SEE THAT WOMAN WITH THE RED PANTS ON…

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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 Amazon

In mountain Georgia of the nineteen-fifties women did not wear pants. It was considered almost indecent.  Girls could get away with regular jeans until maybe twelve.  So you can imagine how stunned we were when my father’s cousin Floyd showed up with his new yankee wife.  Dorine had on skin tight, red jeans with rolled cuffs and a white blouse tied at the waist and unbuttoned enough to reveal cleavage.  She wasn’t a small woman either.  She was half a head taller than Floyd and must have been at least two hundred pounds.  She carried herself confidently, however, and I think my mother resented that.  Mama had always been pretty and she knew the basic rules of ladylike attire, and yet she never dared present herself as confidently as Dorine.

As soon as Dorine and Floyd were out of hearing, Mama commented that Floyd had sure picked a big one.  “Well, I always have liked women with meat on their bones,” Daddy replied.  He liked stirring up Mama’s jealous heart.

As kinfolk on hard times felt free to do in those days, Floyd soon made it known their stay would last a few weeks.  “I’ll take a look-see at jobs around Dalton.  Dorine can look too.  She’s done about everything.”

“Is that so?” Mama said, which meant she didn’t doubt it one little bit.

It turned out that Dorine’s most recent job had been cooking at a boarding house.  She watched with a keen eye each time Mama cooked. “I put more lard in my biscuits,” she’d say.  Or, “I cook my cabbage longer.” Mama didn’t have a refrigerator and except in gardening season, lacked anything more than basic grocery staples like flour, coffee, sugar, meal, and evaporated milk.  Still, she was a good cook with what she had, and nobody could beat her biscuits.

“I guess I cook different than where you’re from,” Mama answered several times, more coldly each time. Dorine ignored hints.

Several days into the visit, Dorine said she would make biscuits. She did.  They were nearly as big as saucers and as crisp as pastry.  Grease oozed from them onto the platter, but to my surprise, they didn’t taste bad.  Daddy bit into his biscuit while Mama watched expectantly.

“Now this is good,”  he declared, and Dorine smiled at Mama.

“I’ll learn you how I do it,” she offered.

Dorine wore the same red pants and white blouse every day she and Floyd went out job-hunting.  Friday evening rolled around with no jobs in sight.  At supper I could tell that Daddy and Floyd had been doing more than just talking.  I could smell liquor on their breath.  Daddy was in a good mood.

When Dorine joined us at the table she had on more lipstick than usual and she had a huge button pinned on her right breast.  “I like Ike,” it announced and showed the smiling face of the Republican presidential candidate.  When Dorine plopped down next to Floyd the button bobbed up and down with the cleavage.

The bobbing bosom seemed to hold the attention of everyone around the table except Jerry and and John, whose eyes were glued to the fried bologna platter in the middle of the table.  They were waiting for company to serve themselves first.

“I warned you ‘bout that button,” Floyd muttered. “This is ain’t  Dudleyville, Michigan.”

“Too bad,” Dorine hissed.   “I’ll wear what I please.”

Grinning, Daddy leaned closer to Dorine’s bosom and suddenly his smile vanished. “That’s an Eisenhower button!”

“You exactly right,” said Dorine, reaching for a biscuit and two slices of bologna with one hand and grasping her button with the other.  “Ike’s got my vote.”

“Not as long as you’re in my house.  I ain’t having no Hoover-loving, Depression-loving Republican under my roof.”

“That so?”  said Dorine, standing. I noticed she kept a tight hold on her biscuit and bologna. “Reckon I know when I ain’t welcome.  Let’s go. Floyd.”

Floyd turned beseeching eyes to Mama.  “I hate to have hard feelings in the family.”  he said, playing his trump card.  He wanted Mama to smooth everything out.  I could tell Mama was struggling with the hospitality expected of a southern woman as opposed to getting rid of Floyd and Dorine, perhaps forever.  “Pass the bologna,” she said at last.

Dorine and Floyd left in a huff.  In a few minutes they had gathered their stuff and were throwing everything into the car.  As they got in and and started the motor Daddy yelled, “By the way, them greasy biscuits give me a heartburn!”

Mama smiled.

