A Passport In Time Mystery, A Stitch In Time, Adoption, ancient sea bed, Jane Ann McLachlan, Marcel Proust, mississippi delta region, Missouri, October Memoir & Backstory Blog Challenge, OM &BCC, Southernmost Illinois, The Briar Patch, travel, Vienna
Tourist Tuesdays are about seeing your everyday world with the eyes of a tourist. For the month of October, Writing Space is participating in several challenges. One of them is Jane Ann McLachlan’s (OM & BBC) October Memoir & Backstory Blog Challenge hosted at Join the Conversation. While I juggle the challenges, I will also attempt to keep to my established editorial calendar. If you are particularly curious about my memoir work, check out my earlier entries under the Memoir Monday category. I hope you are enjoying October as much as I am. Remember the best bits of my blog are found in the generous comments. As Jane would say, “join the conversation.”
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. ~Marcel Proust
From the age of six months until we migrated northward when I was five, we lived on a farm known as Doc’s Place. Location can be so important to a story that it often functions as a fully realized character. The characteristics of Southernmost Illinois revealed through its flora and fauna plays just such an important part of my early biography. Perhaps even more informative is the unexpected geology of the area.
Most folks hearing that my family on both sides pioneered the area immediately picture the rolling farmland of Northern or Central Illinois…acres and acres, hundreds of acres, thousands of acres of gently rolling soy beans and feed corn, punctuated by pockets of pumpkins and sweet or pop corn.
Southern Illinois, by contrast, is the northernmost reach of the Mississippi Delta Region. Cypress swamps, salt deposits from a sea long gone, bluffs carved into ancient sea bed by mighty rivers like the Wabash, Ohio, and Mighty Mississippi, great rifts and ridges jutting upward into rock formations more expected in the far western states. In short, the geology and the meteorology is something to talk about. It sits smack dab in the path of major tornado alley and also on the radials of the New Madrid earthquake faultline.
Little Egypt is the regional name for the area. The Cherokee Trail of Tears runs from Golconda, one of my maternal grandmother (Grams) home towns, through Vienna, Anna, Jonesboro and finally jumping the Mississippi north of Cairo into Missouri. The Underground Railroad chugged northward through the cypress swamps. Old spirituals point to local landmarks named after Biblical and Classical places: Thebes, Metropolis, Karnak, and Cairo. It was a borderland where freed and escaped slaves set up encampments like Miller’s Grove, where others were ferried further north, and yet others were recaptured and sent back southwards on the Reverse Railroad, back into slavery.
Not surprising that the place plays on my imagination to show up in works of ficiton. The second book of my Passport In Time Series, A Stitch In Time, is set here. Below is an excerpt from an early draft.
The true paradises are the paradises that we have lost.
The Briar Patch:
Scene from Book II of Passport In Time Mystery Series: A Stitch In Time
(Still in initial draft form, so be kind)
Jessica clicked the release on the constraint with her left hand while her right leveraged the door of the rental car they had picked up at Lambert Field. She emerged out of the vehicle with the nonchalance of an orchestral conductor wielding a baton. She was in control of her environment, but her actions were not in response to it but were informed by the tempo and rhythms of an inner tune.
“This used to be a marsh area. They must have had it drained. My grandfather and I would sing about the lily pads and frogs every time he took me to town. When I was two or so, he and I got caught in a flash flood. Very common down here. This is ancient seabed, and the land still has a memory of it. My grandpa hoisted me up on the roof of the car as the water was rising. All the time he sang to me and made me sing back. And after he pulled himself up through the window and onto the roof, he pulled me into his lap and sang so loud and strong as if he were singing to God, Himself.”
“Bullfrog sittin’ on a lily pad…lookin’ up at the sky. The lilypad broke and the frog fell in got water all in his eye. Oh, it ain’t a gonna rain no more no more. It ain’t a gonna rain no more. How in the deuce can I water my goose…if it ain’t a gonna rain no more?”
“Quite an adventure. Your old grandpa must have been scared out of his mind.”
“If he was, we would have never known it. He made sure we all felt like everything was a preordained adventure. He had a way of telling a story that made the movies feel dull and predictable.”
“Well, they aren’t supposed to seem that way to a little country girl. They are supposed to be magical. But the combination of my runaway imagination and my papa’s stories…well, who needed Technicolor when I had the entire spectrum here.”
Harris looked at his wrist. The timepiece was a relic. Few folks bother with them anymore in this age of BlackBerries. His phone was smart, but his watch was practical as well as sentimental, qualities of value to his own grandfather, the first owner.
“We’ve got about 20 minutes unless we are going for fashionably late. It shouldn’t take us too long to drive to the NFS ranger station from here. I just don’t want to put you through the bends by bringing you through the time warp from being your Papa’s Indian Princess…isn’t that what he called you?…to the spouse of the incoming head archaeologist for Shawnee National Forest.”
She smiled and nodded. The sun broke through the clouds and warmed her face. She stretched like a cat being rousted from the sofa. She couldn’t suppress it, and yet she didn’t regret it. She balanced against the hood as she bowed on one leg and then the other into a dancer’s pose. The flight from Sea-Tac to STL, the drive from Metro to Southernmost Illinois…they’d traveled a long way in a short time.
In nylons and heels, for God’s sake. Life was so much simpler before her accidental celebrity. Sitting opposite Oprah on buttercup yellow sofas…the same ones Tom Cruise had used to trampoline into a moment of insanity…had stripped Jesse of her privacy in a way she had not anticipated.
She was a genealogist, not a line of work for folks that thrive on limelight. While working for a client, she came across a vein of inquiry that she tapped further afterward to satisfy her own curiosity not quench an ambitious desire. But there it was. Life is ironic that way. And now after multiple visits to the Chicago-based HARPO studios, she was finding herself at dinner parties seated next to Skip Gates and YoYo Ma. The food was terrific, the atmosphere was stunning, the conversation was intriguing, but the nylons and the heels…(sigh). With every brush of nylon against nylon as she crossed and recrossed her legs, she thought of sharing a lap blanket and a bottle of red with Harris, papers stack on either side of them, dogs between them and the fire, cats perched on the back arch of the sofa. Perfection!
This is Day #2 of the October Memoir & Backstory Blog Challenge (OM & BBC) being hosted by Jane Ann McLachlan on her blog Join the Conversation. You can track my progress on this and other October Challenges by visiting my Up & Coming page. Leave us your thoughts.