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Spiders

12/28/2016

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She said she was afraid of spiders,

So, I took her in my garden to stroke my fuzzy-backed neon yellow friend on my pepper plants,

Showed her the intricate web of the black and yellow orb spider with its spiral rope awaiting unsuspecting prey,

The myriad salmon-colored babies on their mother’s back, some tentatively leaving to explore the world on their own,

The gossamer dew-covered funnel spider webs on dawn lit grasses,

The red hourglass on the black widow’s body before I crushed it.

Them taught her how to kills wasps, hornets, and irritating ants

Before moving on to the humor of bumble bees and wood borers searching for holes in our limbed bodies.


 
 
One of my Facebook friends posted a picture of their child receiving a tricycle on Christmas day, evoking a memory of my deceased eldest daughter and a Christmas long ago.

We were living in a small town in Arkansas, where Jeff had his first preaching job. Funds were tight and the town was relatively far from any large city with shopping options. There was a five-and-dime/hardware store in town. You don’t see them much anymore, although Yanceyville, North Carolina had one when we moved here – it has since closed. The Walmarts, Dollar Generals, and Family Dollars put them all out of business.

Anyhow, the store had a large shelf around the top of the walls on which items that were not big sellers were displayed. I spotted a pink tricycle, perfect for my three-year-old daughter. The store had Christmas layaway, and I put the tricycle on layaway and paid a few dollars each week.

Christmas came, a cold and cloudy one. Mary was thrilled with her tricycle and, of course, wanted to ride it immediately. We had a concrete porch outside the back door with four or five stairs leading down to the back yard. The porch was small, but it was covered. I put Mary and her small tricycle on the back porch, thinking, “She won’t try to go down the stairs.”

Well, she did. I looked out, and she was on the sidewalk below the stairs, on the tricycle, peddling away. To this day, I have no idea how she managed to ride her tricycle down the stairs unharmed.

Mary’s guardian angel proved itself useful several more times. In the spring, my mother visited us in Arkansas. We had purchased and installed a swing set, one popular at the time with a ladder across the top, stairs on one end, a slide on the other, and a swing. Next to the kitchen was a rather large dining area with a picture window. My mother looked out and, in her typical non-Christian way, swore and said, “Oh (expletive) look!” Mary was walking across the top on the ladder. I knew if I yelled, she might fall. My mother asked, “What are we going to do?” I told her to turn around, took her hand, and said, “We are going to pray.”

I led a prayer, we turned around, and Mary was on the ground playing. Did she go down the slide or did her angel take her safely to the ground? Again, I have no idea.

When Mary had her fatal accident, I was blessed with knowing she was with God. One of the young men who responded to the accident in the (unneeded) ambulance said the accident site was uniquely quiet, “. . . almost as if angels were around.”

Christmas is a time to remember family, those here and those we no longer have with us. I am blessed to include in my family Mary’s four beautiful daughters. Thanks to her, I also have a “daughter-in-law” to love, the wife of Mary’s first husband, and their two children, a boy and a girl. Mary’s first husband became and still is a faithful Christian. And I have Mary’s second husband’s family to spend vacations with, also Christians.

It never ceases to amaze me how frequently I see God’s pattern, the meshing and matching of our lives. The way my Facebook friends are connected in ways I never knew, their lives reflecting my own in their loves and losses. Especially at this time of year, I rejoice in their friendship and the strength I see in each of them.

 
 
When I was in high school, I entered a Thanksgiving poetry contest. My poem was rather long as I remember, maybe four or five stanzas with both meter and rhyme. A woman charged with judging the submitted poems questioned me about "where I found" my poem. She would not believe it was original, so I received an "honorable mention." I knew my poem was original and the best one entered. I have never written a poem since.
Yesterday I wrote one. I have posted it here for your enjoyment. It is very difficult to do, but I have few visitors I feet comfortable doing so. I offer it for your enjoyment.

Smells

 Do others find remembrance in smells?

The odor of a classroom, chalk or board markers, dirty erasers or rags – the difference states one’s age.

Formaldehyde and preserved frogs invade my memories when gazing at a summer pond.

The acrid smell of body odor and urine in parking garage elevators, of death and dying in hospital corridors.