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NIGHT LINE NIGHTMARE

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LITTLE CABIN IN THE WOODS

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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 Amazon

When my husband and I visited Utah’s Zion Canyon this year, we knew we
wanted to do more hiking than we had done on our previous visit.
Except for getting down into the canyon and out again on the return,
our first hike wasn’t strenuous at all, but it was fairly long.
“About eight miles, round trip,” Benjamin said as if describing an
easy jaunt.  We started out.

Halfway down, Benjamin suddenly realized his hat was in the car.  The
trail was deeply shaded on the switchbacks, due to abundant trees, but
we knew we couldn’t count on shade the entire hike, and neither of us
wanted a sunburn.  While he made the trek back up to the parking lot,
I sat down on a rock and enjoyed the luxury of silence.  It wasn’t
really silent, of course.  There was the splash of water tumbling over
and around rocks far below, the rustle of wind through the leaves and
needles overhead, and the faint hum of traffic on the highway.

Benjamin was soon back, wearing his hat.  His pack clunked with each
step.  It was stuffed with water bottles, camera equipment, a Utah
trail guide, field glasses, and on top of all else, our lunch.

Like most streams in the west, the creek our trail bordered most of
its length wasn’t too wide, so it was easy to cross.  But the creek
banks were high enough to prove that it was a much different stream
when swollen by rain. We stopped to examine rocks filled with fossil
shells.  Too large to gather, even had they been legal, we admired and
moved on.

About an hour into the hike a detour left the stream and meandered
through the forest to a log cabin remaining from pre-park days.
According to our trail information, it was vacated in 1933.  It looked
much like the main room of my grandmother Long’s house in the Georgia
mountains, which had also been constructed of logs.  Since my
grandmother’s house had been built decades before the Civil War, the
two might be contemporaries.

“Bet that was for the water bucket and the wash pan,” I said, pointing
to a shelf just inside.  “They couldn’t have had a large family in
this one room.”

“Maybe they once had other rooms.  Maybe a sleeping attic too,”
Benjamin suggested.

I agreed.  “Like my grandmother’s house.  But how did they survive?
This land is too rocky and steep for a garden.”  As we speculated, we
realized the people living here probably made a living off raising
cattle and hunting. Surely they had a milk cow and maybe a few
chickens. Maybe they fished too, though we so far had not even seen
minnows in the creek. However those people did it, it would have been
a hardscrabble existence.  Then I recalled that I had lived life
almost that hard during the time that my parents were separated and
Mama had taken us kids to live off the land in the mountains near my
Grandmother Long.  So I could imagine how cold this cabin would have
been in winter,  how hard to haul water from the creek, and how
difficult it would have been to fight off the predators that killed
chickens and attacked the cow, the hogs, and mules on a regular basis.

Back at the creek, we found more fossil rocks.  One even had a small
fish etched into its surface.  So millions of years ago, there had
been fish–why not now?  The trail ended at the beginning of what
would one day be a huge natural bridge.  Now it was just an arched
indentation in the stone side of a mountain.  We ate our lunch before
heading back and talked to a young couple and and then a family with
three kids who showed up while we ate.  The kids were talking about
the cabin and how cool it must have been to live there.

“Especially in January,” I murmured.  It’s easy to romanticize what
you haven’t actually experienced.

On our return trip we did not detour by the cabin.

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LOST IN THE WASH

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 Amazon

Well, folks, I’m a liar.  The last time I let my adventure-loving
husband talk me into exploring a slot canyon, I said, “Never again.”
Then we went out West again a few weeks ago, and he talked me into it
one more time.  “It’s not a bad canyon,” he said, and I pictured a
gang member canyon, ready to slice us up in a rumble.

“This one’s not dusty and crowded like Antelope,” he continued.  “Not
hard to find like Wild Pony Canyon.  No thirty mile dirt road to get
to this one.”

I grunted.  “Wasn’t this trip going to be about fossil hunting?”

He nodded.  “Best part–it’s loaded with fossil rocks.”

He claims now that I imagined the promise about fossil rocks.  But I’m
sure he said, “We should have three gallons of water. And I’ll need to
take my large format box camera.”

“The one that weighs a hundred and seventy-five pounds?”  I asked.

“I’ll carry everything,” he promised.

“You’ll have to.”  Since my back problems started, I don’t even carry a purse.

We started right after breakfast that morning, driving about thirty
miles on pavement and then five or six on washboard dirt road.
Finally, we turned on to a faint trail that bumpedity-bumped down to
the bank of an almost dry stream bed.

