Cindy McCain – Lost in Morocco

56- Lost

I’ve been lost since 2014 when I left a teaching job of 27 years at a school my kidsattended K-12 three streets from our house. I moved to another continent 4,400 miles away. Solo. Sight unseen. As sure as Santiago in Coelho’s (Quelho’s) The Alchemist, I knew it was my destiny, an adventure to which God called me, promising roses in the desert where I’d sing like a girl again. I wanted to be lost in a love story. And so it began…

The taxi driver burrowed as far as he could into the Marrakech medina, stopping in a deserted, small square. “Where’s the riad?” Jasna, my new Canadian coworker asks.

He slices the air to point to a corner a few feet away, then bends his hand in a 90 degree angle to the left. Though we only know a few words in Darija, we’re getting good at Charades. “We turn left?!”we say mimicking his motion. He holds up 2 fingers. “ 2 times!” And we’re off.

Expecting a passage like the ones we’ve navigated in the souks dodging donkey carts and motorbikes, tourists and trinkets, we look around the bend and see an alley so narrow we’ll be forced to walk single file. Its path stretches between red sandstone walls–windowless, doorless, lifeless as far as we can see. We turn to tell the driver he’s mistaken, but he has vanished. We are stranded with no cellphone service. The walls are too high to see over to know where we are going, and the sliver of sky above us is turning from dusk to dark. All we can do is move forward. We enter the maze.

We twist and turn—twice. Nothing. I pray for a main artery that leads to Jemma el Fna square, the heart of the largest open-air marketplace in Africa pulsing with commerce, chaos, and cacophony. Where B erbers play Middle Eastern bagpipes, drums, tambourines, and lutes as dervishes dance and charmers call us to sluggish cobras, menacing monkeys, and henna.

We walk on–sweaty, thirsty, anxious in the August heat. Finally we see lamp beams in the distance…and the silhouette of a group of guys walking toward us. We slide by moving fast toward the light.

Spilling into a souk, we’re thrilled to weave under Arabian archways around shopkeepers, scarves, and stray cats. Shaky hungry from adrenaline, we step into the first restaurant we see and show the host the address to the riad. He says it’s too far away and his place is booked for the night.

With a flick of the wrist he summons a white-robed man from the alley. “Follow him,” he commands. Despite all my mother’s warnings to never trust a stranger, we do. Nervously we snake through the labyrinth wondering where he’s taking us. He stops before an unmarked door and knocks. Slowly it swings open.

With a wide grin and “Ouila,” he waves us over the threshold into paradise.

Flickering lanterns light the courtyard and pool. Water trickles from a massive mosaic fountain as birds chirp in orange and lime trees. Above us, rooms open to a balcony cascading with fuchia, bougainvillia, and jasmine. And on our white tablecloth under the stars, roses.

I was lost in Morocco, a kingdom of wide open spaces, in childlike wonder. A single mom since my daughter was three and son was one, I’d known that when our band, the 3 Musketeers, split up, I’d need a preemptive strike against being sad. I would need new. I was a Stage 5 Clinger. But I was a gypsy soul, too. So I honored a promise made to myself one summer standing in an Italian vineyard. When the kids left the nest, I’d fly away for awhile , too.

I signed a two-year contract to teach English at the American School of Marrakesh. The move was all I’d hoped it would be and more–a tall order for a girl born with a supersized imagination and fairy tales in her genes. My grandmother, Mama Lou, had read to me tales from T he Arabian Nights when I was a wee one and when a woman, lonely and rejected by divorce, she said God had something special for me. I was comforted by Isaiah that says He gives roses for ashes. He did.

I loved being lost…On my morning commute watching the sun rise into a pale lemon and conch- pink sky. Men in coffee- colored djellabas circled on low stools talking over morning tea. Women walking with babies tied tightly to their backs in brightly colored cloth cocoons. Shepherds tending sheep. In every class hearing “Good Morning Miss!” and passionate opinions on Holden, Huck, and Heathcliff. On weekends playing in secret gardens, sledding and trekking by foot and mule across snow-dolloped Atlas Mountains, watching sunsets from fortresses above the sea. Walking in Carrie Bradshaw’s shoes at Taj Palace; sleeping in Josephine Baker’s suite; belly dancing with coworkers; caravanning by camel across The Sahara; volunteering with village girls.

