Cynthia is currently working on a historical novel “Whiskey Jake, and a poetry project, “Colors of the Heart”. Click on the tabs below for samples of her writing.
word for word
No one understood how deep the darkness was. This
darkness was not the redeeming darkness of night. It
was a darkness that crept across the page, between words.
River water ran through her blood, renewing her soul,
flowing both deep and muddy in places, and rippling
with light in others. She looked for redemption in these
waters of contrast, wanting the water to wash the darkness
away. But it was too heavy. She fought with everything
she had but words and water were not enough this time.
The road she followed was not others’ road. Hers was a
solitary journey, of discovery, of quietude. She stood in
silence, just breathing, absorbing the energy and history
people left behind. For it was what made places holy.
She wanted to spread her arms and fly, to bend her
fingertips to catch the breeze, to follow her heart without
blinking, to feel weightless again. But open cage doors
are of no use to a bird with a broken wing. Though glass
birds sparkle in the sun, they shatter when they fall.
She knew some paths were better lit by the moon and
stars. Moonlight changed her when she breathed it in.
It seeped into her veins and silvered her soul, awakening
her anew to the wonders of night, helping her see things
she couldn’t, helping her understand things she didn’t.
She inhaled the night like a bouquet, taking comfort in
landscapes the darkness hid, glaring imperfections of a
man-made world overtaken by soft purple shadows of dusk
and even softer grays of moonlight. She wondered what
was out there. Nervous but aching to fly. Because when
she felt the wind in her face, she could see, she could
create, she could be. She looked for rain to wash down
on her, baptize her soul with color. So she would always
have an artist’s eye, a musician’s ear, a poet’s soul.
Her poet’s voice urged her to write, inner fears held her
back. Voices within argued over her pen. She wrestled
between opening her heart and keeping it safely closed,
protected. Allowing herself to be loved was so much work.
She wished she did not understand…
what it felt like when a heart stops beating
that love cannot conquer everything
that the night does not hide everything
that she could not fly like a bird.
Looking back I saw a night with no stars
When I was between worlds and waiting
I rejoiced at the song that filled me
Music pulled at me and I followed
While memories of lifetimes spoke to me
Calling you home, calling me home
Balanced under the crest of the moon
You waited there, as you always have
Until we found each other again
And danced to the midsummer song
While fireflies floated around us
Calling us home, calling us home
Through the mist of autumn leaves
The river rocks stand immortal
Along the path where we return
Guided by the light of those we love
Bittersweet as the wine we drink
Knowing you are home, I am home
The sweet taste of grapes
An occasional twitter of a bird
Contentment is not achieved
It is things abandoned
my comprehension scatters
your words lay in confusion at my feet
when I try to gather them up
put them back together
i bump into mistakes
i get the order wrong
because I do not understand
and no one will tell me
A sacred path, these stars define
A lost journey, two souls supine
A shattered heart, fractured sight
Colors bleeding in the night
An ashen page, rusty song
Hope of a life, long gone on
A woven stream, tattered sky
These regrets before me lie
Calliope and Clio
I have two muses.
Two sisters ensnared
in a stormy sibling rivalry
for my soul.
Clio, the stronger of the two
and assisted by Athena and Pluto,
wisdom and wealth,
set before me
the path to ancient histories,
knowledge I learned to share with others.
Calliope could not compete with Clio’s lure,
but she would whisper sweet words as we went.
Words that became so heavy to hold,
I had to write to let them lose.
And then she would whisper to Clio,
“You are not as strong as you think you are.”
As prose and poetry poured out of me,
lightening my load,
Clio would start tugging.
“It is time to move on,”
she would say. “Time to follow the road
of history and knowledge again.”
Athena and Pluto would nod in agreement,
pointing to their treasures down the way.
What Clio does not see,
in her impatience to travel,
is that every time I stop for Calliope,
the new words mix with the old,
growing bigger than the whole.
What Athena does not see
is I am getting tired
of being on the road.
Pluto does not understand
there is more than one kind of wealth.
I have less need for wealth.
But words sustain me.
