Ghosts of Christmas Past visit me each year, sometimes twice as we continue our new tradition of Christmas in July. The ghosts are family, welcome and regular visitors to my kitchen. I look forward to the festive season, find pleasure in Christmas by melding my memories with what gives me joy nowadays. However, it doesn’t always come easy. Every year we ask ourselves will we put up the Christmas tree. End-of-year-tired-adult-me says no. Six-year-old-me says please can we. So we do. Six-year-old-me, lover of twinkle, adorns the tree with lights and we all enjoy the ambience but it comes down a day or so after Christmas Day as adult-me likes an orderly house. The ghosts remind me that festive spirit doesn’t come from excessive doing and spending and standing in line to buy overpriced seafood. They help me remember how much I loved our homemade celebrations.
My memories are scant of Christmases from the early years but the marks on my psyche are carved deep. A single Christmas, age five, the last at home with Mum, and Santa’s gift of a blue child-size table and chairs. I was twenty-ish before I discovered by chance it was handmade by my Dad. It stayed around for a long time, later bequeathed to my seventeen years younger sister.
However, when I think of Christmas, my memories invariably crystallize at my grandparents’ farm. The living room with its pine tree I ‘helped’ my grandfather chop during an expedition in the bush, placed in a bucket of water and stationed in the small corner next to the fireplace. Simply decorated with ornaments gathered over the years, not new; not much in that house was.
The Christmas tree skirted by a few wrapped gifts modest in nature and number. I could also -as I had been good… of course- expect a gift on Christmas morning from Santa and Christmas stocking filled with useful things, story books, colouring pencils and small treats. A distinct memory is the long-awaited Christmas morning of the much-desired baby doll… which Santa inconveniently left behind the tree. Forbearance is still not one of my virtues. Nor singing, another clear recollection is my uncle suggesting I sing Silent Night… silently.
My nanna’s kitchen is one of my realest memories. If I am very focused, barely breathing, I can transport myself to it, six years old again. Our festive food was made in this -tacked on to the back of the house after the old outside kitchen burned to the ground- boxy room with its wood stove, faded paint timber dresser, Laminex table and modest Kelvinator refrigerator.
Plates of Christmas cake appeared when visitors did and disappeared quickly along with welcomed cups of tea or glasses of beer depending on the hour of day, sat side by side with Bakelite trays of child tempting treats; lollies, assorted nuts from which as the only grandchild I would freely pick the cashews & brazil nuts, irresistible crunchy sweet red-coated peanuts.
Baked vegetables, I’m sure there was a whole panful cooked in dripping but my eyes were on the prize, sticky baked white sweet potatoes, served with roast chicken -wing for me please- with bread & onion stuffing and gravy -rather than the more common roasted rooster- selected for the occasion from the laying hens and prepared by my grandfather… thankfully I didn’t make the connection when I was ‘helping’ him although the memory of the stink of chicken feathers and skin scalded in boiling water is fresh as ever decades later.
Christmas pudding studded with thripence and sixpence but a little light on red jelly cherries in the fruit mix, the price of my ‘helping’. I still have my nanna’s trifle bowl, smallish but cut crystal and treasured, big enough for each of us to savour sufficient portions of pale sunshine coloured custard and buttery cake both made with freshly laid eggs and creamy milk from their dairy cows, sprinkled with a little of my grandfather’s sweet sherry some of which might have also been tipped into an accompanying small glass for the cook, studded with glistening slices of peaches picked from the orchard and preserved in jars, dotted with spoonfuls of shiny multi-hued jelly.
Somehow my nanna conjured festive food miracles akin to biblical loaves and fishes. Counting my grandparents, aunts and uncles home for the holidays, and assorted visitors we might number more than ten for Christmas lunch which would be plentiful enough to require a postprandial nap, followed by the cool joy of a salad of leftovers for tea which is what as dairy farmers they called the meal eaten around 5 pm, and later when the news was on the black and white television (likely purchased along with the Kelvinator, the only nod to modernity in the house), a pot of tea and small bowls of remaining sweets.
If you mention Christmas food to my family members of the era, their collective recollection will be my nanna’s egg mayonnaise which I remember dressed our Christmas tea and Boxing Day salads -lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion, tinned beetroot & pineapple, potatoes, ham, chicken- in cold creamy deliciousness. A secret recipe apparently but after some family conferring my aunt and I agree this is it, although I’m inclined to the milk version.
That Christmas when I was six was the last for my beloved nanna. She died one hot afternoon in late February after I had gone back to school, in her sleep on the green vinyl night and day sofa in the living room where there might have been a few remaining pine needles escaped her housekeeping in the crevice between the carpet and the wall in the small corner next to the fireplace. I found her there cold to my inquiring touch having arrived home after walking up from the school bus drop off to a too quiet house just ahead of my Pa who had popped over the river to the lucerne paddocks.
Fresh from Christmas’ recent incarnation which saw the G.O. and I visit and celebrate with my family a few days before, in their merry style. Everyone enjoyed catching up and had a good time. Back at home for Christmas eve, one of my favourite days, we spent it with the usual soundtrack of carols in kitchen and lawnmower in the yard. My local in-law family opted out of Christmas celebrations this year… and after the event were a bit sorry but it meant on Christmas Day we pleased ourselves, barbequed breakfast, exchanged Christmas morning phone calls with faraway family, opened a few gifts, visited the in-laws, walked on the beach and later enjoyed a quiet festive food dinner.
