Puerto Andraitx, Our New Home

By Suzy Beal

This is the fifth episode of a memoir that is unfolding, one chapter each month, here on True Stories Well Told. Stay tuned for more of the adventure as teenage Suzy’s family moves to Europe, builds a sailboat, and takes up life on the high seas circa 1961. Click here to read the earlier episodes.

 

Not another boat ride!  We took the night boat to Palma, Mallorca the next evening.  Upon boarding, we discovered Mom, with the little ones, had a cabin, but the rest of us had to sleep in hard wooden chairs on deck.  We accepted being uncomfortable for a few hours because to object to anything Dad said was useless.  We learned later Dad hadn’t realized he needed to make reservations for cabins, so was lucky to get a cabin for Mom, Conrad, and Frank.

After a long uncomfortable night, morning brought us to our new home.  As dawn approached, Dad pointed out the island of Mallorca just coming into view. I looked on the horizon.  The sun was shining on the island.  The buildings shown white in the morning sunlight just like the buildings we’d seen in Casablanca.  A castle came into view on the hill above the city of Palma and a huge cathedral on a smaller hill in the city.  When we tied up at the dock, I searched for something familiar.  I spotted my brother Tommy with “La Cucaracha” and a sense of relief came over me.  The van, a part of the family now, meant security and home, in its own familiar way.

We headed for the town of Puerto De Andraitx where a villa waited for us.  On the narrow, busy corners drivers honked at each other.  La Cucarachafilled the entire road.  When the van slowed on the corners, we opened the top.  The warm air rushed in, I closed my eyes and listened to the crickets.   The blue sky against the pine trees was a shade of a blue I’d never seen in Oregon, here a limitless sky with no clouds. Things didn’t seem real.  The houses made of stone and tile had terraces and archways.  Windmills dotted the landscape.   I remembered from the National Geographic the farmers used them for irrigation.

We approached Puerto de Andraitx after passing through Andraitx.  Dad explained that “Puerto de”meant the “Port of” and we headed for the port.  As we passed through town, I noticed that the older women wore black.  I learned later they wore black because they’d lost a loved one and dressed in mourning and since the older women always had someone in their families dying, they wore black most of the time.

My senses heightened by the vivid contrasts of light and dark, bright and dim, warm sun, and cool sea breezes, I’d never imagined these bright, distinct images.  Dad drove us to our villa on the opposite side of the bay from the town and we saw that the harbor lay between hills on either side of the bay.  He’d arranged on his prior trip to have an English woman named Pat rent a villa for us and arrange for a cook and maid.  Pat rented, in addition, a room in a neighboring villa for Tom and Hank because our house didn’t have enough rooms for everyone.

“You boys will eat your meals here with the whole family, because the kitchen and the other rooms in your house are off limits to you. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mom.”   Excited to be living independent from the rest of the family, they agreed immediately.

Notes to Harbor Light

(The editor of our high school newspaper had asked me to write to him about our travel experiences.)

 I’m so glad to be on solid ground after the boat trips.  It makes me wonder what life aboard a sailboat might be like and if I will be seasick.

 The house we are living in has a name “Villa Coleta.  It sounds so European.  It’s made entirely of rock and the interior walls are stucco and whitewashed.  Two stairways made of rock lead up to the main floors.  The terrace that runs the entire length of the house faces the harbor and the village of Puerto Andraitx.  We are walking distance from the harbor and quay where we can swim in the warm, blue Mediterranean.

Conrad and Frank with their stuffed animals – photo by Jan Chamberlin

 I can’t understand anyone yet and don’t know how long it will take to speak Spanish.  I will keep you updated with my progress.

 

On our first day, we discovered we didn’t have a washing machine or dryer, but we had a cook and washerwoman.  Carmen, the cook was a young woman in her early 20s.  Manuella, a small lady, sixty years old, dressed in black who walked six miles each day to our house was to be our washerwoman.  I wanted Dad to offer to pick her up and bring her to our house in the mornings because I remembered six miles was the same distance from our home on the river to Newport.  She had to walk this distance twice each day after doing laundry for nine people.