Moldy leaves and the harsh, acidic smell of fading marigolds and mums each fall.

Winter fireplace ashes, and the odor of whisky on old barroom wooden walls.

The mix of mustard glazed hot dogs, popcorn, and beer at ballgames.

Wet wool and old socks in winter.

Rain-dusted dogs and cat urine sprayed from an excited adolescent tom.

Although some find the smell of skunks repelling, I admit a preference for the musky reminder of its cat-like passing.

Grapes rotting on the latticed covered patio, the musky smell of apples rotting under trees.

Some, in an effort to find only the beautiful, miss the interesting smells of death and decay.

Their loss.

 
 
I offer here the first chapter of my book, The Park Princess, I would appreciate comments, and, if you enjoy it, please share with friends.

Chapter 1
A Talent for Trouble



We did not ask to find a body, but we did ask to be involved in all that followed that discovery. Some people have a talent for dancing, painting, or a sport. Courtney Connor and I have talent for finding trouble!

I am Marjorie Wilson and Courtney delivers my paper twice weekly, on Saturday and Wednesday. My little cottage sits across from the town park. I have a sun room in front where I drink my morning coffee and watch the birds. I am an early riser and frequently see Courtney on her bike when she delivers my paper and on other mornings when she rides the jogging path that terminates across from my house. I have thought of reaching out to her. Her dad, Sheriff Calvin Connor, is a single father and the child possibly needs mothering. She always looks unkempt – not dirty, mind you, just not particularly put together. Perhaps she feels her appearance is of secondary importance.

Connors Station nestles in the hills of North Carolina’s Piedmont. A twelve-year-old must love riding up and down hills. However, I am sure her father prohibits riding on the local roads with their blind curves and traffic consisting of log trucks and any number of old, often uninspected vehicles. The city forbids bike riding on the jogging path, but our bike routes must be boring when compared to the jogging path with its curves following the creek through the city park. I’m sure Courtney’s twelve-year-old imagination made the jogging path equivalent to traversing the High Sierras and totally irresistible.

Courtney startled me when she ran through my front door on Monday morning. Although nothing is scary about a twelve-year-old girl, she had a terrifying expression. She did not even speak to me. She ran for the phone on my kitchen wall, grabbed it up, dialed, and started her conversation.

“Dad, there’s a dead woman on the jogging path in the park.”

I imagined the other side of the conversation. A skeptical, “Sure, Courtney,” with a tone of voice meaning, “Okay, tell me another funny one.”

“No, seriously Dad, there’s a body on the jogging path in the park. Please, just come get me!” She started crying and the tears got his attention. “I’m in Mrs. Wilson’s kitchen across the street from the south entrance. . . Yes, I’ll stay with her until you get here.”

Courtney wanted to keep an eye on the body until her dad arrived. We moved to my front room, but could not see anything from the window.

“I guess because my dad’s the local sheriff, seeing the body didn’t freak me out right away. Anyway, it doesn’t look like a body, but like a rag doll or an abandoned scare crow.”

I knew Courtney was telling the truth about what she thought she saw, but she was only a child. Although she kept insisting we move to some place closer where we could see the corpse, I felt hesitant. I had no desire to see a dead body, but when she started out the door, I accompanied her. Courtney certainly did not need to go alone, and what if she was mistaken about what she saw. Her nervousness made her rattle on, which I did not discourage, because the more she talked, the calmer she became.

“I’ve fallen off my bike so many times my knees look like an etch-a-sketch that never gets reset. Not that I care. I’m not vain about my appearance. I usually seem invisible, which has its advantages. I don’t often get called on in class for example.”

Since she always dressed in a haphazard fashion, with no concern about color or style, it never occurred to me she might design her appearance to create a calculated impression. Courtney’s mousy brown hair, medium complexion, and hazel eyes made her nondescript now. However, I believed she would be an all-American beauty later.

“Dad says I’m a late bloomer and eventually I’ll be a knock-out like my mother. Thank you, but I can wait!” 

I began feeling a real kinship with this girl and her echoing my thoughts only increased it.

