Saturday, July 30, 2016

Writers' Obsessions: Kristen Lindquist

After I wrote my post "Turtle Moon: Genealogy of an Obsession," I put a call out to some of my writing buddies locally and internationally to find out about their writing obsessions. I'll post them over the next couple of months. --Linda

Kristen Lindquist

Since I was a child spending summers and vacations at my grandparents' saltwater farm in Lincolnville, Maine, I've had recurring nightmares on this basic theme: as I watch, the ocean rises in a storm surge or a freak high tide to break over the front lawn in huge destructive waves that eventually wash us away, house and all. I still have dreams involving big waves breaking where they aren't supposed to--even still washing away my grandparents' house, a place that no longer exists as it did. 

I guess it only makes sense that I have tried to decipher my recurring dream over and over in various poems. In some, I try to draw a direct metaphor between the dream image and loss of childhood, loss of my grandparents, and/or loss of the only place that was really home to me as a child who lived in over a dozen different places before college. In others, I just describe either the dream itself, which has variations, or describe it as an imagined reality. I've tried writing about it in essays, too, to parse out its significance and why those dreams keep coming to me.

The wave has become a motif for me--like Hiroshige's Great Wave--in my writing and in my life, as I try over and over to embrace what I fear, to embrace that lost child(hood) of the past, to embrace the unembraceable, the overwhelming, the stirrings from the deep subconscious.

Last year at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts' special exhibit of Hiroshige's work, I stood for a long time before his Great Wave wood block print, mesmerized. The image is used everywhere, it's almost a cliche at this point. But for me, it's personal; when I wear the baseball cap with that wave image on it that I got at the MFA gift shop, I feel as if I'm representing my own inner team, the one with the intimate imagistic relationship with deep water, with the amoral power of the sea.

Kristen Lindquist is a freelance writer, poet, and naturalist living in midcoast Maine. Garrison Keillor has read three poems from her poetry collection TRANSPORTATION on The Writer's Almanac; she writes a monthly natural history column for the local online paper, Pen Bay Pilot.

Website: (where you can find info on how to order her book TRANSPORTATION)
Daily haiku blog BOOK OF DAYS:

