Okay, it’s been a long time since I’ve had an exercise to share with others. This one should be fairly simple. It should also be short. Here we go…
Write a description of a place that you have only been once, but has something familiar in it. This can be a poem, essay, story, or memoir.
My second cousin’s house stood among some squat hills in Loop, Texas (near Seagraves). It was an old house, built decades ago during land grant days and added to in a hodgepodge during the intervening years. Clad in dingy white stucco, I could see evergreens had intentionally been planted in front of the windows as if to block the view of the stark surrounding landscape. The house was low-slung and the door was gray wood that looked to be shredding itself in the windy weather. Inside the house smelled sour. The dark panelling of the front room and the over-cooled air gave it the feel of a cave.
“Come on in, y’all. Can we get you some tea?”
The smell in the house, the smell that bothered and appealed at the same time, suggested a place where people mostly just marked time. But, as strange as the west Texas accent of my cousin was to my ear, underneath the smell was one I knew. It was the smell of my mother’s people–the smell of my grandmother’s house, of my great grandmother’s house, the smell of all those sisters of my grandmother scattered to the western wind.
Part of the smell came from fifty years of breakfast bacon and fifty summers of Harvard beets and lima beans. Part came from the astringent of lye soap and of vinegar. Part came from cornbread and cinnamon rolls, from Vicks and cough drops, from motor oil and tobacco. From sweat. From the dust we all rose out of and the dust to which we’d return.