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It happened on a day etched forever in my mind.
I had gone back-to-school shopping for my children at J C Penny’s. A small furniture display on the way to the checkout caught my eye.
No. It stopped me short in my tracks.
Heart racing, I rushed over. I ran my hand across the smooth, gleaming surface of the object before me. I had dreamed of this moment for years and years.
It was love at first sight.
I had to have it.
There it was, the dining table of my dreams.
You see, in my then ten years of married life, I had never had my own. I was a British mum of three married to an American. When I emigrated from the UK to California, my mother-in-law loaned us a green, glass-topped cast iron table, a ton in weight and meant for the garden.
A lifetime loan, it turned out: she didn’t want it back.
I covered it with a tablecloth made with blue, floral material and lace edging I purchased from another of my loves: Wal Mart’s fabric section. Pretty enough and a good-sized table, but it had its problems.
Not least of all, when a friend brought her little boy over to play and he bumped his head on the corner. He screamed, blood dripped (as head wounds do) and our friendship, if you can call it that, was never quite the same…
It had to go, but we couldn’t afford a replacement.
That table at J C Penney’s was everything I wanted: light oak and oval with a pedestal and removable centre panel. It had six matching chairs and a matching glass-fronted dresser. And best of all, when I dared glimpse the price tag, I could hardly believe it.
Two words and large letters in red danced before me: On Sale.
I enquired at the counter. They had an interest-free payment plan on offer. Numbers bounced around in my head. We could afford it, just, by my figuring. I had it all worked out and presented my case to my then husband.
‘You should be a lawyer,’ he said.
And so my beloved dining set arrived at our home and reported for duty.
Children’s birthday, tea, and Tupperware parties, baby showers, pancake breakfasts and pot-roast dinners, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the everyday of family life filled its chairs and space for years to come.
It hosted family games, silly and serious, a fair share of debates, good moods and bad and much rib-cracking laughter. Cheers with a raised glass of bubbly or two with those I have loved and always will.
And honouring those forever lost, remembered still.
My table has graced every one of my homes. It came with me to England when I left California many years ago. Sadly, and due to lack of room in one house, it sat in the garage for a few years.
My eldest son brought it out of storage for a brief time for his house share, post-university. It was already a bit rough around the edges by then, I figured a few more knocks wouldn’t hurt.
In fact, the thought of it with him brought me comfort.
My table came home when he moved again, none the worse for wear. Unlike a certain futon and mattress pushed around from son to son, leant to friends and like the bad situation where it landed, better left behind.
And when I moved house again four years ago, my table left the garage for a dining room once again. Thirty-two years since that star-studded day at J C Penney’s in California, and there it sits today in my home in England.
The top part of the dresser has long gone, damaged by its time in storage, but the lower part now belongs in my living room. It keeps candles, wine glasses and Christmas brandy.
Not only food and countless elbows have graced my table. A table is a table, after all. Kitty loves padding across it, especially this time of year. All those Christmas delights just for her, and a quick pose for her trouble.
She will have a wait this year, however. My table is presently loaded up with numerous kitchen parts as we undergo a major renovation.
But that’s the beauty of photos. They don’t show the clutter.
Which leads me to ask: if furniture could talk, what would my table say?
I think to you it would say Happy Holidays.
And to me, I hope, thanks for the good times.
Now let’s make some more.
Sherri’s non-fiction, flash fiction and poetry are published in magazines, anthologies and online at her blog. As a young mum of three, she emigrated from the UK to California and stayed for twenty years. Today she lives in England’s West Country with her family and two black cats. She is working hard to bring her debut memoir to publication.
The Words We Know
In recent discussion with my husband about decorating our kitchen, I asked if we had enough paint for the base boards. Base boards? For the life of me, I couldn’t think what we call them here in England. Skirting boards. Yes, that’s what I meant.
This August will mark eighteen years since I left California. Eighteen years and it still won’t be as long as the time I lived there. I am British born and bred, but I left in my twenties and lived in America until my mid-forties. Those years shaped me into who I am today. They shaped my American/British children. And our heritage is richer for it.
My family is a blended mix of traditions and learning. My eldest son taught me what Thanksgiving meant when I volunteered in his first grade classroom. My middle boy taught me the story of Johnny Appleseed planting apple trees. My youngest gave me a tour of a ruined Spanish mission. Together, we learnt about California’s history.
In turn in England, I gave them fireworks on their first Bonfire Night in November. In the summer, I bought them 99 ice cream cones with chocolate flakes from a van by the sea. In between I took them to Hampton Court to show them where Henry VIII once lived.
In America, I did this: I got married, worked in downtown Los Angeles and moved to the Central Coast. I gave birth, raised my children through the American school system. I took college classes. I rented houses, bought one, lost one and bought again. I drove a Camaro that leaked power steering fluid. I switched to a family-friendly Windstar and got pulled over by a cop for a “moving violation” at a four-way stop sign on my way to church. I travelled the length and breadth of California and marvelled at Yosemite and the Grand Canyon.
I camped at Mount Shasta and watched a racoon steal our Cheezits.
In America I found joy and heartbreak. People I loved died. I got divorced. I moved back to England with my children and the remnants of our American dream in a shipping container. But America and our life there did not leave us. My husband has observed the unique way, as he puts it, that I interact with my children when we are gathered. I am not aware of it, it isn’t obvious. But it’s intrinsic because it’s who we are
I liken it to a friend from my school days growing up in Suffolk. She would invite me to her home for tea, and one afternoon her grandmother called for a quick chat on the phone. She lived hours away in Birmingham, my friend’s original home. My friend chatted away, oblivious that she had broken out in a strong “Brummie” accent. We laughed about it afterwards, but she hadn’t realised she’d reverted to her childhood lingo. She had slipped into it naturally, without thinking.
