ROLL EAGLE—WAR TIDE!

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 THE NIGHT THAT BENJAMIN ASKED ME TO MARRY HIM

My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction, awarded the Moonbeam Silver Medal for Young Adult Fiction,  and awarded the 2016 Frank Yerby Award for Fiction.  Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazon.

Well, the event of the year is drawing near one more time—and I’m not talking about Thanksgiving or Christmas.  I’m talking about the IRON BOWL, battle of the giants, competition between Good and Evil, War of the Worlds.  Auburn versus Alabama!

I remember when I didn’t know Auburn from University of Alabama.  I didn’t know they had a football game or any other rivalry.  I got my first clue on the subject when I was passing through the teacher’s lounge at my first teaching job after graduating from Berry College.  Two of the school coaches were discussing the lawsuit of someone known as Coach Bryant and speculating that “Bear” was bound to win the suit he’d brought against a magazine that claimed he’d fixed a game.  I heard “Alabama” and said, “That’s where my brother John is going to school next year.”

“I thought John was going to Auburn,” one of the coaches answered.

I shrugged.  Auburn?  Alabama?  “What’s the difference?”

The coach laughed.  “A whole lot if you’re talking football.” 

Well, I wasn’t talking football, and I didn’t care who won or lost, or who played the game.  Little did I know how fortunate I was. 

Two years later, I was just as ignorant when my sister and I drove over to Alabama at our mother’s urging to see what kind of boys John was rooming with while working his every other quarter co-op job with NASA.  Mama was afraid that with money in his pocket  and who-knows-what-kind of boys for roommates, he might just go wild the way Daddy had in his youth.

John had not gone wild, and neither had his roommates.  In fact, the next night at an impromptu party John threw to introduce us to his friends, I saw one of his roommates doing the worst Twist in the history of dance and promptly fell in love—or at least into deep infatuation. I even loved his name: Benjamin.  No matter that back in Georgia I had a boyfriend my age with a full-time job and a car, I wanted this guy.  And I needed to impress him.  So at the first opportunity, I decided to pull out what I thought was the Auburn slogan.  “Roll Tide!”  I said with great enthusiasm.  Every person at the party froze, “No University of Alabama fans allowed!” they chorused.

To show you that my interest was fully returned, Benjamin kept on dancing with me.  I went home the next day and broke up with my boyfriend, who was suddenly as boring as dirt.  Benjamin and I began a long distance courtship.   By the time we were engaged, I knew his father was an Auburn graduate.  Eventually, we had two sons who were also Auburn grads, and the older one married an Auburn girl. Now we have an eighteen-year-old grandson who will soon be a freshman at Auburn.  I even attended Auburn myself for one quarter.  I think Auburn was mandatory if I wanted to stay in the Gibbons clan. 

Unfortunately,  membership in this select family comes with a price.   I had to start knowing and caring who wins the big game.  Though three months later I won’t recall  which school triumphed in the Iron Bowl, I root for Auburn to win every single year.  Just don’t make me watch.  I still don’t give a toot for football.  Watching grass grow is more exciting!

Sometimes—especially those years when Auburn loses—I wish I could get back to those days when I didn’t know or care. 

In this case, ignorance really was bliss!

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THE RICHEST MAN IN TOWN

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Benjamin about 14 years old

My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction, awarded the Moonbeam Silver Medal for Young Adult Fiction,  and awarded the 2016 Frank Yerby Award for Fiction.  Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazon.


My husband, Benjamin,  went to work young.  He started delivering newspapers at age thirteen.  And right from the beginning, he was saving for when he could go to Auburn.  His father was a teacher and his mother a stay-at-home mom.  He knew at a young age that if he wanted to go to college, he had to save for it.  Some days he was out late, pedaling his bike from house to house.  In the winter, it was a bone-chilling job.  Summers could be bad too, with the heat and the mosquitoes.  Then there were those early Sunday morning deliveries, when he had to begin by seven o’clock.  Sometimes his father helped him, especially when it was very cold or stormy.  Then there was the matter of getting paid.  Most, thankfully, paid when due, in full.  But some were always in arrears, and a few never paid.

