When people we love pass on we are left with only our memories of them in our hearts and minds. Recalling touching moments tend to make us shed tears. Hysterical laughter ensues when remembering a funny story involving our loved one. Even a favorite phrase or saying sticks, and when heard again from the lips of another, immediately dredges up memories of the special person in your life who used the same expression.
Knowing they are no longer around to say them hurts the heart and soul like nothing else can.
My grandfather passed away in 2005 and the mere mention of his name makes a lump of tears form in my throat. We were very close and I had the privilege of growing up and listening to stories of his youth told in a deep, rhythmic baritone thick with a southern accent. As most storytellers, Grandpa loved an audience to regal with lavish tales of a world no longer around, interspersing the stories with nuggets of old-school values and ideals. Many humid summer nights were spent on the screened-in front porch shelling peas (yes, I shelled them but no, I refused to eat them) and listening to him talk about life in southern Arkansas. To say I miss those times would be an understatement.
One of his favorite sayings in response to the question, “How are you?” always made me laugh. He’d give a mischievous grin and reply, “I’m fine as frog hair!”
The first time I remember him saying the phrase I was around eight and I giggled. “Grampa! Frogs don’t have hair!” to which he replied, “Darling, it’s so fine you can’t see it, but it’s there. Some things you have to use your heart to see.”
At the age of eight, I really didn’t grasp the meaning of the explanation. All I knew was the phrase made me laugh whenever he said it, and the expression became a running joke between the two of us. The tradition carried on when my son was born, and my beloved grandfather passed on his wisdom, morals, and our family history to his great-grandson with each bedtime story.
Fine as Frog Hair is the title of my latest book, a short novel (under 12,000 words) with certain parts inspired by my grandfather. It’s a tribute to a man I loved, respected, and miss every day
Grandpa would cluck his tongue or shake his head if he heard someone use the expression “Those were the good old days.” His response? “Only to those who never experienced them.” This story explains why he felt that way, and how strong previous generations were in a very different world than we live in now.
I’m thrilled to announce the audio version will be narrated by Homer V. Jones. I cried when listening to his audition sample. Mr. Jones sounded so much like my grandfather it was eerie and wonderful at the same time.
Fine as Frog Hair is slated for release August 31, 2016 on all retail channels (Amazon, B&N, and iTunes) and is available for preorder for only .99 cents. The synopsis and an excerpt from Chapter 1 are below.
Can the past heal the future?
Ninety-year-old Marvin Hermesch is determined to find out.
After sneaking out of the retirement home on a hot and humid Sunday afternoon, Marvin embarks upon a journey. His memory is deteriorating fast, and he’s having difficulty recalling the face of his deceased wife, Ruthie.
As his short-term memory slips, it awakens memories buried deep from his younger days and vivid nightmares of his youth, including the horrors of World War II.
Armed with an empty journal, some water, and his trusty old truck, Marvin heads to his childhood home in the backwoods of Grant County, Arkansas for one last journey; one final battle.
Marvin fights to regain control of his mind and body by confronting the tragedies of the past in hopes of healing the future.
MARVIN SHUFFLED DOWN the sprawling concrete steps as fast as his old legs would allow. The smell of gardenias and magnolias hung heavy in the humid, late Sunday afternoon air. The fragrant aroma embedded its natural perfume on his damp shirt—a welcome reprieve from the stench of disinfectants and bleach. Sweat sprinted down his back and face while making his way across the thick grass to the back parking area.
Stopping at the edge of the blacktop to catch his breath, he wiped the dampness from his forehead. Glancing around to ensure no one had noticed him slip outside, ninety-one-year-old Marvin Dean “Junior” Hermesch let a true, genuine smile form—a first in nearly three years. The only thing standing in the yard was the brick inlaid sign proudly proclaiming the name of the place, Rolling Brooks Estates. The faux-gold, trimmed lettering was overly ostentatious and didn’t reflect the continual nightmare of the poor, elderly souls trapped behind the doors, stashed away with nothing to look forward to except death.
