“The Ugliest House in the World,” that’s what my kids called it every time we drove by on the way to visit their grandma and grandpa.It was on Route 2 in North Adams, and hard to miss, an ill-kempt Cape Cod painted electric blue—badly. There were places where you could still see the dirty white clapboards underneath. The weedy, dirt-packed front yard was only two feet wide with a retaining wall that bulged towards the busy road like a pouty lower lip. An out-of-proportion, makeshift addition to the right had floor to ceiling windows, but they were always covered by crooked Venetian blinds, so you couldn’t see inside. To the left of the house was a collapsing one car garage with crumbling asphalt shingles on the roof and a broken tricycle beside it. There were no bushes, no flowers, no apple tree to soften the blow. Zooming by at fifty miles an hour, its ugliness hit you in the face like a two by four. We never stopped for a closer inspection. So why, out of all the houses I’ve passed on the highway in my lifetime, do I remember this one above the rest, this neglected property screaming for attention until it was blue in the face? Because I always wondered who lived there. What child called this space home?
Yesterday we harvested our first honey. It tastes like flowers: clover, delphinium, Queen Anne’s lace? A hint of hydrangea? A splash of zinnia? Rugosa rose? It has a bouquet like fine wine, hard to describe, subtle, specific, unlike anything store-bought, our bees’ unique digestion of their surroundings. Are writers like these busy workers created to suck the nectar from their circumstances and produce food for thought? As I scribble, a striped visitor buzzes the lip of my teacup laced perhaps with its own elixir. Oh, to capture life’s sweetness, like a bee, with wild words.
A critique partner recently asked me why I’d written a piece that contained three seemingly unrelated events. What was I getting at? I couldn’t answer right away. The scenes had popped out of my pen a motley trio. They say the end of a piece should kiss the beginning, but how can they even rendezvous without a definite destination?
Yesterday I spent the afternoon trying to answer that question on my laptop. But as long as I typed on my computer, my internal editor followed me around like a chaperone, demanding cuts, edits, interrupting the circuitous courtship of ideas necessary to discern if they’re meant for one another. Finally, I relented and let my pen dance upon the page, the music of my mind allowed to improvise. And there at the end of the cotillion, was the clincher that tied it all together, the unexpected kiss, distilled from disparate experience, that embraced the beginning like a partner at the close of a delicious waltz.
The soul is always sifting, searching, stitching together significance we can’t see as events hurtle by at the breakneck speed of life. Yet even when we don’t know what it is we’re looking for, how wonderful as writers, to take the time to reflect and find that sweet kiss at the end, that darling, unhurried kiss that throws it’s arms around our insecure, wobbly beginning and reassures, “It’s all right, dear. I understand. Everything will be all right.”
It’s 5:30 AM. I lie on clammy sheets as low thunder rolls down the valley. Worries rumble in my head about grown children, sick friends, the metallic whomp, whomp in my right rear tire that’s probably $500 worth of tired ball bearings. My feet meet the damp floor. I need a cup of tea, the warm routine of it. I settle on the couch, my journal limp with humidity on my lap. Approaching lightning brightens the dreary mist as if someone is flicking a light switch on and off in a dim room. Sunflowers sway outside the window in the growing breeze. The sky opens and rain pours off the roof as my pen records the recent death of a boy in a distant daughter’s circle. He was driving home from a faraway state. Brimming with excitement, he called his brother on his cell. He’d met some Christians, he said. They were so different from what he expected, so comfortable… He was so distracted by the love of Christ, he swerved out of his lane smack into a semi. His brother heard the crash and the 911 crew over the undamaged phone.
Sunday on the way home from church, I witnessed an accident at a four way stop. A black sedan pulled out right in front of a silver compact. Their collision skidded within inches of my vehicle. Both drivers escaped without a scratch. In a world where any day anything can happen, I think of the thief on the cross beside Jesus. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he said. Jesus answered, “Surely this day you’ll be with me in paradise.” On this stormy morning I take comfort in this Jesus, the living water, who quenches the dry heat of my anxieties.
The more specific a story, the more universal. I love memoir because it's willing to face the truth. No matter the topic, if it's true, it reveals what needs to be known by both author and reader.