Getting drawn into a good story

by | Dec 20, 2019 | Memoir, Reversible Skirt | 8 comments

I’m fending off a cold, and if you’ve ever come down with a cold during the holidays, you know how frustrating that can be. At times when I need to rest, nothing beats getting drawn into a good book. I can usually tell if a book is for me by reading the first several paragraphs. Occasionally, I’ll be disappointed, but most of the time I’m not. Do you ever pick books by browsing this way?

This blog post shares the beginning of Reversible Skirt, a memoir written from my point of view as a child (as accurately as I could re-create it as an adult).

After you read the opening, I think you’ll know if this book is for you. I hope you enjoy it and wish you a splendid holiday season. I’d love it if you’d leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Our mother as a young woman is in the background; my two sisters and I wear matching dresses in the photo. Left to right we are Mary Ruth, me and Kathy.

Gramma loves me. I know this by the way she says my name, Laura. She lilts it, tickles the air with it, like I’m a ruby she’s just spied glittering in one of the sidewalk cracks in front of her great big red brick apartment building. It’s on Birchwood Avenue. And that’s where I am right now. Looking out the parlor window. Waiting. It’s like I’m standing on a mountain of cream puffs all mine alone because any minute Gramma will call my name and tell me it’s time for our special ride. Nobody else says my name the way Gramma does. Not Daddy, not Kathy and Mary Ruth, not Uncle John, and not Mommy, who loves church so much I think maybe she up and moved into one a while back.

Daddy has two ways of saying my name. The first is like it’s the punch line to a joke that only he understands, a joke that jiggles him up tall almost all the way out of his shiny black shoes. He looks at me with his gray eyes sparkling like a silver spoon with all the tarnish wiped off. When he’s happy like that, he calls me “Shimp,” which he says is shrimp and imp put together, or he says “Laura Fadora Fadoo.” He stretches that doo out real long like the last note of a song, and then Kathy and Mary Ruth turn it into “Laura Kapora Kapoo.” They stretch the poo out just as long, and just like that, all the fun of having him say my name is gone.

The second way Daddy says my name is like a ball he’s thrown really hard to get my attention because he wants me to stop doing whatever it is I’m doing. When he says my name this way his face looks harder than the sides of Gramma’s building, and the last thing I want is to scrape up against him. The second is the way he says my name most often. And that makes me mad, but I’m not supposed to ever get mad at Daddy.

Now when Daddy’s around, which isn’t all that often, and when he’s not stretched out asleep with his dark hair mixing in with the tatters of Gramma’s soft green couch, he’s making a commotion. He’s like pots and pans falling from Gramma’s kitchen cupboards, knocking against the stove and table and chairs and banging hard on the wooden patches in the floor where the old linoleum is worn clear off. He echoes all through the building like thunder. But Daddy all the time tells me, “Laura, be quiet! Laura, settle down! Be a good girl now, Laura!” He has to throw my name around a lot to hammer this idea home; it’s about as hard to be quiet as it is to keep my Cracker Jacks from falling out of the box when I open it and turn it upside down looking for the charm hidden inside.

My sisters, Kathy and Mary Ruth, have their blond heads glued together most of the time whispering. And sometimes they set their deep blue eyes on me and say my name either right at the same time or one after the other like echoes in a tunnel. Their lips are moving, but my name seems to come out of their noses like when you snort your milk instead of swallowing it, and it burns going through your nostrils until you spurt it out, finally, and you’re not at all pleased. That’s Kathy and Mary Ruth, not at all pleased when they say, “Laura peed in her pants, Gramma,” or “Laura’s eating bouillon cubes again, Gramma,” or “Laura can’t sing the ABC song yet, Gramma.”

But they always include me in games, morning to night, like me or not. They never tell me I can’t play.

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  1. sara etgen-baker

    wonderful! Your story was soft and touching.

  2. Laura

    Thank you, Sara!

  3. Laurelai Barton

    Yes! Your writing is for me. And I understand just what you mean in knowing, after just the first few paragraphs, if a book, a writer, resonates. There’s the story, but equally as important is the style, the flow, the phrasing, the word-craft. Your writing conjures such detailed images – your stories evoke a sense of familiarity, of empathy, of knowing. I so admire your willingness to bare all for your craft, Laura. And yet as personal and unique as your stories are, they also at times feel archetypal. I do hope you found that ideal book to dive into this week, and are feeling much, much better by now.

  4. Laura

    Thank you, Laurelai. I’m basking happily in your appreciation as I recover from this awful cold. I am reading a book that pulled me right in. It’s “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah. I was a gift that I wouldn’t have bought for myself because I made assumptions about it based on his TV show, which I enjoy very much. But I assumed the book would be something like a series of political comedy skits, which didn’t really appeal to me. As soon as I began reading I knew my assumptions were wrong. It’s an amazing book—entertaining as well as full of depth, compassion and insight.

  5. Barbara Toboni

    To take experiences like these and compile them into a compelling read must have been quite a feat, but I was pulled right in by it’s unusual style. You wrote this book with amazing clarity in a child’s voice and it was compassionate, insightful, and gracefully rendered. You have an amazing gift of storytelling that inspires.

  6. Laura

    Thank you so much, Barbara. It did take a fierce kind of focus to stay true to the little person I used to be. So many disruptive thoughts come and go all the time; it’s easy to get sidetracked. I think commitment is the key. Once I fully committed to the project, her voice came to me, and I listened.

  7. Susan Dacenko Callis

    Dear Laura,
    I have a copy of “Reversible Skirt” and enjoyed the ebb and flow of emotions that are a part of reading this book. As I read this opening just now, I was awestruck by the richness of metaphors and delightful descriptions. Smiles are unavoidable, as the innocence of a child’s perspective unfolds.

  8. Laura

    Thank you, Susan. You made my day. I feel so lucky that the child’s voice came to me so clearly. It was magical. And I feel so lucky that you re-read the opening and were awestruck. That makes me smile and leaves me almost speechless.

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