Yuletide, for me, is timely alchemy of intangible festal mood and tangible: our hand-me-down tree with its lights and decorations all the more loved after fourteen December Christmases and one July; gifts squirreled away through the year; wreath on the front door; sparkly lights woven through a tree in the front garden to cheer passing night-time festive travellers, which the G.O. and I once were; seasonal home cooking that brings to mind food our grandmothers made… manifestations of my memories in a contemporary setting.
Christmas is occasion for quiet communion with my ghosts who are never far away anyway, at home with the life and place I’m at now that quite resembles theirs’, no accident, I’m inclined to believe. In my early fifties, three years beyond the age my nanna attained, I get to experience the other side of the festive coin. Now a step-grandmother, I found satisfaction and joy in our inaugural family Christmas in July when the kids’ -old and young- eyes lit up at the array of simple food I had made, planning already the next year’s festivities before they departed to their home a few hours drive down the coast, and talking about the food for months afterwards.
Just a few weeks after Christmas past is a felicitous time to look forward festively, not a year ahead but to our next gathering in July: holiday ambience invoked by our tree in cheery adornments of white ribbon, red hearts and -of course- lights, adjacent to the living room wood fire which will be lit and around which we’ll gather to eat dessert and open gifts. Devised as a family gathering -eschewing the bandwagon of mid-winter commercial trendiness- an opportunity to partake not only of gifts and comfort food but timeless pastimes en famille of brisk strolls, and toasted marshmallows around the pot belly fire outdoors… circumventing the pressure cooker of December festive negotiations and obligations.
“When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.” ― Bob Hope
Another ‘branching out’ story inspired by comments to my Out on a Limb post, our city apartment’s leafy neighbours and the article Erskineville’s newest housing project. Dedicated to the G.O. for whom the big eucalypt tree neighbouring our balcony is a balm to city life.
“I’m a relative newcomer to what they call this now… the neighbourhood. A remnant from what it was two centuries of human time ago, a natural habitat abundant with my kind. I was here when the changes began and we trees gave way, were taken away, made way for Buildings and Roads… and People, as is the humans’ want to call themselves. But not here by the end.
The Outsiders came with plans and tools and cleared the Land. They said they paid for it with Money, or the Government gave it to them. I still don’t understand about the Money or the Government. They aren’t part of the Creation. Where did they come from?
The Outsiders undid some of the work of the Creation. They called it Construction, it made the Buildings go up and in an instant that’s all there was. No trees, grasses or blossoms. No wild animals, birds or insects. The Outsiders didn’t put them back. If they had thought of it anyway they had no time for Preservation. Instead, with pieces of trees they felled, the Outsiders confined spaces around the Buildings, dug the soil, set their beasts to graze and planted seeds they’d brought with them.
How do I know this? After I was there, before I came again, my Spirit, at one with All, was part of the Witnessing of what ensued. Nothing happens that isn’t observed and recorded in The Annals of Time. Of the Spirits of the Land, some travelled Home, some necessarily remained behind as Guardians. As Keepers of the Earth we do not give up our place lightly.
The Outsiders desired autonomy, opportunity to create their humanmade objects. They wanted more than the Creation could provide. To have their own powers of creation pleased the Outsiders. They were clever, strong and capable, no longer believing they needed to rely on offerings and appeasements to the Creation, subject to its caprices. They were proud.
Before the Outsiders there were the Old Ones. Nomads, they used only what the Creation offered, and in exchange were caretakers of the Land. The Outsiders had no place for the Old Ones either. Now they don’t come any more.
In the beginning there weren’t so many Outsiders. The climate suited to my kind was harsh for Outsiders, and the work of changing things was harsher. They brought more Outsiders from far away. Their dreams and schemes and talk spread like fire-stick burns of the Old Ones. But where from fires and ashes commanded by the Old Ones our kind regenerated, the all-consuming visions of the Outsiders doomed us.
For a while the Outsiders were grateful for the gifts of our kind. We were useful to them. By our bodies they kept warm and built shelter. As part of the Creation this was our calling. For all time we have provided Protection. To surrender ourselves to the Outsiders was a Sacrifice of Honour. Once the Outsiders would have honoured it in return by cultivating and nurturing our kind.
All beings are bound by the Creation and its three Pacts. The foremost Pact is Equality. As part of All no one being is more important than another. The second is Perpetuity. We are part of an endless nurturing cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth. And, finally what we give we get back. What we take we give back. That is the Pact of Stability.
There were Outsiders who remembered the Creation and understood the importance of its Pacts. However, unlike the Old Ones the Outsiders didn’t roam the Land accepting what the Earth offered up. The Government and the Money claimed they ruled the Land. To get shelter and food the Outsiders needed pieces of the Money. The Money would only yield pieces if the Outsiders exchanged time and toil for them. And so the Outsiders worked to live, and called it Industry.
But as I said, the Outsiders wanted more than the Creation entitled them to. More Outsiders came and believed and laboured pursuing the possibilities and successes of their own toil. They made a new pact amongst themselves. They called it Profitability. Profitability was acquiring lots of pieces of the Money. The more they thought about Profitability, the less important Equality, Perpetuity and Stability seemed. It became harder to live by the Pacts of the Creation. Everyone was busy pursuing Profitability. Profitability was time-consuming.
Profitability was also successful. The People wanted more. They exchanged the Money with each other in return for trinkets. Industry began to make all manner of trinkets they called Product. The People worked even harder to get pieces of money to swap for Product. They believed many pieces of the Money and beautiful, numerous or newest Product gave them special powers of Status as well.
