Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The landmarks are the same

at Two Writing Teachers!
Saturday morning, at a time I would usually be in bed, I found myself sitting in my old high school auditorium, wondering if Penny Kittle could see the tears pouring down my cheeks as she peered out from the stage.

She had just showed us a video of Sarah Kay's "Montauk", asking us to choose a line that spoke to us and write from it. Immediately, I knew I had to write to "The landmarks are the same."

When she asked us to stop a few minutes later, I wanted to keep going. (As she noted, that's exactly the goal of quick-writes -- to make student writers hungry to write more!) Then she asked us to spend a couple of minutes to improve what we'd written. Although I continually revise as I write (I do NOT tend to follow the rules of quick-writing well!), I still enjoyed the opportunity to look back at what I'd written and make a few changes. (I'd never heard of incorporating revision after quick-writing, but it's definitely something I want to implement with my students! Penny said this is a new idea she's tried since writing Write Beside Them.)

This is what I got:

I was fine until she told us to share with someone near us. My mom was beside me, and I knew she'd cry. I couldn't even read my work -- I just said "Marietta" and we sat there crying, alone together in the midst of the busy hum of sharing. Crying for old memories that can't be recreated. Crying for the way a familiar place can feel so empty even though it hasn't changed. Crying for a town that's not the same with my grandparents gone and my cousins moved away.

At least I can capture it in writing.

After the winding drive down through the hills, the landmarks are the same: The rushing river spanned by the angled strength of its steel bridge. The charming riverboat-era hotel filled with memories of grandeur. The rusty streetcar rails running down uneven brick streets, past antique storefronts still emblazoned with echoes of the past. The hauntingly steadfast Hopewell mound that towers over the small marble stones marking generations of slumbering history: Putnam, Whipple, Stacy, Dawes. 

And on the corner of 7th and Wooster, the house is still the same too. The squirrel feeder that made my cousins and me erupt in fits of laughter still spins in the front yard. The pewter eagle still surveys the sidewalk from its perch above the doorway. The noisy air conditioners that never put out quite enough cold air still hang from the upstairs windows. The deck my dad helped build still hangs precariously out toward the holler. The same maroon shutters. The same vertical blinds. The same astroturf-covered porch. If I walked up those stairs, could I just open the door and walk in to the sound of a John Wayne movie? Would Granddaddy be sprawled in his easy chair, his cane leaning against a TV tray? Would Nannie walk in with a fresh bag of iced cookies from Big Bear? Would my cousins arrive any minute, throwing the house into a chaotic frenzy?

But now, when we park in front of the house, we walk up broken bricks and around the corner towards the ancient mound. We notice those venerable old names and look for new ones. We wipe the leaves off the cold stone, put out new decorations, straighten the flags, and remember. 

Then we walk back over the upheaved sidewalks, back through the quaint streets, back past the huge holly hedges that now nearly obscure the house. We drive downtown to stroll through the shops and look out over the levee. "When you're down by the river, drop in!" Granddaddy's words come out of Mommy's mouth. But there's nowhere to drop in to anymore. So we savor memories over creamy Broughton's ice cream and head back out onto the highway, over the hills, and into the present.

The landmarks are the same, but the heartbeat is gone.

The Delta Queen leaving after its last voyage to Marietta, a few summers ago.


  1. "over the hills, and into the present." You showed your memory very well, Jennifer. When I go back to my little town, my brother & I drive the streets & remember the people, the activities, the silly times we had with our grandparents, & the rest of the family. I love all the details you added, about the house, & the stones with the old names. This quick write is so powerful!

  2. The landmarks are the same ...

    this is where we talked about what connected us
    about the ways that sand fell from our fingers
    in our minds, if not in our worlds,
    where we watched Sara bike off into the distance
    that day, that hot day in August,
    and we both wondered if she would ever return
    and when she did, when she decided not to after all,
    we three all talked about the landmarks of our neighborhood -
    the huge rock left by glaciers
    the massive apple tree still in bloom
    the abandoned swimming pool filled with green algae
    the bogs in the swamp where we all lost a shoe or two -
    and we vowed, never forget,
    but we did.

    PS -- that line resonated me with this morning. Thanks for the inspiration to write a poem.

  3. What a lovely way to start my day. Thank you for the images of love and family here... Your grandparents came alive for me in words.

  4. You have taken me to Marietta, so vivid are your words. How cool to get that comment from Penny!

    1. Yeah! That was definitely a run-around-squealing moment!

  5. Beautiful memories. I can feel the loss and longing.

  6. Beautiful. Seems every slice I'm reading this morning are looks back to memories that made people happy. I'm a Sarah Keyes fan this year. My contest speech students love her for performing. I'm headed to check out her poem now!

  7. Oops. Realized I mixed up last names, but the sentiment is the same...

  8. Awesome slice... the challenge of writing, the beautiful memories. Just amazing.


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