everything grows with love

Stories about My Experiences with Writers & Illustrators Who Bring Light into the World…by Bonnie Ingber Verburg

Archive for Bonnie Verburg: Fiction

Only God Loves California: The View from North Truro

I wrote this in 2010, the day before my birthday, with the intention of writing a fiction blog called ONLY GOD LOVES CALIFORNIA. But I never wrote another entry. It’s time to close out that dream and move along, but I always did like the story about North Truro. It doesn’t belong with the other essays here, but I’m including it anyway–with a smile and a sigh.

Here’s a snapshot of my own life. Why not? Greetings from the land of Botox and expensive cars and very, very thin people who think Harry Potter is a movie.


February 9, 2010

In a small, weathered cottage in North Truro, a few miles from the end of Cape Cod, Mrs. Lippit chain-smokes all day while she watches TV. Her face is more wrinkled than any raisin, and when she sees me hesitate by her rusty screen door, she begins to laugh. At first I don’t know what the joke is, but then I notice that every time she hears me say the word “California,” she bursts out laughing. It is a coughing kind of laugh, as if she is about to fall out of her faded armchair. She just can’t believe my 5-year-old son and I are here from that place.

I am guessing Mrs. Lippit has been smoking non-stop since the end of World War II, when she could finally get cigarettes again. She has owned the three cottages across the street, named Dianne, Kathy, and Grace, since before the war. Like her, they are survivors, old and worn, but only a short boardwalk through the salt marsh stands between the cottages and the ocean. These cottages must be worth millions, I think, and of course they are. At least three million dollars apiece. Mrs. Lippit doesn’t seem to notice or care. The cottages, she tells me in her wheezy voice, are named after her granddaughters, who come and stay here for the month of July every summer. The paint is peeling, the kitchen is rusty, and everything smells like mildew, but we absolutely love it here. The sea breeze and the clear, cool waves of the Atlantic are mesmerizing.

Mrs. Lippit looks me over again and can’t suppress her laughter. I know the only reason she agreed to rent Grace to us was because my oldest sister lives in Yarmouthport, here on the Cape. That made me legitimate enough despite my home base. And when the old woman comes to see that my Cape Cod sister refuses to come visit my son and me–she is fed up with the Cape and has flown to San Francisco for the three weeks we are here–the old lady doesn’t comment. My son and I are strange enough, to have come here at all, and I’m guessing my unusual family fits into her picture of us.

So far we haven’t been able to adjust to East Coast time, so we stay up way after midnight and then sleep until noon. The beer-bellied neighbors staying in Kathy also find our hours hysterically funny, and every time we pass them, as they sit next to their pick-up truck in folding chairs, they squall out, “California!” and then they laugh, too.

Taking out the garbage, I see the cans are filled with empty gallon-size bottles of bourbon and gin. The other guests get loud over there late at night, but they always manage to get to the beach hours before we get up. I don’t know how they do it.

We are politely chatting with them about Bar-B-Q when old Mrs. Lippet hobbles across the two-lane highway from her cottage to our side of the street. She is waving frantically at me to get my attention, and the way she sways you can tell she probably hasn’t been out of her TV chair for months. She is ancient.

     “Your sister’s on the phone!” she yells over the sound of the ocean. “It’s an emergency! I told her you were at the beach, but she wanted me to come look!”

I grab my son’s hand, and we go sprinting across the warm tar to her screen door. My son makes a face at the overwhelming smell of cigarette smoke, but there are no other phones in the cottages, and we don’t get cell service out here.

It is my other sister, the one who lives in Minnesota, who is calling. She’s the stubborn one.  As soon as I hear her voice, I can imagine her insisting that Mrs. Lippit had better go find us. I love her for it. She has decided that she and her husband are going to drive to the Cape from Minneapolis to have a vacation with us. They are bringing their dog, Toba. Do we have enough room for them in our cottage?

I am elated. My sister and her husband have a house in Italy, so we rarely see them. I cover the phone with my hand and ask Mrs. Lippet if I can rent Dianne, the empty cottage, for a week while my sister is visiting.

“Your sister?  Why does she need a cottage when she lives on the Cape?”

“It’s my other sister. She’s driving here from Minnesota.”

Mrs. Lippet laughs so hard her lit cigarette comes flying out of her mouth.  “She’s driving here from Minnesota?” she manages to spit out. And then she is doubled up again.

“What about the cottage?” I ask anxiously.

In between fits of laughter, Mrs. Lippet snorts and nods her head yes.

She is still laughing when I hang up the phone, and we leave. My son looks at me, confused, and asks why she smokes cigarettes. Doesn’t she know she’ll get cancer?

I want to tell him it is because she is not from California, but I keep the thought to myself.

We go back to Grace to get our plastic buckets and shovels. On the way, we pass the beer bellies, their truck, their drinks, and their radio.

“You finally up now?” one of them asks. “You people from California sure do sleep late. Almost missed the entire day!”

All of them laugh.

Living in Santa Monica, I am not used to staying in a place where people don’t use keys. I have hidden my camera, an envelope with four hundred dollars in cash for emergencies, our airline tickets, my American Express card, and a pair of diamond earrings in a dented old saucepan inside a lobster pot at the bottom of the kitchen cabinet. I’m not wearing jewelry, and I only use that credit card for traveling.

My sister, her husband, and Toba are overflowing with happiness from the moment they step out of the car. Everything else disappears, including the neighbors and their comments. My sister teaches my son how to count to ten in Italian. She cooks with special olive oil they brought with them, and I swear the pasta really does taste better. My brother-in-law writes poetry and naps in the afternoon. My sister, a photographer, is snapping pictures left and right–setting us all up in a pattern on the floor, with Toba wagging her tail on top of my son. Mrs. Lippit tries to tell my sister she doesn’t allow dogs, but my sister ignores her–so unlike me!–and the old lady shakes her head and says, “Just don’t let any of the other guests know about the dog!” She goes back to her TV.

A week later, after a holiday filled with sunshine and good food, my sister and her husband drop us off at Logan Airport in Boston. It is not until we go to check in that I remember my valuables are still in the saucepan. What if the next visitors steal them? I call Mrs. Lippet, frantic.

You left your money where?” she wheezes. Then she laughs so hard I can’t even hear her talk. Finally, after a long fit of coughing, she promises to take it to the post office in five days. She’ll use some of the cash to pay for postage.

“Can’t you call FedX?” I ask anxously. “Isn’t it safer?”

“No,” she says emphatically.  “That’s way too expensive. And I’m not going into town anytime before next week. That’s the best I can do.”

Two weeks later, a little box arrives. It is uninsured, and it smells like cigarettes. In her spidery hand, the word CALIFORNIA is written in caps.

The tickets are there, and the earrings, and my credit card. But the cash is gone.

So I smile. I hope next summer my son and I will get to go to North Truro again. And if we do, I am pretty sure Mrs. Lippet will let us stay in Grace, even if we do sleep until noon. Even if we are from California.

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