Contest #224 shortlist ⭐️

12 comments

Creative Nonfiction Happy Kids

These days as an adult, I cannot even convince myself to get out of bed unless I know there is coffee waiting for me. When I go on vacations, I set my alarm by the time the nearest coffee shop to me opens, and I still end up sleeping much later than that because it’s still so far away and how am I supposed to shower, get dressed, dry my hair, and do my makeup without caffeine? I can’t get out of bed without it.

Despite all this, I still consider myself a Morning Person. The 5-9am hours are when I am the most productive—as long as that productivity happens while I can clutch the steaming hot ceramic mug close to my side. The bitter taste softened by a splash of collagen creamer or oat milk (although heavy cream tastes the best and reminds me of being home at my parents’ house for the holidays, dosing myself with it every day inevitably causes me to break out along my jawline).

When I start my Morning Pages in the pre-dawn hours, I more often than not spend the first paragraph or so of journaling talking about the quality of my cup of coffee that day—especially if I’m staying at someone’s house besides my own. It’s safe to say that I enjoy one of society’s acceptable crippling substance dependencies.

But it wasn’t always this way.

When I was a child, I would get up before the sun, usually to get a head start on playing with my Barbie dolls for the day. My parents permitted this as long as I stayed quietly in my room and didn’t bother anyone. Eventually they would rise at a reasonable human hour and drag themselves into the kitchen for their first cups of coffee.

Playing alone in my room with my toys was only my second favorite morning activity as a little girl. It was surpassed by the outings I would go on with my father. We went on these enough times that it became a delightful ritual, but because of the comforting sameness of each trip, they all blend together in my memories as one event.

He came into my bedroom before the sun was up, shaking me gently and telling me it was time to go. With the energy of a child who went to bed at 8pm and didn’t have a job, I hardly needed more coaxing than that. I was up, in my mismatched printed leggings and long underwear under a long sleeved shirt, ready to go.

My breath curled into mist in the front yard as we walked toward his 1997 Ford Ranger. I had memorized a poem for school that I have never been able to forget about. I think about it every time I see my breath in front of my face (which isn’t often. I live in California; therefore, I think 60 degrees is freezing):

Breathe and blow white clouds with every puff. It’s cold today, cold enough to see your breath, huff! Breathe dragon smoke today!

He tilted the passenger seat forward and I clambered into the back of the cab of the truck. There were two mini seats that faced each other from either side wall in the back seat. I unfolded one and strapped the lap belt across me. Even with the heater on blast, it took forever for that car to warm up, and its engine rumbled with a distinctive, straining whine. You could always hear that car coming from blocks away when he was on his way home.

My family’s house was in a small, quiet suburb in a good school district. We weren’t too far from the liquor store, owned by the parents of a family I went to elementary school with. One block over from that, across from the grocery store was the 7-11—the highlight of the trip.

Being so early in the morning, we had to stop there because it was the only place open that early where Dad could get his coffee, and of course I also got to take with me a paper travel mug full of hot chocolate. On these outings, I also got to have an extra special treat that was reserved for these trips and no other: A small box of white powdered donuts. They were my favorite partially because they were pure sugar and beautiful and delectable and messy. Every bite dusted a cloud of sugar snow onto my clothes. They also tasted so sweet. Sweeter than the chocolate donuts my dad picked out for him—no thank you, chocolate sounded disgusting to me at that age.

And there was always a third option that I never understood the appeal of. They looked like breadcrumb donuts, covered in a brown crumble that I could not identify. Who was buying those, I wondered, when for the exact same cost, you could bite into the fluffy white ones?

Treasure box of white powdered donuts in hand, we got back into the truck which wound its way out of the suburb neighborhood into a windy road up to the reservoir. We had one last stop to make. I loved the tackle shop. My second favorite purchase of the day was the Styrofoam bowl with a lid on top of it. When I opened it, I watched in delight: Wriggling inside the fresh, soft, fluffy soil were thick, juicy worms. They churned in the soft dirt and wound themselves around one another. I liked to gently pull one out and hold it in my hands. It twisted and wriggled around blindly, unaware of its fate.