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Security Clearance Part 4

We get to go inside a rocket launch blockhouse filled with 1960s technology!
We are now passing Hanger “S.” Hanger “S” is where the Mercury astronauts prepped for launch, Dave tells us. I don’t really care that much about astronauts, although it’s fun to see a famous building we watched on TV. I think my father met a couple of astronauts, officially at work, that is, but I’m not sure.
What I am most excited to learn, though, is that we are going to—and into—the Launch Complex 26 Blockhouse! I know not everyone can say this, but I have always wanted to go inside a blockhouse, especially one my father might have worked in. They have turned this one and the surrounding area into part of the Air Force Space & Missile Museum, the part that can only be accessed by this very special, security-cleared tour we are on. Nearby it are Launch Complex  5/6 from where Alan Shepard and later Gus Grissom were launched on Redstone rockets.
I’m sure this has something to do with my father. I know he spent time in launch blockhouses. I know, or am pretty sure, he worked on Redstones, at least on the unmanned suborbital missions. Or test firings. Yes, I think he was a test engineer or maybe that was before he was at the Cape when he worked for Sperry Gyroscopes in Virginia. Oh, it’s all so confusing, the numbers and names and places and dates and jargon attached to someone’s life, especially someone in the space industry, but I think my father was actually here in this blockhouse, or one very like it.
The tour bus stops in front and we are told we can wander at will or follow a docent-led tour. In any case, we’ll meet back at the bus in a half hour. And, by the way, this is the last bathroom on the tour.  I leap up to get off but am still beat by a line in the aisle. Ric is calmly waiting for everyone else to go ahead. He has learned some kind of Zen acceptance somewhere along the way that I missed out on.
The Russians are chattering among themselves excitedly as they stoop to peer out the bus windows at the white squat cement building with the slight igloo hump for a roof, also cement. We have already learned that the walls are two-feet thick while the roof varies between five and eight feet. The sun hits me in the face as I make the final step off the bus; I forget how forceful and ubiquitous it is here.
The docent swings open one side of the double blast-doors, a heavily plated gateway to a twentieth century fortress. Like the entrance to a cave, the narrow entry-way opens into a small chamber, large enough for a dozen or so people to stand comfortably and now decorated with rocket “cheesecake” photos.  On either side, doors lead into the two firing rooms, the control rooms from where the rockets were launched, where the buttons were actually pushed to fire up the engines, I’m excited to note.
We learn that everything in the firing rooms—control panels, equipment, lighting fixtures, wiring paths, paint schemes—are original. The buttons and control handles are cute, looking almost like toys with their rounded braised metal edges, shaped and sized for mere twentieth century humans just cutting their first space baby teeth. The black buttons stamped with numbers look like the keys on an old-fashion typewriter. On the front of the control panels are tiny pullout ashtrays like the one in my father’s 1954 Chevy. Inside are cigarette butts—original cigarette butts, the docent tells us. Like a child, I imagine that maybe one is my father’s, but then I see it is a Lucky Strike, not a Chesterfield.
Two blue-green slits like reptile eyes look out at the launch pads only four hundred feet away. The window glass is comprised of forty-two layers of quarter-inch glass. Forty-two layers of mica-thin glass, laid one on top of the other very carefully, then heat-fused into a solid block. Even though you can see through it, the view is fuzzy and only the big outlined shape of, say, a rocket, or a palm tree, or a man’s life with the hot fiery blastoff of anger obscuring everything else, can be seen before the shape slowly rises.
Then I see the Burroughs guidance computer. This one is identical to the two that were installed in the Radio Guidance Center. I associate the words “radio” and “guidance” and “test” with my father; he was a radioman on the Navy plane, after all, a test engineer at another point. I’ve heard the word “Burroughs” sometime in the past, the way children hear those grownup words without knowing their meaning and then repeat them knowingly.
I read that these computers were used to control the rockets’ flight, using five receiving dishes and transmitting guidance commands back to the rocket. In later years, my father mentioned that he had used some of the first computers back in the day, the big clunky kind. Indeed, the docent tells us, “The processing computers on board a Mercury mission are now available in a thirty dollar wristwatch.” I stare at the long brown metal machine, vaguely rusting, but receive no messages from it.
I wander outside, another sleepy Florida afternoon. It’s well past a half hour that we have been here, but no one seems concerned. Some of the other tourists are still inside asking questions; others are sitting at the benches overlooking this Rocket Garden; the tour guide and bus driver are jawing with a couple of the docents.  I walk out into the St. Augustine grass, carefully watching for sticker burrs, and sit down on a chunk of cement. Some kind of bird calls from the palmettos in the late afternoon light.
I try to make up a story, a story not about what was, but composed of “what ifs” and “as ifs,” a story that makes my father something other than a minor engineer on a big project who drank his way out of a Security Clearance. In this story he is not the father who didn’t come home at night. Instead, he is the kind of father who brought us out here on one of those Saturdays in the 1960s when they briefly opened the Cape so the families could see daddy’s rockets, a father like one of those on TV who dispensed loving guidance to his kids after work.
Too sappy, I think.  It can just be an ordinary story. My father would be a regular guy who does his job well, maybe singled out from time to time for his good work. Still the hail-good-fellow kind of guy who others greet in the hall and he always has a joke or a story for. Buck, a great guy, a four-square guy, who maybe in later years the younger men call Mr. Buckmaster until he tells them to just call him Buck. And at home, he really plays the mandolin, not just a few chords then stopping with a “hee-hee” when he messes up. And turns his quirky creative mind into witty columns for the Orlando Sentinel every month . . .
“What are you doing?” My brother is suddenly beside me.
“Nothing.” I realize this is an answer I have given before in my family when interrupted in the middle of one of my stories. “So what’s up with all the knives?” I ask.
“My knives? It’s just my pocket knife. And the Leatherman has a little knife on it.”
A Leatherman, a pocket multi-purpose tool in case he has to fix something along the way, like our father would have.
We rejoin the tour group. Dave winds up again. A jackrabbit dashes across the crumbling, nearly abandoned road. We are headed toward the launch pad of the disastrous Apollo 1.
“The next stop, folks,” Dave says, “is hallowed ground.” Fini
Copyright, 2016, Linda S. Buckmaster

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Security Clearance Part 3

 My brother Ric and I board the bus for the "Cape Canaveral Then & Now" tour.

