Welcome to the second episode of High School Dropout, a podcast about family mythologies. These are stories, embellished, moderated, even fabricated tales. We wield family stories as weapons during fights, reexamine them to understand our compulsions, continually rewriting them in memory, in a perpetual negotiating with the past.
My name is Cimminnee Holt, and this is my podcast. It is a narrative ethnographic work on my family. No attempt at verifying or debunking claims has been made; facts are irrelevant. These are fictional stories because memory is a poor historian. When we record events in the sinews of our brains they are warped by our own insecurities and ecstasy.
All storytelling is biased revisionism of the truth.
As this podcast evolves, I’ve switched the format a little bit. The audio will be an interview with a family member, usually with my mother Anita, as we chronicle events and compare memories. The written texts are short narrative stories, sometimes inspired by real events but mostly creative retellings of fictional characters. Members of my family will also contribute their own short stories in the future.
The photos and written fiction are available on the website.
Table of Contents for Episode 2:
- Part One: Interview with Anita (Cim’s mother), audio only, see photos below.
- Part Two: Rocky’s Hill, written by Cimminnee Holt, text only.
Episode 2: Daniel’s Cabin and Rocky’s Hill
Part One: Anita Living in Daniel’s Cabin
Anita recounts living with two young children in an isolated cabin with no running water or electricity.
Listen to Part One:
Part Two: Rocky’s Hill
Small Town Nowhere, Age 9
I wake up that winter morning and tuck my feet further into the weighty, second-hand army surplus blanket. Protected by the feathered down, I am reluctant to wait until mum makes a fire in the wood stove, warming up the old house.
Impatient, I poke my head out, uncover my nose, and look towards the window. It is brighter than usual. That could mean…oh I could not even think of what I wanted, that could jinx it. Unable to see the ground from my bed—my room is on the second floor—I cannot wait to look.
It is cold outside my cocoon of warmth! Still, pancakes are waiting. Maybe mum splurged and got real maple syrup. As extra incentive to get ambulatory, if I get to the television before my Older Brother it ensures first choice of programming for an hour.
I flung back the covers, swung my legs to the side of the bed, and stood up.
Oh! Many aged layers of cold paint on top of old wood floors freeze the bottom of my feet. I rush to the window. Snow! Several feet of soft rolling lumps of fresh snow. The early morning sun casts long shadows through the birch trees, they creep across the pristine yard like bony fingers. The lit strips of bright snow hurt my eyes. Pulling on wool socks from my dresser drawer, I then grab my cozy blanket and run downstairs.
Pancakes, cartoons, and sledding: the promise of fun wells up in my chest.
Georgina quietly stands up from the breakfast table. She carefully scrapes the few frosted flakes left in the bowl into the garbage bin underneath the sink. Turning on the tap water just a little, so it would not jet, she rinses the milk out of the bowl, opens the dishwasher door, and brings it down slowly so as does not bounce, and places the bowl in the first row on the top rack. She closes the door while holding the lock open so it won’t click when it shuts. Gently pushing the door closed, she slowly releases the handle.
In the bathroom, Georgina removes her pants, undergarments, and socks and steps into the tub, squatting to pee. Best not to risk flushing the toilet. Taking the cup on the counter, she fills it with water from the toilet, and gently pours it into the bathtub, watching the water and urine circle and go down the drain. She dry rubs her teeth with a face cloth, and silently surveys the room, verifying nothing is out of place.
At the front door she gets dressed for winter fun: pink snowsuit, pink boots, purple hat, and gloves with pink and purple stripes. She creeps to the basement to get her sled. It is hanging on a hook she cannot reach. She jumps, once, to try and unhook it. It comes loose and clangs on the floor.
Georgina hears her step-mother thump out of bed and stomp to the stair landing above her. “Git out of the house before I throw ya out! We can’t get any sleep with you making all sorts of hullabaloo! Giiit out! And don’t come back before lunch!”
Georgina leaves, her face hot and flushed with anger and embarrassment, dragging the sled behind her. “AND DON’T GO DRAGGING YER FEET! THEM’S NEW BOOTS!” Georgina jerks her chin up and marches, knees high and deliberate, to the sledding hill on that first good snowfall day. She waits an hour before other kids arrive.
