Roundup of great place-based “I remember” vignettes

Map of state settings of  American Vignettes for "I Remember" writing challenge on andreareadsamerica.com
State Settings of American Vignettes for “I Remember” writing challenge

The first call for American Vignette submissions, prompted by the words “I remember,” generated responses from around the United States. Thank you to all of you who submitted! Below is a selection of creative nonfiction entries that captivated me with their sense of place. I hope you enjoy them.

If you are hankering to write about your home state, another prompt will go up tomorrow, Wednesday May 21, 2014. I look forward to reading your work.

And now, remembrances.

I Remember the Mystique by Linda Tharp (California)

The First Time I Waved The Flag by Carey McLaughlin (Minnesota)

Nevada in a State of Solitude by Cognitive Failure (Nevada)

Black Bull by Kriscinda Lee Everitt (Pennsylvania)

Feathers and Horses by Lisa Rivero (South Dakota)

Sunland by Marla Ink on the side (Texas)

Come In and Sit a Spell by Sam Linkous (Virginia)

Boris’s Bluff by Iris Graville (Washington)

American Vignette Show Us Your State Writing Challenge badge on andreareadsamerica.comAmerican Vignette is a series of guest posts and creative nonfiction writing challenges inviting readers to share stories from home. Prompts will be posted on the first Wednesday of each month and will include challenge guidelines. If you would like to submit an unprompted piece, submission guidelines are here.

 

Guest post: Black Bull

This is a guest post from writer and editor Kriscinda Lee Everitt who contributed in response to the American Vignette: I remember call for submissions. The setting is southwestern Pennsylvania. Enjoy.

I remember, when I was nine years old—thirty years ago—we moved to my stepfather’s family home in a small former coal town in southwestern Pennsylvania. It was to be the setting of the long-awaited coalescence of our new, blended family. Blended in a few ways: the product of two divorces, two nationalities, and two races. None of these things occurred to me as important at the time.

Our property was edged on three sides thick with woods, most of which, today, is gone. But then—then it was a jungle and I could adventure for what seemed like a very long time before I reached the road, the corner of South Main and Cave Street, the geographic perimeter of my world. Across the road, a black bull grazed behind an electric-wire cattle fence. Beyond that, which I didn’t consider, the ramshackle houses of future classmates.

But until school started—another new school, the last, we’d been promised—the tangled mess that stretched between the bull and the green, mown expanse of the yard proper hid and protected me from my new grandfather’s indifference, my new brother’s loathing, and my sister’s bullying. I traded all of that, every day, for forts built of fallen timbers, the small sound of a strong, clear spring rippling over grass and twigs, and the mysterious allure of an old stone foundation, another house from long ago that had belonged to the family.

“You’re from Canada?”

“My mother’s Canadian.”

“Stupid Canadian.”

Despite the apparent black mark of my northern heritage, a girl from class agreed to come over after school. We lived just a few houses away. I remember we had been sitting on my back porch, talking, when she’d fallen silent and I looked up at her. Her expression was one of shock and fear, and without a word, she ran. Off the porch, through the yard, down the driveway—gone. I had no idea what had happened, so I got up, opened the screen door, and walked into the kitchen.

“Why did you leave?”

“There was a black man in your house.”

I could see the desperate concern in her eyes, as if she’d been up all night wondering if my poor family had survived the terrible encounter.

“That was my dad.” He’d walked into the kitchen for something to drink; she’d seen him through the door, over my shoulder. When I had explained to him what happened, neither he nor I knew why she’d left like that. I wonder today if he did.

She didn’t talk to me for the rest of the day, and the next day, when I tried to talk to her, she said simply: “I’m not allowed to be friends with you.”

“Niggerlover.”

I had to have my parents explain to me what that meant, and I think I let the word stab me only a few times before I erupted into a flurry of fists. And once I did that first time, it was a knee-jerk reaction, immediately, whenever I heard it. Recess was exhausting and some days I’d ask to sit inside.

“But it’s such a nice day.”

It always seemed like such a nice day. And it was, when I finally got home. I would hurry homework out of the way, stick a book into my back pocket, then disappear into the woods to climb trees.

No one went into the woods but me.

Osage trees formed the tree line, planted deliberately years before the advent of barbed wire, with their long-thorned branches. Though these now grew too tall to keep anyone out, they still acted as a barrier. Their fruit—“monkey balls,” I’d learned the locals called them—littered the ground. They would soften come autumn and become slippy if you stepped on one. In the woods, maple, ash, oak, and poplar competed for sun and space, along with mountain laurel, hawthorn, and dogwood. There may have been a few pines.

At the corner of South Main and Cave Street, where the old foundation hid beneath overgrown berry vines— “jagger bushes”—the black bull grazed. Behind him, the family that owned him—the McFaddens. It was Ray McFadden who’d first dubbed me the “Stupid Canadian,” and later, the “Niggerlover.”

At the foundation, looking through the trees over the road, I’d watch the black bull, chewing, snorting, now knowing what lived behind it. I wondered if he’d ever get loose; if the electric fence and the Osage trees would be enough. I secretly hoped he would get loose—a one-bull stampede, over the wire, down South Main, growing in size to crush this town.

Kriscinda Lee Everitt is a writer and editor. She co-edits for Nightscape Press and is the founder and editor of Despumation magazine. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Guest post: Come In and Sit a Spell

This is a guest post from writer Sam Linkous who contributed in response to the American Vignette: I remember call for submissions. The setting is southwest Virginia. Enjoy.

I remember that when we moved here, the door jamb of the outhouse was inscribed in black ink with, “Moved here on August 20, 1955.” I remember that we used our hands a lot more back then. We got calluses, wrote letters, waved at folks passing by, and raised them in praise of the good Lord. We said things like, “Come on in and sit a spell.”  “You all come back when you can.”

I remember the big lilac bush in our yard that us kids played around for hours and the large cardboard box, our cardboard Cadillac, that we took rides in to exotic places, and Mama’s fried ‘tators, and gravy, and biscuits, pinto beans with fresh green onions right from the garden, with “scalded” lettuce, and a big chunk of cornbread baked in the cast iron skillet that Grandma gave to Mama and Mama gave to me. I still keep it greased and ready to use at any time.

I remember: when the preacher actually still visited his parishioners and how everyone got excited when he pulled into the driveway, going barefoot all summer, catching crawdads in Slate Creek, picking chinquapins, irritating my older sister, being irritated by my younger brother, and how great that last day of school felt.

I remember wishing that we had more things than my friends who lived in town and wishing that I had a real pencil sharpener rather than my dad’s pocket knife, and jumping out from under those heavy quilts on those cold mornings to get dressed in front of the Warm Morning stove, the Top of the Morning show on the little black and white in the living room with bluegrass music.

I remember how I wanted to get away to enjoy the finer things as I understood them to be, but most of all, how I longed to go back every time I strayed too far.

Sam Linkous grew up in rural southwest Virginia. The son of a former coal miner and preacher’s daughter mother, he learned the value of hard work and the value of family through his younger years. He fulfilled a lifelong dream at age 40 and returned to college earning his BS in Art, with minors in Appalachian Studies and English and then an MA in English at Radford University, concentrating in creative writing, photography, and folklore. His writing mostly draws from life experiences and focuses on the “real world” in which he grew up. Some of his roles include: amateur photographer, poet/writer, old time musician, creating primitive furniture using re-purposed wood and folk art. Sam is always looking for that perfect photo opportunity or inspirational topic for that ideal piece of writing.