We crossed the street and entered the park. The trees at the entrance concealed the body from view. An eerie quite pervaded. No birds sang and the trees were still with not even the rustle of leaves or usual chattering of squirrels. Courtney and I were both silent. We stopped about twenty feet from the body.

I told Courtney to wait while I checked things out. My motivation for approaching the individual was a hope of life. Maybe she had simply suffered an injury of some sort. However, as Courtney had noted, there was something off about the position of the body.

A woman with long, brown tresses lay on her side, curled as if sleeping with her back towards us. I rounded the corpse and saw her face, her sightless eyes directed upward, her expression one of surprise. Obviously young, in her early to mid-twenties, and beautiful, even in death, I did not recognize her and I did not think she lived in Connors Station.

Dressed in tailored, navy blue pants and a loose, white shirt with large gold buttons, her clothes looked expensive. The cuffed pants had a permanent crease. I noted her shiny, red, flat-heeled, leather shoes, but saw no purse.

I returned to stand with Courtney and she asked in a rush of words, “Well, tell me. Is it really a body? A woman, right? Can you tell what happened? Do we know who it is?”

“A young woman, Courtney. I do not recognize her, so I don’t believe she is from around here. Definitely dead.”

“Any blood? A weapon?”

Uncomfortable with her desire for details, I said, “Let’s just wait for your dad. Speculation at this point is useless. I’m sure he will share with you whatever he thinks best.”

As we waited, Courtney rattled on, nervously twirling a loose strand of hair that escaped her ponytail.

“I hope this doesn’t spoil riding on the jogging path. I’m supposed to stay out of the park, but I just can’t resist that path. I’ve made a deal with myself and my Dad, inspired by threats to take my bike away if I’m caught again, to get off and walk my bike as soon as I see the first jogger. There are certain times and days of the week when I can make it all the way to the end of the path without seeing anyone, common sense times, like Sunday morning at 6:00 a.m. Think of a time when you would never jog; that’s when I’m riding that path.” That explained her early morning rides. “I ride my bike everywhere. Not just to school or downtown on Saturday, or for my paper route – everywhere. I’ve always been in or on some sort of individual transportation. The earliest pictures of me after I learned to walk were on my tricycle, or in my Barbie sports car. I challenge anyone to find any pictures — except school pictures, of course — which don’t show me on wheels. I lost my training wheels on my bike sooner than anyone in the neighborhood and from then on, Connors Station became my world. At first my Dad tried to stop my roaming, but he soon gave up.”

She stopped to catch her breath, and I took the opportunity to speak. “If you hadn’t been on your bike . . ."

“I know! I might have freaked out completely.” Courtney has a real talent for interrupting! “I wasn’t going to ride today, but Mondays are not jogging days. I’m not naturally a morning person. I know you are, because I see your kitchen light on almost every time I ride through the park.”

“What prompted your paper route?”

“Although my dad’s job as sheriff doesn’t pay a lot, we aren’t so poor I need a job to help us survive or anything. My dad is just always too busy at the wrong times, so I invariably must go to school without lunch money – a real hassle. Last year I looked around for a job, but nothing was available for a twelve-year-old. The paper route gives me a perfect excuse for being on my bike all over town. For the last year or so, I have either been delivering or collecting. If my dad ever figured out how many hours I actually spend collecting, he would stop my roaming immediately!”

“You are an excellent bike rider. And fast!” She let me talk without interrupting, a sign she was calming down. We chatted about her school and her plans for the summer. She told me about her last summer at camp and her plans to attend again this year. Just as we began to run out of things to talk about, Courtney’s dad parked and walked over to us. After asking if Courtney was okay, and after I assured him she seemed fine, he walked to the body.

The park entrance’s metal arch stated (rather unnecessarily) “City Park,” between two ivy covered, brick columns. As Cal Connor walked under the arch, a breeze rustled the leaves and birds began to chirp and sing, as if on cue. He pulled on rubber gloves and stooped down on the other side of the corpse. I could not see what he was doing, but after a few moments, he removed the gloves, pulled out his cell phone, and made a call. I assumed he called the local mortician who served as our unofficial coroner. Death in Connors Station primarily visits the old or results from natural causes. Having the mortician, Mr. Ferguson, check the body and then transport it to the funeral home made sense in most cases. It wasn’t long until Mr. Ferguson pulled in and assumed responsibility for the body. Sheriff Conner secured an area about twenty-five feet square with yellow crime tape. It surprised me how quickly a crowd of the curious began to gather. Grace Glisson from the local paper arrived, and immediately used her cell phone, doubtlessly getting the editor or a photographer to come out. Everyone present appeared to be using his or her cell phone.

