October 14, 2010

That nonfiction piece I was working on.

It's amazing what you can finish when you have an hour to do it. :) Anyways, this is about my paternal grandpa who passed away a few years ago. It's called "Some Other Monument".


It’s May, and we’re bicycling to the church. I could ride ahead of Laura if I wanted, but it’s easier keeping watch if she’s in front of me. As if there’s ever anything to watch out for.

The church is just around the corner from home, behind some houses and trees. When the entrance is in sight, Laura decides it’s time to race, as always. “I’m going to beat you!” she cheers. Her three-wheeler protests how fast she wants to go.

We’re blurs as we spin into the parking lot, sashaying around the rock islands and speed bumps. We cut across to the edge of the playground that’s next to the memorial. Laura laughs triumphantly; she wins this round.

Two white arches stand guard at each end of the small memorial that’s next to the playground. Red bricks trace the patches of purple flowers. In the northwest corner, there’s a grave marker that time hasn’t worn. It doesn’t say much. John Hanson. 1923. 2007. There are two engravings on it: one of the cross, and one of two evergreens. Today there’s a small flag standing over it.

Some people add nice sentiments about the departed on their grave markers. Most people have room for exact dates, but not the ones here. Names and years are enough. How are you supposed to sum up a life in a few well-meaning words anyways, especially one that lasted 84 years? Grandpa would remain an enigma to future generations.

He was always like that. Quiet, a bit serious, but once in a while he would catch you off guard with his odd sense of humor. While Grandpa McNees made sure we all knew beans are a magical fruit, he taught us about Yon Yonson. My name is Yon Yonson. I come vrum Visconsin. I verk in de lumberyard der. And all de people I meet as I valk down de street say, “Hallo der! Vat’s your name?” And I say, “My name is Yon Yonson. I come vrum Visconsin. I verk in de lumberyard der.” To be said with a horrible Scandinavian accent. To be repeated endlessly. To make everybody laugh at how Danish we are.

And we are Danish, no matter what the people at Ellis Island would lead you to believe. They’re the ones who put the “o” in our name when it should be an “e”. They’re the ones who inadvertently gave Grandpa his nickname – Swede. People called him that his whole life. Grandma once told me about a time when they were dating and she called him that. He said, “Mary… I have to tell you something.”

He looked so serious that she thought he was going to break up with her. “What is it?”

“I’m not Swedish.”

Grandpa had the chance to visit Denmark back when I was 13 and Laura was 11. That was the year he was diagnosed, I think. He brought me back a copy of some fairy tales by Hans Christian Anderson. Then Laura took it and wrote her name all over the cover page.

There were so many pictures when he came back, even of little things that most people wouldn’t think to record. That was Grandpa, always noticing the insignificant details. And he took pictures of the big things, of course: the cathedrals and Legoland and the Little Mermaid statue and everything. When he went on a trip with a camera, you could always be sure that you got a fair representation of what happened.

That’s what he always did anyways. I was under the impression until I was seven that he was literally attached to his camera. Everywhere he went, he was taking photos. It didn’t even matter if there wasn’t an occasion.

One of the home videos he took when he had a video camera – one of those big clunky things – is after I was just born and trying to sleep. Grandpa was asking my parents, “Can you get her to open her eyes?” He took a lot of pride in his amateur photographs.

What really tickled me was this letter he sent to his parents when he was serving in the Navy. He sometimes wrote about how he missed his camera equipment, and in this particular letter, he told them about how he was put in charge of taking pictures of everybody on deck. He loved that job.

I actually found one of his old war photos when I was nine. I had no idea he had ever been in the military up until then. When I asked him about it, he told me that he had served in the Navy during World War II. There are three other things I know about his experience serving. One: he fought in Okinawa. Two: he didn’t believe it when he first heard that the war in Europe was over. Three: he really was homesick. And those are all from his letters that we found after his death.

Now there are dozens of boxes filled with pictures organized by date because that was the way he liked it. Grandma thought it would be better if they were organized by who was in the picture. She still organizes them by date.

“Grandpa, she… he died.” Laura doesn’t understand what this fully means yet. She seems to think that if you’re a very, very good person, then you won’t die. We go through this conversation every time we come here.


Laura sighs. “Poor Grandpa.”