The Kennedy Space Center is the official name of this tourist attraction, museum, and historical theme park. It sits just outside the NASA Kennedy Space Center where the real work of space exploration actually happens. In the early days, all the action was out on the edge of the Cape until the giant Vehicle Assembly Building and the space shuttle launch pads were built farther inland. The Cape Canaveral bus tour is taking us out to see this “old Cape.” 
At the bus staging area, no fewer than four guards direct us to the right line. Standing in line isn’t so bad, though, because there is a wall-sized map mural of where we will be going.  Maps are about imagination as much as fact for me, and I imagine the empty green spaces between launch sites still so like the open palmettos I used to wander as a child. We’ll be driving over the Banana River and entering through the North Gate. My father, of course, always entered through the South Gate since my hometown of Satellite Beach is south of the Cape.
For a family outing one time, he drove us up to the South Gate and stopped since family members without badges weren’t allowed. We gazed for a few moments at the other side; the acres of palmettos looked just like the side we were on, and then he ceremoniously turned the car around. We headed back to Cocoa Beach so we could drive our car along the hard-packed sand with the waves on one side and beachfront joints on the other. We found the right spot to park and unloaded lawn chairs, beach toys, towels, grill, charcoal, marinated chicken parts, chips, beer and sodas. We kids headed for the water with my father, who dove head first into the waves, a feat I wasn’t yet brave enough to try.
Much later, as the evening sky was turning pink and orange, Ric and I scouted for driftwood. My father made a shallow pit behind the car to dump the fading hot coals into while my mother put away food. My parents drew their chairs around the fire, and Ric and I sat in the sand. Pieces of the wood were added into the pit to flame and flare in the soft darkness, while my father sang all the verses to “A Fox Went Out on A Chilly Night.” I sifted the cool night sand through my fingers over and over again, the back of my hand hot from the fire.