When Pat explained to Mom how the maid’s salaries worked, Mom didn’t think it was fair that Carmen, the cook, made more money than Manuela, who did the laundry for nine people. So, Mom decided (without telling Pat) to raise the pay for Manuellato match that of Carmen.

Carmen arrived each day on the back of her boyfriend’s Vespa. She sat with both legs on the same side as if she were riding a horse sidesaddle.  I watched the romantic scene each time they drove up in the mornings. They visited, teased and kissed goodbye. They went through the same ceremony when Carmen finished her work.  Although the thought of having my own Vespa thrilled me, I missed and yearned to be with my friends back in Oregon.  I wanted to be having a romantic moment, too.  Even though I was mad at John for being with Sandy, I still missed him.

One morning, we heard screeching and yelling coming from the kitchen.  We rushed in and found Carmen and Manuella fighting and hitting each other.  Mom stepped in and separated them and sent me to bring Pat to help us.  She wasn’t home, but I convinced her little girl to come translate for us.  Her daughter was only five, but could speak Spanish and English.  She told us that Carmen was mad because Manuella had bragged to her that Mom had given her a raise and now Manuella made as much money as Carmen.  To solve the dilemma, Mom gave Carmen a raise; not knowing if she’d done the right thing.  Dad offered to drive Manuella sometimes to help compensate.

One day Dad took me out of town into the countryside with his camera and spent the afternoon trying to teach me how to use it.  Tired of my lack of enthusiasm and my long face, Dad tried to engage me in learning something new, but I wanted no distraction. I was in mourning for my friends back home.  I wasn’t ready to forgive my parents for bringing me to this place, so I showed little interest in learning how to take pictures.

. . .

“Why are you crying?”  my sister asks.

“Because I can’t find any tunes on the radio I can understand, these songs are in a foreign language. I wish I could hear the top -10 songs from the States again.”

 Everything is so different here in Spain. Our parents impose the Spanish custom of the afternoon “Siesta.”  They send us to our rooms for the afternoon “rest.”  I share a bedroom with, Jan.  She doesn’t understand my need for hearing songs that connect me to my life in Newport. I hate these new customs they expect us to accept without arguing. Villa Coleta is where we live now.  It irritates me that our house has a name.   I want nothing to be personal, here.  I’m fifteen and I’ve left everything personal and important behind, without knowing if I will ever return.

 

© 2018 Suzy Beal

Suzy Beal, an occasional contributor to True Stories Well Told, has been writing her life story and personal essays for years. In 2016 Suzy began studying with Sheila Bender at writingitreal.com.  Watch for new chapters of her travel memoir to be posted! Please leave comments for Suzy on this post.

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A Test of Mettle

By Robert E. Martin

 

The Texas plant hired several young men at the beginning of the summer. After that first week, they fired all of them and kept me. The lesson I learned from this experience was: It always pays to exceed expectations when working for a new employer—it is the quickest way to job security. Indeed, it is a good idea to make a habit of exceeding expectations. There is a downside, however. This practice will not endear you to your coworkers and you will experience some pushback from them.

A classic problem in the labor market is sorting workers for qualifications and capabilities. This is a problem all companies have, for an application and interview does not always show how the new worker will perform. You don’t want to retain unsatisfactory employees. The steel plant used a clever method to screen labor, immediately giving new employees difficult jobs and observing performance. I saw different varieties of this technique in my career, and learned more about it through readings in economics. I passed the test of mettle.

Bob Martin, college man

The next week, they moved me around to several different stations in the plant process where I worked under journeyman supervisors. After that, I worked with the foreman. He took me under his wing and taught me various jobs. Then, he assigned me to driving a forklift. I spent the rest of the summer on the forklift. I enjoyed working at this plant. Hard work never bothered me. What I would run afoul of was the union shop.