Soon, Benjamin began mowing yards with a push mower—and word spread fast that he did a good job—so he bought a gasoline powered mower and cut lots of yards around Coffeeville.  Most were small yards that didn’t require an undue amount of time, or fuel.  His savings mounted.  Then one day the richest man in town sent word that he wanted his yard mowed.  The man had the finest house in Coffeeville, and he had a huge yard.  To save money, he didn’t bother to hire a yard man until it resembled a hayfield.  The expanse of waving grass was broken by clusters of shrubs and flower beds that required extra attention.  Benjamin’s boyish dreams took flight with the amount this job would likely add to his savings.

Bright and early on the appointed Saturday, Benjamin arrived at the house of “Midas.”  The old man stressed that he wanted a first class job.  He wasn’t going to pay for sloppy work.  

As kids would say today, “Duh!”  Benjamin was determined to do such a good job that the man would pay him a bonus.  Such an excellent job that the man would never want anyone else to cut his grass.  Hour after hour, Benjamin ran the mower back and forth across the grass.  Hardly breaking for fast gulps of water from the jug he’d brought from home, he pushed and pushed.  He filled and refilled the gas tank of the mower, turning it off only to unclog the blades from time to time.  He edged around shrubs and flower beds, each and every one,  

Finally, late that afternoon, when Benjamin was sweeping the sidewalk and the front steps, the old man came out.  “I reckon it’ll do,” he declared.  “How much do I owe you?”

Benjamin looked at the huge expanse of grass and replied, “How much do you think it’s worth?”

“How about fifty cents?”  the old miser said, holding out two quarters.

When my husband told me this story years ago, I felt like crying at the thought of an adult treating a child that way.  At this point in my life I feel sorry for the man.  He’s long dead now.  If he’d paid a fair amount—or, better—been generous, he would have been remembered forever in a kindly light.  Instead, be became a lesson for my husband—a lesson in how to treat others, especially those too young to fight back.

In what matters, the richest man in town might be the poorest.

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HAVE A CUP OF COFFEE

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IN THEIR FOOTPRINTS

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SURVIVING A SLOT CANYON

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DADDY GOES FISHING

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DOING A JOB RIGHT

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TOMMY SHOWS HIS GOOD SIDE

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My Benjamin at about 4 years old.

My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction. Awarded the Moonbeam Silver Medal for Young Adult Fiction.   (see the following web address for more information)     http://www.newsouthbooks.com/pages/2015/10/20/halley-wins-moonbeam-awards-silver-medal/                                                           Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazo

My husband’s Uncle Tommy never followed anyone’s rules, or changed his ways to suit others.  Perhaps that was a big part of the reason he never married.  Partly because he had been an adored first child, he always expected to be catered to and indulged.  Being a hard drinker sometimes made him a burden for his family too.  Yet over the years I have heard from various relatives, “Tommy had another side too.”  Sometimes he would come in with a new dress for my mother-in-law, who was the baby of the family.  Not just any dress.  Somehow he could always pick the right size and style to flatter her.  And price was no object. At Christmas time he might show up with the very children’s toys that finished out what might have been a skimpy holiday for some of the nieces and nephews.  Often he would decide to buy my husband and his brother school clothes.

August of 1954 was one of those times for my husband, Benjamin.  Benjamin had reached that age when he had become acutely aware of the opinion of his peers, especially in Auburn.  There he was a country boy come to the “city” and had lots of opportunities for embarrassment.  On this occasion his family was visiting Atkins relatives in Auburn when Uncle Tommy showed up.  His pockets were loaded because it was payday, and he had obviously had a few snorts of whiskey.

“Benjie,” he said to my future husband, “we’re going to walk uptown and buy you some new clothes.”

Benjamin hung back.  Uncle Tommy was staggering and smelled bad.  His shirt was stained and it wasn’t tucked into his pants on one side.

“Let’s go,” Uncle Tommy said, impatient to carry out his generous impulse.

