Death of a Dream

This is another short fiction piece I wrote a few years ago.

As I post it here, my thoughts drift to California.


The sickening sweet of smell and taste of paregoric invaded my senses.  It was the only comfort I found in the scene laid out before me.  It was odd that I found comfort in that observation.  It whisked me back to my childhood at a time when my grandmother rubbed this intoxicating brown liquid across my gums to ease the pain of a sore tooth.  Why could I taste it?  I found myself dizzy as I tried to breathe through my nostrils – I had subconsciously started breathing through my mouth.  In a strange way it helped me think about something other than the fallen trees that crossed the street ahead of me.  It was as if I was alone in the universe just for a brief moment.  That familiar licorice smell snapped me back and I began to see my friends and family emerge from the old town hall.  The dazed expressions choked the remaining oxygen out of the smoke-filled haze.

“What will we do now?”  I looked up at the confused face of my beloved aunt as she spoke.  I had no answers and I knew in that moment she didn’t expect one.

Most of the buildings lay in shambles.  The town hall was one of the few brick structures in town and even it was charred.  I saw tiny lines the tears had left on the faces of the people I loved.  Little clean rivers running down faces covered in soot.

We fought the construction as hard as we could.  This place – my home – was one of the few places left where generations lived and cared for one another together in the same house.  We treasured the rich history of our ancestors and respected all they worked for to create this place for the generations that would follow.  To lose it now – in this way – crippled all of us.

I had been elected as the one to talk to an attorney and try to fight the impending highway.  Why wasn’t I here?  The fire started in the middle of the night.  Butch went house to house knocking on doors.  The weather had been so dry the fire was spreading fast.  There was no time to get out.   As fifty people dressed in their pajamas and slippers walked into the street, they were shuffled into the only place that might provide shelter. 

The town hall had been built on Mrs. Kramer’s old farm so it set back near the lake.  Sam Bishop had donated brick to ‘make it a nice gathering place’.  The fire roared around the building but luckily it withstood the heat – charred but still standing.  Sam told me they could hear trees falling and unusual popping sounds.  No one screamed.  They just huddled together and prayed.  My heart broke as I listened.

It took a long time for fire engines from surrounding towns to reach the town.  It was easily a thirty minute drive during the best of conditions.  The firefighters worked hard to put out the flames.  By morning, the smoke hung heavy and wet.  The smell was overpowering – the smell of dreams dying and hopes crumbling into dust.   I couldn’t help but wonder what my forefathers thought when they first saw this place – a place green with hope and promise was now charred and broken.

The Red Cross came in with supplies.  We had water and blankets and food but there was nothing that could nourish the souls and fill the void the fire left inside all of us.  We stayed in the town hall now supplied with donated cots and pillows.  We continued to pray when we heard the fire was the result of a poorly planned blast from the construction of the new highway – a highway none of us wanted or needed.  We had been told to just accept that progress must continue whether we were on board or not.  This did not feel like progress.

On Sunday, we gathered in the street and resolved to rebuild.  The attorney had found a violation that would prevent the construction of the highway regardless of anyone’s idea of eminent domain.  Some would say it was too late, but we felt differently.  It had become so easy to lose hope.  We were surrounded by sad news of death and destruction from all corners of the earth.  If we could resurrect the hopes and dreams of a few, then we knew we must.  It had been a daunting task for our ancestors and would no doubt prove difficult for us, too.  The fulfillment of dreams is not always a perfect path, but it is a beautiful path.  We lost a lot, but we didn’t lose everything.  Everyone we loved survived and that was, after all, everything.


More Memories

Day 61

SuburbanPopI was thinking about my Dad and Mom a lot today. I don’t know if I miss them more this time of year, or if the memories are so much closer to the surface because of the holidays. My parents both loved Christmas and everything that goes along with it.

I was thinking back again on the silver Christmas tree and color wheel I wrote about that my Dad loved so much. I found a great picture on a very cool blog — Suburban Pop. I emailed Jenny to see if I could use the photo here and she was so kind to allow me to do so. Please check out her blog and this post on Buying a Vintage Aluminum Christmas Tree for more beautiful examples of these trees. They all remind me of my dad. (Thank you, Jenny!)

Daddy, Daddy, Daddy

My Dad could be well… a little overboard at times. At Christmas, he would put out lots of lights outside and lots of lights on the trees inside. He was such a kid at heart. He took home movies and bless his heart, he could NOT wait until Christmas morning to open gifts. We always opened them on Christmas Eve which made Christmas day a little anticlimactic to me.

We had a 33 1/3 record of a theatre production of A Christmas Carol. We listened to it so much I had it memorized. If I close my eyes, I can still hear the inflection of the actors’ voices as they played each of the roles.

One Christmas Eve, my Dad decided everyone in the community would love to listen to this as much as we all did. He rigged up some huge speakers in front of my grandmother’s house and blasted that recording for everyone to hear. I was fairly young so I do not remember the reaction of our neighbors, but I cannot imagine they loved it. Daddy did, though.

Parlor Games

I grew up in a small valley community nestled in the mountains. It was a small community of people and celebrations of any kind often included the entire community. We had a ‘community club’ which was originally a one-room school my mother taught in for a short time.

Parties were always held there and it was fun to gather the entire community together. For holidays, we often had cake-walks. If you are not familiar, it is an old tradition where community members baked cakes and donated them for the cake-walk. Long tables would be set-up end-to-end and one cake would be placed on the table. Participants would buy a ticket and line up around the perimeter of the table. Then someone would start the music and everyone walked around the table until the music stopped. If you were the person standing beside the cake when the music stopped, it was yours to take home and enjoy. I LOVED cake-walks.

I have such fond memories of my parents when we played parlor games. They were great at playing them and always so much fun to watch.

One of my favorites was Poor Ole Puss or Poor Ole Tom. Everyone sat in a large circle and one person would be Tom. They would get on the floor and meow trying person after person to get the person to laugh. The person sitting would have to pet Tom’s head and say Poor Ole Tom three times without laughing. My parents were hilarious!

We also had a game we called Diseases and Cures. The game was played in much the same way with opposing people. One person would say they had a disease and the other person would give them a cure. They were ridiculously named diseases and even more bizarre cures — all made up by some creative mind. The only disease I can remember was ‘Tizarism of the Bizarrium’. Again, the idea was to keep a straight face throughout.

There were many others: Scissors Crossed or Uncrossed, The Suitcase Game, Going to California, Tommy Tommy Tommy. I think they were fun because we didn’t have a lot of other distractions like television (we only had one TV station and the reception was poor) and didn’t have telephones for a long time.

The best thing about these games is they were inclusive — kids and adults. And everyone laughed and had fun. I know this is an era that is long gone, but it will live forever in my memories. Especially picturing my parents playing like they were kids. I can still picture them and it always makes me smile.

Our family continued to play some of these games or variations of them well into our adulthood. Even our children learned some of them. I know in some small towns or at county fairs, you can still sometimes find a cakewalk. That does my heart good.

“Community is a sign that love is possible in a materialistic world where people so often either ignore or fight each other. It is a sign that we don’t need a lot of money to be happy–in fact, the opposite.” 
Jean Vanier