I’ve been off to the beach for a few days at a writer’s retreat for my group of author/poet friends. We’re called the Winery Writers, as one of the members has a brother who owns a winery here in the Carolinas. I’m a late comer to the group, so I’m not sure if the writer’s group originated at the winery or we’re just tipping our virtual hat to a lovely place where friends like to gather. Be that as it may, I’m thrilled to say, I’ve penned another short story while on retreat with the Winery Writers along with a few trifling bits of poetry, but I look forward to honing the story and finding a proper home for its publishing. My group will probably read this blog, critique it and give me helpful suggestions for a re-write.
The retreat was a wonderful long weekend trip to my family’s beach home in Ocean Isle. It was my dad’s home after retiring from his job at Ciba-Geigy (now Cyngenta, I think?) many years ago. The place is a sanctuary to me and while there was much creativity, peace and joy there this weekend, I rediscovered some grief that I didn’t know was still hidden. It appeared at most unexpected times such as when I told the story about a woven basket that once held goodies I sent to dad after he quit smoking (That would have been when I was in my 20’s…so basically, it was before the invention of the Blackberry, iPhone, email or Al Gore’s Internets). Upon seeing the empty basket out in the kitchen this weekend, my friend, Leslie commented “What a lovely piece!”
“There’s a story that goes with that,” I replied with a wry smile. “I’ll tell you about it later.” And tell her, I did.
It all started when I called my favorite gift basket supplier after talking to Dad one summer and learning he had not had a cigarette for a month. Given his average quitting time until then had been 4 minutes, I was pretty certain he was serious this time. As an “atta-dad” I’d ordered what was to me at the time, a pricey gift basket filled with “noshies” to help him through the cravings. I even special-ordered his favorite peppermint BreathSavers be added to the chocolates. (We used to call them “Peppo-fix” to mock his addiction to them. Aren’t kids sweet?)
When I returned to the beach for a visit the summer after Dad quit smoking, I walked into the front door to see the gift basket, still unwrapped, on display on his coffee table.
“Dad, why the bleep didn’t you OPEN the basket and enjoy the treats I sent!?!”
“It was too pretty — I hated to wreck it.”
I decided I’d wreck it for him…dag-nabbit, if I spent that much on a darned basket of food, it was going to be eaten! My sister watched as I angrily dug into a box of age-whitened Ghiradelli. The chocolate was petrified, the mints had softened and the crackers were beyond stale, but I choked them down triumphantly. HA! Yeah, that’ll show YOU for wasting my gift!
Maybe…not so much. I’d managed to punish myself completely with bitterness and bad chocolate. How ironic that the child of plenty was devouring treats gone bad to teach the Depression era kid about waste.
Retelling all this helped me realize that I missed the entire point of my father’s generation: in the Depression, you never used “the good stuff” – you saved it for a special occasion/emergency/additional Depression. I just didn’t get it at the time.
I get it now. Still don’t like it. Stil makes me mad to remember. But I’m a little older now and a little mellower. I can look at the instance as teaching me a bit more about a Dad I’m just beginning to uderstand. It makes me sad that he’s not here any more to teach me in person.