Ok, all was not pools and palm trees–threats from ISIS, a mugging, a wreck–but getting lost in Morocco meant finding the girl inside me. There I walked with more confidence, faith, freedom and joy. I found kindred spirits– coworkers from a dozen countries who spent weekends together on the rooftop or in Europe on crazy-cheap flights. And other expats living new dreams who said I’d fallen under Marrakech’s spell, too. Lost in adventure, beauty, writing. Living like a woman much loved. Found.

Fall break my second year I head to the Atlantic Ocean to review yoga/surf camps. The ride to Taghazout reminds me of exploring the California coast with my children. I miss those days, but I remember us in London my first winter away. Wearing paper crowns in a pub on Portobello Road we toasted Christmas proclaiming home was now wherever we’re together. They’d flown to Marrakesh, too, and understood why Mom loves being here.

The next morning at Surf Berbere a beam lasers through blue wooden shutters on the window by my bed. I push them open and catch the sun rising slowly, then bursting boldly from behind buildings down the beach. I sing“Morning Has Broken” and “Wild World.” Cat Stevens loved Morocco as I do. Through the window at the foot of my bed I hear, smell, see nothing but sea–the tide pushing and pulling mightily in opposing directions. Same as the churning inside of me.

The danger of getting lost is fearing being found. The school and friends want me to stay longer, but how can I when people I love want me closer to home? I remember reading Life of Pi with my sophomores Mahmoud, Chadi, Fadi, Anthony, Brahim, and Medhi. When Pi’s sole companion while lost at sea, his tiger, walks into the jungle without saying goodbye, we were gutted. The line“All of life is letting go” made me cry in class. Because it’s true.

I miss the two lives I birthed–parts of my heart– walking around on the other side of this ocean. And I know I’ll miss this crazy, exotic country where I’ve created another new life, mine.

After 3 years away I moved home last summer to a different US, Nashville, me. Reverse culture shock registered in seismic shifts. I couldn’t believe the daily news. I also wondered…when did Jimmy Kimmel get so thin and manicures so pointy? Seriously, much was scary. I’d sold my house planning to buy back in, but at these prices with only adjunct teaching jobs??? I only knew I had to share my story to encourage others to take beauty breaks for the soul. I got a tiny apartment in a place I call Walden Woods and lived another life I’d imagined since high school writing. I missed expat life but loved being near family and friends again.

Six weeks later, my mom was diagnosed with a brain condition. Unable to live in Kentucky, she moved in with me. She’d look at the trees out my windows and say she felt lost in them. I felt lost, too. We watched and waited for her surgery, recovery, what would come next.

Two weeks ago on her 81st birthday, miraculously, she moved into her own apartment by my sister. Letting go of her home was hard, but she bravely found freedom in a new start. I took a full time interim teaching position ending soon. Then? No clue.

I’m visiting friends in Morocco in June knowing all there has changed. Everything alive does. After that? I’m groping blindly along walls. But every time I’ve been lost in the desert, seeking, knocking, a door finally opens. I step into a place where rose petals float in fountains. Where once I was lost, then I am found. No long-er blind, I see.

Matt Kelley – Where Are We?

56- Lost

The bus slowly came to a halt, and the driver stepped out to have a cigarette. We realized we were the only two people on the bus, and we had no idea where we were.

We had arrived in Rome for our honeymoon the day before, and while we had gotten over our jet lag, my wife and I were tired from a long day exploring churches and ancient ruins, and had gotten all the calories we burned back and then some with pasta and a few bottles of wine. But when the bus stopped, potentially for the night, we were suddenly wide awake and painfully aware that we were in a deserted part of a city where we didn’t know anyone, didn’t speak the language, and might be stuck here till morning.

For a while, neither of us said anything. Neither one of us wanted to be the one who started the fight. Clearly this was someone’s fault, and neither of us wanted to spend the next fifty years hearing, “remember that time on our honeymoon when you got us lost?” So we sat there silently, staring at the open door at the front of the bus, neither of us totally sure where we were.

We stared at the door the same way we had stared at a bunch of boxes six months earlier when we had moved in together. She had rented a small house a few months before we got engaged, but it was always going to be “our” place. The clothes went in the closet, the guitars were hung on the wall, but the boxes of CDs, souviner keg cups from college, and plenty of other little knick-knacks that I couldn’t have cared less about until she suggested throwing them away? Those things didn’t have a clear place, and I figured the boxes could just sit there in the middle of the living room for the time being.

I figured wrong. My very organized, very disciplined bride to be could not co-exist with boxes of stuff that didn’t have a place. After a fight that ended with the wedding almost being called off, I spent the first night in our home together on the couch, not really sure where we were.

