Life Changes & Family Reunions

The picture above was taken around 1995. From right to left we are … Becky, Shelley (with son Josh) McKenzie, Mikellah, and me. Since this picture was taken, all of the girls have children of their own and Shelley has added two more sons to her brood of three boys. Sadly, and it makes me tear up to write this, my cousin Becky, the mother of these three darling young women died suddenly last year of a heart attack.

I’m up early getting ready for my drive up to the North Georgia Mountains where I’ll reunite with my cousins at the One-Shot cabin. Since the cabin is up for sale, it will probably be the last time I’ll have a chance to be in the space that has such personal meaning and memories for each of us.

I’ve been looking forward to this reunion for quite some time. It has been years since I’ve seen the girls and I’ve not had a chance to meet their children yet with the exception of Josh. Life gets in the way of families getting together sometimes and you always think there will be more time. Maybe next year we tell ourselves and the years just pass us by. The last time I spoke with Becky I remember exactly where I was sitting and what we said. We both thought at our age that we had all the time in the world. Her early death last year reinforced how we may not always get another chance.

While I’m home for the Thanksgiving holiday with my family and friends, I’m taking time this time, to see Becky’s girls and grandchildren making good on that promise I made a few years ago to get up to the cabin again.

Even though the two women I associate most with the One-Shot cabin will be missing in body today, I feel sure that the echo of their distinctive voices will somehow be present. Both my great aunt Wylly, who named the cabin and infused it with her energy and her grandaughter, my cousin Becky, who raised her family there and called it home had the kind of voice you would never forget. I don’t even have to close my eyes to hear them now. I have a feeling I’ll be hearing them again today. Whether it’s a whisper of the past calling out from a corner of the cabin, or in the voices and expressions of Shelley, Mikellah and McKenzie, I think I’ll have that moment together with them all, for one last time at the One-Shot cabin.

Rebecca Anne St. John & Wylly Folk St. John

July 4, 1972

Tell Me A Story Tuesdays – Saving The One-Shot Cabin

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“Could this be the place?” she wondered. “Harry lives here?”

Kate thought about this as her eyes scanned what could barely be called a yard. Someone had clearly tried to carve out a bit of green space in order to form a civilized boundary around the house, but the area still looked as if it was just one hard rain away from the jungle taking it back. She gave the house a quick glance looking for signs of movement, but saw only an unpainted wooden house with a sagging porch and a crooked set of steps. The tin roof looked as if it was losing the battle with the wet climate a little each day, fighting tiredly against the rust and decay that was an expected annoyance of life on the island.

Seeing it now reminded her of the old sharecropper shacks she’d seen as a child while riding the bus south to see her aunt in Georgia. She bet her last dollar that this house, like those she remembered, would have no running water or an indoor toilet. Swatting her cheek in what was quickly becoming almost rhythmic in its frequency, Kate unzipped her backpack and began to dig through its tightly packed contents for the special spray she had bought based on what seemed like a reasonable claim at the time. Ten hour relief didn’t seem like an exaggeration when she was standing in the Handy Pantry aisle reading all the bug spray labels, but given that these insects appeared intent on sucking the last drop of blood from her body, she wished now that she’d purchased the Jungle strength spray her friend David had suggested she could find on Amazon. David hated bugs about as much she did, but more importantly, as a physician he knew how dangerous a bite could be particularly in the middle of nowhere like she was at this moment.

Her hand found the spray in the side pocket where she had put it for safe keeping. She almost always forgot where she left things even when she thought she had it worked out with a plan. At 43, she was far too young to have such a crap memory, but she had learned to accept it even though friends and family still struggled with having to repeat things over and over. Truth was, she was too easily distracted by an over scheduled life and a brain that barely took a break even at night to rest. Lately it seemed as if she woke up feeling more tired than when she had closed her eyes and she knew fatigue was a killer when it came to concentration.

Kate ripped off the plastic top of the bug repellent and began to spray it around her head and face in much the same way her grandmother had shellacked her blue hair into place before leaving the house each day. Working well into her sixties, she would have kept at it if the owners hadn’t sold the business where she had created a family of sorts from the people she served there. She thought back to how her grandmother had used that same aerosol hair spray to paralyze and kill the butterflies from her garden leaving them as perfect in death as they were in life.