Among the other tourists on the tour bus is a slew of thirty-something Russians. What is their interest in this tour, I wonder. Too young to have experienced the space race between their county, or their former country, and us, they are dressed too hip to not recognize a certain postmodern irony in the situation. After all, the thing we most feared when I was growing up was the Russians invading Cape Canaveral. Maybe these young people  had read about the space race in their textbooks and how the U.S. was actually losing until sometime in the late Sixties. That’s why there was so much pressure on the Mercury program—to catch up with the Russians and the little dog that was sent into orbit.
The bridge arches over the Banana River, and we can look out over the flat expanse of palmetto scrublands surrounding a handful of bare patches with missile sites in the middle of them. We can see the Atlantic stretching to Africa. The Guardhouse at the Gate waves the bus through since we are all completely security-safe. I wonder if the other tourists are surprised at how much of a wilderness this area really is, less developed than, say, the Disney World complex of solid cement.
Our tour guide, Dave, is telling us that what is now called the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, or the old Cape, is a mostly natural seventeen thousand acres. Right on cue, we spot a couple of armadillos poking along the side of the road. Dave is sure to let us know about the four species of poisonous snakes and alligators we could see. To me, it’s all just beautiful. The sky is as big as I remembered it—like being out on the ocean or in the middle of the Great Plains—and because the weather is on the cool side today, it is bold blue. The gray-green palmettos stretch out consistently the same height as far as can be seen, their rough fronds creating texture against the sky. I suddenly remember the jump-rope rhyme: “Car-penter, Coo-per, Glenn, and Grissom. Schir-ra, Shepard, and Mis-ter Slayton.”
Dave is filling us in on many facts that involve many numbers—dates, speed, thrust, weight, length, numbers of employees, miles around the earth, dollars. Actually, I don’t think he ever talks about money, the trillions of dollars that have been spent over the past fifty years on maintaining our space superiority. I have figured out that the “now” of this “then and now” tour is about drumming up taxpayer interest, support, and patriotism for the projects now in process for the future, maybe playing on the nostalgia like you would about the railroads.
It’s widely recognized that this is the end of a particular kind of era for the Space Center, an era that saw space exploration as a major national interest and funding priority. After this final launch of the Shuttle Atlantis, the expectation is that everything will be privatized. The local Florida Today newspaper featured an article on the up-and-coming private companies that will launch missiles for their own interests. The article also reminded us the Space Coast has always seen both boom and bust eras.  It’s hard for me to differentiate between the industry’s fluctuations in fortune and my family’s.
Dave is also full of anecdotes. He tells us about the shenanigans of the astronauts when they were in town, the wild parties at the Holiday Inn, the bikinis on Canaveral pier, the pioneering topless bars, the free Corvettes provided to the astronauts every year by the enterprising Chevy dealer Jim Rathman, the drag racing down North Atlantic Avenue.
He misses the one about my father somehow making the fifteen miles between Cocoa Beach and our house, skipping the driveway but making a course correction up onto the lawn so that the front bumper of the Chevy just kisses the palm tree before he passes out in the front seat. And how my mother got me up extra early the next morning to go out to the car to try to get him inside before the neighbors woke up.  Or how on occasions when he didn’t make it to the lawn, my mother bundled us kids off to a neighbor’s in the middle of the night so she could drive the twenty miles to bail him out on the mainland.
Dave mentions Bernard’s Surf, the watering hole where the astronauts and press corps mingled. Of course, Dave wouldn’t have known that at the bar of Bernard’s Surf, my father cashed his paycheck—the paycheck that briefly made us like all the families of Cape engineers among the highest earners in the state. He left the pile of bills in front of him so he could just tell the bartender to “take it out of there and something for yourself.”  Whatever was left at the end of the night went into my dad’s pocket. My mother and he eventually agreed that the check would be mailed from the payroll office right to our house.
Dave paraphrases the “Vegas rule” to say that everyone knew that what happened on the Space Coast, stayed on the Space Coast. I wonder, though, what happens if you actually lived here? Does it just stay forever?  To be continued  . . . Fourth and final installment next.
Copyright 2016, Linda S. Buckmaster