Although the two muses
still battle for my soul,
I know Calliope has already won.
~ APRIL 1917 ~
“Der Kaiser ist nicht gut für Prussia.” Carl Schoberg shook his head as he and Jake Geisen walked down Pike Street, past the red brick shops and beckoning windows that offered the residents of Covington, Kentucky everything from watches to shoes to lunch.
“Der Kaiser ist instabil.” Jake agreed.
“Hey you dirty Dutch!” someone called out.
Jake looked around. Women clenched their coats at their necks against the April chill and men walked with their hands stuffed in their pockets as they went about their afternoon business. “You two – you dirty Dutch.” The insults came from two men Jake didn’t recognize, men in leather work boots and wool caps, probably on their way to second shift at one of the factories.
“We are not Dutch,” Carl said, drawing up himself up as large as he could. “We are Deutsch. There is a difference.”
“Don’t get smart with me, you filthy son of a bitch.” One of the men shoved Carl, sending him flailing backwards against a brick storefront. Jake grabbed for Carl, catching his sleeve, and steadying him, relieved Carl didn’t hit the plate glass window. The other man started jabbing Jake in the chest with each word he spoke. “You’re. In. America. People speak English in America, not that filthy Dutch.” He spit a stream of thick dark tobacco chaw in Jake’s face.
The muscles in Jake’s face froze and his eyes narrowed. As a tavern owner, he had sized up his share of bar fights. This was a situation of two against one. He couldn’t hold his own against both of these men, whoever they were, and Carl, try as he might, wouldn’t be of much help. Years of bending over his shoemaker’s bench had left Carl’s back bent and his hands gnarled. Without a word, but without taking his eyes off the men, Jake took the red silk handkerchief out of his suit pocket and slowly wiped the spittle off his face.
The men stared back at Jake for a moment longer and then one of them tugged at his friend’s arm. “Come on. Let’s not waste our time on these German dogs.”
Jake carefully folded up his soiled handkerchief to put back in his pocket. As the men turned to leave, one of them doubled back and swung at Jake hitting him in the face. Hard. Jake stumbled backwards, blood gushing from his nose.
“Mein Gott! Mein Gott!” Carl said, horrified, as the men laughed and cut off down a side street. “Jake, are you alright? Carl groped for Jake’s glasses on the ground and then held them out to Jake with one hand while he fumbled for his handkerchief with the other. Carl’s hands, so steady at his craft, were trembling.
“Hold them for me,” Jake choked out as he took Carl’s handkerchief to staunch the bleeding from his nose, a deep pain seeping in. “I need ice from the tavern.”
Carl took Jake’s arm as if to guide him. “Jake, never have I seen such a thing.” Carl’s voice was shaking. “I hear stories of people being harassed just because they are German. Now I know it is true. Jake, we need to tell the police.”
“Do you know who those men were?”
“Nein. I never saw them before.”
Jake’s Tavern, on the corner of Pike and Russel, was a favorite of those who wanted a beer and warm pretzel for lunch, or for men who wanted a quick drink after work before going home to wives who supported the temperance movement and would not allow alcohol in the house. It was the gathering place for the Scheutzen Club after their weekly shooting practices and monthly competitions. The bar ran the length of the tavern on the left, with tables along the windows on the right. It smelled of beer and cigars, and sported a mixture of conversation, friendly arguing, and laughter. Jake Geisen offered his friends gemütlichkeit – Gerrman hospitality – at its best.
The men who were at Jake’s Tavern that afternoon stopped their banter and fell silent when Jake and Carl walked in. Still holding Carl’s handkerchief to his nose, Jake glanced down and realized his shirt was sticky with blood. My Lillian is not going to be happy, he thought.
“Get the man a chair,” Carl said waving his hand. “And someone ring the police station.”
“No, no,” Jake said. “I’ll go in my office. Someone get me some ice, bitte.” Jake walked to the back of his tavern and through the screen door that separated the bar from his office. His bartender followed close behind with a towel and a large beer mug full of chipped ice.