It was a union plant. Being just a summer worker, there was no attempt to recruit me. I did not know the union culture. One day, I heard a lunch conversation about a union meeting to take place the following night. Working with the foreman that afternoon, I mentioned the meeting and asked what it was about. I assumed the foreman was in the union, but he was not. The union was organizing a strike. I had no idea! The foreman immediately went to speak to the union stewards. Naïve, young Bob had stepped into it—now I was a snitch and there was no way to explain what had happened. My life became a living hell.

The union steward especially despised me, razzing me about being a “college boy” in front of others and isolating me. Then it became more than a psychological war, it got dangerous. One of my co-workers was a big fellow but known to be a slacker, shirking his share of the work. He and I were assigned to use a crane to unload coils of steel rod from a freight car. I worked in the car, placing the hook from the crane into these steel coils that weighed a couple of thousand pounds and were about five feet in diameter. The other fellow ran the crane, lowering the hook for me to attach, which would then lift the roll and move it out onto the floor for the fork lift to deliver. But the hook would come crashing down into that car. The job of hooking up these coils was not random; they could come rolling on top of you if not removed in order.

On another occasion I was running the fork lift, which could carry two of the coils of rod back to the bull block loading area where they were kept. It should have been a smooth operation, but the crane operator did his best to make it more difficult since he dumped the coils on the ground. I didn’t comment, just did my best.

The foreman came into view and saw what was happening. He got Pissed Off!He chewed the guy out, and I learned that my coworker should “…know this works best by lowering those coils right onto the fork lift!” The crane operator said that I took too long to get the coils hooked up, and he was wasting time waiting for me. He tried to make me look bad. But I learned that normally it was a three-person job.

There was another incident at the rail head. I was in the car, working, which meant a lot of bending over. The safety procedure was to holler, “Ready to pull that!” when you were standing up, ready to observe and catch the big steel hook as it descended from overhead, swinging, guided by another worker. But several times as I stood up the hook was swinging into the car, and I could have been severely hurt. It was a deliberate attempt by the man to put me in jeopardy. I realized I was in danger and stood up and leaned over the edge of the car. There was a worker bragging to the crane operator about what he had done to me! I just looked at him. The men stopped laughing and then they became uncomfortable. I had no more trouble from that kid.

The summer was a living hell, not from the hard work, which I enjoyed, but because my co-workers would put me in harm’s way if they could. I had learned that in addition to the job itself, it was important to learn the workplace culture as fast as possible.

When I left at the end of the summer, the plant manager made a point of telling me I could work for them “anytime you want to!” I thanked him and said I was off to graduate school.

 

© Robert E. Marin, PhD 2018, all rights reserved. Used by permission.

Robert E. Martin, PhD, is the author of several books about economics, including The College Cost Disease: Higher Cost and Lower Quality. The story “Test of Mettle” is excerpted from his forthcoming memoir, My American Life: Minimizing Regrets, privately published by Perfect Memoirs. Bob is Emeritus Boles Professor of Economics, Centre College, Danville, Kentucky.

 

 

 

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Flash Memoir: Obey the pull of “concrete” or “object” writing

Last month I began a series of “writing workshop” posts here on Flash Memoir. Today that series continues with a look at “concrete” or “object” writing.

Most of the stories presented as examples of Flash Memoir in that post were based on an image. That’s a particular style of writing. Some people term it “concrete writing.” Others call it “object writing.” (Neither label is more correct than the other.)

The idea is that this style of writing is about concrete, specific, observable, things, as opposed to abstractions and concepts. Object or Concrete writing avoids subjects that are more “think-y”—more in the brain, less in the heart and gut.

When I teach this, I invoke the “Ladder of Abstraction,” explained in this 2015 post on True Stories Well Told. In a nutshell, stay down that ladder at the level of specifics, not high on the rungs of abstraction. If you’re reminiscing about a sweet potato pie, don’t say “I loved Momma’s desserts.” Name it. Claim it. Expound on it in specific detail.  “I loved Momma’s sticky, sweet, orange-fleshed, rimmed-with-caramelized-juice SWEET POTATO PIE.”

