Excerpt from Chlora's Book of the Month Club: July and October
Copyright 2015, Ginger Henry Geyer
Grandma brings a stash of reading material on the family trip to the lake on the Fourth of July...
The family and all their gear piled into the RV,
a Winnebago nicknamed The Hog.
There was camping gear, food aplenty, bedding,
swimming, boating and fishing stuff,
all the necessities, plus more,
to make a holiday weekend
at the lake both enjoyable and endurable
for a horde of relatives.
An RV showed how big your family really was.
Chlora's family of five, plus Grandma
were gonna sleep in there,
with an assorted cousin or two.
Uncle Bill and Aunt Daisy and their kids
would be meeting them at the lake
but they were gonna camp out.
Chlora might want to sneak
into their campsite if things got too crowded.
The underused ski boat was hitched behind the RV.
The boat's vinyl cover barely
stretched over its contents.
Since they were to be
crammed into that RV,
all three kids were instructed to bring only
the bare basics in a backpack.
This wouldn't be too difficult;
a swimsuit took up negative space,
but it was those hiking boots that'd cram it.
The boots, however, were necessary
for two outings: one to the rodeo parade
(since Chlora had to hand-me-down
her cowboy boots to her little brother)
and the other for the
cave exploration she hoped to do.
Otherwise, all she needed to pack
were a change of clothes, a toothbrush,
and the entire series of Bobbsey Twins
books to keep herself occupied.
Her big sister would have to sneak in
her hairdryer case and curlers.
No way they'd fit in a backpack.
Unfortunately, same problem
with the Bobbsey Twins.
Chlora had to settle for only one book and
a small pack of Go Fish cards.
The Go Fish cards came straight out of
the New Testament, with all its fishing stories.
The best fishing story, however,
was from the Old Testament
with that reluctant prophet Jonah
who was fishing for compliments
when he encountered
a big mouth bass, or was it a whale?
The Hog was as big as a whale,
and the family was now ensconced in its belly.
It might be a gas-guzzler glutton of a vehicle,
akin to Big Oil itself, but at least it was not
a doublewide house trailer,
hogging the entire two-lane road.
Dad nudged the rambling ensemble
through tight neighborhood streets
to the outskirts of town to pick up Grandma.
She waited for them was out by the curb,
sitting on a big cardboard box,
her bamboo fishing pole in one hand,
a brass lamp in the other.
At her feet were an old minnow bucket,
a tackle box, an ice chest, and a small suitcase.
She looked like a Neptune on his throne
and she was raring to go.
Grandma loved to fish
and she loved to read while she waited
for fish to bite. Therefore, she read a lot.
For her, the lake was paradise.
G'mornin' Ma, uh, what's all this
Hi hon, well, I've got treats here.
She handed him the items at her feet.
Dad paused, staring at the cardboard box.
And this is just a box
of my extra reading material
to dispense to the family,
thought y'all could use some religion.
Grandma actually liked theology
and was an avid reader of self-help books
as long as they were Christian.
Well, son, all these books were
spilling off my night table
and taking over the place.
Bookworm theology, you know.
But Ma, we don't have much room
here in the RV, with the kids and food
and life jackets and all.
Fact is, this vehicle is already
packed to the gills.
We cannot fit in your box.
She said, oh silly me, of course not.
Let's just leave the box here.
I'll stash the books here and there
and most of them will go back
behind the wheel casings
in that compartment. It's not filled up yet
with Chlora's rocks, is it?
Grandma swung open the small door
behind the rear tires and began stacking
her books into it. See, I'll tell Chlora
not to worry as her hiding place
will be empty soon enough.
Dad sighed, took her fishing pole,
and strapped it onto the full length
of the RV's roof.
Why the lamp, Ma?
Oh well, you know, there's never
a good reading lamp
in that RV, so I just thought
I'd bring my own.
She climbed aboard, set down her
remaining stack of books, generously
distributed hugs, planted her lamp
beside the one available swivel chair,
and plugged it in.
Thank goodness it didn't blow a fuse.
She proceeded to tuck books
in between cushions, under seats
and up in high cabinets.
See, they all fit. I told you so.
She latched the cabinets shut.
Dad brought in the rest of Grandma's stuff,
figuring what the heck we're already crowded.
Just like the closets at home,
no matter how big they are,
you'll pack them solid.
Chatter began flying
as Dad revved up the engine.
Off they went, leaving the cardboard box
that once held Grandma's books
right there on the curb.
