Transformation – Flamestorming prompt 1

My sweet sixteen

I’m not sure who decided that turning sixteen was so important for a young girl. I guess every culture has that line of demarcation where you shed the title of “child”, but in a middle-class family in the US when there’s no war or anything… turning sixteen basically means you can try to get your driver’s license. That is a big deal to the teen, but it’s hardly the same as becoming old enough to vote, or run for office, or serve on a jury of your peers.

When I was turning sixteen though, it seemed like the best and brightest moment of my life to date would spring forth from that day.

Then, I got grounded.

Two of the main invitees had be caught sneaking alcohol out of their house on the way to the beach earlier that day, and somehow that led to some confession or other that implicated me.

<em>Was I meeting them at the beach?
I don’t recall.</em>

Anyway, somehow I got drag in as accomplice in absentia and their mother called my mother…

Then my birthday got cancelled and my dad panicked that I might be an alcoholic, despite years of lecturing against even tasting alcohol… The whole thing was pretty awful.

At least I did get my driver’s license, in the end. And that gold necklace with my name stamped out in cursive. Aaaaah, the shallow Eighties.

Unconditional Love

In grade school, we used to decorate shoe boxes with paper hearts and shiny bits of foil to set at the corner of our desk on Valentine’s Day (or the weekday nearest). Our teacher would set aside time on that day for her students to slip their personalized valentines into the boxes of their friends and crushes. Candice, with her long blonde hair, always had an overflowing box by the end of the day. Chris, who looked like an underwear model even in the second grade, always had little paper corners breaking free of the shoe box slot because there was no more room inside. You could shake my box and hear the valentines thunk the sides.

I always received those popularity-measuring slips from the kids whose mothers had made them sit down and fill out one for each of their classmates. There would also be one from my dad. He would secret an unsigned valentine into the box the night before, but he always used a leftover from the box I had bought to give to my classmates so it wasn’t much of a mystery.

I would upend my shoebox at home – spreading my preprinted love letters out to see the names of the senders as I crushed ‘be mine’ and ‘you’re a cutie’ with therapeutic chomps. I would check each name off in my head against the list of those who hit every box and somewhere in that tally my father’s anonymous valentine would shake loose. I would hold it up to my mother, roll my eyes, and say, “Lemme guess. Dad?”, then drop it on the table like an empty gum wrapper.

I was too young to realize – that paper heart was the only one that mattered.

valetines dad peeking

When I become one with the sun

Prompt from Word Light Show on Saturday, Nov 1








“I Siiiiiing The Body E-lec-tric! I celebrate the mee yet to coooooome.”

How often I sang those lines when I was a kid without even knowing what they meant. Dressed in legwarmers and cut up t-shirt, I spent many the afternoon throwing myself around my best friend’s front room with broad arabesques and high kicks as her little dogs pawed our calves. We believed we could be stars too as we belted our hearts out into brushes and tossed our hair wildly, yet meaningfully.

For a few summers, Rena’s older sister Liza was our babysitter in the period between day camp and the parents coming home. She was only about four years older but she was trusted, for those few hours, to keep us in line. It wasn’t really that hard either. Just throw some vinyl on the hi-fi and turn the volume way up. Back then there were so many musicals to choose from and we knew them all by heart. From Fiddler on the Roof to Annie, and Grease to Xanadu – we were the young divas hoping someone would hear us from the sidewalk and rush to the door to get our names for some Hollywood or Broadway producer.

In roller skates we were muses, spreading magic to believe in with our open arms. We believed in it even if you don’t. Puffing on candy cigarettes we were innocents, faking a wild side the male lead had yet to notice.

Even without a cohesive theme, we were singing at the top of our lungs (and always from the diaphragm). Billy Joel’s Glass Houses told us it was okay to be crazy. Chrissi Hynde confused us with references to the contents of her pockets, but we sang along anyway because she sounded cool and we loved to sing – loved to perform. We were daydream believers who wanted to go sailing, be lost in love, and have someone shout, “here comes my girl,” as we strutted down the block. (Watch her walk.)

The friendship with Rena ended long ago, but my love affair with music never will. My inner nightingale still sings like a chanteuse every chance she gets.



Suzy Q

“What’cha lookin’ at Suzy-Q?”

At the age of six, I was a very active child. Never stood still, rarely stopped talking and was into everything whenever the adults weren’t paying attention. So when my uncle came upon me that windy spring day, standing silent and still in his backyard – looking up, with one ear tilted to the sky – he was understandably curious.

“Tami Sue. Your uncle asked you a question…” Daddy said in his gruff but gentle voice, breaking my concentration.
“Whaaat? I didn’t hear,” I replied distractedly.
“I asked what you were doin’ out here all by yourself. Did you see a squirrel?”
“No. I’m trying to hear what the trees are talking about.”
My uncle listened for a moment then chuckled, “That’s not the trees, Q. Those are cicadas you hear.”
I shook my head, curls bouncing for emphasis, “Not the bugs, Uncle Finn. Can’tcha hear the trees whispering to each other?”
Daddy’s grin was visible through the porch screen as he and my uncle shared a look, “What are they saying then?”
“I don’t know,” I said with a touch of frustration, “but it must be a secret because they’re whispering. Uncle Finn, can you lift me up to that branch? Maybe if I get higher I could hear better.”
“No, little monkey. You don’t want to go climbing an Oak tree.”
“Why not?” I pouted.
“You’ll get your Easter dress dirty.”
“I’ll go change,” I said simply, heading for the screen door.
“You still can’t climb an Oak tree, Q. Feel this bark, it’s like sandpaper. It’ll rub your hands and feet raw.”
I tested the bark, but was undeterred. “I’ll wear Aunt Nene’s kitchen gloves and two pairs of socks,” I announced.
“Nice little girls don’t climb trees, Tami Sue,” my mother called from the darkness of the porch, “and they certainly aren’t so stubborn. You climb that one, you’ll fall, break your neck and ruin everyone’s day.”
Arms crossed, I scowled at my mother’s voice and murmured, “I’ve never fallen before.”
“She climbs trees like she was born in one, Lois. Leave it to me,” Daddy interjected.
I smiled at the tree, Daddy would help me.
“Go change out of that dress, Tinkerbell. We’ll get you up there.”