My older brother is almost a teenager and almost six feet tall.
He hangs out at the dump with his friends. They poke burning sticks into piles of garbage and shoot the escaping rats with BB guns. On his next birthday he wants a gun of his own.
My mother adamantly refuses.
Instead, he asks for an electric guitar. As a compromise, my mother bargains that if he begins to play her acoustic one, then she’ll buy him the electric instrument. Within two weeks my brother has learned all of my mother’s songs, and then surpasses her skill quickly thereafter. She begins to save the money for his birthday.
My older brother has begun to be very annoyed with me. He rams my head into the wall when he passes me in the hallway. He doesn’t allow me to play with him after school. He never reads me stories anymore.
This Saturday morning, I join him on the couch watching cartoons only to have him immediately stand up to switch the channel to the French news.
I huff. Then plead with him to return to my exalted animation.
He shushes me, “I’m trying to hear the news!”
I cross my arms. I fume at him. I stare at the television. “C’mon! I’m missing my shows!” I finally yell, impatient.
“Shut up!” he shouts and throws a pillow at my face. It catches me eyes open. My eyeball rubs against the rough upholstery. Tears poor down my incensed, red face.
“Fine! I’ll go make pancakes and you won’t get any!” I threaten, shrieking with indignation.
He laughs. As I leave the living room he gets up to change the channel back to the cartoons. I run to the couch and plop down, happy to have a return to sensible viewing choices.
Silently, he gets up again to switch the channel back to the news.
“AAAHHHHH!!!!” I emit a high-pitched frustrated howl, futilely swinging my arms, fingers flexed like talons, ready to claw my way to programming sovereignty. He easily catches my forearms, blocking my assault.
We are then startled by the distinctive thump coming from the living room ceiling. Footsteps stomp to the top of the stairs.
My mother yells at me from the landing, “Stop screaming! What is going on down there?!”
My older brother smirks. The grimace of pre-teen gloating is a face worthy of being skinned, then dipped in vinegar and salt. My return sneer is much less effective as mine is tainted with guilt. He knows my shame; I have disturbed my mother on her sacred Saturday morning. Before noon.
“Sorry,” I say loud enough for her to hear upstairs. Her footsteps retreat back to the temporary shelter of her bedroom.
Depleted from the conflict and chastisement, I retreat to the kitchen and set about making pancakes.
Rocky’s Hill was on Lee Rocher’s property, a gorge between two slopes; one side lined with trees and the other a smooth incline. A small creek flowed between them. In order to access the hill, the kids of the neighborhood must walk around the corner, because Rocky’s dog loudly and valiantly guards the short cut through the yard.
This year, the boys are impressed because I am the only girl unafraid to slide down the steepest part of the hill. We’ve built a pile of show at the base of the hill, and if you hit it just right, the momentum will send you and your sled into the trees across the creek: the Ball Breaker, it’s called. The boys and I are busy proving our machismo on the precipitous banks while the other girls are sometimes sledding, mostly building snow kitchens and playing house.
I deliberate. Joining the girls would mean I forfeit this newfound status of recognition from the boys. Instead, I tell the boys to build the bump higher, I can make it across, I can make it further than anyone. They pile on more snow and pat it in down, hardening the surface so as the sled glides over, not through the obstacle.
On the sled, feet perched to each side, I kick my legs for one last shove as I lift my limbs and quickly tuck them inside the toboggan. Hurtling down the hill, the sled hits the jump, and swooshes over and up, right into the trees. Landing causes a fast expelling of the air in my lungs. I can’t breathe! There is pressure in my temples and as I try and fail at inhaling. I’m doubled over, red-faced. I’m going to die, I think.
“Ssstttthhhhhh…” is the garbled sound between my lips as finally my body allows for a sharp intake of breath. After a quick moment for composure recovery, I stand and survey my success. I have gone farther than any other kid. We leave markers to prove it, and I ram a stick into the ground to mark my new record.
The boys shout congratulations; my grin hides the silent pain in my back and one leg. I wave to them from across the small frozen creek.