Author Topic: Cavern Girl - Memoir  (Read 301 times)

Offline Thair

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Cavern Girl - Memoir
« on: September 25, 2018, 10:19:40 AM »
All feedback is welcomed...

The rules of the house, the ones that mattered came from my grandfather. The next in command was my grandmother, who understood that she was second. And my mother, well she was the enforcer if a beating was necessary she was the one to dish it out.

I can imagine being able to go a day without saying a word to my mother. By the time my grandmother woke us for school, she’d already left for work. If she was rushing her bedroom door would be unlocked. My mother’s most valuable assets were hanging in her closet and neatly paired on the floor. 

Like my grandfather, my mother wasn’t going to snatch you up and hug and kiss you. It wasn’t how she showed affection. You got close to her by scratching her scalp. Or by accepting a bribe for giving her a manicure. The times that the bride didn’t work on us, she made us feel guilty.

I remember my mother most through memories when I was screaming for her to stop beating me. She wasn’t horrible, but I hated that this was the only way she felt she could get through to me. I don’t remember laughing with my mother until I was in middle school when she took us to Red Lobster. Before then I just remember her through fits and whipping. 

She didn’t drive so we walked everywhere. And it was no different that day we went to Red Lobster. It took us, I guess, thirty minutes to an hour because my brother was a cry baby. He couldn’t even carry a book without crying over the weight of it. It was a nice day. The best part of that day was having strawberry daiquiris. My brother’s two front teeth were bigger than normal so when he opened his mouth to talk and we saw what appeared to be black holes in this teeth we all gasped. Soon we were bent over laughing at his strawberry speckled teeth. This was one of few times that we had a choice to eat what we wanted. And I’m sure I considered, what would granddaddy eat?

At sunrise, my grandmother, it seemed, placed her feet on the floor at the same time the sun tapped the horizon. In sync, she held the wall as she stumbles towards the edge of the bed until she caught her balance. She was born pigeon foot and as she grew older she stumbled to steady herself. Once at the edge of the bed, she’d throw herself toward her dresser and pause until she had her bearings. She’d point her feet in the direction she wished to go and then she was off without a crutch. One pigeon foot in front of the other towards the bathroom on a good day. 

I memorized every calculated move by the time I was old enough to read chapter books. There were mornings when she’d rush towards the dresser and miss, upsetting the whole house. There were times when she’d stall to lift up her foot and find herself sandwiched between the bed and the wall. On those good days, my grandfather sat up on the side of the bed waiting for his turn.

My grandfather worked at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. where he took us every so often. I loved the outdoors. And I remember this being the place where I saw lily pads for the first time. I saw more tadpoles there than in the ponds by the house. It was beautiful and my grandfather’s cool points went up because of this.

My grandparent’s had nicknames for each other that we also called them by when joking. He called her Boot and she called him Freddie. When my grandmother flirted with him, her face read, I love you and the sideways look made it special. My grandfather, in turn, exuded, wait until I get you by yourself, often with his mouth full of Hennessey and milk.

Once she finished in the bathroom my grandfather went in and she’d return to the bedroom. She’d make the bed and tidy the room. I was too young to know that their commitment was special, but I was old enough to make certain that I’d never be like my grandmother.

She made Maxwell coffee in the mornings in the same white porcelain cup, the one with the saucer to catch the spillage. The radio turned to the 107.3 AM. The daily devotionals were on the table.

My grandfather entered the kitchen and wait to be served. He wore his green pants, tan shirt with the patch of a forest, and his black shoes—ready for work. The smell of old spice all over him.

He begun by reading the daily devotionals out loud pausing every so often to sip his coffee. For breakfast: eggs, sausage, toast with butter, and grits. His taste determined what the whole house ate. From day to day we’d, dog included, eat hog brains, scrapple, oatmeal, fatback, biscuits, cubed steak, fish, cream of wheat, or cereal. It was his call and what he ate, we ate too. We learned to like what he liked and what he liked mattered. Men provide and the reward for providing was submission. My grandfather owned the 40’s mentality. Women should be submissive to their husbands, period. Children should obey their parents, period.  And my grandmother followed his lead—girls dust and boys take out the trash.

When he got up from the table my grandmother gathered his scraps and placed it on the silver fishbone embedded platter. It could be a half-eaten sausage, I didn’t care—it was my grandfathers.

This cycle picked back up in the evening when he came from work. My siblings and I bickered about who helped my grandma serve him dinner. We had our eyes fixed on the ice tea as we balanced the tray out of the kitchen and down the hallway. He’d remove his feet from the chair facing him and we slid the tray onto it while asking him if he needed anything else. What he ate always seemed better than what we had even if it was the same thing. So we sat on the bed watching television with my grandmother until he finished. We had to make sure we were there to grab his leftovers.