It would be easy to think that way. It would have been easy for Grandpa to let himself think that way. But not once did he get depressed, even when his 16-year-old granddaughter had to virtually babysit him while Grandma went to get groceries. He cheered right along with us when he managed to sit down or stand up. He made jokes about his constant shaking and how long it took him to get from one end of the room to the other. He may not have been graceful in motion, but he was in spirit.

He died on his favorite day of the year: Christmas Day. It was around 11 PM. He couldn’t get out of bed by then. The only person who could sometimes understand him was Grandma. My family had left around 9 o’clock. Laura had said, “Bye Grandpa! I love you!”

I had waved and said, “See ya later, Grandpa!”

The shock came on slowly. When we told Laura, she thought of our second dog who died seven years before. “Grandpa died?” She looked confused. “Shiloh… she died.” She’s had a hard time understanding it. Even now.

Before I can tell Laura that no, it’s OK that Grandpa’s gone now, she’s distracted. “Hey, what’s this?” Someone has left a poem written on a plastic square standing on two thin wires over the grave for another veteran. Someone else’s grandfather.

“It’s a poem.”

Laura kneels down and examines it for a second. I look over her shoulder and spot several words that she won’t know how to pronounce. She reads as if the words were fragile. She reads like she once did to Grandpa. It’s not an amazing poem. It’s clearly meant only to comfort, but Laura’s bringing something new to it.

When she finishes, we’re quiet for a while. Laura stands back up, but keeps looking at the poem.
“Laura, that was perfect.” I’m not entirely sure what just happened. There was no way Laura, who loves to read but always struggles with it, could have read that. Every syllable, every line was in perfect form. What just happened?

“Tank you.” Laura lets out a big sigh. “Well, Sister Sue, we better to get going. It’s getting awfully late.”

I nod. She’s probably right – the sun’s already starting to set. “Yeah.” As we walk back to our bikes, I ask, “You know what that poem meant?”

But whatever compelled her to read that poem is gone because she answers, “It’s about… hey I know! Let’s sing a pirate song!” And she proceeds to belt out Disney songs at the top of her lungs.


Oh, my sister. She's moderately autistic, by the way. So that explains a lot, doesn't it? :)

October 11, 2010

Um... Late Afternoon Clickables?

This is honestly amazing. It's called the Nine Stages of Dating a Novel.

I think you'll enjoy it.

Another piece for Fiction Workshop.

I have been horrible on catching up with the blogs I'm following lately because of all this HOMEWORK. And outside stress. Stupid stress-inducers. Errrgh. Just ten weeks left... ten weeks.

So for Fiction Workshop this week, we had to write a fragmentary flash fiction, and I've been in a Halloweeny mood, plus I told my friend that I would write something along those lines for her local TV show event thing. So what came out was "A Ghastly Tale of Horrifying Horror. Or Something." That's honestly the whole title.


One Thing The Neighbor Said
“Stupid kids with their crazy rock music.”

Two Things The Kid (Who Isn’t As Funny As He Thinks) Said
“Huh indeed. The ghosts are totally jamming to Still Alive. The cake is a lie, anyone?”
“That is the worst possible thing you could do. Now I’m going home because the funny guy is always the second to die. Peace!”

Three Things The Natural Leader Said
“Don’t give me that crap about the suicide. Since when are you superstitious?”
“Hey, uh, if any ghosts are gonna show up, might as well do it now! Haha, lighten up, dude. Nothing is… huh.”
“I’ll be right back; I’m just gonna see where that’s coming from.”

Four Things The Genre-Savvy One Said
“This is a good idea. This is totally not dangerous or stupid at all. I mean, forget other-worldly happenings. There are noooo such things as, oh, trespassing laws. Let’s do this.”
“It was a dark and stormy night when the spirits beat Portal… it really writes itself.”
“That’s a super good way to get yourself murdered in the most appalling way ever. Or the most hilarious. But I’m talking closed casket here.”
“That was definitely the ghosts dragging Cal into Hell. Time to leave.”

Five Things The Homeowner Said
“What the hell?!”
“OK, stop screaming! Kid, kid, stop frickin’ screaming!”
“How did you get in?”
“Ugh. You’re the ninth person who thought this place was haunted. You’re looking for the house next door.”
“Yeah, yeah. Hey, can you toss over the Cheetos? Thanks.”


Completely not scary at all. But Halloweeny! :D So sad...

And now for something that's sure to put a smile on your face: The Yodeling Veterinarian of the Alps.

This blog really doesn't make much sense at times, does it?