Carl folded the ice into the towel and handed it to Jake, fussing over him. “I think you are going to have a bruise, maybe a black eye. I still do not believe this can happen. Such hoodlums,” Carl said.
Jake nodded and leaned back in his chair while Carl continued to hover over him. “Are you going to shoot in the scheutzen competition this weekend, Carl?” Jake said, hoping to change the subject and calm Carl’s nerves a bit.
“An old man like me? Nein. I just help with the set-up, make myself useful, you know? Then they say, that Carl, he’s an alright fellow.”
Jake smiled weakly in spite of his situation. “Yes you are, Carl. Yes you are. Do you still have my glasses?” Carl pulled them out of his pocket and handed them to Jake. The black metal that surrounded the round lenses had held their shape. They didn’t appear to be broken, thankfully.
There was a knock on the screen door. “Police officer to see you, Jake,” his bartender said.
“Come in, come in.” Carl ushered the young officer in. Jake sat up, leaning his elbows on his desk, still holding the ice to his face.
“My name is Officer Logan Goodson, Sir. I understand there’s been some trouble?”
Carl made introductions and then related the incident, describing the two men they encountered as Officer Goodson scribbled in a small notebook. He must be new on the force, Jake thought. There was a formality about him, not the usual um-hmms usually heard from the more seasoned officers. Even Goodson’s blue uniform with its double row of brass buttons and matching overcoat had a newness, a crispness, to it.
“If Jake hadn’t grabbed me I would have fallen. I am no spring chicken! But then they went after Jake, ja?”
“And you have no idea who either of these men were, Mr. Schoberg?”
“Nein. I am just an old man who runs a shoe shop,” Carl said. “I have never seen either of them around this town or in my shop.”
“And what about you, Mr. Geisen?”
Jake gingerly lowered the ice from his face and Officer Goodson raised an eyebrow. “No, I’ve never seen either of them before. There was no argument, no robbery. They seemed truly provoked we were speaking German.” Jake shook his head ever so slightly. “Half the city of Covington speaks German.”
“You’re going to have a real shiner there, Mr. Geisen. Well, I’ll make note of it, see if anyone at the station recognizes a pair that matches these descriptions. If you think of anything else, let me know.” He put his notebook and pencil in his coat pocket and let himself out.
* * *
Jake made sure he always had an envelope ready when the safety inspector stopped by. Louis Bullock was a former union man turned lobbyist, turned city safety commissioner, and Jake knew the value of greasing the right palms.
Bullock reached out to shake Jake’s hand. He was a large, barrel-chested man. His sandy hair had just enough red in it to offset his green eyes. “How’s your daughter doing, Jake? The one who went to D.C?”
Jake caught his breath at the mention of Esther Sue. “Fine, just fine. Got a job with the War Department.” He was quick to turn the conversation back to Bullock. “D.C. is your old stomping ground isn’t it?”
Bullock nodded. “Loved the politics. Loved the lobbying.”
As Jake was speaking with Bullock, George Goetz came in the door, jingling the keys to his milk truck in his pocket. “George!” Jake waved him over. “I hear congratulations are in order!” He clapped George on the back.
“Ja, my Mary’s engaged. She grew up too fast, Jake.” George shook his head.
“In my experience, our daughters are cute as kittens and before you know it the toms start coming round. But an engagement is a happy time, ja? Let me get you a beer. On me. To congratulate!” Jake stepped behind the bar, drew a glass of beer and handed it to George. “You have to bring the lucky young man in for a drink, ja? Have a seat. Bullock was just telling me about D. C.
“Oh, it’s nothing really,” Bullock said. “I just stopped in to see how Jake was doing after his little incident last week.”
“I’m fine,” Jake said, pulling a cigar out of his suit pocket. His black eye was fading to a mottled yellow and the swelling around his nose had gone down considerably.
“That was just horrible, Jake. Horrible,” George said. “And just for speaking German? You know, lot of people are changing their name since we entered the war. I been thinking about doing the same.”
“Why in the world would you do that, Goetz?” Jake said.
