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Alone at her family’s Country House, once a gathering place for “The Cousins,” the narrator reflects on summers past
I am nestled on the window seat, cocooned by the voluminous cream-colored curtains, when I look up from my book, Jennifer Nielson’s The False Prince. I am stunned by how quiet the house is. There is no boisterous echoing noise, there is no impatient shouting, there is no raucous laughter. Lately, my visits to the Country House are solitary, quiet trips. Looking out the window, I gaze around the fertile garden teeming with wildflowers and Canadian evergreens and think about how everything has changed.
The Country House has always been the central meeting point, where The Cousins would gather each summer to play, to fight, and to just be. It was fun, it was comfortable, it was predictable. I did not know that it would not always be that way. I am the youngest of The Cousins; the oldest, Spencer, is now twenty- four. I now know about colleges, internships, and trips, and all the things that fight against the pull of the Country House. It seems that there is no one left but me. Now, I only go for a few days each year. The first summer of Covid, 2020, was the last time I went for an extended period of time, and even then, only my mom’s youngest sister’s children came, not the others.
As I scan the yard, perched at the window, the worn-out hammock recalls memories of seven-year-old me challenging my cousins to intense rounds of the card game Spit. I see the jungle gym Zaidie constructed by hand and reflect on how we used to play American Ninja Warrior and swing on the trapeze bars. I smile at a more recent memory of a workshop at Cirque School where we spent my birthday last year when The Cousins were in LA.
There is also Uncle Ari’s motorboat and the wooden dock. I would slide off and get splinters, my feet hidden by the then-giant (size extra-small) attached water skis I have now outgrown. I can now fit into the bigger, more grown-up detached skis, but there is nobody here to drive the motorboat and nobody to cheer me on.
I take a break from my book and head down to the beach, building my first sandcastle in two years. In the distance, I can see Blueberry Island and remember the first time The Cousins dared me to jump from the rocky outcropping, eventually shoving me off the cliff, teaching me how to “fly.” I unwillingly embraced my fears, and by the time I was nine I was the queen of front flips, often competing with The Cousins to see whose cannonball would make the biggest splash.
I see the red deck chairs on the dock belonging to our neighbor—my second cousin’s grandmother. I catch a glimpse of the shiny new speedboat that replaced Uncle Steven’s old pontoon. We used to hitch rides into town for ice cream on scorching hot days, all piling on, always careful to make sure that there were enough life jackets for the dozen of us.
After a while, I head back upstairs, shower, and start building a Lego model, the first one I have worked on in a long time. The den is cluttered with forgotten toys and half-finished projects. There is barely any room to construct, but I make do.
When Bubbie calls me down for a Shabbat dinner of chicken soup with matzo balls, brisket, and knishes, I head to the silver candelabra, recently polished and ready to light. I think of how The Cousins used to crowd around, impatiently waiting their turn, wanting to be the first one to light in order to snag the coveted center candle. When I reach for the matches, I catch a view through the window of the sun setting over the lake. I wish on the first star I see, wanting to turn back time and relive the memories of summers past.
What inspired you to write this piece?
This essay was prompted by a school assignment. The directions were to write the story of what I see when I look through a window and to tell the tale of what I’ll miss when I’m gone. The content of the essay was based on my memories of summers past at my grandparents’ cottage in the mountains north of Montreal.
Can you share more about your creative process? How did you write this?
I wrote it over the course of 10 days. This essay was not at all how I was expecting it to come out. I didn’t expect it to be sad, I was just striving to follow the instructions. I wrote the story of what I see when I look through a window and telling the tale of what I miss now that circumstances have changed. When I was assigned this essay, I was originally going to write about something different, relating to bunk beds and my sleepaway camp. However, one afternoon, after biking at the beach, my family called my mom’s parents, who own the house in the essay, and they were talking about how some of The Cousins had recently visited. I felt a little left out, so I decided to write about it to make myself feel better, a sort of emotional release.
What’s your favorite single poem, short story, or piece of art? Why?
My favorite short story is "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe. In this story, the narrator kills an old man and is haunted by his heartbeat. However, the heartbeat is just his imagination, his guilty conscience, which makes him confess to the police. It is interesting that he decides to kill the man because of his creepy eye. I also like this story because of the incredible imagery, you can visualize what’s happening and can hear the heartbeat of the dead man.
What advice do you have for any young writers or artists hoping to be published in Stone Soup
Be resilient and don’t give up. You may not get there on your first try, but keep trying and keep revising. Getting started is easy once you have an idea, but don’t abandon an idea just because you get stuck and can’t think of what else to write. Better to persevere and try to turn your good idea into a good essay than to simply move on to another idea. If you keep up that mindset, all your ideas will eventually turn into good writing, or at least good practice.
Summary & Analysis
“Dwelling on a Memory” is a brief memoir written by Micki Mermelstein, age 11. Here, the writer helps readers enter the world of the Country House where “The Cousins” (Mermelstein and her cousins) met regularly before the COVID pandemic. This house used to be the “central meeting point” for the family, but the older cousins have since moved on—taking internships or trips that keep them away from the Country House. We learn that the house used to be filled with the cacophony (loud noises) of many children—and now it is empty, quiet, lonely, and the author feels this change intensely.
What makes this world believable?
Readers are invited into this special, cozy County House with the first sentence:
I am nestled on the window seat, cocooned by the voluminous cream-colored curtains, when I look up from my book, Jennifer Nielson’s The False Prince.
Mermelstein establishes that she is in a refuge, shaded by the “voluminous” curtains almost protecting her as this visual journey begins. Something triggers this remembrance of past times, and the memories The Country House holds come flooding back. She remembers times when The Cousins helped her to grow and develop new skills:
As I scan the yard, perched at the window, the worn-out hammock recalls memories of seven-year-old me challenging my cousins to intense rounds of the card game Spit.
The Country House experiences not only helped her develop new skills, but these surroundings also helped challenge her. Mermelstein shares:
In the distance, I can see Blueberry Island and remember the first time The Cousins dared me to jump from the rocky outcropping, eventually shoving me off the cliff, teaching me how to “fly.”
This vacation world is believable because of the writer’s sensory details: getting splinters from the dock or eating ice cream on a “scorching hot days.” These descriptions transport us to lazy summer vacations with family and all the heightened emotions they bring.
However, Mermelstein does not feel hopeless here. Alone, she makes some new memories at The Country House:
I take a break from my book and head down to the beach, building my first sandcastle in two years.
I head back upstairs, shower, and start building a Lego model, the first one I have worked on in a long time.
Mermelstein is able to work through these bittersweet memories, missing her family while still creating some new diversions alone. She shares with us: “There is barely any room to construct, but I make do.”
- Why does Mermelstein choose to capitalize “The Cousins” in this memoir?
- At the end, Mermelstein is the last cousin remaining in the Country House to light the candles at dinner. In the concluding paragraph, what does the surrounding environment say about Mermelstein’s feelings? Are they hopeful, wistful, or something else?