Annie wet-sands  her first car in preparation
for painting.

S h o r t   F i c t i o n  /  E s s a y s





Annie's always been an obvious ringer for her dad's side of the family. She's got the hair/skin coloring that are so obvious, and the distinctive family lack of height. But in playing with a recent karate studio portrait of her, I was surprised to see hints of my mother's face. Interesting how that happens.  And how I never think of her as looking like me; she's always seemed too much her own person to have come from anyone's mold.

Annie was six when economic ruin (occasioned by a prolonged period of unemployment) overtook us and we moved into my parents' barn. Life there was especially hard for me: three little kids, no running water, the effort to turn very little into necessary meals in what could only be described as a makeshift kitchen (25 degrees on winter mornings, as high as 115 on merciless summer afternoons.) I remember Annie wearing a horrible goldish pair of hand-me-down hopsack pants to school, and taking mayonnaise sandwiches for lunch because there was nothing else to put in them. ("Hey, I liked mayonnaise sandwiches!" she'll say to this day.)

While I was overcome by the tedium and weight and general hopelessness of poverty, just trying to keep everyone in order, fed and cleaned and out of my parents' hair while my then-spouse made moderate efforts to find work, Annie remembers the two years there as a kid's wonderland existence: she had trees to climb, eight acres to roam, a creek to explore and a best friend to do it all with. She and Brandon were heavily into Legos and also had respectable collections of Star Wars action figures; they would make up adventures for hours in the shade of two conveniently atmospheric redwood trees. For Halloween I managed to buy dollar fabric from a local store and I made her an exact replica of Luke Skywalker's costume from Return of the Jedi. Add one black glove and a toy lightsaber and she was in heaven.

In time we moved on, though Annie did so with regret, loathe to leave her vast playground and her friend Brandon behind. She and her dad took up karate. She found other trees to climb. She and her brothers took treks on their bikes.

Eventually things fell apart in a different way. Annie finished high school after my ex and I had split up; she spent some time at the local community college while I worked at raising her four teen and pre-teen brothers. She struck out on her own before she was twenty, living in an old 18' cab-over motor home her dad had loaned her, teaching karate at night and spinning her talent at figuring out software into a position as head web designer for a local ISP.

These days she's living in a nice little house, makes good money, has a VW Beetle that she bought new and has already paid off. But things continue to be busy (work/karate/boxing) and a social life has been, well, optional at best.

Recently, though, a new friend has come into the picture, one who apparently speaks Annie's particular language well. They go quadding over sand dunes at the beach, biking, hiking, rock climbing, exploring. Like Annie, D was also fascinated by Star Wars and Legos as a kid. "Like in the barn," I said to her as she described their tram ride from Palm Springs up into the mountains and the subsequent nine-mile hike at the top. She just grinned and gave me a thumbs-up.


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