After a while there were so many Buildings, Roads, Product and People, the Government and Money weren’t able to maintain Order needed to control Profitability. They appointed Politicians who were Outsiders that made rules for the People which they called Laws. The Politicians were busy making Laws so they chose other Outsiders to be Police to make sure the People obeyed the Laws. Because the Politicians and Police were busy with Laws and didn’t have time for Industry the Government decreed they could take some of the Peoples’ pieces of the Money which they called Taxes.
Rather than calling it the old name Order, the Government gave it a new name Community, which was better for Profitability. People toiled harder when they believed they were doing it for the Greater Good. A portion of their Taxes were returned to them in kind in the form of Services for the Greater Good and Benevolence for the unfortunate who didn’t have many pieces of the Money. The People were proud of what they created, their Industry and Benevolence. They worked harder, building more and better, earning more pieces of the Money.
Some time ago, one of the first Outsiders, among the last who remembered the Creation and its Pacts was approaching the end of his physical life, preparing to rejoin Spirit. He’d kept all these years a single gumnut pocketed in the first days of the Construction. After the woman he’d passed this life with returned to Spirit, he carried out one last act for the Creation to redress the balance of Stability. He planted the seeds from the gumnut in a crock the day they returned her body to the Earth.
While nine moons passed the issue of gumnut rose from the soil into two young saplings. The day after the young man returned the old man’s body to the Earth, he planted the saplings outside his Building of Industry where he would pass them each day. The tears he shed over the green shoots and into the soil summoned my Spirit and that of my twin, to dwell on the Earth once again, as patient observers.
The young man stopped by each morning and evening as we grew taller than him, then taller than the Buildings. At midday he brought food and sat beneath us sheltering from the weather. Many turns of the Earth were passed like this until the young man came to resemble the old man, and didn’t come as often. For many moons no People came at all. But the birds returned and we offered them shelter.
The young man, now old, came and last stood with us as we watched the Machines bring down the Buildings. Once again Construction emptied the Land before it made more, bigger Buildings go up, higher than our reach. The People came back but different, among them women and children. The Buildings are called Real Estate, shelter for the People.
We trees are few in number but stand here strong, Guardians yet, waiting still.”
”It’s one of the most important sites there and is a major project in moving from a former workers’ precinct with brick-making and a tannery to a new residential masterplanned community with new street blocks and pedestrian laneways.”
Erskineville’s newest housing project
Do you believe in love at first sight, serendipity, synchronicity, fate or meant-to-be?
Sara commented on my story the long way ’round” my favourite ever stories are ‘how we met’ stories” and other commenters shared snippets of their own.
Kate said… “You only have to read Celi’s account of how she and Our John met, missed, met again and married. One of the most fascinating ‘how we met’ stories and clear evidence that some things are just meant by the universe to happen” and “It sounds like the start of a collection of stories to me”.
For myself, being slow on the uptake, it took literally a word in my ear from the Universe to finally set the wheels in motion for us, as the G.O. so inelegantly phrases it, to “hook up”!
If you have a happy ever after or a relationship stepping-stone in life story, I’d love you to share it by commenting below, or posting and linking back to this post.
This is mine.
It’s so easy to see now. But for many years I didn’t. I know there are a few doubters who look at us with speculative eyes. All I have to say to them is don’t judge us by standards which are not ours.
I can feel the autumnal Saturday afternoon, daylight waning. I can see the place: scruffy shops adjacent a suburban Sydney railway station. I remain connected to the moment as if by a long silver thread. A thread that twisted and tangled but joins us still twenty-five years later.
I’d escaped a too-young marriage and utilitarian country town to seek better in the city. I’d come without a job but with a man. It was complicated. I should have known it was never going to end well. It took fourteen years and the failure of a second marriage before I gave up trying to deny to myself that blind naivety had given what ought to have been a misguided fling an artificially long shelf life. Abetted by impossible pride, I’d made another mistake.
Its redeeming legacy was my friendship with the G.O. Husband#2 had introduced us in the beginning; on that autumn afternoon so indelibly inked into my story. For more than a decade after that day, the G.O. came and went from my life. Familiar to my family and friends. Beloved of my cats and dog. Sometime sharer of households and long late night conversations. We attended each others weddings and wished each other happiness.
In the end, it took a serendipitous job where I spent week-nights away from home to distance me literally, figuratively and sufficiently to see clearly and disconnect from my marriage. Finally forced by foolishness and deceit to view it with honest eyes.
Although Husband#2 and the G.O. had teamed up once again working together, just as the marriage couldn’t withstand the increasing chicanery nor could their friendship. The G.O. also had had enough, and returning to his country life, left Husband#2 to his own injudicious devices. The G.O.’s withdrawal was another clue how far Husband#2 had gone. Too far.
Change was in the wind before I consciously realised it. Months before I physically left, a chance remark tipped me off to what would soon eventuate. A work colleague commented about my long daily commute and my spontaneous reply “I’m moving back to the city” surprised us both. But sure enough, as inevitably transpired, sufficient responsibilities and impediments fell away to enable me to rent a small apartment in the inner city – alone.
Lingering obligations tied me to Husband#2. His problematic life continued to encroach my progression to freedom. I couldn’t save him from himself and I damned sure wasn’t going down with him. Holding him up financially and materially simply perpetuated his imprudence. One of the last accommodations I made was to indulge his claim I had gotten the better of our two mobile phones, and swap. It was a gesture that would go on to change my life.