Here are two examples of Object Writing in Flash Memoir essays: Notice how your mind’s eye can see specific, tangible objects that keep you oriented to what is happening in these stories.

In writing, the concrete will always have more power than the abstract. Our brains are wired to hear words in our head as we read; with those words come images. “Desserts” leaves you with an imaginary buffet but can you zoom in  to see which tasty treat I loved most? No. SWEET POTATO PIE puts an image in focus. You can zoom in and see that the blisters of yam juice bubbling on its dark orange surface. From there you can begin to engage your senses–smell, taste, texture. When you obey the pull of concrete writing, you get your ideas across to your reader most powerfully.

 

Got thoughts on object writing? Post to the comments section! And stay tuned for Part 3 of this four-part series on Flash Memoir.

© Sarah White 2018

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The Proposal and the Purse

A few weeks ago I posted this writing prompt: when did YOU start carrying a purse, why, and how did your self-identity change? This is one response to that prompt.

By Deborah Wilbrink

Deborah Wilbrink in Cozumel, 1987

It had been a long day, fun and fishing on the ocean. Now I reached into the back seat of the new-smelling coupe for my purse, wanting to refresh my lipstick during the long ride back. It wasn’t there.

“What’s the matter?” asked Gordon.

“I’m really sorry, Gordon, but I left my purse at the restaurant.”

“Well,” he said, “I guess we have to go back.”

“I’m afraid so.” I shrank a bit, afraid of his reaction. Our second date was going well, but this would be a real test! The restaurant, overlooking a Florida marina, was three hours of drive time behind us. I felt like a fool. Of course, this was not the first time I had left a purse somewhere; for years I used my pockets to avoid such awful situations, but here it was again, and this time, it was a disastrous distance in time and space.

Gordon proved to be more of a gentleman than most men I had dated; no more about the purse was said as he turned the car around, and we headed back to the seaside marina where he kept his yacht. Six hours later than scheduled, we pulled into the driveway of his house, still on good terms. The night would deepen those good terms.

The next morning, I met Gordon’s teenaged daughter and his twelve-year-old son, bright, polite kids. Gordon cooked us all a tremendous breakfast of pancakes andeggs and sausage and bacon on a stone cooktop island, the first I had seen. Tomato andorange juice arrived from the bountiful refrigerator, and I thought of the quart of juice at home, watered-down to last the week. We breakfasted at a marble bar in the kitchen, which was full of light from the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked the green fields of his estate. In the distance the view faded into a haze of unmistakable Loblolly pine green, where lumber was the crop. We were miles and miles from town and much further from the amenities of city life. The dew sparkled and glowed, the birds sang, and all seemed right with the world.

After breakfast, the kids cleared out, and Gordon leaned towards me, coming straight to the point.

“I want someone who will enjoy living country life, and be good to my kids. Someone I can marry, who will stay here with me. I have a lot to offer. Are you interested?”

A sudden proposal. Gordon did have a lot to offer. He was handsome, educated, smart and successful, with community standing. He obviously thought I had a lot to offer, too; in every way except financial I was a match for his assets. I had a fatherless son; he had motherless children. But I was not in love, and I liked being a TV producer in the mid-market city where we’d met, an hour and half drive away from Gordon’s lovely home. I did not jump at his offer. It lay on the table, and we left it there, walking away from it to another car, a convertible shimmering the same red-orange shade as his thick hair, and he drove me home, where we said goodbye.

The Purse hadn’t mattered to either of us.

 

© 2018 Deborah Wilbrink

Deborah Wilbrink is a ghostwriter and editor specializing in memoir, owner of heritage book company Perfect Memoirs. She is the author of Time to Tell Your Personal & Family History, which I reviewed on this blog in 2016. Deb writes, “Sarah White’s Flash Memoir class was a great idea and I expect to work on many more vignettes using what I learned. Thanks, Sarah, for letting me tell some of my own stories for True Stories Well Told.”

