Roy Oliver (Senior Picture) 1957


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: and Amazon.


As kids these days might say, many of my memories of my school days suck.  Being one of the biggest and oldest in my class, because my parents didn’t bother to put me in school until I was well past eight, didn’t help.  Neither did being poor and barefoot until 6th grade.  Extreme shyness added to my problems.  With all that, however, there were bright spots—a few teachers who took an interest, books which I soon found provided a world of adventure I could share with siblings, and several amazingly wonderful kids who took the trouble to be my friends.  

First among these would have to be Hazel Brooks.  Hazel was so well liked by everyone that just being her friend guaranteed me a certain degree of acceptance,  Miss Albertson (Later, Mrs. Brackett) and Mr. Benson were two of the East Side School teachers who encouraged and praised me.  Then, much later, there was Roy Oliver.  I didn’t know Roy until 10th grade, when four Whitfield County Schools formed a consolidated high school.  My school, East Side, was the poorest of the county.  One of the high school teachers told me much later that East Side kids either sank or swam in that new school, and that it seemed sometimes more were sinking than swimming.  In everything but math, I guess I was swimming, though only by great effort.  Roy Oliver was from the far more prosperous and scholastic Pleasant Grove School community.  He was involved in sports—lettering in football—and he was popular with both students and faculty.  Every year he was one of the class leaders.  This is a lifetime responsibility, by the way, Every reunion we’ve ever had, Roy was there to call us to order.  In addition to all this, Roy was intelligent.  He was the valedictorian of our class.

With all this going for him, you’d think Roy would have been stuck on himself, but he wasn’t.  He was nice to everyone.  He was gentlemanly.  One big proof of this (for me) was something that happened senior year.  Back then, each homeroom was responsible for cleaning the room.  This meant sweeping, emptying trash cans and pencil sharpeners, and cleaning chalkboards.  The janitor took care of halls and restrooms.  I don’t think this was a bad system, by the way.  Students were included in the responsibility for maintaining the appearance of the school.  The chores were rotated among homeroom students, two of us each day.  Somehow, on one of my days, my assigned partner was absent, and that suited me fine.  I didn’t have to make small talk with anyone.  At recess, I got the broom and waited for the room to clear so I could begin work.  

Suddenly, there was Roy, moving desks for me voluntarily.  “Two people can work faster than one,” he said.  “Be there in a minute,” he called to his friends.

Embarrassed, I protested, “I can do it.  It’s no trouble. You don’t need to help.”

It was no use.  He refused to leave until the last of the cleaning was done.  It was a small thing, but not so small either—for one of the most popular boys in school to be so kind to someone who definitely wasn’t in the In Crowd.

The years have taken us in different directions—Roy and me—and yet Roy Oliver is still on a short list of those people I’ve most respected down through the years.  His values were in the right place in 1957, and, from what I’ve heard of him since, his values are still rock solid.  People like him are not found in great abundance.

But then, they never have been.

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 Faye reading “DONKEYS” to Beck who seems to be enjoying the story while Rosie doesn’t seem to care.

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: and Amazon.

I love donkeys. Always have. I started wanting one of my very own  when I discovered BRIGHTY OF THE GRAND CANYON. That little burro was so independent, so loyal to his friends, so resourceful when difficulties arose, that I could not help loving him.  He knew how to fight off coyotes, mountain lions, wolves, and even a few bad humans who wanted to mistreat him.  Oh, I knew owning a donkey was a hopeless wish—Brighty had lived  way out West, and, as far as I knew, so did all the other donkeys.  They needed more space than a city yard afforded.

Time passed, and my husband and I moved to a rural area.   Meanwhile, coyotes began expanding their habitat, sometimes even taking to urban areas.  In our part of the country, we started hearing rumors of coyotes killing cattle.  We began to hear their howling at night.  Then about twenty years ago coyotes nearly killed our two dogs.  Jack, the older one, was so slashed across his underbelly that the vet did not think he would survive.  After that incident our dogs were fenced at night and when we were away from home. 

Farmers take coyotes seriously.  Losing cattle can put a farmer out of business pretty fast.  Cattle farmers are more than willing to shoot predators, but coyotes are not easy targets.  Poisoned bait would not only endanger other animals, such as cats and dogs, but more often than not, wouldn’t work, because coyotes are suspicious of meat with any smell of humans on or around it.    

