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From the time I sat listening as a child at the dinner table, I have always been interested in stories.  I had some great role models around me, and I learned from them that the best stories were more than re-telling what happened.  The best stories had insight and illumination, irony and humor, and poignancy.    

My writing has always centered around “story”-- in the narrative poem, the prose poem, and in my attempts at telling a true story in my memoir.  I am intrigued by what is currently being called flash non-fiction, or narrative non-fiction, or the “hybrid”—a short essay with some of the attributes of poetry which makes the read all the more compelling. 

In this piece, I pay tribute to my heritage of storytellers.

christine    
 

Inheritance

I heard their stories all my life:

Mama had three girls: Mary and Helen and Stella, and a borrowed mansion with a bowling alley and wooden floors, so the girls could roller skate.   At night they brought to bed with them paper cones filled with candies from Papa’s store.  Helen’s favorite was black licorice.  They rode the iceman’s wagon, and ate two-cent pickles at the movies.

When Fat ol’ Hannah Barnes came to watch, the children shouted, “Here it comes” and lifted their feet in the front rows because Hannah never got up to pee.  Their cousin Marcie shaved Mary’s eyebrows so she could be chic. They never grew back again so her beautiful clear blue eyes were always shaped by a half moon of brown pencil.  They rode the Staten Island ferry at two in the morning after a night of dancing in the New York clubs.

They laid out corpses in the parlor with pennies to keep the eyes shut.  They danced in the moonlight for men on neighborhood watch.   They rested out on the porch in thin cotton slips when the summer was too hot for sleeping.  They drove the dusty roads all the way to the Jersey beaches, until Bill swept Mary off her feet. 

It was fine for a while, with skiing in New Hampshire and silk flower hats from Saks Fifth Avenue, but then there was the crash, & that’s when the story goes dark with her Bill, lining the soles of his shoes with newspaper.  He walked away and never came back.

The legacy becomes women with no other choices, sleeping together on pullout couches, raising one daughter together.  Strong women, like Stella with polio, who turns her built-up heel so the little girl can stand to reach the kitchen cabinets. Brazen women, smoking cigarettes on the rooftop of a gunpowder factory.  Loving women, Mary and her best friend, party-bound in a snowstorm, and drinking brandy to keep warm. 

Women who care for dying parents, two sisters who live together like a couple, who take the grandchildren to New York whenever they can.  Faithful women who rely on church to keep them going.    

At eighty, the two sisters took their first trip to California to see the Redwood Forest and the Golden Gate Bridge.  I was with them, and we drank crème-de-menthes over ice and told stories on the darkened plane.