The Little Pyromaniac #TuesdayTidbit #Memoir #Inspiration

Abbie wears a blue and white V-neck top with different shades of blue from sky to navy that swirl together with the white. She has short, brown hair and rosy cheeks and smiles at the camera against a black background.

Photo Courtesy of Tess Anderson Photography

 

 

The Little Pyromaniac

By Abbie Johnson Taylor

 

I remember the day my five-year-old brother Andy was arrested for arson. On a warm Wyoming spring afternoon in 1974, when I was twelve years old, my parents and I were in the garden behind our house. While Mother and Dad prepared the soil for planting, I studied seed packets of peas, corn, and tomatoes. Even with my limited vision, I could read the labels and make out the pictures. I imagined how they would look and taste on our dinner plates.

My food reverie was interrupted by the distant sound of sirens. “I’ll bet those are fire engines,” Dad remarked.

A little while later, I heard the phone ringing in the house. “I’ll get it,” I offered, dropping the seed packets and hurrying toward the back door.

In the kitchen, breathless, I picked up the receiver. “Hello.”

A brusque male voice said, “Could I speak to Mr. or Mrs. Johnson?”

Alarmed, I said, “Yeah, just a minute.”

I dropped the phone and hurried outside. “Mother, Dad, there’s a guy on the phone who wants to talk to one of you.”

“I’ll take it,” Mother said, putting down her shovel and wiping her hands on her slacks.

Curious, I followed her into the house and waited to see what I could find out. Of course, I couldn’t glean much from her end of the conversation.

“Hello. Oh, my God! We’ll be right there.” She slammed down the receiver and rushed past me out the back door.

I hurried after her and heard her say to Dad, “Ed, we need to pick up Andy at the police station. He was playing with matches near that abandoned shack at the bottom of the hill when it caught fire.”

After they left, I wandered aimlessly through the house, letting my imagination get the better of me. Although my little brother was a pain in the anatomy, I loved him and hated the idea of him being handcuffed and tossed into a jail cell. What if they locked up my parents and came after me?

A knock sounded at the front door.  My heart pounding, I hurried to answer, fearing the worst. But it was only Carrie and Shelley from next door, who were close to my age. Andy and I often played with them.

After I invited them in and explained the situation, Carrie, the older of the two, said, “Maybe you should call the police and find out what’s going on.”

“Yeah,” Shelley agreed.

Call the police? That was the last thing I wanted to do. “But I don’t have the number,” I said, hoping that would be a good enough excuse.

“Call the operator, and she’ll connect you,” Carrie suggested.

“They can’t arrest you for calling them,” Shelley assured me. “You’re not committing a crime.”

That made sense. Although their presence comforted me, I still felt trepidation, as I made my way into my parents’ bedroom and picked up the receiver on Mother’s side of the bed. They stood eagerly in the doorway while I made the call.

The same brusque voice answered. “Sheridan Police Department.”

I was tempted to hang up but managed to babble, “Hi. I’m looking for Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. They should be there with Andy Johnson.”

“Oh, yes, they’re here,” he said. “They’re filling out paperwork. Who’s this?”

“I’m Miss Johnson. Thanks.” It was all I could think to say, and I hung up.

When I relayed our conversation, Carrie said, “See? There’s nothing to worry about.”

“Yeah,” Shelley chimed in. “They’ll be home soon.”

A little while later, we were in my room, drinking Coke and listening to music when I heard the station wagon pull into the driveway. I hurried outside, Carrie and Shelley at my heels. To my relief, Andy climbed out of the station wagon, and I hugged him. “I love you. Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” he answered with a grin. “They put me in a jail cell.”

“Oh, no!” I cried.

“Weren’t you scared?” Shelley asked.

“No, I found a rotten peanut butter sandwich.”

“Ugg!” I said. I’d always hated peanut butter and never cared for peanuts.

“Did you eat it?” Carrie asked.

He shook his head.

Dad, removing Andy’s bike from the trunk, said, “Now, you’re going to stay off this for a week, do you hear?”

Andy’s face fell. “Yeah.”

That wasn’t the only time he committed arson. Once, with the help of another neighbor girl his age, he set fire to his basement bedroom. Fortunately, Mother put it out before it could do much damage.

Another time, when Andy and I were in his room, he picked up a lighter, held it to my face, and flicked it. It hissed, but that was all. “It’s empty,” he cried, as I hurried away, screaming.

