August 2

Forestville: Part Two

Forestville, Mi

Below is Part Two of a chapter from my memoir. If you haven’t read part one click on this link Forestville: Part One.

All my writing is dedicated to my loving wife, Linda Lee Bruce (03/07/1948—09/27/2013). I hope my story brings to heart a glimpse of the wonderful relationship we shared for nearly 50 years.

“Ryan, can you help us flip the mattresses?” She stood in the doorway, hands on hips.

“Yep.” I crushed my cigarette with the toe of my shoe, picked up the rugs and went inside.

We flipped both mattresses, and within an hour, the place started to shape up. The musty odor was replaced with lake smells and floor cleaner. I popped open of a couple of cokes while I watched Aunt Carmen bustling around wiping walls down with a dust cloth wrapped around the end of a broom. She saw me staring. I tilted a coke toward her. She smiled and nodded.

“Merci Beaucoup.”

“No problem, Lilla has sandwiches ready.” I slid chairs up to the table, and we gathered around.

While we ate, Lilla and her Aunt rummaged through the box of puzzle pieces organizing them by color. They were speaking French. I assumed they were talking about the puzzle until 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.

Then she said something that sounded like “my ears on the floor with one eye open.”  With her lips pursed she glared at me, then she nodded her head with a short snap that seemed to convey—so there!

Lilla took my hand. “Tante, Ryan and me are walking down to the beach…back in a jiffy.”

She said, “Go, go,” and waved us off as if swatting misquotes with the back of her hand.

I lit a cigarette and followed Lilla around to the back of the cabin.

“One hundred twenty-two.”

“A hundred and twenty-two what?”

“Steps,” she clarified.

“What, you counted them?”

“Dumb, right?”

She stopped and faced me, wrapped her arms around my waist and nestled her head into my chest and said, “I love you.”

“You said that before we left—or was that because you worried aunt Carmine’s lead foot would disintegrate us while driving down M-25?”

“Don’t forget, okay?”

“I’ll carve it on all hundred twenty-two steps.”

“One would do.” She grabbed my hand. “Come, I’ll show you something better.”

Lake sounds got louder as we descended the steps—birds screeching, waves rolling along the shore. An unseen marker buoy clanged offshore.

Lilla started trotting along the shoreline. “Come on, try to keep up.”

I tossed my cigarette in the water, and we sprinted down the beach. I smacked her butt when I passed her. One hundred feet ahead, there was an outcrop. I slowed and waited for Lilla. A large boulder skirted the waterline and a fallen tree jutted across our path and into the water.

“That’s where I want our names carved.” She hopped onto the rock and sat down to catch her breath.

The trunk stood shoulder-high, and the roots shot skyward another three or four feet. The bark was stripped off in several places.

“Looks like a lot of people beat us to it.” I pulled back a piece of bark. “Remind me to bring a knife next time.”

We relaxed on the rock for a while, watching waves lap at our feet while we talked about our favorite music groups. The setting sun reddened the misty horizon.

“I’m over the Beatles,” I said. “A Hard Day’s Night was pretty good, but I like that tune by the Animals, The House of the Rising Sun.”

“What about ‘Do Wah Diddy, Diddy?” she squeezed my arm.

“Forever the best and it’s still in the top ten.” We were silent for a few minutes. I was thinking about the day she claimed it as “our” song. It was that same moment when I realized that she loved me, truly loved me! It was also the day I got the snot knocked out of me. Many firsts that day.

“Come, let’s get back. I’m cold, and it’s lousy climbing the steps in the dark.” She looped her arm in mine, and we wandered back up the beach.

By the time we got to the cabin the sun had set and the wind picked up again. It was blowing toward the lake with a chill. When we walked in the door, Lilla’s aunt was hunched over the table grouping the jigsaw puzzle by candlelight. Lilla leaned in and embraced her.

“Je t’aime, Tante.” She then sat beside her. I sat across from them and began raking through the pieces. By the time we were ready for bed all the edges were connected and most of the lower half was complete. It was a beach scene with a lighthouse on a cliff. I had a white piece edged with green in my hand when Aunt Carmen stood up.

“Heure du coucher,” she said while stifling a yawn.

“Okay if we stay up a little longer, Tante?”

She nodded and picked up a travel bag. “Viendras-tu avec moi.”

Lilla said to me, “Tante and I are going down to the bathroom, be right back.” They padded out the front door and into the night. I continued working on the puzzle.

When they returned, I had still had the same piece in my hand. Aunt Carmen walked over and kissed me on both cheeks.

“Bonne nuit, Ryan, appelez-moi tante.”

Lilla said, “She wants you to call her tante.”

“Okay, tante.”

She kissed Lilla too.  “Pas trop tard.” Then she gave her the ‘you’re my favorite niece’ look and ambled off to bed.

We huddled on one side of the table whispering about my sister, Karen and Lilla’s older brother, Todd while we dredged through puzzle pieces. Lilla’s brother was dating my sister. We were the current buzz at school.

By midnight, we had more than half of the puzzle completed. I still hadn’t found where the white and green piece fit.

Lilla kissed my cheek, “I’m tired, let’s go to bed.”

“Me too.” I shoved the piece in my pocket as I got up. Lilla blew out the candle.

“Come with me, please. It’s too dark.” In the dim light, we gathered toiletries and headed out into the night.

 

When we got back from our basement excursion, I asked Lilla, “Should I sleep on the sofa?”

“No way.”

Trying not to wake Aunt Carmen, we climbed the bunk ladder. Then tucked under the blankets and sunk into the soft mattress. We laid on our sides facing each other, listening to night sounds. A branch teased alongside the wall and the roof creaked against the wind. An airy tune hummed in the chimney.

I whispered, “Your aunt’s feisty.”

“All the women on my mom’s side are, but she’s nice.”

“All short too?”

“I guess, fits with the feisty thing…package deal.”

She scooched up a little, so our eyes met. I touched her hoop earring with the tip of my finger and followed her jawline until I reached her lips.

“You said you were two when you got your ears pierced?”

“I was about two months old, not two years.”

“I think it’s sexy.”

She smiled, then pressed into me, and brushed her mouth against mine. She kissed me. Warmth surged through me, and my senses tingled. I placed my hand on her neck and drew her closer. Her sweet breath, warm on my cheek. The soft pattering of her heart played on the palm of my hand—a tempo within our silence.

“Next month will be a year since we met.”

I didn’t say anything. Mostly because I had forgotten the month and the day. Besides, I didn’t feel like talking.

“October 2oth, in case you forgot.”  She leaned away from me, and with a quick motion pulled off her pajama top. Her hair tickled my arm like a breeze on an ebbing tide. A wisp of moonlight coming through the window outlined her delicate features. With my hand on her shoulder, I spread my fingers wide and followed the contour of her body.

“Ticklish?”

“Not there.”

“Sounds like a challenge.”

She rolled toward me again, snuggling into my arms. Tracing the curvature of her body my fingers looped under the silky band of her pajamas. We were a hundred miles from parents, siblings, and friends. Except for the light purring in the bunk beneath us, we were a million miles from reality. A world of worries gone, our lives entwined in a way I have never known. Beginning with a whisper of breath our passion blended into a symphony while embracing the softness of a lullaby. The night wind stirred a subtle chorus.

With the breaking dawn, a refrigerator whirled to life in the one-room cabin. Cupped together our limbs naturally interlaced and we drifted off to sleep.

Click link below for

Forestville: Part One

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 managed a weak smile.

Forestville: Part Two Click here

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…