Angela Morales begins her book of memoir essays, The Girls in My Town, explaining a childhood off-kilter from that of most girls. Instead of merry-go-rounds and swings, her playgrounds were kitchen appliance mazes.and bowling alleys. The first because her parents owned a large appliance store, where she ran around among the washers, dryers, stoves and refrigerators; the second because she was a member of a bowling team at a young age.
On reading the first essay, "Chief Little Feather. Where are You?" (referring to the man who taught her bowling), I suspected that this was going to be a book that looked at life a bit south of center. I was right. Morales looks at the world with writer eyes that go beyond the present and into the realms of whys and what ifs, all the while keeping herself a bit removed from the fray.
The twelve essays in the book take the reader from Morales' youth to motherhood, including milestones along the way. These include surviving her parents' loud, sometimes violent, feuding as well as seeing naked men masturbating (thankfully at a distance), and the downside of having too much freedom.
I lived through similar experiences in my own youth, but quickly pushed them to the back of my mind because of the storybook childhood I pretended to have. Morales, however, faces the unpleasantries head-on, with a depth to her thoughts that give better meaning and understanding to my own past. Hers is the kind of writing that makes reading so rewarding.
The Girls in My Town (also the title of the book's final essay) is a coming of age story. It's funny. It's sad. It's full of sunshine and warts and moments and events that are constantly shaping a child into a woman, and then into a writer. Morales looks past the visible attributes of the people in her life, and wonders what lies beneath.
This is particular true as she sits with a dying grandmother. After a hospice nurse tells Morales that her grandmother is slipping away and may pass at any time, she wonders what her grandmother would have to say about the "delicate language."
I want to talk to Grandma Ruth about the language, tell her that
she's knocking at death's door, about to croak (think frogs), about to kick
the bucket, and that soon she'll be six feet under in the boneyard, gone to
meet her maker, food for the worms, an ex-grandma, rest in peace. I think
she'd laugh. (But I could be wrong.)
And later, she uses some of that "delicate language" to tell her two-year-old son that Grandma Ruth's body is old and tired, and will soon simply stop working.
This was one of those books I wished had been longer. I might have learned more about embracing my own coming-of-age years, the ones I pushed in a closet, not because they were truly bad, but simply because they had a few warts.
Morales accepts her warts, along with her caring nature, and turns them into meaningful stories.
Angela Morales is a graduate of the University of Iowa's nonfiction writing program. Her work has appeared in Best American Essays 2013, Harvard Review, The Southern Review, The Southwest Review, The Los Angeles Review, Arts and Letters, and other publications. She is the winner of the River Teeth Book Prize, 2014, and is a recent MacDowell Fellow. Currently she teaches composition and creative writing at Glendale Community College and is working on her second collection of essays. Visit her website.
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