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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Grandma's Swimming Pool by Beth Anderson


Beth Anderson is a multi-published, award winning author in several genres including romance and  mainstream crime fiction. A full time author, she now lives in Washington state. She has appeared on Chicago's WGN Morning Show, The ABC Evening News, as well as numerous other radio and cable television shows, and has guest lectured at Purdue University and Moraine Valley College, as well as many libraries and writers' conferences. She loves music, particularly jazz and blues. Her website and blog are at http://www.bethanderson-hotclue.com .









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RAVEN TALKS BACK by Beth Anderson
Krill Press, ISBN 978-0-9821443-9-8
Beautiful Valdez, Alaska. Home of twenty-three-inch snow in the wintertime, but in the summertime, gorgeous mountain scenery where the early morning fog rolls down the mountainside, bringing soft whispers of the past with it. And this year...murder.
Valdez Chief of Police Jack O'Banion's take:
Voices.  Visions.  A sadistic killer running loose, a hysterical woman, two teenagers on the verge of home-grown terrorism, everybody including the Alaska State Troopers and out-of-town media driving him crazy twenty-four hours a day. And now Raven wants him to arrest someone, anyone, because she thinks her husband is about to be charged with murder and she just can’t face it.
Raven Morressey's take:
She knows nothing she's saying to Jack makes any sense to him because it doesn't to her, either. After all, it's not every day a newly murdered, tattooed, headless and handless body is dug up in your back yard, and then you start hearing voices of your dead ancestors and seeing things that never happened-- yet. She only wants to keep her home together, at first. She's not trying to butt in and solve the murders in Valdez. She just can't help it.


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Grandma’s Swimming Pool

by

Beth Anderson

When we look back in time we tend to see things through a prism fading into darkness at the edges, as though we’re looking at a faint light through a long tunnel. I’ve seen edges surrounding my daydreams, blurring into nothingness except for the centers, still somewhat colorful although hazy, as if they were very old family photos turned brown over time.
But there’s one special daydream-memory that I see with complete clarity. Nothing is left out. The edges are clearly defined.  Sound, smell, touch, feelings—they’re all still alive and well within the little girl who played in her grandma’s ditch after a rainstorm.
My grandparents on my father’s side were poor farm people. I found out only later in life that my grandfather didn’t really own his farm, he only had use of some of the land.
Sharecropping, we call it. The man who owned the farm would get half the crop as payment, and my grandfather would bring the rest home for my grandma to put up in glass jars for us to eat when the land lay fallow during the winter months.
Life was simple and safe at Grandma’s house. During my childhood I spent most of my summers there, and at one time of particular upheaval in my own family, I spent three years there while I was in kindergarten through second grade. At Grandma’s house it was always a time of peace and contentment, with only occasional  boredom when my best friend was gone for a few days.
But it was never boring when it rained. Those were my favorite times, because Grandma had a large ditch between her front yard and the street.
When I lived there the street was simply dirt and rocks with spurts of grass leading down to the ditch. When I went back and saw it again as an adult, the ditch was nothing more than an almost non-existent indentation in the land next to a busy, paved street that had appeared like some kind of magic, as had the tennis courts across the street from Grandma’s house, where I drew pictures with pieces of charcoal on those lazy summer afternoons. Eventually, the tennis courts turned into a baseball field, then into a much larger one with bleachers and a hot dog stand.
Progress, they said. But I saw it differently. Their progress had destroyed the best swimming pool in the world.
Back in those days there were no swimming pools outside of those we kids in farm towns saw only in magazines. If we wanted to play in water, our folks had to haul out a big tub, which got most of its action on Saturday bath night, and also in the back yard on Mondays. Whenever I think of that tub I have to shake my head in amazement because every Monday, no matter what the weather, my grandmother would stand out back scrubbing clothes on a corrugated scrub board (you can find them in museums today) with bars of lye soap she made herself every fall.
But every once in a while we’d have a real rainstorm big enough to fill Grandma’s ditch. Neighbor kids by the dozens would flock there to pretend-swim, since none of us really knew how until we were bigger and could sneak down to the river, where someone would toss us in, and we learned fast.
When I close my eyes, I can still smell the sharp cleanliness of the air in between raindrops, the musky, deep scent of the surrounding wet ground, droplets of cold rain sliding off the fresh green leaves and falling onto our uplifted faces, and the wonder of all that water just waiting for us to play in.
I can still feel the mud, slick on the sides of the ditch so that half the time we slid in, and I still laugh at myself for feeling so superior because I was old enough and big enough to run across the yard past my grandmother’s watchful eyes, and fly into the ditch, splashing kids too small to go in.
I can still hear myself screaming with dramatic terror when the boys would find crawdads, which suddenly appeared with the rain, and hold them, wiggling, up to our shrieking faces. Even then, little girls were aware that it wasn’t ladylike to pick one up and hold it out to the boys to scare them. It just wasn’t done.
How things have changed.
When Thomas Wolfe said “You can’t go home again” he must have had a ditch somewhere in mind. Or maybe a house he grew up in, because sooner or later we all have to realize that over time, everything changes.
I wish I could have included a photograph of that ditch, but the last time I went back, Grandma had been gone for many years and the house, to my deep sorrow, was gone also, its space filled with someone’s trailer, which almost filled the whole yard.
My mind still cannot fathom how such a big house could have been built in such a narrow space. And yet she raised six children in it, and not only that, there was a barn with a couple of cows and chickens in the back yard and an outhouse at the far end of the yard. On top of all that, she had a huge flower garden and multiple rows of corn and all kinds of vegetables in the back yard. How did all those things, which seemed so huge to me then, fit in there?
I don’t know, but they did. I saw them and I still see them in full, vivid color. I still smell those rows of corn, damp and pungent-green in the early mornings, tall pink Hollyhocks and soft blue Morning Glories with their own scents flowing out in all directions to attract the hummingbirds who hovered in the shimmering hot air, drinking of their nectar.
Today, I cry silent tears every time I pass a yard full of flowers growing every which way, because I can still see my grandmother standing alone out back every evening to look at her flowers. She never picked them and she would never allow anyone else to pick them. She let them grow because they were beautiful, almost certainly one of the few really beautiful things she ever owned.
Her life was so limited and hard, raising six children in that tiny Illinois town, that by the time she was fifty she looked very old and weather-worn, simply because she was. But she sure knew how to manage a great swimming pool.


