Gran lived with Moondoggy, his mom and his brothers - his mom was her caretaker. Gran was wheelchair bound but got around the house by walking her feet along the floor as her body, in the chair, followed. Gran liked being self sufficient and therefore could be found in the kitchen often frying various foods for meal. She would put whatever food in a frying pan with a little Crisco and fry it up. Food like peas; frozen peas, that when they hit the hot pan actually spit flames and burned the kitchen. But that isn't why he called me Gran.
Once a week, I would have dinner at Moondoggy's house. A sit down family affair with all four boys and meat, potatoes, vegetables and milk. During my first meal there, Gran wheeled in, took her spot and looked at me, "Who's this?" she asked in a her gravely, loud 90 year old voice and Moondoggy answered, "It's Judi, Gran. My girlfriend."
Looking me directly in the eye, she asked, "Ever been to South Dakota?" I politely replied, "no," and she goes on to tell me she was raised there, lived in a sod house as a little girl, hard work, snakes, outhouses. I sat and listened without eating as she spoke to me - because my parents taught me to be polite. No one else said a word, apparently enjoying their food.
The next week, I was back. Gran wheels in as we take out seats and asks, "Who's this?" Dave answers as he did the week previous. Then she asks, "Ever been to South Dakota?" And we repeat the same scene again, no one saying a word as she spoke. This time, I snuck in a few bites of dinner as everyone else enjoyed their full meal.
The next week was like someone had hit "Rewind" and then "Play." This time as Gran asked the opening question and Moondoggy identified me and she began to ask if I had ever been to South Dakota, I looked around the table seeking asylum from Moondoggy, any one of his three brothers - even his mom. I looked at them with pleading eyes, "Help me, here." And this is what happened:
I looked at Moondoggy and he dropped his head as if studying his plate before starting to eat. Then I looked at both of his older brothers who both dropped their heads, fully "occupied" with the meal. I looked at his little brother, well schooled apparently as he pushed corn around his plate. I looked at their mother, the daughter of Gran, the one I thought I could count on to understand. She, too, dropped her head and began to eat. Again, Gran posed the question, "Ever been to South Dakota?" and I am stuck answering and listening like a scene from Ground Hogs Day while everyone enjoys their meal fully aware that I, alone, am making it possible. They've heard the story, they tell me with their actions, you're on your own.
Last week while driving down the road that hugs a river, I thought I would point out the most recent eagle's nest I discovered on the route. As we approached, I explained that if you look carefully, you can see the male sitting in the nest, his white head popped above the rim. I spoke with animation and admiration. They were on the Endangered Species list, you know. Moondoggy reached over, grabbed my hand and said in his best gravely voice, "Ever been to South Dakota?"
Publisher's Weekly reviewed by book, No Such Thing as it was submitted to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA). A Quarter Finalists, this is what PW said:
ABNA Publishers Weekly Reviewer
Young boys are disappearing in Detroit, boys with no families or homes. Boys like Tim, who skateboards in a store parking lot nearly every day. But one Fall afternoon, this proves to be the wrong choice. The killer is never found, but this novel creates a scenario to explain what might have happened. Sydney, newly divorced, has come home to Detroit to write a book about the Purple Gang, a notorious mob of bootleggers from Detroit’s Prohibition Era. She decides to rent the house where she spent part of her childhood and where her mother went mad; the house where her family stopped being a unit after her mother was committed to a mental institution. Then Sydney begins to hear voices. Are these the very ghosts her mother swore existed? Or is she plagued with her mother’s problem? Part ghost story, part thriller, this book engages from the first paragraph. Set in modern day Detroit, the city becomes a character of the novel. Sydney’s detailed memory provides quite a comparison between the city where she grew up and the Detroit of the present. The plot -- woman goes home to find answers only to find more questions, danger, and murder -- has a fantastic spin with the addition of paranormal activity. The characters Sydney, Tim, Jack -- Sydney’s brother -- and Thor -- Sydney’s dog -- are brilliantly developed with strong individual voices. The points of view of Sydney and Jack reflect the different truths experienced by two children raised under the same roof. The house itself becomes a spirit to be reckoned with. This superb story has many layers and well developed characters and makes for thrilling reading.