Was that Memorial Day that just zipped past? Whoosh! I barely had time to think about what I want to do this summer.
First on my list was a spa pedicure. It felt wonderful to sit down for an hour. I always pick out fun nail polish colors like turquoise or navy blue, but wind up getting good ol’ reliable pink.
With my feet in fine fettle, I came up with a list of three things to do this summer. A very Tiny Little Summer Plan.
One: Make banana pudding from scratch. I haven’t made meringue since the disasterous freshman home ec banana creme pie, the one that turned green. This time I kept dropping eggs down the sink as I separated them. I hate cracking eggs. I used to be afraid of eggs (the cracking part). Now I slam them on the side of the bowl or the skillet, trying to make a dent in the dinosaur-like shells.
It turned out wonderful! I don’t really like the bananas–fruit in desserts tends to get on my nerves. Now I’m going to tackle a made-from-scratch Southern recipe every week.
Two: Travel small. We’re taking tiny little trips to parts of Virginia no one wants to visit and aren’t on GPS tracking systems. Sometimes these places don’t even exist, though they’re marked on the atlas. I call these trips Story Roads. There are stories everywhere and I intend to find them.
Three: Fill a journal. This is my Story Road journal. (The paper collection is called “Mayberry” from SEI. Don’t you love it?) I plan to fill it, maybe even start another. I have a zillion of these composition notebooks, but they are assigned to particular books or projects or seasons. This summer I will fill a whole journal. I’m also taking pictures and plan to make a mini-scrapbook or collage board at the end of the summer.
Then there are the things I don’t want to do this summer, but have to. Here’s my nemesis. The lawn mower . . . and our yard. I hate our yard. Not because it’s ugly–it’s not (well, we do have a lot of chickweed and crabgrass), but because it’s there. It takes me three days to mow our entire yard. At first I thought it was fun, but the novelty wore off when the humidity shot up.
My idea of yard work is plucking dead leaves off the geraniums or tucking song sparrow nests in a two-hundred-year old tin lantern. Now every Friday, I unlock the mower from my husband’s shed and jerk my arm out of the socket starting it. I push and pull it up hills and down slopes and judder over the roots of the maple tree. The beast spits gumballs back at me. The grass, I swear, ducks flat when I approach only to spring up when my back is turned. I can hear it giggling. When I’m not actually mowing, I’m complaining about mowing. Why did we have to buy the biggest corner lot? Why did my husband have to plant so many bushes for me to cut around?
By Sunday evening, I’m spotted with mosquito bites, too tired to eat anything not loaded with sugar. The yard looks wonderful. The house does not. No one gets past the front door without a warrant.
I’m too tired to clean the house. It’s all I can do to sit on the front porch, stare into space, drool a little. Years ago, when I was unbelievably anal, I would spring clean my house beginning April 1, starting in the upstairs back room. I’d clean (even the baseboards) and declutter my way downstairs, ending up on Memorial weekend on our patio, sitting in the pink swing with the latest magazines and a cold drink.
Now the baseboards get dusted when the cat drags his tail along them and I was lucky to paint porch furniture this spring, much less clean the whole house from top to bottom. I’m particularly proud of our “sideboard,” actually an old sewing machine cabinet (I bought it for the beautiful sewing machine).
If you came over, and my husband and I weren’t off gallavanting on one of our tiny little trips, or I wasn’t mowing and sweating and cussing, I’d fix you iced tea and homemade-from-scratch banana pudding. You could serve yourself from the sideboard then we could sit in the pink swing and listen to the song sparrow sing his evening song.
We had a bunch of things to celebrate yesterday. Number One: my husband’s x-ray was clear! He has two whole lungs now! You can’t imagine how much you need your lungs until you don’t have them for seven months.
As we sat in the x-ray waiting room (my husband’s had so many chest x-rays we could use him for a nightlight), a couple in their 70s sat next to us. He had a long gray ponytail rubber-banded in sections and was on oxygen. His wife was on a walker. They struck up a conversation about cars and how they don’t want no gas-guzzlers no more, won’t have a car ‘less it gives 40-50 miles to the gallon. Then the wife told my husband, conspiratorily, that she had a fast car once. “Oldsmobile 442. You know, four on the floor, four barrels, dual exhaust.” I pictured her kicking her walker aside as she laid rubber down U.S. 1. I will almost–almost–miss those days in the x-ray lab.
At home there was a package in the mail: my first two copies of Rebel McKenzie! I’ve been used to the front cover for some time, but the back cover was a nice surprise. The publisher used Rebel’s beauty pageant application, which speaks volumes about her.
Number Three was also about Rebel. She got a starred review in Booklist! Normally I don’t talk about reviews, but this is the book of my heart. It has more of me (and my sister) than any book I’ve written.
Of course we had to celebrate all this good stuff. We decided to celebrate Rebel-style. The fanciest place Rebel goes to eat is Kline’s Tastee-Freez. The nearest thing we have to a Tastee-Freez is Sonic so off we went.
We’ve only been to Sonic once and couldn’t seem to grasp the concept of ordering. That time we got out of car and went in the back door, believing it was the dining room. It was the kitchen. About ten young carhops and fry cooks were jammed in the small space. They whirled with surprise, napkins and plastic spoons flying in the air like a deck of cards. I think they thought these two old dudes were holding them up.
Here’s the review from Booklist!
REBEL MCKENZIE [STARRED REVIEW!]