Minutes later I returned in brown, corduroy overalls and yellow, rubber gloves that brushed my shoulders. There was a folding ladder set up under the tree, with Daddy and Uncle Finn securing it from either side – cigarettes dangling from the corners of their mouths like movie stars. I still wasn’t allowed to climb the tree, was even warned not to reach out for the nearest branch. But I spent a happy hour sitting on the top step of the ladder listening to the trees converse in breathy murmurs while two of my heroes stood guard, exchanging stories and laughing.

To this day, I have never climbed an Oak tree, but I’ve never stopped wanting to try.

What I did on my summer vacation

I caught the travel bug pretty early in life.  My dad was really big on family vacations.  Since we were relatively poor and lived in Florida, most of those vacations involved road trips.  There’s lots to see and do in here in the gun-shaped state and not all of them involve mouse ears. 

Every summer, my parents would pack up the car (or van, depending on the year) and whisk us away to someplace hot and sunny with at least one attraction that offered the coveted reward of a wax souvenir, made on demand in an injection mold machine.  We stayed in roadside motels, near the highway or a large body of water, and ate our way through every diner and mom & pop ethnic restaurant in the state. 

I’ve seen the mermaids at Weeki Watchi Springs and floated on a blow up raft down the Itchnatukee River.  I’ve fed marshmallows to alligators at Homosassa Springs (from a safe distance) and been chased out of the Gulf of Mexico by clouds of dead fish who perished in the red tide.  AND of course, I’ve been to Disney World more times than I can remember. 

But my favorite summer vacation of all was a two week stay in a rental cabin, on a bay off Matlachee Island over on the west coast of Florida.  Normally, I hate the Gulf Coast – the water is gross (even when the fish aren’t dead), brown with tannin and algae, warm like bathwater, and the bottom is littered with sharp rocks.  That particular year, though, we didn’t hit the beach.  

The bay where we were staying wasn’t really something I’d swim in either.  It was deep and dark and my mom spent many an hour sitting on the dock fishing for these huge fish with pointy sword beaks.  I think they were tarpon, I’m not a fish expert but I think that’s what my mom called them.  All I knew is they were big and looked scary and I DID NOT want to swim with them. 

The little cabin where we stayed only had one bedroom, so I slept on a day bed in the living room under a window where the breeze off the bay woke me up every morning.  My mom always had something against air conditioning so open windows were just a fact of life for me.  There was a little drug store within walking distance, so once a day my dad and I would hike over the bridge between Matlachee and Little Pine Island to get groceries and he would buy me Ritchie Rich, Archie and Brun Hilda comics.  I still remember how that breeze felt when it danced through the curtains, the way the mini comics smelled, and the scent of boiling blue crabs. 

Oye the crabs!  Mom convinced Dad to buy the crab trap shortly after we arrived.  He baited the cage with meat and dropped it just off the little dock.  Each day my mom collected the spiny little beasts and cooked them up with special seasoning packets.  I refused to eat them because they stank and they looked like little more than bugs to me, but my parents loved them.  

One evening, when we were all on the dock, dad pulled up the trap to check the bait and there was a huge blue crab hanging on the outside of the cage trying to reach through the wire for the last bit of raw chicken.  The startled crab jumped off and lunged at my father.  His first thrust with one red-tipped claw drew blood. That crab clipped my dad right between the big toe and the second; hanging on for a moment before my father shook him off.

My mom and I were paralyzed with laughter as the thing chased my dad all over the dock and finally backed him into the water – Dad fell in, not the crab. The weird little creature stalked to the edge of the dock raising his claws in victory as Dad stood sputtering in water up to his neck. That Spartan of crabs did not end up in the pot. 

Another day, in a closet of the cabin, we found a metal detector that I immediately claimed.  After spending hours walking up and down the grounds finding nothing but half buried fishing lures, I decided that the metal detector could talk to dolphins. Every evening at sunset, we had seen pods of dolphin playing in the deep water, so that night as the sky turned orange, I sat on the deck turning the knob that made the metal detector whine up and down the scale, trying to summon the dolphins closer. It didn’t work, but in my child’s imagination it could have. I figured they were scared of the giant blue crab too, so they didn’t swim up to say hi.

It was simple and relaxing, a really great vacation.  During those two weeks, we made little day trips to see what attractions were on offer in the area and strangely enough, the most memorable tour for me was this place that harvested Orange Blossom Honey, the best tasting honey made naturally in the US. We got to watch them smoke the bees, pull screens covered in honey comb out of the hives and they even had a hive forming behind glass to show the queen bee and her little baby bees at the center. Mmmm, there was taste testing, too. We left the honey farm with several jars of the beautiful amber serum and tubs of honey butter for our morning toast. My mother even tried out the honey butter on the blue crabs, but that still couldn’t tempt me.

In my life, I’ve traveled all over the south and the eastern seaboard.  I’ve been to the Bahama’s twice, London once and even took my son to the Grand Canyon for our own family vacation.  I loved it all and have plenty of stories from the road to tell, but I will never forget the two weeks when I was nine or ten, that were so peaceful even the dolphins were dancing. 

Thanks Dad ❤