Just when I’d had enough, thought I’d done enough, there was more. Several months after I removed myself, the significance and permanence of my absence revealed itself to other parties inveigled by Husband#2 into involvement with his business affairs. I swapped phones but kept my number. It started ringing; revealing mendacity I hadn’t been involved in and couldn’t explain.
Husband#2’s phone came complete with contact numbers I didn’t bother removing. After one particularly harrowing late night call I scrolled through the list and saw the G.O.’s home number. If there was one person who might enlighten me about the dealings I was being confronted with, it was him.
Although not feeling it myself, the time of day I waited until to call the G.O. was civilized. He was surprised to hear from me, somewhat surprised at the news of my marriage split but unsurprised at the purpose of my call. He’d been aware of escalating dubiousness in Husband#2’s conduct, had interpreted my apparent tolerance as acquiescence and prudently refrained from interfering.
Neither the phone call nor confirmation of Husband#2’s further transgressions had an immediate effect. By and by once the complainants believed I neither had knowledge nor influence their entreaties fizzled out. Eventually I extricated myself from the snarled web woven by my good intentions and Husband#2’s schemes.
While I sorted out peripheral details, the core of my life was strong. Half a year before the dam of my denial broke, the contract role that had taken me away from home morphed into a permanent job. The decision to move back to Sydney freed me not only from the marriage but from a four hour daily commute. As if by magic the small apartment that felt like home manifested at the right time and place.
I didn’t miss having a man in my life. Monday to Friday professionally the law firm partner I assisted was sufficient. Lovely man that he is I revelled in shutting the door each evening and not hearing him call my name. I explored the streets of my new neighbourhood. I invested my spare time variously in the blissful peace of aloneness, books, meditation, massages, a spiritual development group, the cinema, and volunteered with an asylum seekers support program.
And so the months pleasantly passed until just-another-Wednesday evening in the last days of winter I was leaving work waiting for the lift to arrive at my floor. In the moment before the doors opened I heard a clear silent voice say “Call Wayne”. There’s no mobile coverage in the lifts so I had twenty-five floors to digest this communication. It wasn’t until I’d exited the building, descended the escalator, walked the expanse of the near empty food court and stepped onto the next escalator that the authenticity of the message registered.
Half way down the second escalator I pressed the G.O.’s number on my phone. He answered by the time I stepped onto the street. He hadn’t been expecting my call, rather hoping as he was working in the city for a few days, intended to call me but inadvertently left his wallet containing my phone number at home.
He suggested we catch up; it had been some time since we’d talked on the phone, longer since in person. He was busy that night but not the next. That suited me as well so we agreed on time and place.
The next evening when I climbed the railway station stairs he was waiting for me on the overpass. We greeted each other like the old friends we were, proceeded to drinks and dinner. As with our past long late night conversations the hours flew, until it was nearly midnight and we were again standing at the steps of the railway station. I was about to get on a train when he kissed me goodbye. I missed that train and the next.
At last seated on a homeward bound train, I knew it would be a long time until my whirling thoughts let me sleep.
This story would be a real life fairy-tale if our happy ever after started at that point. In reality we lived disparate lives; him country, me city. It would take another year before the lovely possibility of us became a true Us.
The G.O. has been waiting for me at railway stations whenever he can manage ever since.
We got married last year ten years to the day after that first kiss.
In February, I was out on a limb trying to come up with a ‘branching out’ themed short story to enter Country Style Magazine’s short story competition. Thanks to some inspired suggestions from comments to that post, I managed to cobble together an entry just before the cut-off date.
Winning $5000 and being published in a magazine would be lovely but that’s not why I do it. The occasional challenge of entering a competition exercises my short story writing around a topic, word count and deadline.
Winners were to be notified prior to publication in the August magazine, which is out now. I haven’t had a call, so I can share it here.
when the bough breaks
I remember her as she was then.
This is not going to work out.
Her reflected pale visage flanked by her mother-and-sister-in-law-to-be in the backlit mirror of that mining town hair salon whose windows faced Shoey’s supermarket car park. Fair fine hair coiffed into a chignon heightened the strange dream sensation.
Despite her calm mien understanding was revealing itself viscerally. Realisation of the mistake reinforced by her mind refuting all avenues of extrication. Flash of insight accompanied by gut instinct left her with the resolute conclusion she’d have to proceed.
Exit and explanations at this late stage weren’t going to happen. Yesterday was her twentieth birthday. Today was her wedding day. For better or worse.
Less than a year before, walking home one late night from her second job behind the bar at a local hotel, she turned the corner from the main road at the rose garden house, breathed in scented air, looked up, saw a bright star and silently chanted her customary… star light star bright first star I’ve seen tonight wish I may wish I might please make my wish come true tonight. Only this time she said the words, actually made a wish. “I wish for someone to love me. Just for a little while.”
The wish came true.
As they do.
Be careful what you wish for.
It manifested in the form of a new neighbour. A young bloke who for the first month had roared in and out of her apartment complex in a blue Toyota four-by-four. She’d spent the day studying, and lost track of time. A knock on her door made her realize it was late and she was starving. It was him. Hair damp, wearing ironed jeans and shirt.
“Do you like car races?”
“What are you asking me for?”
“I thought you might want to go?”
Momentarily she responded, “Wait”. Fled inside. Looked in the mirror. Looked for clothes. Found none better than what she saw in the mirror. Picked up her handbag and walked out the door.