Benjamin turned to his mother to save him, but she was probably thinking that new clothes would make up for some of the unpaid loans they’d made to Tommy in the past, so she said, “You can go.  Just be back in time for supper.”

So they left, with Benjamin lagging as far behind as he dared. Tommy shouted hello to a neighbor and waved to someone in a passing car.  Unfortunately, he knew everyone in town–and every dog.  Every dog they met wagged a welcome, and one–Miz Agnes Zeller’s dog, Jiggs–fell in behind and began sniffing at the seat of Tommy’s baggy pants.  Unfortunately, the reason soon became obvious.

Br-r-r-r-rip!  came a muffled explosion.  Uncle Tommy laughed.  “Comes from eating second helpings of beans and cabbage,” he said.  “Git away, Jiggs.”

“You come here this minute, Jiggs,” yelled Miz Zellers.

Jiggs ignored both her and Uncle Tommy.

Br-r-r-r-r-r-p!  “Think I ripped my pants that time,” said Uncle Tommy.

Mortified, Benjamin wished with all his heart that the sidewalk would swallow him up.  It didn’t.  His steps slowed and he pretended a sudden interest in the upthrust root of an oak root mounding the sidewalk in front of him.

“Times ‘a wasting, Benjie,” Uncle Tommy bellowed up ahead.  “I don’t have all day.”

Benjamin speeded up a bit only to slow again when he heard Uncle Tommy break wind once more.  A moment later Tommy turned and said, “Benjie, I’ve messed my pants.”

Jiggs barked agreement.

“Let’s go home,” Benjamin suggested.

“Nah!” said Uncle Tommy, starting on.  “I finish what I start.”

They reached the store and Uncle Tommy held open the door for him.  “We’re going to get this young man outfitted for school,” he told Mr. Green,  the store manager.  “Two pair of pants, two shirts, socks, and shoes.”

“You must be loaded,” said Mr. Green.

“You don’t know the half of it,”  Benjamin mumbled.  The manager wrinkled his nose and shooed Jiggs out.  “That dog musta rolled in something.”

“Wouldn’t doubt it a’tall,” said Uncle Tommy.

Suddenly the manager seemed in a rush to take care of Tommy’s list.  Eyes on the floor, Benjamin followed the manager from one table and rack to another while Uncle Tommy shadowed them, talking as he went.  Customers and sales people cleared the floor around them.  It seemed like hours before Benjamin was handed the bag of clothes and he could rush outside.

Jiggs was waiting.

“Guess I’ll take Jiggs home and set a spell with Miss Zeller,” Uncle Tommy said.

“Good idea,” Benjamin said, hugging his school clothes to his chest and breaking into a run.

Back behind him he thought he heard another explosion.

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BUYING ON TIME

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MAMA AND JIMMY SWAGGART IN NEW ORLEANS

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My mother was not one to go strollicking too often.  It was way too much trouble.  “I druther stay home,” she’d say even as us young’uns were piling into the car for whatever trip had been forced on her.  If you ignored her complaints, sometimes she would go on, especially if the trip didn’t cost anything except the gas to and from.  But on occasion she herself would take a hankering to “go somewhere.”  These times seemed to coincide with the times she was provoked at Daddy or someone else who seemed to be having more than their share of fun.  “I’m tired of just setting here at the house,” she would declare when one of those moods struck, “I’d like to go somewhere myself every now and then.”  But no matter how long the trip, Mama never stayed more than one night if she could help it.  In the late 1980s, my brother, John,  must have called when she was in one of those adventuring moods.

“Mama, I want you to come visit us in Texas,” he told her in one of his weekly phone calls. By this time Daddy had died and Mama was living in a better neighborhood in a house John had bought for her.  Our sister, Jean lived with her.

“I can’t drive to Texas,” Mama said, her false teeth clicking, “and I sure ain’t going to fly.”

“How about coming by train?” he suggested.

“I can’t afford tickets,” Mama said.  She had $75,000 in the bank of hard-earned savings for her “old age” and she never spent a penny of it.

“I’m paying,” John said.