When Marvin arrived at his new home two years prior, he’d gasped at the beauty of the building and grounds. At the time, he thought the lovely surroundings would help ease the pain of selling his home and moving into the assisted-living facility full of complete strangers. The three-story, red brick exterior sported six enormous, white columns gracing the porch encircling the entire place. A well-manicured yard dotted with weeping willows made the area look more like a scene from Gone with the Wind than a retirement home.
The beauty was a fake façade—a siren’s call beckoning weary travelers of life with false promises of rest and sanctuary. The place was nothing more than a fancy, large mausoleum, complete with thin and frail corpses shuffling around inside. The residents were dried up husks of their former selves, betrayed by their own bodies and minds. The life sucked out of them little by little each passing day of incarceration.
Squaring his once strong shoulders, Marvin took a deep breath, letting the sweet aroma of the flowers invigorate his soul. They reminded him of his birthplace; made his heart thump with excitement, knowing the backwoods of Grant County was today’s destination.
Marvin refused to spend the remainder of his life withering away while the staff and other residents watched him wilt from afar. He was just a name and number—a frail body occupying Room 272—and when he passed, another aged soul would slip into his spot.
The residents were like elderly cattle huddled together, never noticing when a member of the decrepit herd dropped to the ground.
Two years of having every move monitored, no say in what to eat, when to sleep, who he shared a room with, how he lived, was more than enough.
It was time to go. Time for Marvin to head back home and reconnect with his roots before the dark shadows of confusion overtook his thoughts forever. He feared the next bout would be a permanent break, trapping him inside the twisted hallways of a shattered mind.
Picking up his pace despite the intense waves of heat billowing up from the pavement, Marvin reached his old Dodge truck. He tried, yet couldn’t recall, how long it’d been since he’d driven. Weeks? Months? A year? Would he even remember how to operate the thing?
Gnarled fingers shaking, Marvin unlocked the door and climbed behind the wheel, tossing the bag full of goodies on the floorboard. The tattoo on his right forearm of an anchor with the words USS Langley had faded, yet under the bright afternoon sun, the bluish-black ink seemed brighter. Pride swelled inside his concaved chest. He’d been a Gunner’s Mate on the ship during World War II—and was one of the fortunate who’d survived after she’d sunk.
Unwilling to revisit those memories, Marvin glanced at his hands. The thick, silver wedding band still held its place of honor on his left ring finger even though his beloved wife Ruthie had been gone for almost ten years.
Thinking about his beautiful wife, even though he missed her so bad it made his chest tighten, was much better than reliving the horrors of the war. For years, he’d kept the terrifying images locked away in the deepest recesses of his mind. Once discharged, he’d gone on with life, married, owned a successful construction business, and enjoyed the companionship of friends and his wife. Those activities helped keep the memories sealed away.
Things changed when Ruthie passed on from cancer. The lock inside him weakened, and when Marvin moved into Rolling Brooks Estates after suffering several falls at home, the mental lock snapped in two, releasing the horrid visions of the war which haunted him day and night.
“Not gonna think about that! No you aren’t, Junior. Not today. It’s time for a Sunday drive to clear the cobwebs from the head. Yes siree!”
Forcing all his concentration on the ignition switch, Marvin said a silent prayer for the old V8 to behave. He grinned when the truck started right up. He patted the cracked, worn leather on the dashboard. “That’s my girl. You’re all I got left to rely on. Let’s take us one last journey, okay? Just two old hunks of junk no one cares about riding off into the sunset. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about us, right? Like Meemaw always said—if we’re breathing, we’re fine as frog hair, aren’t we Bertha?”
With one last, loving caress of the worn dash, Marvin put the truck into drive. He gave a fake salute in the direction of the retirement home then glanced in the rear view mirror. His cloudy, blue eyes stared back at him with a renewed sparkle. The thick waves of white hair curled up at the ends from the sweat on his brow.
“God, when did I get so old? I’m certainly no longer a towhead. I’m an old gray dog ready to revisit—in person—the vivid memories of my younger days before the recollections disappear for good.”
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