Benjamin loaded up his pack and reluctantly decided to leave lunch.
“We’ll be back by noon,” he predicted.

At first, walking wasn’t bad.  We stayed mainly on the dryer part of
the stream bed. Then the stream turned into a rocky, sandy wash.
Rocks were plentiful and colorful.  Every now and then we spotted a
small piece of petrified wood.  Otherwise, no fossils.

The wash opened into another, bigger wash and a few minutes later into
a still bigger one.  Rising fingers of reddish-orange land covered
with prickly dessert plants separated the washes. “You sure you know
the way back?” I asked.

Benjamin nodded.  “Follow the washes.  And we can see our footprints.”

Finally, we spotted far up ahead what must be the beginning of the
slot canyon.  The sun was straight up now and no shade was to be had.
There was nothing to squat behind for a bathroom break either.

“Who’s going to see you out here?”  Benjamin asked when I complained.

Probably nobody, but still, I wanted some kind of blind.  I finally
saw a boulder that might serve and headed for it.  Sweet relief!  But
when I’d finished, there was another problem.  My bad back and my bad
knee seemed joined in a conspiracy to keep me from standing.  Then,
only a few inches from my feet, a small mouse scampered around the
rock.  His fearful black eyes looked into mine questioningly.

Benjamin laughed and offered me a hand.  “He wants to know where the
Ark is.  Good thing he has another exit.”

We passed a number of other intersecting washes before we reached the
entrance to the canyon.  And soon after that, I found a shady place
and lay down to rest.

My husband forgets time when doing photography, so it was considerably
later when his stomach complained enough to get his attention.  “Ready
to go?” he asked, shaking me awake and offering me water.

“An hour ago,” I mumbled, but he was already heading out.

“We’ll cut across,” he yelled back, striding over the first of the
fingers of land jutting into the wash.  “We’ll save time getting
back.”

We went at a near jog pace, cutting across every finger of land.
Suddenly Benjamin came to a dead halt.  Just ahead here was a long
unused fence crossing the wash ahead.  Part of it lay on the ground.
“I don’t remember that,” he said.

Neither did I.  I looked around.  The only footprints were the ones
we’d just made. “Are we going to die out here?” I said.

Benjamin scrubbed his face with his handkerchief,  “We just have to go
back and find where our footprints came out of the first stream bed.”
So we backtracked into several wrong stream beds.  None had
footprints.

Suddenly I heard the faint sound of a car in the distance.  Benjamin
scrambled up the nearest hill for a better view.  “The next wash is
the right one,”  he called down.

It was, though nothing about it looked familiar.

When we got back to our car, we had the best lunch we ever eaten. Best
of all, Benjamin declared himself finished with slot canyons–for this
trip!

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TAKING A STAND

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A TRIBUTE TO MARY ANN BUSHA HUTCHESON

She was a golden girl in our college days.  A natural blond, she had
the lanky Julia Roberts look before Julia Roberts had it.  She even
looked good in the awkward green pleated gym suits our college
required in the late fifties.  “Bushy” was one of the most skilled
waitresses in the dining hall where she and I both worked.  I used to
push myself to be faster in getting those bowls, platters, and jugs of
tea to the tables, especially when ravenous boys filled some of the
seats–and most especially because Bushy made it look so easy, but I
never could win the race.  Not only was she quick–she was quick
witted. Even in the dining hall she had people laughing.

Bushy made good grades too.  I was always amazed at her memory.  She
never had to cram for algebra quizzes as I did, and when the grades
were posted, hers were among the best.  She didn’t miss many social
events either–and she always had dates.  Of course, you could guess
that one year she won the school beauty contest.

Like flickering snapshots ,  I still see her pretend swoons every time
Elvis came out with a new hit and her twirls of delight in the red
velveteen dress she made for a Christmas party one year.  And then
there was the time a friend gave her a home permanent and that
beautiful blond hair looked like Little Orphan Annie’s for week or
two.  “Now I really am bushy,” she said.

In most of the areas where Bushy shone, I decidedly did not.  People
who know me now laugh at the description–especially my husband–but I
was shy back then.  I rarely put myself forward in any way and almost
never socialized outside the dorm, so it is probably strange that she
and I were roommates for two years.  I thought it was wonderful for
me.  Not only did I bask in her glory, but I felt included in the
things I did participate in.  I think I came to depend on that:
built-in friends, guaranteed acceptance.