“Ach! Jake, you’re in your bar all night surrounded by Germans who want to be with other Germans. You spend your free time with the Schuetzen Club out at the shooting range. My dairy delivery takes me out on the street. I hear talk and it’s none too favorable toward the Kaiser. Folks aren’t being very charitable to Germans here at home while they’re fighting Germans overseas.”
Bullock cracked a grin and leaned back in his chair. “Change it to what?”
“Gates instead of Goetz.”
“Don’t worry so much, George,” Jake said. “There’s nothing wrong with being German. Now, you fellows enjoy yourselves.” Jake excused himself to go mingle with other customers.
The Glass Cutter
January, cold and bleak, the shore again imprisoned,
The lake, the house, the memory, the dream I once envisioned.
Neither animals nor I ever heard the metal snap,
Crimson blood on pristine snow, fooled by my father’s trap.
There were schools, Father said, down in Thunder Bay.
If he didn’t bring me, they could take me anyway.
I am métis, from the North, I am neither here nor there.
I didn’t understand their laws, and I didn’t really care.
He ignored my mother’s pleading cries,
Made it clear there was no compromise.
Family had become a burden, his was a trapper’s life instead.
He harnessed up the dogs, filling me with dread.
Father took me to the boarding school and told me to obey.
They would teach me to be white, to read and write and pray.
Cardinals appear to us when a loved one passes o’er,
I saw the Cardinal that day in all his red-robed splendor.
I learned his Catechism, I learned to read and write,
And what the Cardinal prefers when he calls for me at night.
I was scared and broken. I hid the fear and bleeding.
I looked for solace in the moon, as my ache began receding.
Star shine danced upon the snow and it beckoned me with light,
The flakes like fractured bits of glass called me forth into the night.
Winter into spring, then with summer on the way
I said a word to no one, I just walked away one day.
Many nights the sky was graced by northern lights displays,
A Superior reflection all the way to Grand Marais.
Electric hues that lit the sky, arching pinks and greens
Like a whispering collection of colored figurines.
I came to stay in Grand Marais, a quiet little place,
For in that pine-draped sleepy town, I found my saving grace.
A man of silence, skill and sight, a man whose name was Kirk,
A glass cutter by trade, he explained to me his work.
Church window panes, he said, as he cut and cracked the glass,
As he soldered the lead, to make it worthy of High Mass.
He fused the light together, he captured colors of the sun.
He created brilliance, love, and beauty, for the Father and the Son.
Colored hues inside me bled, like a prism in my veins,
Planted where a flame had fed, then purified by rain.
There must have been a reason our lives had intertwined,
For when colors come together, white light starts to shine.
Through Kirk I came to see small shards of redemption.
Patterned after love and hope, and nurtured with attention.
Like a cathedral calls us home, Kirk had shone a light,
And my dark and withered soul found colors in the night.
The sheer gold curtains fluttered in the open dining room windows and the sound of cars could be heard as they came and went through the four-way stop in front of our house. I was sitting at the dining room table, with its carved claw feet, surrounded by chairs covered in a vinyl fabric, a mottled red and brown mosaic that matched the shag carpet, both of which were intended to hide the spills of four kids and be easy to clean. My dad loved telling people he once found a hunk of chocolate donut under the dining room table and we hadn’t had chocolate donuts in two months. He took it as a badge of honor as to how well the carpet hid things. I wilted every time he told it, taking it as a testimony to my parents’ poor housekeeping skills.
I had just told my parents I wanted my own bedroom. I was tired of being the oldest, of having to set the example, being the one to give in. There was no question that Brian, as the only boy, would get his own room. He and my parents had the two bedrooms on the main floor. That left the two upstairs bedrooms for us three girls. I had been sharing a room with Barbie for years while Suellen had the other room to herself. I figured it was my turn to have my own room for a change. My parents disagreed.
So I turned to my Plan B. Gripping the edge of the table for emotional support I declared, “If I can’t have my own bed room, I’m going to run away!” In my twelve year old thinking, I was certain such a rash statement would cause my parents much angst and of course they would give in.
“Bullroar,” my father yelled. I physically shrunk back, letting go of the table. Bullroar? That was not the response I had planned on. It was rare for Dad to raise his voice. Anger was unusual for my father. Disapproval, maybe, but anger? No.
