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50/50 Fall 2008, Exercise #7: Lineage story

I don’t know a whole lot about my lineage. It seems safe to say that my family didn’t come over on the Mayflower, or I would probably have heard about it, right? From the little information we have, it’s more likely that most of my ancestors came to the New World much more recently, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. On an encouraging note, that means my family is probably off the hook for ever having owned any African slaves. I’m told that my niece and nephew, however, are related by way of my brother-in-law’s family to Jefferson Davis. But that’s their karmic burden to work out. As for us Gumnicks, it’s more probable that our ancestors were somebody else’s slaves—or “serfs,” as they were called back when European white people owned …more

50/50 Fall 2008, Exercise #3: Like a Brother

The Fisherman’s Brother

One Christmas season I drew my
big brother’s name out of the pot.
He was a fisherman; he decorated
his half of the room we shared
in eclectic Field & Stream motif.
Naturally, I shopped a sporting goods
store in search of the perfect gift.

My knowledge of fish and my interest
in fishing began and ended with threading
half of a squirming earthworm onto
a rusty hook and dangling it in the water
weighed down by a soft clump of lead
under a red and white plastic bobber.
(I thought of myself as a purist.)

I knew in the abstract that one could
angle for largemouth bass or smallmouth
bass or brook trout or rainbow trout or
any desired species in creek or lake
or stream, but I had no patience for the art
and science of attracting and catching
anything without a taste for worms.

So I selected a jar of fluorescent
orange roe. I imagined the plump,
squishy balls looked delicious to fish.
I also picked a gorgeous lure, an oval
of convex stainless steel painted in faux
fishy stripes and spots of red enamel,
a beauty to win a fish’s heart.

Note: The prompt for today was to describe someone who was “as close as a blood relative,” though not related. I decided to go in another direction.

© 2008 Edward F. Gumnick

50/50 Fall 2008, Exercise #2: “I’m sorry you are so afraid…”

“I’m sorry you are so afraid, honey, but everything is going to be okay.” My mother kneaded the back of my neck with her right hand. The knuckles of the left one looked white compared to the tan vinyl that covered the steering wheel. We must have been sitting in Dad’s old Plymouth. It was my first day of kindergarten. I remember it like it was yesterday.

I should ask Dad about that old car. What was the model? How long did he drive it? I think he sold it for scrap when I was about eight.

I almost couldn’t believe it, but Dad said that …more

50/50 Fall 2008, Exercise #1: Storm Story

Water, Water Everywhere

My family was baptized into life in Houston on June 15, 1976—the only time in history that a game at the Astrodome was ever rained out. In the early afternoon, a storm dropped almost 13 inches of water on the city in about three hours. Flooding and traffic were so bad that the players couldn’t make it to the legendary domed stadium, much less the fans. We didn’t know that factoid until much later. The news the next day focused, of course, on the eight lives lost and on the damage to the Texas Medical Center and several of the city’s art museums.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. My story starts earlier in the day, on the last leg of a four-day trip from our previous home in the suburbs of Philadelphia. We’d spent a night each …more

Whitewash and Boredom

Sheldon Avenue in Baltimore was where my maternal grandparents lived, the home where my mother grew up, the place my brother and sisters and I dreaded visiting. Or at least I dreaded visiting. It was an orderly street of row houses and sycamore trees, with long concrete staircases at the lower end, shorter staircases at the top end where the street intersected with Belair Road. Belair Road was the limit they’d placed on our wanderings; we were not to cross the six busy lanes of asphalt under any circumstances.

Their house was the fourth from the bottom of the row—fourth on the right as you climbed the street in the front, fourth from the left as you climbed …more

Boot Camp Day 5(b): The City

On the wall to the left of my bed hangs a mosaic that I call The City. I don’t know if I made up the name or if it was one given to the piece by my parents. It’s about 18 inches wide, maybe 30 inches high, and it consists of hundreds of squarish tiles, each a little less than half an inch wide, laid out in neat rows to form a crude cityscape. The top half is made up of even individual rows of uniform color, mostly shades of sky blue, but with some yellows, metallic gold, browns, and darker blues thrown in to suggest pollution or the heat of the afternoon, or maybe the coming of night. In the bottom half, there are clusters of rectangular shapes that suggest a skyline. In this part, there are blocks of orange and off-white and gray and larger expanses of metallic gold tiles. The whole composition is set in a bed of white mortar and framed with a narrow, plain wooden frame of cherry-stained wood with a flat finish.

This piece of art has been …more

Boot Camp Day 3: Searching in the Dark

It’s the same dream, but it’s always different. I am back in the old house, the one where we lived before the war came and my father lost his job and we had to move north. I know, as I always know, that HE is here. He is here in the house with me. I can’t hear him, I never see him, I don’t want to see him, because I know what will happen if he finds me.

I wake up in my bed in the room we shared. I look around me in the darkness. I can see the three windows, filled with starlight and street lights. There is more light out there, on the shingles of the roof outside the windows, more light on the lawn that slopes away toward the valley. It is most dark inside the house, but this room isn’t the darkest.

Everything is there as we left it. The huge old radio …more

50/50 Exercise #24: Siblings

My brother calls me a collaborator, a traitor—and worse. I ask him what he would do if he were the one responsible for our mother’s care. But he’s not responsible. What good are his principles when she is near starving and I don’t have the money to buy the medicine that might quiet her pain?

I take responsibility for the choices I have made. I accept the rations that they give me, although it is not enough for three of us. My brother lectures me on the subject of sacrifice. When he comes to visit us on a moonless night, he invokes the name of our father. I don’t need to be reminded of what was taken from both of us. I don’t want to hear …more

50/50 Exercise #13: Address Book

Dear Grandma,

I’ll bet you thought you were never going to hear from your youngest grandson again. I wasn’t too regular about writing to you for the last decade or two of your life, so you certainly shouldn’t be surprised that you haven’t heard from me since you left us.

From your vantage point, I would think it’s easy for you to see why I didn’t stay in closer contact. Not long after the last time I saw you, when we got together with Laura and Yvonne, Karl and Edith, little Karl, Linda and her kids, Jane, Dad, and all those others at your place in Middle River, my life started heading in a direction that I wasn’t ready to share with you. I hate the way that time and circumstances isolated me from you. It wasn’t that I thought you couldn’t handle the secret …more

50/50 Exercise #7: Pick a Card

Loteria card: El Soldado
Loteria is a traditional Mexican game similar to bingo, played with a tarot-like deck of picture cards. In card number 34, El Soldado, I see M., my “ex‑husband” of eight years and still one of my very closest friends. Long before I knew him, M. was one of the thousands of Mexican-American soldiers from Corpus Christi, a native of the area where his family has probably lived since it was still part of Mexico.

The brown and smoky tones of the card remind me of a photo of M. from his service during the first Gulf War. He served as a specialist in the U.S. Army stationed in Saudi Arabia …more