Best of Member Monday #7: Cut the Cake by Deborah Gilson

A Note from the Webmaster: It’s summertime, the glorious season of swimming, sunblock and sinking your teeth into a fat stack of books.  Alas, it’s also the sad season when Writers Forum goes dark for two months.  Never fear, dear reader, because for the next eight Mondays, Writers Forum will be featuring the Best of Member Monday.  The top eight Member Monday pieces were determined by the number of views each piece received on our website.  We’ll count them down beginning from #8 and ending with our #1 most viewed piece of the 2013-2014 Writers Forum year.  Congratulations to the top eight!  Taking the #7 slot is a piece by Writers Forum member Deborah Gilson.

Cut the Cake

by Deborah Gilson

It was my fifth birthday. Mom headed to work in the city after dropping Ross, my four-year-old brother, and me off at nursery school. From the instant I awoke, I waited for the day to end. At nursery school I told Crystal, the most beautiful little girl ever, I had a cake coming that night after dinner.

The magic moment arrived for my mother to pick Ross and me up from nursery school. On the front passenger seat of our red Volvo station wagon, I saw my cake box. I asked Mom if she could drive home a little faster. Looking at me from her rear view mirror, she said she would try.

Ross pulled a funny trick on the way home and began making siren noises while we crouched on the floorboard of the back seat. Ross told her she was speeding and would probably get a ticket. Mom pulled the car over to the side of the road and waited. When no police car appeared, she heard our muffled giggles. Reaching her 12-foot-long arm into the back seat, Mom could not grab either of us. Exhausted from another day’s work as a single mother, she slowly put the pedal to the metal and continued the drive home.

Standing in our tiny kitchen, my mother asked me, the birthday girl, what I wanted for dinner. With tremendous excitement, I declared, “Dinner shot out of a cannon!” This meant breakfast-style food for dinner, the fastest meal in town.

After dinner, Ross and I cleared the dishes from the kitchen table; my grand event finally arrived. Out of the box came an elegant, small lemon cake with cream cheese frosting. The edges were lined in pink and yellow rosettes. My mother intentionally handed me a spatula, instead of a knife, and said I could cut the cake. My mother began washing the dishes; thankfully, her back was turned away from Ross and me.

With Ross standing as close as possible, I held up the spatula as a sword for his big blue eyes to see, translating my deafening non-verbal message, “Don’t you even think about coming near my cake!” Without saying a word, my mother sensed my selfish and greedy demeanor, so she interjected over her shoulder, “And Ross gets to choose the first piece.” With disbelief and even bigger blue eyes, I screamed, “WWWHHHAAATTT???!!!”

Grabbing my cake from the kitchen table, I gingerly placed it on the kitchen floor. So I would be eye-level with it, I laid down flat on the floor to get a bird’s eye view for the precise cut. Ross laid down next to me, resting his chin on his folded hands. I measured where to cut the cake into pieces so Ross would not have even one granule more. Finally, I felt secure knowing I cut the cake into equal portions. Using the spatula as a serving tool as well as a knife, I gently put a piece of cake onto my plate and walked to the kitchen table with my mouth watering. Again, my mother knew inappropriate behavior took place and told me to hand my piece of cake to Ross.  Tears began to well up by now; I was positive I would have no birthday cake.

Being me has never been easy, however, it is the memories of how I treated my younger brother while growing up, which are difficult to swallow. With Ross no longer living, I think about my birthday night and wish I had done things differently. I long to go back to the evening of April 2, 1965. If this were possible, I would hand the spatula to Ross and say, “It’s my birthday and I want you to cut the cake.”

Debbie & Ross, 1965 PDF Photo.pdf

Member Monday: Katy’s Spirits by Deborah Gilson

Welcome back to Member Monday!  Today we feature a piece by Writers Forum member Deborah Gilson.

Katy’s Spirits

by Deborah Gilson

I’d been busting ghosts since I was a young girl, knowing they meant no harm. They were either unaware they’d died or felt they still belonged on planet Earth. Often when someone dies suddenly as in an accident, their spirit guides aren’t there to take them home because the death happened too suddenly for the guides to be alerted or called upon. In other instances, deceased beings feel they have a right to the home they once occupied and return. Others long for the life they once had and return for that familiarity.

Katy, my girlfriend on Kings Mountain, called saying there were ghosts in her home, causing upset since her kindergartner wasn’t sleeping well. She was desperate for my help and asked me to come over. I let her know her home needed to be quiet for me to effectively learn why the ghosts were there.

