WeWriWa—In memory of George

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. In loving memory of George Harrison on his 14th Jahrzeit (death anniversary), this week’s snippet comes from my contemporary historical Bildungsroman, Little Ragdoll, Chapter 27, “Letters to and from Lucine and Emeline.”

It’s the fall of 1964, and 12-year-old Ernestine, 10-year-old Adicia, and 5-year-old Justine have written letters to two of their older sisters, 18-year-old Lucine and 16-year-old Emeline, who both ran away from home to avoid their black-hearted mother’s schemes to forcibly marry them off underage. Lucine is now a first-year student at Hunter College, and Emeline is a high school junior at the same Yorkville boarding school Lucine attended, a school for disadvantaged young women. The Episcopal priest and his wife running the school are now the adoptive parents of oldest sister Gemma’s birth son Giovanni, the unwanted product of her own forced marriage.

Super big brother Allen knows their address, and has let his little sisters write from his address so their evil mother won’t discover what really happened to her vanished daughters. Though Ernestine left home underage and now lives with some friends, Adicia and Justine are still at home. Emeline, near the end of her letter back, explains why George is her favorite Beatle.

George Harrison through the years.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images. My little brother has a kind of creepy resemblance to a young George Harrison.

To answer Ernestine’s question, yes, I do like The Beatles (and I can’t believe she’s old enough now to have celebrity crushes!).  Maybe I’m a little too old for them, but it’s not like I’m one of those screaming young girls who’s only thinking about how cute they are and can’t even hear them singing or playing their instruments.  Liking somebody’s music has nothing to do with how cute they are, though it does help if someone is good-looking in addition to talented.  My favorite is George.  I guess it’s because he’s the baby of the group, and it makes me think of my own dear little sisters and how the baby of a family needs special mothering, love, and protection.  Is it a good or a bad thing I feel such a strong mothering instinct at only sixteen?  Besides, I know how it feels to be pegged ‘the quiet one.’  That label sticks, and people sometimes don’t expect much of you since they think you’re not talkative.  But boy, will I prove to anyone who thinks I’m just another quiet, bookish girl that still waters can run deep when I go into the world and make something of myself!

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Not only does George’s music mean more to me than I can put into words, but he’s also one of my spiritual mentors. He was such a good person, with such a sincere, beautiful heart and soul, doing so much for the world, with such a strong belief in the power of humanity to change the world and improve ourselves. I often think of his profound last words, “Everything else can wait, but the search for God cannot wait, and love one another.”

WeWriWa—“School isn’t a fashion show”

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, a weekly Sunday hop where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. This is the last week I’ll be sharing from my recent release Little Ragdoll, which is currently available on Kindle, Kobo, and Nook and soon to be in print. I’m skipping a little ahead to close out on a hopeful note.

After the Troy sisters have been reminded that they’re at Woolworth’s to buy school supplies, not to argue with mean girls, they continue with their errand. They don’t have much money to spend, but at least Woolworth’s prices are generally very cheap anyway.

***

“It’s not fair,” Adicia complains as they wander into the next aisle. “All the other girls get new clothes for school. My clothes are twelve years old.”

“Those girls won’t look twice at their new clothes in six months,” Emeline predicts. “They’ll throw them away, or give them to charity if they have any sense, when a newer fashion comes along. They don’t care about getting clothes that last for a long time.”

“School isn’t a fashion show,” Lucine says. “You can wear the most expensive, newest clothes in the world, but it won’t matter if you’re not using your brain.”

***

Next week will be a quick visit to my hiatused 1980s historical Justine Grown Up (starring Adicia’s baby sister), in honor of the special holiday which falls on August tenth. (You’ll also get to see the lovely framed poster I sleep underneath.) The week afterwards, you’ll get to meet my brave Marines from my WIP!

As soon as I finally get a new computer, I’ll be able to do more visits on Sundays. My computer has been slowly dying for months now, and the death rattle coming from the left fan isn’t getting any better, though having a fan right behind the machine helps.

