Heather Smith
I love old biddies, especially eccentric ones, so it’s no surprise that many old biddy characters show up in my writing. Writing an old biddy, or an old geezer, for that matter, into a story makes writing just plain fun. Their unpredictability and wackiness make for humorous moments and, in young adult writing, the old biddy/geezer can be a great source of understated wisdom for the younger character.

I have just recently added a new character to Ballycatters and Bugs. Although Great Aunt Edna spends a lot of time in the background in this book, she always adds greatly to the scene.
In this excerpt, teenager Alistair Stephenson faces his parents after being beaten up the night before by his “best friend”, Jumbo McBain. (BTW, constructive criticism on my writing is always welcome!)


I go to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. My parents read the Saturday morning papers, a carafe of coffee between them. Sitting in the corner, sending vibrations through the floorboards as she sways rhythmically in her rocker, is Great Aunt Ivy. As soon as my mother lays eyes on me she jumps up from the kitchen table and comes to examine my face. “Oh my God! Alistair!”
“I’m fine, Mom.”
My mother runs to the refrigerator and throws open the freezer door.
“Just look at you, Ally. What a state,” Dad says.
My mother rummages through the freezer, frantic.
“What’s all the commotion?” croaks Great Aunt Ivy.
“When will ever you learn, Ally?” Dad says.
My mother grabs Tom Smallwood’s giant frozen codfish from the freezer, the one he gave my parents as a thank you for helping him pull up his turnips when his arthritis was acting up.
“Are they dropping bombs?” yells Great Aunt Ivy.
“I have a good mind to call that boy’s father,” Dad says.
My mother puts Tom Smallwood’s fish on my face.
“Most people use a bag of peas,” I say.
“Why? Ally? Why?” my mother asks.
“Because it molds to the shape of your face better than a codfish,” I reply.
“Quick to the shelter!” yells Great Aunt Ivy.
“I lose sleep over this. I really do. I can’t stand it,” Mom cries.
She moves the fish from my fat lip to my swollen eye and I’m thankful not to have to look at her directly.
“For the love of God, Beth, get that goddamn thing out of his face,” my father snaps. “It will do no good ten hours after the fact.”
“The Germans are coming, aren’t they?” asks Ivy. “That’s what this is all about isn’t it?”
“I’m getting frostbite,” I say.
“For God’s sake, Beth, take the fish off his face,” says Dad.
“It’ll reduce the swelling,” says Mom.
“Not now it won’t,” says Dad.
Great Aunt Ivy starts singing one of those old war tunes of hers. I start to laugh. Dad slams his fist on the table.
“This is not funny, Alistair! We’ll leave MacEvoy’s Cove, you know. If you can’t stay away from him, we’ll move, I mean it! He’ll kill you one of these days.”
I don’t yell because what I want to say to my father is too important. So I keep my voice steady and even. “No,” I say “No. You’re wrong. Jumbo would never hurt me.”
My father jumps up from the table and grabs me by the arm. I try not to flinch as he presses on the bruises hiding underneath my shirt. He pulls me away from my mother and pushes me into the front hall.
“Look at your face, Ally,” he yells as he stands me before the hall mirror.
I look down.
My father puts his hand under my chin and gently, but firmly, pulls my head up.
“Look at your face, Ally,” he says, softer now. “How can you say James McBain will never hurt you?”
Great Aunt Ivy’s voice floats out from the kitchen.
“Keep the homes fires burning, while your hearts are yearning.”
I reach up and touch my eye. “This means nothing, Dad. Jumbo is more than this.”
I look at my father in the mirror. He’s no longer staring at me but at his own reflection.
“Though your lads are far away, they dream of home.”
The telephone rings. Ivy jumps up from her rocker and assumes a tae kwon do fighting stance. “Is that’s an air raid siren I hear?” she yells.
No one makes a move to answer the phone. Neglected, my father’s answering machine message kicks in. Jumbo McBain’s voice follows: “Bugboy? It’s me. Meet me at my place. ASAP. We have some exploring to do. You’ve got about ten minutes to get your arse here or I’m going without you. Oh, and by the way, your dad sounds like a homo on that answering machine message.”
I cringe.
“Please, Alistair,” pleads my mother. “Stay home. Look at the state of you. Your father’s right – he’ll kill you one of these days.”
“No!” I shout. “He won’t. He protects me. I’d be toast right now if it weren’t for Jumbo McBain.”
Ivy’s singing resumes. “There's a silver lining through the dark clouds shining.”
My father speaks without looking at me.
“Don’t go, Alistair. Make a clean break right now. You don’t need him.”
But I do need Jumbo McBain. And he needs me. So I walk out the front door and leave my father in the hallway, his head hung.
“Turn the dark clouds inside out till the boys come home.”
As I head down the hill to McBain’s, I look back and see my mother in the doorway, hugging Tom Smallwood’s codfish.
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3 Responses
  1. CLB Says:

    I need to know what happens next. I do like the addition of Great Aunt Ivy.

  2. Lisa TS Says:

    Loving it! I like the way Ivy is threaded throughout. I agree with CLB - I need to know what is going to happen!

  3. Iron Monkey Says:

    You'll just have to wait 'til its published and buy the damn book then, won't you...

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