I went over the next day while her husband was at work and her two children were at school. I’d been sitting on the fireplace and Katy walked in to ask what kind of tea I wanted.  The back door was moving open by itself and she asked why that was happening. I

I said, “Well, I asked them to leave.” We believed the men to be Purdy Pharis, the man who was murdered there in 1884, and Hiriam Haskins, his suspected murderer. I encountered two men quarreling and a boy. I sent them all up in a bubble to fight it out up on top of our house, however, learned they no longer needed to fight. They needed to be heard and understood. The energy inside Katy’s house changed immediately and finally became their own.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

Member Monday: Charles, Jr. by Deborah Gilson

Welcome back to Member Monday!  Today we feature a piece by Writers Forum member Deborah Gilson.

Charles, Jr.

 by Deborah Gilson

In August of 1999, our family was on a road trip to Disneyland in a rented RV. It was a vacation, including six teen-agers, two of who were Ross, my deceased brother’s, kids. Spencer, our son, was two-and-half years old at the time. I remember my mother telling me, I ought to have my head examined for attempting such an excursion. As it turned out, this journey was a memorable one.

We made several stops along the way to various sites, such as Hearst Castle. We rode horses at a dude ranch and spent the night at a hot springs “resort” for RV drivers. Did you know the smelly waters of hot springs could turn even your most precious jewelry a greenish black?

At last, we arrived at Disneyland and checked into the Disneyland Hotel. The teen-agers were excited to get onto the rides. They were given their passes and off they ran. I stayed with Spencer, while my husband caught up to the others to enjoy big-kid rides. It was early in the afternoon when Spencer and I took the tram to Disneyland.

The intense Southern California sun was relentless. I pushed Spencer’s covered stroller to a water fountain, lifting him out so we could splash water on our faces. We were at the fountain approximately 10 minutes when a tall, blond, handsome fellow in his early 30’s, approached. He commented on how much fun we were having, watching us with envy and sadness. I looked closely at this man’s face and could see an empty, faraway look in his eyes. What was he thinking at this moment? What happened to this gentle-faced young man? I took the time to listen.

Holding Spencer’s hand, I asked this man why he approached. He said he had a son, Charles Jr., who was also two-years old, with blond hair and blue eyes. I told him I was enjoying my life with my son, feeling blessed having him. Charles Sr. pulled out of his wallet a well-worn photograph. A smiling boy, sitting next to the edge of his swimming pool, was wearing only a diaper. It was then the man began his story.

Charles Sr. was from Mariner’s Cove, the Hawaii Kai side of Oahu, Hawaii. I told him I lived on Oahu eight years, having attended the University of Hawaii. I spent a majority of my time in Mariner’s Cove with a family who accepted me as their calabash, or adopted daughter. I knew Hawaii Kai very well and even knew of the street on which he lived. What a twist of fate he and I should meet today.

One day, Charles Sr., and his young son were in their fenced backyard, sitting by the pool, playing. Thirsty for water, Dad carried Charles Jr., outside the pool area, setting him down near the gate. Dad had an eight-foot high, security-alarmed gate surrounding the pool, with a lock on the gate. After a mere two minutes, Dad returned to the pool area, calling his son. No answer. As Dad rounded the corner, to his horror he discovered Charles Jr., face down in the swimming pool, with his water-filled diaper visible.

Dad dove into the pool, pulled his son out of the water and administered CPR. With his portable telephone nearby, he dialed 911. The paramedics arrived, also administered CPR, only to deliver the most shocking news to Charles Sr., “I am sorry, Sir, we are unable to revive your son.”

Spencer and I stood quietly.  Charles Sr. broke the silence by telling me no matter how much security I think I have; never turn my back on my young son when he is near water. I nodded in agreement. I thanked this man for approaching and sharing his story. He told me the likeness of my son to Charles Jr., was so overwhelming, he felt compelled to talk with me. To this day, when Spencer is near water, I look back into the eyes of Charles Sr., and am reminded of his beautiful young son.

Charles Sr. has a gorgeous blond daughter now, whom we met. He displays a tremendous amount of devotion to his young daughter.

We do not know what awaits us around the corners of our lives.  We can, however, recognize and acknowledge the precious treasures we are given. When I look into Spencer’s eyes, I know I do.

Spencer PDF Photo.pdf

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

Member Monday: Old Friends by Jennifer Phelps

Welcome back to Member Monday.  It’s a pleasure to feature member Jennifer Phelps.  Jennifer’s piece, Cigarettes in the Volkswagen was recently published in the 2013 issue of the Santa Fe Literary Review.  Welcome, Jennifer!

Old Friends

by Jennifer Phelps

We all need quiet in our lives.  We must sweep off the table and make space for it.  My life’s work dwells in the quiet spaces between things – of that I am certain.

When I was little, I had plenty of quiet.  We lived way out in the country, in the middle of an apple orchard, and I was always alone.  I had no siblings, no neighbors with kids, no playmates.  What I did have was an active imagination, and I was a voracious reader and so I enjoyed robust adventures of my own conjuring.

friendsStill, I thought I was lonely.  I built tree forts and yearned for a friend – a Diana to my Anne (of Green Gables) – to come climb with me.  We would giggle and tell secrets.  She would know my heart and understand me without a word.