Expressions with words used differently once gave me pause. The first time an American asked me, ‘What’s up?’ I was taken aback. Nothing was wrong, couldn’t he tell? I soon realised he meant it in friendly greeting. Today in the UK it’s common knowledge, but in 70s Britain? Not so much.
As a “Resident Alien” in America, I retained my British citizenship with my rights of permanent abode. I could work, pay my taxes, but I could not serve on a jury, nor vote. This got more frustrating as time went by. I remained close to my family and roots in England to the point of homesickness, which never went away. But as time passed, I aligned myself more strongly with American politics, schooling and life in general.
My British accent stuck out in California. My American children stick out in England. It will always be so, but home is where we make it. And though our lives are different now, distant reminders are never far away.
Not so long ago on a typical food/grocery shop, I placed my bags in the boot/trunk of my car. I returned the trolley/cart to the shop/store entrance. I got in my car, closed the door. Where’s the steering wheel? The ignition? My mind had drifted. A fleeting thought in my subconscious, a distant memory of another day and not much to tell. But enough to plonk me down in the wrong seat. The passenger seat.
I smiled to myself and felt like a right twit. The driver’s side once-upon-a-time ago, but not now. I hadn’t driven in America for many years. A simple matter of getting out and going round to the driver’s side. Except I sensed eyes on me. That feeling you get when someone’s watching. A case of goose pimples/bumps? I turned my head and met the stare of a man in the car next to me. He had a sandwich to his mouth and too a chunk out. Of all the empty cars in the car park/parking lot, I had to get this one
I ducked down on pretence of rummaging through the glove/compartment box. Stupid when I think of it. I wouldn’t give it a second thought now to hop out of my car and walk round to the other side. Covid has definitely changed me. But that’s another story. For this story, I will tell you that I kept my head down. I slid my right leg over the gear/stick shift and hand/parking break into the driver’s seat. I heaved the rest of me into position and took off. I didn’t stop to notice if the man had finished his lunch.
A few times hence this has happened, but the gap grows longer and longer. Life goes on but we don’t forget. The lyrics from a song play on a loop in my head…you know the song, you know the words. Hotel California.
My life in America showed me where I belong. Home, I discovered, isn’t always a place, but it resides in our hearts with those we love most. And love is a word we know on both sides of the pond.
Until next time then, I bid you cheerio and have a nice day.
Sherri has published a collection of non-fiction articles in magazines, anthologies and online at her Summerhouse blog, diverse guest features and a memoir column at Carrot Ranch, an international online literary community. A keen walker and photographer from the UK, Sherri raised her family in California for twenty years. She has worked in the legal and medical fields and is now carer and advocate to her youngest on the autistic spectrum. Today Sherri lives in England’s West Country not far from the sea, hard at work on final edits of her debut memoir.
The Silent Ones Who Change A Life
We hear a lot these days about the courage and sacrifice of our key workers forefront in the fight against Covid-19. It is right and proper to applaud them with hearts of gratitude.
And we do.
But what of those who work tirelessly, silently, and behind the scenes for years. A lifetime? Unpaid carers we don’t notice so much, taken for granted, thanked by few?
Some years ago, I worked as a legal secretary for a law firm in the high street of a small, Dorset town. One client, an elderly gentleman, would pop in for a chat before heading off for lunch at The British Legion. He enjoyed regaling us with stories of “The War” and his two wives, both sadly deceased.
He also lamented the absence of visits from his stepdaughter, sad that she seemed so busy. All the time.
But he raved about his “companion”. The woman, his neighbour, though busy with her own family, cooked, cleaned and shopped regularly for him. She even took him out for drives. ‘I’d like to pay her,’ he would say, ‘but she won’t hear of it.’
The dear old gentleman, upon his death, left his house to his stepdaughter but he didn’t forget his companion and left her a generous legacy. I could be cynical. Working in probate does that. Nothing swivels the neck faster than the whiff of money.
But not this time.
A sweet old man who lived a quiet, honest life enjoyed the simple joy of friendship in his last, otherwise lonely, years.
His neighbour, his friend, gave him that.
My maternal grandmother, Madeline Dorothy (“Granny” to me, “Maddie” to others), lived a carer’s life without fanfare or material reward. The daughter of a Baptist minister, Maddie was expected to stay home and look after her mother, Ethel.
But Maddie was a rebel with a cause.
She heard the call and answered: at seventeen, she ran off to London and trained as a nurse at Great Ormond Street Hospital. It took Ethel twenty years to talk to her daughter again.
Maddie carried on nursing until she married and had children. By the time my mother was a teenager, both Ethel and her sister, Carrie, widowed and unmarried respectively and both of reduced means, moved in to the family home.
Many years later, my grandfather, a gifted but complicated soul, left Maddie for her best friend. Maddie lost her beautiful home and moved to a flat in Chichester with Ethel and Carrie, whereupon she looked after them both until their dying days.
I could not even contemplate how life must have been for Maddie at that time. I only saw her through my little-girl eyes as the playful, wonderful Granny I knew and adored. But even as I entered adulthood, I never heard one word of complaint or bitterness from her.
She got on with her day, chatted with everyone and kept up with current affairs. She loved people.
Through her seventies and eighties, she joined a flower club, attended church, and pedalled like the clappers through Chichester’s bustling streets on her adult-sized tricycle.
Maddie travelled to Canada to visit her brother and at eighty, she visited me and my family in California, her first and only time in America.
And she made the best lemon curd in the world.
Maddie also loved to iron. I called her “Mrs Tiggywinkle” for her love of linen and starch. Above all, she owned a trouser press.
‘Why are you ironing men’s trousers, Granny?’ I would ask on my visits, perplexed by her massive pile of ironing.
‘They’re for Frank’.
‘He lives down the road and can’t manage with such things. I offered, poor man…’
There were others. Not just Frank, but men, women, neighbours, friends. Elderly. Housebound. Alone. Maddie, by then in her 80s, was older than them all.
