“Bradford’s” is out in this bound first volume of Braided Brook. It’s a story I wrote about five years ago that started as a newspaper column, then became this short narrative, which I reworked and wove into my book.
In it, I relive the last night the presses ran at Memorial Press Group, a newspaper company where I worked in Plymouth, Massachusetts that housed the Old Colony Memorial, the oldest weekly paper in New England.
It’s about the silencing of voices as merger after merger across America has gobbled up weeklies and dailies. You can read the story online on BB’s site as well.
This other War and Peace is about my kids, Roberto, and I waiting during 5 p.m. rush hour in a preferential treatment grocery line—a line set aside for elderly shoppers, pregnant women, and those with children. We’re in Lima, Peru, blocks from where Roberto grew up, waiting to buy fresh rolls and a sausage called salchicha de huacho for lonche, the all-important Peruvian tea time.
All is going smoothly until… a white-haired woman nudged me from behind with her cart. Moments before, a woman with black hair had muscled her way in from the right to snatch the spot before us.
“Ya metieron la carreta,” the elderly woman at our backs whispered, then retreated.
“Somebody put the shopping cart in there.”
The story goes on to show how this preferential treatment, this codified respect, tells a fuller story about Peruvians—of course, a humorous story, Peruvians are always funny— something beyond political corruption, poverty, and Incan wonders.
I know them well—Oh, tiny play house at Tioga Town that someone I know accidentally peed in, Oh, Spinny Thing of Death at Westside, Oh, condom wrapper my kids thought was candy at Fred Cone Park, Oh, dirt throwing… everywhere.
I say “approximately” sixty-one playgrounds because a swings-only park, like Bivens Arm, would hold any three year old’s attention for about two seconds. (Also, I Googled it, and up came articles regarding R-rated goings-on there. I never discovered anyone “communing with nature,” but I won’t suggest taking kids there, just in case.)
Immediately after Roberto, the kids, and I moved cross-town in January, Kid Number One was thrown into a month-long tailspin of depression and tantrums. It turned out one mom’s boxy, charmless two-bedroom apartment was one little guy’s “home.”
Pregnant with Kid Number One, I imagined us one day binding a primitive-looking Moleskine-esque collection of books. The visions I had were soft-lit; maybe we were in home-sewn clothes too because, hey, this was a fantasy, and having children, to me, meant latent Little House on the Prairie skills would finally come forth, a complex phenomenon born of the miracle workings of emergence. My little boy, who I also imagined would tumble from the womb aged four years old, would write imaginative and brilliant fiction while I wrote my stand-up routine or creative nonfiction. We would nest ourselves in a swirl of blankets I would have knitted or crocheted; honestly, I don’t know the difference. Like all pre-parenting dreams, the details were fuzzy.
Now, as a card-carrying mom-type person, I know that finding the time, means, and space to write is almost as impossible as me learning to sew or getting my kids to put down the light sabers to sit still to glue together old timey books.
But the dream, while on life support, is not dead.
Gay Talese’s writing was a source of inspiration for me as a young journalist who didn’t have a degree from J-School and who, frankly, back at the office after her first selectmen’s meeting, cursor pulsing, couldn’t figure how to structure a news story.
Talese’s journalism had the shape and style of good fiction, which is what I liked to read best. He inserted cinematic scenes, dialogue. He experimented with diary structure and James Joyce’s stream-of-conscious style with deeply reported material. He delayed “news pegs,” or the part of the story that shows why it is important to run it now, why it is newsworthy, and waited till the final paragraph to reveal a notable person’s name the story was about.
His aim was to shine a light on the “losers,” to show the struggle to win, to be great. As Barbara Lounsberry wrote in her introduction to The Gay Talese Reader: Portraits and Encounters, a collection that sits on my bookshelf, “He wanted to write about the overlooked nonnewsworthy population that is everywhere, but rarely taken into account by journalists and other chroniclers of reality.”
Nine years ago today, the two of us were in snowy West Virginia, getting very little shut-eye at a Jane Lew rest area. We were bunking in his Covenant Transport eighteen-wheeler after three weeks on the road together, and he had woken me with a jab to the side at 2:45 a.m., disrupting a dream I was having about Mulder and Scully teaching me to ballroom dance.
In a rare quiet moment yesterday, I found myself explaining to Kid Number One—withquestionable accuracy—how maple syrup in made. We were looking at a very tree-looking tree in the park, a tree that was not a maple, but served as a nice stand-in. He repeated each step, and at the end of my lesson, we looked at each other and smiled, with a sweetness I, daresay, that rivaled that of any Grade A, Fancy.
It got me thinking: are there women out there with toddlers who are penning great travel stuff? Christine Gilbert of almost fearless, a blogger I’ve mentioned before, is one example of a woman doing it and doing it well. But what about us wannabe travel writers who don’t have much money and are homebound with their kids?