Thursday, November 27, 2008

Day 7: Chiddingly



Happy Thanksgiving! Today, I'm thinking about my ancestors. I am descended, on both my mother and my father's side, from Mayflower pilgrims so it's natural for me, I think, to associate this holiday with my family. And while I do have two very old "American" lines, as I call them--most of my family were more recent immigrants who joined the Mormon church in the mid-1800s. They joined this new religion, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and then walked across the plains. I have often wondered about these people--why did they join? What did their families think? How did they feel as they left their family homes? Many of my ancestors, on my mother's side, come from a small town in England called Chiddingly. It is in East Sussex. They had lived their for generations. I don't imagine many of them had ever gone as far as Somerset, let alone crossed the ocean. Today's writing exercise is for them.

I have heard those bells all my life. They rang the morning I was born. They would be ringing still on the day that I died. But when I heard those bells this morning, my last morning, they seemed to carry with them a deep melancholy. I could hear my mother's own sobbed question in their tones, "Why?" Unlike my father's stony unquestioning silence, it was my own mother's confused, twisted agony that I saw when I closed my eyes. "Why?"

I lay there on the cramped floor, staring at the ceiling, and listened to that question echo and reverberate in my mind. I was surrounded by people at the Six Bells Inn. All of them believers, like me, in our new faith. Sometimes I wondered if that common tie would be enough to replace everything that I was leaving behind. I had been fortunate--my parents had been indulgent. They had not thrown me out of their home or pronounced curses on my head. But this, the leaving, had caused a grief I hadn't thought them possible of. I felt like I'd been to my own funeral. They didn't know why this new religion would take me out of their lives, for the rest of their lives. Couldn't I believe, and stay?

Shifting slightly on my couch, I knew that I couldn't stay. Even though it meant leaving my parents. Leaving the hedgerows and the sloping hills of my home. Leaving the boy with blue-gray eyes. Leaving crystal blue winter mornings and warm breezy summer afternoons by the sea. Yule logs and Guy Fawkes Day and everything that was England. Everything that was home.

Finally shaking off my covers, I quietly stood and walked to the small window and peered out. The spring leaves shimmered in the early morning light. The town was still quiet. Others began to stir. We shook out our clothing. Put our few carried belongings in bundles. Some people knelt to say their morning prayers. I could not think of what to pray for today. I resisted the strong urge to run home. Quickly. One more goodbye. But there wasn't time, and there had been enough tears. I did not feel strong enough.

We pulled on our wraps and our bonnets. Our leaders called us together, and we knelt and prayed. No one said much. Everyone's minds were elsewhere. Stepping out into the High Street, we began to walk. A woman came chasing, crying, sobbing--a young man and his wife stepping aside to embrace her. She could not be comforted. They pulled themselves away and left her standing in the street--shoulders crumpled and head buried in her hands. People stepped out from their homes now, silently watching us pass. Some had looks of hatred, others pity.

I concentrated on each step, my head held high. The bells rang out. I struggled to feel the deep fire of faith that had come to me so often in recent months. I knew it was there. I knew. And so I could not stay.


Chrysanthemom said...

How do you get into your characters heads? This is something else I love about your writing - knowing what is going on in your characters (or children or cat or your own) heads. I personally love it!

Mandi said...

I loved the beginning about the bells. I'm so proud of you for taking the plunge and becoming an authoress. Good on you for staring your fears in the face. You're an inspiration. And once again, I'm proud of you.

dave said...

Yes favorite entry so far. Definitely forgot I was reading something my wife had written and just started feeling the emotions of the characters. Try writing the same story from the mother's and/or father's point of view.