The only time I heard Maddie mutter annoyance was in her kitchen. It was narrow and cramped with old-fashioned cupboards hung unevenly on the wall. She used a pressure cooker for everything which blew like a steam train. What went on in that kitchen I could only guess.
Mealtime arrived but before she served ours, she would dash off with a covered plate in hand.
‘Back in a minute, dear’, she would call as she disappeared down the road with Frank’s supper. He couldn’t cook.
Frank asked for Maddie’s hand in marriage.
‘Why don’t you marry him?’ I teased, already knowing the answer.
‘Oh my dear,’ she said, her face alight with the humour that kept her young. ‘He only wants me as a nurse maid! I don’t mind cooking his meals, but to share his bed too? Never!’ Then she leaned in and smiled conspiratorially. ‘There’s only ever been one man for me.’
Maddie wanted to drive a sports car. She mused about being a farmer’s wife. She wished she could dance like Ginger Rogers. Maddie wanted to do a lot of things, but she never wavered in her call to serve others. And she loved my grandfather until the day she died at ninety-four, forgiving him everything, regretting nothing.
These are the Silent Ones who change our lives.
Thank You, Maddie. Thank you all.
I would like to thank Ann Edall-Robson’s Quiet Spirits and our resulting discussion that inspired this post.
Sherri is a writer and photographer bringing her memoir, Stranger In A White Dress, A True Story of Broken Dreams, Being Brave and Beginning Again, to publication. She is published in a collection of national magazines and anthologies. Sherri blogs at A View From My Summerhouse and contributes as a columnist to Carrot Ranch, an online literary community. In another life, Sherri lived in California for twenty years. Today she lives in England, weaving stories from yesterday, making sense of today, bringing hope for tomorrow.
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com
Stand And Deliver
The title for this post should be ‘Drive and Deliver’. ‘Stand and Deliver’ sounds better, I think. It also reminds me of the song by Adam Ant, conjuring up a wonderful image of him in his heyday dressed up like a highwayman, all eye-liner, lip gloss and black mask. A good look, I thought. I can’t say I wear much make-up these days. But I do wear a black mask, though not for committing any crime. Then again, if someone coughs near me again at the supermarket, I could be tempted…
The theme of highway robbery ties in nicely with our present crisis and the ‘Unsung Heroes’ story I’m priviliged to share with you today at Carrot Ranch. Thanks for letting me loose, Charli!
The story ends well, thanks not to Adam Ant, but to a man called, Rob.
It began just before lockdown, which in the UK started March 20th. Anticipating weeks, if not months, of isolation, I rushed to order the treadmill I had planned to weeks earlier, but never got around to. I got my online order in just in time; it sold out the next day.
Delivery was confirmed at the end of the following week on Friday. The only time the tracking facility could give, due to extra pressures caused by Covid-19, would be anytime up to 8pm. No problem. After all, it wasn’t as if I had plans to go out anywhere…
But my treadmill didn’t arrive by 8, 9 or 10pm. Nor the next day and the one after that. Tracking had no updates. It just stopped. Disappointed but not too surprised with early lockdown in full chaotic flow, I was, however, concerned. And so began a two-week long flurry of emails back and forth between me and the third-party seller, Rob.
It seemed my treadmill had come as far as the nearest depot, gone back up north hundreds of miles to Wolverhampton or such, and disappeared. Great, I thought, I bet someone nicked it. Everyone wants a treadmill now, and this one was a great price (cheap), so I bet it got “re-routed” somewhere… Memories of my laptop getting “lost” in the Czech Republic a few years ago didn’t help…
Rob, the Customer Services Manager of the sporting goods store that stocks the treadmill, apologised and assured me that he would look into it. Full of scepticism, I figured he would fob me off, I would have to chase (and oh, how I dreaded the energy-suck of all that) and would have a fight on my hands for a refund.
Dear reader, I love it when I am proved wrong.
A couple of days later, Rob emailed me back. In touch with the courier, he told me they were trying to track my order. Yes, it looked as if it had been re-routed, but he could not tell where. He would let me know as soon as he heard.
Sure enough, he got back to me the next day. As part of an entire missing delivery gone astray, he reported, the courier had now traced it and would hopefully find mine. But alas, the news came back that all had been traced… except mine. At that point, we both felt it highly unlikely that my treadmill would turn up.
Rob had one more avenue to check, he said, but if no luck, he would make arrangements to process my refund.By then, several emails had passed between us, and I noticed something. The tone of them.
Rob told me was sorry for disappointing news in these “challenging times”. I expressed my understanding of the immense pressure couriers face meeting their quotas.
We signed our emails with “take care and keep safe”.
As much as we sought to resolve my missing order, our messages acknowledged one simple fact: we all are doing our best in extraordinary times.
Believing the matter at an end, Rob emailed me with a surprising glimmer of hope. Another customer had ordered the same treadmill as mine at the same time, but upon delivery, had changed his mind. Would I like him to send that one to me, provided it passed his inspection once back at the depot? Yes, please, I replied, that would be great!
Easter on lockdown came and went, a few days went by when nothing happened and then, at last, a van pulled up outside my house. A young, bearded and cheery chap bounded out. He offered to bring the heavy box inside, self distancing of course. I relayed the story as we chatted for a few minutes.
He nodded, chuckled. Yes, their work load is huge, he said. A massive increase in online shopping. They run out of the time set by government guidelines, get re-routed, drive hundreds of miles each day.
He asked my name so he could sign me off once back in his van (no touching of any electronics).
I’m glad you got your treadmill, he said, as he left with a smile and a wave.
I looked up the courier service online and found their Facebook Page. Complaints about late deliveries filled the comments. Then I read their “Covid-19” update. They apologised for the problems some customers had experienced. They had cut back on their staff due to sickness and isolation from Covid, no longer delivered on Saturdays, and had taken on extra work for the NHS (National Health Service).