Ta-dah!  Enter the Donkey!  Donkeys are smarter than cows, and they can kick the daylights out of anything looking or smelling like a predator.  I began seeing donkeys in among herds of cattle in our part of Alabama.  Sometimes I HEARD them, too, with their distinctive “Hee-haw, hee-haw, heehaw!”

Then last year I got my own donkey—sort of.  My husband and I rented a cabin for the week in Brasstown, North Carolina.  The owner of the cabin had a huge pasture behind the cabin, and in that pasture was a donkey.  The very first day I went out to lure him close enough to pet.  He wasn’t buying.  Undoubtedly, he had met a few humans who needed a good swift kick.  The next day after I finished my class at the nearby Folk School, I went out to the pasture with an apple in hand.  This day, Buck, as I had named him,  ambled closer, but not close enough to touch.  I waved the apple, sliced off a wedge, and tossed it in his direction.  He ate it and moved a step or two closer to the fence with each slice until the apple was gone.

The next day when I appeared at the fence with an apple, Buck ambled over close enough to take the apple from my fingers.  I managed to rub his muzzle before he retreated.  By the fourth day, he came to the fence as soon as I appeared, and on the last day, he came running as soon as he heard our car drive up, bellowing, “Hee-haw, hee-haw, hee-haw!”

“And you want to listen to that every day at home?” My husband asked.

He had a point, but I wasn’t going to tell him so.
So now we’ve worked it out.  I have my donkey, and once or twice a year I go to North Carolina to visit him!  Last week when we were there Buck had two new friends—a shetland pony and a llama.  Now I need to take three apples when I go visiting,

As Buck Owens used to say, “Hee-haw!”


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Mike with his dog Brownie.


Mike playing in the dirt.

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: and Amazon.

I didn’t find out what caused babies until the summer of my fourteenth year.  I happened up on a Reader’s Digest article at my Aunt Hilde’s house: “How To Tell Your Child The Facts of Life.”  It was a revelation that explained a lot of mysteries.  So when my mother got pregnant for the fifth and last time, I knew how, but I sure didn’t know why.

There were plenty of reasons for why not.  We were so poor that Mama and I only had one pair of shoes between us.  Only one of us at a time could leave the house.  Mama had only recently left the sanitarium where she had been committed because a “nervous breakdown” following my father’s alcohol-related near death experience.  We barely had anything in the way of furniture or clothing, because our previous rental house had burned to the ground, taking everything we owned except for the clothes on our backs and Daddy’s clunker car.

After reading the Digest article, I was able to figure out that Daddy wanted another baby (He enjoyed babies until they were old enough to become work).  Every time we had a visitor, he was bound to say, “I know what would take care of all the old lady’s problems—she needs another little’un.”

About like she needs a hole in the head, I would think, and Mama seemed to agree.  She would usually mutter in a sarcastic tone, “Yeah, that’s all I’d need all right.”  So I thought Mama and I were of a like mind, at least on this subject.  Then one bitterly cold day she and I were doing the weekly laundry by hand when she broke the news.  We had hand-scrubbed and rinsed and were now hanging laundry on the clothesline.  The clothes were freezing almost as fast as we could secure them with clothes pins.

“Well,” Mama said, her eyes on the ground, “I’m going to have a baby.”

I was stunned, so my words tumbled out uncensored.  “My God, Mama.  You and Daddy can’t provide for the four you already have!”

Mama never welcomed criticism—especially when it was loaded with truth.  “It’s none of your business if we have twelve,” she said.  Since I barely had a change of clothing and the elastic in all my drawers was so shot that they only stayed on thanks to safety pins taking up the slack, I felt it was my business, but I was smart enough to leave this unsaid.

I was angry and embarrassed at my parents—deliberately adding to an already too large family.  But I knew enough to nurse my anger in silence.  After a while, Mama figured out a way to reconcile me.  She told me that my sister and I could name the baby.  In spite of myself, I was drawn in.  Jean and I decided on “Elizabeth” for a girl and “Michael” for a boy.  Then, a couple of weeks short of the due date, Mama had a brainstorm.  “George would love to have one young’un named after him. ‘George Michael’ is what we’ll name a boy.”

