ASSIGNMENT FOUR: Remembering the Past
Bennet Pomerantz

Great personal writing like Truman Capote's A Thanksgiving Memory, Earl Hamner's The Homecoming (which became TV's The Waltons), and Jean Shepard's In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash (which was the basis of the Christmas classic A Christmas Story) are examples of how personal reflection can turn into great prose.

I love reading the new works of upcoming writers. People ask me who is the newest writer on the block that they should read.

I have been impressed with personal prose works by Jennifer Granville for a long while. She tends to publish on her yahoo 360 page and in her journal on a few web sites. Some of her work is very adult in nature. It is also very reflective and introspective.  Sometimes you need that in good prose writing. As a friend, I keep encouraging her to put some of her essays in a book. She is not ready to do this and I totally understand that fact. If you get the chance to read some of her other prose work you will see how good a writer she is.

Read the story below (thanks Jen for letting me reprint this!) and then get ready for assignment four.


Troubles with Signing the Word 'Butterfly'
    By Jennifer Granville (reprinted by author's permission)

Why on earth am I awake? I suppose, though I think I have passed through another dark spot, I still have a lot on my mind and I keep thinking about my brother.

So maybe it's story time... maybe a story will help me to find sleep, like they used to as a child...

Rick (my brother) and I, used to love Sesame Street. I think I must have turned a definite corner somewhere, into old-ladyhood, as I will have to say that the Sesame Street from "when I was a child..." seemed far more progressive and beneficial to kids than the mealy stuff you find on there today. And of course, I blame it all on that speech impaired baby-talking Elmo. No one, be they Muppet or human, spoke down to me because I was a child, or boxed up 'entertainment' in bright red fur and very little sense, with a 'funny' voice and poor grammar.

Does anyone else remember how very. almost edgy and really smart the humor was on The Muppet Show? Anyway..... Sesame Street....

So, my brother and I would watch the show religiously or as my mother would say. 'watching our program'. I remember learning to count in Spanish and thinking how neat it was 'learning' another language, being exposed to concepts and ideas and people not really much seen in the suburbs of Rochester, especially as they were back then, so much more isolated and ... innocent, I guess.

Mom would have to lug my brother and I with her when she went grocery shopping... And very typically, my brother hated it, I loved it and my mother, well, I think she just dealt with it, and the two kids who took great pleasure in torturing each other, most especially on these expeditions.

Inevitably, she would be bombarded with the same barrage of questions and pleas...."Mom, how long are we going to be here?" "Mom, can I have this?" "Mom, can we get 'Super-Captain-Sugar Coma-Cereal, please, please Mom, can we?" "Mom, can you buy me this?" "Mom, can we get a prize?" ... and of course my staple question, no trip to the grocery store would be complete without, and usually asked at least three times in the car on the way there and as we entered the store, and as we walked down each aisle of boring stuff like canned beans and produce.... "MOM, can I get some caaaaaaaaandy." I think the plaintive cry became more sing-songy and definitely more annoying with each asking.

My mother was a very patient woman. "No." "We do not come to the grocery store to buy you two prizes each week." "No." "That cereal is bad for your teeth." (Though we always did manage to sneak it into the cart... like she didn't know!) "No." "If you ask me one more time...." "No." "No." "If you don't stop asking me to buy you junk, I will give you two both something, but you won't like it" My brother and I both knew, of course, that that was a non-threat as my Mom didn't really have it in her! So we would fearlessly keep going, breaking her down until, driven to desperate heights of frustration, she would either, send us to the play area to leave her "in PEACE!", or she would grab something, a cheap plastic toy, or balloons or something else she knew would be used for nefarious purposes by us later, or many a time those God-awful 'cheese-food' and cracker packages they used to sell with the red plastic stick to smear the bright orange-yellow synthetic-but-oh-so-yummy-cheese(ish) spread on the three stale crackers, or really just anything to bring the tireless barrage of begging to end.

(I wonder, just as an aside for those who believe in God and praying and all that, if he/she/it ever feels like a mother in a grocery store with kids being dragged along as he/she/it tries to get the business at hand done, and the little pesky hangers-on beg beg beg beg for things they think they need and which they can not possibly get through another moment without? And in just, total and complete wits-endhood, and perhaps even in some sort of 'Fine!! Here you go, take it and hush up, and I can't wait until you poke your eye out with that 25 cent plastic machete' type sentiment, just gives in and hands over things we shouldn't have or don't deserve, both good and bad, just to end the seemingly endless litany of requests?...Random, sorry, but it is 4:00 AM!)

So anyway... with my, perhaps, 900th, "Mom, can I get some candy, please, Mom, please?", my poor mother turned to me, giving both my brother and I that look which told us... 'better make this the last time to ask', and said "You kids!.." "If you ask me, one more time.! ..." "If I have told you once, I have told you a thousand times (in retrospect, I think she was being quite modest in that estimate), we did not come to this grocery store for me to buy you candy! Now go to the play area and don't bother me again until I come get you!" (It was a much more innocent time then, we had this play area in the grocery store where all the kids who were driving their moms' nuts could be sent to. It usually had some tattered books, none having all the pages still intact, and some of those green plastic soldiers my brother so loved, for what ever reason!, and then a rack of all the other cheap plastic- toys you could try persuade your mom to buy you when she picked you up...and no supervision! No minders or anything like that, just a designated banishment corner in the far-reaches of the supermarket... go figure!)