That was a different story.  “Wait’ll I get my teeth fixed,” she replied. John knew that would be never.  Her children had given her money several times for new teeth, but, instead of going to a dentist, Mama would find a fly-by-night garage operation and buy a cheap set, adding the remaining money to her savings. The first set teeth soon broke into several pieces, the second set soon had teeth falling out, and this latest set was so big that they rattled and clicked as she talked.

A few weeks after the original invitation John called Mama to tell her the travel plans.  Jean had agreed to accompany Mama.  They would get on the train in Dalton and stop over in New Orleans before continuing on to College Station, Texas.  “I’ll put you up in a big hotel in the French Quarter during your layover,” he went on.  “You might like to take a tour of New Orleans.”

Mama rejected that immediately.  “I can see everything I want to see without going on no tour. I ain’t lost nothing down there.”

“Well,” John teased, “You’re going to be right in the part of town where all the partying goes on.  You know, Jimmy Swaggart hangs out there a lot.”

“Jimmy Swaggart? Is he that preacher that was hiring them strippers to pull off their clothes for him, and then when he got caught claimed he was mentally ill?”

“That’s the one,” said John, “so if a big Cadilac pulls up and a man in a shiny suit and slicked back hair leans out and offers you a ride, don’t go.”

“Well, let me tell you one thing,” Mama said, “If I was to strip off my clothes for him, he’d be cured.”

Mama made it to College Station unmolested by Jimmy Swaggart or anyone else and stayed all of two nights before she declared herself ready to go home.  For Mama, that was a whole lot of strollicking.

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LOOKING FOR THE GOOD

 

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Lura and Gene Atkins Newly Married

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Lura and Gene Atkins Celebrating Their 50th Wedding Anniversary

 

Lura Johnson Atkins always looked for the good in every person or situation.  I used to say that if a hurricane blew away their back porch, she would say, “Really and truly, it was for the best.  We needed a new porch anyway.”  She met me before my future in-laws did, and gave them a glowing report on me. And I wasn’t the only one. According to Aunt Lura, she had wonderful in-laws, her boss was a fine man, her neighbors were all lovely people, and Auburn was the best town anyone had ever lived in.  Such declarations were usually followed by her trademark saying, “Honey, I’m not kidding.”

This positive outlook must have been part of what drew Eugene Atkins to her.  A friend took Gene by the Johnson farm one evening in 1936.   Twenty year old Lura had already rolled her hair and gone to bed.  She only reluctantly got up and put on a robe to  greet the guests.  Gene was smitten at once by the pretty, dark-haired girl.  When they left the house, Gene said, “Well, tonight I met the girl I’m going to marry.”

“You’re dreaming,” his friend told him.  “Lura’s keeping steady company with a high school principal.”

“Not any more,” answered Gene.  And he was right. Soon Uncle Gene was the one taking Lura to church and to the movies.  After Gene’s mother saw they were serious, she took Lura aside and confided that if she married Gene, there would likely be no children.  “The mumps fell on him.”

That had to be a disappointment to Aunt Lura, who loved children so much.  “But what could I do?” she said.  “I already loved him.”  Sure enough, there were never any children. But their home was seldom empty.  Gene’s father spent his last years with them after he was widowed. He loved to play dominoes and Lura was his partner in many games every day.  After dementia set in, Lura was the only one who could calm him.  A number of Auburn students, including my husband, made the Atkins house a second home.  Every one of those students would swear that Aunt Lura made the best fried chicken ever to grace a southern table.  Finally, Lura’s mother spent her declining years with them.  Then I saw firsthand Aunt Lura’s calming ways work miracles.  Mama Johnson seemed permanently discontented, except when Lura was dealing with her.  Lura gave her a basket of towels to fold, and the old lady folded them over and over and over.  “You fold towels better than anybody,” she would say, “and honey, I’m not kidding.”

