Much of my writing features a strong father-daughter bond. My newest novel, Noisy Creek is no exception. I’ve talked before in this blog about my complicated and multi-layered relationship with my own father. Much of who I am today came from growing up with a complicated man who loved me to the best of his ability – my strength, my refusal to take guff from anyone, my belief in my God-given worth as a human being – all these came from Dad.
But these qualities did not come to me gift wrapped in the pretty paper of a happy childhood. No, they came at the end of long, winding paths in woods that were very dark indeed. As an adult, I sometimes smile at the average, puny attempts at manipulation I see around me. Shake my head in wonder at people, people my own age who should know better, who still have not grasped the concept that we cannot control the choices of others or that our self-worth does not come from outside ourselves.
Dad did the best he could. And both his successes and his failures taught me to accept and love people for who they are, not who I want them to be. Still, fans are familiar with my need to recreate the father-daughter bond, to twist the truth just enough to reveal the deep-seated need we all carry for parental approval and love. Here’s an excerpt that shows how that need bubbled up from my past and ended up on the pages of my latest novel, Noisy Creek.
Ardell reminds me of the time when the two of us called Daddy from a pay phone in the gym where we were attending our very first high school dance.
“We hadn’t talked of nothing else for a week,” she remembers. “Made our own dresses. Yours was pale blue with a rounded collar edged in lace.”
I loved the way the rayon swished over my butt every time I took a step. “Lord, I thought I was the prettiest thing in the county that night. You were a mighty close second in that peach chiffon with the daring V-neck. That dress showed not a smidgen of cleavage but, Lord have mercy, that fabric did cling in all the right places and hint at the glory that was yours under that soft fabric.”
Ardell goes on with the reminiscing. “Mr. Crawley, the English teacher and junior class advisor, he put the two of us in charge of the punch bowl. That man was gorgeous, and didn’t we all secretly love him? Fresh from student teaching up near Oglethorpe and filled with ideas. That special afterschool reading group he put together where we sat around in giggling bunches reading Catcher in the Rye and Madame Bovary.”
The air up this high is crisp with the sharp astringent mix of pine and juniper. I reach across the limestone and take the hand of my best friend.
Her voice is low, almost rote, but she doesn’t flinch, keeps telling the story.
“Midway through the dance, right as Gary Mullens, the band’s lead singer, was yelling ‘I can’t get no-o sat-is-fac-tion!,’ Mr. Crawley asked me to go into the coach’s office with him. Said he needed my help to carry out more bottles of punch.”
Even after all these years, I can’t help making excuses for not being with her. “He told me to stay there. ‘Somebody needs to stay at the ole punch bowl,’ is what he said.
God, that man was good looking. If you had asked me just then, I’d have told you that Ardell and I would have done anything for him. I was young and once again wrong. Ardell came back from the coach’s office ten minutes later, her eyes shiny, and her lipstick smeared.
“Soon as I saw you, I called Daddy. Didn’t tell him anything. Just said we needed him to come and carry us home. Now.”
A lot of years have come and gone. Ardell and I have had ourselves a fair number of adventures and what gets called life experiences since that night. But we both agree that nobody has ever looked as big or as strong or as wonderful as Daddy when he strode into the gym that night. There was no big scene, and we never did find out what happened to Mr. Crawley. When we came back to school, Mrs. Finkle had taken over his afterschool reading group as well as his regular English classes. Rumors flew for a while there about why he’d packed up and fled the county, but the man was never heard from in these parts again.