Then came the summer Bushy went off to work at a resort.  I stayed to
work on the college campus and for the first time I had no roommate.
At first it was lonely, and then I began to participate in a few
things.  I got to know more people–even a couple of boys.  Sometimes
several girlfriends gathered in my room for lively conversation.

Though we weren’t roommates again after that summer, Bushy and I still
got together for talks. I knew when she fell in love with the guy she
eventually married.  I think I knew before she did, because she was
trying to talk herself out of it for a good while.  “We’re not
serious.  He’s just a lot of fun,” she would say.  “He’s more fun than
anybody.”  Several years later I learned from my own life experience
what that means–it means you’ve met a keeper.

So Bushy married the fun guy and they had three children and from all
accounts had a very successful and happy life.  We have lived in
different parts of the country and haven’t seen each other since May
of 1961.  Fifty-four years have passed, but although  cancer has taken
her, Mary Ann is still that golden girl of our college years.

To many of us who know and love her, she always will be.  Rest in
peace, my good friend.

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A TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL

 

Faye and Sherry and family

Faye with Sherry and some of her family

My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction. Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazon

One of the joys of our recent trip out west was our side trip to visit
the artist-illustrator of three of my picture books–Sherry Meidell.
She and her family made my husband and me welcome in their home and
shared a delicious home-cooked meal–chicken soup and amazing
fresh-from-the-garden vegetables.  When we sat down at the table with
four generations of Meidells, I felt right at home.  Of course, we
talked about our sons–the Meidells have five and we have two–our
daughters-in-law, and our grandchildren.  All–ours and theirs–we
discovered, were well above average in looks and accomplishments.  Too
bad we didn’t have all those kid present when we lined up for photos.

Sherry and I compared on notes on independent bookstores.  She said
her favorite had author signings and launchings all the time.  “So
does mine,” I told her.  “Capitol Books in Montgomery, Alabama even
smells like old books and waxed wood, and leather upholstery.”

We talked about the joys of writing and illustrating books for
children–and how difficult it can be sometimes.  We compared notes on
our long term happy marriages, and our spouses’ creative pursuits.  Her
husband was a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for more than 20
years, my husband is a photographer and woodworker.  Both our husbands
fill the role of best friend and first editor.

Sherry and and her husband shared something else in common with
Benjamin and me: a visit to Peru.  They had hiked up to Machu Picchu,
instead of riding up in a bus, as we did seven or so years ago.

On parting, Sherry presented me with a valuable gift: an original,
double-spread illustration from FULL STEAM AHEAD–the second book she
and I did together.  It is especially treasured because the home in
the painting is modeled on the actual house that was my great grandparents’
home place in Murray County, Georgia.  In front of the house is a more
cheerful version of my great Grandmother and Grandfather Nolan than
anyone experienced in real life (to be fair, my great grandparents had
a lot to be grumpy about).  There are also two children, representing
my Uncle Roy Junkins and my Aunt Bert Cox.  I gave a family photograph
to Sherry to show her how houses looked in Murray County, Georgia
during the time period FULL STEAM AHEAD was set.  Little did I know
she would use more than the house!  I now have my painting framed and
hung in  an honored spot in our house.

Our journey to West Bountiful, Utah was bountiful, indeed.

Thank you, Sherry Meidell!

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A GIFT OF LOVE

 

My latest book, HALLEY, has just been released by NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley

We didn’t exchange Christmas gifts in our family.  If mill work was
good, Mama managed to buy us each one gift–a piece of needed clothing
for the three older kids and toys for the younger two–and baked
chicken for Christmas day.  That was it.  But the year I was sixteen
was different–my sister bought me a present.  How Jean managed it, I
have no idea. Maybe she was paid extra one time for babysitting the
four juvenile delinquents up the road, and then hid the surplus from
Mama.  Mama always knew exactly where every penny her kids earned
needed to go.  “That’ll help pay for them shoes you need,” she’d say,
tucking the money into her pocketbook. Or to me, “That’ll go on
getting you that new bra you claim you need.”

Boy, did I ever need a bra.  My bosom had exploded out of the B cups
she’d bought me two years before.  At this point, packing my D cup
breasts into the small cups had become a major task.  Some breast had
to hang out at the bottom.  Some had to bulge up in the middle.  That
still left a lot to bulge out at the sides and under my arms. To hide
all this bulging, I wore a corduroy jacket until hot weather forced me
out of it.  Then our dog Brownie chewed the jacket up.