10 comments:

Kaye Barley said...

Beth, hi and welcome! I loved this, and appreciate you sharing it with us. you knew it would make me cry, didn't you??

Hugs!
Kaye

jenny milchman said...

It made me cry also. For your grandma--weathered and worn by age 50--and for the simple joys she brought you.

Time marches on, and it fills in the gaps in our memory, the hard places, the rough, seem a little easier through the lens of the past.

It also fills in the swimming pools.

Beth Anderson said...

Thank you, Kaye and Jenny. I loved writing this, it brought it all back to me in vivid color. Nice to go back once in a while, isn't it. Hugs right back to both of you! And thank you, Kaye, for allowing me to write on your beautiful page. I deeply appreciate it.

Julie D said...

What wonderful memories of a time when things were much simpler than they are today. Your descriptions put me right there with you, Beth--in the pond, in the rain, the smell of morning glories and those wiggly crawdads. Simply exquisite.

Melissa Bradley said...

Thanks for sharing your memories.

Fantastic book. I've read it cover to cover and I can't wait for more. I love your writing space. I used to live in Washington State, myself and it is beautiful. I miss it sometimes.

LJ Roberts said...

Thank you, Beth. This brought back so many memories of my own Iowa grandparents; similar yet different from yours. They lived in town in a rented house with a coal-fired furnace, but Grampa worked on someone else's farm outside of town and Gram had a huge vegetable garden and wonderful flowers in the yard at the bottom of a hill just high enough that we could sled down it in Winter.

Wonderful memories,
LJ

Mary Welk said...

Lovely blog, Beth. What a struggle it was making ends meet back then. Our grandparents lived so differently than we do, yet they seemed to be satisfied with their lives. There's a lot we could learn from their simple courage.

Sloane Taylor said...

Beth, you've shared a truly beautiful, vivid memory. It's obvious your grandmother meant the world to you. You are a fortunate woman to have claimed her love.

Also wanted to congratulate you on Raven Talks Back. It's a fantastic book! You had me from the first page and I couldn't figure out the killer until the end. Excellent job!

Beth Anderson said...

Thank you so much, Julie and Melissa and LJ and Mary and Sloane! I appreciate all the comments and I'm so glad you stopped by. LJ, our stove was coal too. No hill to slide down though, that was pretty flat land at the very bottom of Illinois. Thanks again, y'all!

Kitchen Benchtops said...

Ms. Anderson has always written very good books, but Raven Talks Back tops them all. Get yourself a copy and enjoy!