Friday, July 22, 2016

"Security Clearance" Part 2

Previously -- my brother Ric and I begin a tour of the Kennedy Space Center.
We pass through the mysteriously darkened Information Center and wander out into the blazing sunlight of the Rocket Garden. The space music follows. Here, a dozen or so famous missiles, or replicas thereof, stand at attention on cement pads or lie on their sides, each with a little plaque detailing its merits and other little plaques with factoids about rocket science for those of us who haven’t studied rocket science. Mercury, Atlas, Titian, Gemini, Apollo, Saturn,  Agena—the  names were designed to evoke the grandeur of gods and timelessness. 
These missiles are all “old-timers” from the early days of the space industry, the ones launched from the launch pads at the “Old Cape” that we will be visiting. At the Space Center, anything before the beginning of the Space Shuttle program in 1981 is considered ancient history. Some of the rockets have been drawn and quartered to reveal their insides and “stages.” Stages, as any Space Coast schoolchild would know, fall off one by one after liftoff when the missile reaches a specific altitude until only the main capsule is left.
I wander over to one of the smaller rockets and read it’s the Redstone. Ah—the Redstone, a name I haven’t heard in thirty-five years. The little plaque tells me that the sturdy Redstone, the workhorse of the 1950s, was drafted into Project Mercury, NASA’s first manned space program in 1958; this was the year we moved to the area so my father could work at the Cape. Project Mercury—how these names come back.  Alan Shepherd rode the Mercury 7 as the first American in space, my brother reminds me.
“Oh, right,” I say.
“And remember that jump-rope thing you and your friends did?” he asks.
“What ‘jump-rope thing’?”
“You know, with the names of the seven astronauts.”
I don’t remember that because I am trying to remember which ones of these corpses my father might have been a part of, or rather I am trying to imagine which because I don’t think I ever knew, and now there is no one left to ask. I think he was part of the Mercury project and so I look for those with that identification. How could a kid not know what rocket her daddy worked on? Isn’t that the kind of thing you’d talk about at the dinner table? Wouldn’t you actually get kind of sick of hearing about it every night—assuming he was home every night?
I suddenly remember my father worked in guidance; he was a guidance engineer. Of course, how could I forget? What an ironic job title for him.
I thought I came to visit this tourist site to learn more about the space industry for my writing project. Now I realize I’m in search for my father. I am looking for some signs of him that I haven’t been able to find elsewhere. He has been dead for almost thirty years. I know nothing about his work life, nothing about what he spent his professional career doing —while it lasted— and what he did all day after he drove the Chevrolet coupe and later the VW Bug to join the morning traffic jam on that narrow strip of asphalt out to the Cape. I asked him once what he did at work. “Draw pictures,” he said with characteristic joking. I figured out later it had some connection to drafting, in this case, drafting a missile flight plan. He was always the go-to guy at home for math and science projects. He once explained to me “the rule of thumb” about electrical current, but I don’t remember what it is.
As an inheritance, he left me a cardboard, twenty-four-can Schlitz beer box, a nice sturdy one with top flaps that tuck in. He presented it to me rather ceremoniously after alluding to it for years. Like most drunks, he was famous for repeating himself, but he was also savvy enough to realize the tragedy and irony that the legacy of a cardboard box represents. “That’s what you’re getting,” he would say. As the oldest and the daughter, I would be the keeper of the family heirlooms.
Inside the box were two slide rules in leather cases that he had from this student years, his Navy metals and black leather journal from his days as a flight navigator on an aircraft carrier plane during the war, a diploma in electrical engineering from the University of Miami, and a report card from Thomas Junior High in South Philadelphia. There was a collection of the postcards, two letters, and greeting cards I sent after I left home, maybe fifteen years worth, although I didn’t write much.  For a guy who made his career tracking missile courses, his was conspicuously untrackable. Running out for a pack of Chesterfields when I was a kid could mean two or three days with no sign of his whereabouts.
A couple of tourist kids are dashing down the mock gangplank to the mock Apollo capsule, where they can try out the seats. It was this same kind of gangplank that the crew of the Apollo 1 walked down for the launch dress rehearsal, which ended in an accidental flash fire in 1967, killing the three men. My father wasn’t there, I know. By then, he was out of the industry, never to work at the Cape again. One too many drunk driving arrests and petty misdemeanors meant he lost his all-important, government-issued Security Clearance. Without it, he could no longer drive past the checkpoint gate to get into the Cape. When did that happen, I try to remember. Sometime in the mid-sixties, sometime when I was in high school. I do some quick math and am shocked to realize that my father was a rocket engineer for maybe only ten years.
I appraise the rockets again, this time by launch dates. My brother gives me information, more details than I want to know, about how the missiles work or the peculiarities of some of the components, information he’s gleaned from his prodigious reading and watching the Discovery channel. He takes a professional interest in the welded joints. The only other visitors in the Rocket Garden besides the kids and their parents are a young couple with shiny new wedding bands, who are taking an inordinate amount of photos of each other in front of the rockets.
Why are those other people here, I wonder. What can be their interest in these relics? Why would they care that the two things a rocket needs are thrust and guidance? Thrust gets it into the air, and guidance keeps it on its all-important track until it slots into its orbit above the atmosphere. To be continued . . . 
Copyright, 2016, Linda S. Buckmaster

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Security Clearance Part I

Get a personal view of the Kennedy Space Center in this essay, which was originally published in Burrows Press ( They used a very cool photo from the olden days of space history. It will be re-published here in four installments.

