A Summer Vacation’s Worth of Stories

This time of year—scorching humid days, once verdant green Spring grass turned brown and coarse, evening fireflies sparking the imagination—always makes me think of summer vacations long ago. Not those taken for a week or two, but the real summer vacation that punctuated our progress in life.

The opening days of Summer—those first glorious days of not having to get up for school, the freedom of having an entire day to do whatever we wanted, the seemingly endless days ahead—made such a powerful impression in our memories.

See you in September

See you when the summer’s through

Here we are (bye, baby, goodbye)

Saying goodbye at the station (bye, baby, goodbye)

Summer vacation (bye, baby bye, baby)

Is taking you away (bye, baby, goodbye)

The Happenings, See you in september

Then, as June slipped into July and July to August, the first thoughts of returning to school bubbled to the surface. A new grade, new challenges, new teachers, new things to learn, and experience. I may not have looked forward to the end of the summer, but I looked forward to returning to school.

For me it was Ashton School, then Highland Middle, and finally Cumberland High School, CHS ’74.

We had something with us when we ventured back that’s denied today’s generations. Something that made our return both comforting and exciting.

We had stories.

Summer stories to tell our friends in the long tradition of human storytelling. In the telling of the stories, we reinforced (and often enhanced) the memories, ensuring they would last a lifetime.

Today, every moment of every day—tweeted, texted, Instagrammed, Facebooked, or Instant messaged—becomes the same as all the others.

In telling our stories, we had to recall from memory those moments that mattered to us. The things that made enough of an impression on an eight-year-old or a fourteen-year-old to warrant a story.

They would lose their magic in a mere text message.

The stories we told came from the heart—enhanced by our imagination—and created a bond between the storyteller and the listener. It was a way of saying, “you’re important to me, I want you to hear my stories, and I want to hear yours.”

We cannot share such a bond in an email or text. The immediacy of such technology robs the story of all emotion and value.  It is just another bit of noise in a noisy world, lost among the cacophony, becoming only more background static.

August is when these thoughts and memories rise to the surface. Back then, it seemed the dog days of summer grew shorter, even if we knew that the days had grown shorter almost from the moment summer vacation began.

The sun, making its way back south, posed new challenges to baseball games. Early summer sunlit ball fields now became danger zones as fly balls disappeared into the blinding August afternoon sun and caromed off a player’s head. (Something which we might turn into a great story.)

Now, we were not without our means of instant communication. We had telephones, and the sound of a ringing phone brought anticipation, hope, and surprises. We often planned calls—I’ll call you at 6—and battles would ensue if the phone was in use.

We faced the frustrations of a busy signal or an unanswered call. Answering machines—those first links in the chain bonding us to communication technology—came later. But when a call went through, we had those glorious moments of speaking with someone we likely hadn’t seen since the last day of school. In these calls, we laid the groundwork for future stories—I’ll tell you more later, I have to hang up now.

Until we hit that magic age of driver’s licenses and the freedom it brought, all we had on returning to school was our summer stories.

If I could give anything of value to today’s world, it would be moments like those I shared with my friends telling those stories.

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Memory Containers

I have always enjoyed walking. I once spent six months walking from Georgia to Maine. When you walk, life slows down. You notice things you may never see in a car.

Even the most familiar roads contain surprises hidden in plain view. That is one problem of living at vehicle speed, we often miss the opportunities of life.

Although I have lived in many places, some longer than I ever lived in Cumberland, it is the first place I ever knew as home. Thus, it is etched onto my soul and the most memory-rich of the places I walk.

When I lived in Lincoln, my walks would often take me by many such familiar places. I lived just over the line from Cumberland and sometimes walked a loop up Albion Road to Mendon Road and down Manville Hill Road.

Passing by Cumberland High School released a floodgate of memories of the Class of 1974. It seemed at once like such a long time ago and the briefest of moments, despite the abundance of memories. Many of the houses I’d pass once were the homes of friends. Some may still be there; most are scattered by the winds of fate. But the memories still live.

Memories of many firsts, many experiences, many moments.

Passing every house, even those I now walk by since moving away from Lincoln, I think of the memories within a home. Cumberland memories are more intimate, more familiar, more embedded in my DNA. In my new neighborhood, or wherever I find myself walking, all the memories are hidden away in other lives.

But I know the memories are there. I know they exist. It is the way my mind works. I picture the moments. I hear the voices, the laughter, the tears. I am a spectator to a kaleidoscope of lives, anonymous yet familiar.

It is a universal bond all humans share, the magic of memory.

Christmas celebrations, births, birthdays, deaths, new puppies, old dogs, hot dogs, charcoal smoke, snowstorms (No school!), baseball games, marriages, divorces, learning to ride a bike, watching a child take those first steps or a loved one taking the last ones, even if you don’t know it at the moment.

Moments of every life remembered.