Grandma Bee had liked the way they had added a bit of color and exoticness to the dried flower arrangements she began to make in increasing amounts after she retired. It was a solitary hobby for someone who by then was already spending too much time alone and she began to close the doors in her life, leaving her church and friends behind almost as she easily as she closed off the unused rooms in her house. Kate thought about the way her grandmother had died slowly over time losing the ability to remember the people around her, until she was only a shell of the woman who had once chased butterflies in her nightgown and slippers, in the privacy of her big backyard.

After giving herself a liberal coating of bug spray, Kate stepped a bit closer to the house ducking under the wash line where several colorful towels were draped over a thin bit of rope stretched between the trees. She could not be absolutely sure this was the place until she had spoken to the person who lived here. For a moment she felt a bit afraid out here on her own, but checking her cell phone she could see she had coverage so she took a deep breath and said, ” Hello, is there a Harry Gribble here? ”  ” Who wants to know?” came booming back from the side of the house where she could just make out the shape of a man lying in a hammock partially hidden by some tall foliage. ” Mr. Gribble, ”  she began, ” It’s Harry, just Harry,” he said, interrupting her in a way that left her temporarily more startled than the discovery that he’d been sleeping very near while she had been giving his house a snooty appraisal.

At least she hoped he’d been asleep instead of watching her during her big bug killing moment. Her face reddened thinking how absurd she must have looked as she drenched herself with enough spray to kill anything that creeped or crawled within a hundred yards of her airspace. Well, maybe a hundred yards was stretching it a bit, but she wanted so much to appear sane and intelligent to this man whose help she had determined necessary in order to find what she needed, on this island in the middle of the Atlantic.

“Hello,” she said, moving towards the still reclining man who appeared to be in the process of getting up. Intending to shake his hand and introduce herself, Kate stepped forward extending her hand as she walked towards him, ” I’m …”  was all she got out before tripping over a root she hadn’t noticed and tumbling forward towards Harry. He came out the hammock faster than one normally would, intending to try to catch her before she hit the ground. As anyone knows, climbing out of a swinging piece of fabric stretched between two trees requires a bit more grace than getting into it and before either of them had time to blink they were both on the ground in a heap.

Oh good grief, she thought to herself and as she rolled over while trying to push him off, their heads collided with a sharp crack. ” Oww!” Kate wailed, holding her head in her hands as she heard Harry Gribble ask, ” Lord woman, are you all right? ” with a tone that that made her unsure of just how to respond. Lifting her head from her hands, she found herself staring into the bluest eyes she’d ever seen. ” Kate ”  he said, making it more of a question than a statement, ” You’re the woman who sent me the email, right? ” ” Yes,that’s right,” Kate responded breaking eye contact as she stood up swiftly and began brushing off the dirt she picked up in her fall.

Shaking his hand, she said quickly, ” It’s so nice to meet you and thank you for giving me some of your time. ”  ” Well, as you can see I’m pretty busy so let’s move this along, shall we? ” Harry said, hiding a smile which would have told her right away that he was kidding. He had nothing but time these days and privately he had been looking forward to her arrival. Kate felt her heart speed up as she tried to remember the speech she had practiced silently on the plane. ” Well, as you know from my email, I’m looking for something I believe to be on this island and I came here because I heard that you are the very best when it comes to this kind of thing especially with regard to finding what has been lost….” Kate took a deep breath having just said what felt like the longest sentence of her life.

Pausing a minute before continuing, she noticed Harry was smiling. A little confused by his amused response to what she’d been saying, she took a deep breath before carrying on with her story. I’m trying to track down what I believe to be part of a pirate’s treasure that was hidden here around 1783. She watched in horror as Harry burst out laughing.” I know it may seem funny to you, but you can be sure it’s not funny to me! ” Silenced by her intensity, Harry settled down to listen to what this attractive woman had to say. He found himself drifting in his thoughts as she spoke, watching her mouth without hearing exactly what she was saying until he heard her say two unforgettable words,” treasure map.”

“Whoa, hold on a minute,” said Harry. ” What do you mean, you found a map?”  Kate looked at him as if he was a bit of a disappointment trying to decide if he was stupid or just not listening.” Yes,” she said, ” I have a map ” and began to tell him the story again, but in a slightly different way,

Kate had been living in Italy when she’d received an email from one of her cousins about a decision the three sisters had been forced to make regarding a place that was very special to them all. She could not imagine how difficult it must have been to decide that selling was the only option available for the One-Shot cabin. After the sudden and unexpected death of their mother, the girls had inherited the cabin by the lake which had been in the family since the 50s.

