senior nesting place.

 

And, what about the For Sale sign on the Cape Breton property? We didn’t ask. Maybe Carl is selling the acres just off the left side of the house. This land has the highest points, the widest views, and water access, which makes it very desirable. It’s only a guess. Could be that Carl plans to market the land to folks above the Arctic Circle. That would make sense. For people who live with a scant five months of temperate weather, Cape Breton’s warm summers, shouldered by mild spring and fall transitions, make the island look like the Canadian version of the Bahamas!

A Tribute to Anne

California, early 1940’s.

Remembering my mother,

Anne Draffkorn Rains,

on the day of her birth.

She was quite something,

and I mean that statement in all possible ways.

 

 

 

As I begin to write My Life In Horsepower, it’s appropriate to include a story from Mother’s automotive history. This memoir recently appeared in the Alleghany News, Sparta, North Carolina.

The Story of Big Blue

She was long and lean, and ran like the wind. Mother loved her. Daddy loved her too. She was a 1967 Chrysler Newport Custom.

Photo taken in October, 1988. Mother wanted to hand Big Blue over to me, but had to visit my house in Philadelphia to be sure the garage was suitable before she gave me the keys.

Daddy ordered the Chrysler the year I got married. He bought fleet cars from the dealer in Huntington, West Virginia, and told the owner he wanted something special for my mother. It was meant to soothe her mood in advance of my impending nuptials. Neither parent approved of my marriage for many valid reasons, one of them being I was only nineteen. Mother was distraught. Daddy was resigned, but both knew they couldn’t change my mind. To give her something to smile about, he ordered the car. Navy blue, black interior, black vinyl top. He called her, “Big Blue.”

I should note here that when my parents met in the 30’s, Daddy owned a little roadster convertible with a rumble seat. I’m not sure if it made him more attractive to her, but it sure didn’t hurt. It was a common bond. Mother loved the status and freedom that an automobile provided. Daddy just liked to drive.

Mother loved all material things, but especially cars. As a child of the Depression, owning a car was more than mere transportation. Many of her favorite stories included a car as one of the regular characters. “Pauline, Joe, and I took the Buick for a run up to the cabin.” Most old photos taken at outings included a vehicle somewhere in the scene. And so it became with Mother and Big Blue.

Blue took her through snowstorms that kept other cars marooned, and through rain storms that had other cars fishtailing off the pavement. She also transported visiting relatives to the funeral when Daddy died suddenly from a heart attack. Such was the partnership between my mother and that car, even at the age of 76, she felt the confidence to drive solo from Huntington to Columbus, Ohio, for regular visits after Laura and I moved.

Their partnership went on for years, but as much as Mother loved the car, she was also realistic. Blue was 18 years old now, and she decided only one of the pair could have chronic creaks, mysterious leaks, and trouble revving up in the morning.

She went back to the same Chrysler dealership, found the son of the owner who sold the car to Daddy, and drove away in a new Dodge Diplomat with all the bells and whistles. And Blue? She stayed at the dealership in storage as part of the deal…for free…for three years. Mother was a good negotiator.

Blue’s next home was with me, where she stayed until 2003. I took her on sales calls and country drives. After Melvin and I married, Blue went to car shows and rallys. She had a custom car cover and was always in a garage. I promised Mother I wouldn’t sell Blue while she was alive. I kept my promise. There was, however, no promise on who would be the next owner.

In the end, after 36 years of service to our family, I handed over to keys to three young men who talked about speakers in the trunk and flames along the sides. They said it was going to be, “one phat ride.” At that moment I heard the ashes in Mother’s urn puff, and felt Daddy do a twirl in his Indiana grave. I was reminded again of all the ways an automobile becomes more than just transportation, and how the love affair with automobiles continues because there will always be someone who loves the status and freedom, and someone who just loves to drive.

The Gift of Defining Moments

When Melvin and I moved from Atlanta to Alleghany County, my plan was to retire from work and spend my time writing. Melvin had shifted into retirement mode the day he said goodbye to Kirk-Rudy in 2007. He ditched the suits, stocked up on Carhartts, and started car-building and ham radio projects. By the time we moved to Alleghany, he was a full time retiree. I was a harder sell on the idea of “just writing” in my retirement. I kept seeing things to do, ways I could contribute to the community.

I had decided that after one last project, (the Working Writers Workshops in May) I would put aside the organized, multi-tasking event organizer side of life and opt for days nestled on the porch reading, writing, and getting lost in thought. Fortunately I was poised in that direction when March and April turned life upside down, and May brought a tsunami that would change the future.

In the last four months I’ve had some serious stomach issues, (ulcers) which brought about a personal reality check and refocus, which brought about my retirement from active involvement in community service projects, followed by a renewed dedication to my writing  and the support of our growing literary community. After nudges from my writer friends and mentors, there it was…a revival…a coming home to the things that bring joy into my life.

April, 1969. Detroit. Ages: 6-months, 21 years.

1972 Camden Park, Huntington, WV. Ages: 4 years, 25 years.

The new plan was just getting underway when I picked up the phone on a Wednesday night in mid-May and heard my daughter say, “The test came back. I have cancer.” It was one of those life-as-you-know-it will-never-be-the-same moments, right up there with the day she was born…a defining moment in the mother/daughter relationship.

Life now revolves around trips to Los Angeles for support, writing about the experience, and supporting local writers and community projects of the Alleghany Writers creative writing group.

In the spirit of mother/daughter relationships, here’s a memoir, Snoop. I will  be reading it at the upcoming Voices of Alleghany open mic night. Our usual meeting place is the Alleghany Library, but Miles Realty has offered to host our event in July due to a scheduling conflict at the Library space. Voices of Alleghany is open to the public and all are invited to  hear the writers and poets of our county read their work. Thursday, July 20, 7pm, Miles Realty, 555 S. Main St., Sparta.     Come to read, come to listen, come to support!

