Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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The Book’s the Thing is my kind hostess

munichgirl_card_backErika at The Book’s the Thing Blog has kindly included a Guest Post from me this week:

Coming Full-circle with The Munich Girl

I had the opportunity to spend time in Germany just as my novel, The Munich Girl, came full-circle to publication this year. DCRothen69673_10151484470081802_1069344063_n

In the previous weeks, as I’d reviewed the book’s galleys, the story’s scenes drew me back into settings I will carry with me always. Some of them have been a part of my inner geography from earliest childhood.

Others are actual locations in which the story takes place.

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Photo courtesy Penny Sansevieri / Author Marketing Experts – http://www.amarketingexpert.com/penny-sansevieri/

And many of these, from cobblestone alleys to Alpine vistas, tiny villages to city squares filled with symphonies of church bells, are ones in which I did the actual writing.

Much like the book’s protagonist, Anna, I repeatedly experience the many kinds of homecomings, spiritual and material, that life brings to us. Much like her, I often find myself in a kind of unbelieving daze as I sit in the same café I’ve known since childhood. Two years, ago, and maybe also five, I sat there capturing down pieces of a story that has always felt more like finding my way toward a puzzle’s finished image than any kind of strategic plotting.

If the remedy for feeling out-of-sync in life is to reside in the moment, then we are all here today as I type this: my child self, sitting alongside my parents; that story-struck one who aspired to go the distance with wherever the writing process led with this novel’s story (and wondering, at times, whether I truly would); and my self today, blessed to have reached a point of completion.

Read the rest at: http://booksthething.com/2015/12/10/guest-post-giveaway-phyllis-edgerly-ring-author-of-the-munich-girl/comment-page-1/#comment-1660

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The ties that truly bind

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A long-anticipated visit with my sister this month can’t help but bring me close to family history, as so many scenes in my novel do these days, too.

Born ten years apart, we were both “only children”, aside from the six years we actually spent together in our parents’ home. My arrival doomed her to a role of perpetual baby-sitter. In my little psyche, she was also a surrogate parent, an adult-like being – unfailingly elegant and unbelievably smart – who actually saw me, when the atmosphere in which we lived could make a lot of things seem invisible. More, she remembered me, and continued to accompany me, long after the early get-away she made when she was barely 18.

Though we’ve really gotten to know each other as “grown ups”, I feel as though I felt her company all of my life – before, during, and after my arrival here.

She has written of her own experience: “I felt almost apologetic for my own childhood, which I viewed (correctly) as an enormous household inconvenience, something to be conquered quickly and forgotten, like chicken pox or diarrhea.”

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Our first stop in 1960 as Army Brats in Germany.

But with the arrival of a younger sister, she notes, “I seized the opportunity to Be Older, taking charge of her needs, protecting her from my own tadpole experience. … I heard my orders from a Higher Power, beyond parents, to guide this little person safely past the treacherous shoals of childhood.”

“I decided that you’d probably grow up to be a tactful, diplomatic person,” our British mother once described of her when, on her very first airplane flight (from London to Bordeaux, France), my four-year-old sister made polite conversation with two travelers seated across from her and my mother. My mother describes them as “dressed in the full regalia of those who live in Arab countries”.

When my sister turned five, two military police arrived each weekday shortly before dawn to escort her to school via military staff car, a ride of an hour each way. It’s no wonder I’ve always perceived her as leagues ahead of me in worldly wisdom and experience, rather in the style of Jane Goodall or Agatha Christie. SKMBT_C28415052810290_0001

By the time I was four, she’d already won first prize in a national U.S. magazine’s annual writing contest. She was 14. Her teen-age years are the ones my child self remembers best, some of the sweetest in my memory, set in a fairy-tale German town, no doubt so sweet because she was there.

She’s given me more gifts than I can count, but one of the most meaningful came recently with her instant inner understanding of The Munich Girl, the novel I’ve been working on since our father died in 2007. Hearing her intuitively wise thoughts about the deepest intent of this book and its story was vindication that my soul, however much it aspires to write, hardly knows how to put into words.

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The ship that carried her away from Bremerhaven in 1962.

In my writing hours, when I want to evoke heartbreak, I think of how I felt on the day after she left Germany for America — or the day after she got married – when realization caught up with me that she wasn’t ever coming back to sleep in the room we had always shared.

I suppose it was inevitable that the book on which I’ve spent so much time, and love, would become a story of separations and reunions.