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Aboard Ship, continued

By Suzy Beal

This is the fourth episode of a memoir that is unfolding, one chapter each month, here on True Stories Well Told. Stay tuned for more of the adventure as teenage Suzy’s family moves to Europe, builds a sailboat, and takes up life on the high seas circa 1961. Click here to read the earlier episodes.

 

Our first landfall was in North Africa: Casablanca, Morocco.  We descended here to take a tour of the city with an African we’d met onboard ship. The white buildings with ornate shapes and tile decor stood out in stark contrast to anything we’d ever seen.  We learned that “Casablanca” meant “white house.” I’d never see the skin color of these people, not white or black, but a dark brown, as if they’d been sunbathing every day.  Their clothing was of dark colors, too.  The women wore veils that covered their faces, except the eyes. Small children flocked to us begging for coins, their faces scarred from disease.  Their language sounded confusing and frantic, but the tone reminded me of fast music.  Dirt, filth, and pungent odors permeated everything.  I thought of the missionary family and wondered if their town had this squalor.  It appeared impossible that rising out of this grime stood the most gorgeous buildings I’d ever seen.  The ornate mosques reminded me of “Scheherazade and the 1001 Nights,” a story my fifth grade teacher had read to us.  Monkeys on leashes dancing to organ grinders sashayed up to us for coins.  We even saw a monkey smoking a cigarette.

 

Photos by Jan Chamberlin  (my eleven-year-old sister) with her new Brownie Camera

 

We re-boarded the ship and sailed on to Gibraltar where it slowed to a stop and dozens of small boats came out to sell things to the passengers.  Long ropes thrown up and baskets of colorful trinkets, bracelets, and scarfs came on board.  We leaned over the edge of the ship to see these strange boats filled with merchandise.  The Augustus sailed on past Gibraltar into the blue Mediterranean.

Augustus at Gibraltar – photos by Jan Chamberlin

We arrived at our destination of Barcelona, Spain after five days at sea.  Our suitcases in hand, we headed down the gangplank to foreign soil, a foreign language, and foreign customs officers.  Our trunks sat on the docks.  They’d been brought up from the depths of the ship. The customs officer told us to open our suitcases and the trunks.  Worrying they might arrest him; Dad tried to explain that he’d packed a revolver in one trunk, but couldn’t remember which one.  He’d brought it as a security measure to have on our sailboat. He’d heard stories of pirates commandeering private boats or just trying to steal from them, so the revolver was for our protection.   Dad pointed to the Guardia’s pistol and then to the trunks.  At that point, the Guardia dumped our trunks onto the docks and the customs officers rummaged through them until they found the pistol and confiscated it.   I stared at the police in fear.  The Guardiawore triangular-shaped, hard plastic hats that made them appear sinister. They wore guns and screamed at my Dad.   Angry and embarrassed, Mom cried watching our belongings being scattered on the docks. Once they found the pistol, they left us to repack everything.  The Augustus, our home for the past five days, lay empty beside the dock.  Everyone else had disembarked and gone on with their lives while we faced an uncertain future.

Dad located two taxis, and he explained we needed a hotel for the night.  He went in one cab with several of us and Mom in another with the others.  Our cabs circled around the strange city until we stopped at a small hotel where we got rooms.  Upon investigation of the bathroom, I discovered the pull chain flush toilets and “bidets.”   I decided they must be for washing feet. The room I shared with my sister had two beds and flimsy bed covers.  The room was sparse with only a large cabinet against one wall.   I’d never seen an armoire before and at first didn’t understand what it was for, but upon further inspection found hangers in it. We put our coats in it.  Mom told us not to bother with unpacking because we would be on the night boat to Mallorca the next evening.  The elevator was old and rickety, so I used the stairs.