Aunt Lura was a career woman too.  She started off as a lowly sales clerk at the Poly-Tek, Auburn’s premier women’s clothing store.  She had a way with customers and many sought her help in deciding which outfit to buy and what to match with what.  Eventually she was the buyer for the store and would go to fashion shows where she made the decision which items to stock of each designer’s offerings for the season.  The owner of the store coordinated his retirement with Lura’s so that they both left Polly-Tek at the same time.  “Charlie was the best boss in the world,” she frequently said, “and, honey,  I’m not kidding.”

After retirement, she and Gene fully enjoyed each other.  They visited friends, worked at Auburn’s First Methodist Church, and hosted family gatherings.  At home, Uncle Gene did most of the housework and dishwashing, Aunt Lura did all the cooking.  By this time Uncle Gene’s health was going down.  He had heart by-pass surgery, cancer treatments, and a bad case of shingles from which he never completely recovered.  Yet with Aunt Lura’s confidence and cheeriness, Gene seemed to feel that he would live to be a hundred.  He did not make it anywhere near that long.  He was still in his seventies when death overtook him.

I visited Aunt Lura soon after Uncle Gene’s funeral.  “Could I tell you something?” she asked.

“Sure,” I answered.

“Don’t tell this to anyone.  They’ll be saying Lura has gone around the bend.  But, honey, I’m not kidding.  It really happened.”

“What?”

“I saw Gene two days ago.  I had just laid down, thinking, how am I going to live without Gene?  Then I looked up and there he was, a few feet away.  He was smiling and holding his hand out to me.  I knew he was trying to tell me he would be with me every day.  And he’s waiting for me on the other side.”

“I believe you,” I said, and I still do.

Aunt Lura kept working at the church until well after 90.  Even after she went to the nursing home she was still playing dominoes and keeping up with what was going on at church.  She was looking forward to celebrating her hundredth birthday a year from this July, but God had other plans.  Week before last, she took bronchitis, which led to pneumonia.  On May 9th she told her niece, Teresa, that she was ready to go home.  A short while later, on Mother’s Day, she did.

She’s walking hand-in-hand with Uncle Gene now, and I can just hear her telling St. Peter that those gates are the nicest she has ever seen, and, honey,  she isn’t kidding.

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TALKING TURKEY

My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction, awarded the 2015 Moonbeam Silver Medal for Young Adult Fiction, and the 2016 Frank Yerby Award for Fiction.

 

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When my husband’s Uncle Tommy was born he almost died, and so did his mother.  As a result his grandparents cared for him while his mother regained her strength.  It took Mama Atkins several years to get well, and by the time Tommy returned to his parents he was utterly spoiled and convinced that he was the center of the universe.  All his life he was always having to be bailed out of trouble, frequently at a lot of trouble and expense for his siblings.  This was true even into his adult and older years. and most especially when he was drinking.

Uncle Jimmy was the middle child in the same family and he always felt he had it harder than anyone else and that he had somehow ended up having to rescue Tommy more than his fair share.  “But that’s all right,” he’d say, playing the martyr card, “If everybody feels that’s right, then I’ll not be the one to complain.”

One year Jimmy decided to raise turkeys at home to supplement his income at a chicken processing plant.  I’ve always heard turkeys are not easy to raise.  They can’t get too cold or too hot, and they have to be fed just right or the meat isn’t good.  Then, of course, you have to protect them from predators or none would get grown.  They aren’t the smartest birds in the world–or at least the domesticated ones aren’t.  Apparently, Uncle Jimmy had done everything right, and the day before Thanksgiving he had sold every turkey he raised except the one he’d kept for himself and his family. Just as he was about to slaughter it, Tommy came driving up, and Jimmy could tell his oldest brother was three sheets in the wind.

Jimmy put his hands on his hips and let out a big sigh. “What do you want, Tommy?”

Tommy opened the car door and staggered out.  “Who says I want something? Do I have to want something to come and see my brother?”

“Usually,” Jimmy said.

Tommy laughed. “You got it right this one time, little brother.  I come to get me one of them turkeys.”

“You waited too late,” Jimmy said,  “they’re all sold except the one in the pen and it’s mine.”

“I’ll take it,” Tommy said.