Security Clearance
“Wait here. I have to put my knives in the car to get through Security,” my brother Ric says.
I have just met up with my brother at the entrance to the Kennedy Space Center. I never like to wait, and I told him earlier we’d have to go through Security. We are here for “the ultimate journey,” as the website says, “where the sky isn’t the limit—it’s just the beginning.” And if that weren’t enough, we also have reservations for the special bus tour offered by the Center—“Cape Canaveral Then and Now.” But before we can blast off, I have to wait for Ric to drop off his knives.
My little brother, age fifty-six, has a slow, hobbling walk. Maybe it’s from decades of carrying seventy pounds of welding equipment a half mile to ships in drydock. Or maybe it’s from walking the streets of Jacksonville during his junkie days, or a deal gone bad. And he’s carrying knives—plural?
I can see I’ll have a bit of a wait. He and I have parked our respective cars at the far end of the lot. His is the black Lexus, the one he got used “for a very good interest rate,” he tells me, at one of those “no credit, bad credit, no problem” places. Mine is the bland rental. I’m here because I’ve undertaken a research trip to the Florida coast, coming down from my home in Maine to try to re-construct a childhood of wandering the palmettos and watching rockets. Despite return visits to family most years, I haven’t before connected the actual childhood geography with the present one.
“Space Coast” Florida in the 1960s is, or was, my homeplace, and I’m trying to remember it as it was to write about it.  A confluence of Florida geography, the space race against the Soviets, and the go-go era of the larger culture launched me in ways I am still learning about.  When I left home as a hippie chick in 1969, I “couldn’t have cared less” about the space industry, to use a favorite expression of my father’s.
My re-entry, on the eve of the launch of the final Space Shuttle in 2011, widely considered the end of an era at the Cape, is a conscious return to the landmarks of those early days in which I grew up. I’ve spent the past week visiting my few remaining relatives—stepfather and wife he married after my mother died six years ago, my late father’s second wife who I haven’t seen in twenty-four years, and Ric from Jacksonville. I’ve heard stories or the lack of stories about the old days. With Ric, I’ve visited the East Coast Surf Museum and Ron Jon’s Surf Shop, where he could tell me stories about the locally famous surfers in the photos. We later cruised the docks of Port Canaveral like teenagers sharing a joint with friends. 
Our father was an engineer at the Cape in the early days of the industry, the Fifties and Sixties, and I want to see where it was he actually worked, an area that was only open to employees with government Security Clearance like my father.  At least, that’s why I’m here, and I’ve invited Ric to come to with me.  I know Ric has a much better memory of the past than I do, and I need his commentary. Ric and I haven’t spent this much time together over the decades since we were kids and he was “Ricky.”
As I follow the cement walkway to the famous Center, bland marigolds bloom in evenly spaced rows, and the mild air and warm sun conspire to make it a real Florida tourist “attraction.” The swells of welcoming recorded “space” music unfold forever as if I were actually moving into and through the black and starry great beyond rather than to the ticket booth.  By the time Ric returns, I am more than ready to get in line at the ticket kiosk and a little edgy from the music.
 “Oh shit,” Ric says, patting the front pockets of his jeans as we get to the entrance door. “I forgot about the Mace. I have to go back to the car.”
“No way!” I say. “Just discretely toss it into that garbage can.”
“It costs eight bucks.”
“I’ll stash it in the bushes over there,” he points to a cement flower planter attached to the side of the building.
I look around hoping no one notices what he is doing. What a hassle it would be to get busted in front of a federal building hiding a can of Mace in the bushes, especially with a two-time felon. I can see how he’s made some less than smart choices over the years. I can’t believe he’s not extra careful to avoid doing even the tiniest thing that could land him back in jail. I know I would be.
We’re now ready to push our tickets into the machines and walk through the Security Clearance turnstyles. “One at a time,” the guard says. I imagine this is something my brother has heard before in other situations involving guards. To be continued.
         Copyright, 2016, Linda S. Buckmaster

Thursday, July 14, 2016

"Turtle Moon." Genealogy of an obsession.

 Sometimes writers write about the same thing over and over. Sometimes they discover something new with each re-do.

If you read "Space Heart" on this blog, you know that there is embedded in the piece a story about a sea turtle coming ashore and laying her eggs on the beach. In that story, the experience of watching the turtle one May night becomes an extended metaphor for the experience of surgery and anesthesia. It also serves as a contrast between the wild ancient natural world and the cutting-edge technology of Cape Canaveral during the Fifties and Sixties.

