Look Apast

Oh, don’t worry, you just have to look apast some things, my mother said, it’s the way it is for all of us.

This was my mother’s take on love. You just accept some things that are not so nice in order to enjoy all the nice things you like in a person. She might have done that with Dad but I don’t think so. I think she and Dad were perfect for each other, building a life in the country side together and raising us four kids. For all her country lingo, Mom was a wise woman but she wasn’t marrying George. I was.

George with his already Curly of the Three Stooges hair ring boasting a shiny top suitable, in my opinion, only for smacking when he did his burping and farting routines. How can a man who became a millionaire in business command so much public respect and still be so crass at home in private? I think I forget sometimes that manners are not necessarily synonymous with wealth.

Look, Mom said, you will never want for anything and you’ll always be able to do things none of us could ever afford to do like go to Hawaii. 

It was my mother’s dream to go to Hawaii but she never did make it there, her life was snuffed out by that evil cancer that is all too prevalent in a modern world where you can fly to the moon but not cure people of that rotten C word.  Of course, her death came much later, decades after we sat in what used to be my bedroom at home where we were preparing me for my wedding. The room was filled with a heady fragrance from the huge bouquet George had sent that morning. It was almost cloying and I considered dumping them out the window but I knew I had to sit still for Mom to finish my hair. I could have gone to a salon but I wanted my wedding day to be filled with fond memories of the people I love and I liked the simplicity of plaits and a few flowers in my hair.

I do love him in some way, I said,  but I just don’t know if it’s the kind of love that means I  can do “life” with this guy, Mom. He’s grown twice as wide just in the three years we’ve been together and the way he talks sometimes I get so embarrassed I want to crawl under something and hide or run out of wherever we are as if I am not even with him.

Mom’s age freckled hands continued patiently braiding my long hair and plaiting it around my head just the same way she did for me when I was little getting ready for school. It tore at me to be here now in this comforting space sitting on my floral comforter with such a highly publicized wedding in front of me. In just two hours I would be Mrs. George Hanson.  No, Mrs. Loretta Hanson. Or would I?

Loretta, Mom said, as she pinned the plaits in place, Nobody gets everything they want in this world. Nobody. You just weigh up the good and as your own Granny said to me when I had the wedding night jitters, some of us just learn to “make do.” That’s how life is. You just learn to make do. 

She finished my hair and then looked in the mirror to pat her salon do she’d had done that morning. People always said Mom was Shirley Maclaine’s twin and that might be true but all I could see in the mirror as I looked over her shoulder was my loving Mom trying to do her best to support me and guide me.

I told her I was driving myself to the seaside instead of taking the limousine to the church. Mom accepted what I was doing and gave me a hug as I grabbed my keys and left my childhood home. She even said she admired my pluck and wished she’d had some of it herself sometimes. Even Mom understood there are some things in life you simply cannot make do with or “look apast.”

I phoned the church and told them to go ahead and have the party anyway but to celebrate freedom, not “making do.” George would find a new wife no trouble with all that money I couldn’t sell myself out for. I took my sandals off and walked out into the shimmering ocean under the stars with my wedding gown floating up all around me like a cloud that held up my dreams and my dreams of how I wanted my life to be began drifting back to me one by one.

Short story excerpt by (c) Janni Styles

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THE MUSICAL MESSENGER (published 1999(c)

Parents teach us about life even long after they leave us...

The Sunday my teenaged brother accidentally slammed the car door shut on my hand is more vivid in my mind then my forever altered fingerprint. It wasn’t that I had never witnessed my father’s rage before. His impatience with the repetitive noises children naturally make was no secret in our family. Neither were Dad’s scathing outbursts of cursing when he reached the height of frustration. But his silence that day terrified me. No yelling, no swearing, just the rhythmic crunching of boots crossing gravel.

To appease my father, my brother uselessly repeated,”It was an accident. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

Stop it! Get in the car! We have to go to the emergency room!” My mother shrilled through the tension as she wrapped a towel from the clothesline around my hand.

With a bewildered expression, my father backed toward the car. My bloody nosed brother stared at us as we pulled out of the driveway but he did not return my wave at him through the rear window. It’s okay, I whispered. At seven years old, I already knew that Dad calmed as quickly as he riled himself up.

Child rearing was not my father’s area of expertise. Country music was and, competing in several talent shows, Dad rivaled artists who later achieved international fame. In one event he had hoped to place third and win a new stereo. Instead, he was awarded the first place trophy and a chance to advance in the industry. But a growing family demanded a steady pay check and Dad abandoned his musical dreams.

A machinist by trade, his skilled hands eventually only played the guitar at home on weekends. No more band rehearsals or overnight jam sessions. With guitar in hand, he left when I was thirteen. All I knew was that he was deserting us.

Some of us are still licking wounds from the ensuing sense of rejection and abandonment. Mine manifested as an inability to release possessions and relationships long past the expiry date of their goodness. A greeting card hoarder, I held onto people and things that were no longer life-giving.  I now know that I was clinging to a self-worth that hinged on how much others valued me, including my father. I considered death among one of his many human short-comings because when he died, so did the love he gave me.

Dad lived simply with a fondness for good food, rye whisky, Sunday drives, nature and practical jokes. A charismatic character with a strong sense of right and wrong that is vivid in my mind, he would hate it if I painted a posthumous image of perfection. “That’s not right,” he would say. “Tell it right or don’t tell it at all.”

A man ill-equipped to deal with the curve balls life tossed  him, my father was completely freed when performing. He often encouraged us children to take turns pressing an ear against his battered acoustic guitar while he strummed. The only stress visible in him then was his taut neck cords straining to hit the high notes. And he did.

Recently, I realized that my father’s gift was far greater than the gift of music alone. Observing the passion of a man lost in the rapture of creativity was a magical experience. Through him, I not only heard but saw and felt the music. I still do.

When I was still a teenager and my father was 41, he left this earthly world for what I have always hoped is a better place. Over time, I feel I have come to know him better than I did when he was alive. Youthful preoccupation blinded me to the light of love on his face in the photos I now cherish and pore over while listening to his music. His songs speak directly of the heartache he endured and , more poignantly, to the suffering he knew he caused. Every time I hear the lyrics I recall my brother’s words the day my fingerprint was altered and I can almost hear Dad saying,”It was an accident. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

Daddy Stories...reading and writing so serious, even then.

Reverence on my part, perhaps, because my father lived simply but he was not a simple man. The most glorified memory I have of him is one I, regrettably, was not present for. It is of a man who, weeks before his cancer riddled body fought the final fight, created a haunting legacy of words and music that tell me who he was and, in turn, who I am.

Now 40, I have learned a couple of things myself. I have realized that the greater part of being loved is loving yourself, being at peace with yourself. I know that people must follow their hearts or it can make them sick, possibly even kill them with an insidious, joy corroding cancer of the spirit.

Thanks to my father, I strive to “make my own music” by writing full-time. I left a mainstream career track for humble part-time work that supports my learning and basic needs. I no longer feel stretched forty ways but there is no steady pay check for following the call of the soul and being true to your creativity. There is usually no check at all.  But I can’t let that stop me.

In discouraging moments I think of my father’s creative life cut short by obligations, then by cancer at age 41 and I continue writing because I have no choice. I know Dad would completely understand this and, wherever he is, I hope he knows that being in his life was one of the highest notes in mine.

(c) 1999 Published in Anthology of Winning Literature

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