The car races were cancelled due to rain. Over dinner at a fast food restaurant they got to know each other.
Her flatmate commented “He’s a bit of a yob”. She agreed. There was no avoiding him. Walking past his door. Taking the rubbish out. He was at the pub on nights she worked and ordered beers he didn’t drink much of.
He came to her door again.
“The car races are on tonight.”
Meeting his parents was like being welcomed home. Home that was a modest white cottage on a farm. She met his mother, father, sister, two large cats and small fluffy white dog. A special roast dinner.
The following Sunday after his parents attended their church meeting, he drove her out to the farm for his mother’s Sunday bacon and egg breakfast. Soon she accompanied him for mid-week laundry drop off and dinner.
As other things changed his presence didn’t. When new hotel owners took over, she didn’t ask to stay on. When her lease ended he helped her shift to another apartment in the same complex.
A change of job meant driving to a neighbouring town. After several months her new flatmate moved out. He suggested they get a place together.
Her new job didn’t require her to study so she deferred that semester. She read books instead. He never did. He preferred her to watch movies with him.
Several months later, officially a couple, they attended his cousin’s wedding. They met curious looks, expectations and enquiries with “It’s early days yet. Plenty of time”. Several evenings later, sitting on the sofa watching TV he dropped to one knee, produced an engagement ring and asked her to marry him.
“On your birthday.”
“Next year my twenty-first is a Saturday.”
“Wait a year?”
“We could have both.”
“What about this year? The day after.”
“Only three months away?”
Not ready to say yes.
But she wasn’t ready for things to change either.
He wanted to tell his parents straight away. They were pleased. Living together wasn’t right. He spoke to her Dad whose only comment was “Good thing”. Testimony to new wife, baby and business concerns rather than regard.
She wanted her mother’s borrowed wedding dress but it had been passed on. He chose a fairy-tale princess white gown & veil with a faux pearl circlet. Grey suits for him and the best man. Her baby half-sister flower girl a smaller rendering of his frilly pink bridesmaid sister.
The day before the wedding among her birthday mail was an envelope addressed to him in female handwriting. He shredded the note it contained.
Despite her epiphany, on the last Saturday of spring they stood before a celebrant, family and friends.
She looked like the bride doll from Santa the Christmas after her mother died.
She thought to make the best of it, and went on much as before. She hadn’t resumed part-time studies but continued working, enjoying her job and co-workers’ company. Her mother-in-law remarked it didn’t look right.
He sold his ute. To buy a newer model with a big truck kit he sold her car as well. They didn’t need two. She could walk, or he’d drive her.
His parents celebrated the first wedding anniversary with a family dinner. His father had a proposition. A late wedding gift. Five thousand dollars. Possibly his wife’s moonstone bracelet. When the baby was born.
They’d talked of babies. She’d said she thought not. He’d said she would change her mind. All women he knew wanted babies.
His work took him out of town. His friends took him out at night. She went out with her friends. Her mother-in-law remarked it didn’t look right.
He wasn’t there to drive her around. She went to the bank, arranged a loan and bought a second-hand Corolla.
On work weekends he stayed away. When invited, she drove to where he was. She spent Saturdays browsing the shops or walking the beach. They went out with his friends.
He liked her to look nice. To wear make-up whenever she left the house. Not too much. He had an eye for the female form. It was harmless. When he compared her, he meant well.
He’d had a couple of girlfriends. He talked about how sexy they were. He said he thought she was pretty. He didn’t like other men looking. He offered to pay for D cups. The kind fellow walking past smiled at her. He didn’t like that. Her encouraging looks. She hadn’t.
Grateful for an unwitting kindness.
If he was home on Saturdays, after she did housework she cooked dinners from magazine recipes to take to the farm. He liked her cooking, often enough finishing her dinner if she didn’t eat quickly. She played card games with his parents. He watched TV in the back room. They stayed overnight for his mother’s Sunday bacon and egg breakfast.
They drove to his grandparents at their hometown eight hours distant. His father sped like no time was to be lost. His mother took a sleeping pill. He went out with his friends. He didn’t come home. His father went looking for him. Found him at daylight outside a pub in the next town with a mate and an old girlfriend. He had nothing to say.
He didn’t want to feel bad so he told her. It didn’t mean anything. He was drunk. He felt better that she knew. He was being honest with her.
It was her fault.
She’d tried so hard.
He couldn’t be home for her birthday. He gave his workmate’s girlfriend money to take her out for dinner. He was going to buy her a present but he’d spent the money at the pub.
He went on a boys’ trip. Her aunt and uncle invited her to join them for the weekend at the beach. The weather wasn’t good. She returned home early. He’d been and gone. So had someone else. A lipstick on the dresser. It didn’t belong to her. Any colour except red.
She drove to her aunt’s. Her aunt said “I knew he was no good”. Her aunt confronted him. Told him what she knew. Told him what she thought. Her aunt and uncle picked up her belongings.
His parents telephoned. Could they visit? They knew but didn’t want to. Another old girlfriend. They wanted her to make it right. She couldn’t. She never spoke to him again.
She took back her maiden name. Left her job. Found a place to live in the city. She accelerated as her car reached the highway. Up through the gears over the crest of the hill. She didn’t look back. Not ever.
As I flick through pages of photo album memories I see her as she was then.
“Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop,
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.”
Last time Guest Blogger author of The Six Train to Wisconsin Kourtney Heintz graced EllaDee with a guest appearance, it was about Believing… in what you do, and putting in the work.