I have used that turtle story in multiple ways over the past twenty years, based on my own experience growing up on the Atlantic coast of Florida where masses of sea turtles make their way to the beaches every spring. In fact, the coast of Brevard County is still the largest nesting area in the world for loggerhead and green sea turtles.

My original version in the 1990s was in fiction I was writing in the voice of Celia Elizabeth, a twelve-year old in 1917 who lives in Fort Pierce, Florida. At the time, Fort Pierce was a small town, an outpost really, on the edge of undeveloped South Florida before the Miami land boom (and bust). In her diary, Celia records the story of going on a "turtle turning" expedition one night led by a Bahamian named Jack. Turtle turning was how they hunted sea turtles back then for meat and to use their shells.

As a turtle came ashore to lay her eggs, the hunting party would turn her on to her back, making her helpless before they killed her. (I know -- we can't imagine doing that now.) Celia Elizabeth separates herself from the crowd and sits against the dune as she watches one turtle come ashore, make her nest, and lay her eggs in front of Celia. The turtle's focus on her mission captures the preadolescent girl's attention in a way that feels important to her. 

And to me, evidently. I had to write about the turtle again in the poem "Turtle Moon" under the mentorship of poet Constance Hunting In this version, it is the beautiful mindlessness/mindfulness of the natural world I am most taken with.

A few years later, I realized there was more to the story for me. Instead of Celia Elizabeth's point of view, I had to re-tell it from mine in what were contemporary times when I was a pre-teen. This version is an essay that begins:  "It was sometime between the ages of 11 and 14, in an era when 'pre-teen' still meant inexperienced." What I realized as I wrote that version is that the experience represented to me, an impressionable young girl back then, the (female) focus of the turtle's work, duty even, and her commitment to make it a reality. I was of an age then to be wondering what my role in the world and how would I make that happen.

As I was putting together "Space Heart," I realized that all the major aspects of it -- my heart surgery at age 11, Alan Shepherd's launch, the turtle expedition -- all converged at the literal same time in my life but also in my understanding of it all. That is how I came to weave the threads together, each of which were originally stand-alone pieces in their own right.

But I'm not done yet. I've just used the story in a collection of short short stories (500 to 2,000 words) about American boomer women. In this story, the narrator is talking about coming to terms with dying of breast cancer.

So, what is it about this turtle story that so obsesses me? Where will it pop up next?

Copyright 2016, Linda S. Buckmaster


Friday, July 8, 2016

Flash Essay "Becoming Memory" in Becoming Memory Series

 Becoming Memory
We’re standing in the Florida night outside the hospital where my father is dying so Christine can have a smoke. She pushes back her Farrah Fawcet hair with bright sculpted fingernails I imagine floating above the typewriter keys at her receptionist job. Both middle-aged now, she is reminiscing, laughingly, about the first time she met my father twenty years earlier when her big sister Mimi, now his wife, brought him home for dinner.
He was such a character, so funny, fit right in with the family, attributes apparently any daughter should be proud of. Christine had been especially taken with him, she tells me, because she was only fifteen at the time. I stare at her blankly. She keeps on talking.
If Christine was only fifteen at the time, I realize, I was only fifteen. I was only fifteen and waiting for my father to come home. Waiting for him, and he was with another family, a big, sprawling, messy family that parked their many cars on their lawn. What was another plate for dinner at that house? We never added another at ours. When would he come home? What shape he would be in, fumbling the front door handle? Who needed the embarrassment? And then the later years when you hoped he wouldn’t come home at all.
But we’re together now, Christine and I, waiting for death. The heartless rhythm of disco music pounds from a car leaving the parking garage. We stand with our separate memories, my father upstairs becoming only memory, while the flat humid air holds the cigarette smoke around us and doesn’t let it go. 
Copyright, 2016, Linda S. Buckmaster

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Flash Essay: "Alibi Bar" from BEcoming Memory Series"