After taking the tray back to the kitchen he washed and get ready for bed. My grandmother cleaned up the kitchen and fixed herself a bowl of vanilla ice cream. She sat there as if this was her reward for a job well done. She never asked for a dress from Woodward & Lothrop’s or a trip to Georgetown for a manicure, a bowl of ice cream and a snicker’s with peanuts always sufficed.
My grandfather brought her jewelry and some necessities. My aunts and my mother brought her clothes and shoes and things that only women knew to get. My grandmother never went grocery shopping, she made the list. She never paid the bills.

My grandfather managed the water. We all knew that money didn’t grow on trees, so don’t flush that toilet unless it’s something other than the number one. The air conditioning was off limits. This made the summers longer and hotter. My grandmother refused to fall into my traps of rebellion. I often asked her if she was hot. I’d sit on her bed watching television as the sweat rolled down the side of her face. Her shirt stuck to her chest and every so often she’d pinch it. Then she’d let out a deep breath. I looked at her, “Grandma are you hot?”

She’d roll her eyes, “No.”

I scooted outside of her reach, “Why are you sweating then?”

She’d lean forward judging if I was within reach, “Don’t you have anything better to do than to sit in here bothering me?”

Offline hillwalker3000

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Re: Cavern Girl - Memoir
« Reply #1 on: September 25, 2018, 04:25:27 PM »
It's hard to be critical of a piece of writing that's intensely personal. That's the problem with this (and the earlier extract) for me. I can't engage with the narrator on any level - and that's not because I've had an idyllic upbringing. Far from it. But reading someone else's miserable experiences interlaced with rather sickly sweet memories is like reading a newsaper report about the latest atrocity in some distant country. We become numbed to it.

There is a market for what's called Mis-Lit, but I'm no fan so probably the last person you'd want to offer meaningful feedback.

H3K

Offline Mark T

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Re: Cavern Girl - Memoir
« Reply #2 on: September 25, 2018, 06:21:44 PM »

Looking good there, H3K   ;D ;D ;D


Offline Thair

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Re: Cavern Girl - Memoir
« Reply #3 on: September 25, 2018, 08:46:34 PM »
Hi Hillwalker3000,

Funny, I was wondering why you were not critiquing my work. I am relieved that you don't like this genre. I thought it was too much space, lol. I'm new, but I took the time to see who gave good feedback and I decided you were it. So I'm now disappointed! Thank you for your honesty.

Offline hillwalker3000

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Re: Cavern Girl - Memoir
« Reply #4 on: September 26, 2018, 04:11:12 AM »
You're welcome - and if you read feedback for other posters' work on here you'll hopefully find it just as helpful as any feedback given to your own writing.

Good luck

H3K

Offline heidi52

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Re: Cavern Girl - Memoir
« Reply #5 on: September 27, 2018, 08:04:51 AM »
I tend to shoot from the hip, so this is just my opinion. Use or lose as you choose.

To me, this is more a reminiscence than a memoir. But I assume this is just the start of the story you intend to tell, so maybe it will get better when you get rolling. However, right now it's just a collection of things you remember about growing up.

I kept asking myself what is this about? Is this about being raised by your grandparents or about the physical abuse you suffered at the hands of your mother?

If it's the former you have to ask yourself if it is interesting to a casual observer.

If it's about the latter, then you threw away this line:
"I remember my mother most through memories when I was screaming for her to stop beating me."
That (tweaked a little) should be your opening line.

As to the writing itself it is riddled with tense problems like this: "My grandfather entered the kitchen and wait to be served." I suggest you go back and re-read it and clean it up. Add some commas where needed for pause.

Hope that helps and KEEP WRITING!

Offline Mark T

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Re: Cavern Girl - Memoir
« Reply #6 on: September 27, 2018, 11:59:11 AM »

Memoir writing seems to be in a box of its own. When my sister wrote her memoir, the working title was The Vomiting and it also suited the grammar etc. Her mentor advised her to just, er, project it on to the page and to clean it up or have someone clean it up later. So it is a process but the write drunk edit sober adage also applies. Keep at it. 

Offline Thair

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Re: Cavern Girl - Memoir
« Reply #7 on: September 29, 2018, 11:00:47 AM »
Hi Heidi52!

Thanks for your feedback.

This is not the beginning. Also, I’ve been working on this for over a year, so I’m sure there are issues. I plan to use an editor. A year of looking at this story is driving me a bit crazy, which is why I’m here trying to resolve some issues and improve on my writing.