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11/27/2006

CLOUDS: AN EXERCISE IN POINTLESS REMEMBRANCE

I've read a few book son writing, a few more blogs by writers, and they all mention becoming a better writer by forcing yourself to write every day. I do that. But I've run out of things to say. When that's the case, the experts recommend, we should go back in time to one moment in our life, maybe something seemingly mundane or ordinary, and write about it in detail. We're supposed to try not to make sense of it, try not to perfect it or make a point. Just write about that moment. That's harder than that it seems for a guy like me who's made a living and a life of making sense and making points. Here's today's attempt. Your turn.


A thick-throated round man in a brown suit belted out a closing song. After the final firmata's release, the Wurlitzer and piano played us out of the sanctuary and into the lobby of the small country church. It was then that my search for the Candy Man began - a wrinkled deacon with shiny crisp palms always dispensing butterscotches and peppermints to any child brave enough to give him five.

I was such a kid.

He held my hand for what was probably a full minute, an eternity, asking what I'd learned in Sunday School and reminding me to be nice to my sister. The smell of coffee was thick on his closely spoken words.

This was church.

I was driven there every Sunday by two good smelling dressed up adults in their magic Ford LTD that always played Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton and Barry Manilow on its radio. We stopped for donuts on the way. Sunday was a perfect day and church was a perfect place.

It was a place packed with music and laughter and people older than me eager to point out how fast I was growing or how handsome I looked in my new blue slacks from Sears. It was a place of popsicle sticks and graham crackers, kool-aid and fried chicken, flannelgraphs and puppets. It was a kind of fairy tale land rippling with familiar faces and open hands waiting for slaps. Perfect. From wall to wall.

With the exception of one.

On that wall hung a painting.

A city.

A highway stretching from the distance to the foreground and on it, hundreds of cars. The cars collided, broad-siding buses and guardrails, throwing mothers and children to the asphalt. An airplane smashing into a skyscraper. A news helicopter diving into distant suburbia.

Beside the highway, a graveyard. White apparitions rising from its soil. The same ghostly figures climbing from the wreckage on the roadway and the skyscraper, the airplane and homes on the horizon.

All this under a frothy gray sky. On ray of light broke through. A silhouetted man with arms stretched out stood in the opening.

I avoided this painting. I avoided this entire wall of the lobby, preferring the questions and generosity of the Candy Man and cheek pinching of the gray-blue-haired grandmother brigade.

It left me afraid and deeply unexplainably sad.

I could have walked away from the canvas petrified of highways, buses, airplanes or skyscrapers. I could have trembled at the thought of graveyards and ghosts or the suburbs or Jesus coming back. But no.

Any other six year-old might have shed a tear or two over the puppy taken out by that van in the bottom right hand corner or buckled under the emotional weight of realizing for the first time the inevitability of his own death. But no.

Clouds.

For some reason, from the day I discovered that painting on I felt melancholic and sometimes even downright afraid at the sight of clouds. Not the white fluffy ones polka-dotting a cobalt Summer sky. No, no. The kind that rerender everything in grayscale, and smother the joy out of life along with its color scheme - like some intergalactic serial killer's massive gray pillow being pressed mercilessly down on the face of the earth.

Those kinds of clouds.

They sneak over the sun and I'm back in the car headed to the elementary school, begging my mom not to make me go to Mrs. Roosth's class. I'm fifteen and I've just broken up with Kim in the band hall before the day's first bell, and I'm feeling guilty and trying to wish myself into loving her. I'm eighteen and I'm on the edge of my bed writing my first song, about a girl at school who just passed away, a girl I didn't know but mourned anyway. I'm back in college and Becky's broken up with me and I'm walking across campus, very dramatically, in the rain, wondering what I did wrong. I'm looking out the window of a black Cadillac, watching an old man in a general's uniform standing at attention, saluting his sister's, my grandmother's, casket as it's lowered into the soggy earth. I'm back in the lobby of a country church, staring at the figure in the clouds, hoping He waits until I can drive before He comes back, or at least until I finish off the butterscotch melting inside my cheek.

4 Comments:

Anonymous elijah said...

I know that picture. When I was about six years old, the kindest little old lady in the world taught my Sunday school class all about Revelation. She showed us that picture, and she scared me to death. Hardly a day went by when I didn't walk across the schoolyard in elementary, look up at the clouds, and think about "any moment now." To this day, whenever anyone mentions Christ's return I see that picture in my mind. I don't remember Christ breaking through the clouds though (I'm glad you do). All I remember are the ghosts and the traffic accidents. Wow.

11/27/2006  
Anonymous Sarah said...

What a beautiful story.

And thanks for the inspiration...

11/28/2006  
Anonymous miss munky said...

Nancy sent me over after we talked about my class at church.

You are quite the writer Mr. Groves.

I didn't grow up in church. My granny had a painting of Jesus in the dining room...I'm sure everyone's seen it. He has pale skin and lovely, long, light brown hair. I knew his name was Jesus, but I had no idea who Jesus was.
I spent my entire childhood thinking that he must have been related 'cause that portrait looked so much like my dad.

No wonder I spent years running from God.

Anywho, great writing.

11/28/2006  
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1/31/2007  

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