I left a message of support and thanks and vowed never to complain about White Van Man again. Even when he tailgates.
My treadmill delivery woes seemed trivial, but walking for my daily allotted exercise outside has become a challenge of its own. With narrow lanes used as “rat-runs” by local drivers and many now out walking, cycling and jogging, it’s more a hazard than a pleasure.*
When my weekly exercise class ended abruptly at lockdown (and I was just in the swing of it too, darn it,) I knew I had to do something for my mental and physical health. So my treadmill serves its good purpose. And it even has a Bluetooth link for music. A good time as any for some Stand and Deliver.
I salute you, cheery delivery driver. And I salute you, Rob.
Thank you, my not-so unsung heroes.
*From tomorrow here in the UK, we are allowed to exercise as many times as we want and travel to parks and who knows where to do so. Hmmm. Think I’ll keep to my treadmill, for now.
While bringing her memoir, Stranger In A White Dress, to publication, Sherri’s articles, short memoir, personal essays, poetry and flash fiction are published in national magazines, anthologies and online. Sherri blogs at A View From My Summerhouse about her travels, nature and wildlife, Asperger’s Syndrome and her life as a Brit ‘Mom’ in America. She also contributes as a columnist to Carrot Ranch, an online literary community. In another life, Sherri lived in California for twenty years, but today, she lives in England with her family, two black kitties and a grumpy Bunny. You can connect with her on her on Twitter, Facebook Page and LinkedIn.
Travel to the Rodeo
Sherri Matthews has kept her feet in the stirrups at Carrot Ranch while riding hard to revise her memoir. She’s one of our premier memoir writers who also pens a hapless village werewolf character who first debuted here in flash fiction. Her fiction can turn a dark twist as deftly as a rodeo bronc.
This year, Sherri seeks inspiration from travel. It’s not her first rodeo, so as a leader she’s going to shake up her event. Her husband Mike Matthews and friend and fellow writer, Hugh Roberts, joins her in the judging. Here’s what she has to tell you to prepare for her event.
Rodeo #3: Travel with a Twist
By Sherri Matthews
In July, I had the good fortune to spend a week’s holiday with my husband on the Italian Amalfi Coast. I say good fortune, because hubby won it, thanks to a random prize draw. We couldn’t believe it. Who wins those things anyway? Surely it’s a scam? But I can report back that it’s no scam because I’ve got the pics to prove it.
The holiday was as filled with twists and turns as it was unexpected, not least of all thanks to hurtling along Amalfi’s hairpin coastal road in a taxi driven by an Al Pacino lookalike who, for no good reason, suddenly pulled over to check something in the back of his car. Though the beautiful Tyrrhenian Sea sparkled far below us, I couldn’t get ‘The Godfather’ out of my head and hoped we wouldn’t end up swimming with the fishes.
Which got me thinking: how about a Travel with a Twist prompt for the Rodeo?
Think of the story behind the smiling vacation faces many of us find on Facebook. Chances are they’re no more than that, no drama, just a snapshot of a happy moment caught on camera. But what would change our perception of those perfect, happy pics if we knew something nobody else did? What if the man in the photo had just taken a call from his neighbour back home warning him that his house was broken into? Or the grand-children, all milk teeth smiles and ice-cream sticky cheeks, missing their Mum, who’s away on honeymoon with her new husband?
If travel stories have you dreaming of your own private island with palm trees and sandy beaches and an ocean as warm as a bath (the only kind you’ll catch me in), then go for it. But maybe in your story, it’s a woman travelling in thought when she finds an old photograph from that holiday taken years ago with their husband, who has since left her for a younger model.
Perhaps your holiday is a bus trip to the next town over, just for the day, a scenario that makes me think of one of my favourite films. A story of unrequited love, the characters played by Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins finally meet again on Blackpool Pier after years apart, but it’s too late for their love. It’s early evening, and the lights come on, and everybody claps. The favourite time of day, Emma Thompson’s character notes, giving the film’s title: ‘The Remains of the Day’.
Wherever you go on your travels, keep the judges guessing to the end. And those judges…? As before, Mike Matthews and Hugh Roberts will be assisting me with what I know will be a hard task if last year’s Murderous Musings entries are anything to go by.
Huge thanks both: Mike, lovely hubby and fellow traveller, my sound-boarder, proof-reader and keen observer of life and writings. And Hugh, lovely friend, blogger, and author with a delicious flair for writing sizzling short stories, published his first collection, ‘Glimpses’, last year, the second volume of which follows this Christmas. Hugh also won first place in Norah Colvin’s, ‘When I Grow Up’ competition in last year’s Rodeo.
That’s us packed, then, ready to go. How about you? Whether near or far, will it be holiday heaven or holiday hell, funny or sad, romantic or dangerous? It might be a BOTS (based on a true story) or wild and wacky from the deepest depths of your imagination. We don’t mind. Go where the plane/train/automobile takes you, but remember, it must have a twist. We can’t wait to find what’s hiding in your suitcase.
Rules and prompt revealed October 17, 2018, at 12:00 a.m. (EST). Set your watches to New York City. You will have until October 24, 2018, at 11:59 p.m. (EST) to complete the Travel with a Twist contest. Sherri, Mike, and Hugh will announce the prize winner plus second and third place on November 30. Carrot Ranch will post a collection of qualifying entries.
Rodeo 1: Dialogue led by Geoff Le Pard and judges Chelsea Owens and Esther Chilton
Rodeo 2: Memoir led by Irene Waters and judges Angie Oakley and Helen Stromquist
Rodeo 4: Fractured Fairy Tales led by Norah Colvin and judges Robbie Cheadle and Anne Goodwin
Rodeo 5: The Sound and the Fury led by D. Avery and her judge Bonnie Sheila.