 Alibi Bar
Duane Eddy’s twangy guitar rakes the smoke-filled air as my eyes adjust to the dim light. The jukebox is playing his hit from ten years earlier, “Rebel Rouser,” but nobody in the Alibi at 3 o’clock on a beautiful Florida afternoon looks like much of a rebel rouser. I spot the broad, square back of my father’s plaid cotton shirt hunched over the bar. I hear him, of course, from across the room, and I can tell by the tone of his voice that he’s repeating himself, his pointed finger punching out the words.
“Hey Buck,” the bartender jerks his head toward me, an almost eighteen-year-old in short-shorts and matching top trimmed in the same polka dots. My usually humid-frizzy hair has been ironed into a smooth helmet against my head, the sides curving like the letter “C” by my cheekbones. My father lets go of the bar long enough to turn toward the door.
“Lee-Lee,” he says in semi-ironic joy, calling me by the nickname that no one else uses. I roll my eyes but still feel warmly acknowledged.
Almost a year has passed since the divorce went through—irreconcilable differences—and my mother has remarried. I’m leaving for college in a few weeks thanks to my new stepfather’s financial contribution, and I want to see my father before I go.
I never heard of the Alibi before; never called here asking for him at dinnertime. I had started my search at Bernard’s Surf, the more upscale place where the Cape Canaveral rocket engineers hang out. My father hasn’t been a rocket engineer for a while, though, not since he lost his government Security Clearance.  I heard he was now working as a day laborer laying cement block, but, I laugh to myself, this must be his day off.
I walk toward him as he gets off the bar stool to introduce me around, his arm draped across my shoulder. “She’s going to college in a few weeks,” he repeats with every intro.
“Hi honey,” growls the one woman at the bar.  The introductions finish about the same time as the two minutes and twenty-one seconds of “Rebel Rouser.”
But one guy, Tinch, straightens himself up a bit to shake my hand and slur into the sudden silence, “Your dad talks about you all the time.” It will be later I learn that his daughter is the young woman Mimi my father is shacking up with, a secretary at the Cape six years older than me.
The next song up is a rhythm-and-blues, the kind you’d expect to hear on a bar jukebox anytime during the fifties or sixties, bumper pool in the background and a Schlitz sign illuminating the scene. The kids would be sitting at a table sipping Shirley Temples with the mother, who would be probably nursing something. 
Copyright, 2016, Linda S. Buckmaster

Friday, July 1, 2016

"Greyhound Station Stop" -- Becoming Memory Series

 Greyhound Station Stop
We had waited until he finally came home to leave for my seventeenth birthday trip to the Keys. Now we’re all in the car like any family on vacation, my mother driving, he being too drunk and ugly. I’m not usually the object of his ugliness, but I was just caught smoking the week before, and he is haranguing me about it. He leans over the front seat toward me, sweaty forearm below his checkered shirt. His face is like a cornered rat’s, his broad nose distorted, the teeth smoker’s yellow. 
“I don’t care how goddamn smart you are,” he slurs, warming to his topic. “This is just the first step. The first goddamn step. Next thing you know, you’ll be knocked up.” I focus on the tiny foam of spittle forming in the corner of his mouth to block out the words. My thirteen-year-old brother rolls down his window, maybe pleased to not be the subject of attack for once.
My father bends toward my mother. “Knocked up, Thelma,” he says in his louder, needling voice, as if she can’t hear him from a foot away. “Then what will that do for your darling daughter? Your smart-ass darling daughter?” She focuses on the road.
He turns back to me. “What will that do for your goddamn collage plans? Huh? You can’t go to college knocked up. How wudja like them apples?” I’m surprised when he sloppily swings the back of his hand towards me, something he has never done before. His aim is way off.
“Balls,” he mutters to himself and slowly repositions his body to face front. Everyone keeps looking out their respective windows.
Whether it’s his idea or my mother’s, I’ve lost track, but she pulls into the Greyhound bus station when we reach Ft. Pierce so he can go back. I’m willing to just let it go, to go on, to have the trip we’re supposed to have as eventually we will when he sobers up. But she opens the trunk and the gray suitcase so he can get the only thing he really wants to take with him—the fifth of Jim Beam wrapped in a pair of underwear—while we continue south without him.
Copyright, 2016, Linda S. Buckmaster