So You Think You Can Write: Nicolette, Tennessee
17 Feb 2012 · by Brennan Storr · Be the first to comment!
Last September, just before heading down to Las Vegas to blog the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competition, I entered the Victoria Times-Colonist's "So You Think You Can Write" contest. In a previous post I mentioned I was chosen as a finalist and urged (some would say threatened) my readers to vote for me. My attempts at coercion failed and, alas, I did not win the contest. I did, however, write some fiction, which I had not done before and it came out nicely, if I do say so myself.
Over the course of the contest I wrote five pieces, including my qualifying story, and over the next little while I'll be posting the assignments here. This first doesn't have a title but is about growing up in the (nonexistent) small town of Nicolette, Tennessee:
The men of the Delaney family are not known for being long-lived. Our grandfather, Lee David Delaney, died in the Number 52 mine collapse in 1964 and his son, our father, David Lee Delaney, died twenty years later from a lung infection caused, it is widely accepted, by working in Number 53. And believe me, when I say ten years, I mean to the day. We tried to console ourselves by saying that at least we could confine our grief to a single day. It would have worked if it hadn’t been Christmas.
Neither death made the newspaper, Grandpa Lee David’s because Christmas 1964 was about when all those rivers in Oregon got to flooding and daddy’s because one man dying isn’t news, especially if he was a good man. We remembered them though, each in our own way - grandma for one developed a fear of going underground. This wasn’t a problem until she came to visit me in New York City and screamed the entire way through the Holland Tunnel.
The policeman who pulled us over was very gracious once he figured out that this 102lb senior citizen from Nicolette, Tennessee was no threat to any part of America except its eardrums. Between her accent and my grandfather’s too-big dentures he barely understood anything she said - he made out the word “Yankee” once and took it to mean that she was a baseball fan. I didn’t correct him.
My younger brother David & I were affected by the elder Delaney’s deaths in a different way - having died as a result of their jobs managed to impress upon us that toil was not conducive to good health and should be avoided. David excelled at this –by the age of ten he could sit in one spot on the front porch for up to sixteen hours. Jim Abramson, the tobacconist, would hire him to wear a headdress & pose as an Indian statue in his smoke shop, paying him in Prince Albert cigarettes – Jim always meant to have a proper carved Indian made but artists were in short supply in Nicolette in those days. Now David teaches yoga in Cosmos, California and can’t believe people pay honest money to be taught to stand still.
Myself, I made up stories. At first they were about people I knew, like my mother. Shortly after David was born she ran off with Tor Engvall, a local farmhand who also performed a Johnny Cash tribute act in retirement homes. At first she’d send postcards but they thinned out as the months passed & I sometimes imagined the two had been swallowed up by a whale, like Jonah.
Eventually I made up other stories and with both television and literacy being a luxury in those parts, people would come by Grandma’s house at night to hear me tell them.
Now I live in New York City and can’t believe that people will pay honest money to read about Nicolette, Tennessee.