She tells a story of how, before she boarded the ship that took her away from Germany, I pressed a note into her hand with the instructions that she not open it until she was “home”.

Once in America, this 17-year-old military brat who had skipped not one, but two grades on her path to a scholarship at Boston University “suddenly felt as alone as I have ever been”. SKMBT_C28415052810300_0001

Then she remembered the note. At six, I was a writer of few words, none of them very neat, though pithier than I tend to be now. The note read: “Rite Sune”.

And, she says, she was home.

As I am, wherever she is in the world, whether I’m with her or not.

This, I’ve decided, is what “family” truly means. As a character in my novel observes: “So often, the ties that truly bind us the most have nothing to do with being related.”

But when they do, it is light upon light.

 


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The road to reunion always waits for us

Israel 139

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

Keep knocking and the joy inside will eventually open a window and look out to see who’s there.
 ~ Rumi

Israel 142When from our better selves we have too long
Been parted by the hurrying world, and droop,
Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired,
How gracious, how benign, is Solitude!
~ William Wordsworth

Man alone is very helpless. Man plus existence is enormous, huge, infinite. Prayer is a meeting of the tiny part with the whole. The tiny part dissolves into the whole and becomes the whole.
~ Osho

” … when we are present in life, free from demands and agendas, when we allow life to unfold according to its own inner principles, we open up a doorway again between the worlds. Within our consciousness the inner and the outer, the visible and the unseen worlds, can come together and speak to each other, and our split apart world can become whole again.”

 ~ Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee


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You CAN go home

 My thanks to writer Tracey Edgerly Meloni for this glorious journey of a Guest Post. Photo thanks to David Campbell of GBC Tours. While the shots may not be Bordeaux, I think they embody the atmospheric rightness, just the same.

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Photo: David Campbell / http://GBCTours.com

You Can Go Home Again

by Tracey Edgerly Meloni

I am driven to return to the far-flung places where I lived so briefly, first as an Army brat and then as a Navy wife. Going back to childhood homes has become a quest, to see if the things I “remember” are my own memories, or if I’ve just heard my parents tell stories so often that I believe I remember them.

Even when dealing with my adult memories, I’ve learned that nothing ever stays the same.  Barbers Point, in Hawaii, felt obscenely festive in the late ‘60s when I waited there alone during Vietnam. It took returning to realize that we “Wanda Warbrides” were working hard to maintain morale. The quarters at Riverview Village in Indian Head, Maryland, where my husband practiced not blowing himself up in EOD training, had vanished like Atlantis when I re-visited.

So I was anxious about going back to Bordeaux, where I began school when my Dad was assigned to the 529th Transportation Depot. I already knew that my childhood home outside Pessac was long gone, and that any American military presence had disappeared from French soil years before – what did I really hope to find?

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Photo: David Campbell / http://GBCTours.com

We sailed up the Garonne River, past some of France’s most celebrated Chateaux and vineyards. I squinted at the glorious passing scene, searching for puzzle pieces to trigger memory. Suddenly we were there, gliding up to dock directly in front of the Place de la Bourse and the wonderful 18th century limestone buildings lining the Quai. Our shipboard verandah looked right up the narrow pedestrian Rue Saint Remi, where long ago my parents shared a peculiar little bird for dinner while I munched happily on bread and cheese.

I need not have worried. The memories of a six-year-old are carved in bedrock, and they flooded back as the landscape around me unfolded.

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Photo: David Campbell / http://GBCTours.com

From there it was a short mental hop to the school, where all students were divided into two rooms, with only four teachers. I was the sole first grader. The harassed lower-grade teacher looked at me sternly and demanded, “Can you read?” I nodded solemnly. “Good,” she said, “you’re in second grade.” Thus my very first school challenge became fathoming the making of change using American coin references – nickel, dime, penny, quarter – while all we had to practice with was “pretend” Scrip. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays we had franks and beans for lunch. Tuesdays and Thursdays featured Franco American spaghetti, all washed down by “vin ordinaire” diluted with fizzy water brought along by French children invited to join us.

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Chateau Grand Barrail

I remembered that Bordeaux was my introduction to a less than perfect world. There were mice living in the mattresses at “Tu et You,” the whimsical name applied to our odd little gatehouse by the Frenchwoman and her American officer husband who lived there before us.   Huguetta-the-maid scraped snails off the walls of the well and crushed them under her heel to eat. And, alas, that well was foolishly located downhill from our dubious cesspool, leading to repeated bouts of dysentery for all of us.