Author: Ransom, Candice
Twelve-year-old Rebel McKenzie, who is practically a paleontologist, sees her summer take an unexpected turn when, instead of attending the Ice Age Kids’ Dig and Safari, she is commandeered to babysit her young nephew, Rudy. Having relocated to the Grandview Estates “mobile community” with Rudy and his beauty-school training mom, Rebel stumbles upon a plan to raise money for camp; she will win the Frog Level Volunteer Fire Department Beauty Pageant. How hard can that be for the most interesting person on the Grandview Estates? With a cast of characters which includes a 21-pound Siamese cat who can pee in a toilet, a former hand model, a seven-year-old who picnics with God at lunchtime, and an up-and-coming pageant contestant and her mother—who act as if they live in Buckingham Palace as opposed to a trailer park—Rebel is hardly surrounded by bores. Everyone is worth knowing in this rich and funny book. While Rebel learns a thing or two about loyalty, family, and empathy, her sharp-as-a-tack wit and boatload of sass guarantees that no lesson is delivered with a heavy hand. Like a blueberry Slurpee on a scorching hot day, Rebel McKenzie is perfect for summer, when everything can go right, even if nothing goes as planned.
— Kara Dean
The turtle appeared in the garage, pointed towards the door leading into the house, every day at lunch time. I fed him his own little meal on a separate plate. I never caught him coming into the garage or leaving. I named him Boxcar Willie, but changed it to Job when I remembered the box turtle in my forthcoming book Rebel McKenzie.
In Rebel, Job is a box turtle of legendary proportions. He figures mightily in the imaginations of the characters, especially Rudy, Rebel’s seven-year-old nephew who has lunch with God and picks out people’s funeral outfits before they are dead. The final chapter in the book is titled, “The Return of Job.”
Box turtles appeared in our garden when I was growing up. Once my sister painted her initials on a turtle’s back in pink nail polish. For several summers, the turtle returned, the polish on his shell a little more worn.
So last summer I painted my and my husband’s initials on Job’s shell. I fed him cat food until mid-September, when I began to worry. He was supposed to eat greens to clean out his digestive system and get ready to hibernate. For box turtles, hibernation is their most dangerous time. I didn’t want Job digging his mud hole with a gut full of Friskies Savory Beef. I brought him lettuce and he turned his beaky nose up at it.
I’ve wondered about Job a time or two. And yesterday, when my husband and I came back from lunch at Cracker Barrel, there he was, standing in the exact same spot, pointing toward the door into the house! I ran inside to get the camera and a little welcome-back plate. Persnickety ate her lunch right beside him, with a “Whatever” expression, just like she did last year.
When I get a chance, I’ll refresh the initials on Job’s shell. He doesn’t like being messed with, but I’ll bribe him with Friskies Tasty Treasures. Welcome back, Job.
Here it is, the in-depth interview everyone has been waiting for. Jama Rattigan of plumbs my darkest secrets at Jama’s Alphabet Soup. Learn why Iva really likes to dig, my secret formula for writing Southern, the exact location of Uncertain, where I got all those funny names, and a little bit about the sequel, Iva Honeysuckle Discovers Her Match.
Truthfully, Jama Rattigan is a crack interviewer who asks excellent questions that made me think. Writers don’t analyze their work too much–if at all–while a book is in progress. But things don’t happen in books by accident. Jama’s questions helped me realize how my tiny little brain put things together.
It was a week of fragmentation: work that went well, work that didn’t, one lovely lunch in the middle, four hours of hospital pre-op that made me realize if I ever got a tattoo it would be of my insurance card, an overnight trip to western Virginia for a school visit, the very long drive home in rain.
Finally we made it to Saturday, which felt like flinging ourselves backward in a feather bed after walking a tightrope for five days. It was the last Saturday, the last free day, before my husband’s surgery. We piled in the truck and headed east, away from the lawn that desperately needed mowing, away from the sameness of soccer fields and Starbucks.
The band squeezing my chest began to ease with the sight of red clay neatly turned, the green surprise of barely-up corn and soybeans. Small towns–King George, Montross, Warsaw–were lively with community yard sales, plant sales, bake sales, auctions, and people just standing in parking lots yakking.
We stopped at our favorite Opp Shop. I picked up a 1972 Polaroid Square Shooter with case and instruction booklet, a wooden shelf, a James Lee Burke novel, and a brand-new notebook office “system.” $2.10. We gave them $5 because anything less felt like stealing. Then we sat in the cab of the truck, ate Oreo doughnuts (worth every calorie) and read our respective sections of the Wall Street Journal.
In White Oak we stopped at an antique place where the stock never changes, the prices are never lowered, but the man who runs it tells such good stories, I always buy something over-priced I don’t really need just to hear him talk. I let my husband take a picture of me at the tail-end of my cut and color.
On we drove. The land grew flatter (good for growing all that corn). I noticed dozens of small abandoned houses, isolated in the middle of fields, some lifting shoulders bravely to the sky, others given in to neglect and gravity in a heap of boards. We passed roadside markets selling geraniums and wineries and hamlets like Lyell and Nomini Grove. Turkey vultures skated on the bottoms of clouds.
Then we sailed across the high bridge arching over the Rappahannock River and into Tappahannock. We landed at Lowery’s seafood restaurant. As I ate fried fish, I noticed the older women had on their white capri pants and bright “tops,” sensible leather sandals, and carried summer-weight straw bags. Their toenails gleamed pink and they chattered like parrots.
On our way home, we found what we’d been longing for but didn’t know it: strawberries. Not those baseball-sized fakes in grocery stores, but fresh-picked from the patch steps from the roadside stand. Strawberries, red and ripe all the way through. My husband picked up a couple of tomatoes and I added three pots of toenail-polish pink geraniums.
At my feet in the graveled lot, I spied a dark brown flight feather from a turkey vulture. The best gift of the day. At home, we set the tomatoes on the window sill and hulled the strawberries. I tried to smooth the torn wing feather, mesh the barbs into the tight, safe structure that enables vultures to soar. I lacked the skill to zip the barbules together.
But that’s okay. I know we can still fly.