I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
~Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how he or she spends the day.
May 1, 2020: Caitlin Hamilton Summie
I loved every story in Caitlin Hamilton Summie’s debut collection, To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts. Every one.
Here’s the beginning of “Tags.” Dolly is telling the story, and notice how fast, as a reader, you are all in.
Jimmy Weston had his Dad’s dog tags. He wore them around his neck on a steel chain and had this funny habit of rubbing them back and forth between his fingers. We’d be playing marbles or collecting tin for the war effort; we’d be jumping on cracks to break Hitler’s back or be waiting, just waiting, for the whole thing to end, and Jimmy would talk and rub those dog tags together, and I’d listen.
In some stories, there’s a death that shines the light on what’s important and on what’s left behind. In some stories there are questions of whether to stay or to leave or to go back. But in every story, there’s family. As a whole, the stories are not connected, but within the ten stories, there are two related clusters–three stories that share one set of characters and two stories that share another. Part of the pleasure of reading was coming upon families I already knew.
In “Growing Up Cold,” John stands in the cold Minnesota night air. He has come home because his sister has died in a car crash. And he wonders if staying matters.
In “Points of Exchange,” Jenny tells us in the first sentence that she only lasted six months in New York. She’s twenty-three, doesn’t know who her father is, and like John, she’s also cold. She says, “I hadn’t expected the job to be more than it was, but I wanted life to be.”
In “Patchwork,” we’re back in Minnesota with Sarah trying to get her grandmother to spill the beans on a family member no one talks about. “Cecily. Spitfire. Flame. Turner. ‘She turned,’ Grandma had said once, ‘like milk.'” In this family, the women have a patchwork quilt. Each generation adds to it.
I am Sarah, and I will not sew my name for years.I won’t sew my name until I know who I am, can script with such confidence the identity I struggle to define, until I know, as easily, and with such simplicity, the way to be remembered.
“Geographies of the Heart” is about sisters. “It’s about how we were raised. It’s about a way of life.” In “Fish Eyes in Moonlight,” when the baby doesn’t arrive as planned, a dying grandfather moves into the nursery instead. “I am an old man, a thin, frail old man who is passionate about gardens, Auden, Pavarotti, and the sea. I am not ready to leave.”
In the final beautiful story, “Taking Root,” Al waits for his wife and daughter to return.
In this neighborhood of unreliable cars and steady, hopeful hearts. In this city known for its winters, in the middle of the plains, in the heart of the country. In this gentle summer soon to slip into the crisp cool of fall. Here in some kind of broken down glory, they had taken root, and thrived. Mostly.
Caitlin lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her family, and co-owns the book marketing firm, Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity. To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts was published in 2017 by Fomite Press. It won the fourth annual Phillip H. McMath Post Publication Book Award from The University of Central Arkansas, as well as Silver in the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award. Also, her book was selected for 35 Over 35 ‘s Annual List. Order this book from your favorite independent bookstore today.
Stay well and…
Come back on MAY 1st to read how CAITLIN HAMILTON SUMMIE spends her days.