As K.C. Tansley, Kourtney writes “YA contemporary fantasy. None of the quests and knights sort of stuff. More like one foot in this world and one foot in the magical realm”.
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” ~ Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
EKR’s words epitomise Kourtney, who as ever shares generously her process and here speaks to how beautiful book covers also do not just happen.
Click here for a Rafflecopter giveaway for The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts and here https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24991337-the-girl-who-ignored-ghosts to add it to your Goodreads To-Read list.
The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts will be available for Pre-Order May 2nd on Amazon.
Guest Blog: The Evolution of Cover Art
K.C. Tansley, author The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts
Every author worries about her cover art. Since the cover designer has only read the back cover summary, how can she/he possibly create a cover that conveys the tone, theme, and feel of the entire book? What if my cover is wrong for my story? What if my publisher doesn’t let me have any input? These are the fears that can eat away at an author.
Luckily, I got to work with an amazing team. The cover designer had a great eye for YA and paranormal/gothic covers. My editor loved the story and had a vision for the cover. My publisher had the final say over the design, but being a small press, my opinion mattered to them.
The design process started with a series of questions about the book, including a list of items that must be included in the cover. My publisher and editor both felt that the castle and the main character had to be featured because they wanted to play up the gothic elements of the story.
The cover designer read the back cover summary and our responses to her questions, and then came up with three concepts. Each featured a castle and girl but with very different tones and colors and images and fonts—three potential directions that we could take the cover in. Luckily, there was a clear winner and we easily agreed on the initial concept. Once we settled on that, the cover went through several iterations to get it to where it is now.
In an early version, there were snow-capped mountains in the backdrop, which worked for the tone of the book, but didn’t make sense because the story was set in the summer near the Connecticut shore. My editor and I explained why they had to be removed and they were.
Once we nailed down the background, we focused on the girl. The original girl on the cover had dark brown hair. Everyone agreed the pose was perfect but the hair was all wrong for Kat, our blonde protagonist.
Throughout the process, I learned that the cover is supposed to be a pastiche, a heightened version of the key elements of the book. At the same time, it cannot violate the story world.
So how do I feel about this cover? Absolute adoration! The designer captured the heart of the book. That girl embodies Kat. The eerie moonlight and the shadows surrounding the castle convey the tone. Even the fonts hint at the present day but with a touch of the past in the curly Ghosts font. The design encompass the time travel and mystery aspects of the story perfectly. I wouldn’t change a single thing about this cover!
Back Cover Summary
She tried to ignore them. But some things won’t be ignored.
Kat Preston doesn’t believe in ghosts. Not because she’s never seen one, but because she saw one too many. Refusing to believe is the only way to protect herself from the ghost that tried to steal her life. Kat’s disbelief keeps her safe until her junior year at McTernan Academy, when a research project for an eccentric teacher takes her to a tiny, private island off the coast of Connecticut.
The site of a grisly mystery, the Isle of Acacia is no place for a girl who ignores ghosts, but the ghosts leave Kat little choice. Accompanied by her research partner, Evan Kingsley, she investigates the disappearance of Cassie Mallory and Sebastian Radcliffe on their wedding night in 1886. Evan’s scientific approach to everything leaves Kat on her own to confront a host of unbelievables: ancestral curses, powerful spells, and her strange connection to the ghosts that haunt Castle Creighton.
But that’s all before Kat’s yanked through a magic portal and Evan follows her. When the two of them awaken 129 years in the past with their souls trapped inside the bodies of two wedding guests, everything changes. Together, Kat and Evan race to stop the wedding-night murders and find a way back to their own time—and their own bodies—before their souls slip away forever.
K.C Tansley lives with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, and three quirky golden retrievers on a hill somewhere in Connecticut. She tends to believe in the unbelievables—spells, ghosts, time travel—and writes about them.
Never one to say no to a road trip, she’s climbed the Great Wall twice, hopped on the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg, and danced the night away in the dunes of Cape Hatteras. She loves the ocean and hates the sun, which makes for interesting beach days. The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts is her debut YA time-travel murder mystery novel.
As Kourtney Heintz, she also writes award winning cross-genre fiction for adults.
You can find out more about her at: http://kctansley.com
From time to time I dabble in short story writing. For the past few years I’ve entered Country Style Magazine’s short story competition. The theme for 2015 is ‘branching out’, and I’m stumped!
Last year, inspiration came to me via a dream. But so far this year my dreams have been the crazy fare of perimenopause… no writing material!
Adjacent to our Sydney apartment balcony is a huge eucalypt. I gaze at its long pale branches in an attempt to invoke wisdom. The tree is a source of food & shelter for numerous birds and butterflies, but has yet to proffer creativity!
I know the muses are hanging around, not goofing off in Ibiza: they’ve been amusing me with blog post ideas but enigmatically silent on ‘branching out’, even during 3 am wakefulness when bright writing ideas usually coalesce necessitating employment of scribble-in-the-dark-decipher-later skills.
When I think of ‘branching out’ the only things humming through my brain are misheard Rick Springfield lyrics
“…Speak to the
skytrees and tell you how I feel
and to know sometimes what I say ain’t right,
It’s all right
cause I speak to the
skytrees every night…”
interspersed by lines from the poem Trees by Joyce Kilmer
“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree…
…Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.”
If you are an Australian resident and so inclined, details are:
Country Style Magazine Short Story Competition. Concludes on May 29, 2015 at 23:59 (AEDT). Entries no longer than 1500 words and previously unpublished.
