September 18

Forestville: Part one

I haven’t been writing much over the past few months, but I have completed a chapter for my memoir that I would like to share. It takes place during an important period of our teenage years. Linda was sixteen and I was a few months shy of sixteen.

Mad Love
Mad Love

Before you read the story below there are two points I’d like to make.

One; I’ve written my memoir in pseudonym—fictitious names—Ryan and Lilla. Lilla is pronounced Lill-uh. At this time I won’t go into detail why I made this decision other than to say I began writing under those names from the beginning. Also, even though I have given a lot of attention to remain as factual as possible, memory and facts may not always match.

That takes me to my second point; I relied on my  memory from 45-years ago to write this detailed description of the cabin where Linda and I spent our first weekend together. It was located in Forestville, Michigan and owned by her grandmother, Hazel. Weeks after having written this chapter I discovered a photo of the cabin. The faded and yellowed photo is inserted below. I believe the person on the left, with their foot on a chair, is Linda’s father, Jack Bruce. I’m certain the structure has been torn down.

I hope you enjoy this snippet from my memoir. Let me know how well you think I captured the image of the cabin.

Due to the length of this chapter, it will be posted in two parts.

Forestville: Part One

In a hands-up position of 10 and 2 o’clock, Aunt Carmen peeked through the steering wheel and over the dashboard. Her nervous foot shifted between the brake and gas pedal while drafting bumpers down state road M-25.  I sat in the back seat; Lilla rode shotgun. Our mission was to open up the two Forestville cottages for a family gathering on Sunday.

The car, an old Buick boat, exaggerated the whole experience. It was long and wide with lousy shocks. We bounced over potholes and drifted down on the struts. Our conversations were almost nonexistent since we were all helping drive the car, or holding it down, I’m not sure which. On top of that, the radio didn’t work and Aunt Carmen’s accent was so thick I couldn’t understand a word she said. Except for the cussing—she had that in spades. I stared out the side window and fought asking, “Are we there yet?” but it slipped out a couple of times. I guessed when Lilla talked up a great weekend trip she wasn’t aware of her aunt’s daredevil driving skills.

Lilla pointed at an approaching road.

“Turn right at the light, go two streets, then make a left.” We leaned with the car as she turned the corner.

“See the totem pole? Pull next to it,” she instructed. The Buick slowed, bobbed against the brake, and snuck around the turn. We were all up in our seats, except for Aunt Carmen. She was still hanging off the big steering wheel at 10 and 2 o’clock. We bumped across the gravel and crunched to a stop. Red, green, yellow and blue faces with broadly set eyes, protruding ears, and noses marshaled in our arrival. The car settled for a few seconds while we sat in silence listening to the squeaking springs. The engine wheezed and sputtered. Smoke shot out the tailpipe and wandered past our gaping stares. I wasn’t sure whether she killed the motor or it died.

Lilla finally spoke.

“These two cottages are ours. Daddy’s is the big one, and the smaller red one is grandma’s. We’re staying in grandma’s.”

Forestville, Michigan
Forestville, Michigan

The car doors creaked open, and we stepped out onto the gravel.

I whispered to Lilla, “We’re riding back with your brother.” She nodded.

A light breeze wafted off the great lake bringing in a pungent odor of rotting fish. The first thing that caught my eye was an oxbow harness mounted over the door. Above it, a fishnet filled with seashells and sponges strung along the soffit. A “gone fishing” sign dangled from a misplaced nail on a flower box gracing a solitary window. One hundred feet behind and below the cabin, blue-green water spanned the tree-marked horizon. The wooden harness didn’t fit the beach scheme. Neither did the totem pole, which was nothing more than brightly painted faces on a telephone pole.

“Oxbow?” I asked Lilla.

“It only gets better,” she said, pushing the key in the lock and spinning it open. “Welcome to the Taj Mahal fish camp.”

The room was dark and had a musty smell mixed with Pine-Sol cleaner. Motes of dust hovered in a stream of light sneaking through a crack in a burlap-covered window. Lilla pulled it back and tucked it into a hook on the wall. It was a single room, longer than wide. No ceiling, just open rafters and worn wooden floors sparsely covered with a few rugs. Crudely built bunk beds were fastened to the wall on the left side of the room. Sheets, blankets, and pillows stacked high on the lower bunk. A jigsaw puzzle sat on the large table with border pieces partially connected. Four mismatched chairs butted against the wall. I sized up a threadbare, overstuffed brown sofa on the opposite side of the room. It would probably be my bed tonight. In the far corner, a wood stove sat tall. Its metal chimney stack pushed up through the ceiling.

“Help me open windows so we can air this place out.”

“Seriously, Lilla, it stinks worse outside.”

