Monthly Archives: June 2008

Summer returns

In 2007 we had a week of days in the 90s in May. Although the atypical weather was a welcome change from the cold and rain, I worried at the time that it might be a harbringer of a brutal summer. I need not have feared. That was pretty much the only warm weather western Washington got last year. For all intents and purposes, we just forgot to have summer. July, August, and September were uncharacteristically cloudy, cool, and at times, rainy.

I left the South because I’m not a lover of sun and heat. That said, even I need SOME warm weather and sun. I have appreciated every single sunny warm day we have had, even the ones this weekend where the temps have climbed into the 90s. And I’ve done so with very little complaining, even though we have no air conditioning, and my office is in the kitchen instead of nice cool basement.

I needed some sun. Truly.

That said, Jay and I agree that it’s time to move back into the basement, and so we began that process this weekend. We’re planning to do a big remodel down there, but the outside work comes first. I’m betting the basement is a year away (though I’m hoping for spring). In the meantime, though the basement is ugly concrete floors dotted with the remains of glue, carpet bits, and tack strips, it’s perfectly serviceable. It just needs a little cleaning.

It was grungier down there than I expected. While Jay pulled up tack strips, I took a broom and cleared out cobwebs. No bones about it, I’m afraid of spiders. But I’ve developed a tolerance for them since I moved here. More than a tolerance in some cases. In some cases I name them, talk to them, and occasionally deliver insects to their webs. Yes, I’m strange.

So as I went through the basement today, I had to decide, web by web, whether the denizen was going to get to stay or whether it needed to relocate. In no case did I knowingly kill a spider, but I did destroy a few occupied webs. That Jay is so tolerant of this quirk is proof that he is meant to be my husband. He would even point spiders out to me, so I could run over and move them so he wouldn’t accidentally hurt them while removing tack strips. He’s a good man.

He does laugh at me occasionally though. I was trying to move a box into his office, and it wouldn’t fit through the door as I’d planned, and I was a bit confounded. I looked over, and he was chuckling. “Are you laughing at me?” I asked. “Laughing at something in that general direction, yes,” he replied unapologetically.

He also laughed when I was relocating spiders and said, “How would we ever find a housekeeper who would be able to understand which spiders stay and which go?” “We wouldn’t, Melissa,” he said.

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A note about character sketches

I went ahead and put William below (even though he’s dead and isn’t directly affecting the course of actions in the plot) so the entire Gibson/Freeman family would be together.

Tomorrow I’ll post Marie and her parents. Monday I’ll post Charm’s buddies in town. And Tuesday I’ll post sketches of some of the other minor-but-colorful townspeople.

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Character sketch — William Freeman

b. July 8, 1950
d. Aug. 26, 2003 (coronary embolism)

Will was a craftsman — great with his hands. He was good an excellent carver, built amazing furniture. He was also good with animals. He was lousy with machines, and he had a brown thumb, which was why being a farmer was such a bad profession for him.

When he was young, he had planned to leave town and become a sculptor. He read art books and planned trips to Italy. Then two things had happened. First, Vietnam. He was drafted in 1969, when he was 19 — his birthday was unlucky number 13 in the first draft lottery since 1942. He had served a 12-month tour in the Army and began a second tour when the second thing happened — his father died, leaving him to care for his mother, three younger siblings, and the family farm.

Will was forced to take over the farm, which he both hated and was horrible at. He believed, however, that it was just for a few years, until one of his younger siblings grew up and took over.

He went into the Army in 1969. He was in the Army until early 1971 when his father died. He was not yet 21 when that happened. His siblings were 17 (sister), 12, and 9 in 1971. The 12 and 9 year old were brothers. The sister grew up and got married and moved away. The 12 year old was book smart and won a scholarship to college in 1977. Will supported him in this, because he understood the desire to get out of town. That sibling went to college and moved to the city. The youngest brother (Teddy), though, loved farming. He and Will worked well together. He planned to take over for Will. In the agricultural boom of the late 1970s, because things were going so well, Will went into debt by buying more farmland and equipment. Teddy got a scholarship in 1980 to Auburn University to study agriculture, and they agreed that in today’s world, if he wanted to make a go of farming, he needed to have both book learning and practical knowledge. The plan was for him to come back when he graduated in 1984.

Just before Teddy graduated, he was killed in a car accident. Will was devastated, not only because he loved his brother, but because it meant he had to keep taking care of the farm. The value of the land had dropped 60%, and the price for his crops (such as they were) had dropped enough that he was going into serious debt. He was finally forced to sell some of the land to one of the big commercial farms he and his brother hated with a passion. This just about broke him.

Still he wasn’t free to pursue his dreams yet — which is what he had been promising his family — because his mother was in a nursing home, and she needed care. He had to stay and keep taking care of things until she died. The money from selling some of the land kept him out of bankruptcy and paid some medical bills, but little else. He still had to farm.

He might have muddled through if he hadn’t developed arthritis. It made him hurt, and it made it impossible for him to carve or do anything creative with his hands. This destroyed his spirit for good. He began drinking heavily to escape the pain and the depression. He was a mean drunk.