A trip in The Hog was sure better
than a trip in the car
because at least you could move around
and use the bathroom on short notice.
Dad reviewed the rules of the road:
Bolt down the fridge and the cabinets.
Batten down the hatches.
No singing of 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,
or any other songs with numbers,
like the Twelve Days of Christmas.
No Juicy Fruit gum because
the smell makes Chlora carsick.
Doublemint gum is double-good,
which means better.
No throwing trash out the window
unless it is banana peels or apple cores.
Don't Mess with Texas.
No Fighting. No copycatting or Simon Says.
No Nair in the bathroom!
They all knew what Nair was.
Chlora's teenage sister Joanie Kay
introduced the whole family to it last year
when she opened up a bottle
in the minute bathroom of the RV
and smeared it over her legs
in lieu of shaving.
She said there was not enough space
in that unprofessional bathroom
to bend over with a razor.
The overwhelming stench of that depilatory
caused Dad to slam on the brakes.
He feared the stove was gonna
explode or something.
With that sudden stop,
his dashboard hula girl
took a flying leap,
every cabinet door flew open,
including the fridge.
Food, towels, toys, and gear
tumbled through the air.
Mom's beanie weenie casserole
smeared all over the floor.
Worse yet, little brother J.P.
rolled off the top bunk,
slid through the beans, and
hollered to high heaven
for the next fifty miles.
That Nair stunk up the entire RV.
Even going 60 miles per hour with
all the windows open, that acrid odor hung on.
It was even worse than getting
a home permanent.
They got to spend the night
in a motel after that.
Chlora liked motels with their
little bars of soap and paper protectors
on the toilet seats.
Patches of colored light
hit the white sheets in alternating patterns,
from the motel's neon sign
which blinked all night long,
announcing to the highway that
there was no room at the inn.
It was like a stained glass window
The family dynamics alone
warranted a speeding ticket,
but finally things wound down
as the trip outgrew its novelty.
Today's journey in The Hog
was not so eventful as the Nair trip,
rather, it was plain dull.
They were landlocked
here in middle America
on their proud land yacht,
with no hope of gazing
upon the hazy horizon line of the sea.
Instead it was just mile
after mile of flatness.
Nobody as picky as Goldilocks
should ever be allowed in an RV.
Grandma just could not get comfortable
and she tried every chair in there,
unplugging and replugging her lamp
each time she moved.
Being unconfined by seat belts
allowed other activities
such as playing jacks,
but the little red ball didn't bounce
well on the shag carpet and the
jacks got lost in it.
Grandma flicked on her lamp
and began reading a book called
Beauty Will Save the World.
She harrumphed over some passage
and muttered to Chlora that she should
go make something beautiful.
Chlora dutifully retrieved her Wooly Willy.
He was supposed to represent Everyman
but he looked like a grinning freak
straight out of a Flannery O'Connor story.
On a smooth highway it was easy
to pile hair onto Wooly Willy's head and face
with the little magnet pen,
like he was Medusa with a bad permanent.
Then if she shook the board,
it was like Samson getting a buzz
haircut from Delilah.
With persistent care, Chlora could
change him from a bald Mr. Clean
into a hairy, liberal Jesus.
Grandma, you've seen Jesus.
Does he look like this?
Well, Chlora dear, it is true that I
have had visions of our Savior,
but I never actually saw his face.
Then how come it was a vision?
Well, it was more of a presence,
like somebody talking in your ear.
So, then, you heard Jesus talk?
Not really, it isn't like he spoke out loud.
But believe me, when it happens to you,
you'll know it is him and he is real.
I call it Jesus, others call it God.
Everything becomes suddenly clear
and all your senses stand at attention
and you feel absolutely part of a bigger whole,
tiny and huge at the same time
because time and life itself
becomes an Eternal Presence
instead of a To Do List.
This has happened to me several times
but you can't bring it on. It just is.
And often it is sort of funny.
Your Wooly Willy Jesus is sort of funny too.
Who knows what Jesus looked like,
nobody had cameras back then.
But I have a book
on early Christian art
that showed the first known images of him
and they all had short-hair and a baby face,
and no beard at all.
Then iconography caught up with theology,
or was it the other way around,
and Jesus ended up as a bearded hippie.
Being from the Middle East, it is doubtful
he was a blue-eyed blonde, but looked
like a Jew from that era.
Like Jesus, Wooly Willy had a
magnetic personality and a big nose.
Unlike Jesus, Willy had to stay put
and he was controllable.