The Tuffest ride starting in September will see 5 writers qualify to compete in October and is led by Charli Mills. For Info
Rough Writer Around the World Tour: Sherri Matthews
One virtual literary space is neighborly with another: from the wild west of Carrot Ranch to the lush pastorial countryside of England, the Summerhouse is the latest stop on the Rough Writer Tour Around the World. Sherri Matthews is more than a literary friend and original Rough Writer — she’s also my trusted writing partner and one of the advisors to Carrot Ranch Literary Community.
Sherri and I share much in common in our approaches to writing craft and processes, and yet we both take one different genres. We’ve learned much from each other by sharing our processses. I’m delighted to share the Summerhouse stop with all of you. Continue over to Sherri’s virtual and eternal summer place: Real Memoir, Imaginary Flash Fiction and Not Your Typical Anthology.
Join us as we continue the tour:
Raw Literature: Asperger’s, Voice and the Search for Identity
The first few pages of the children’s book, ‘Are you my Mother?’, both captivated and troubled me as a girl. The story tells of a baby bird who hatches while his mother is away from the nest looking for food. The hatchling flies the nest to look for her, but he has no idea what either he nor his mother, looks like. He asks everything from a kitten to a boat, ‘Are you my mother?’, but to no avail. Then he starts to cry.
Thankfully, unlike the baby bird, I didn’t have to search for my mother. But I questioned my identity when, after my parent’s divorced and I no longer lived with my dad, I was told to use my stepfather’s surname. In 1970’s Britain, I was the only one of my friends from a so-called broken home; I understood it was to save face, but I didn’t like it.
At sixteen I determinedly and proudly took back my family birth name.
A year later, married to an American and living in California as a ‘Resident Alien’, I embraced my new home as ‘mom’ to my children and nurtured my family’s cultural split personality. I reminded them often of the great gift they held as dual American and British citizens.
Their father, however, came from a family who vehemently disputed their roots, albeit good humour. Mostly. Some said Greek, others Spanish and Mexican. Their family arguments baffled me; they were all born and bred in America, so didn’t that make them, well, American? But the family discussions rumbled on for decades, with no resolve.
It made me think more deeply about my British heritage. My paternal grandmother was Irish, but I never laid any claim to being remotely Irish. I have no family there (Nana died when I was six) and have never been there (but would love to). So far as I was concerned, I was born in England, grew up in England, so I’m English, right?
Then my youngest recently took a DNA test and surprised us all. Spanish and English was no surprise, but there was no Greek or Mexican. There was, however, a high percentage of Native American (father’s side) and Norwegian (my side). The results raised more questions than it answered, but at least I now know why I’ve always wanted to visit the fjords.
But for my youngest, diagnosed seven years ago at eighteen with Asperger’s Syndrome (high functioning Autistic Spectrum Disorder), the search for identity has nothing to do with DNA or citizenship. It is a constant and acute awareness of being different from the world around you no matter what you look like or call yourself or where you live.
My Aspie describes it like, ‘Living in a town where everyone speaks a different language and you can’t understand what they’re saying.’ The unremitting internal reminder of feeling like an alien takes an exhausting toll, which leads to anxiety, depression and eventual social avoidance.
When I started my blog in 2013, I didn’t think it would be much more than an online diary about my writing progress to publication, but I hadn’t been blogging more than a few months when, out of a growing passion to better express what family life is really like for and with an Aspie, I wrote a post about it.
I had barely fifty followers and a few ‘likes’ when I wrote The Love of Animals and Asperger’s Syndrome, but five years on, this post receives almost daily visits, more than any other post I’ve written since. I am moved by the stories other Aspies share with me about the way their pets bring comfort and unconditional love to their otherwise hostile world.
Another post followed at a time when I battled for professional support for my child. My Aspie had slipped through the cracks at school, and in that post, I challenged the silence, acknowledging my long-simmering pain and yes, anger, at my child’s apparent invisibility. I wanted to reveal the beautiful, creative, kind and wise, astute and intelligent soul hiding behind the mask of Asperger’s.
Writing, The Voice of Asperger’s Syndrome emerged out of my ever-increasing need to shout, ‘Hey world, this is what my Aspie goes through every day!’ But coming from my private, and until then silent, place of powerlessness in my perceived inability to help my Aspie, I realised I was subconsciously pleading, ‘I need help too!’ And what I didn’t expect was the way writing those posts also helped me.
Crushing isolation and loneliness often define the life of an Aspie, but as a mother and a carer who thought my voice was just a drop in the crash of a wave, I found a ‘me too’ connection that acknowledged my loneliness too. I found a community that said you and your Aspie are not alone.
‘Are you my Mother’ ended well: the baby bird and his mother had a joyful reunion, and I smiled with relief. I have great hope that my Aspie will one day find an answer in the search and find joy and relief within. Perhaps it really is possible to live happily ever after, whether in or out of the nest.
Sherri Matthews is a memoir writer from England who enjoys walking and photography. Her writing has appeared in magazines, anthologies, and online. She has worked in both the medical and legal fields in the UK and California, where she lived for 17 years raising her three children. Chasing her writing dream throughout, she began her writing career in earnest from home while caring for her youngest, diagnosed with Asperger’s. Since then, Sherri has been published in a variety of magazines, anthologies and company websites. Today, she lives with her husband in the West Country of England where she keeps out of trouble writing her memoir, blogging, walking and taking endless photographs. Her garden robin muse visits regularly.
Amazon US (Heart Whispers)
Amazon UK (Heart Whispers)
Amazon US (Slices of Life)
Amazon UK (Slices of Life)
Blogging at: A View From My Summerhouse
Raw Literature posts as an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99-word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at email@example.com.
All-Around Best of Show
From Lead Buckaroo, Charli Mills
The dust has settled, and the bulls are back out to pasture after the first Flash Fiction Rodeo at Carrot Ranch. From idea to event, this was no solo endeavor. It took a community to dream, organize, support, promote and engage.