Otherwise for both Australian and non-Australian residents is the 2015 ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize. Single-authored short story of between 2000 and 5000 words, written in English. Stories must not have been previously published or be on offer to other prizes or publications for the duration of the Jolley Prize. Entries close at midnight 1 May 2015
The dawn of a new mother-in-law era… I haven’t just acquired a husband; I’ve also acquired a
nother mother-in-law. My third. Enough for any lifetime.
M.I.L.#3 has acted unofficially in that capacity for 9 years but since we shocked her with the news of our unheralded nuptials, when speaking to the G.O. M.I.L.#3 has taken to referring to me as “your wife”. As in “the cards your wife sent out were nice. Everyone had to get a looking-glass, the words on it were a bit small but we didn’t have a looking-glass”.
About a month into married life I had a very clear dream where the G.O. and I visited my in-laws from marriage #1. They and their house was pretty much the same, although it was evident time had passed. Possibly they summoned our presence in spirit to convey their blessings. They were disappointed when I abandoned all hope for the success of my marriage to their son.
Our respective hopes for that union differed. They hoped for grandchildren. I hoped for a grown up husband. Their son hoped for a wife with surgically augmented DD-cups. Disenchantment all ’round.
The two families couldn’t have been more different.
Mine: Anglican, big stone church attended for weddings, christenings, funerals; dress as you please; lottery tickets are acceptable goodwill gifts; TV watching; beer & wine drinking.
Husband #1’s: Lay church, twice weekly; women modestly clothed often to neck, wrists and ankles, no jewellery; gambling is the devil’s work; no TV with the exception of his mother’s rebellious compromise kept in the cupboard for special shows; teetotalers.
I stumbled into this family unawares; inadvertently, promptly flouting the conventions. By far my most serious faux pas was the bathmat incident. During my inaugural overnight stay at the in-laws, careful not to make a mess of the spotless bathroom, I made sure to step out of the shower onto the bathmat, left the floor dry as the desert, and returned the mat to the rail.
After her discovery of the reprehensibly damp bathmat, it was left to her son to communicate to me his mother’s long-suffering explanation of what she thought would have been patently obvious… the bathmat is for standing on after one is dry. One should dry oneself within the tiny confines of the shower stall before stepping out.
But I was welcomed, and we enjoyed each other’s company: playing board games cards and chatting while their son watched the forbidden TV. They were keen for us to make right our aberrant cohabiting arrangements. After we married, but didn’t immediately embark on procreating, my new father-in-law offered me $3000 cash if I would agree to a grandchild and a further $2000 and his wife’s moonstone bracelet upon production of same.
It was an offer I had no trouble refusing, although I would have done pretty much anything else for that bracelet.
By the time I encountered M.I.L.#2 I was seasoned. I knew when to offer assistance or not, unblinkingly accept the hospitality status quo, and not to stand on the bloody bathmat (thoughtfulness for which I was complimented!). I shivered my way through a freezing Christmas in south-western Victoria wearing all my clothes in bed as blankets were thin and few. I was grateful for the first-time-guest honour accorded me of not being relegated to the mouldy backyard caravan as had my brother-in-law and his long-time partner.
Although I visited their house numerous times, M.I.L.#2’s first visit to mine occurred a few days preceding wedding #2. I made sure there was plentiful food & drink (F.I.L.#2 loved a scotch, disapproval from his wife seemingly augmenting his enjoyment) and their room was comfortable, furnishing it with a duck down doona and pillows: which had to be swapped immediately upon their arrival and the fraught disclosure of M.I.L.#2 ‘s Pteronophobia (feathers).
Amongst the many pre-wedding house guests M.I.L.#2 didn’t reciprocate my when-in-Rome style: 24 hours later not much had been deemed agreeable. Granted her trip must have been tiring, as M.I.L. #2 stayed in her room late on the wedding day while the rest of us thought left-over chocolate cake & champagne was a fitting breakfast including the dog and cats who had been served their portions convivially on saucers. Upon emerging, being offered same, M.I.L. #2 surveyed the scene clearly appalled, and declined, ingesting as little as possible except tea for the duration.
We maintained polite relations for almost another decade but I’m pretty sure M.I.L. #2 doesn’t miss me.
Despite prior acquaintance with M.I.L.#3 via my friendship with the G.O., the slate was wiped clean upon commencement of our defacto in-law relationship. Once again I had to watch my step (although I’ve never ventured a shower) and my tongue.
One of the good things about M.I.L.#3 is that her son is like her in many ways. Understanding one gives you insight into the other. For instance, neither necessarily conveys what they mean, evidenced by a disconcerting discussion between M.I.L.#3 and her sister on fashion merits of chicken thighs… not the sort from the supermarket, the ones inserted into a bra for figure enhancement… aha, chicken fillets!
Other than M.I.L.#3 demanding to see our marriage certificate as proof we weren’t lying, we’ve had a fairly amicable relationship since the time I was asked my thoughts about financial arrangements they were considering, and foolish enough to venture the honest opinion that it was unfairly one-sided in M.I.L.#3’s favour. Wrong answer.
M.I.L.#3’s sulk lasted a blessedly peaceful couple of days; our visits greeted with silence. The G.O. kindly indulged his mother her mood, but eventually advised “think about it, we’ll be back tomorrow”. Upon our return M.I.L.#3’s greeting was friendly, details of revised financial arrangements cheerfully proposed, and my opinion once again sought, but not proffered.