Snoop

The minute I pulled opened the dresser drawer I knew someone had been snooping. Sweaters that were folded with the precision I learned from three high school summers of retail had been jostled from their right angle positions in an attempt to reach the blue pocket folder holding all my money and personal papers. There were only two other people in the house, one of them a four year old with neither the strength to pull the heavy drawer, nor the shrewdness to cover her tracks. The other person was my mother.

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The Wonderful “What If?”

When I started writing fiction I found it so exciting to take a real situation and ask the question, “What if?” The fact that I could take something that really happened, change the sequence of events, sprinkle in a few new characters…and poof…it’s a new story.

Different, unique, totally fictitious. That was the premise behind the short story I’ll Keep You Safe. 

In 1996, Melvin and I spent two weeks in Alaska with a 36 ft. sailboat as our home. We loaded our provisions and water, then sailed the Kenai Peninsula for the experience of a lifetime. It was late-summer with barely two hours of  darkness that wasn’t really dark. We anchored in coves of crystal blue water, picked up floating glacier chunks to fill our freezer, and ate fresh-caught salmon for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Especially memorable was the four hour crawl through dense fog using only our instruments and charts. No visibility, just the latitude and longitude, and confidence that we knew our jobs and trusted each other to reach through the mass of white dampness and into the bright blue sky on the other side.

Then came the stretch of bad weather that forced us to tuck into a lagoon at the end of Taroka Arm. Three days of rain and a radio that was out of range for Coast Guard transmissions. Nothing to do but sleep, read, and watch the wildlife, mainly the parade of black bears that made regular trips along the shoreline looking for berries and fish.

Our anchorage at Taroka Arm. The white spot in the water is our boat.

That black dot on the shoreline is one of the black bears that paraded past our boat every day.

When Melvin decided to go ashore and hike to the top to get a photo of our location I stayed behind. Yes, he encountered a bear. Yes, there was a confrontation. But all passed with only a mild measure of drama.

So, my writer’s mind kicked in and asked, “What if?” The result is the story below. It was published in the 2011 edition of the Scratch Anthology.

I’ll Keep You Safe

He starts to slip—ten feet, now another five. He thinks of Janie. She begged him not to make this hike. Sharp edges of rock rip through his jeans, into his knees. Gravel digs into his hands as his fingers grip for something solid. He’s lean and strong but still can’t get his footing—every surface crumbles beneath him. A torrent of rock cascades from above. It bounces off his body, but shatters his equilibrium. He falls sideways, tumbling, plummeting down the steep incline.

Janie scoots her seat cushion across the deck to avoid the sun’s shadow on her notebook. She’s done her quarter-hour check, and has spotted Kip’s red jacket moving up the cliff. The shiny splash of red nylon in the distance lets her relax and focus on her writing. Grabbing for the binoculars, she pans the terrain one more time. Yep, there’s my man. I’m back to work. Satisfied that Kip is safe, she turns her attention to an accurate description of their remote location, determined to capture every observation on paper.  Continue Reading

I’m With Ya Sista

I was an only child. The good news….no sharing required. The bad news….no shelter from my mother’s storm, no partner in crime or close confidant. That’s why my high school years were so important. I found my tribe at Saint Joseph Central Catholic High. Our class of 68 students. The girls who would become my best friends and the boys who would taunt, ignore, flatter, and do all those things high school boys do. Never threatening, never menacing, just the best boys ever.

On Monday I will attend the funeral of one of those tribe members, Abby Moran Robinson. I’ll drive to Columbus, Ohio, for the service. But I won’t travel alone. I’ll meet another bestie, Kathie Grant Catlin, half way and we’ll travel together. Because that’s what we do. Share the load, offer support. Be family for one another.

That’s the way it is now with my classmates. Between the phone calls, the emails, Facebook, and the Yahoo group managed by Linda Kemper Daniels, classmate wrangler extraordinaire, we have a network that keeps us in touch. There are big reunions and mini-reunions, all designed to keep the connection strong.

 

Just Push Play was published in the Freckles to Wrinkles Anthology in 2006 . My mother and aunt never assembled a VCR, but I’m guessing if they had, it would have looked and sounded like this.

Aunt Pauline, Aunt Ceil, and mother, Anne. The three amigos.

Just Push Play

Sylvie wasn’t on the porch. It was Helen’s first clue that something was wrong. Half the fun of these weekly outings was whizzing around the corner at the last minute to find Sylvie pacing the length of the porch staring at her watch. Some days she’d be standing in the driveway ready to run to the curb. Sylvie would rather be late for Sunday Mass than late for Bingo.

Helen rolled up to the curb and honked, but there was no response.

“Probably dropped dead from a heart attack,” she muttered.           “Damn fool.”

She swung the big Buick into the driveway, rocking to a halt just short of Sylvie’s garage door.  She threw the strap of the portable oxygen tank over her shoulder and, with an arm stretched out to the fender for support, teetered around the car and up the sidewalk.

A blend of Aqua Net and Shalimar sifted through the front door screen to greet her. Helen looked inside to see Sylvie poised in front of the television, decked out in a lime green polyester pants suit that barely camouflaged her pear shape, and sporting a crisp new updo that showed off her Clairol blonde. She was talking to the TV screen in a heated conversation, making her point with a wagging finger edged with the shiny red of a fresh manicure.

“They’ll put you in the home if they catch you talking to the TV like that,” Helen said walking through the door.

Sylvie waved her sister inside with the other manicured hand, never taking her eyes from the screen. “Look who’s talking,” she shot back. “You hardly get around on those gimpy legs. If anyone’s bound for the home, it’s you.”

“Yeah, but I’d rather be crippled than crazy.”

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