To all of you who wrangle words at the Ranch, to those of you who quietly read from the other side of your screen to all who dared to make this contest their “first rodeo,” thank you!
Our Flash Fiction Rodeo consisted of eight unique events that differed in length, prompt and form. Each leader devised their own contest and rules for participation. We worked together as a team to shape the Rodeo, and each leader worked with a partnership of judges. We allowed leaders and judges to enter any contest they were not judging. We also allowed writers to participate as challengers if they did not want to enter as contestants.
A toss of hats in the air to the Rodeo Leaders who showed leadership on and behind the page. Not only did they work diligently to make each event fun and fair, they also rode hard to keep pace with an event that spanned three months. Their counsel, creativity, and camaraderie have kept it all rolling at Carrot Ranch. Thank you, Geoff Le Pard, Norah Colvin, JulesPaige, Sherri Matthews, D. Avery, Irene Waters and C. Jai Ferry. You all earned your spurs!
And a huge Rodeo Thank You to all our judges: Robbie Cheadle, Anne Goodwin, Barb Taub, Lucy Brazier, Susan Zutautas, Susan Budig, Angie Oakley, Sharon Bonin-Pratt, Mardra Sikora, Lisa Kovanda, Hugh Roberts, Mike from the UK, two anonymous judges in the US, and Sarah Brentyn. Your tasks were not easy, and I appreciate the regard you gave to all who entered.
Thank you to all who rodeoed!
Garth Brooks sings an edgy song in tribute to rodeos. He croons, “It’s the ropes and the reins, the joy and the pain, and they call the thing rodeo.” To me, it’s like the calling to write and be read.
A literary artist has something in common with rodeo’s biggest hero: tenacity. You write, revise, polish, submit, wait for — all in hopes to win that gold in the buckle. The gold might differ from writer to writer. Maybe you want to publish, maybe you want validation, maybe you just want to give your words wings and let them fly. The Flash Fiction Rodeo honors all the sweat, tears, mud and blood writers put into their craft. All who rode the Rodeo in 2017, you got grit!
We hope you’ll stop by the Ranch for some good reading and writing. Keep working your skills, wrangling words and roping stories. Keep on the path you’ve set for yourself. Write on!
See ya’ll next Rodeo in October 2018.
From All-Around Judge, Sarah Brentyn
This was a whopper of a job.
Initially, there was a panel of judges. And then there was one. It was supposed to be three and wound up being little ol’ me. But I took up the challenge, happy at heart!
Choosing a winner for this final contest was extraordinarily difficult because let’s face it, they were all winners. Literally. They had all won their respective contests. Also, they are different in genre, form, and length. I was comparing apples to oranges to turnips.
Alas, this is an ‘overall winner’ contest, and an overall winner there must be.
During the past few months, I distanced myself from the contests. I popped in to say ‘Congrats’ then snuck away. Names were removed when I received the final entries.
It was delightful to read these. They are well-written, fantastic pieces. Thank you to everyone who entered the Carrot Ranch Rodeo contests and to the winners who gave me wonderful stories to read. I am honored and humbled to help announce the winner of this collection of contests.
2017 Flash Fiction Winners include:
- Rodeo #1: When I Grow Up (“Father Christmas” by Hugh Roberts)
- Rodeo #2: Little & Laugh (“The Bus Stop” by Colleen Chesebro)
- Rodeo #3: Septolet in Motion (“Practical Magic, Or Even Best Efforts Need a Push Sometimes” by Deborah Lee)
- Rodeo #4: Scars (“Galatea” by D. Wallace Peach)
- Rodeo #5: TwitterFlash (Winning Tweets by D. Avery)
- Rodeo #6: Bucking Bull Go-Round (“Like Retribution” by Kerry E.B. Black)
- Rodeo #7: Murderous Musings (“Mr Blamey” by Marjorie Mallon)
- Rodeo #8: TUFF (“The Sun Shines on the Half-Moon Café” by Liz Huseby Hartmann)
The All-Around Best of Show goes to:
Rodeo #4: Scars (“Galatea” by D. Wallace Peach)
That concludes the Flash Fiction Rodeo for 2017. However, that is not the last word. Carrot Ranch is completing an e-book collection that includes the winning entries, honorable mentions, entries, challenges and a few new pieces from our judges and leaders. Stay tuned later this month!
Please give our Rough Writer’s a debut anthology Vol. 1 a look-see. If you’d like to support our efforts as a literary community you can purchase our book online at Amazon. Soon to be available through other locations (officially launches January 19, 2018).
Author Bio For All-Around Judge Sarah Brentyn
Sarah Brentyn is an introvert who believes anything can be made better with soy sauce and wasabi.
She loves words and has been writing stories since she was nine years old. She talks to trees and apologizes to inanimate objects when she bumps into them.
When she’s not writing, you can find her strolling through cemeteries or searching for fairies.
She hopes to build a vacation home in Narnia someday. In the meantime, she lives with her family and a rainbow-colored, wooden cat who is secretly a Guardian.
Books by Sarah Brentyn
Follow Sarah at:
Winner of Flash Fiction Contest #7
By Sherri Matthews
When I set my Murderous Musing’s prompt for Charli’s Flash Fiction Rodeo, I expected a few good folk to turn bad, but not thirty-two of them. And what a deliciously devious lot they are! Thank you so much to all who entered; my esteemed judges and I read wide-eyed and suitably horrified through a disturbingly chilling collection exploring the dark side of the Rodeo.
Some had us baying for the same sweet revenge, such was the pain of the story. With others, we pondered the tragic price of a seething jealousy, bitter resentment and an all-consuming rage. One or two gave a chuckle, clever in the twist at the end. We enjoyed every flash and it was a close call, but we agreed our overall winner is Mr Blamey by Marjorie Mallon.