WeWriWa—Mean Girls at Woolworth’s

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, a weekly Sunday hop where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. For two more weeks, I’m sharing from the opening chapter of my recent release Little Ragdoll, a Bildungsroman (growing-up story) spanning 1959-74.

Adicia, four of her sisters, and their surrogate mother are at an uptown Woolworth’s, where they ran into some of the mean girls from the nice part of the Lower East Side. Though the Troys live just inside the boundaries of what was to become the East Village in less than ten years, they’re decidedly not as gentrified or well-off as these girls. One of them has just asked what 5-year-old Adicia’s name is.

***

“Her name is Adicia,” Emeline says. “It’s an ancient Greek name, the Latinate form of Adikia, who was a goddess.” Though Emeline typically bubbles over with her wealth of knowledge, she leaves out the fact that Adicia was named for the goddess of injustice because their parents thought it was an injustice to be saddled with a seventh unplanned child and yet another girl in a row.

“Ew, Greek mythology is so boring. I’d rather read fashion magazines and love stories, not stupid stories about made-up gods and goddesses thousands of years ago,” Linda Hopkins scoffs. “And I love having the same name as a lot of other girls. It means I’m popular and boys will pay attention to me.”

“Oh, people will pay attention to these losers too,” Karen Becker says haughtily.

***

The names booklet I found the Troy siblings’ names in claimed Adicia means “mal-treated.” When I looked up the name when starting over with this story so many years later, I found out it doesn’t exactly mean mal-treated, but the real meaning fit the intended symbolism just as well.


Adikia being beaten with a hammer by Dike, the goddess of justice.

Sweet Saturday Samples


(If you’re looking for the A to Z post, scroll to the one below this.)

This week for Sweet Saturday Samples, since the Western Easter is tomorrow, I’m jumping back quite a bit in Adicia’s story for an excerpt from Chapter 9, “Easter 1960.” Adicia is 5, Justine is 13 months, Ernestine is 8, Emeline is 11, and Lucine is 14. As always, the only holiday cheer Adicia and her sisters get comes from the festive meal at the Bowery Mission, where they also go for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I remembered in my original unfinished first draft, the girls went to some kind of big soup kitchen for Christmas and Thanksgiving, and I was very pleased to discover there really is a large soup kitchen and mission in their area, the wonderful Bowery Mission.

Ziessen Pesach and Happy Easter!

***

Adicia skips into the mission ahead of her sisters and Sarah and runs over to the nearest table with five empty place settings.  She can’t wait to be served the Easter dinner, since she knows it’ll probably be the last decent meal they’ll have a chance to eat until Thanksgiving.  The sight of the other Bowery guests makes her happy, knowing at least here they won’t be judged for not having pretty new Easter bonnets and dresses, or asked to compare Easter baskets.

Ernestine goes over to one of the mission workers, carrying the stroller and the wheel. “Excuse me, is there anyone here who can fix my baby sister’s stroller?  One of the wheels came off when we were walking to church this morning, and she’s not yet able to walk, so we’ve had to carry her around today.”

Justine smiles and coos at the mission worker from her snug place in Sarah’s arms.

“Of course we can find someone who can fix it.  We never turn away anyone who comes to us in need, particularly not on the holiest day of the year.  I’ll go get one of the handymen who works here, and we’ll come find you when it’s fixed.” The woman takes the wheel and stroller. “How old’s your sister?”

“Thirteen months,” Ernestine says proudly.

“You sure know how to make attractive girls,” the woman tells Sarah, smiling. “Are there any more besides these four?”

“Our other sister is sitting over there,” Emeline points. “We’ve also got some brothers and an older sister, who didn’t want to eat here.”

“Our oldest sister is celebrating Easter with friends, and our brothers are too proud to accept charity,” Lucine says.

“Our little brother made a big scene in church this morning,” Ernestine says. “When we were walking in, he asked loudly, ‘Who’s that on the cross?’  We went to an Episcopal church, and we usually go to Protestant churches, so he’d never seen a crucifix before.  I still don’t know how he could not know that was Jesus, even if we only go to church a few times a year.  That’s supposed to be one of the first things you learn at church!”