We silently stared at that open door at the front of the bus on the outskirts of Rome the way we had stared at the map of the city when we landed the day before. The travel agent who had helped us book our hotels and train tickets said they had found us a great deal on a room, and that it wasn’t that far from the train station in the center of the city. This person’s version of “not that far” and mine turned out to be a little different, so we lugged our suitcases and our jet lagged bodies along a street running parallel to the walls of the old city, a paper map being our best resource in the days before smartphones.

“Are you sure you know where we’re going?” she asked. “Yes, of course I do!” I didn’t. “Where did the travel agent say it was? It feels like we’ve gone too far.” I fumbled with the map, attempting to man-splain how  Europeans are more used to walking than us Americans, even though the agent who found me such a good deal was American, too. I was blowing one of my first chances to show that I, as her husband, was in control, that she didn’t have to worry. The one thing I couldn’t say was that I had no idea where we were.

We stared at the open door at the front of the bus, neither of us saying a word, neither of us wanting to be the one to start the fight. I sat there praying that the bus route continued later into the night, trying to radiate a sense of clam I didn’t actually possess as I watched the muscles in her neck grow ever tighter in agitation, I finally relented in our silent battle over what to do. I stood up and walked out the door onto the dimly lit street, shivering as much from the late fall chill as my anxiety over being stranded and having no idea where we were.

In very broken Italian I attempted to ask the bus driver what was going on. He began speaking rapidly, his tone and flailing arms letting me know that I was interrupting his smoke break and to get back on the bus, you stupid American! I sat back down, telling my new bride that I had taken care of everything, which we both knew wasn’t true, but before she could call me on it the driver got back in his seat, shut the door, and the bus started moving again.

A few minutes later we recognized our stop, attempted to thank the driver who clearly couldn’t wait to be rid of us, and made our way back to our hotel. We didn’t have to say anything, because we both knew we were tired, stressed, and ready for this night to be over. But at least for the moment, we knew where we were.

Chloe Dolandis – Closer

56- Lost

Do you know where my iPad is? I’ve been asking everyone for months, and I’ve looked everywhere, and have been begging it to come home using the “find iPhone” thing to no avail. And although I come from a long line of people who lose things — my dad with his glasses, my Grandpa Tony with his sense of direction as he’d drive to my parents’ house for the 87th time, both of them with their tempers — it’s just not usually like mebut when I moved to Nashville by myself in November I was overwhelmed to say the least, and I started misplacing things. I’m not super attached to electronics but there’s stuff on this particular device that wasn’t saved in the cloud — like lyrics to songs I’ll never finish and voicemails from my parents and grandparents that I’d recorded onto it from my phone because I couldn’t figure out another way to save them. And I was getting flack from a completely clogged mailbox.

But these voicemails didn’t just sit in my iPad, they were part of my life’s soundtrack — I’d listen when I missed my family or when I wanted to share the insanity that sometimes ensues — my favorite one of all time has to be from Grandpa Tony. It simply went, “Grandpaaa! ::click::” If you knew him that wouldn’t sound so weird.

He’s always been known as a singer, a trumpet player, and a band leader. He created a family unit that some may consider a unique version of the Partridge Family, with some added New York flair (accent), a little more “Cry Me A River” than “Come On Get Happy,” and to this day still features my father playing accordion solos. My dad’s side, Greeks who are self-proclaimed honorary Jews, frequented the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and wedding scenes as musicians, upstate in the Catskills and then in South Florida, where we relocated shortly after I was born.

My grandpa, “Tony Stevens PhD,” made sure that I (his only grandchild) inherited the music gene by trying to give me piano lessons — which lasted about half a year when I was, like, 6 because we had very different “styles.” He played with the army band in Korea, of course had a PhD in music, performed at Carnegie Hall, and worked with some jazz greats including Dakota Staton and Harry James. He basically hated anything that wasn’t in that realm and I was a pop girl. And, his way was the only way. Even after I studied music in college with a focus on jazz, and became a professional musician, if he played what he said was a “G,” but I explained technically it really was a “C,” it was still, no question, a “G.” (Gotta give it to the O.G.)

Every holiday and family gathering, there’d be music. One of his favorite songs to play was, “The Curtain Falls,” made famous by Bobby Darin, which I could not find online for a while because I kept searching for the title “Closer” — the new title Grandpa Tony lovingly gave the song. He’d end all of his one man shows with it, singing:

“If I had this to do again 

And the evening were new again

I would spend it with you again

But now the curtain falls.”