With the magnet wand,
the metal filings obediently
stood to attention like brigades
and dragged along in reluctant batches,
falling in sync and lifting as if saluting a general.
It felt like the magnet stick was getting
weary from all that pulling.
Chlora was not upset
when the RV shimmied along
the shoulder of the highway and
Willy's iron dust went back to dust.
Wooly Willy was not nearly as good
as drawing for real. It was highly unlikely
anybody could create beauty
with him, much less save the world.
Grandma silently handed Chlora a book.
Fortunately a rest stop lay up ahead
right on the state line.
The highways were instantly smoother
as the RV and boat bumped over
the point of demarcation
and Dad pulled over.
The family all got to go
into an air conditioned
welcome center where obsequious, starched
state employees distributed free orange juice
as they eyed their motorcade.
A security guard came forward and asked
where they were from,
who they were,
and where were they going?
Mom commented that those were
existential questions better answered
over gin than orange juice.
The juice pushers pursued
and made each family member write down
their name, like they were taking the
census in Bethlehem.
Grandma thanked the high and mighty
employees and told them
they might live in a rich state
with wider roads and prettier signage,
and a bigger sky, but they don't
get a larger share of heaven.
Grandma then handed them
a book of poems called
Grace is Where I Live
and told them it was a gift.
Then she pulled another one out
of her oversized handbag and said,
after that one try this: Idiot Psalms.
Chlora strode over to the state line
and set one foot in each world.
Mom took a snapshot of her
straddling that slim, liminal space,
which could not have been more than
one-sixteenth of an inch,
but which had probably caused all sorts of
lawsuits over land rights, fugitive criminals,
liquor licenses, and taxes.
This might even be part of the
Mason-Dixon line that divided the north
from the south, making slavery OK
in one culture and an abomination in the other.
Chlora blithely tight-rope walked
on the painted state line
all the way to the middle of the road.
A fast hot wind whizzed by her,
blaring its horn.
It was a semi from Walmart,
even bigger than The Hog,
enough to give a jaywalker
a borderline personality.
Chlora twirled around and felt her life
blow by her in a near-death experience.
It had the intensity of what Grandma
had just described, when time quits ticking,
sort of like that split second
when the old year becomes the new year;
or when you get yourself born again;
you can never quite put your finger on
when the change occurred.
Unscathed, she fled back to the side of the road,
wide-eyed and grateful
to be fussed over by her parents
who weren't sure whether to scold her
or to embrace her.
Don't you know any better?
What do you know, really?
There is that boggle line
in the mind you just can't go beyond.
Is that where knowing stops or begins?
Or is it like the border of skin
where the body meets air?
How much are we able to know
of that fine line between indulgence and pleasure
where if you go too far one way
you become dour and depressed,
or too far the other, hedonistic and apathetic.
Grandma took Chlora by the shoulders
and said that giving up your need to know
would be her job in the second half of life,
when she gets the Adventure of Ascent.
For now she just needed to stay out of traffic
and know that authors were always crossing lines.
It wasn't because of divided loyalties
but because of the I/Thou experience
that connects it all.
That was The Glorious Impossible of life,
the fact that borders bleed into one another,
like in blurry watercolor washes
where you think there is a line
between blue and purple,
but cannot pinpoint exactly where
it melds into indigo or periwinkle.
Let's go back in the Winnebago
and finish a book.
How do you know when you've finished a book?
Is it when you read the last line,
or took it back to the library,
or stuck it back on the shelf ?
What about the linger factor,
does that mean the book is unfinished?
No, it just means the book was good.
It was within the same state
but was definitely a border crossing
when the RV waddled over the dam.
The broad Streams of Living Water
loomed below. There were hills now,
and this meant the campsite was near.
The ski boat bobbing along behind
seemed to sense the water ahead
and it urged them on.
Chlora and Joanie Kay broke into song
about the brave Three Little Fishies,
Boop, boop diddey daddam waddum choo!
and they swam and they swam right over the dam.
Although it was a numbered song, nobody minded now.
It was a minor thrill to get to say the word dam.
When they arrived at the lake,
they shouted out with joy upon seeing the
wide open, sparkling water.
Dad opened the RV door, jumped down, and spat.
This is just what you do when you drive The Hog.
There wasn't much to unload because it all
got to stay in the Winnebago—that was the point.
However, Grandma did remove all of her books
which were no worse for wear from their journey
behind the back wheels. She said The Hog
was now christened as a bookmobile
and while she was at it, she stuck
a bumper sticker on its rear:
Why do we kill people who kill people
to show that killing people is wrong??
