BLOG: 6's & 7'S
I often write about families, because those primary intimate relationships seem to be at the heart of human existence. Even people who seem independent are often strongly connected with their family members, though they may be separated by time, geography, or death. These relationships may be positive or negative, but nearly always they are critically important. They teach us how to interact with others, how to feel about ourselves, and how to express love.
Imagine a series of concentric circles, with the innermost ring made of just those few people who you can stand next to fully exposed, your real self, completely vulnerable, and still feel safe. These people are usually family members, or others who act as family. Admission to the inner circle is a rare privilege, only for a handful of trusted individuals. If something goes wrong with one of these relationships, it can be utterly devastating. It shakes the circle apart and everyone is hurt. If the problem isn’t resolved, it can poison the circle for generations and make the family totally dysfunctional.
Here lies fertile inspiration for authors of family stories, like me. The drama at the center of family gatherings makes a fabulous backdrop, and the tension between various conflicted family members energizes dialogue. Add some mystery and a pinch of romance, and…poof! We have my latest novel, THE TASTE OF AIR (Red Adept Publishing, September 2016). It’s the story of two sisters who discover their mother has been hiding a secret life for over forty years. She has a lakeside cottage in Vermont and a series of complicated relationships with people they have never met.
When my sister and I found out that my mother’s name didn’t match the one on her birth certificate (a small thing compared to what Nell and Bridget find out in my book) it set me off thinking. Did I ever really know her? What was she really like, when she was my age? What did she go through, that she kept this secret from us forever? What if there was a lot more to the story? What if…?
That real event influenced the creation of the fictional Reilly family. And the real families of lots of people in my life contributed to bits and pieces of other characters. It seems that everyone I know has at least one family saga in them. Some people have so many melodramatic things happen in their lives, a fictional version would be criticized as unbelievable. So writers like me pick and choose from among the tidbits, trying not to overdo it.
In THE TASTE OF AIR, Nell and Bridget must learn to accept a new picture of reality as their assumptions about the past are challenged, and their own lives take on new meaning. Their inner circle is shaken, and when the earth settles into place again the landscape looks different. It’s vibrant and glowing with color, and the air tastes sweet.
If you ever wondered what your mother is really like, you should read my book. Mary Reilly’s cottage is vault for family secrets never suspected, and the gateway to change for all three women.
In anticipation of the upcoming release of my novel, Call Me Daddy, I asked for stories about family: the fun, the inspirational, the heartwarming moments that make us part of a family. Susan Kennedy discusses growing up without her father and the men who helped fill that void...
When I was five years old, my father died, so I don’t have many memories of what life is like with a dad. After his passing, my mother moved our little family two states north. Her decision gave me a priceless gift: father figures in the forms of my grandfather and my uncle. They welcomed us with warmth and accepted a responsibility neither had ever imagined they would be asked to shoulder: helping raise another set of children. For my grandfather, this was his second time around. His own kids were grown, and he was nearing retirement. For my uncle, we were an addition to the children he was already raising.
If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you know that my friend Kelly has a marvelous sense of humor. I certainly am no match for her wit nor are my life experiences half as interesting, so I hope you forgive me when you realize that this post won’t make you laugh. I don’t have any humorous tales to tell or a funny take on what it’s like to have two father figures. I do, though, have a deep well of gratitude and a wealth of memories, which appear in my mind’s eye like snapshots in a photo album. Some are more vivid than others, and the oldest ones are not always the most faded. Like the cliché of a picture being worth a thousand words, sometimes snippets of memory can be more revealing than a meditative essay, so I’m going to share my experiences with you as I see them myself: like snapshots composed of words, instead of stories.
· My uncle helped me, as a small child, fly a kite during a family day at the beach. Unfortunately, I don’t remember it, but thankfully someone snapped a picture of us working with the kite string. Twenty-seven years later, in a “Happy Father’s Day, Uncle” card with a man and child flying a kite on the front, I gave him a copy of the photo, which I guess he hadn’t seen in several years. “Whoa!” he said and laughed. It’s a picture that means a lot to us both.
· My grandfather was—and still is—always a good sport. One time when my sister and I were small children, he played Pretty, Pretty Princess (a board game where the object was to “earn” a set of plastic “jewelry” and a “crown”) with us. We sat on the living room floor, and as our game pieces traveled around the circular board, he followed the rules and donned each item as he earned it, even the clip-on earrings! And I think he might have won the crown, too.
· One Christmas as an older child, I received from my uncle an Irish flute he had fashioned from a narrow, fourteen-inch white plastic tube. With a mouthpiece and six perfectly bored finger holes, it produces pleasing notes. That was about the time my friends and I were learning to play the recorder for music class. I have no idea where my recorder is now, but I still have the flute.
· As seniors in high school, a group of my friends and I planned to meet at the prom, some of us sans dates. To drop me off at the dance, my grandfather donned a light yellow suit and tie—something he probably hadn’t worn since he had retired from banking at least a decade earlier—and played the part of my chauffer.
· I have countless memories of my uncle explaining to me how various things were constructed and operated. With a brilliant engineer’s mind, he was—and still is—better than any episode of the Science Channel’s How It’s Made. Not only can he explain how it works, but he can probably fix it, too!