“I’d like to go to church more, but the other people are always judging our family when we go,” Lucine says. “On Christmas Eve the other kids were laughing about how we smelled bad.  I’m sorry, but if they’d taken a bath in cold bathwater a bunch of other people had already used without draining it, they’d smell bad too.  And they always look at us funny because our clothes aren’t as nice as theirs.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that.  I hope you know no one at this mission judges other people for not looking a certain way.”

“We love your mission!” Ernestine says.

Emeline leads the others over to Adicia.  Soon they’re being served delicious candied yams, cornbread rolls, lamb, hot cross buns, some kind of dish made with eggs, roasted vegetables, chicken, mashed potatoes, and candied orange slices, with milk, fruit juice, and sparkling water to drink.  Adicia always finds it hard to believe how so much delicious food can exist in such a dismal part of the city.

At the end of the meal, someone comes over to them to deliver the stroller, whose wheels are now all firmly attached.  The mission worker also gives Justine a stuffed white rabbit.  Justine doesn’t know what to do with it at first, since she’s never had any toys before.  Then she figures out it’s meant for hugging and cuddling, and falls asleep holding it as Sarah wheels her back home.

Mr. and Mrs. Troy are out drinking when they come back, and Carlos is hanging over the fire escape in his usual drug-induced state.  Sarah puts Justine down on a blanket on the floor to see if she needs her diaper changed.

Justine wakes up and smiles up at her sisters and Sarah. “Mama.”

“Did our baby just talk?” Emeline asks excitedly.

“Our baby just said her first words!” Ernestine echoes.

Adicia looks at her sadly. “No, not Ma-ma.  Sa-rah.  Our real mother is that other woman who lives here, the mean one who looks like she rolled out of a garbage dumpster.”

“Mama,” Justine repeats.

“She’ll learn soon enough, the way the rest of us did,” Lucine sighs.

“Maybe you can adopt us and take us away from this nasty place,” Ernestine suggests. “Then Justine can grow up seeing you as her real mother and not even knowing about the horrible woman who really gave birth to us.”

“I don’t tink any of us vill be leaving here anytime soon, unless a miracle happens,” Sarah says.

Emeline jumps up and runs into the bathroom. “Can anybody help me?” she calls. “I think I need a sanitary napkin, and I don’t have a belt yet!”

“Are you sure?” Lucine asks. “You’re only eleven!  Gemma and I were both twelve and a half, and some of the girls in my eighth grade classes still haven’t gotten theirs yet!”

“I’ll be twelve next month. And those goofy booklets and filmstrips did say some girls are younger than others.  You know I’ve been developing a bustline since I was even younger than this.”

Sarah gets two extra safety pins out of Justine’s diaper bag and goes in to help Emeline.  Lucine ducks into her bedroom to get a Modess pad from the big box Mrs. Troy buys every few months and embarrassedly dumps on her oldest daughters’ bed.

“Can’t you borrow Lucine’s belt?” Adicia asks.

“That’s not really sanitary,” Lucine says. “It’s like letting someone borrow underwear or a bathing suit.”

“Our mother does make us use hand-me-down swimsuits!”

“Will Emeline still be able to go swimming with us in the summer if she’s bleeding from that part of her body?” Ernestine asks.

“Not unless she’s using an applicator,” Lucine says. “According to the booklets and filmstrips, we’re not supposed to be in cold water or get chills, but I refuse to believe that’s true. Not too long ago, people used to think we’d die if we bathed or exercised then, and now we know that’s a bunch of malarkey.”

Adicia doesn’t understand much of what her older sisters are talking about.  She hopes with everything in her that their happy little quartet will continue as it always has, even though Lucine is soon to go to high school and Emeline has undergone the strange and secretive process that turns a girl into a young woman.  The one constant in her life, the friendship she shares with her sisters, means everything to her.  Without it, she would have to figure out a whole new way to navigate the rough hand she was dealt when she was born into a family plagued by poverty for generations.

