How to Store Seashells

Before you store your seashells, you must first walk along Miami Beach at sunrise with your throat still burning from last night’s margaritas. This is before marrying, having children or growing up. Along the wet sand, collect sand dollars, pointy mitres, ridgy scallops and, your favorite, oversized conch shells. Pack them in your suitcase between your swimsuits and terry-cloth jumpsuits and bring them back to Ohio.

In time, get married. Have one child. Get divorced and married again, always hanging on to those shells. They remind you of who you were before: young and wild.

When your father falls ill, pick up your family of three and move everything that fits into his duplex. Take care of him as best you can. He’s dying, but you won’t admit it. 

Display the shells on a shelf in your six-year-old daughter’s room, because wall space is scarce. She likes them, to shake the sand dollars and imagine real coins inside. When your dad’s health sinks further, hand her the conch and tell her to listen to the ocean. Tell her stories about the beach and how one day, when money and life are better, you will take her there to find her own seashells.

One day she climbs her dresser to play with the shells and bumps the shelf. It topples. Shards of shells ricochet off walls. 

The conch is somehow okay. 

Hold it to your ear. Know not everything is broken.

 

- Danielle Dayney is sometimes a blogger, usually a writer, and always a mom. Recently, her creative nonfiction essays have been shared on BLUNTmoms and Thought Catalog. Her stories have also been published in several anthologies including the Virginia Writers Centennial AnthologyShort on Sugar, High on Honey, Nevertheless We Persisted, andBeach Reads: Lost and Found.In 2016 and 2017, she received awards at BlogHer for creative nonfiction essays. You can find her chasing kids and furbabies somewhere in Virginia, or at www.danielledayney.com.

The Dolly's Dress

Always make it a pair. When buying a bra, get the matching panty. When sewing a dress for a little girl, make one for her dolly, too.

Mom sat quietly in front of the sewing machine, the lamp shining brightly over her shoulder onto the tiny dress she held on her lap. A matching one, only slightly larger, already hung in a little girl’s closet, far away in Australia. 

Mom turned the dolly’s dress inside out to inspect the waistline seam she had just sewn. She frowned and slowly pulled out each little stitch: something wasn’t right. This was for her first granddaughter. The dolly dress must match the girl’s dress perfectly.

 Mom, Isabel, dress. Photo by Karen Dean.

Mom, Isabel, dress. Photo by Karen Dean.

My own sewing lessons ended abruptly years ago when I broke a fourth needle. Mom had, however, successfully taught me the satisfication of sewing—precision—particularly when attaching a full skirt to a fitted bodice. Each stitch must take in more fabric from the skirt than from the bodice, but it must do so invisibly. Begin by pinning the side seams to one another, then pin the center and the back of the skirt. Do not sew. A gathered seam must first be basted. Cut a long section of cheap thread and sew it first by hand. Squish, push, squeeze the fabric. Do not fold it: we are gathering, not pleating. 

Once the dress was finished, she hung it on a tiny hanger next to her sewing machine, anticipating the dolly’s next visit. Mom refused to mail the dress, preferring to gift it in person so she could savor the delight it would elicit. 

As the months passed, though, her cancer progressed. She could hardly walk by the time the little girl arrived, but in the middle of the international arrivals lounge, next to the luggage carousel, dolly was stripped and joyfully transformed into something quite perfect.


- After her mother’s death, Jerilyn Sambrooke took a renewed interest in sewing but has yet to master the fine art of a gathered skirt. Jerilyn currently lectures in the Rhetoric Department at the University of California, Berkeley. She is also working on a memoir, Alpenglow: A Year of Darkness, that narrates the year following her mother’s death. Her reflections on grief owe much to her academic research on religious practice and secular life in contemporary fiction.

Take Your Granddaughter on a Road Trip

When you drive out to the Midwest to see your eldest son and his small family, there is no one to rotate the beers for the nine hours. But on the way back, you will have your 8-year-old granddaughter with you, and she is a good girl.

Put the granddaughter and a big metal cooler full of Schlitz cans and ice in the back seat. Show the girl how to rotate the cans whenever she hands you a fresh beer as you drive. Each can has to be turned and buried deeper in the melting ice so the beer is icy and refreshing whenever you crack open a new one. Her hand reaches up to give you a wet, ice-chilled beer as you chuck the empty out the window. You don’t ask her to open them. Her fingers are too small.