“Well,” Jimmy said, “While you was wasting your time, drinking and having a good time all these months, I’ve been taking care of them turkeys so me and Velma and Billy could have a little extra money.  I’ve done without to buy them birds food, Even brought ‘em in during that cold snap we had in the spring.   And I saved this last one for my family to have a little something special for Thanksgiving.  Now, if you’d take the last bird I got, take it knowing that me and Velma and Billy won’t have nothing but peas and cornbread tomorrow for dinner, then you just go ahead and take it.”

“Wrap ‘er up,” said Uncle Tommy.

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THE FAMILY REUNION OF ’52

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A WEEK OF SURPRISES

My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction, awarded the 2015 Moonbeam Silver Medal for Young Adult Fiction, and the 2016 Frank Yerby Award for Fiction.

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The week after I won the Yerby Prize, I was surprised over and over.  First, I was amazed that HALLEY got that award.  There were four other nominees, after all, and I told myself, as I suppose Oscar nominees do, “The odds are against me–just being nominated is an honor.”  Then I did win and was overwhelmed by the number of people who congratulated me–mainly by email or Facebook. Four days after the Yerby Festival, a package arrived from Amazon, addressed to me.  I had ordered nothing.  It wasn’t Mother’s Day or Christmas, and Valentine’s Day was history.  I opened it and found a frog puppet and a pop up book about a big-mouth frog.  The giver of this present had not revealed his or her name.  Who knew I loved puppets?  Maybe a few people, since I own about ten animal puppets that many visitors have played with.  But how many know I love frogs?  How many know I don’t spray for bugs on my back porch or carport because I might harm some of my little green tree frogs that come back in warm weather year after year? Very few.

My husband suggested one of our daughters-in-law.  “Not me,” said Aca.  “But it could be anybody, Mom.  So many people love you.”

“Oh, shucks,” I said, modestly, looking around for a tire to kick.

The next day I had no time for investigation–I had an appointment in Montgomery. But I thought about the book and the frog.  Both seemed too fragile to allow the youngest grandkids to play with unsupervised.  No, they would fare best on a high shelf, I decided,  except for those special occasions when I could make sure they were handled with care.  When I arrived home Benjamin announced that the mystery was solved.  Our older son Ben had called.  “He said since his family won’t be here for Jacob’s birthday, (Jacob is our youngest grand child), he hoped you wouldn’t mind wrapping the gift they are sending from Amazon.”

POOF!  So much for all those loving and thoughtful anonymous gift-givers I had on my list!

But the surprises were’t over.  At the end of the week, I received another package, which announced on the outside that it contained flowers.  “Benjamin,” I cried, “you shouldn’t have!”

“I didn’t,” he said.

Opening the box, I found two dozen perfect pink roses and a note from my friend and first editor, Miriam Rinn. She congratulated me on my Yerby Prize.  What an extravagant gift!

Finally there came the announcement from my only granddaughter–also my prettiest, smartest, and best granddaughter.  “Oh, Grandmama,” I can already hear her saying, “Everybody knows I’m your ONLY granddaughter.”  Anyway, Sarah told me that she is now reading my blog.  Wow!  Sarah doesn’t read just anything.  This both a surprise and a prize.  That’s about as good as it gets, folks.

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Yerby Award for Fiction

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In the photo, I am shown at the Augusta Literary Festival with Ted Dunnagan, the 2013 Yerby Award winner both published by NewSouth.  Also included is a closeup of the Award plaque

I want to thank all of my friends and relatives for their good wishes and congratulations on my winning the Yerby Award.  Nobody was more surprised than I was when the fourth runner-up wasn’t me, and then the third wasn’t, and so on until I was the last one standing!  I have to thank my mother for all the stories she told me about her childhood, and about the years she, her mother, sister, and brother spent living with my fundamentalist great grandparents.  Most of the incidents and characters in Halley are fictional, but, in many cases the beginning ideas came from actual events and people.