Chlora helped Grandma stack
the books on a picnic table.
One, titled Tell It Slant, slid off.
Grandma announced it was
a free-for-all book fair,
and they should each pick out a favorite.
She was a book pusher, even gave you a
gummy worm candy for a book mark
if you took the bait.
J.P. ate the gummy worm,
which looked just like the rubbery ones
in Dad's tackle box.
Chlora skimmed over the stacks
and, to please Grandma, selected a book
that had an interesting cover,
a Rousseau painting
with the word SIN in its title.
You can't judge a book by its cover,
but if nothing else you can enjoy the cover.
Chlora looked forward to reading all about sin,
something that belonged in dramatic
far away jungles, not here
in normal mid-America.
Chlora stashed the book
under her seat in the RV, where she noticed
another book called Eve's Striptease.
That one looked interesting too.
She pulled off her T shirt,
popped the straps of her swimsuit,
stepped out of her shorts,
and headed for the water.
Somebody needed to invent waterproof books.
Chlora goes to the public library to return her overdue books and to research the history of hell for the Halloween carnival's Hell House...
The sun was Octobering
all over the neighborhood,
a perfect setting for impromptu
flag football that sprawled
from one pile of leaves into another.
October was Chlora's favorite month.
It had the best colors by far,
plus that healing sound
of leaves crunching underfoot.
Zoysia, a grass that commands respect,
made deeply rooted carpets in most yards.
Lawns that had been well-kept throughout
the summer were rewarded with the
colorful confetti and applause of hickory trees.
The expanses of green and gold
stretched past fences, on and on and on,
making her street the perfect spot
for long, lazy passes of the football.
October smelled good, too, a fragrance like
almonds roasted in spices,
that matched the smudgy blue-gray of the sky
where it morphed into the setting sun.
All this and the brisk, cool air does something
positive for the brain waves.
Amidst this glory of autumn,
Chlora walked to the public library,
her school satchel full of overdue books,
as heavy as a pregnant cat.
A big V of geese overhead honked
like they loved Jesus.
Those geese were wild Canadians,
migrating across borders without their passports,
aiming for a homecoming.
They were romantic creatures,
mating for life and singing their
honky tonk songs in harmony.
They might look lovely V-ing across the sky,
or floating on the water,
but up close and personal
those geese made abundant messes
and occasionally one would chase you down,
hissing all the way.
Instead of geese, someday the town
hoped to get goose bumps from
its very own B52 sonic boom
roaring over the football stadium,
like in a big city where jet contrails
so criss-crossed the sky
that it looked like a tic-tac-toe game.
Near the High School, the maple trees
were turning, doing their own metanoia dance,
replete with toilet paper waving like scarves.
The leftover tissue from last Friday's game
dangled sadly like Spanish moss.
It had not been a good game,
but that did not deter anyone
from coming back this week.
There was nothing better to do.
Regardless, this was one mighty fine day.
Drumbeats from the marching band
gave an urgency to the neighborhood,
as if called to service. It was the high school
band warming up for tonight's football game.
Normally Chlora would've planned
on a longer time for browsing in the library,
and taking notes in her handy little sketchbook
and making a big haul of check-outs.
Today, however, she wanted to get home
and carve some jack-o-lanterns
before the big game.
She went inside the library
where any old Joe could go
to get himself some free intellectual ecstasy.
You could find everything from Homer
to Harry Potter in there.
Everybody knew everything
in this small town,
except what was really stashed
in the long stacks of their public library.
A person could never be bored in there.
Books were the best way to go places.
Chlora's nostrils perked up
at the wise smell of old books.
When she was little, she loved
to go to story hour at the public library.
And at Sunday school,
the tell me the stories of Jesus part
was by far the best moment.
Her grandmother was always humming
"I love to tell the story ..
'twill be my theme in glory",
whatever a twill was.
Libraries everywhere were full of stories
and reference books for words like twill
that rhymes with Still
that's fit to kill your Uncle Bill
who ate some dill and got his fill
and went over the hill
to swallow a pill.
Chlora made a mental note to find a new
storybook to read to her stuffed animals.
They had had it with Mother Goose
and complained that they didn't know
their own myths.
Genesis is jam-packed full
of stories and myths,
all true in their own way.
Perhaps she should try it.
But Genesis didn't need to be checked out;
it was always part of her Geography of Memory
and there were two sides to every story in it.