One time when I was maybe six or seven I had a dart gun – the kind with little rubber suction cups on the end of the darts that you presumably shoot at a flat surface like a window and make them stick. We were down in the basement and, for whatever reason, I fired it at Susie’s feet. (I was smart enough not to fire it at her face.) “Give me that!” Dad yelled. Startled, I started to offer it up, he grabbed it out of my hand, threw it down on the cement floor, and stomped on it, crushing it to bits. “Never, ever, ever point a gun at a person.”
I was frozen in shock. So was Susie.
Over the years we would hear the story time and again about going hunting with his father and as they stopped to rest along their way in the woods Dad rested the stock of his shotgun on his boot, and held it by the barrel, his thumb over the end of the barrel. When my grandfather saw that, he immediately packed things up and went home. He figured if my father wasn’t going to be safe with his gun, he shouldn’t be hunting.
One of Dad’s favorite stories that he would ask me to tell other people, was how he handled the news of my first car accident. I played saxophone in the high school marching band and after football or basketball games, band members would carpool caravan-style to the local Perkins for something to eat. I had been allowed to drive the family station wagon – great for carting around friends – because my parents were having friends over for bridge. In coming up to a stop sign, whether the car in front of me stopped too suddenly, or I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t stop soon enough was immaterial, the fact was I rear-ended one of the trumpet players. A group of about 15 people had to inspect the damage. There was very little damage to the other car, but the plastic on my front grill was broken, and there were dents in the bumper. Not serious, but I figured I’d better tell my parents.
“We’ll go with you,” Dave Pedersen announced. “Then your Dad can’t yell at you.” Dave was Officer Pedersen’s son, and everyone knew Officer Pedersen, the school liaison officer and well-liked scout master.
“He’s not going to yell at me. You don’t need to come with me.” We went back and forth and I think they really just wanted to see me get yelled at. I finally just gave in and stopped home with half a dozen band members, mostly guys.
When we walked in my house, my mother took one look at me and said, “You got in a car accident, didn’t you?” I nodded.
“Anyone hurt?” Dad asked.
“Okay, let me finish this bridge hand and then I’ll come out and take a look.”
I herded my band friends back outside to wait for my dad, among whispers of, “He didn’t yell at her,” and “He wasn’t mad.”
We were always a one car family, however, and Dad did expect us to treat the car carefully. He made it clear to us that him getting to work, our family income, depended on it. In high school, whenever we were out for the evening, with or without the car, we had to be in no later than 1:00 a.m., before all the drunks hit the road, as Dad put it. And in hindsight, that was a pretty liberal curfew for a high school student. When he went to bed, he’d set his alarm clock for 1:00 a.m. We had to come in and nudge him when we got home and he’d turn off his alarm. We were only in trouble if the alarm went off before we got home.
One weekend night Susie came home, nudged Dad, and he turned off his alarm like he always did. But before he drifted back off to sleep it occurred to him….we lived on a snow emergency route, a main road that got plowed right away when it snowed and there were rules about not parking on the street during snow emergencies. He’d better tell Susie to put the car in the garage. He got up and went to her room. She wasn’t there. In fact, he couldn’t find her anywhere in the house. He checked the garage. He couldn’t find the car either. It became clear to him that she’d checked in at 1:00 but then gone back out. So he got a good book and sat up reading in the living room until she came back in….about 3:00 a.m. Then simply set the book down and told her, “This ought to be good.” She knew there was no good way out of it.
* * *
When I was learning to drive, neither my parents nor I knew I was supposed to have at least an hour of behind-the-wheel training before I staked out with anyone else. I had gotten my permit and was anxious to learn. Susie had a friend over who needed a ride home so Dad suggested I do the driving. I was actually going to be allowed to do this!
“You need shoes,” my mother insisted. “It’s illegal to drive without shoes.”
“Go get shoes,” was all Dad said. My parents believed in unified parenting.
Once in the car I was expecting Dad to go through a cursory explanation of turn signals and brakes and such. Instead he said, “Tell me how you’re going to get there.”