Again, many thanks.
Faye

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THE PERSON WITHOUT WHOM…

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POWDER AND PAINT

 

Our family to include Our sons, Ben & David. their wives, Laurie & Aca, and six grandchildren

Our family, which includes our sons, Ben & David. their wives, Laurie & Aca, six grandchildren–Matthew, Sarah, Caleb, Isaac, Samuel, and Jacob–and our two recently adopted Boxer mix dogs, Rosie and Beck.

HERE IS AN ANNOUNCEMENT MADE BY NEWSOUTH BOOKS CONCERNING AN HONOR FOR HALLEY:

NewSouth Books
February 5 at 10:39am ·

Faye Gibbons never dreamed growing up in Carter’s Quarter, Georgia, that she’d be nominated for a fiction award named after one of Georgia’s most celebrated authors. Gibbons’s young adult novel, Halley, has been selected as a finalist for the Frank Yerby Awards. Best known for The Foxes of Harrow, Yerby was an African American novelist from Augusta specializing in historical fiction. Like Yerby, Faye Gibbons focuses on historical fiction, but her novels are semi-autobiographical in nature, recalling the difficulties of rural Georgia life during and following the Great Depression. The Yerby awards are given annually by the Augusta Literary Festival – ALF. Winners will be announced on Friday, March 4.

My Grandmother Junkins was a strict believer in a straight and narrow path to heaven.  Immodest clothing–and that included pants, shorts, sunback dresses, swimsuits, and anything that drew attention–was sinful.  So were high heels and make-up.  “Powder and paint make you what you ain’t,” she frequently told me and my sister and all our girl cousins.  “Makes a woman look like a floozy,” she would sometimes elaborate.

She didn’t get to do much of that preaching to me.  Lipstick was the only make-up I ever wore then.  I didn’t think cosmetics would help someone as ordinary as me, and I knew that I could never hold a candle to my beautiful sister or my mother.  Besides, if I did improve my looks, I might start dating and even get married. After seeing my parents’ unhappy marriage close up my entire life, I had decided not to ever marry.

I pretty much kept this attitude all the way through college.  Even though a couple of guys showed some interest, I stuck to my guns.  After college, I decided I would date, though marriage still wasn’t in my plans.  I lost a few pounds, began getting good haircuts and permanents, and bought the first flattering clothes I’d ever owned.  Then I began wearing make-up and was surprised every time I saw a photo of myself how much better I looked.  From that point on, Maw Junkins had plenty of opportunities to tell me “Power and paint make you what you ain’t.”

Then I fell in love with Benjamin Gibbons and had to wear cosmetics.  After all, he was five years younger than me, and. at twenty-six, I’d soon be over the hill,  sliding into old age.  I had to look as good as I could.  As it turned out, it was wasted effort–Benjamin thought I was beautiful with or without make-up.  Of course, it took me a while to believe that.  In my engagement photo, which I come across every now and then, every hair is in place.  My skin looks flawless  My eyes look full-lashed and large.  I look good.  However, that photo was the only one of perhaps 25 the photographer took that made me look so perfect.  In the rest,  I looked pretty much ordinary, which is why I didn’t buy those photos.

The years passed, and I got older.  With the help of make-up, I continued looking pretty good.  That is, I looked pretty good until fairly recently.  I am now in my seventies, and make-up has become a potential problem.  Lay it on too thick and you begin to look like a woman who used to work behind the cosmetic counter at Gayfers Department Store.  From the back you saw a trim figure, nice clothes and then she turned and you gasped at the overly made-up face of a mummified woman at least a century old.  Don’t get me wrong–I still wear powder and paint–but I wear less and I’ve thrown all my mascara into the trash.  The most important items are powder to even out my skin tones, a little color for my cheeks, and lipstick.  I hope, if Maw could see me, she wouldn’t even notice I was wearing any “paint”

When Maw died in the late sixties, I looked at her in her casket and realized for the first time that she was a beautiful woman.  The morticians had arranged her hair beautifully, and they had applied just enough cosmetics to give her a little color.  I suppose one of her daughters chose the dress she wore, and it was the most elegant thing I’d ever seen her wear.  It was pink and flattered her oval face.

