bioStories Blog is an extension of the online magazine bioStories: Essays from the magazine, news, updates on contributors, and other features appear here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

For Ben on a Sunny Day

Sharon Frame Gay
You're looking away from the camera, off to the side, head tilted back in laughter. A light breeze tosses your hair, curling it, the way it looked when you stepped off a sailboat. In this photograph, you are young. So young. Shoulders strong and straight, not yet weighted with the loss of expectation and the shadow of responsibility. Or the specter of mortality.
I remember your jacket, your plaid shirt, how they felt and how they smelled, like sea salt, coffee, and kindness. Soft from many washings, your shirt kept my head nestled near your ribs, the quiet thud of your heart a lullaby.
Somewhere in the distance, I imagine Emmy Lou singing, notes drawn out like wind chimes on an early autumn evening.
You dance behind the moon now. Quarter notes mingle with the songs of angels. And I miss you so.
I miss you on days like this, when the sky is so heartbreakingly blue that it seems anything is possible, and everything we could ever need is just moments away. The sky goes on forever, unfettered by clouds, straight up to the universe, offering those of us tethered to earth a glimpse of heaven.
If you were here, you might be on the greens. Or sailing before the sun on your way to a safe harbor, Orcas your escort as the boat slips through the waves, leaving a wake soft and billowing, like ancient silk. Perhaps the light would find you in a blue ribbon stream, casting away from the shadows, or wandering the beach in the Low Country, Spanish Moss brushing your shoulders as you pass by.
When the rains come, and the world has slipped indoors, I am calmer, placated, safe and dry eyed, dreaming that you must be somewhere brighter. But when the sun comes out and summer shows once again, I feel the heart tugs, knowing how you would revel in this moment.
I want to give this day to you. Wrap it up in gentle, soft cloth that smells like home, tied with vines from the garden, leave it by my doorstep for you to find when you step down from the stars and walk through the night, smiling as you reach down to cradle it in your hands.

Sharon Frame Gay grew up a child of the highway, playing by the side of the road. Her work can be found in several anthologies, as well as bioStories, Gravel Magazine, Fiction on the Web, Literally Stories, Halcyon Days, Fabula Argentea, Persimmon Tree, Write City, Literally Orphans, Indiana Voice Journal, Luna Luna, and others. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Hand-Me-Down Kid

By Terril L. Shorb

My childhood included a stretch of living at or below the poverty line. The oldest of six children and head chore-boy on our small, subsistence farm in northwestern Wyoming, I drove tractors rather than sedans right up to my junior year of High School. Not once in all those years did I get a whole can of soda to myself and rarely wore clothes off the rack. It was more like wearing them off the back of someone I knew. This role as “hand-me-down” kid first caused embarrassment, and then later in life, a curious kind of pride.
      It is said experience is the best teacher. And I’ve got to say that living on the edge is a pretty effective teacher’s aide. My Mother was a magician of the “can-do” spirit. She was the Queen of re-use, and on our farm little was wasted and most things enjoyed interesting new lives. An Uncle once joked that his Levis, which had served well in his many roles as irrigator, hunter, and back-hoe operator, would finally get an education when I wore them to school. 
      I wore blue-jeans rolled into cuffs and shirts whose shoulders lines hit me mid-way to my elbows because I wasn’t lanky like my older relatives. One of the smart-mouths in English class asked loudly one day how come I kept shrinking. I rode the school bus home that night and announced to my Mother that I wasn’t going to wear anymore hand-me-down clothes. Fine, she said, adding with a grin, as long as I completed all my wood-chopping, hog-slopping, egg-gathering, water-lugging, and other chores each day, I was welcome to take on extra projects from neighbors for extra cash. Needless to say, there simply wasn’t an extra minute or ounce of energy left at the end of the day. I felt defeated and even ashamed to go to school, where I expected to be the butt of jokes.
      One day I was visiting my maternal grandfather, who presented me with several pairs of Levis. They were in good shape, but because Grandpa was huskier, the pants were roomy enough for me-and-a-half. I was about to rudely refuse when he handed me something else: a hand-tooled leather belt with a silver buckle—one of several he won earlier in his life as a champion bronc rider. “This oughta cinch up those britches,” he offered. Suffice it to say I practically paraded my hand-me-down pants and that belt around school and drew admiring glances and comments from a few boys and girls!
      From that time on I had a whole different attitude about wearing clothes that had worked for someone else. I realized the shirts or pants or jackets came with stories from a hard-working life: “These pants were worn by a man who helped to dig the big canal from the Buffalo Bill Dam.” Or, “This flannel shirt was there the day my cousin got the eight-point elk up in Sunlight Basin.”
      I was hopelessly hooked on clothes that had been out and about in the world. A tiny rip on the back side of one denim shirt from my step-father vividly brought to mind, every time I slipped it on, images of a rangy old Hereford cow who knocked him up against a corral post when he tried to separate her from her calf for vaccination purposes. My imagination was off its leash around those 'here-you-go' clothes because, unlike store-bought versions, they've been tested by life, just like the people who wore them.
      Nowadays, I look for hand-me-down clothes in thrift stores because I've grown up and moved on from the people who used to pass their garb onto me. I still enjoy the sense that each time I purchase a new-old piece of clothing, I'm also walking out with a little bit of living history whose next chapter we will write together.
      And there's another thing about hand-me-down or thrift-store-pre-owned clothes I appreciate. I was reminded of it the other day when I cruised the aisles of a favorite second-hand store for long sleeve shirts for the coming autumn. Two rows over, in the boy's section, a mother handed her ten-year-old son a twenty dollar bill and told him to find his shirts for the new school term. I watched as the boy prowled the racks, tried on and then selected a half dozen shirts. He paid for the whole fall wardrobe with the single bill. Outside, where he rejoined his Mother, he was fairly vibrating with excitement, eagerly showing her what he had found. They moved off to a saggy old Ford pickup, and the kid still wore a huge grin as they pulled away. I offered up a silent thank you to all the families who had donated clothes, recalling how important it is in young lives to know people care enough to hand you down—or along—the very shirts off their backs.

Terril L. Shorb believes he was very fortunate to have grown up on a ranch in Southwestern Montana and later to have experienced life both in the urban sphere and on a subsistence farm in northwestern Wyoming. He has been a journalist and most recently a teacher at Prescott College where he founded the Sustainable Community Development program and continues to work with students toward a more sustainable Homo sapiens. His writing has appeared recently in Green Teacher Magazine, Whole Life Times, Kudzu House, and Cargo Literary Magazine.