Monday, April 23, 2007

Technopeasants Unite! aka Not at Home

In honor of International Pixel-Spattered Technopeasant Day, I present a short story by The Professor who so graciously accepted the invitation to contribute.

Feel free to share (non-commercially) The Professor's story with family and friends, although if you decide write about it, please link back to this entry rather than host it on your personal site (so that I can track how many people read it).

As John Scalzi said so well, "This novel fragment is yours free to read; you don't need to pay me a damn thing for it. However, if you find yourself enjoying it so much that you feel the need to show your appreciation in the form of cash, allow me to suggest that rather than sending the cash to me, you instead send it to Reading is Fundamental, which is an organization that supports literacy in children and adults..."

A couple good links to find more Technopeasant stories.

John Scalzi's The Durant Chronicles
The International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Blog
And the woman who helped make it official, Jo Walton. This takes you to a list of stories that were posted in honor of the day.

Happy Reading!

M. Bitter


Hey Bitter,

As promised:

Not at Home

When I was too young to know what a calendar was, or that holidays were predetermined and fixed in their periodicity, or even that days followed each other in an orderly, fixed sequence, I knew the Fourth of July. When I was little, the Fourth of July was fireworks.

Every time we’d go to Grandma’s (unless there was snow on the ground), I’d sneak a look in the closet in Grandma’s breezeway. I knew that sometimes there would be boxes and boxes of wreaths and flowers, which meant that we’d spend the day driving. I knew that there’d often be nothing out of the ordinary—coats and mysterious garment bags hanging out of my reach, assorted bottles of water and taped-up cardboard boxes on the floor. But sometimes, there would be a gigantic box, open on one broad side, full of fireworks. And when there was, it was the Fourth of July.

To me, the Fourth of July meant the ‘rockets’ red glare’ over the street in front of Grandma’s house. It meant lighting snakes with Uncle Clark, my dad’s only brother, sparklers at dusk, and watching as Uncle Clark and Aunt Erna took turns lighting off fountains and firecrackers, Roman candles, bottle rockets and sundry other explosives and missiles while Grandma instructed and ordered and Mom and Dad probably worried. We’d spend what felt like hours watching things blow up, and search out ‘duds’ the next morning.

It was Grandma that decided when I was old enough to light fireworks myself, my small punk-holding hand guided by her own or an aunt’s. I lit little whirling things, simple bottle rockets or Saturn missiles. And I loved every minute.

A few years ago, I took my oldest son, Evan, then four years old, to buy fireworks down in Ohio, where the variety (if not the abundance) reminds me of the South Dakota of my childhood Independence Days. I look at the hundred-dollar boxes of assorted fireworks like the ones Grandma always had for the Fourth, and my fingers itched. I reined myself in, sticking to sparklers and ground-bloom flowers and a couple of spectacular Roman candles. But every Fourth, I bring my boys out, way past their bedtime, to watch as the neighbors and I light our fireworks. And every time I do, I think of Grandma, and magical childhood nights under an exploding sky.

Fireworks weren’t Grandma’s only magic. I remember visiting Grandma once when I was maybe nine or ten years old. We’d driven all day in a rattling old Plymouth Duster to arrive at Grandma’s after dark. It must have been late in the fall, because although I don’t remember snow, even though it was already dark it wasn’t so late that we were sent immediately to bed. Instead, as Grandma talked to the folks, she got out cookies and poured milk into mugs, and called my brothers and sister and me to sit around the table.

Cookies and milk at bedtime. I was more than a little in awe. This was something that people did on television, not in real life. This was a tradition from a fabled, alternative reality, some sort of domestic ideal—and yet, there they were. Cookies and milk, and Grandma gently prodding us to sit up to the table and indulge.

Few prods were required. My 10-year-old disbelief wasn’t going to slow down my 10-year-old fondness for all things sugary, and I dove in, as did my brothers. And that’s where the next twist occurred—Grandma hadn’t told us how many cookies we could have. It began to dawn on me that she wasn’t going to—I could eat as many cookies as I wanted. This was something akin to finding religion or falling in love in its novelty. I remember looking surreptitiously at my parents, waiting for someone to stop me, but they didn’t (though Mom may have given me a look or two).

Many milk-and-cookie evenings followed. To me, they epitomize Grandma’s generosity of spirit and her connection to traditions of hospitality that may be fading from America. To me, those cookies, whether they were Grandma’s version of Aunt Enzie’s peanut cookies or a big bag of Oreo double-stuffs, were abundance, warmth, acceptance, and understanding. I’m 33 years old now, and live half a country away from Grandma. We get to visit only rarely. And I have to admit that, when we do, a little piece of me still hopes that we’ll get there a little late, and that Grandma will insist we have milk and cookies before bed.

L. D. Taylor

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