Known as Aunt Wylly to Kate, she was Kate’s grandfather’s only sister and great grandma to her three cousins, Shelli, Mikellah and McKenzie. The One-shot cabin had been purchased years before with money earned from a novella that Kate’s aunt had written for Redbook Magazine. Because this type of story was only published once, it was usually referred to as a ” one-shot ” story which was why aunt Wylly had named the cabin as she did. Kate had already planned a trip back to America, but her cousin McKenzie’s news prompted her to schedule a trip to the cabin and a visit with them almost as soon as the plane’s wheels had touched down.

Renting a car, she stopped long enough to spend one night in her mother’s home and then headed for Lake Nottely the next day. She had laughed and lounged at the lake all day complimenting the girls on the wonderful job they had done with the cabin so it might be available as a B & B. If the economy had not gone into such a downward spiral, this might have worked out so they could have kept it, but it was too late now and Kate had said her goodbyes to the cabin where she had felt such peace as a child. As she sat on the screened porch, she remembered winning a game of Scrabble that she played with her aunt the summer she was twelve. Kate watched the ducks making ripples in the lake as she sat there thinking about the secret creek hidden beneath the lake’s surface that had inspired her aunt’s first children’s book, ” The Secrets of the Hidden Creek.”

Kissing her cousins goodbye, she had driven north needing more time on her own before going back to her mother’s house and turned the car in the direction of the alma mater she shared with her great aunt. The University of Georgia had all of  Wylly Folk St. John’s manuscripts and personal correspondence especially that which related to the stories she’d written. Kate had rented a hotel room close the campus and after a light supper had called it a night. She’d gotten an early start the next morning going straight to the Library and settled into the Rare Books & Special Collections section where her aunt’s papers had found a permanent home after her death in 1985.

Kate spent the day reading the old letters and when she got to the correspondence that included her research for ” The Secrets of the Pirate’s Inn, ” she found a series of notes and letters that she’d never seen before.  Always a good researcher, she noticed a series of numbers that looked a bit like grid coordinates scribbled along the edges of several pieces of paper. Aunt Wylly had always used rhymes and clues in the mystery books that she wrote for children and Kate tried to think like a mystery writer as she worked to decipher the notes. The seven or so pages looked as if they belonged to the book she’d been working on before she died.  While Kate didn’t know much about that last novel, she thought these research notes might have been misfiled by the library staff who thought they belonged in this box because of the words pirate and treasure that appeared in different places. She went over the notes until she her eyes felt grow numb and in the end made copies in her own handwriting before she went back to the hotel to review them in private.

Listening to her story, Harry was beginning to see where this was going. Kate wasn’t just here for some silly adventure to liven up her life, she was trying to save the cabin she had been talking about, this One-Shot place that had belonged to her aunt, the writer. Kate paused realizing for the first time that she was too tired to talk anymore. She was worn out from traveling and right now she just needed some food and a bed. There was so much more to her story, but it would have to wait until later and judging by the look on Harry’s face, she knew he wasn’t going to need much persuasion to join her in her treasure hunt. She hoped he was good as people said he was because there were a few things that were still a mystery to her. Kate felt she had to do something more to try to save the cabin and she just couldn’t stop until she worked it out.

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My story came from the picture above and a topic sentence supplied by Gaelikaa, but the real heart of the story was inspired because today is the birthday of my great aunt Wylly who was more like a grandmother to me than an aunt. I wanted to honor her in a way I know she would understand and appreciate by writing a story with her as a character. She used her grandchildren, nieces, and nephews along with a few neighbor children to solve the mysteries in her children’s books so I thought it fitting she should be a part of mine. She would be 101 today if she were alive, I wish I could share this life I’ve chosen with her, I think she would be pleased.

I used quite a few true facts in writing this story for her and as for the rest of it….well, that’s part of the mystery waiting to be solved.

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Margaret Harper, Wylly Folk St. John (holding Pam Jones) Elizabeth Harper  (1971)

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Thanks again to Gaelikaa for joining TMAST this week her story can be found here and  thanks also to Judy Harper who joined us this week using her own topic. You can find her story here.

I want to thank everyone who left a topic sentence for me and for the others wishing to contribute to TMAST. It’s always more fun when others participate and I hope you’ll consider writing a little story of your own next week.

Please go here to find the pictures for next week’s TMAST and offer up suggestions for topic sentences based on the photographs.

Just for fun, all three pictures have my aunt in them at various stages of her life.