I don’t know what turned him around, but Andy eventually outgrew his fire fetish.  However, in elementary school, he exhibited some behavioral problems. Through the years, he had other brushes with the law, most of them alcohol-related.

But he now has a P.H.D. in physics and lives in Jupiter, Florida, with his own family, where he teaches at a private high school. Perhaps he ignites, in his students, a spark of scientific interest.

THE END

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The above true story appears in the summer issue of The Writer’s Grapevine, which can be downloaded here. I was inspired to write it while taking a class from Glenda Beall, who blogs here. She prompted us to write something about a family member, starting with the sentence, “I remember the day when…” I hope you enjoyed reading this.

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New! Why Grandma Doesn’t Know Me

Copyright 2021 by Abbie Johnson Taylor.

Independently published with the help of DLD Books.

The cover of the book features an older woman sitting in a wicker chair facing a window. The world beyond the window is bright, and several plants are visible on the terrace. Behind the woman’s chair is another plant, with a tall stalk and wide rounded leaves. The woman has short, white hair, glasses, a red sweater, and tan pants. The border of the picture is a taupe color and reads "Why Grandma Doesn't Know Me" above the photo and "Abbie Johnson Taylor" below it.

Sixteen-year-old Natalie’s grandmother, suffering from dementia and confined to a wheelchair, lives in a nursing home and rarely recognizes Natalie. But one Halloween night, she tells her a shocking secret that only she and Natalie’s mother know. Natalie is the product of a one-night stand between her mother, who is a college English teacher, and another professor.

After some research, Natalie learns that people with dementia often have vivid memories of past events. Still not wanting to believe what her grandmother has told her, she finds her biological father online. The resemblance between them is undeniable. Not knowing what else to do, she shows his photo and website to her parents.

Natalie realizes she has some growing up to do. Scared and confused, she reaches out to her biological father, and they start corresponding.

Her younger sister, Sarah, senses their parents’ marital difficulties. At Thanksgiving, when she has an opportunity to see Santa Claus, she asks him to bring them together again. Can the jolly old elf grant her request?

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Happiness #Re-Blog #Thursday Book Feature

Today, I decided to rummage around in my archives. I found an oldie but goodie from about this time last year. It’s a review of a memoir about how a little brother saved his big sister’s life. Enjoy and happy reading.

 

Via Thursday Book Feature: Happiness

 

New! The Red Dress

Copyright July 2019 by DLD Books

Front cover contains: young, dark-haired woman in red dress holding flowers

When Eve went to her high school senior prom, she wore a red dress that her mother had made for her. That night, after dancing with the boy of her dreams, she caught him in the act with her best friend. Months later, Eve, a freshman in college, is bullied into giving the dress to her roommate. After her mother finds out, their relationship is never the same again.

Twenty-five years later, Eve, a bestselling author, is happily married with three children. Although her mother suffers from dementia, she still remembers, and Eve still harbors the guilt for giving the dress away. When she receives a Facebook friend request from her old college roommate and an invitation to her twenty-five-year high school class reunion, then meets her former best friend by chance, she must confront the past in order to face the future.

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In the Garden (poetry)


According to this week’s issue of The Weekly Avocet, National Gardening Week is celebrated during the first part of June. Here’s a poem of mine on the subject that originally appeared in my collection, How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver. It was inspired by a real event. I recently submitted this to The Weekly Avocet’s garden challenge but haven’t yet heard if they’ll publish it.

You can click below to hear me read the poem.

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In the Garden

There are no trees, just an expanse of dirt.
While Mother and Dad work, I sit on the steps,
with limited vision, study seed packets of peas, corn, tomatoes,
read the labels, gaze at the pictures.
I’m only twelve.
Little brother Andy, five,
rides his bike around the neighborhood.

In the distance, sirens wail.
“Sounds like fire engines,” says Dad.

In the house, the phone rings.
I hurry indoors to answer it.
A male voice asks for my mother.
I rush outside, call her to the phone.

“Oh my god! We’ll be right there,” she says.
“Ed, we need to pick up Andy at the police station.
He was playing with matches near the shack
at the bottom of the hill when it caught fire.”
The garden and I are abandoned.

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What are your childhood memories of gardening? Did you help your parents till the soil and plant the seeds? What about enjoying the fruits of your labor in the fall? Didn’t those fresh vegetables taste wonderful? Do you think gardening taught you about eating healthier foods? I’d love to read your thoughts, either in the comments field here or on your own blog. Happy gardening, and happy summer.

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
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