“Mama,” I wailed, “you promised we could could call him Michael.”

“You can,” she said.  “The first name’ll just be on his birth certificate.“

I knew it couldn’t be that simple.  “Daddy will want to call him George.  We’ve already got three Georges in the family.  I don’t want ‘Little George’ added to the crowd.”

“Your daddy won’t care what the baby’s called,” Mama argued.

But, of course, he did.  “This is Little George” he would announce to everyone who came to see the baby.

“Michael,” I would hiss.  “We’re calling him Michael.”

That was the only battle with Daddy I ever won.  After about three years he quit calling his youngest “Little George.”  But, in a way, Daddy still won—he started calling him Mike, and now that is what everyone calls my youngest brother.

And when I laid eyes on Mike for the first time, I forgot that I hadn’t wanted him.  He was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen, or ever will see.  And he was infectiously  happy and charming.  Mama would get irritated at me for carrying him all the time.  “You’re going to spoil that baby, and then we’ll see if you’re willing to keep toting him around.”

She was wrong.  I don’t remember ever getting tired of it, and when I left home to go to college four years later, leaving him was the hardest thing I had to do.  Who was going to read to Mike, take him for walks in the woods, and play games with him?  For a couple of months at Berry College I cried myself to sleep every night.

Mike survived.  Against the odds, he turned out fine.  And he has a place in my heart forever.

Turns out, Mike was what the whole family needed. Perhaps me, most of all.  I still love you, baby brother.


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Let me take you back to 1964 when this southern girl didn’t have a nose full of hair and didn’t need lip liner.  But as you can see fromthe photo above, I was trying mighty hard to be alluring just the same!


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: and Amazon.


Recently I was reading to one of my grandsons and, instead of hanging on to every word of the story, as usual, Isaac was staring up at me.  When I paused to turn a page he said, “Grandma, do you know you have hair up your nose?”

Lord!  My grandsons are joining the army of people feeding me information I don’t want!

At one time, it was mainly TV commercials pointing out that I might have unsightly, yellowing teeth and nobody has had the guts to tell me.  Or maybe I had underarm odor that I was totally unaware of (Fat chance!).  Then there were those unsightly bulges that I hadn’t noticed (Really?  How could you not notice?).  And panty lines—I never realized how repugnant these were until the commercials aired.  Silly me—I thought those lines meant my pants were too tight.  Then “senior” health bulletins joined the information overload:  “Do you notice that people seem to be mumbling more than in the past?” ”Are you having to go more frequently?”  “Do you fall more often these days?”

YES, and I can’t get up!

Then my sister joined the chorus.  “Why do you have those bags under your eyes?” she asked one day when I was showing her some knitting I was working on. “What bags?” I answered.

That’s STILL my story, and I’m sticking with it.

Then there were make-up problems I didn’t know existed until well-meaning people filled me in.  A while back a friend asked which lipliner I used.  “I don’t use lipliner,” I said.

She looked at me as she might an alien from Mars. “Then what do you do about lipstick ‘bleeds’ into the vertical lines around your mouth?”

“What lines?” I asked.  Of course, as soon as I got home, I checked.  Sure enough, there they were, like offshoots from the San Andreas Fault.  I’m certain they hadn’t existed until she mentioned them.  In fact, that is the theory I’m going with!

As if I don’t have enough real problems to deal with, people are making them up out of thin air! Hardly a day goes by that well-meaning people add to the list.

So here’s my resolution for this new year—Don’t take on problems other people create for you.  Stick to the ones you don’t need help finding.  There will be an adequate supply, trust me! For instance, what to do about hair that increasingly has a mind of its own?  Nothing—mousse, hairspray, styling brushes, or expensive styling gels—will make mine cooperate.  How to keep doctors and other health professionals from preceding or ending each statement with “at your age”  or “considering your age.”  How to avoid listening to people on the extreme left—or right—politically, and being informed of all the latest conspiracy theories going around.  Can’t we just meet in the middle for a change?

Sometimes being “in the dark” is a good place to be.  For sure, it saves me from lipliner!

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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: 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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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: 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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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)                                                           Available at: NewSouth Books: 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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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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Lura and Gene Atkins Newly Married


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.”


“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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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.



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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