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Stealing the Silverware

She left my dad and me one fork. Maybe it was the third time she moved out. I can’t remember exactly. I was in the 5th grade, and she took all of the silverware except for the one fork. She took the pillows, too. She took Christmas presents. Another time she took the dining room table and the afghan my grandmother had knitted for me when I was two.

After a couple months gone the second wife would always come back, and so my dad refused to buy more silverware. I remember a friend spending the night and the look on her face when I explained we couldn’t have cereal for breakfast because we didn’t have any spoons. (Dinner hadn’t been an issue–we’d had pizza.) That’s when I started bringing home sporks from Wendy’s.

Dad and I couldn’t eat at the same time until we had those sporks, which often broke in ice cream.

She came back, of course–with the silverware but not the Christmas presents.

Those specific details say many things about characters in fiction. This is the kind of person who leaves and takes more than her share. This is the kind of person who believes she will come back and who thinks she’s worth the emptiness in the kitchen drawer. Do my dad and his second wife look like those people in the photograph?

12 thoughts on “Stealing the Silverware

  1. For my own neurotic reasons, I have to add this postscript that if my dad ever finds out I still have this photograph–he will flip out. It is the only surviving picture of his second wife having survived the photograph massacre of 1983.

  2. A couple months ago, The Missus and I attended a cookout, from which we got a number of souvenir photographs of one or the other of us with various other people. In one of them, my wife’s on the left, laughing, her eyes scrunched shut; on the right is the guy for whom the cookout was being thrown; between the them was a guy I didn’t know.

    Squinting at it a little, holding it under the light better, the word “Who’s—?” actually got out of my mouth before I recognized him. It was me. Have a feeling I’ll be brooding about that for months.

    “She left my dad and me one fork” is one heck of an opening sentence — really good. Talk about suggesting a story from a single moment…

    (I’ve just scratched the surface of your Lake Belle… project? is that the right word? Haven’t seen any photos in entries over there but it might be fun to grab some old stock-photo snapshots to build on.)

  3. P.S. Oh dang. Talk about a your/you’re moment of frustration: please ignore the dangling participle in the 2nd graf. The terrors of revising PART of a sentence’s structure and then shipping the whole thing off without re-reading.

  4. I’m in no position to edit other people’s comments, JES. Sometimes I surprise myself with pictures. I do recognize myself (so far), but I’m startled by how I look or where I was. Do I really look like that? Was I really in that place?

    You’re right about it being fun to add some photos to the other blog. In fact, I just bought a scanner the other day, and so now I can use a few pictures. Finally! Thanks for noticing the other blog by the way.

  5. Girl, I hope you are thinking of collecting these “snapshots” into a book. You are an amazing writer- I mentally gear up to read your posts because I know they are going to have a haunting effect on me. If these posts about family/writing were gathered into a book I’d buy copies for all of my friends. You inspire me to go deeper in my own writing. I even thought of writing about my own childhood and family in this way and have been afraid of upsetting various family members (ok, my mother). But your writing gives me courage.

  6. To be honest, Sarah, I’ve not thought about putting these blog posts into anything. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. But thank you for your comment. I wonder when I send something into cyberspace if it actually lands anywhere.

    Have courage. I’ve discovered that after I wrote the first few posts about my childhood, the initial fear wore off. Flinching still occurs, but I feel better about my writing because of it. You’ll feel better too.

  7. I was going to start off with the observation that this small wonder of an essay and yesterday’s essay could easily form the basis and beginnings of a valuable chapbook for writers, one where photographs, emotionally charged versions of lightning in a bottle, and such pithy text as you include become launching pads for examination and reflection, each of us according to his or her background and state of attitude. I was going to do that in all admiration and sincerity because I believe you’re on to something extraordinary, a kind of treasure map to the buried places where story has been hidden. But then I came across that magical run of words in your p.s., “The photograph massacre of 1983,” and some several moments elapsed in which I was transported to a place where there ar no security checks, no cranky airline personnel, no impatient travelers, simply a place of pure magical story.

  8. Just wanted to stop by and say I love this series of posts you’ve been doing. And I love what it says about your dad that he would use a single fork between the two of you rather than buy new silverware.

    Do they look like those kind of people? Well, I’ve learned my lesson about external appearances. So to me, yep, everyone looks like they could be that person.

  9. Everyone’s comments are correct. You rock! :) And those details about your step mother are absolutely enlightening. They are also enlightening about your father’s character… and about yours. He’s the one who hopes, sad as it may be, who accepts her treatment and refuses to move on. You’re the one who goes out and steals sporks, because you are not going to stop your living.

  10. Everyone else has said it better than I can. You are a magical writer, and these entries could be in a book for writers. I would love to do this for myself, but I’d have to wait until someone died… :-( I know, I know…I should write it anyway.

    Keep going. You inspire me.

  11. I’ve been courageous about revealing my own personal stuff in my writing, including a nonfiction, published memoir about my spiritual journey, though I kept my childhood pretty much out of it. And in fact I’ve always been a risk -taker emotionally, too much so at times. But I’ve always shied away from writing about my immediate family. Not surprising, since I don’t talk to them about anything that would stir things up, either. Lately I’ve begun contemplating the small handful of photos I have from my own childhood, and I even went so far as to frame a couple of pictures of me as a young girl as a way to honor my long-ago wish to be a novelist. Maybe now that I’ve successfully held off the demons long enough to finish my novel, I can reclaim more of her.
    One thing that amazes me about your work is the details you remember. I have blocked huge swathes of my past out. Maybe by writing about what I do remember, the fog might start to lift a bit, at least around the edges. I might even remember what happened after mo mom broke all our dishes by throwing them against the kitchen wall while I hid behind the overturned, kitchen table. Thanks again for your willingness to share.

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