I thought I was lonely, and maybe I was, with only an aloof cat, the mute companionship of a sweet-natured dog, and the rough-barked apple trees.  But as it turns out, along with the tree houses, I was also building something else.

I was building a relationship with myself.  I asked myself questions and listened to the answers.  The trees were my companions, the tractor-torn clay of the earth.  I ran barefoot and my feet became tough and impervious to rocks.  I ate plums and mulberries – and apples, of course – warm from the tree.

When I started school, I was confused by the complexities of interactions with my peers.  Many of them were abrupt, judgmental, inconsistent.  I began to see relationships as troubling, unsatisfying, and hurtful.

I have been blessed with some very dear friends in my life, but a true and durable friendship, as many of us know, is an uncommon thing.  That Diana to my Anne – that “kindred spirit” that L. M. Montgomery spoke of – I don’t know that I’ve ever quite found her.  Unless…

Unless I am that friend, to myself.  When I think about it, this dialogue that has continued for well over 30 years, this old and comfortable knowing of myself that goes deeper than words, has served me well ever since my childhood, when such self-companionship was forced on me through my isolated circumstances.

When I’m alone, undistracted, and able to really be with myself, it’s like a visit with an old, dear friend.  I thought I was waiting to meet her, but maybe she’s been here all along.  She’s been waiting in the quiet spaces between things…and she is always there for me.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

Member Monday: A Mile in Their Shoes by Alicia McCauley

Welcome back to Member Monday.  Today Writers Forum member Alicia McCauley shares a piece from her first trip to Uganda.  Alicia will be sharing about her time as a writing teacher and a Vigilante of Kindness in Northern Uganda at the April Writers Forum meeting.  Welcome, Alicia.

Author’s Note: In the summer of 2012 I took my first trip to Northern Uganda as a volunteer writing teacher at a school for former child soldiers, orphans and other students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend school.  As I prepare for my third trip to Uganda, I look back with fondness at my very first blog entries about the people and the land that has since captured my heart.  Here’s an entry from a day I’ll always remember.  I’m still in close contact with these boys and have the distinct joy of watching them grow into young men of honor and integrity.

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A Mile in Their Shoes

by Alicia McCauley

After church on Sunday, I stayed at the school for the afternoon and hung out with the kids.  Sunday is their only full day off from school and it was great to spend a little time getting to know them.

These kids are so funny.  Laughter is like breathing here, bubbling out of the easy smiles of the students.  It’s the white noise of the campus.

It never ceases to amaze me what kids will share if you just spend time with them sans agenda.  After church I sat in the shade of one of the outdoor classrooms shooting the breeze with the kids, talking about things like rap music and soccer.

Then the conversation took a turn and the kids started talking about their experiences as night travelers during the terror-filled years when Kony rampaged through the north.

Each night they’d travel the dark road from their houses and huts and into Gulu.  You can’t imagine the pitch darkness of this road.  No glow of electricity.  No flashlights.  Only stars pin pricking the sky and the white face of the moon to watch over them.

The boys walked for miles with their cousins and siblings, an ant trail of children hurrying along the edges of the roads in search of shelter and the hope of safety in town.  One particular boy was ten years old at the time.

I think about my nieces and nephews who are around that age and I imagine them walking that dark road together and I use the corner of my skirt to wipe the agony from my eyes.

The boys talked about family members who were taken; uncles whisked away, fathers snatched out of the potato garden in the early morning hours.  They talked about family members who are still missing and about others who were mercifully released.

They also told stories of children forced into servitude for the LRA, walking for days with heavy loads balanced on their heads.  A single utterance hinting at hunger or fatigue meant a sure and swift death.

The boys told horrific stories that I can’t even bring myself to type because the malevolent inhumanity of it burns in my stomach and causes hot vomit to sizzle in my throat.

It’s fitting to me that the school is built in what was once one of the most violent and unstable areas in Northern Uganda.  The heart of the school is their dedication to love and justice and I can’t think of a more fitting place to make such a declaration.

On my way back to town that Sunday, I walked part of the road used by the night traveling children.  Two of the boys escorted me and I couldn’t help but sneak peeks at their faces, imagining younger versions of them making this walk in the dead of night.  We walked about a mile before flagging down bodas that took us the remaining miles back into Gulu.

Sunday night my heart was heavy, weighing me down in my sleep as the boys’ stories came to life in my nightmares.

Every good teacher learns from his or her students.  Here in Uganda, I’m eager to learn how these children walked the darkest road and arrived at this destination, to a time and place where laughing is like breathing, where love and justice prevail over land once red with the blood of their loved ones.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!