When we got together we’d also have passive aggressive, more often aggressive, fights about who got to play, who’d play what, the voicing of a chord, my vibrato, Grandpa’s politics, my dad’s politics, religion…The last argument I had with him in person was about six months ago. He towered over me saying I wasn’t allowed to talk at the dinner table because I don’t know about politics, I’m a woman, and I’m “the child.” I finally stood up and asserted, “You can’t talk to me like this, Grandpa. This is not okay.” I think that may have been the same night I announced I was moving to Nashville so his fuse was shorter than usual. In a later phone call he was fuming: “You should stay in Florida, meet someone, and get married!” Grandpa’s M.O. was to “keep the family together.” My parents adamantly reinforced this as I grew up, and several years beyond college I willingly abided, but I knew it was time to go.

When we began spending less time together, Grandpa and I got into a rhythm of him calling me Wednesdays and me calling him Sundays. Sometimes we’d miss each other because he was practicing or sleeping or running an errand, and I was recording or auditioning or socializing. We’d always forgive each other and promise to call the next specified day. One day, after he got more used to me living in Tennessee, he turned a corner: “You’re doing the right thing. Focus on your career and you’ll meet someone when it’s time.”

In December I went back to Florida to play some shows and had the opportunity to be a guest vocalist with the Sunrise Pops Orchestra, a 60 piece band. As well as preparing standards and show tunes, my conductor helped me arrange two of my original songs. One of them, “Comin’ Home Real Soon,” I wrote with my parents as a Father’s Day gift for my dad, and in the lyric I mention specific family members, including my grandpa. Whenever I play it I like to dedicate it to my family, especially if they’re in the audience. I hesitated to invite him to the show — he did walk out of one of my gigs very upset because he wasn’t thrilled with the band or what I was doing. But, at 91 years old, Grandpa Tony was there taking it all in and changed his tune, and I got to dedicate the song to him. After the performance he pulled me close and said, “Baby doll, if you don’t make it, it’s not because you’re not talented.” By then I’d come to terms with the idea that his opinion wasn’t going to define my direction, but it was still nice to hear and I was happy he was happy.

I headed back to Nashville and we continued our weekly calling. A few weeks ago I was on the phone with my guitar player about a gig and Grandpa called on the other line. I didn’t pick up and totally forgot to call him back. He left a voicemail that I didn’t listen to. The day after, I considered going through messages and deleting everything to clear space — I was at capacity again — but left his latest voicemail as it was, still unheard, as a reminder to call him back. The day after that my mom got in touch with me. Grandpa Tony had died.

His timing was impeccable if there is such a thing as picking the right time to go. I had four gigs scheduled in Florida and had to leave just a day sooner than planned to be back in time for his funeral.

It was a perfect sendoff for him. One of his tapes (yes, cassette tapes) featuring songs from almost all of our family members played through the speakers as the viewing began. As I approached my grandpa’s casket to see him one last time, his version of “The Curtain Falls”, “Closer,” began to play.

After the funeral the family went back to his place — his glasses were still sitting on a piece of music he’d been working on, next to a pair of tweezers poised with a tiny paper music note, ready to be glued down to amend a chord on the page. He never needed updated technology to create something beautiful. Our small, shaken family gathered around his dining room table, ate dinner, and missed him. It dawned on me that I still had the unheard voicemail in my phone, so with everyone’s permission I played it. We collectively laughed harder than we have in a long time. Mission accomplished, Grandpa.

Right before we left, my dad sat down at Grandpa Tony’s piano and began to play. I sang:

“Oh, Nanny and Grandpa come over

Tonight by the light of the moon

And I want yours to be the first face I see

‘Cause I’ll be comin’ home real soon”

I’d like to dedicate this story to the memory of my iPad.

Lost – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from our April 2018 theme “Lost.”

Nashville, tonight we were lost.

We were lost in a deserted part of the ancient city, and more lost in the early days of 56- Lostmarried life. But in the end, we were just glad to finally both know where we are.

We lost our “5-year-old” mother when our discriminating 17-year-old palette led to sprinting around the perimeter of the grand opening, till the cringe-worthy announcement reunited us in a moment of self-discovery.

We grew up traveling in military engagements in which the prime objective was to make good time. But we discovered that families in bizarro world were happy just to kind of know where they were going and not get lost.