Bordeaux also was my introduction to an exciting world. My mother insisted that we learn to speak the language wherever we were, and I learned terrible gutter French from orphaned children I befriended along the waterfront. I used it to order wonderful marzipan candies shaped like vegetables in the marketplace. With my mother, I would order meat from the butcher with the horse’s head over the door, not realizing until years later what it was. And I spent what seemed like hours debating which pastries to select at our favorite patisserie.

On my recent return, I let the memories rule. I erased the hideous architectural monstrosities growing up among Bordeaux’ gracious historic buildings and concentrated on the soaring spire of St. Michel’s church. I stayed away from horsemeat and had lunch in Chateau Grand Barrail, a highly acclaimed hotel once built to house the mistress of a nobleman. And I went back to the site of the Officer’s Club where Christmas dinner was served to everyone in those divided mess trays, with gravy on your pie.

tracey_edgerly_meloniWhat did I hope to find? Just my memories, but I got much more. I got reacquainted with my early self, made sturdy by my Brats experience.

Not only can you go “home” again – you really should.

Writer Tracey Edgerly Meloni won first prize in Ingenue Magazine’s short-story contest when she was 14 and just kept on writing. Her most recent award is a first place in feature writing from the Virginia Press Association. Formerly press secretary to three California Congressmen and Virginia’s senior Senator, she contributes regularly to several magazines, writing about food, health, the arts, and travel.

 


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Setting down the burdens

photo-12As I traveled in Europe this spring, and in my childhood home of Germany, I had all sorts of plans for what I designated as writing time.

And Life, smiling, laid waste to them with its wise, gentle love. It led straight to pieces of a book’s story I would never find on my own. And each time, as if a soft chorus echoed it, I’d feel the inner words: “Because now is the time. Because now, you are ready.”

I also heard my mother’s voice, which used to warn with a dire tone, “You can’t go home again.” Today, I can well understand her motivation, as a military spouse. Certain kinds of setting yourself up to believe and hope are a ticket to pain no mother wants to see for her child. Other wise words had reminded me, when I’d tend to set my my inner child’s nostalgic hopes on a place I’d loved so well: “Don’t mistake geography for your Reality.”

In these last nine weeks, a recognition finally came. You can’t return to the way things were. Yet you can come home to what you love about anything, right in your own heart. And the gateway, at least in this case, is grief, that wonderful, terrible angel of release, dogging us to face our burdens, to set them down at last. When we are ready, of course. photo-7

I had known that the remaining portions of the novel I aim to finish would lead directly through that no man’s land that I have been trained to avoid. It brings the most confounding mixture of joy and wonderment with it.

Who else but Mary Oliver could provide the words that sum up such ineffables? And there her poem appeared before me, the day my journey came to its end:

HEAVY

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
had His hand in this,

as well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poets said,

was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it—
books, bricks, grief—
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled—
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply?

“Heavy” by Mary Oliver, from Thirst: Poems. © Beacon Press, 2007.


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Deep in the heart of … reunion

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Fifty years ago, I was the only kid in my neighborhood with a snowsuit (perhaps the only kid in town who owned one) when a freak snowfall arrived in El Paso, Texas.

Our military family spent a year there while my father was stationed at Fort Bliss before we moved to a place where snow’s more familiar – all the way to Germany. Each school day in the village where we lived, my older sister got up before dawn to make the hour’s journey to the American high school in Würzburg. Marienberg_wuerzburgLike many military kids, she made sacrifices — but she also got to have her senior prom in a castle. How cool was that?

Somewhere in the vicinity of that high school lived a boy named Jonnie Ring, who would grow up to be the man I married. He had his own military-kid stint in El Paso, too, though his came after his family returned to the U.S. from Germany.

Almost from the beginning, our lives seem to have entwined, on two continents. We both love Germany and return every chance we get, but this week has brought an interesting confluence that finally merges Germany and Texas for us once again: my sister’s Würzburg American High School reunion in San Antonio. Somehow, the Alamo, an abundance of schnitzel, and a lot of happy memories – and awfully nice folks — have all come together in one place. Alamo_1956_9c

Reunion with “Brats”, whose lives took shape all over the world, is a grace, because at last, after decades of wondering, “Do I fit anywhere?” I remember: the ‘tribe’ I’m from is at home in the whole world. The echoes of that world, the resonance of what you experience in places all throughout this planet, is with you always. Like the eternal gifts that travel with you in your heart, they are never lost.

And every once in a while, life surprises you by bringing a whole bunch of them together again.