Maybe Maw was wrong.  Perhaps, sometimes powder and paint make you what you really are.

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ROSIE AND BECK

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NAKED AS A JAYBIRD

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Faye holding her latest book HALLEY  and wearing the Moonbeam Silver Medal for Young Adult Fiction.

My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction. Awarded the Moonbeam Silver Medal for Young Adult Fiction.   (see the following web address for more information)     http://www.newsouthbooks.com/pages/2015/10/20/halley-wins-moonbeam-awards-silver-medal/                                                           Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazo

It was in the early spring–or late in the fall–because it was cold enough for my Grandfather Junkins to sleep under several quilts.  Dad was reluctant to get out of bed that morning.  It had to have been some kind of family gathering, because there were a bunch of of cousins present, all younger than me.

Maw Junkins was in the kitchen cooking breakfast with the help of my mother and whichever other adult females were present.  Maw had sent me to the spring with the milk from this morning’s milking, with orders to bring back the cooled milk from last night’s milking.  With my sister’s help, I had carried in stove wood and stacked it by the cast iron stove.  And I had been sent three times to call Dad to get up for breakfast.

“Is Sam up yet?” Maw asked when I set the basket of eggs I’d gathered on the table.

“No, he ain’t,” cousin Ralph said before I could answer.  He always liked getting others in trouble.

“Tell him I said get up to eat,” Maw ordered, looking at me over her glasses.

Muttering, I headed toward the front room.  Ralph and the rest of the cousins all trailed after me to see how I was going to pull off this feat.  Dad delighted in causing trouble.  He was probably laughing under the covers at my futile attempts to raise him.  I had shaken the bed.  I had screamed between cupped hands and I had pounded on the metal foot rail with one shoe.  All I’d accomplished was rousing the cat had curled next to Dad’s feet. It was a mangy-looking animal with one ear partly missing.

This time when I opened the door to the bedroom, I saw that the cat, at  least, was up.  It was sniffing at Dad’s clothes on the floor.  Even as we watched, the cat squatted over one of his shoes.  It was trying to use the bathroom in Dad’s shoe!  The cousins giggled.  I tiptoed over to the bedside table and got Maw’s night time glass of water and threw its contents at the cat.  “Scat!” I said.   It skedaddled.  “Dad!” I yelled.  “Maw said get up!”

All the cousins yelled too.  Ralph was loudest of all.

“Let’s pull the cover off,” I whispered.  I grabbed one corner and Ralph took hold of another and we pulled it to the floor, along with the sheet, and then stared in horror.

“He’s nekked,” Ralph’s sister Rose whispered.

He was.  We were staring at Dad’s naked rear end!  He only had on a shirt. For a moment I froze.  Then I ran, nearly trampling Ralph getting out of there.  The rest of the cousins were’t far behind.

“You’re in trouble!” Ralph said.

“So are you,” I said, though I knew that as the eldest and a girl, I would be seen as the main culprit.  People in our family didn’t show their nakedness to anybody.  And any kid who broke that taboo had to be in for a hickory switching.

Cursing erupted from the room we’d just left, and I scooted around the corner of the house and pressed myself against the side of the chimney. I decided to stay there until everyone was through eating.

No such luck.  Mama called me and told me to set the table and get a fresh bucket of water from the well.  I was right there when Dad walked in and took his seat at the head of the table.

“You going barefoot now?” Maw asked him.

Instead of answering her, Dad asked his own question.  “Whose cat is that with the chewed-off ear?”

“Ralph’s,” said his sister, Rose.  “Mama told him to leave it home, but he…”

“You’re going to clean out my shoes after breakfast,” Dad said, pointing his fork at Ralph.

“And you’ll get a switching from me,” said his mother.

“But, Mama, it was Faye that…” he began.

“Don’t try to put the blame on nobody else,” she said.  “Fool with me, and you’ll get another switching for lying.”

I kept my eyes on the floor and my mouth shut. When Ralph kicked me under the table, I smiled.

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THE CLOSING OF A LANDMARK

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