Sheriff Connor ended his call as he approached us. Courtney immediately switched the direction of her attention, and her conversation. “Dad, what took so long? Seems like we’ve been waiting forever.”

“Well, I’m here now. So, honey, what happened?” Sheriff Connor nodded to me and I felt included in their conversational circle.

“I was riding the path really fast, if you were to clock it about thirty-five miles per hour. I’ve almost wiped out a couple of times on the blind curve just after the stone footbridge. When I manage to take that curve without slowing down, I experience an almost spiritual sense of success. I mentally float off into a place where anything is possible – I’m a skydiver, a pilot of my own jet, a world-famous explorer. You know the feeling; the impossible becomes probable.” Courtney’s dad wisely listened without interrupting while his daughter told the story her way.

“Well, I took the curve perfectly. When the straightaway came, I closed my eyes, lifted my hands from the handlebars, and let out a whoop. Something, I don’t know what, caused a sudden shiver down my spine, and I grabbed the handle bars, opened my eyes, and there it lay — the body. I drifted a little to the right, missed it, and kept going right out of the park and into Mrs. Wilson’s house.”

Courtney looked upset again. I picked up her story line.

“She ran right through my door and straight to the phone.”

“I know she’s an early riser because I see her kitchen light on or she is in her sun room having breakfast. She didn’t say anything when I went straight to the phone and called you.”

Courtney’s dad needed to take care of all the business that goes with a death, so we walked over and I sat with Courtney in her dad’s car. I suggested we either wait in my house, or I could take her home Cal agreed, but Courtney declared she was not going anywhere without him.

“Courtney, I can’t leave until the county coroner gets here and completes his preliminary examination. Ferguson isn’t comfortable dealing with a corpse resulting from a suspicious death. It may be a while.”

“I don’t care, Dad. I’m staying until you leave!”

“Okay, but you have to wait in my car.”

Courtney and I sat silently in the squad car watching the crowd continue to grow. Mr. Gallagher, the editor of the local newspaper The Connor’s Station Crier and Courtney’s employer, made sure his staff photographer took more pictures than he would ever use. Gallagher left Courtney and me alone after a few questions. Courtney promised to stop by the newspaper office for an interview the next day. Our small-town paper comes out twice a week, on Wednesday and Saturday. The story of a body found in City Park would boost the circulation of the smaller Wednesday paper considerably. Gallagher wanted a follow up story for the Saturday paper. He did not address any questions to me, nor did he ask me for a follow-up interview, even though I offered to provide one.

Looking back, it was surprising the whole thing did not upset both of us more. For me, the whole situation seemed like an extension of all those old crime programs I watch on TV — Quincy ME, Matlock, Magnum PI. The experience did not seem real.
 
 
The answer is, "Quite possibly." My characters are composites of people I have known. You may think I am describing your hair, eyes, or personality. Yep, I am, hopefully in flattering terms.

I have been blessed with a fascinating group of former students and friends, many of whom have shared their stories, fears, loves, and hopes with me. I have seen them triumph over adversity, fought their mental demons and won, and become awesome mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, students, and employers and employees. They have traveled to other countries sharing God's message of salvation. They have climbed mountains, scuba dived, reviewed movies, written music, and created awesome art. They have pets, projects, hobbies, and a passion for life. In short, they provide a rich collection of perspectives, personalities, and experiences. Why would I not use some of them as fodder for my fiction?

When I write, I often give my characters the first and last names of some of you. Then, when the story is complete, I change the names. The Courtney in The Park Princess is an exception. When I finished the book, I tried to find another name for her, but could not find one that fit. I have had a number of students named Courtney
through the years, so I decided this would be alright.

So, if you want to read about yourself, and those you know, read The Park Princess when it comes out in January.
.

 

Susan Box Mann, Writer