I wonder if the spirit of all the memories, the quantum energies of life, still echo within the walls. Inside every house—sometimes a home, sometimes the scene of heartbreak—do the memories still remain?

Our memories are a quantum entanglement, always with you no matter how far away from them you’ve wandered. That’s the most precious thing about memories, they persist even if we cannot recall them. Once made, always bonded, even if they are shadowed and hidden by the mists of passing time.

Our own thin place, where we see with the utmost clarity or vague familiarity that which reminds us of our common humanity.

By taking the time to notice things we often fly by in the cocoon of everyday living, we experience the most common of shared human qualities. The community of memories.

“This is a gift that I have, simple, simple; a foolish extravagant spirit full of forms, figures, shapes, objects, ideas, apprehensions, motions, revolutions; these are begot in the ventricle of memory, nourished in the womb of pia mater, and delivered upon the mellowing of occasion.”

William Shakespeare

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The Last Christmas Part VII: Defeating the Piney Army

“So, let me get this straight. You hate visiting the hospital but now you want to go right after school?” Joe’s mother said as they sat eating dinner. “Why the sudden change?”

“I just want to go see him.  I can’t wait until he comes home, I need to talk to him privately.”

Joe caught the look between his parents. Something wasn’t right and they weren’t telling him everything.

“Joe,” his father said, “there’s a good chance your grandfather may come home in a few days. He will be under hospice care. Do you know what that is?”

Joe shook his head.

“How about we go see grandpa tomorrow after school and we can all talk about it together.”

“Great, I can’t wait to tell him what happened—.” As the words came out, he knew he’d said too much.

“What do you mean happened?” Joe’s mother studied him. “Is there something we need to know?”

Joe glanced between his parents and knew what to say. “Well, Grandpa gave me some secret instructions to follow.  Chrissy and I brought the small box to the abandoned barn. When I read the words, the box turned into a disassembled sleigh that we have to put together before Christmas.

“Meanwhile, we used the deer feed to gather all eight reindeer into the barn so the elves could take care of them and get them ready for Christmas Eve.  Oh yeah, the barn looks abandoned on the outside, but inside it’s a magical place full of elves.

“When we left there the other day, after the engine test fire went crazy, an army of pine trees attacked us. Chrissy was able to save me from one of them. I need to see Grandpa so he can tell us how to defeat them and get back to the barn.”

Joe waited a moment to let it sink in. “Other than that, not much.”

Joe’s father sipped his water and his mother just stared at him.

“Where in the world does that imagination of yours come up with this stuff?” she said after a moment of silence. “You should write a book, Joe.”

“I will, Ma. After this adventure is over, I will.” Joe brought his dish to the sink then ran upstairs. He had lots of questions for his grandfather. Even if his parents thought he’d made it all up, the piney army was still out there and the voice, whatever was behind that, was another problem.

*****

Standing at the edge of his grandfather’s bed, he waited for his mother to leave.

“Are you sure about this, Dad?” his mother said.

“Go, Peggy. Let me explain things to Joe and it will be fine.” He waved his hand towards the door. “Now go get those nurses some coffee and pastry. They deserve it for putting up with me.”

“I am sure about that,” Joe’s Mom said, and headed out the door.

As the door closed, Joe’s grandfather motioned for him to come closer. “Sit on the edge of the bed, Joe. We have a few things to take care of.”

There was always one thing about his grandfather that Joe loved most. He always talked to Joe as if he were just like him.  He told him the truth—good, bad, or indifferent—no matter what.

This truth hurt the most, but he knew in his heart his grandfather wanted him to be ready and he was glad he thought him old enough to handle it.

“There are a few things I want you to remember, Joe. First, never be afraid to do the right thing no matter how others might try to talk you out of it. Second, the pine trees can only stop you if you’re afraid. Trees can’t think. They are controlled by Doubt. Doubt is a specter. Do you know what that is?”

Joe shook his head.

“A specter is a ghost. While it lives as a being, it can enter any creature. Doubt is the one thing that can cause you to fail. Never let doubt tell you what you cannot do.”

His grandfather pointed to the drawer next to the bed. “Open it up and hand me the small back case in there.”

Joe pulled the drawer open and pulled out the case, handing it to his Grandfather.

Opening the case, Joe’s Grandfather pulled out a medal on a gold chain. A Good Conduct medal he’d gotten when he was in the Marines.

“Take this, Joe. Keep it with you to remind you about the things I said. Everything you need to know, and do, is in your heart.”

Joe took the medal, turning it over in his hand, then placed it around his neck. “You’ll be coming home soon, won’t you grandpa? Then we can talk more.”

His grandfather smiled. “Like I explained, Joe. I’ll be coming home, but I won’t be with you long. This is the end of my time here, but it’s not the end of you and I being partners in this.

“Go back and build the sleigh. Don’t let a pine tree army or Doubt get in your way. There is a great adventure ahead. One that has lasted a thousand years. Soon, you’ll understand.”