Sweet Saturday Samples

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples is the ending of Chapter 35 of Adicia’s story, “Welcoming a New Troy.” Allen and Lenore’s firstborn child has just been born on Allen’s 23rd birthday, June 6, 1967, so the baby also shares her birthday with the anniversary of D-Day. Middle Troy child Emeline has come from Poughkeepsie, where she’s studying at Vassar, to be a doula of sorts (before the role had a name), and everyone is shocked at how she’s turned into a bona-fide flower child in the year she’s been away.

Veronica is a former labor and delivery nurse who became a midwife after becoming very upset and frustrated with how the typical maternity ward of the era was run (similar to Peggy Vincent’s story in Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife, a book I’d highly recommend to anyone interested in natural childbirth and midwifery). Given Lenore’s history before she came to Manhattan, she has a major fear of doctors and hospitals, and Allen wants to keep her away from that as well after hearing his older sister Gemma’s horror story about twilight sleep so many times. Suffice it to say, Gemma was completely traumatized by the standard birth procedures of the era, and that influenced the younger members of her family to want something more natural.

***

“Well, what do you know,” he laughs, staring down at the baby. “I really did get yet another girl for my harem.”

“Can I see her? I didn’t go through so much pain for the past thirteen and a half hours to not be able to hold her right away.”

“I love you more than ever,” Allen declares adoringly as he gently hands over the baby. “You went through all that pain to bring our firstborn child into this world.  I don’t think I coulda handled it like such a pro.  I bet you’re glad now you didn’t crack and get a Caesarean.”

“Whoa,” Emeline says as the next song on the record starts up. “This song is like a Buddhist riddle to meditate on.  What does the sound of silence sound like?”

“Emeline, did you smoke too much weed?”

“No, I’m just tripping you out, man.  Come on, let’s take some family pictures.”

Veronica takes a few pictures of Allen and Lenore with the baby, and then a group picture of everyone, with both Allen’s camera and her camera.  After the pictures are taken, she delivers the placenta, which most of the girls think looks disgusting. Girl tells them that in some cultures, women eat or bury the placenta instead of throwing it out or burning it like medical waste.  When the umbilical cord stops pulsating, Veronica lets Allen cut it with the one pair of left-handed scissors she has, and then the baby is weighed.

“Ten pounds even,” she informs them.

“Wow, that’s one big baby,” Adicia says. “No wonder you were in so much pain.”

“Your sister-in-law is a real champ,” Veronica says. “In spite of the big size and back labor, there isn’t any tearing that needs to be repaired.”

“What’s her name?” Justine asks as the baby starts suckling on Lenore’s breast. “I wanna find out the name before I go to bed.”

“Irene Lily Troy,” Lenore says proudly. “Irene means ‘peace,’ and lilies are a symbol of purity.”

“What a beautiful name,” Allen says. “A beautiful name for a beautiful girl.”

“And now, I think it’s time for everyone to go to bed,” Emeline says. “By the way, her time of birth was 11:31 and fourteen seconds.  I’ll have a full Astrological chart drawn up for her soon.”

“Always the ones you least suspect,” Allen says, still shocked over Emeline’s transformation into a pot-smoking flower child.

“Well, you know what they say about the quiet ones!” she laughs.

“Oh, I made you a present,” Girl says, pulling something out of her bag,  “I embroidered it on a piece of linen and put it in a frame for you to hang on your wall.”

Allen looks at it while Lenore falls asleep as Irene nurses.  Girl has stitched an Irish baby blessing and shamrocks in emerald-green thread matching Lenore’s eyes.

May all the blessings of our Lord touch your life today.

May he send his little angels to protect you on your way.

Such a miraculous gift, sent from above.

Someone so precious to cherish and love.

May sunshine and moonbeams dance over your head

As you quietly slumber in your bed.

May good luck be with you wherever you go

And your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow.

—Deirdre Ryan, 6-6-1967

“I stitched in the date today while Lenore was in labor. It’s the least I could do after you’ve been so great to me and my siblings for the past five years.”

“That was very nice of you,” Allen smiles, casting another glance over at Irene and Lenore.

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini,” Emeline whispers in Irene’s ear before everyone else heads off to sleep. “Welcome to our imperfect yet beautiful world, Miss Irene.”