We took a beauty break for the soul and got lost in the maze of the sandstone city, teaching Pi in Marakesh, and camel-riding in the Sahara. But we found our own life—which we brought home, and found home was also new.

We were lost in interviews where we wasted time competing with fire alarms and looking for people in the witness protection program and seeking connections in pubs and Pokemon. But we finally found relationships we cherish, and we know we can find our way out of the woods.

We left behind the red-eyed heathen of depression and bitterness and went to look for a place that calms a beating chest. And hiking through the tundra, avoiding apex predators, and fishing in the majestic beauty of wilderness streams, we found hope.

We felt lost when unrealistic dreams of perfect child-birth in a puffy pink gown crashed into Fantasy Mom’s prophecy of rejection and drying up. But our beautiful baby rescued us from the nightmare of a hot-rock massage.

We were lost in unmet family expectations and Grandpa’s dominating opinions. We were happy to learn that he thought his baby doll was talented—but we found we aren’t defined by that. And we sent him off with his version of “The Curtain Falls” and cherish his last musical “Grandpa.”

We were lost on a date when brownies with secret ingredients led us to not know if we were on a train, or what our date was saying, or whether we had eaten, or how to talk, or how to feel our face! But he helped us find our way home…and all we can say is, “Happy Friday!”

Huge thanks to Chloe, Anna, Matt, Cindy, Steve, Erin, Sharon, Jack, and Amy for their stories! We look forward to seeing everyone at Douglas Corner May 21 for our theme “Snapshot”. Bring a photo, tell the story. Let us know if you have a story!



Things I Never Told My Parents – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from our record-breaking night at February 2018’s theme “Things I Never Told My Parents.”

Nashville, tonight we are really glad are parents weren’t here!54-Things I Never Told My Parents

We never told them of our break from the rigid rules of the all-girl school to throw an all-girlfriend party, complete with bilingual education in the use of contraband and marital education watching unimaginable things in a decidedly unromantic movie.

We never told of skipping school to sneak into the cow pasture, or bribing Queen Betty with shoplifted goodies and facing legendary African discipline, or guzzling a large wine glass of…not-wine. But we learned our lessons and became our parents’ pride and joy.

We never told of going to Bonnaroo without A/C, observing dead-head bongs and landscape paintings on inappropriately free canvases, where we engaged in an act of cultural defiance involving sophisticated daisies—which led us to the profound discovery that we would rather be fully clothed.

We never told that we investigated the legality of our parents’ marriage, or that we used the imaginary story of our grandparents’ marriage to deflect unwanted advances, or that we knew the truth of our mom’s mom’s plot to snare our dad’s dad.

We never told of how preaching our grandmother’s funeral led to discoveries of useless floppies, and handwritten records of grandfather’s…compulsions, and tales of the horny bugger’s conquests. And we’re certain that Mom still wouldn’t want to know!

We never told of our Jeckyll-and-Hyde youth in the Flatbush fish tank—of the gangster threat at the off-track betting parlor, or the whack from the camp survivor, or the assault from the street punks—or of our life with the Huxtables and Yiddish raps.

We never told of flipping off the universe and luring death into the mosh pits of anarchists and the tense world of colored bootlaces, and landing in a dangerous fight between commies and skinheads—but we were more afraid of losing our mother.

We never told of how our drama teacher, who sacrificed God’s gifts to help young thespians, promoted us from lip-syncing “Happy Birthday” to performing as a singing rat—when performance-anxiety-induced pit stains led us to a novel first use for feminine hygiene products.

We never told of a moment in the dark in a funeral parlor 63 years ago, or of being afraid of what others would think, or even more of what Dad would do. But we can now say that secret is no longer in those shadows, and we are free from the fear…and we can now say, “Me too!”

A special thanks to all our exceptional storytellers—Annette, Anna, Gayathri, Jeannie, Elisa, Steve, Melissa, Sally, and Amanda! What a night! Join us in March for “Ouch.” You can request a story slot here.


OMG – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from January 2018’s theme “OMG!”

OMG, Nashville!

There in the fancy spa was the one destined to be our friend. So, we streaked from the aloe chamber to the steam bath—and celebrated her birthday in our birthday suit.

We went from a wedding reception with cupcakes and sober dancing to a weird rage 53-OMGparty, with siblings who hit each other’s crotches and freeze placentas. And, while watching a water bottle crash to earth, we tilted over the precipice of adulthood.

Scotty’s friends had come and gone, when we found a giant pig regally strolling through the living room. But with our best Shakespearean monologue, we banished the swine into the darkness!