Back to the gift.  I’m not even sure how Jean managed the actual
purchase.  We lived miles from the nearest store.  Maybe it was on one
of those weekends when Mama allowed her to spend a weekend with Aunt
Hilde. All I know for sure is that Jean had a present for me and she
was glowing with pride and self-satisfaction.  The box was wrapped and
had a bow.  “You’ll never guess what it is,” she said.  Tantalized, I
immediately guessed, “A bra.”

“Something better,” she said. “You’ll never, ever guess.”

My feelings were all over the map. At first, I was grateful that Jean
spent money on me. Then I felt bad because I had no gift to give her.
Then as the guessing game went on and on and on  I became resentful.
Finally, on Christmas Eve, Jean taunted me one too many times and I
snapped.

“I already figured out what it is, and I don’t like it,” I said. “It’s
a junky gift.”

Jean broke down and cried.

I was instantly repentant.  “I’m sorry,” I said.  “I don’t know what
it is.  I was just mad.”

“No,” Jean sobbed.  “You really don’t like it.”

“I do,” I insisted.  “I will.  I know I’ll like it.”

At last Jean quit crying, and I made up my mind that no matter what it
was, I WOULD like it.

The next morning I opened the box and swallowed hard.  It was a nylon,
see-through blouse.  A nylon, see-through blouse!  The kind that
allowed everyone to see your skin and underwear.  And bulges.  It was
the kind of blouse I had been sure I would never, ever want to wear in
a million years.

But Jean’s eyes were large and expectant as I looked at the blouse and
its rhinestone buttons. I slowly shook it out and held it up to my
bulging bosom..  I could see her clenched hands through the blouse.

“I love it,” I said.

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SEARCHING FOR BRANCHES ON THE FAMILY TREE

 

My latest book, HALLEY, has just been released by NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley
Have you noticed that most people develop an interest in family
history just after most of the older members of their family are dead
or sliding in that direction? I confess that I only had a few good
sources left when I suddenly realized that when the last of these
older relatives were gone, the history would die with them. I did
have an advantage–as a kid I loved to listen to stories, even the
ones ending with, “And what you can learn from this story is….”
Knowing enough so that you know what questions to ask helps a lot.

I began visiting and collecting family stories back when my kids were
young. I took my tape recorder and my camera for each visit.
Sometimes I visited long-time neighbors of relatives and got family
stories from them that my own relatives had forgotten, or chosen not
to tell. Most of the people I interviewed in the seventies and
eighties are gone now, and every so often I get a call or letter from
someone who has heard I had a tape of their grandparent or aunt, and
now they want a copy. I’m happy to oblige.

Besides loving stories, I have another advantage: I have two surviving
aunts. Both have always been known for having the best memories in
the family. The aunt I’m closest to–I’ll call her Mollie–is a joy to
visit and is happy to relive any of the old days I want to hear about.
Her sister “Dorilee” is another case entirely. Aunt Dorilee has a
sour disposition and is always alert for ulterior motives, so my
visits to her have been infrequent. Finally, however, I decided I had
to see what stories she could tell me. Armed with my tape recorder,
my camera, and some old family photos I showed up at her house one
day.

“What do you want?” she asked when I identified myself.

“I was hoping I could get some family stories from you,” I answered
with a smile.

She stared at my camera. “I don’t remember nothing.”

My smile began to feel forced. “Weren’t you were still living with
Maw and Dad when my parents got married?”

“Mighta been, but I don’t remember nothing.”

Uninvited, I sat down, pulled out my tape recorder, and set it on the
table next to my chair.

Dorilee’s frown deepened. “What’s that contraption?”

“A tape recorder,” I said. “I want to record every word you say
because I’m sure my memory isn’t as good as yours.”

“Yours would have to be better’n mine,” she said without taking her
eyes off the recorder.

I pushed the “on” button. “Do you remember how you felt when William
showed up with his war bride after World War II?”

“I didn’t like Hilde then, and I don’t like her now.”

“How did you meet your husband?”

“Too far back to remember, and why does that matter anyway?

This is how the entire visit went. Later, when I reported to Aunt
Mollie, she said I’d gone about it entirely wrong.

As if I didn’t know!