Mr Blamey by Marjorie Mallon
Mr Blamey had no first name. He had a forgettable face, an indeterminate dress sense and no habits to recognise him by. Yet he got the blame for everything. Getting the blame for his innocent endeavours had taken its toll on Mr Blamey. On his calendar he marked the fateful day his wife’s cat died in bold red ink. He had fed him last. His wife blamed him but bought a new kitten. It died too. A succession of cat deaths followed, his wife grew angry, she hissed and scratched. To placate his dearest, he made her a special anniversary cat stew. She ate it up and died too.
We judged all entries blind, so imagine our delight when our friend Marjorie, met in person at the Annual Blogger’s Bash in London three years running, was unveiled as our winner. Many congratulations Marje!
We loved this flash for the way the apparently innocuous Mr Blamey, while living up to his name, was secretly capable of the most evil revenge. Who would have thought it? The slow-burn of his hatred for his wife and her cats weaves a perfectly murderous vibe throughout. Pushed to the limits by his wife’s ‘hissing and scratching’ – a wildcat! – Marje’s flash created the perfect storm for this murderous musing.
Emphasising the close call for the winning entry, we then had the difficult task of deciding our favourites out of our high scoring selection for honourable mention. Each judge shares their top choice here:
Jeff and Jenny by Kati MacArthur
Jeff had thought all day about the things he’d do to Jenny when he got home. If only that bitch Sara wasn’t there. She’d gone into the kitchen to cook dinner, leaving him alone in the living room with Jenny. He watched the girl playing with her dolls in front of the television. “Come on up here, girl,” he said, patting his lap. She stared up at him, frozen. “Now, girl!” Jeff snapped his fingers. Jenny stood slowly. Jeff hauled her onto his lap, fingers digging under her skirt. Jenny cried out. The rush he got from her cries masked the pain he felt as Sara’s knife slid in.
Hugh says: ‘I loved the way it was told because, while I read it, it had me telling Jenny not to go to Jeff knowing that my fears of what he was going to do were about to come true. It’s a subject many of us prefer to leave behind closed doors when it comes to talking and writing about, but the author went ahead and wrote a fantastic piece of work which had an ending I was begging for because of the hate and revenge that built up inside of me while I read the story. And, what I also really loved, was that murder was on the mind of somebody in the background of the story which then went on to take all the glory and which had a standing ovation from me.’
The Celebration by Colleen Chesebro
“Where am I?” I groaned and awakened slowly. I shivered as the cold sunk deep into my bones. My head pounded and a bright light glared into my eyes. A sharp metallic smell overpowered me. All I remembered was that I had left the bar late last night. It had been one hell of a birthday party. Panicked, I swung my legs over the side and realized my body hadn’t moved. I hovered above, a ghostly wraith of energy gazing at the twisted and bloody body below, where a knife had pierced my heart. My eyes gaped wide at the realization of my location. The sign read: City Morgue.
Mike says: ‘I chose ‘The Celebration’ for the cold horror of our mortal fear reaslised when the narrator finds out the truth of what really happened that night at the birthday party. Great writing, I was glued throughout, not guessing at the murderous outcome for a fantastic twist.
Tele-Visions: Six Decades of Death Dealing by Bill Engleson
I’d sit close to the screen. Cross-legged. “You’ll ruin your eyes,” she‘d say. I’d shimmy back a bit. “Better to see, right?” It was. You could see the whole picture. It was a good lesson. I saw so many deaths there. The same people dying repeatedly. Death became…imaginary. Death was an act. I guess it wore me down. Odd, eh! One day, I was maybe …fifteen. Summertime. We were swimming at Cotter’s Bend. The Sweetwater River twisted there, dug out a deep pool in the sandstone. New kid. Smaller. Crappy swimmer. But he had guts. Kept on trying. And I suddenly had this urge. It was so easy.’
This excellent flash knocked me for six, a truly horrifying story all about the desensitising of a generation exposed to the constant streaming of ‘play’ violence on the screen. Truly troubling is the very end when the now older man, recounting his decades of ‘death dealing’, says: ‘It was so easy’. I gave this top marks for its shocking twist and an all too tragic warning for our modern age.
Thank you so much to Charli for letting me loose at the Rodeo and again, to all who entered and huge congratulations to Marje, Katie, Colleen and Bill. I’ve never judged a competition of any kind before, never mind a writing one, and it was my absolute honour and pleasure to read every single flash. I also now have a much better understanding of what an incredibly challenging job that is! And thank you again so much to my two judges, Mike and Hugh, for giving up their time to help me. Both a delight.
Hugh W. Roberts
Hugh W. Roberts published his book of short stories, Glimpses, in December 2016 and is working on his next volume. He lives in Swansea, South Wales, in the United Kingdom, and gets his inspiration for writing from various avenues including writing prompts, photos, eavesdropping and while out walking his dogs, Toby and Austin.
Hugh’s blog link: Hughs Views & News
Hugh’s book: Glimpses
Sherri, a Brit, raised her children in California for almost twenty years before returning to her home in England’s West Country in 2003. Along the path to publication of her memoir, she shares her ups and downs with her blogging community at A View From My Summerhouse.
Sherri’s Blog: A View From My Summerhouse
Memoir Book Blurb: Stranger in a White Dress
NOTE FROM CARROT RANCH:
Congratulations to all the writers who entered! You dared to stretch your writing and braved the first Rodeo at Carrot Ranch. Each participant has earned the following badge, which you may copy and post on your blog, social media or print out and frame. It’s a badge of honor. And now you can say, you have had your first rodeo! You wrote well. Darkly, with murderous intention behind the scenes.
We want to share all the contest entries in a collection. We’ll be contacting each of our contestants and challengers to seek interest and permission to publish a digital collection in January. Writers retain all copyrights to their work.
We’d appreciate your feedback! We want to make this an annual event that is fun, engaging and supportive of literary art. Please take a few minutes for a brief 5 question survey. Thank you!