We pursued the life-long goal of double-dating with Mom and her date’s son, which took us from a tennis stud with whispering hair to a tinder match with a scrub, and a shocking Facebook encounter—OMG! WTF! LOL—which somehow didn’t keep our parents apart!

We spent Easter season in Italy. We didn’t know what to do with the ash on our scalp. We scored Catholic Super Bowl tickets at the Vatican. And we closed the season by sharing a plate of chic-pea bread from Nono.

She had always had a past we did not want to know, but when we heard her voice this time, something was different. As she sat in the dark shadow of death, we frantically summoned the Law—and we will never know if we really helped.

We practiced law low-bono for free plumbing and AK-47s. But after our attempt at Matlock failed, our improperly dressed client caused us to question who was actually selling themselves.

Our anxiety rose as we signed the waivers, donned the identity-marking vests, and learned the 3-step rescue plan. But an autograph for his daughter revealed that we had helped change what is underneath his tattoos.

“I am up for anything” proved to be ill-advised words as we entered the Japanese equivalent of an American pub, where we dropped the loin cloth and exchanged nudity for inebriation—and found life-long friends.

Thanks to all our storytellers—Melissa, David, Madison, Marilyn, JW, CJ, Simon, Anna, and Bill! We will be back at Douglas Corner Cafe on Monday, February 26 for our theme “Things I Never Told My Parents.” Gotta story for that? Let us know here!

54-Things I Never Told My Parents

That Was Awkward – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from our December 2017 theme “That was Awkward.”

Tonight was…well, awkward.

We planned our wedding in great detail…except for one crucial document. But we finally 52 - That Was Awkwardcelebrated with a church full of unenthusiastic strangers.

We attended the funeral of our political Protestant grandmother, who was noticeably dead in the pink casket. After uncomfortable memories over casserole with cousins, we learned the palpable presence of absence.

We stalked a tall handsome stranger with our love-struck friend…for a long time. Then we attended his Bollywood wedding, where we were the focus of the entire village’s sympathy!

O.J. inspired us to grow from a ghoulish child to the coolest kid. And we inspired more girls with Diet Coke explosions, self-electrocutions, and…well…wheat germ jizz.

We had an out-of-body experience in the “Not-a-Diary-Queen,” and had to confess to the church—“I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see!”

Eight hours into an eleven-hour trip, we plotted revenge…leading to the exchange of sexy, stolen merchandise for divorce-friendly yoga pants—and a thoroughly confused teenager.

We wore rubber gloves and wrote romantic novels and took leaning graduation photos…and somehow grew from the devastation of unrequited 8th grade love to the confidence of an adult with fond memories.

Regrading silence as an invitation to blurt out hair-brained remarks, we compared a tumor-inspired necklace to shrimp cocktail, which led to an awkward volleyball game about aquariums and Blackfish and beluga whales.

Tonight was awkward.

Thanks to all our storytellers—Rob, Darlene, Brittany, Christy, John, Ty, Bekah, and Deepa! Join us on Jan 22 for our 2018 launch theme “OMG!” Pitch your story here!


Jeff Shearer—Hunters and Gatherers

Jeff Shearer tell us a delightful story of when he was young for our November 2017 collaboration with One Voice Nashville. 

Outside of Portland, Oregon there’s a town called Beaverton.  And within the town of 51- When I Was YoungBeaverton there’s a group of 400 houses in a place called Marlene Village.  That’s where I was born.  It was a community built to provide homes to all the veterans who had returned from World War II.   For a six year old kid – Marlene Village had everything.   Three doors down was a neighbor who built boats in his garage and would let us watch, which was safe, because he used no power tools.   There were trees to climb when the neighborhood German Shepherd chased me on my bike because our Cocker Spaniel back home was in heat, and the German Shepherd’s hormones couldn’t detect that I didn’t look anything like a Cocker Spaniel.

In the summer, after the road patching crew made their yearly pass down our street, we took off our shoes and socks and popped hot tar bubbles with our big toes.  When a house on the corner caught on fire, the neighborhood moms herded all of us down the street to stand on the curb and watch the flames until a single firetruck arrived just in time to save the last standing wall.

Marlene Village had everything a six year old could want.  And on Saturdays, that was important, since every kid was expelled from the house after breakfast with a single command:   Go Play.    Followed by a reminder:   And be home by supper.

