How I Got to the Writers Workshop the Week My Father Died
November 25, 2019 § 8 Comments
By Marian Rogers
Everything packed, I cut the last peonies in bloom that my father had planted in the garden years ago after our wedding, and put them in a Mason jar to take with me, knowing that in a week they too would be gone.
On the eight-hour drive west to Ohio, I began to write the first workshop assignment in my head, reading my mind aloud alone in the car, replacing words in midsentence, midvoice, midair, tossing it all out, starting again, and over again.
I stressed about who in the coming week I should tell about my father’s death, if anyone, and why, then whether that was or should be the most important thing or anything I had to say about myself.
I cried for miles, across three states, on the interstate that circles the Cleveland suburbs where I grew into a teen, and south through Medina where my father’s parents once lived on the public square, and as a boy my father had his first job, sweeping floors and stocking shelves in his grandfather’s small grocery.
Once off the highway I gave myself over to the embrace of farm homesteads, sweet pasture and corn standing sentinel, the hamlet with silent bandstand, the insect rub and zither of the early summer night, finally slipping into town at dusk, moon ascendant, sun now nowhere on the horizon.
I wondered at my foresight in arranging months before to arrive a day early and stay overnight in town to get my bearings after what was always a long drive, not knowing then what kind of lost I would be.
Weary but wanting some sort of company, I took the innkeeper’s suggestion to hurry to the village restaurant for a hot meal before it closed for the night, in the half light of the back dining room settling into the servers’ conversation as they filled ketchup bottles for the next day.
I drafted the first piece for workshop later, on the edge of the bed, laptop on knees, can of hard cider on the floor, homemade cookie from the house kitchen on the pillow.
At the coffee shop the next morning, in a chair by a window, I read and revised, watching as the buzz picked up and other writers began to materialize, friends and some familiar faces, and others I must know from somewhere, in that gathering feeling myself returning, becoming visible—remembering after all why I had come.
That afternoon in the dorm that would be my home for the week I found my key opened a room meant for two, with two beds, two dressers, and two desks, one at a window that looked across to a vacant house by a dark wood, where I would see myself reflected every night until I pulled the shade, the other a place for the peonies until their petals finally fell.
In the closet I hung the dress I had worn two months earlier to take my father out to lunch for what I did not know was the last time—the black summer dress garlanded with flowers that I would smooth absently, then press to myself as I stood three nights later, stepped toward the audience for my reading, and began, In memory of my mother and father . . .
Marian Rogers lives in Ithaca, NY, and writes about place, the natural world, travel, myth, family, and identity. She has been a participant in the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop in Literary Nonfiction. She is a freelance editor of scholarly nonfiction and holds a PhD in classics from Brown University. Find her at www.bibliogenesis.com and on Twitter @Rogers_Marian.
A beautiful journey piece. I slid next to you through every movement, every place, softly guided into your experience, that dress, the peonies elevated the piece to poetry. Thank you for a thoughtful read.
Thank you for your response to this piece. I am grateful for your company on that journey in June, part of the greater journey we are all on.
Thank you for this. I just lost my father, too. We have to keep writing.
Thank you! And my sympathies on your loss. It is hard, but, yes, we have to keep writing.
Thank you, Ivan. I appreciate your taking the time to read and to comment.
Wonderful writing is a conscious challenge to give in the shadow of hardships and painful attitudes that are highly influential in comfort
I love this so much, Marian!