Just Like Brand New
At the monthly writing practice I attend, we blindly draw prompts written by each other as we arrive, with the option to follow the prompt or not. This time I decided to try to weave each prompt into the same piece.
It meant that what started out as a true memory took a turn into fiction and then back into true memory.
I found it funny that the prompt that pushed my piece toward fiction was actually the prompt I wrote, which was a quote from something someone said right before practice started. BTW, the pre-practice conversation I overheard about astrology and yes, potentially female centaurs, was story-worthy itself.
Here’s the prompts:
I remember . . .
I don’t remember . . .
If the centaur is female, then I take it in a different way . . . .
What was the question? . . .
Here’s what I wrote:
I remember getting in the car, where I always got the front sick on account of getting sick a lot, which meant my older sister would lean in between the bucket seats and talk a little louder to be heard. We never wore seatbelts in those days. I don’t know if our old cars even had them. So big sissy would stick most of herself into the front of the car and carry on a conversation with my mom that I wasn’t a part of because I was never happy about where we were going.
We were going to the Salvation Army store. That’s where poor people go to shop and nothing is new. You have to find a shoe that fits you on a big table full of shoes. It doesn’t matter if you like the shoe, only if it fits you. A little big is okay, because you can grow like a weed into it. You have to hunt around in the shoe pile for the matching shoe. Sometimes you find it and sometimes you don’t.
I don’t remember ever finding shoes that I liked. My sister never minded digging through the shoe pile, so mostly I just waited to grow into the ones she picked out. We’d be at the Salvation Army for hours. I’d be done in five minutes and then have to wait around for my mom and sis to go up and down every aisle like a snail. Walk, stand, “Oh, honey, look at this,” my mom would say. “It’ just like brand new.”
It didn’t matter if it was what we needed, like underwear, but if it was “just like brand new.” Our house was full of stuff that was just like brand new that the two of them picked out, angel statues and little dishes or curling irons or placemats. But even the just like brand new stuff had stuff wrong with it. The angel statue would turn out to have a chip in its wing and the dishes would get a crack if you hardly bumped them. My mother never seemed to mind. “We hardly paid a dime for it,” she would say.
I thought if we saved all those dimes from the Salvation Army I could have a new pair of jeans from Karcher Mall, which was a real store I’d been to once. It had rows and rows of stores with clothes. If a shirt didn’t fit, you could go around the rack and it would be there in different sizes until you found your own size.
My sister found a china statue of a horse-man that my mom said was a scenter. It was a horse in the back, with a tail, but then a naked guy coming out the front like he was standing where the horse’s head should be. It went on the shelf above our kitchen table along with the angel statues and other things. When no one was looking, I’d take the scenter down and play with it. I liked to pretend it was galloping and sometimes talk to it.
One day I broke the scenter in its center. We were galloping and I tripped on a hole in the rug that I knew about but sometimes forgot to step over and we both crashed onto the floor. The scenter broke in half and so did one of my front teeth. I cried and my mom gave me cod liver oil, but I wasn’t crying about the tooth, I was crying about the horse man.
We took a car ride to the dentist, and it hurt, and when I looked in the mirror there was a piece glued onto my tooth. I could see a line where the new piece went onto my tooth. I tried to glue the horse man back together, but he didn’t look right. There was a line of glue that showed, so he looked like everything else that was used at the Salvation Army. I broke the horse man in half again and threw him away.
The first thing I did when I was old enough was get a job so I could buy clothes that weren’t someone else’s worn-out ones. Every promotion meant more and better-made clothes, until I had a wardrobe for every occasion. I paid a dentist to give me a better tooth, too. It was a weak answer for a question not fully formed, but the answer to which I subscribed for several years.
After a very long absence, one day I walked into a Goodwill store. It looked much the same as I remembered, although the shoes were organized on sturdy shelves and the lighting was better. A woman with a Southern accent was announcing sales deals over a loudspeaker. I walked up and down the aisles, picked up things and put them down, half realizing I was looking for something that was just like brand new.
I stayed in the store for a long time and went up and down every aisle, looking for my mother in the beautiful women I saw there, one crouched down in front of a breadmaker that might still work, another standing and gazing thoughtfully at a chair with a faint stain on one flowery fabric arm.
Goodwill seems like an odd place to come to terms with one’s feelings about her mother, but it’s here that I find her and the place is comforting to me now that she’s gone. I go at least once a week, wander the aisles, look for something that’s just like brand new, and sometimes I buy it.
In my mind, I see my mother nodding approvingly. If it breaks, I didn’t spend more than a few dollars on it, and there’s always next week to try again. Sometimes I donate it back and sometimes it becomes a treasured keepsake. I think I have the question now to the answer I’ve been seeking.
What does “I remember” make you recall without thinking too hard about it? Or, you can always go with the centaur.
♥ Thanks to the folks at Goodwill in Bellingham’s Sunset Square—who work so hard to create an inviting and accessible shopping experience for so many people including myself—for allowing me to take pictures of the store’s interior.
♥ Props to my writing mates from June’s 1st Friday Writers—Carol, C’Elle, Sue, Ann, Lish, Tink (who should never forget to dance!), and C.J.—for their marvelous words.
♥ And thanks to the wonderful C.J. Prince for leading our 1st Friday Writers practice! Anyone is welcome, and we meet the first Friday of each month from 1-3 p.m. at the Sudden Valley Barn in Whatcom County.
Here’s some sweet stuff about town:
- Chuckanut Writers Conference is just around the corner, with pre-conference events starting on Thursday, June 20. Check out the full schedule and get ready for a great gathering of writers.
- Whatcom Young Writers and Village Books will co-host Write on 2013: Teen Writing Conference on Sunday, June 23, 9:30 a.m., at Village Books.
- The next open mic at Village Books with yours truly as emcee is Monday, June 24, 7:00 p.m., in the Readings Gallery of Village Books. Our optional topic is Seasonal Bounties.
- From Matthew Brouwer: Writing from the Heart, a Two-Day Intensive Retreat launches on Saturday, June 29, 9:30 a.m., at Allied Arts of Whatcom County. Topics will include Using Mythology to Center your Story, Connecting to the Wild and Weird in Yourself and Your Writing, and more!
- SpeakEasy 11 featuring the Poet’s Mind: Concept and Process, on Saturday, June 29, 7 p.m., at the Firehouse Performing Arts Center in Bellingham.
- From Cami Ostman of Red Wheelbarrow Writers: Don’t miss the Third Annual Wind Horse Half Marathon Run for Education on Saturday, July 20, 8:30 a.m., at Fairhaven Park.