On one particular Saturday, I led a group of kids across the creek that separated our backyard and the wheat field that bordered our village.  I was six. They were younger, mostly four and five.  This meant that I automatically was the leader.   I showed them the rocks to step on to avoid getting bit by the crawdads in the creek.   I led them tromping through the wheat fields to a place we called the woods, a stand of pine trees that could provide hours of entertainment in games of hiding or in random discovery.

I had climbed the thickest tree I could find while the others played. I must have been about ten feet off the ground when looking down, I spotted what looked like a deer.   It was perfectly still.  I have since learned that thanks to our primitive ancestors, as humans we have what anthropologists call Attention Bias.  If there is anything that looks like prey or predator in our line of sight, we have an incredible ability to pick it out, while an inanimate object, even a precious one, will go undetected.    I stared harder.     It was a deer!   A very silent deer.    It had antlers, a nose like a chunk of coal, long  reddish brown ears, and eyes that were so intent they looked frozen.  I took inventory.  Antlers, nose, ears, eyes.   But there the similarities stopped.   Wasn’t there supposed to be a neck?   And legs?  And a tail?    This deer had none of those.   I remember thinking.   This is my lucky day.   There is no way this deer can run away.    My family were not hunters, so I had no idea how a deer’s head suddenly would appear in the woods without the rest of its torso.  But I did know that I had to scramble out of that tree and claim my prize before any of the younger kids stumbled upon it.

The feeling of discovery was intoxicating. The smaller kids ran up to me as I lifted up my finding.  They all wanted to pet the deer.  They wanted to know what all the flies were excited about.   They asked me what I was going to do with it.  I thought about that.   But there was only one answer: Take it home to mom.

The journey home was a lot longer than that morning’s trip to the woods.    For the next half hour we trekked over fallen trunks and through clumps of pine needles.  We stomped across the furrowed wheat field, the deer looking like it nodded each time it bumped from one furrow to the next.  I dragged it by the antlers, first the left, then the right, then the left again, a single vacant eye constantly looking heavenward.    My small army followed me, swatting at the flies with their sticks.    I had a single thought: Now I know what it feels like to provide for the family.  It had to be in my genes. This was some vestigial urge from a distant Neanderthal ancestor: “Take this home. This is  supper.”  The feeling was exhilarating.   To know that we weren’t the descendants of some ancient group of mambly pambly foragers and gatherers.  No berries and nuts for this tribe. No — we came from solid stock.  We were hunters!

During the trek home, I imagined the surprise on my mom’s face when I presented her with this trophy.   It would be a look of joy, followed by what –  yes — an announcement of a family celebration.    I pictured the envy on my older brother’s face and the stunned look of awe from my younger brother. My sister would say this is just like the Pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving.    My dad would then march us all down the hall to help me weigh the deer on the bathroom scale.

I had reached the creek.   My arms ached from all the dragging, but there was no way I was letting the blood thirsty crawdads get anywhere close to my deer.  I hoisted the head up until its ears touched my shoulders, and found the best rocks to ford the creek.  It took three attempts to climb the far bank that led up to our back yard.   On my third attempt  I figured out that turning the head upside down allowed me to dig into the crumbling dirt with the antlers, letting me  move up the bank in small six inch steps, like climbing a glacier with an ice ax.

I crossed the yard and pulled the deer up the two steps to our back door.  I tried not to let the screen door slam.     I looked around the corner.   My mom’s back was turned to me as she stirred something in a boiling pot of water. I pulled the deer across the linoleum floor and set it right in front of our chrome and formica breakfast table.   I knelt down on both knees and pulled back on the antlers to make sure the eyes were looking up at my mom.

“Hey mom. Look what I brought home.”

Her reaction will be forever imprinted in my mind.   I remember hearing the spoon bounce off the ceiling.  She threw both hands into the air.    I stared as her mouth lost the last trace of her smile and morphed into an O that kept growing into a bigger and bigger O, until it looked identical to the mouth of the deer, and from her mouth came a long,  low primordial groan.   The bigger her mouth got, the bigger my eyes got.    But then the groan gurgled to the top and formed a word.     GET… and then another word… THAT……followed by THING  followed by  OUT… OF…MY…KITCHEN!

I was sent to my room without supper that night.   Which gave me time to try to figure out what had happened.   I had come home a provider.  The highest tribute that you can make to your family.  And my gift, by offering, had been rejected.   Was my own family, after all, descendants of a tribe that had never developed into hunters?     Was I the only one who not only could see a wild animal camouflaged in the woods, but also the only one who appreciated the significance of that discovery?

