Excerpt from Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Traveling Mercies

Some Thoughts on Faith

by Anne Lamott

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott X
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
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  • First Published:
    Feb 1999, 272 pages

    Feb 2000, 255 pages


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Shelly was my first doubles partner. We were tennis champs.

It was so strange to be with families who prayed before the children left for school each day, before swim meets and work and tennis tournaments. Pammy would step over her mother on the way out the door and arrive at Shelly's house just as I did. At my house, no one had passed out on the floor, but my mom was scared and Dad was bored and my little brother was growing fat and my older brother was being called by the siren song of the counterculture. Pammy and I would walk in together and find Lee with her brood piled like puppies on top of her, in her armchair, reading the Bible. And she would pray for us all.

Shelly's house was the only place I could really sleep. At my own, I'd try to but would feel a threatening darkness hanging over the castle, as if my parents' bad marriage were casting shadows like giant wings--shadows of alcoholism, shadows of people at my parents' frequent parties who necked in our rooms with people who were married to somebody else. If I told my mom or dad, they said, Oh, honey, stop, that's ridiculous, or they explained that everyone had had a lot to drink, as if what I'd seen didn't count since it had sprung from a kind of accidental overdose. At Christmas there were Fishhouse punches so alcoholic you could have sterilized needles in them, and on hot summer nights, blenders full of frappeed whiskey sours. The kids were given sips or short glasses of drinks, and we helped ourselves to more. By the age of twelve, all three of us were drinking with some regularity. My mother did not drink very much and so was frappe herself a lot; she was trying to earn the money for law school, which was her dream, and trying to get my dad to want to stay, and she looked tired, scared, unhappy. But Pammy's mother made mine look like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.

Many of the houses on the lagoon held children who by thirteen were drinking and using pot, LSD, cocaine, and heroin. Five children I knew well from school or the tennis courts died in the sixties--three of overdose, one by hanging, and the boy who lived directly across the lagoon drowned in its cool waters.

I remember how disgusted my parents were whenever they heard that Lee had taken her kids in to see a practitioner, instead of an M.D., when they got sick, as if she had entrusted her kids to a leech specialist. They were hardly ever sick, though. I don't think they even got poison oak. I was sick much more often than Shelly was. My mother was always basting at least one of us kids with calamine lotion. I remember being sick with chest colds and croup, sitting on my mother's lap on the toilet seat while scalding water from the shower filled the room with steam, characters in a hot, misty fairy tale, breathing together till I was better.

Pammy and I basked in Lee's love like lizards on sunny rocks. Lee lay beside me in bed when I couldn't sleep and whispered the Twenty-third Psalm to me: "'The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want'--I am not wanting for anything, Annie. Let's find a green pasture inside us to rest in. Let's find the still waters within." She'd lay beside me quietly for a while as we listened to the tide of the lagoon lap against the dock. Then she'd go on: "'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,' Annie, not 'Yea, as I end up living forever in the valley. . . .'" And she prayed for the Good Shepherd to gather my thoughts like sheep. I did not quite believe in the power of her Mother-Father God, because my frightened lamby thoughts seemed to be stampeding toward a wall, piling up on each other's backs, bleating plaintively while their wild eyes darted around frantically. But I believed in Lee, and I felt her arms around me. I could hear Shelly's even breathing in the next bed, sense Lee's younger daughter and Pammy asleep in the next room, and the whole house would be so quiet, no shadows at all, and Lee would whisper me to sleep.

Excerpted from Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott. Copyright© 1999 by Anne Lamott. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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