I blinked at him.
“Half of driving is knowing how you’re going to get there. You’re going to have two thousand pounds of rolling steel to control. You don’t need to also be worrying about where you’re going.” This was the days before Google Maps and GPSs. He would go through this with me every time we got into the car.
Lyndale Avenue isn’t a four lane road, but it’s wide enough to go around people who are turning left or going too slow. Five blocks away from our house, it sported the drug store and grocery store, a small movie theater and pizza place, a car mechanic, a library and other businesses. Driving down 56th Street to get to Lyndale gave me a feel for the car. Turning onto Lyndale, I became white-knuckled and hugged the curb. Suellen and her friend were in hysterics in the back seat.
“Cyn, this is a thirty mile an hour road, you’re going ten.”
Dad said nothing.
I survived the three mile round trip and continued to practice my driving. Dad felt it was especially important for me to drive up to the cabin. “The long drives are where you can really get comfortable with the car and the road.” We came to an understanding pretty early on that Mom had to sit in the back seat, and refrain as much as she was able from making noises like suddenly sucking in her breath. It was during one of those trips Dad told me that the left lane was the passing lane and if I wasn’t passing, I should move over to the right.
“I’m going the speed limit,” I said. “If they want to break the law, they can go around me.” I stayed in the left lane and Dad didn’t argue with me.
Pulling off the two lane highway, Dad taught me how to signal (always signal) get over on the shoulder, and then start slowing down. He didn’t want me slowing for my turn with other cars barreling down on me at sixty miles an hour or, worse yet, not realizing I was slowing. He let me practice parallel parking on my own, which I did with makeshift flags and cones. He was more opinionated on regular parking.
“Always go where you want to go and then look for a place to park.” When we got to a store, or church, or where ever we were going, he’d have me start at the front and see if there was parking. If not, then start working my way back until I found something. I’ve used that advice in more situations than just parking. I’ve learned not to settle for the first thing I come across – or at least be discerning between the times I’m willing to settle, and the times I’m not.
I’ve learned to put a value on my time. I know when just any ol’ thing will do, when I want to stick with something til I get it right, and when it’s time to cut my losses. Shopping is something I don’t have much patience for and I’ve never understood most women’s penchant for spending time at malls. If I need a pair of jeans or a new pair of tennis shoes, the first thing that fits is fine by me and I’m done. I don’t feel compelled to research things to death and comparison shop like my husband does. Same thing with most repairs. Close enough is good enough. Life is too short to spend time trying to be perfect.
On the other hand, I will spend hours on my creative work, getting it just the way I want it, whether it’s my calligraphy or sewing or developing a recipe. There is something Zen-like about being precise in these things. We joke about the time Dad was putting in a new dishwasher and he took his chainsaw to the kitchen cupboard. He had no qualms about using the backside of a monkey wrench to hammer something. This “misuse” of tools would drive my husband crazy. I don’t know that my father was a perfectionist about anything though.
It was his hands-on approach to everything that helped me feel comfortable just jumping in and doing things. Like taking apart my bike to clean it and tune it up. Or assemble furniture from IKEA. Or later cut and lay all the laminate flooring in my house. I am the one who uses most of the power tools, not my husband. When we got new cell phones as a family, I sat and played with it for a few hours til I knew what all the icons meant and did. Greg downloaded the whole users’ manual from the internet and still doesn’t know how to use his phone.
* * *
Dad would make do with just about anything, like giving us large pieces of corrugated cardboard to use if we didn’t have enough sleds. Barbara once said there is no Spring in Minnesota. Winter and Summer just sock it out until Summer wins. There’s some truth to that. Temperatures fluctuate wildly. We’ve had sixty degree days in the beginning of March and snow at the end of April. Both Susie and I have April birthdays, only ten days apart. She likes to point out there is still snow on the ground on my birthday and never any left by hers. Usually, she is right.