After getting settled we headed out for a walk on the Ramblas, the main avenue of the city.  The sights and sounds excited me.   We discovered that just crossing the street was dangerous. Motorbikes, Vespas, and bicycles dodged the car traffic without adhering to the traffic laws.   The diesel odor of the cars and buses permeated the air.  People shouted at us.  The looks and gestures soon became too much for Mom and she sought a bench. An old man came up to her waving his hands and making wild gestures.  Mom tried to just ignore him.  She had Frank and Conrad sitting beside her when he motioned to the boys she tried to understand.  “What is he saying?  Why is he yelling at us?”  Mom’s face turned red with anger and frustration.  We couldn’t help her.  She motioned to us to follow her, and we headed back to the hotel.  We found out later that it cost money to sit on the benches. Our first meeting with a Spaniard hadn’t gone well.

Later in the evening we descended from the upper floor to the dining room for dinner. We sat at a long table put together just to accommodate us.  The menus in Spanish left us wondering how to order.  “We want hamburgers and French fries.” called out Frank and Conrad. When told they weren’t available they both cried.  Dad chose everything for us.  They served a salad first, but none of us trusted what we might find in it.  The main course was chicken with mushrooms and fried potatoes.  I’d never eaten mushrooms before, so I picked at the chicken, but ate the potatoes with relish.   Dad ordered ice cream for dessert.  Even though it tasted different, at least it was familiar. With our first day in Spain over, my sister and I rushed into our pajamas and fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the bed.  My last thoughts were of this strange country that didn’t have any traffic laws, but had little baths for our feet.

© 2018 Suzy Beal

Suzy Beal, an occasional contributor to True Stories Well Told, has been writing her life story and personal essays for years. In 2016 Suzy began studying with Sheila Bender at writingitreal.com.  Watch for new chapters of her travel memoir to be posted! Please leave comments for Suzy on this post.

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It’s Thanksgiving: Listen Up!

Tomorrow is StoryCorps’ #TheGreatListen. Here’s what they have to say about it:

The Great Thanksgiving Listen is a national movement that empowers young people—and people of all ages—to create an oral history of the contemporary United States by recording an interview with an elder using the free StoryCorps App. Interviews become part of the StoryCorps Archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Since 2015, The Great Thanksgiving Listen has grown from an experimental challenge issued by our founder, Dave Isay, into a vital intergenerational movement.

Consider conducting an interview and recording it for StoryCorps, using their free app. Or just start a conversation using the prompts on their downloadable, printable placemat!

If you’d rather just bask in memories of Thanksgivings gone by, read this post by Linda Lenzke on The Orphan Holidays, posted here Thanksgiving 2012. Linda blogs at Mixed Metaphors, Oh My!

Eat, drink, be merry–and pass the gratitude along with the dinner rolls!

–Sarah White

 

 

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Flash Memoir: my definition

In my work as a personal historian, I often coach people on how to write, via workshops  and 1:1 coaching. This keeps me interested in new techniques and ways to approach writing. In the past few years I’ve become aware of the “Flash Fiction” movement, and I’ve wondered, don’t those techniques work as well for creative nonfiction—i.e. the memoir genre? I often bring fiction writing techniques into my workshops. Bringing “flash” techniques into writing memoir just made sense to me.

Over the next few months, I’ll publish four mini-lessons from the curriculum I’ve developed around Flash Memoir. In this first post, we explore what characterizes this genre, in my humble opinion.

Flash Memoir essays tend to be:

  • Free of preambles—They start at the flashpoint—the moment when conflict ignites tangible action that drives the story forward.
  • Scene-based—They frequently take place in one run of time, without jumping around.
  • Observant—They tend to feature not the “I” but the “eye.”
  • Insightful—Like a flashlight illuminating a dark corner, they explore something that provoked an insight.
  • Specific—They stick with concrete, observable events and actions rather than abstract concepts.
  • True—As a subgenre of creative nonfiction, Flash Memoir must uphold the nonfiction contract that what is reported actually happened.

Now, let’s play a game. Which of the following is NOT a Flash Memoir essay? Here are four examples: The links will take you to essays published on this blog.

Post your answer to the comments section! And stay tuned for Part 2 of this four-part series on Flash Memoir.

© Sarah White 2018

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