“Next time don’t take anything but a pocketbook and something she can
sell at the flea market,” Aunt Mollie advised. “Go in the summertime,
but before it’s too hot, and first drive by her house to see if she’s
in the yard. If she is, stop and give her whatever you brought and
just sit down and talk about the weather for a spell. After while you
start telling some family story–only make sure you tell it wrong.
Dorilee will take it from there.”

Now I’m ready. If Dorilee can just hang on until next summer!

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PRAISE THE LORD AND PASS THE COOKIES

My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction. Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazon

I don’t do vacation bible school anymore.  Every protestant church in
the South has VBS for one week every summer.  It’s sort of like camp,
only the kids sing hymns, do crafts, and play games, all having to do
with Jesus.  And the last day–or evening–parents are invited to see
their children on stage demonstrating what they have learned.  They
get to see what teachers learned too, because the kids won’t perform
if the teacher isn’t on stage, suffering along with them.

One year I allowed myself to be talked into teaching the kindergarten
class.  “Piece of cake,” the coordinator of bible school assured me.
“How much trouble can a handful of five-year-olds be?”

Plenty, it turns out.  First of all, there were more than a handful.
Twenty, to be exact. Twenty squirmy, talkative, rough-housing,
rock-toting kids.  Or at least one had a rock.  “Just for self
defense,” the little girl with golden curls assured me.  “Just until
I’m old enough to have a gun.”

I talked her out of the rock and then announced that we would have our
bible lesson for the day.  “I druther wrestle,” said a little boy
wearing about eight bandaids.  He threw himself on top of the boy on
his right, and the two of them went rolling across the floor. Several
other boys and Goldilocks joined the pile-up.

“Back to your circle right now!” I ordered in my most authoritative
voice.  It worked.  Our circle reformed, sort of.  “We’ll sing some
songs,” I said.  I’m sure you all know ‘Jesus Loves me.’”

If they didn’t, they knew it by the time we’d done eighteen rounds.
Then we colored pictures of Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount,
Jesus blessing the loaves and the fishes, and Jesus blessing little
children.  Then it was time for crafts, where each child was given an
oatmeal box, a juice bottle and ten drink straws and told to construct
Noah’s Ark.  At mid-morning snack I got to see how well the other
teachers were doing with their kids.  They all had different
techniques, but they all had achieved the same result–obedient,
mannerly angels quoting scripture.

The second day was pretty much the same, and I felt pretty bad about
myself–I’d probably not instilled more than a thimbleful of scripture
in two days.  All right, I thought, tomorrow, we are going to do an
activity and bring scripture into it.  Somehow.

On Wednesday I arrived early, carrying all the cookie sheets I owned,
plus all my mother-in-law owned.  Many of those pans were older than I
was.  I also took cookie dough, a rolling pin, cookie cutters, and
tubes of decorating icing in six colors for writing verses on cookies.

Goldilocks zeroed in on the pans.  Lifting sheet after sheet with two
fingers, she inspected them and wrinkled her nose.  “I’ll not eat any
cookies baked on these,” she announced. “They’re dirty.”

“No,” I assured her. “They are just old and discolored.”

She shook her head.  “Dirty.“

“Dirty,” chorused the rest of the class.

“Okay,” I said, don’t eat them, “but we’re going to make them.”

We did. We had flour and dough all over the classroom.  Before we got
to the verses, The kids had used the icing to decorate themselves and
their clothing.  Goldilocks wiped up one dribble of icing from the
floor with one finger and licked it off.

It took me two hours after the kids left to clean the room.

Friday at the closing program, we sang eighteen rounds of “Jesus Loves
Me,” and sat down to polite applause.

Now when our church asks for volunteers for bible school, I’m the
first to raise my hand. “Put me down for brownies and Kool-Aid for
refreshments,” I say.

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DOWN TO THE BARE FACTS

My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction. Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazon

After I made the big decision to go to college, after I’d found a
place to borrow money to help with college expenses, after I’d talked
my father into co-signing for the education loan, I found there was an
even larger hurdle ahead.  I had to have a complete physical.  It’s so
many years ago, I’m unclear as to exactly what the pertinent letter
from Berry said, but whatever the wording, I was sure it meant I’d
have to strip and allow a man–I’d never heard of a woman doctor–to
see me naked.

No way!  I was too timid to wear a swimsuit.

