My bare feet pad across the cool boards of faded decking, relishing the warm places where the morning sun has touched. It’s spring in the Keweenaw, that season ever hopeful of summer. I’m arranging all my pots for planting, having saved mushroom trays all winter. With four drill holes, they make great pots for four seedlings. Last weekend, I cleared the deck planter my SIL built for my daughter but was too big to move. This is my first season getting to plant it and my kales, Yankee mixed lettuces, and nasturtiums have arrived, awaiting a push into the soil. But first, I must decide where to plant the garlic, snapdragons, and peas and which kind — dwarf sweet, snow pods, Tom Thumb, or purple.
These small decisions distract my mind from the fact that 60,000 Americans have no say in what happens next in the pandemic. I plant to the memory of all those around the world who have lost their lives to a virus that cares not what our favorite food is, or whether we prefer mountains to ocean surf. I can’t claim my potager as a Victory Garden as many did in WWI and II. There is no victory in surviving a worldwide pandemic, but I’m going to declare my veg, flowers, and fairies a Hope Garden.
I’m as excited about the fairy garden as I am the unicorn room. Both offer space for play, an important element to any creative person. Already, I’ve been using my room to work out scenes and develop secondary characters. Just when you think you’ve “got” this fiction writing down, another layer emerges to work seamlessly into the overall design. Secondary characters need to be as round as primary ones — the protagonist(s) and antagonist(s). Does your book need a villain? No, but you must derive tension from somewhere. The purpose of an antagonist is to agitate the areas the protagonist doesn’t want to touch. A situation, place, society, or self can all stand in as an antagonist.
Right now, I’m building an arsenal against my garden’s anticipated antagonists — slugs. Every morning, I crack fresh farm eggs for scrambled, panakuchen, or buttermilk pancakes. I then crush the colorful shells of cream, green, orange, and rusty-speckled in a spent paper bag from our monk-coffee. I’m building up a supply to mulch around my slug-vulnerable Brussels sprouts this year. I’ll also set out some Keweenaw Brewery Widowmaker, a dark ale, to entice the slugs to drown their worries in a saucer of beer. I’ve also hired a garden pixie to watch over the potager. She’s set to arrive next week from an Etsy shop that specializes in fairy gardens. I’m serious about my play.
Somehow, opening up to play reminded me of my great-grand Uncle Fred Paullus and great-grand Aunt Myrtle Nuñes. They were in their seventies and still ranching in Tres Pinos, California when I used to go play with them. It was before kindergarten when my mother would go off to work in her mini-skirts. I think they were family tapped to babysit me. Whatever the arrangement, I loved my Uncle Fred and Aunt Myrtle. He was a cowboy from Idaho who had ranched in California since the time of the Spanish Flu, the great-grandnephew of Cobb McCanles. Aunt Myrtle was the grandaughter of vaqueroes who had lived in California long before it ever became a US state.
One particular memory became my uncle’s favorite story to tell. At that time, I loved riding with them in the truck to check on the cows and calves. Uncle Fred had a water-trough where the cows would come out of the oak and grass-covered hills to drink. On this particular day, we got out of the truck and walked up to a gruesome sight — a dead calf, bloodied and torn. I’d seen death before on the family ranches, but not one so violent. My Uncle Fred scratched his head under his Stetson, looked over to Aunt Myrtle whose eyes had gone wide behind her cat-eye glasses, then looked down to me with a kind expression and said, “Lil’ Charli, ‘fraid a mountain lion got this little fella.”
That’s all he had to say. My five-year-old brain kicked into survival mode, and I ran. You know the saying — you only have to run faster than the slowest in your group, and at pre-k age, I discovered I indeed could outrun two seventy-year-olds. I ran to Uncle Fred’s truck, scrambled inside, rolled up both windows, and locked the doors. For the next 30 minutes, my Uncle tried to convince me to unlock the doors. I would feel more shame as an adult that I left my beloved relatives to fend for themselves if it weren’t for the fact that Uncle Fred found the incident funny. He thought me a clever girl for thinking to lock out the big cat that had taken down a calf. They also instilled within me a sense of play based on a curiosity that I still retain, as I realized their humor eased what could have been a traumatic incident in my young life.
Have you ever wanted to curl up at the feet of a good storyteller? Draw a blanket around you like an eternal child, burrow into its warmth, keep an ear out to hear, and a hand to hold a mug of coffee. Well, maybe kids shouldn’t be drinking coffee, but I long to sit blanketed and child-like at the knee of my friend and captivating storyteller, Myra Möyrylä. Since the pandemic, she’s stepped up on Facebook to entertain the community with memories of her ancestors, writing detailed, heartfelt stories of the people from her past who taught her sisu and other values in their adjustment to the New World from Finland to the Keweenaw. Some of her kin remind me of mine though we both came from such different regions and cultures.
To give you a taste, Myra writes the following caption to this week’s challenge photo:
Long boards aren’t only for surfers❄💙🇫🇮these cross country skis from Finland are well over a hundred years old and serviced a lineage of ancestors for their transportation needs. They were last known as Great Uncle Vic’s skis. Before cars and roads people walked were they needed to go and in the winter laced the leather straps to their boots and set off on skis.🇫🇮❄ Sisu, sauna, farming, cross country skis and a love for the outdoors and strong coffee came over with our families 💙🇫🇮 good memories during these complicated times💙☕🇫🇮❄
This is the first time I’ve seen cross-country skis so long or heard the phrase long boards for skis. In addition to surfboards, I’ve heard of long skateboards, too, and can imagine the phrase extending to snowboards. Who was the first human to decide that a board was good transportation upon water, frozen or deep?
I wonder the fate of Uncle Fred’s things. I know he had tools made by his Grandfather Riley, a Union soldier from Tennessee. People like Uncle Fred or Uncle Vic learned to do with what they had, and innovate for what they needed. Women like Aunt Myrtle and Myra’s family made homes and passed down values like sisu and endurance. It is an interesting time to consider what we have from our past that we can use in our future. Perhaps the stillness a pandemic offers is a gift to revise old stories in new ways, plant heirloom seeds for future harvest, and laugh away the fear. This is life. And we are the ones who write about it.
April 30, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features long boards. They can be used in any way you imagine, including a name for sporting equipment. How are they used and who is using them? Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by May 5, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Precautions Not Needed by Charli Mills
Sam King parked the Willys Jeep in first gear. “Get the long boards,” he told his daughter.
Gripping the roll bar, Danni swung out the open side. Near the gate, the Lazy T Ranch kept long boards for crossing the boggiest parts of the high-meadow springs. Using her leather gloves, Danni moved one board at a time, setting each through the open space in the backseat. They stuck up at an angle. “Dad, you want me to tie a bandana on the end?”
Sam laughed. “We’re not likely to get rear-ended, Kiddo. The bulls are all down at headquarters.”