Our writing “tribe” has had to adapt to so many pandemic-driven contingencies. No longer able to meet in the warm glow of a local coffee shop, we resign ourselves to meeting online in the virtual world of Zoom. A few days ago, I shared with a trusted writing buddy the outline of a story that I hope to share with fellow writers at our once-a-month gathering.
Although COVID restrictions apply to large gatherings, they don’t currently impact one-on-one meetings. Tommy and I cast aside our fear, faced the brave new world and returned to the recently reopened venue. We practiced social distancing and wore face masks. We were able to sip a cup of coffee and enjoy a pastry created earlier that day. The aroma of a Colombian blend wafted through the newly remodeled building. I nibbled at a freshly toasted bagel. Homemade butter teased my taste buds. Zoom calls couldn’t replace this element of socialization.
The barista had complied with all the regulations. Every other table was available for seating. Patrons had to stand 6 feet apart. Only 15 people could be in the shop at any one time. Tommy and I were able to claim the table with a window view. On a dystopic Main Street, a stream of masked souls glanced our way.
Once we had sipped our brew and consumed more than our share of daily carbs, we got down to the business at hand. Tommy agreed to listen to the elements of a story I had planned to share with the larger group. I began to read.
“The lilacs are in purple bloom, the roses in full red display. Hummingbirds have returned for their daily diet of sugar water; songbirds compete with mischievous squirrels for a place at the feeder.”
This April day was to mark the beginning of a much-anticipated conference sponsored by the North Carolina Writers’ Association. It seems like yesterday that my writing buddy and I arrived at the campus of the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. That was another season in time.
Everything changes, and this year the change is pronounced, profound and pervasive. This year, the conference moved online. Thanks to the Zoom technology platform, writers and authors were able to meet online.
One of the sessions that I attended was called “The Art of Memoir.” Within minutes of the start time, 66 participants populated the gallery view screens on my iPad.
The presenter challenged the audience to participate in some writing-prompt exercises. The first began with two words: I remember. Without getting into the mechanics of the assignment, I created in response to his directive.
Tommy tapped on the table and asked me to pause. “Vincent, didn’t we have a similar exercise at our meeting last October?”
“We did, Tommy, and that actually gave me a head start on the project.” Here is what I shared during the online gathering in April.
I remember the brilliance of an Arizona sunrise.
The scent of cactus flowers after a desert rain.
The sting of a thousand grains of sand pelting my blistered lips.
Watching Gary Cooper walking tall in the movie “High Noon.”
Imagining tumbleweed measuring his every step.
Dad pounding his fist into his left hand, declaring, “I hate war!”
Ike on TV promising to end the Korean conflict.
Being vaccinated against polio.
Waking up to a COVID- 19 universe, safe in the favorite room of my current home, the den overlooking the Dutch Buffalo Creek.
Books line shelves on the north and western walls.
A bay window frames the view of the creek to the east.
A dormer window embraces the southern sun.
My grandchildren gather round an oval oak table to listen to their grandmother read from her favorite novel while, in the adjoining parlor, grandpa participates in an online writers’ conference.
I remember shaking the hand of a stranger, giving a hug to a friend, sharing conversation over coffee with a colleague. I remember praying; now I pray again.
Another sip of coffee and I confided to Tommy the story behind the story.
“So, Tommy, the passage begins in my formative years. Dad was the deputy commander of a U.S. Army base located near the sand dunes of Yuma, Arizona. Many of the childhood memories were captured in my debut novel.”
“Vincent, I thought some of the references were familiar. I remember reading the book when it was first published. At first, I didn’t make the connection since you penned it under a pseudonym.”
“Indeed, the pen name was originally invented to help construct a storyline subtheme. Dad was long since dead and buried by the time the book went to press. My memories of him were so intertwined with the events that swirled about us. That duty base in Yuma was one of many that changed our lives.
“Dad reveled in the Roaring Twenties. He overcame hardships of the Great Depression. He survived the Battle of the Bulge during the Second World War. The Korean Conflict was every bit as much a war for him on that peninsula.”
“The Yuma assignment was actually a breather for the colonel. During a relative period of peace, the desert sands were the perfect place to test the metal that was forged into tank ball bearings.”
“Vincent, I remember reading in your book a chapter about how a young boy used those in the game of marbles. Was that you?”
“Indeed, I didn’t really try to disguise the identity of the main character. I hoped to make a connection with all the other Army brats out there in the readers' world.”
“Vincent, what about the second part of the short story for the writers’ group?”
“I borrowed more recent experiences that I had captured in a sequel novella. We are so caught up in the present turmoil. We overlook the quiet moments. Make no mistake, things have changed. At least for now, we can’t shake hands. And heaven forbid we even think about our usual hug. That’s especially difficult for a vowel person.”
“Oh, another reference I learned from Dad. While he was in service, he was sometimes reminded that his last name ended with the first letter of the alphabet, a dog whistle for Italian. My grandfather referred to the Anglo-Americans as the Merigods, a reverse dog whistle suitable to that period in our history.”
“Yeah, I get it. There are a lot of dog whistles; many of them aren’t subtle anymore. We will get through these times. The pandemic will wane. Our land will be healed. Someday we will be able to read lips and embrace again.” Thank you for taking the time to ponder the message. I hope other writers will find a way to share their memories and stories with us.
Vincent James Vezza is an award-winning author and the regional representative for the North Carolina Writers’ Network. Writers are encouraged to participate in the virtual meetings, hosted on the fourth Thursday of each month. Each meeting features a guest speaker and discussion. The meetings are free, but registration is required. Call or text Vincent at 980-621-0398 for details.
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!