· I have countless memories spanning nearly three decades of my grandfather teaching me about gardening, allowing me to help him by planting seeds, pruning bushes, weeding, watering, and harvesting, which of course was the best part. Those memories include summer afternoons when he and I picked blueberries from his bushes. Sometimes we worked in a comfortable silence, sometimes we talked, especially the comic strips in our state’s daily newspaper. We bonded over “the funnies” the way some New Englanders bond over the Red Sox.
· About three years ago, I tagged along with my uncle and aunt to the New Hampshire Highland Games, an annual celebration of everything Scottish. He and I donned our kilts and we spent the day enjoying the music, food, vendors, athletics, and bagpipe parade.
· At the reception of my cousin’s wedding five years ago, my grandfather and I shared a dance, something we had never done before despite my love of dancing. Courtesy of my aunt’s sister, I have a picture of that moment, and thankfully, I also remember it.
I have so many good memories, and I’m lucky I can still hope to make even more. On Father’s Day this year, my family again celebrated my uncle and my grandfather. I was fortunate to grow up with them, and I am blessed to still have them both. They might not be my dad, but I couldn’t have asked for better father figures.
Susan E. Kennedy is a writer and freelance editor who holds a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction and Nonfiction from Southern New Hampshire University. Her first publishing credit came when she was fifteen, in the form of a short story that appeared in a national anthology of children’s writing. Since then, her work has appeared online and in various print publications, including Amoskeag, The View From Here, Romance Magazine, and Love Free or Die. She edits fiction and nonfiction manuscripts of all lengths, some of which have launched careers and won awards, the most recent being Destiny by Carl Howe Hansen, which won first place in the fiction category of the 2016 Green Book Festival. To learn more about Susan and her work, visit her Facebook fan page https://www.facebook.com/susanekennedymfa; her LinkedIn page https://www.linkedin.com/in/susanekennedymfa; and her Twitter feed https://twitter.com/SusanKennedyMFA
In anticipation of the upcoming release of my novel, Call Me Daddy, I asked for stories about family: the fun, the inspirational, the heartwarming moments that make us part of a family. Author Katie Jordan brings it Full Circle:
By the age of four, I was already a child of the world. My parents worked for an organization called Youth for Christ as house parents in a group home for abused and neglected teenaged boys. Because of their work, I was well informed of the ins and outs of social services. I was definitely what you would call precocious--opinionated, intelligent, and world-wise beyond my years. I was also a typical child who could throw a temper tantrum with the best of them when I didn't get what I wanted. My mom loves to tell the story of a trip to the grocery store where I put my knowledge of social services to good use. She doesn't remember what spurred the incident, just that I had wanted something and she had said "no." Upon hearing the word, I took matters into my own hands, enlisting the aid of a nearby patron.
"Hey, you! Fat lady!" I yelled. “Call social services. I'm being abused." And then I gave her the phone number.
My mom picked me up under her arm, kicking and screaming, left our cart—filled with groceries—and walked out of the store. I'm pretty sure that earned me a really good spanking.
I've heard this story countless times over the course of my life. It was definitely one of my mom's favorites. She always accompanied it with a promise that one day one of my children would do the same to me.
Thirty years after my shining moment, my mother's prophecy came true. On that particular day, I had rounded up my kids (ages 2-7) and went to the local Kroger. I was almost halfway through the store when my two-year-old Mark decided he'd had enough of being belted in to the child seat in the cart. He was standing up and climbing over the handle, laying sideways with his feet hanging over the edge--whining and fussing with each change in position. Every time I put him back in the cart, he got louder and I became more frustrated. I finally picked him up and set him on his feet bedside the cart, hoping and praying that he would stay put.
He immediately took off down the aisle with a grin and a full belly laugh. I called to him, but he did not stop. My oldest son Daniel, trying to be helpful, took off after Mark. A game of tag ensued with the two of the running from one end of the long aisle to the other. Not to be left out, my four-year-old Brodie joined them. I could not catch any of them. I scolded my oldest saying, "The more you run after him, the more he thinks it's a game, Daniel. Let me handle it."
Daniel, of course, ignored me and chased Mark into the next aisle where I heard my lovely, innocent seven-year-old shout, "Mom, he's being a bastard!"
Defeated, I hung my head. I wanted to cry, but I held it together. Grabbing Brodie by the hand, I left the cart in the middle of the aisle and gathered the other two kids. Mark, dangling securely in my arms, I walked out to the car and drove home. I had officially come full circle just as my mother had predicted. She had a good laugh at my expense while I bitched my way through the tale.
Has my foul mouth caused irrevocable damage to my children? Not even a little, though I should have learned to keep it in check just a teeny bit. On a scale of normal to fucked, my kids and I fall closer to normal. They won’t need therapy, and God knows I never have. I just write about it.
An obsessive-compulsive bookworm, Katie reads her way through several hundred volumes every year. In 2014 she earned an MFA in Fiction at Southern New Hampshire University. An excerpt from her master’s thesis “The Stonemason” was chosen as a finalist in the 2013 SNHU graduate writing contest. Her day job as a lab instructor at an alternative education school and her latest course of study to earn a MEd and secondary teacher certification seriously cuts into her reading and writing time which she splits in the evenings while caring for her husband and three sons.
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