Monday, August 29, 2016

Excerpt from The Trees Beneath Us by Darren R. Leo #CallMeDaddy

I asked for stories about family: the fun, the inspirational, the heartwarming moments that make us part of a family. Author Darren Leo shares an excerpt from his novel, The Trees Beneath Us, which is the story of a father that is trying to cope with the loss of a son.
I don’t have the fond, fuzzy memories of dad that most do.  I have two memories of my biological father…he worked in a grocery store, and he beat me with a phone; the heavy, old, black, rotary type.  He left us when I was five, and I’ve never seen him again.  In the age of the google, I looked him up a few years ago, and I called him.  It didn’t go well.  In fairness to him, I did threaten to show up at his house and beat him with a phone.  Ahhhh, good times. 
My “dad” was my stepfather.  He adopted and raised me.  I learned a hard lesson about blood and water when he divorced my mother.  I was an adult with a lifetime of trying to please him and was dumbstruck when I found he was divorcing me as well. 
I’m not a fan of fathers.  Following is an excerpt from my book, The Trees Beneath Us.  It is the story of a father who loses a son and how he struggles to cope with that loss.  I wish both of my fathers would read it. 
The covered bridge loomed empty, like a tunnel between worlds.  The wind whistled inside it.  On the other side, I found a white blaze on a tree and turned back into the wood line. 
            Back among the trees, my pace slowed.  I realized I was panting.  A wide log with moss growing on it lay to the right.  I clambered through the undergrowth to it and, on its dark northern side, found mushrooms.  I harvested them with my knife and deposited them into the side pocket of the pack. 
            I hiked slowly back up toward the ridge.  I was watching the ground and stopped often to examine leaves or wander off trail to investigate a plant that caught my eye.  In a glade that was dappled with sun just before the clouds covered it, I found Indian turnip.  It was poisonous raw but delicious when cooked.  Further along, I found a wild mustard plant.  Dinner would be good.
            Just off the ridgeline on the leeward side, next to a sheltering boulder and beneath the wide spread of a fir tree, I pitched my tent.  The sky was beginning to spit, and I quickly gathered wood for the fire.  I dragged a downed log up the hill for fuel.  It was going to be one of those nights.  As the fire grew, I pulled off my boots and propped my feet on the pack for their moment.  Beyond the boughs of the fir, rain hit the ground in hard little explosions. 
            I blanched the Indian turnip in hot water then emptied the water, added the mushrooms and seared in the pan until the turnips were golden brown.  With some soy sauce, salt, pepper, Tabasco sauce, and a pack of salmon, I added pasta.  As the mixture bubbled, I sliced the mustard root and some ginger into it.  I nibbled a corner of the chocolate, took a sip of the Southern Comfort and recalled how good that beer had tasted.  The forest darkened before the approaching storm and night.  The fire snapped.  The smell of my stew wafted in the midst of scents of loam and dirt and rain.  I was back in the woods.
            My father loved food.  He reminisced about great meals the way other people recalled favorite vacations.  He spared no expense when it came to food.  His rationale was the memory and taste of a good meal would linger long after any material object purchased had been abandoned, broken, or replaced with a newer version.  When Keegan was two, my dad served him his first lobster.  That started a two year stretch of explaining to a screaming toddler that happy meals didn’t come with lobster.  By the time I was nine I had eaten dim sum, sushi, thai curry, vindaloo, abalone, squid, brains, and tripe. 
            I ate my stew by firelight as the wind howled above me.  The food was good although I had gone a little heavy on the ginger.  My father might have liked it.  Merlin would have said it sucked and then taken another serving.  I wondered how he was doing.  I lifted the whiskey bottle toward the dark sky and took a slug.
            “Cheers, Dad.”
            I didn’t know how I felt about his death yet.  I had not seen or spoken to him in years.  In terms of my daily life, the news changed little.  I would get up again the next day and hike.  He was a heartless bastard at times, and his favorite hobby had been pointing out my errors and shortcomings.  Still, he had his moments, and I had always thought we would share another meal, argue about its preparation or seasonings.  One time, just after I was out of basic training, he came to visit, and we went to an all you can eat seafood buffet.  Oysters, shrimp and crabs were displayed on broad, mirrored platters with ice.  We ate until they were out of oysters and shrimp and asked us to leave.
            The rain fell in wide waves, driven by the wind.  The boulder and tree kept me dry and the tent still.  I scraped the last noodles from the bottom of the pot, put a little water in it, and set it by the fire to boil away the food scent.  Another sheet of rain dropped out beyond the boughs.  I pulled on my rain jacket and grabbed the food bag and rope.  It wasn’t far into the deluge before I found a good, horizontal limb and strung the food up into the sky.  Raccoons might still get it, clever bastards, but a bear wouldn’t. 
            I dragged the log across the fire to burn it in half and took another sip of the whiskey.  During my senior year in high school, we traveled to Las Vegas for a national wrestling tournament.  I took second, but the team won, and my father bought us a fifth of Jack Daniels to celebrate.  He figured one bottle among twelve boys wouldn’t do much.  We had the cleverness to get a bum outside a grocery store to buy us several more.  Cocky teenage boys with no body fat and lots of alcohol didn’t mix well.  I came to that conclusion when I ran naked past my mother while she was playing slots and security was chasing me.  My father gave me the usual stern lecture for that one, but he almost seemed pleased while he did it.
            The fire cracked and snapped.  Sometimes an errant raindrop made its way in and hissed with a puff of steam upon landing.  He taught me to stir fry when I was about sixteen.  Heat the oil in the wok until it is snapping.  Drop in the vegetables in a cloud of steam and toss quickly.  He was disappointed when I switched my major from English to Business Management.  Through tenacity and hard work, he was successful at most things he tried, but he was a vagabond.  He had been a hair stylist, police officer, ski instructor and general contractor, and he wasn’t happy that I was choosing a career that required wearing a tie.  I wondered how he would feel about my current endeavor. 
            I remembered him carving graceful and effortless turns through fresh powder at Alta and showing me how to tie a double fisherman’s knot.  We never climbed together.  He was already beyond his climbing days when I took it up.  I would have liked that.  He would have bitched about bolts being a cheating shortcut for driving pitons, but he was grudgingly pleased when I led an unbolted 5.12.  He still said the equipment was so good now that anyone could do it.  And I went out looking for other achievements that might impress him.
            I took a long drink from the bottle.  The darkness pressed in around the firelight like a warm sleeping bag.    I thought of other happy memories of my dad.  There were plenty of unpleasant ones, but it would do no good to dig those up.  Given the circumstances of our relationship and my life, a good meal and thinking of him by a fire in the wilderness were the most honor I could offer him.  I looked up at the reaching limbs of the fir tree.  Bad news does not travel through trees.  The boulder loomed solidly behind me, and the reflected fire danced on its face.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Sticky by Kelley Kay #CallMeDaddy