The door opened and Joe’s mother returned. “Ready Joe?”

“Yup,” Joe said, jumping from the bed. He tucked the medal into his shirt.

One nurse came in. “Are you comfortable there, NM?”

“NM?” Joe’s mom said. “Who’s NM?”

“He is,” the nurse said, pointing at Joe’s grandfather. “Nicholas’s Magic. It’s what we all call him because he makes us smile all the time, no matter what. We’re gonna miss him when he leaves.” She went to his side, checking the various machines.

Joe’s mom kissed his grandfather. “By, Dad. We’ll be ready for you tomorrow.”

As they walked out, the light went on in Joe’s head. NM. NM like on the blanket. I wonder…

“Mom, can I use your phone for a minute?”

“Of course.”

Joe called Chrissy. Whispering into the phone, he said. “I just talked to my grandfather. I know how to get past the piney army. Meet me at the same place after school.” Joe turned his head so his mother couldn’t hear what he said next.

“Remember the initials NM on the blanket the elf put over me? I think NM is my grandpa.”

Part VIII Doubt Comes to Visit

P.S. If you’re interested in the previous one from Christmas Past here’s a link. Please share this and this new story with all your family and friends.

https://joebroadmeadowblog.com/2018/12/14/the-christmas-dragon-the-complete-untold-unchanged-and-absolutely-true-story-from-beginning-to-end/

Excerpt from Saving the Last Dragon

This Christmas give the gift of reading and imagination…

There’s magic along the Blackstone River and among the hidden caves of Diamond Hill in the quiet town of Cumberland, Rhode Island where magic has long lain hidden awaiting the Dragon Seeker. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B018ECUNKW or for signed copy go here www.jebwizardpublishing.com

Here’s a short except and coming next year, there will be more magic.

“The choice is made.” Ealdor’s voice once again surrounded them. Duncan looked at the egg.                                             

“What happens now? Is it over?”

Balinor came forward, bending to put his face next to Duncan. “It is only beginning, Donnchadh Ealdgneat.”

Duncan gave him a questioning look. Kathy and Jamie came over. Keladry revived Myrddin who joined them standing around Duncan and the egg.

“Jamie, what happened to you?” Myrddin asked. “Last I remember you tried to fly.”

Jamie chuckled. “I grabbed Harper, and then something happened. We fell over the edge but didn’t fall all the way. Something held us in the air. She tried to push me away. One of my hands slipped and I felt myself starting to fall. I realized whatever was holding us there, was just holding her. I was along for the ride. I decided to get away from her. I saw the branch and leapt for it.”

“What happened to Harper?”

“I’m not sure. A bunch of ravens flew in and she vanished among them. I wasn’t sure what was happening up here, so I waited. After a few minutes, I felt the branch starting to give way. I started yelling for help.”

Myrddin glanced at Keladry. “She’s still out there, isn’t she?”

Myrddin nodded. “What matters is the egg is safe in the hands of the Dragon Seeker.”

“What do we do with him?’ Kathy said, pointing at Core.

Keladry spoke up. “That spell won’t hold him for long. He is too powerful for that. We must get away from here.”

“And just leave him?’ Kathy walked to face Core. “Isn’t there something a little more unpleasant we can do?” She eyed the sword, watching the unmistakable sign of fear in his eyes. She reached for the blade.

“No!” Duncan said, drawing their attention. “We’re not like him. There is nothing he can do to us now. We need to focus on this,” pointing at the egg. “This is the Last Dragon. We need to protect it, not become like those that would misuse its power.”

Ealdor’s voice once again rose from the pulsating egg. “Donnchadh Ealdgneat shows wisdom beyond his years. Heed his message.”

Myrddin nodded his head. “We would do well to listen to her. This is the future we have all fought for long and hard. Much remains for the Dragon Seeker to do; there are many trials ahead.”

Duncan once again took his place on Balinor’s back. The egg secured in his pack. As the others moved off down the hill, the sun crossed over the mid-point in the sky.

A gleaming beam of sunlight illuminated the Blackstone River, the water a shimmering, twisting band of gold. Pointing to the future.

 Balinor leapt into the air, riding the light. Duncan felt the rush of the wind in his face. The smell of the woods enveloped him. The sun warmed his back.

“An uncertain future awaits you, Donnchadh Ealdgneat.” Ealdor’s voice sang in his ears. “You’ve taken the first steps of a long, difficult journey. For now, protect this egg and this dragon within. The next challenge will soon be upon you.”

Duncan took comfort in the voice yet trembled at portent of the words. These once uncomplicated and familiar places of his life, the Blackstone River, the rocky face of Diamond Hill, this small town of Cumberland, would never be the same.

His imagination opened to the possibilities. He knew what he needed to. He would face his fear and overcome it. It would not be easy, but it would be a destiny of his own choosing.

The End of the Beginning…