For the Nowhere Else workshop people, two excerpts:
The first paragraph, “Mother,” is from a memoir/travel book by a new Cincinnati writer, Alexander Watson, which Orange Frazer will publish this fall—one of the best of the four hundred-plus books we’ve published in the last quarter of a century. It’s called River Queens: An American Journey.
After some fifteen revisions, this is how Alexander decided to begin a section on his mother, a dominant influence in his life although a peculiar one.
The second, “Chapter 1,” is from Conrad Detweiler’s work-in-progress.
So the temptation: to be grand in oversight yet lost in abstraction.
In these early attempts by Alexander and Conrad, both writers learn to slow down and choose carefully from among the quarter of a million words in the language.
Vivian Watson and I could have been very good friends except I was too young and yet untempered by the world, and because she was my mother —a complex woman, known to those around her as one who had more than her share of dragons to fight. She was the survivor of two daughters—her sister Jane died in infancy—consequently her parents, both thirty years old and considered aged at the time, heaped the hopes and aspirations of an entire family onto the lone Vivian, named after her mother. She was to master all that was expected of her, which included being concertmistress of her high school orchestra while also being tone deaf.
When she thinks I am not looking, I catch Mother’s eye. She is gazing at the woman opposite her, across a table covered in fabric swatches, paint chips, catalog photos, and blueprints of a house. The woman is Mother’s client, a type, here and most often, dressed in a fine luncheon ensemble and real jewels. The jacket of her designer suit hangs daintily on the back of her chair. Her purse perches next to matching shoes. She does not notice Mother’s gaze.
I entered depleted, poisoned and deeply lost within the big woods of New, breadcrumbs of no use, no home to find, no backtracking allowed. Behind? Ahead? Home is where the feet stop dragging. A group of eight we traveled packed, stacked and moving, the three eldest dragging their homeless feet, the three younger too small to care.
Rootlessness for one who cares is venomous, and there amongst the beer joints of new town number nine stood the biters, church and school. Nothing inherently wrong with either, just too many jumps for one young life, bitten in the soul and scraped on the knees at every leap.
My father force-fed familiar doses of manufactured optimism, “the house is so big, children”, “the hills are so beautiful,” ... the emerald horizon of Next leading us away from an expiring situation gone stale. Guiding our sagging ’69 Chrysler Imperial and its vagabond souls, he forded another line of demarcation, the past officially gone, belligerent new realities striding in.
My father was smiling. Within his lifetime, he would move his family twenty-seven times, and number nine was well underway. Always concerned with God’s will, he had discovered the next great segment. A brand new certificate of ordination had legally bestowed upon him the title of Minister, and across the West Virginia train tracks sat his church, which the document had released into his care.
A U-Haul trailer, our sagging Chrysler Imperial, and the Good Lord had brought us in for yet another landing. Home was where the feet stopped dragging and on Saturday, September 4, 1971, we were received by the porches of the Fairland Community Church parsonage. Tomorrow, like it or not, I would be a preacher’s kid.