And with that statement, candy-less and disgruntled, banished we were!


I was a smart kid. A smart kid is not necessarily a great thing. I will place myself at about 5 in this story, as I was not yet in kindergarten, and that would make my brother about 3-nearly-4. Even at that tender age, I had all these awful 'great ideas' that my poor brother, inevitably got dragged into as my accomplice... hmmm perhaps hostage is a better word, but who is going to argue semantics at this hour...

I am fairly certain an unholy gleam crept into my eyes, because, before I even spoke the words to him, my brother groaned...."Hey, Rick... I have a GREAT idea!"

We had, of course watched Sesame Street that morning, and I had previously tortured my brother over the fact that I could sign the word for butterfly with far greater finesse than he, as raptly, we both watched 'Linda the deaf lady' speak (surely wonderful and secret things!!) in a language with her delicate hands.

So, like a little General, (I think probably Sherman is probably a very apt comparison, as I took no prisoners, but my unwitting younger brother of course, and burned a path of destruction to my destination as surely as his march to the sea!) I imparted to Rick his part in the plan, with very strict and minute detail as to just what he had to do to secure his part in our success.

And as my mother, blissfully (and I can use that word to describe grocery shopping in this instance as ... her ignorance at this point WAS bliss) shopped without her nagging shadows, I marched my brother up to the front of the store, to the check out lines... and all that lovely candy!

Shamelessly, I tugged on a woman's sleeve as she unloaded her cart. She had kind eyes and that sort of steely-gray bobbed hair and soft face that signaled her to me as a possible library volunteer as well as a very good candidate for victory in my campaign.

"Hello, dear, have you lost you mother?" she asked kindly.

Blink, blink blink...Then I signed, quite perfectly, the word for butterfly. No response from her.... so I turned to my brother and began gesticulating to him, in my new found literacy in sign language.

"My sister wants to know if you will buy us some candy." Well, my brothers interpretation of my rather intense, (and I thought a rather good bit of dramatics) silent speech was a far too concise for my taste, but it did get to the point, if without much flair at all on his part...

The woman just looked at us, perplexed, as did the check out girl.

I assessed that we needed something a bit more.... passionate? to claim our prize. So with youthful determination and no shred of decency or shame, I began that sort of weird, under-water-whale-sounding noise that deaf people sometimes make when they try to speak the words they are signing.

It was a shockingly good performance of either Linda or Patti Duke as Helen Keller.... at any rate, I am sure it was a bit off-putting but it was working like a charm! My brother could see this too, and in that sort of frenzy that picks up when you know you are about to win the day... he added to his performance as well...

"This is my sister; she's death!"

Thankfully, though I found my brother's mispronunciation mortifying and the only shameful moment of our endeavor, the woman must have found it charming, as she chuckled at his little boy mistake ... and bought us each a candy bar.

Now... that worked so well the first time, it fuelled our courage and resolve to continue in a gluttonous pursuits... We must have hit up and scammed to complete success, four other women.. and were working on our fifth, with Snickers bars hanging out of the pockets of our pink and blue wind-breakers....


My poor mother.

I know most people think of their mothers with a sort of reverence...but really, my mom was pretty saintly.. she hardly ever swore...

"What the hell!?..."

For that to come out of my mothers mouth, in public, that LOUDLY... well....I'm sure you can imagine....

Thankfully, the lady of our last success (Number 4) had already left, but we were a bit thwarted in our con-in-progress as Mom hauled us to the furthest check out aisle away she could find from the shocked woman/victim #5, our clumsy retreat punctuated by the sounds of me keening, "but MOMMMM!!", the squeal of sneakers as half-dragged children's feet squeaked over super-waxed floors, and my brothers fear-of-punishment sniffles.

The indignity!! ..and thwarted!!.... but not wholly... we did have pockets full of candy.. and without asking Mom for it "one more time!" Isn't it funny how kids can justify misbehavior by finding the technicalities and loopholes in parents' orders? I wonder what that turns into as we grow up?


Now for Assignment Four

I want you to write a childhood/young adult memory. Happy or sad, whatever you want. Dig deep into your troves of old memories you have... 1000-1500 words if more, I will let it slide... Your deadline for ASSIGNMENT FOUR is June 18th weekend-Father's day weekend. Send your assignment four submissions to [email protected] (NO ATTACHMENTS PLEASE). The prize is a book about how to write for the family markets.

So until next time, reach for the stars!

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About the Writer:

Bennet Pomerantz is a media review columnist in 175 newspapers with his weekly column AUDIOWORLD. His fiction and reviews have appeared in the pages of Affaire De Coeur, Gateways, Mystery Scene, Power Star, The Hot Corner, Washington Entertainment Magazine, and many others. He is also known for his review appearances on the MCN Forum. View his web site at Audioworld.