Coffee Stains: Revisiting Original Writing in view of recent events

Perhaps you might consider it cheating (me creating something new each week and using something that I’ve written a couple years ago) but it’s on my mind. It’s a part of a much longer piece that I wrote at the (get ready, lots of initials and capitalized words coming your way) Indiana Teachers of Writing National Writing Project Advanced Institute (or, ITW-NP AI) at Notre Dame University back in 2003. My goal for the week was to write 10,000 words–good or bad– personal narrative stuff and lots of experimenting and playing with language (which could be another way of saying: “Eh, it may just be crap”).

This is not a good thing to say in evaluating your own writing, but this is my favorite passage from the summer. I say that with some reluctance because the general rule or wisdom within writing is that if you really love it, cut it out. You are no longer objective about your work and you have fallen in love with your words. You simply can not judge the relationship between nouns and verbs and the syntax and tone and pacing with any clarity: your mind is cluttered with smiles and self-congratulations.

And I know that, but I still like it.

Here’s the setting: I’ve just written about how my father and mother got divorced and that he is now restricted to his car when he picks us–Mike, Stephany and me–up for the court-okayed visits. I begin this section my father’s car and the joy of getting it washed, then, the part I like at Bodega Dunes.

I do, though think of Bodega Bay with my father after the initial divorce proceedings. He’d pick us up in his white Cadillac equipped with power windows and an 8-track player. I remember Neil Diamond most of all and hearing “Sweet Caroline” when he took us through the Bubble Machine car wash located off of 4th Street in Santa Rosa. This wasn’t like the car wash on Steele Avenue where you had to get out of the car and watch it move through brushes and various stages of the washing process. No, in the Bubble Machine you stayed in the car and viewed the water and soap and cleansing from the inside. And Preston would say, “This is just like being the submarine” and I believed him. His service in the Navy had him stationed on a sub for some months and who was I to argue with him. He was my father and father’s always right, isn’t he? I find that when we are in the van and the boys are strapped into their seats and we’re beckoned to pull forward into the car wash at the Phillips 66 station by Goshen Middle School, I’ll smile. Invariably I tell the boys with giddy delight, “We’re going through the Bubble Machine” and they’ll laugh not so much they know the reference but because dad has said something funny.
Preston took us to the beach one Saturday or at least he had told us the last time that he dropped us off that we’d be going to the Dunes the next time. It didn’t look good with the grey clouds and 65-degree weather in town. And we knew this would be a problem because the coast, like the City (San Francisco) was always 15 degrees cooler than Santa Rosa. We heard the honk and followed the wave (he was confined to staying in the car during this part of the divorce process). We loaded into the back seat and headed for the coast by way of Highway 12. He assuaged our fears when he told us that though it looked grey, we were still going to the Dunes. We were going to fly a kite.
Sebastopol, apple orchards, windy roads with steep inclines, the town of Bodega where some of The Birds was filmed, the graveyard on the right side where we had played on the tombstones when we got a flat tire last year and then Highway 1. Highway 1 is the epitome of Northern California coastal driving. It’s the romantic, drive with the top down, leisurely wind the car up the coast with curves and hairpin turns that made you one with the Pacific Ocean. The Bodega Dunes is the first major beach you come to and we made the left-turn into the long gravel road to its parking lot.
Grey, windy, salt misty cold, a divorced father with his divorced children making an outing of the day. He said that we could add string to make the kite go higher and we chorused for the extension into the heavens. He was kind to us and he seemed to be focused on our gathering, of our flying of this kite. Perhaps we laughed and were giddy like the way my sons get excited about something we all do together that has that sense of awe and newness about it. It’s that moment that completely takes you over and take a clear, focused snap shot of the wide-angle image of the time and place and emotion and snap!
The sting broke and the scene stops and we look to Preston and Mike is running after the line but it remains out of reach and Stephany is upset and we look to Dad with questions and he looks and says that it’s lost.
We are back in the car. No 8-track is playing or at least I can’t hear it now but I am looking, searching out the window for our kite. We turn onto Highway 12 and still no sign of the kite or back in the apple orchards and I think I might have been asking the question aloud or maybe he saw me through the rearview mirror because he said, “It must have floated somewhere far away.” I still look out the window for the kite when we visit Bodega Bay. Maybe it’s out of habit or maybe it’s out of hope.

Recently, my sister visited us and we both ran in the Grand Rapids Marathon (great race, by the way). On our way home from the South Bend Airport via the 20 bypass, she mentioned that she and Mike had been in contact with Preston in the past year. I haven’t heard from my father since the last court-ordered support check in 1987. He didn’t respond to my college graduation card, nor my wedding invitation, nor Evan’s birth (I think we gave up and didn’t bother sending a birth announcement for Colin). I was, surprised at the news.

And it’s at this point where I am supposed to reflect on something heavy, about all of the issues that I’ve struggled with stuff because I haven’t had contact with my father in 30 years. But that won’t happen. I think I understand why he didn’t maintain contact and I think that sometimes we just need to leave people to their private lives instead of making it into something that is truly about us and not so much them.

I still like what I wrote, though.

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Explore posts in the same categories: All Things Organized, Belief, Coffee Stains

One Comment on “Coffee Stains: Revisiting Original Writing in view of recent events”

  1. Chris Says:

    I too liked what you wrote. Does including so many road names have a deeper purpose, or are you adding road names to make the piece more detailed? I wondered why you never mentioned your father in any of your childhood stories, but I figured there was a reason and it was none of my business. Still, I liked it. You might consider adding a high-speed chase or exploding buildings if you want to sell as many books as Clive Cussler does.


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