One March day when it was warm enough to start melting the huge ice skating rink they always flooded on the baseball fields between our elementary school and the junior high up the hill, the four of us donned our boots and snow pants, jackets and mittens, and went down to fields. The schools were only a block and a half away, right across the street from Grandma Helen’s house. We’d probably been shooed out of the house by one of our parents and had taken our sleds to go sliding. The hill was on the far side of the ice rinks, closer to the junior high, and it was steep. We’d try to angle the best run to see how far we could go, or we’d aim for one of the kid-built bumps at the bottom and see how far we could go flying. The most important thing was just to stay on your sled, amid sibling arguments over who would go down with who, who got to be in front, and who was steering or ruddering.
After a while of sledding, we made our way over to the melting rinks. A thin layer of water on top of ice makes for even better slipping around, even in boots. We’d take a running start, then freeze our legs in a surfer’s position and see how far we could go. We played tag, sometimes falling in the process. We got hot in our winter jackets with all that activity and discarded them on the edge of the rink. That’s where we discovered the “door” to the hockey rink.
It was no more than a panel section of the white boards that sectioned off the hockey rink from the rest of the skating area. It was about 3’ by 8’, slatted white boards held together with a few cross-pieces, set off to the side. But it was wood, and placed on the watery ice, it floated. We took our scarves and tied them to the panel and took turns pulling each other around the rink. We got even hotter and took off our mittens and opened the front zippers on our overall-style snow pants. We fell down, got wet, and got back up again. We were the horses and passengers on a stage coach. We were the sea horses and Poseidon.
We finally headed home, flushed and carrying our wet gear, not because we were wet and cold but because we were hungry. “Richard!” my mother cried. “They’re soaked!”
Dad looked up from what he was doing. “Mmm…kids are drip-dry.” He went back to what he was doing.
Mom was the one who raised the alarm on things, Dad was the one who lowered it.
“She left the house without her coat!”
“Well, if she gets cold, she’ll remember her coat next time.”
“He forgot his lunch!”
“If he gets hungry, he’ll figure something out.”
I tell my students this story. I tell them this is the way I was raised. And that I’m not going to bug them about things unless it’s a matter of safety. But if they don’t like the results, I expect them to learn from it.
“Mrs. Sherar, I forgot my tennis shoes. Can I call my mom?”
“It’s not your mom’s job to remember your shoes. You can wear your boots today. Just remember them tomorrow.”
“Mrs. Sherar, I can’t find my pencil.”
“Hmmm….maybe you should find a safe place for your pencils. See if you can borrow one from a neighbor.”
I did the same thing with my girls as they were growing up. They climbed trees, went mucking in the pond, rock climbing, canoeing, and all sorts of other things. As long as they were being safe, I didn’t get too worked up. But maybe kids need a parent who worries and a parent who lets them go. I once heard an author speak about parenting who cited the classic picture of a baby learning to walk. Mom is holding the baby under the armpits to steady the child and Dad is three feet away saying, “Come to Daddy.” She said kids need a safety net just as much as they need someone to challenge them. My girls are in their twenties and thirties now and my husband still texts them to remind them about things like snow emergency parking and plowing. I assume they’re drip dry.
Someone was shaking Cailin out of a sound sleep. She pulled the wool blanket to her chin and turned the other way, nestling deeper into the straw mattress. Wrinkled hands shook again, harder.
“Hurry, grab your robe,” a voice said. Cailin rolled over. Siúr stood, robe on, and traveling bag slung over one shoulder.
Cailin propped herself up on one elbow. “What’s going on?”
“The Prophesy.” Siúr threw Cailin’s traveling robe down on the bed. Cailin sat up and reached for her day shift. She pulled it over her head and then pulled on the heavy travelling robe. Cailin reached under the bed for her calfskin boots and pulled them on. Siúr, her small bent frame leaning on her walking stick, was already heading out the door. Cailin followed as quickly as she could into the night with her. Only then did she repeat her question to her teacher.
“All my life, I watch for signs of The Prophesy. Look up,” the old woman said. The night sky shimmered with wisps of green snaking up and down as if searching for something, sometimes almost curling toward them, then away again. Cailin stood, mesmerized.
“What is it?”