I was still up when my dad came in to explain to me why we don’t bring deer heads home.   I had heard my mother’s voice earlier that night as she relayed the story to him.  Every sentence was punctuated by “What was he thinking?”   Toward the end I had caught the words “Bury it.”  Then her voice grew softer.  I couldn’t hear her final command to my dad.

So, now, as my dad finished tucking me in, he asked me if I knew what a souvenir was.  No, I said.  “Oh, he said.  Well you’ll find out in the morning.  There will be one on top of your dresser.” He turned out the light. I heard his footsteps as he moved down the hall.   He knew I wasn’t going to wait until morning.  I slipped out of bed.

For the rest of the night,  a pair of sawed off antlers lay next to my pillow, and I dreamed of the look on my classmates faces when the teacher called on me for Show and Tell.


When I Was Young – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory for our November 2017 collaboration with One Voice Nashville on “When I Was Young.” 

Tonight, we remembered when we were young.

We remembered life as a Neanderthal hunter, chased by mating German Shepherds, and dragging home a decapitated deer—where we expected a family celebration, but instead got solitary confinement.

We remembered the day Poseidon died on Easter Sunday, and we led black-clad funeral goers in a deeply meaningful memorial—despite the rib-cracking laughter of the Wicked Witch of the West!

We remembered growing up in the One True Church in the universe of Texas. Then we discovered that people existed elsewhere, that filmstrips were not the source of undeniable truth, and that mother was right—we might be wrong.

We remembered the tough love of Coach Dad—and the life lessons learned from the agony of scoring the losing goal, and the ecstasy of scoring the winning goal.

We remembered visits to Papa Donny’s house, and touching toes on the tree swings, and fireflies in a mason jar, and delivering gingerbread boys—and the origin of a Christmas tradition with the aroma of a childhood where you know everyone’s name.

We remembered the year of opportunity, when we crossed the wood-plank bridge one step at a time through eternity, and Mr. Mittens taught us we need help to reach our dreams.

We remembered with gratitude her long walk on Christmas Eve to swap four chickens for a few groceries, a little red truck, and a small doll—when it was too cold to sing, “Hard times come again no more.”

We remembered a lesson learned from a girl long ago—and now we are Moises’ super-hero—and he helped us recover the brick from the depth of our fear.

We remembered a hard summer mixing mortar with a perfectionist father, and guilty trips to the V.A., and a special gift full of pictures…and stuff…and the story—and you have to remember the story.

Thanks to all the storytellers–Richard, Qu’ana, Kathleen, Michael, Annette, Kathy, Gabby, Jan, and Jeff! Join us December 11 for our theme “That Was Awkward.” Got a story? Let us know here!

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Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory from October 2017’s “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.”

Tonight, we had very good ideas.50-Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

We went on a church retreat where we engaged in eye-language and observed flies in the disco ball, while bug-eyed from the grass-green banana bread.

We rebounded to an overly-dependent rich-kid musician, who saw our color. And we spent evenings with loud volume, until he fulfilled his dream…and we moved on to find our own.

In Louisiana we enjoyed a swamp tour and ate at a genuine crawfish joint, where a personal crawfish tutor failed to warn us of the danger of a Cajun-contaminated crotch!

Our friend got creative with scissors, and then persuaded us that a pillow would fix everything—but the angels were busy, and neither glue nor pencils could hide it from Mom.

We attempted to spend the night in a Bath-and-Body-Works factory, where we sought weapons of opportunity to defend against maniacal Milo—the Spawn of Satan!

In high school we wrote about teetering the wire of indecency and tried to persuade our friends of the greatness of a song about being pooped on. Despite our different tastes, we grew up and grew together.

We worked the wedding reception in cool clothes from the craft store, where tossing table cloths led to confessions about crashing chandeliers.

We made a sleepy road trip to Hueytown and back, where we watched  the sun rise over the golden gopher and had a shocking encounter with a Talladega pit crew.

We rented a room with Red, who like to talk and talk about cartels and construction. And after secret clicking codes and White House correspondence, we escaped—only to have to break back in.

Well, they all seemed like good ideas at the time!

Thanks to all our storytellers–Wendell, Leah, Shana, Alex, Lily, Sally, Lizzy, Kate, and Deepa! Join us for our November 13th night, in collaboration with One Voice Nashville. Four slots will feature people under 20, and five slots will feature folks over 65. Join us!

51- When I Was Young