In anticipation of the release of Call Me Daddy, I asked for memories about family, the good, the bad, the funny. Author Kelley Kay decided to get "Sticky":       

 I feel like a horrible mother about five times a day. My voice gets screechy or I snap at one of my two little boys right after I’ve SWORN in my head, not two minutes earlier, to keep a calm tone in all my interactions.
            I will say, though, that at least I’m thinking about it. My job as a high school teacher and now as a writer give me the advantage of a certain consciousness and reflection on my behavior, and I’m trying, every minute, to do it better. One of the ways I’m trying to do that is by being more aware of my boys just in terms of inhaling their funny and fabulous behavior and interactions: with me or anyone around them. I’m working on appreciation and gratitude, and this blog comes from one of the situations I ‘imbibed’ early after this resolution.
            A five or seven year old boy is not incapable of intelligent conversation, really he’s not. It’s just that there is something inherent in his nature that guarantees, especially if he’s talking to another little boy, that after two or three minutes the conversation will devolve into something related to poop. Fletcher (my youngest son) has a close friend named Stone. For their transitional kindergarten year (he was 5) they got shipped across the way to another school, so a couple of times a week I picked Fletcher and Stone up after their half-day school day.
            During these days I would turn the radio up a bit and tune out their chatter. I listened a little, but absentmindedly, reminding them when they start talking about killing people that we don’t do that, and to stop talking about poop. Sometime in January I figured out this was another example of me not getting the most out of their childhood. I didn’t start conversations with them, oh no! Instead I just listened. These two five year olds were masters of nonsensical conversations, and from that point on I just inhaled their jibberjabber. I relished every moment of the drive home for the rest of the year, and while reproducing all of their conversations would not be something for you as the reader to relish (plus I didn’t write everything they said down—we  never would’ve made it  home), I hope this personal favorite will make you smile if not giggle out loud. Here goes.
Stone: San Frisco we go to San Frisco and my mommy goes, but I had a dream that dinosaurs came there.
Fletcher: Did the dinosaurs eat your mommy?
Stone: Don’t be ridickoolus, the dinosaurs ate San Frisco! I ate San Frisco I ate his FACE!
Fletcher: I think we should do a zipline don’t you want to do a zipline? My fingers are sticky. (He looks at his fingers.) Hey I like that word: sticky sticky
Stone: Don’t be ridickoolus, sticky sticky sticky
Fletcher: Hey don’t interrupt sticky sticky sticky
Stone: Don’t YOU interrupt!
Fletcher: Don’t YOU interrupt!
Stone: No you! Don’t YOU interrupt!
Fletcher: (giggling) Don’t YOU interrupt!  Interrupt interrupt interrupt (and they go back and forth, loving the word interrupt and getting louder and louder until I have to calm them down.)
Stone: Ridickoolus. Let’s do a zipline in San Frisco. (He giggles fiendishly here) Hey we can’t the dinosaur ATE it remember!
Fletcher: The dinosaurs ate your FACE! Hey, mommy!
Me: Yes?
Fletcher: Me and Stone ate…
Me: Stone and I (Yes, I do this. Ad nauseam.)
Fletcher: Stone and I ate a whole swimming pool, did you know that?
Stone: (Chortling) and a car! Didja know we ate a whole car? Vroom, vroom, yum, yum.
Me: Hmmm, and how did this car taste?
Fletcher: Sticky!
Stone: Sticky like chocolate and red vines
Fletcher: And cupcakes and salt water and Willy Wonka Nerds. Hey my favorite is the green what’s your favorite?
Stone: Nerds nerds nerds! Hey didja know I ate a fire engine? A fire engine in San Frisco.
Fletcher: Ha ha ha! And I bet it was so sticky!
            We always arrived to find Stone’s nanny and his little brother Maxwell sitting on the driveway. Fletcher would roll his window down and yell “Bye Stone!” starting from the second we drove up to the time the nanny closed the garage door.
            Stone and Fletch are both back to the school we’re supposed to be in, and while I think they still play at recess once in a while, I miss the afternoons when they both explained their voracious appetites for inanimate objects. And ridickoolus ziplines in San Frisco. Sticky, sticky.

Kelley Kay is the author of Death by Diploma, an excellent cozy mystery that you all should check out! In fact, it is on sale this week for only 99 cents, so Feed Your Kindle! 
You can find Kelley here:
Kelley Kaye on Facebook
And her novel here:

Death by Diploma Description: