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Mid-May 2013

The Summer of 2008


I bounce fictional and non-fictional ideas off of my very dear friend through emails, and I have told her that I come up with the best lines in our emails. She enthusiastically agrees! I am not aware of the literary quality of the statements when I make them, but I inevitably add a reply: “I can use that line.” She responds: “It’s a good one!” I, in fact, found “my voice” for what became THE DAWN while communicating with this friend during the tumultuous summer of 2008.


I had scarcely completed doggedly home-schooling my daughter through high school in three years. (Her home-schooling began in the third grade; home-schooling my son started in the fifth grade and ended after four years of high school, although some might say I home-schooled him through his college English and engineering technical writing classes.) I was rummaging through the files of a western (which has yet to even approach draft form). I could not decide on a name for the heroine which was a huge indication that I was not ready to start writing that novel during that summer of 2008.

It was the summer of smoke all throughout the Sacramento Valley and well into the foothills; the summer of the effing federal fish trial in Fresno (alliteration unintended) at which my husband was the key defense witness; the summer of my enforcing the social contract with the two abandoned cats that I adopted. (Annabella, the black cat, had become nearly feral. Dear Daughter said that when this cat met me, she’d met her match!)


It was the summer of shopping with my daughter and buying vintage sewing patterns and fabrics for clothes that would never be sewn. It was the summer of my son working part-time at his first civil engineering job, and of wearing the Frye boots that I’d talked him into buying at a bargain basement price. It was the summer of watching the Chinese blatantly cheat at the Olympics and get away with it. It was the summer of our vegetable garden growing nothing because the dense smoke had blocked the sunlight to prevent any hope of germination. I began to sing again, after a long period of vocal dormancy, but I could not get through “The Impossible Dream” without crying profusely. I also was quilting a quilt made of reproduction William Morris fabrics, stitching as if on a deadline.

It was the summer of all hell quietly breaking loose wherever I looked. It was the summer of a teaching colleague’s fortunes and family crumbling. I watched while over the next two years our abiding friendship slowly but inexorably fell, not apart, but to the wayside as life moved each of us in different directions. It was the summer of putting things away and taking things out, though for what reason, I could not ascertain. I did not even try; I simply responded to the ebb and flow within me as I protected hearth and home. I was unaware of an epic subtly coalescing within that ebb and flow.


It was the summer that changed lives, some of them forever. My very dear friend asked me, in a miserable tone, if I felt badly about my children having to one day go out into this world of chaos, disaster, and uncertainty.


I quickly replied, “I didn’t make this mess. I haven’t even been a part of it. As a matter of fact, I’ve done my best to get away from it.”


“But our children still have to deal with it.”


And I firmly pronounced then, as I even more firmly pronounce now: “It is far better for our children to deal with this misfortune now than later, when they are forty or fifty or even sixty, and have built lives, only to see them swept away. They will learn; they will build backbone.”


I was totally unaware that Camille came to life within those statements. I told this worried mother, “You have to play the hand you’re dealt.” I counseled her to take a disadvantage and turn it into an advantage. I did not know that my advice foreshadowed the forging of “General de Gaulle, leader of the Free French.”


I did not yet know the full truth behind the comment intoned to me by my abiding teaching colleague: “You fled the suburbs; the suburbs have followed you up here.”


I felt surrounded by the crazy remodeling and expansion of hovels at an exorbitant rate with exorbitant money from what I jokingly and quite unknowingly called “The Bank of Beijing.” There was enough noise to wake the dead. I guess some of those “dead” came to life for me. Then, sometime during the summer of 2008, the madcap frenzy of buzz-saws cutting top-gouge-priced plywood and pine; of sawn boards plunking on a concrete garage floor; of hammers pounding like drums beating; and of backhoes scraping against granite bedrock, all of that insane noise stopped. For the first time in almost seven years, it did not feel like I was living in a construction zone, the way I’d felt in the suburbs. There was peace and quiet. Lovely peace and quiet as a world economy crumbled.

All of those “unconventional loans” that I’d privately learned about from a loan officer, well, those unconventional loans so swiftly made to both knowing and unknowing folks had created an unconventional debacle for everyone, including the knowing folks with their conventional loans, living within their means, living humbly with common sense, and obeying the Good Book that says, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house.” My neighbor’s house is now a plywood palace, re-built with the envy of my house.


Conventions would be held for the professional takers to benefit from this unconventional debacle. A crisis of epic proportions should never go to waste. It can serve to create new crises for politicians and bureaucrats to profit from and further empower themselves! Why fix the problem? Like bloodsuckers, politicians can feed off of the human condition as it strives to struggle for survival. Of all the things that were lost during the summer of 2008, honesty was the first to go, if it had even been there to begin with. Nonetheless, I have abundant hope for the future: You don’t find fleas on a dead dog. Presently, we live in the continuing crisis.


That pivotal summer I was requested by my husband to write some inspirational essays for my very dear friend and for his engineering colleagues. Those essays were called “Guideposts.” I realized while composing them that I’d swerved into the voice of “Nottingham.” That voice would not be silenced. It said to me and then to friends and then to my laptop: “Well, this is Vichy. I might as well write about it.”


The rest has become history and THE DAWN.