M.I.L.#3’s house, garden and self are immaculately turned out, and she’s dubious about my casual sartorial approach, helpfully suggesting the local department store’s lovely but expensive selection of apparel and the nice affordable clothes to be had in Coffs Harbour.
By way of complimenting me on any efforts, M.I.L.#3 predictably and frequently admonishes me that I have gone to too much trouble. She also doesn’t practice what she preaches, her Christmas extravaganza outshining my modest offerings. We did manage to underwhelm her by announcing we’d eloped and married on the beach in day clothes; and were informed that proper protocols of guests and attire would have been preferable.
As Christmas approaches the G.O. navigating his mother’s traditional “oh you’re so busy we don’t want you to make a fuss” protests about Christmas lunch conceded only her wish to contribute her customary festive $80 lobster (costing $40 any other time of the year) of which we each get a single bite-size piece.
On Boxing Day, my own step-daughter-in-law will pay us a visit with her entourage of the G.O.’s son and grandkids. I just want her to know… it’s fine to use the bathmat. If it gets wet, no worries, hang it on the line. Relax. We’re family, make yourself at home… and feel free to get a drink out of the fridge, prepare meals, wash up & tidy a packed-to-the-rafters house… mi casa es su casa.
My stepmother once mentioned you are your father’s daughter when less than pleased with both of us. This is not news to me. I’ve been my father’s daughter my whole life. You have to take the bad with the good… but my futile efforts to arrange a Fathers Day get-together went from bad to worse.
The noisy environs of our apartment mean we often don’t hear our mobile phones ring if it coincides with a passing train. In conferring with the G.O. re his 4WD quest Dad’s taken to calling him directly on his mobile but if the G.O. doesn’t answer then Dad calls my mobile, and leaves messages on both.
I missed Dad’s call on my phone but heard the message beep, and caught the G.O.’s ringing so answered Dad’s call. To the point as usual, he explained it wasn’t necessary for us to give him a lift back to collect his ute, he was catching the train but would like to see us anyway on Saturday night. I countered yes, we hoped so too but the G.O. had yet to make arrangements, and it was still likely to be Sunday as he’d been working long hours each day including Saturday and over the course of several weeks, so driving up on the Saturday night wasn’t preferable. Dad barely waited for me to finish before suggesting it didn’t matter if we arrived very late. The G.O. could have a lovely sleep sequestered in the spare room at the end of the hall. I reiterated my explanation.
Now concerned for the G.O.’s welfare, Dad suggested he stay on there for the week to catch up on much-needed rest. By this time my patience had run out and my volume had increased, as I announced fine, I haven’t been able to organize anything like that but I’ll put you onto him, and you see if you can do better than me. There’s no dignity in this, I thought, here we are shouting at each other like it’s 30 years ago and I’m 17. As I thrust the phone at the G.O. Dad’s final parry was well that’s whose phone I called.
Sometimes it feels like I have the spiel of our work-life imbalance on loop tape. Trying to explain the troughs, peaks and deadlines of project work and that the G.O. works 6 days a week, as a rule rather than an exception, to family, friends… and ourselves even, gets a little wearing.
The plan the G.O. and I made to drive the couple of hours north up the freeway to visit my Dad for Fathers Day and also the G.O.’s son and grandkids en route, came unstuck. Dad rang on the Thursday, giving us advance warning my stepmother had come down with a lurgy. Dad although he sounded snuffily assured me he was fine, as he’d been sensible, unlike Someone Else, and had a Flu Shot.
According to news reports Swine Flu is back. We weren’t taking any chances. The G.O. & I are germ-a-phobic; we’re rarely get ill, and there’s a link I’m sure. When we do, we go down like sacks of potatoes falling off a truck, but still have to drag our sick and sorry butts to work. Actually, the G.O. does, I try to manage a day or 2 at home, even if I’m logged on to my work emails.
We rain-checked the Fathers Day excursion to the following weekend and spent a quiet Sunday at home. Which the G.O. appreciated as he’s consistently been working 6 long days which seem to be getting longer, and continues to suffer from plantar fasciitis aka sore feet, as well as simply being bloody tired.
Not much older and only a little wiser after the demise of marriage #1, I embarked optimistically on marriage #2. Two of the players stayed on for the second act, Baddy and Jack, my cats. The cast welcomed Bo, an Australian Cattle Dog, who adored them both.
I met the man who would become Husband #2 for the first time a fortnight or so after I started a new job as Office Manager for the state branch of a hire company for mining and construction heavy equipment. He was the Branch Manager, somewhat elusive until that point. He’d been absent during my negotiations with Head Office and initially his existence substantiated only by a few phone calls from locations unknown, deferring his return.
Arriving at the yard early one morning I was curious to see a strange vehicle parked out front. The wanderer had materialised, and invited me to have a seat in his office. As I sat myself in the chair opposite his desk, I experienced a tangible but inexplicable sensation of cogs shifting then setting into a new alignment. We had a lengthy get-to-know-you discussion about the company, his role, my role, our backgrounds… and the way in which we most feared dying. This was something up until that point I’d not considered but the words by burning spontaneously but surely uttered from my mouth.
Several years later I read an article about a woman in Tasmania who did past life readings from photographs. I sent her a photo of Husband #2 and myself. She sent me a letter back describing a previous life connecting the two of us, in Cornwall where I’d been a healer in a small village neighbouring a larger settlement. Husband #2 had been a member of a church community who objected to my practices, and was responsible for me being burned as a witch.