Flash Fiction Rodeo Contest #7
When Good Folk Turn Bad At The Rodeo
By Sherri Matthews
Saddle up, tighten your reins and pull on your riding boots. And while you’re about it, watch your back, because wicked wranglings are afoot at the Rodeo. Western or English? Doesn’t matter. Thrown off a few times? Never mind. Devious, deadly or just plain dangerous, it’s time for some murderous musings.
Long fascinated with the dark side of the human heart, I read a lot of True Crime. Not for the gory details, neither for the whodunit: I want to understand the why.
As a memoir writer, I need to explore the true motives driving the story. I wonder how many of us ask ourselves, if truly honest, what might we be capable of if pushed too far? What would be our not so perfect storm?
But it never occurred to me that I could explore this through fiction. This memoir writer doesn’t write fiction, of any kind. I can’t; I shan’t; and I won’t. But Charli Mills had other ideas. “Oh yes you can,” she said with a knowing look in her eyes. We’ve never physically met, but I’d know that look anywhere.
So I gave it a go, playing it safe at first with a touch of fiction based on a true story – a BOTS, I came to learn. Bashing out 300 plus words was the easy part; telling the same story in 99 was not.
But with practice it got easier and soon I was hooked. And then the unthinkable happened: characters appeared from nowhere with ideas of their own and there I was, writing flash actual fiction.
Today, I continue to relish the delicious freedom I get from writing these bite-sized bursts. Coming up for air from my memoir, my fictional characters lead me away from the confines of memoir’s truth, allowing me to freely explore their world of darkest revenge, immorality and twisted justice.
This, I now understand, is why most of my flashes contain murderous undertones. What better way to blow off writing steam? I can’t remember what I was dealing with in my memoir when I wrote ‘Homemade Cider’, but I have told my husband he has no need to worry:
Homemade Cider by Sherri Matthews
They had shared their hopes and fears; heck, they had even shared husbands. Now, as the two elderly women sat on the porch swing, a faded, hand-made quilt stretched across their bony knees, they said nothing. Only the crickets strummed their twilight song.
“I wish I had known,” sighed Mave at long last, shifting beneath the quilt.
Ellen rubbed her eyes and yawned.
“I didn’t want you to worry.”
“But you needed my help…”
“You were busy. Anyway, Bob helped me bury him under the apple tree.”
Mave grinned. “Well at least he’ll make great compost…nothing beats homemade cider.”
I asked Charli to share her flash fiction process and how it’s helped her explore the ‘why’ in the murder of Wild Bill Hickok, the subject of her work in progress historical fiction novel Rock Creek:
‘London historian and biographer of Wild Bill Hickok, Joseph Rosa, claimed that the Rock Creek incident of 1861 remains among the most debated gunfights in the American West. At the heart of the debate are two questions writers often ponder — who is the villain and why?
My family handed me a myth growing up. The story goes that the first man Wild Bill Hickok ever shot was my third great-grandmother’s brother; my Uncle Cobb McCanles. Talk to any Hatley, Green, Paullus or McCandless and they’ll curse the villainy of Hickok, tearing the man down as a coward, shorter than history makes of him.
Talk to the descendants of Hickok and they’ll tell you what a fine and upright man Bill was. It’s understandable for families to cheer for their own kin and clearly see the murderous intent in the other. But add historians to the mix and you get more myth and romanticism. Hickok, one historian from Kansas wrote, was a chivalrous knight. A Nebraskan historian responded that Cobb McCanless was a family man cut down in front of his 10-year old son.
No one can definitely answer why. Why did these men clash in a deadly way?
Flash fiction became instrumental to my historical investigations. Writing tight snippets, I considered what it was like before and after Cobb’s untimely murder. These flash fictions became a way for me to explore emotion, reaction, pain and consider who was truly the villain. You’d be surprised by who has murder in mind, and readers like surprises. It’s all in the ‘why’.
The Day After by Charli Mills
“I’m not ready for this.” Sarah had spent the long night alone at the sod house, scrubbing congealed blood from her hair. The stained dress she burned in the woodstove. Several Pony Express riders came by to convince her leave on the morning stage to Denver. Hickok was not one of them.
Leroy settled a trunk with her belongings in the back of the buckboard. “It’s best you come with me, Sarah. Emotions are running hot.”
“I know. But…a funeral?”
“He’s already in the ground.”
Sarah’s scalp itched. Triggers pulled in haste left no mourning time.
Now to the contest! Write a flash fiction in 109 words, no more, no less and weave a murderous vibe through an every-day setting, either in thought or deed.
- Submit your entry using the Contact Form below.
- 109 words, no more, no less, will be counted exactly. Title excluded.
- Weave a murderous vibe through an every-day setting, either in thought or deed.
- Add your name and email address, but please note, judging will be blind.
- Deadline for submission is 11:59 EST Tuesday, 31 October. Any entries received after this date will be disqualified.
CONTEST NOW CLOSED. WINNER ANNOUNCED DECEMBER 19.
CHALLENGE OPTION: If you don’t feel up to entering a contest, please feel free to respond to this in the comments as a prompt challenge. Weekly Flash Fiction Challenges resume November 2.
Go where the flow takes you, with bonus points for a twist that shocks the judges:
Mike Matthews, sound-boarder, proof-reader and husband extraordinaire; Hugh Roberts, friend, author and blogger with a deliciously dark flair for short stories; and me, Sherri Matthews.
We can’t wait to read your entries. Have fun but don’t forget to watch your back: you never know who might be lurking in the shadows at the Rodeo.
NB: As providence would have it, I am in the throes of our house move this week. Huge apologies for my lateness in replying to comments, but I will return before the 31 October deadline. Many thanks to Charli and Hugh for holding down the fort in the meantime.
Next up: The Ultimate Flash Fiction (TUFF) by Charli Mills on Tuesday, October 31.
Announcement of Winner
Winner will be announced at Summerhouse and Carrot Ranch on December 19.