Perhaps this would help
Teddy and the monkeys,
since faith comes to us initially as story,
not theology. Stories create readiness
and that usually leads to something.
Chlora put her overdue books in the slot
and ignored the scowl of the librarian
who made her feel like a criminal.
That librarian was a wellspring
of information, much of it unasked for
and useless. She had once told Chlora
she was too old for picture books,
so she migrated to the adults-only section
where the art books lived.
There she made up stories
to go with the pictures.
The adult section was a labyrinth.
They should try arranging those books
by color of their spines
to make them easier to find.
Romance novels would be in the purple range,
near spirituality. Books like Paradise Lost,
which conjured up images of hell
that nobody had ever seen,
would be orange.
She went to the M section in fiction.
She had to hum the ABC song
to determine if M came before or after P.
How funny, that is the same tune as
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,
and the lyrics crossed-over.
She could not find Milton's Paradise Lost
in there. Was it lost, or was she?
Maybe it wasn't fiction.
She would have to ask the librarian.
The librarian dropped her reader glasses
on their delicate chain
and asked Chlora if her storybooks were
or were they late on purpose?
Chlora took a quarter out of her
book satchel for the overdue fine.
She mustered up the courage to explain
that she needed to research the history of hell
for the Halloween carnival coming up.
She had already plowed through
her Grandma's theology books
and tried to read The Secret Life of the Soul
but its kindly author wasn't that big into hell.
And how did you learn that hell has a history?
I looked it up in the
World Book Encyclopedia,
source of all good wisdom.
Grandma has a whole set of them.
It has great pictures of the hell
that Bosch dreamed up.
Maybe, Chlora, you would prefer
some of these nice Halloween books
we have on display, or some meaty
newsletters, like Books and Culture.
Chlora replied that she had already read
Frankenstein. It was mildly enjoyable
and a good warning to beware
of what you create.
And since Mary Shelley
had read Paradise Lost
to understand why there was evil,
she wanted to read it too.
Talking to the librarian gave Chlora the jitters
and she yammered about other female writers,
trying to impress her.
Oh, are you interested in
feminist literature, Chlora?
It will be good for you to learn
how girls were treated
in other cultures and times. That will
make you grateful to have been
born here and now,
where it is merely boring.
However, Milton was a man,
and you'll find him and all sorts of hell
over there, in that direction.
The librarian pointed toward the
classics section. It is all by
dead white men, you know.
And beyond that is the religion section
where you can totally confuse your topic.
I'd recommend you begin with some of
the old church fathers,
like St. John Chrysostom, to see where
hell came from.
He was the Byzantine archbishop
of Constantinople and was such
an effective orator, people called him
the Golden Mouth.
But of course Chrysostom is unreadable now,
and you'll have to wade through
a lot of good and bad sermons.
He wrote vivid descriptions of hell
and advocated the wrath of God.
But he was quite compassionate
toward the poor.
But then, he was also the source
for much of Hitler's diatribes against the Jews.
On the other hand, he taught
that greed must be transformed into gratitude.
Then there was Dante,
who gave us a 3D geography of hell,
that is, the Inferno.
Have you read the Divine Comedy?
Chlora muttered that she had
a comic book of it.
Chlora acted intellectual,
pretended to already know of
St. John Chrysostom,
put her nose in the air,
and sauntered over to the classics.
Did Milton invent Satan or not?
There was a wee bit about Satan
in the gospel of Matthew
but it was sketchy.
Overall the Bible was not clear
on the subject of devils or hell,
so why were so many Christians intent
on sending people there?
The Jews weren't.
And Jesus was a Jew.
Passing by the religion section,
some voracious reader had left a
tower of babble book stack
all over the table.
A green library lamp
barely peeked above the sliding stack.
On it was an illuminated manuscript painting
of Chrysostom handing a book of homilies
to the emperor of Byzantium
with Archangel Michael on standby.
Was the angel signaling his approval or
just overseeing the spill of ink below?
Chlora flipped over some of the titles.
It was all so confusing,
how would she ever get illuminated?
What was a short story
and what was a tall tale?
Books like these would necessitate
a new way of reading.
Chlora decided she needed
a light of the world reading lamp too.
It would lighten this heavy stuff.
And she could eat Corn Nuts while she read,
suck on them until they cracked open.
This idea gave her the green light to go on.
She stacked up the collective wisdom
and pushed it aside.
She located Milton's lost paradise,
scratched her head, and checked out,
in more ways than one.