 The author and her Pappap

The author and her Pappap

Smoke three Camel non-filtered cigarettes while you drink each beer, flicking the ash out the window, which is left permanently cracked. Light the next Camel off of the last one. Your wife, in the passenger seat, and granddaughter, sing songs while you hum tunelessly along and crack jokes about the road signs.

“Hey, why do you have to watch out for Falling Rock? She was an Indian Princess who ran away from home and her old man is looking for her!”, and laugh your wheezy, boozy laugh when your granddaughter groans that she has heard that one a thousand times.

When she asks, tell the girl all of the stories about all of the tattoos that cover your arms and legs.

“I got ‘em in the Navy. This one is the Fightin’ Irish! This one is your Grandma’s name, because she’s my Irish Rose.” Let the girl rub her fingers up and down your right arm, feeling the ridges of the tattoos.

Ask her for another cold one.

 

- Beth Dugan's previous essays for Dead Housekeeping are Blue and Grey and Brown, Evergreen, and Everything Can be Used Again. Her website is www.bethdugan.com.

 

How to Transport a Thanksgiving Turkey

Start by buying a bigger bird than you think you need. It will be frozen solid so don’t wait until the last minute like last year. On Thanksgiving Day, get up at 4:00 a.m. In a dark house with a single kitchen light burning, make stuffing by tearing two loaves of Wonder Bread into little pieces. Add onions and a lot of sage. 

Wash the bird and study the skin for pinfeathers. Pull them out with a paring knife until you can run your hands over the bird’s skin and not feel a single feather. Pack the turkey with stuffing and put it in the oven. Turn off the kitchen light and go back to bed. At 9:00 a.m., when everyone is awake and dressed for Thanksgiving, take the midnight blue roasting pan with the nearly done turkey out of the oven and set it on top of the stove. Put the lid on the roasting pan. Wrap the lidded roasting pan in a dozen layers of the Detroit Free Press and tie with twine. Call one of your children to put their finger on the knots so they are tied nice and tight. Place the wrapped roasting pan on more layers of newspaper in the trunk of the car.

Ride three hours in the blue and white Chevrolet your husband is driving. Listen to your kids in the backseat counting telephone poles and reading Burma-Shave signs. Worry a little that you didn’t buy a big enough bird. Doze off with the smell of roasted turkey heating the car and wake up in your mother’s driveway. See that your brothers are already there and know they are having cocktails and joking in the kitchen. Put the turkey in your mother’s oven and then look for the yellow baster you left in the drawer last year.

 The author's Mom and Grandma after dinner.

The author's Mom and Grandma after dinner.

- Jan Wilberg grew up traveling two-lane roads in Michigan and would still rather be in a car than anywhere. She is a daily blogger at Red's Wrap and has had essays published in Newsweek, the New York Times Modern Love, and three anthologies. She was a 2015 BlogHer Voice of the Year, selected for an essay called "Blindsided" about coping with severe hearing loss. Now a cochlear implant recipient, she is reacquainting herself with the hearing world but still likes the printed page better.

Copy Your Life

Every time my dad would travel somewhere, even if it was just to Tijuana for the day, my grandmother would make him Xerox all of his documents.  In case there is an emergency, it is important to be able to prove your identity.

Not just your passport, which the US State Department recommends, but literally every document you might need in your life ever. What if you are detained by a Mexican cartel or someone steals your wallet or if you get into legal trouble or if there is a storm or an earthquake or if? Or if? Or if?

So, Driver’s license. Check. Social Security card. Check. Credit Cards. Check.  Recent photos, medical records, and bank account information.  Also check.  Sandwich club cards and contact information for high school friends.  Probably all that too. Just to be safe.

Preferably, all of this will be contained in a meticulously organized stack, contained in a manila folder that can then be contained in a filing cabinet inside the den next to a computer that needs to boot up for five minutes.  You never know what might happen, so best to get your affairs in order ahead of time (even if those affairs are really just peace-of-mind-Xeroxes). 

For all of the traveling my father did she never stopped him. Instead, she just kept an ever-growing anthology of his papers.  Just in case.

 the author's grandma, sans anxiety

the author's grandma, sans anxiety

- Alexandra Bay is a an aspiring writer trying to find her place in the world. Alexandra graduated from the University of Arizona with a MA in history the same weekend that her grandmother died and, shortly after, packed up all her belongings to live in a truck.  Alexandra now lives in a house in Salt Lake City where she is eagerly awaiting summer.