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.

Mom's Garden

In later years, before her last tiller disappeared and cancer from 50 years of smoking reduced her to large tennis shoes and large ears with her shrinking body in between, Mom regularly put on shorts atop pantyhose atop varicose veins and tilled the garden. She allowed no weeds to grow between rows, none within sucking distance of the nutrients her vegetables consumed from the rich alluvium left by countless floods of the nearby creek, augmented by 5-10-10 fertilizer, the percentages of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium of her preferred blend.

Mom1.JPG

Mom kept the tiller among nearby trees—pin oaks, pines, sycamores, and poplars—where she cranked it and directed its twisting tines out to the rows of corns, beans, peas, potatoes, squash, okra, and tomatoes. Neighbors who passed on the nearby road admired the garden’s order, with no grass, leaves, nor organic matter left between rows.

But a tiller has no key. Perhaps she should have locked it, chained it to a tree. But when someone stole it, she said, “Fuck it,” or the Baptist equivalent after a life of swearing off swearing. She turned over the garden to an ex-con who needed community-service hours, a former student at the school where she was once secretary. He mowed her yard and endeared himself to her. As her memories faded, he replaced her only son.  Once her golden boy, her son had become her jailer in a locked memory-care unit of assisted living.

 

- Dale Easley is a Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Dubuque, which he joined in 2005 after 15 years at the University of New Orleans. He has been a volunteer math teacher in Kenya, a volunteer working on water wells in Haiti, and a Fulbright Fellow in Qatar. His interests include environmental geology, statistics, and the intersection of science and culture. Currently, he focuses upon storytelling in science. You can visit his blog here.

How to Paint a Landscape

To paint a landscape correctly you first have to immerse yourself in it. Spend years sifting the dust through your fingers. Walk each step of the trail through the Sierras where the Boy Scouts and horse packers have worn deep grooves in the landscape. Pick cholla and mesquite out of your pants cuffs. Look for horizons that are farther, larger, taller. Watch them fade into sunsets.

Painting by Glen Blankenbiller, 1996

Painting by Glen Blankenbiller, 1996

Take vacation pictures. Develop wheels of slides. Click through them at Thanksgiving, one picture after another of stones, sere pines, more stones. No people.

Get your hands dirty. Get your boots dirty. Take great strides across the landscape. Read Zane Grey and find the places he loved. Take pictures from the summits of mountains and the nadirs of valleys. Watch the way the sky changes with altitude. 

Buy some VHS tapes of quiet-voiced men and women painting flowers and mountains. Watch the tapes. Buy easels and brushes. Buy an endless supply of thin canvas boards.

Let twenty years go by.

Move into a smaller house where you have to travel to see the horizon. Buy better gear but take shorter trips. By the time you stop hiking your entire kit should weigh no more than 20 lbs, inclusive. 

Pick up your easels and brushes, your tubes of paint and buckets of solvent. Buy a small TV for your VHS tapes. Put them all in the smallest bedroom with the smallest window. Leave your slide projector on a shelf.

Paint what you see.

Painting by Glen Blankenbiller, 1982.

Painting by Glen Blankenbiller, 1982.

- Rowan Beckett Grigsby is the less-censored less-palatable alter ego of an attorney who might want to work in this town again someday. Professional editor and graphic designer by day and professional knitter by night, she has been an Unchaste Reader and contributor to the Unchaste Readers Anthology Vol. II (forthcoming), a contributor to Ask a Raging Feminist, a 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee and one of BlogHer's 2017 Voices of the Year for work we consider required reading, including "How to survive in intersectional feminist spaces 101."

For more of Rowan's Granddad, check out Tending Crops.

How to Comb an Old Lady's Hair

            It changes with age, hair: thins, brittles, refines. This is what she says.  

            Use large-toothed combs. And patient fingers.

            Oiling the hair is important. Massage the scalp. Pay attention: oldladyskin grows silken, just like oldladyhair. Separate a clump. Loosen the knots with your fingers; run them through, quiver the strands apart, while pulling down with the comb. Sometimes she impedes by clasping your hand.

            Remember: Impatient hands are useless.

                                                                                              (from Life, on Old Indian Photos)

                                                                                             (from Life, on Old Indian Photos)

            Untangling hair takes time. Why waste it? Ask about her husband’s portrait which hangs so she can see him from her bed. Place your fingers—all ten—at the midpoint of her hairline, and scuttle them to the base of her skull parting her hair. Listen. Come sun, come rain, he stealth-waited by the pond where she went for water. Push the parted hair to either side twisting lightly to keep them divided. Brush one segment toward yourself and separate it into three as she laughs her way through their first wedding-night kiss. You’ve forgotten hair-ties. Do not worry about her impatience. She tells you where they are before resuming. He has been dead for decades; but her body still yearns for his. Blush when she touches your naked waist. Usually demurely hidden by your sari, it was bared when you crouched to get the hair-ties from a drawer. Begin the other braid and pretend you’re unembarrassed by her comment about your curviness.  

          Above all, do not worry about pulling her hair too hard. “Sometimes hurt is good,” she chuckles, “hasn’t your husband taught you that yet?”

- Shabnam Nadiya