“You’ll get used to it.”

Her aunt said something in French and Lilla replied in English.

“It’s outside and under the cabin.”

“What’s outside and under the cabin?” I asked.

“The toilet.”

I went out to the car and fetched the grocery bags and ice cooler. When I got back in, Aunt Carmen was busy with a bucket and mop. Lilla was cleaning the kitchen sink. I set the bags and cooler on the table taking care not to upset the puzzle. Then I picked up the rugs piled in the middle of the floor.

“I’ll shake the dust out of these.” I grabbed my pack of smokes from the table and lugged out the door with the rugs.

 Lately, Lilla and I have been together as much as we can…sometimes-skipping school and hanging out at a local diner or shopping center. We were discovering a lot about each other. She ate foods I’d never heard of, like quiche, couscous, and paella, which is a fancy name for chicken and rice. I ate familiar foods like burgers and fries. We also talked about our similar family problems. She told me her mother was dominating, but loving. I described a father who was emotionally distant and uncaring. I revealed feelings that I’d never shared with anyone. I trusted her. However, what impressed me most about her was how she reacted when I was attacked by a group of teenagers at the state fair a few weeks ago. She stayed fearless and was vocally forceful.  It seemed as if her words chased them away. It was over in a few seconds, and while I lay on the ground bloody faced and battered, she held me and cried. She said she loved me, and I believed her. For the first time, someone was on my side, and the world felt a little bit safer. In spite of the pummeling, I smiled.

Forestville: Part Two coming soon!

Teaser excerpt from part two—

Lilla said, “It’s not like it’s the first time we slept together.”

Aunt Carmen glared at me. I shrugged my shoulders. Technically, it would be the first time we spent the night together.

 

January 1

May Flyer

It was 6 a.m. when the phone rang. My foggy brain started clicking off the possible people who would call at this hour. By the third ring, I placed my bet on my good buddy and sailing companion, Jim Griffin. This wouldn’t be his first predawn wake-up call.

Story Steve Schuler • Illustrations Brian Bryson • Small Craft Advisor

“Hello; good morning,” I said with a voice sounding as awake as I could muster. This wouldn’t be his first predawn wake-up call. He took pride in getting up early while the world slumbered away precious morning hours. The early bird worm theory he would say. It would have greater meaning if you grew up working on a farm, and he did—a hundred acres of orange trees—juicers, he called them. Now he’s a detective  for the Florida State Attorney’s office.

“Hey, did I wake you?” Jim asked in his born and bred Southern drawl.

“No,” I said, stifling a yawn. “Oh, did I get you out of bed?”

“No,” I lied again. “Been up since the crack of…dawn.” Jim didn’t challenge my fibbing.

“What ya think about a teaser race before the Kahlua Cup?”

“Ahhh, the Coors Cup in Tampa  Bay. I’m awake enough to know that race is five days out.”

“Exactly.”

“Not gonna happen, Jim; don’t have time to bring my boat down.”

“But I got a couple ideas.”

“Yah, like what? You sailing my boat down for me?”

“Nope, got one there already, May Flyer.

May Flyer
Ilustration by Brian Bryson

That piqued my interest. I’ve always wanted at the helm of his Santana 20. It was sleek and fast, and for a lightweight one-design, relatively stable.

“As exciting as that sounds, don’t forget, I told everyone we’d take a break until the Kahlua Cup. It’s been a long season and I don’t want to push my luck and toast the crew.”

He said, “I’ve got someone to crew for us.”

“Do tell.”

“A co-worker,  he loves racing…a big fan of America’s Cup.”

“Sounds like a sofa sailor. Can he tie a proper cleat?”

Continue reading

December 18

A lot Has Happened, Little Has Changed

May Flyer illustration by Brian Bryson

“I settled into a story that I was sure was going to be about how you won that race. Then – bam! – the story took a really dramatic turn.  JP”

Several months have passed since my last post. Not because I’ve stopped writing, I haven’t. I’ve written a couple of chapters for my memoir and two blog rants that I threw away. Ranting can be cathartic but not postable. Those writings fall into the “little has changed” category and are awaiting their fate in the “to be deleted” file, but writer’s words rarely meet their death with a delete command or by paper shredder.

Here is the “a lot has happened” news. Like I said, I have been writing and also reminiscing. Recently I met up with my good friends Jim and Laura Griffin while on a road trip to the Keys. I shared a story I wrote about racing Jim’s sailboat in Tampa Bay. I was at the helm, Jim was working the sails and a co-worker of his sat on the rail. Jim remembered it well, it’s one of those life changing moments you carry throughout your life. I Handed Jim the 3 ring binder and he opened it. The title was May Flyer, the name of his Santana 20.