“The green aurora, the first sign. The heavens have turned green and are trying to reach the barren earth. But there is no time to just stand there, we need to get to the Plains of Ariel.” She hurried forward. “Look at this.” Siúr drew her compass out of her tunic pocket and handed it to Cailin. The needle was spinning wildly.
“What does that mean?” Cailin was almost running to keep up with Siúr’s fast pace.
“It is the second sign:
Green skies shall plant the earth
Then north and south shall reverse
With the earthquake Time will birth
Spilling plagues worse and worse
Cailin looked up at the night sky again, alive with the aroura. She felt no earthquake. No rising or falling of the ground, only a growing pain in her side from the pace Siúr was keeping. She pressed her hand to her ribs, trying to keep up. She had more questions but her lungs were beginning to burn with the trek and she thought the better of it. Through the dark, she could make out the silhouettes of the two Sentinel Ash Trees that stood guard at the edge of the Éanamhrán Wood, that were gateway to the Plains of Ariel. She focused on the trees as she continued on, trying to channel some of their healing grace toward her side and lungs when she suddenly stumbled and fell.
As she brushed off her hands and began to stand up, she realized the ground beneath her was swaying.
“Run!” Siúr shouted to her.
Cailin jumped. She didn’t ask why, she just went. Her feet flew over stones she knew from memory, over forest grasses damp with night dew. Saplings snapped her in the face and snagged her robe. She kept her eyes fixed on the ash trees, looming closer. Pungent air filled her nostrils, her side now past burning, just numb. The ground rolled again and her arms flailed for balance. Caitlin looked over her shoulder to see Siúr, still with her walking stick, going so fast she was almost gliding, keeping up with her. In her haste, her panic, Cailin had no time to make sense of what she was seeing. She just knew she had to keep going. They were almost to the ash trees, to the open field.
“The safest place to be in an earthquake is an open field,” Siúr said. Cailin could see The Field of Ariel rolling, as if the land had turned to water. Cailin leapt and dipped in an effort to stay light on her feet so she would not fall as her feet landed on moving ground.
A loud crack shook the air. Cailin turned to see one of the trees split, most of it uprooted, leaving a gaping hole. She and Siúr ran between the ash trees and into the Field of Ariel. The ground swelling so much they were walking uphill one moment, downhill the next. Rocks rolled by and they could hear more trees cracking. Cailin wanted to reach for Siúr’s robes, be comforted by the Sister like she had been when she was young, but Siúr was still intent on reaching the center of the field.
The ground heaved up underneath them, then dropped with such suddenness, they were both thrown to their bellies. Cailin reached for handfuls of field grass to hang onto when she heard a loud groaning. A heavy groaning, she thought, as if someone were dragging stones. The ground began to shudder with such force, she was sure all the trees in Éanamhrán Wood would splinter. She understood now why Siúr wanted the open field. Cailin hid her face in the grass barely daring to watch in the direction of the woods. A low shuddering rumble came from deep beneath the Earth. It rocked the ground they were laying on and fissures began to split open. Trees in the wood cracked and fell, their root span as wide as their branches. Animals ran from the woods, not caring Cailin and Siúr lay in their way. Birds circled overhead, squawking, looking somewhere safe to land. The fissures spread, clods of dirt rolling down inside them. Cailin lay petrified, wondering what they would do if a fissure opened up underneath them.
In the woods, a piece of rock began to push its way to the surface, just past the sentinel trees. As the rumbling in the earth grew louder, the rock pushed through farther. It grew to the size of a milk cow, then a cottage. Cailin reached over for Siúr’s robe with one hand. The rock continued to rise up out of the ground and the ground continued to shudder beneath them.
She looked at Siúr next to her who lay with her hands flat, not clinging to the grass like Cailin was. Siúr’s face was calm, her breathing even.
“What is going on?” Cailin asked, yet again. “Is this the end?”
“Oh, no…” Siúr said.
The caves shall open
For traveler and horse
Things to find hope in
To help you stay the course.”
“Why do you keep reciting these strange answers to me?”
Siúr smiled. “It is The Prophesy.”