The “decline” in Will happened during the late 80s. When Charm was 13 (1989), he wrote an essay for a national essay contest. The winners were going to travel to Germany to visit East Berlin and see where the Berlin Wall had stood. This was just the sort of thing that he and his father, Will, used to talk about doing. That was the day Will found out he had arthritis, and the pain in his hands was likely to get worse and worse. Not only was he stuck farming, but he couldn’t even do his creative things anymore. Will belittled the essay and burned it, crushing the boy’s hopes. Weighted down by his own disappointment, Will also told him that the dreams of getting out of this town were useless. Charm was born here, and he would die here like everybody else.

That’s when Will began seriously drinking and when Charm began to plot how to get away from him. Will resented his son for doing what he couldn’t and escaping. He also resented his son for not staying and helping with the family obligations.

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Character sketch — Dottie Freeman

b. 1951

Dottie was a year younger than her husband, Will. They had known each other their entire lives and were junior high sweethearts. They were best friends growing up and were bonded by their desire to get out of their small town. She had wanted to be an actress, and he an artist. They were creative and considered themselves much too sophisticated for the world they were stuck in. They had planned to go to college, and then elsewhere to further their crafts. She had wanted to go to New York or London. He had wanted to go to Italy or Paris. But she figured they’d compromise.

When he was drafted, their plans were put on hold. She went to college, but they stayed in touch — and in love. Her letters, sharing the lessons she was learning for them both, kept him going through his tours of duty. When his father died, he came home. He wanted Dottie to finish college, but he needed help, and she was willing to put her dreams on hold to help him. They got married right away.

When Will was forced to continue helping with the family farm at the expense of his dreams, Dottie’s dreams were crushed right along with his, but she was able to change her passion into raising her family. So she was not as bitter initially as her husband was. She completely empathized with his disappointments, and she supported him fully because she loved him so very much. Even when he began to drink, she understood because she knew what the emotional cost of the physical pain he was suffering was. She even bought him his alcohol so he wouldn’t have to feel the pain.

She was torn between her husband and her children, and there were times, she chose the man she loved. She, after all, had lost her dreams as well. Other times, she tried to protect the children. She wasn’t consistent, and therefore the children didn’t see her as a safe place.

Charm and Leah don’t know much about their parents. The few things they know don’t seem compatible with the abusive drunk or the woman who stuck with him. They think their mother should have taken them and left their father. They think it was a dysfunctional marriage. They don’t understand all the reasons that she loved him and stayed.

Dottie understood why Charm left — and secretly kept up with him — but she stayed out of contact out of respect to her husband. Besides, the one time she did try to reach out, she was firmly rebuffed. That made her angry, because she thought they’d done as well as they could. She felt betrayed and unappreciated by Charm and later by Leah.

Dottie stayed with Charm’s father until he died of a coronary embolism in 2003 at the age of 55. Once he died, she was bereft. His mother had died. Her parents had died. His siblings were gone. Her children wanted nothing to do with her. There was no life insurance. She had to sell their home and was, essentially, left with nothing at age 54.

54 is not old unless life has made you old. She could have started over, but she was so beaten down that she didn’t have it in her to do it. Leah took her in reluctantly at Jake’s insistence. Dottie resented Leah’s resentment and shut down. At the beginning of the novel, she basically is sulking and waiting to die.

Dottie wants/needs:

  • To have her past choices validated by her family
  • To live again
  • To be part of the family now
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Character sketch — Lucas Gibson

b. 2000

Lucas was a normal, happy 10-year-old boy before the accident that killed his father and injured him. He played soccer and video games, went to school, and spent time with his friends when he could. He also spent a fair amount of time alone because he lived on a farm, without neighbors terribly close. That’s one reason he was so happy when Rain came to live with him. Although his dad told him that Rain wasn’t a pet, Lucas can’t help but make him one because he enjoys the companionship.

Lucas’s right femur is broken in the accident. It’s a complex fracture that require external fixation. With this technique pins are inserted into the various pieces of bone, and an external frame (a few inches above the skin) is used to hold the pins/bones in place. Surgery was done the day he was brought in, and he’s out of the hospital four days after the accident – the same day as his dad’s funeral. Medically, he is allowed to stand and walk as tolerated, with crutches for 6-8 weeks. He has to see his orthopedist every couple of weeks, then back to the OR for removal after about 8 weeks. Then another 6-8 weeks of rehabbing on it after the device is off to work on strengthening and improving mobility.

While all this is going on though, he’s also trying to come to terms with the death of his father, whom he adored. The last thing his father said to him was that if Rain wins the local field trial, all their family’s problems would be gone. Jake meant that he would be able to get steady income as a professional retriever trainer, but Lucas latches onto it as the miraculous solution to resolving all the chaos that has erupted since Jake died.

Lucas has to come to terms with his father’s death. He wants/needs:

  • To heal, physically and emotionally.
  • To fulfill his father’s promise.
  • To feel like everything will be all right – to feel normal.
  • To be secure.
  • To help his mom.
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