The worms were my favorite bait, but I was also fascinated by the jars of neon: little soft, artificial powder you could gently roll into balls. They came in bright green or bright pink. They were beautiful. And then there were the jars that made me squirm—much less appetizing I had to assume—than the worms. Little red balls of fish eggs suspended in a jelly like mixture. That was the option I was interested in touching the least.

Dad’s tackle box carried a variety of hooks and lures. The lures had beautiful feathers of different colors wrapped around the shiny metal hooks. But I found them boring. The freshy, mushy, smelly bait was a more intriguing part of the process to me. And I think the creatures in the reservoir lake agreed because we rarely used the fly lures. Maybe they worked better on a river up in the mountains.

We drove down to the shore and found a suitable dock. I had a small pink tackle box to match my dad’s big metal one. It had my own little hooks and line in it. I also had my own small yellow rod with its own line and hook at the end. Dad helped me set it up and string it together. I picked out a worm and he skewered it. He taught me how to press the switch to let the line out, and I cast it into the water. There was a picture of snoopy on the reel. He smiled up at me as I waited for the telltale tightening of the line before I could reel it in.

One morning we were walking down towards the shore and came face to face with a giant, beautiful deer. She looked at us, frozen in place, her eyes blinking under the dawn of the barely risen sun.

The cooler dad carried contained sodas for him and sandwiches for both of us. We munched on the rest of the donuts. We didn’t talk much, but anyone who knows anything about a day at the lake knows that’s exactly the point.

Sometimes we caught and took home some small or medium sized catfish. One time I set my sights on a small school of blue gills that were too big to do anything with but throw back. Empty of food, our cooler now had room for ice and our prize. When we used up all the worms, we switched to the artificial bait.

We never left empty handed. 

November 17, 2023 19:53

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12 comments

Story Time
05:36 Dec 01, 2023

I think writing about memories can be so tricky with so many traps, and you maneuvered so well around them. I felt very much within the energy of this character, and I applaud how much you did using really well thought-out language and structure.

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Audrey Knox
15:59 Dec 01, 2023

Thank you so much! That really means a lot to me to hear you say that. Short stories are such a challenging medium, but the words I am finding within myself make practicing this skill feel so rewarding.

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Juliana Zalon
22:33 Nov 22, 2023

You do a great job of capturing the perspective of the younger version of the narrator. I like the use of flashback to tell a piece of this character’s personality. Thanks for sharing!

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02:56 Nov 21, 2023

Nice well told story. Very relatable! Fishing and early Sunday morning donuts were a big part of my childhood as well.

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Audrey Knox
19:08 Nov 22, 2023

I love that! Glad I'm not the only one. It was surprising and nostalgic all the memories that started flooding back when I started writing.

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AnneMarie Miles
14:00 Nov 19, 2023

Aw very sweet, Audrey! The love you have for those early morning fishing adventures with your dad is palpable. I could feel the nostalgia! And now I want some powdered sugar donuts! Yum!

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Audrey Knox
17:34 Nov 20, 2023

I haven't really eaten them since. They don't taste as good out of context! But yes, I do feel so much nostalgia and love for these childhood memories.

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AnneMarie Miles
16:19 Nov 24, 2023

woohoo! Congrats on the shortlist, Audrey!

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Audrey Knox
19:19 Nov 24, 2023

Thank you so much!! My dad will love this.

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Bob Long Jr
16:44 Nov 26, 2023

Every fish I ever caught was with a worm. The colorful balls did nothing for me! Oh .. we forgot about the occasional cup of worms in the trunk and that Audrey was a disgusting scent ! Thanks for the story !

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Philip Ebuluofor
17:33 Nov 25, 2023

Congrats. I don't have that childhood fishing experience. I am guessing it must be something special. Congrats once more.

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Mary Bendickson
06:12 Nov 25, 2023

Congrats on the shortlist. A short fish tale.

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