Slowly he leafed through pages nodding his head occasionally while he read. The story was coming back to life in 12-point type. When finished he said, “I could feel the cold and the wet.”

I also shared my story with a group of fellow writers that meet every Saturday morning—Pinellas Writers Group. One of the members, Don, a fellow sailor, and writer, suggested I send it to a sailing publication. I did, and I got a short paragraph reply; …too long, we don’t publish anything above 2500 words. My story pushed six-thousand words. However, I wasn’t crushed; I had been forewarned of the probable deluge of rejection letters. Also, this was my first attempt at being published and given my naiveté, I neglected to read their submission guidelines.

Determined, I wrote back. “What if I got it down to 3500 words?”

In a politely worded sentence, they said “No.”

The handwriting was on the wall. My story was too long for the average magazine reader. That night I began the process that make most writers cringe; slicing away my precious words. To get the full effect of what that means to a writer, imagine a flight attendant demanding you throw away half of your possessions at the boarding gate.

Anyway, back to my story about my story. A few days went by and I stopped by West Marine to pick up some supplies. While waiting for one of the sales staff, I thumbed through their rack of magazines. One caught my attention, Small Craft Advisor. It immediately hooked me. Unlike some sailing magazines, SCA actually writes about sailing and sailboats. And it’s written by those who have a passion for sailing. While reading, I didn’t feel the need to be standing behind a chrome wheel on a 40ft yacht with a martini in my hand and a bikini-clad babe hanging on my arm. Sorry Sailing South, it’s not my reality.

The mast slammed the horizonI bought the September issue of SCA and read it cover to cover. Before I finished, I realized they might be interested in my story! I dropped them an email with a brief description and length of my story. (Now, painfully reduced to 4600 words). The next day I received a response:

“Hi Steve, Sounds like an exciting story and a good fit with SCA. Yes, please do send the full version for us to have a look at. It’s possible we’d need you to reduce it, but we’d like to have a look first. Josh”

Wow, someone will actually read it and judge it by content and not word count. That night I reviewed and self-edited my story for the umpteenth time. After a few changes, I sent it in. I received a response the next day:

“We enjoyed the article. You’re an excellent writer. This piece is a little longer than we typically accept, but we’d hate to see any editing hurt the flow, so would probably just run it as is. We would likely publish it the issue after next. Josh” 

A few weeks later, I had lunch with a fellow writer, Jerry Payne. I asked if he would take the time to read my story. It was important for me to have Jerry read my story because he is not only a professional writer, he’s a sailor too.  He emailed me the next day.

“Steve, nice meeting you yesterday. Got a chance to read “May Flyer.” Great story. Took me a bit by surprise, which was good. I settled into a story that I was sure was going to be about how you won that race. Then – bam! – the story took a really dramatic turn. Well writ. JP”

 

Because of possible legal ramifications, (I don’t think there are any) I will not post my story until January 2016.  In the meantime, it can be found on page 34 in Small Craft Advisor, January issue (#97). Available late December at Barnes and Noble and other booksellers.issue

I haven’t  let this go to my head (yes it has), but it has encouraged me to continue writing (and gloating.) Steve…

January 17

He Loves You

To this day, I still can hear our childhood friends taunting us—“Steve and Linda sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage.”

Nice concept. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen in that order for Linda and me. By the time we made it to the altar our son was more than one year old and I had turned 18 three days earlier. Two months later, we celebrated Linda’s 19th birthday. The year was 1967.

Our three sons, John, Steven, and David
Our three sons, John, Steven, and David

The love didn’t come first either…at least not from me. It was more like teenage testosterone focused on a vulnerable young woman. Linda, standing at four-foot ten, was ninety pounds of captivating feminine proportion with a high-spirited personality. I was a loner—cool and quiet as a box of unlit matches.

In retrospect, I probably had all the right stuff to be a loving person, but growing-up in a dysfunctional family had destroyed almost all of my feelings except one—anger. Besides, I didn’t really believe love existed; even though I often heard the words just before my grandmother hung up the phone, or as we were leaving a relative’s house after a family gathering.

I certainly didn’t feel loved by anyone—that is until I met Linda. Even then I had doubts about love.  Early in our relationship, she told me she fell in love with me on the very first day we met. I was blinded by that, and at that time, I didn’t know how to feel love, give love, or be a loving person. And I certainly couldn’t understand how or why she loved me. She told me she saw a loving soul buried under my cocky demeanor—the greaser attitude of the 60’s. It was my defense system, and it worked well at keeping others away. Nevertheless, she pushed into my softer side. How lucky for me that Linda possessed the gift to see beyond outward appearances, and could recognize the beauty and goodness in almost everyone. Continue reading