I would have expected my mother to take advantage of my dilemma.
After all, she had fought me all the way on my college plans.  She had
told me how foolish It was to waste borrowed money on more education
when anybody could get a perfectly good job at the mill with less
education than I already had. Maybe she did use my hesitation, at
first, but she finally got so tired of my worrying about the physical
that she said, “Go to old Doc English.  The man must be nearly a
hundred.  He won’t have you strip, and he couldn’t see you if you
did.”

It took some convincing, but finally I went.  His office was on main
street in Dalton.  I walked in and told the nurse what I was there
for.  She motioned me to a seat next to an old woman and man I took to
be her son.  I waited and all too soon, it was my time to to be
ushered to the back room, which was the one and only exam room.  There
I saw a withered up fossil of a man who looked more than a century
old.  He wore a suit and a vest that might be even older than he was.
Here and there small moth holes dotted the fabric.

“What is your problem?” he asked.

The nurse handed him the forms from Berry.  “This is Faye Junkins and
she has to have a physical.”

The doctor looked at the papers so long, I was afraid he might have
fallen asleep.  Then the nurse spoke.  “Do we weigh and measure?”

“Yes,” he answered, and gestured toward the scales.

I stepped up on them but kept my eyes on the wall beyond while the
doctor fiddled with the weight and height mechanisms.  “One hundred
and twenty-five pounds,”  he declared and the nurse wrote it down.

A hundred twenty-five!  I had’t weighed that since fifth grade.

“Five feet, five inches,” he said.

I was five foot, eight.

“Heart,” said the doctor and lifted the cup-like device and pressed it
well above my left breast.  “Normal,” he said.  He pressed the device
above my right breast.  “Lungs, normal.”  He lifted my right arm and
then my left and bent them at the elbow.  “Reflexes, normal.”  He
stared into my eyes and asked what I saw out the window on the back
wall.

“The railroad overpass and a smokestack.”

“Vision, normal.”

The doctor turned and walked a few slow steps away.  Then, with his
back turned, he asked, in a low voice, “Can you hear me?”

“Yes.”

“Hearing, normal,”  he said, taking the paper and signing.  “You fill
out the rest,” he told the nurse before turning to me.  “That’ll be
$5.”

I was so relieved I practically flew home.  No more physicals, ever.

Then two weeks into my first semester at Berry College, the Dean of
Women told us that a team of interns from Emory Medical School would
be conducting full physicals on all students!

The funny thing is that I don’t even recall any details of that check-up.

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MRS. STOUDEMIRE SAVES SHAKESPEARE

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PUPPY LOVE

My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction. Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazon

I still recall my first love.  Just in case he reads this, I will call
him “Jeffrey,”  but every girl in my grade at East Side School would
know immediately his real name, because they all loved him too.  Or
“liked,” as we said back then.  Jeffrey was the Clark Gable of East
Side–popular with boys, girls, and teachers.  An excellent student,
he was good at sports too.  He was reserved and seemed more mature
than other boys in our class.  Though his name was frequently linked
to the popular girls like Maureen, Helen, and Alice, I don’t ever
recall him openly claiming them.  He was the strong and silent type.

Part of what made Jeffrey the prince of the class had to be the fact
that his mother always brought treats on holidays–Halloween,
Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and–of course–on Jeffrey’s
birthday.  There were bound to be cupcakes, cookies, candy, Kool-Ade,
and sometimes ice cream.  You might guess that Jeffrey was an adored
only child, and likely a surprise late child.  Fortunately, Jeffrey
didn’t act spoiled.  True, he took the class adulation as his due, but
he never seemed egotistical.

Me, I’m not positive I ever got up the nerve to speak to him.  Still,
no doubt about it–I was in love.  If he brushed my arm on a trip to
the pencil sharpener, I got chill bumps.  If his glance bounced in my
general direction, my heart pounded.  Once when in line behind him, I
noticed he even smelled good.

In eighth grade we had a teacher who was very interested in the
romantic lives of her students.  “Mrs. Brighton”  kept up with who
liked who, and who had “broken off.”  One day when it was almost time
for the dismissal bell, she said, “You know which two I think would be
a good match?”  “Who?” the class chorused.  There followed a guessing
game in which every combination of the popular kids was presented.
Mrs. Brighton answered no to each suggestion.  Then when the bell
rang, she said, “Faye and Jeffrey.”

My face reddened.  My heart raced.  As we ran for the buses, I could
hear the whispered talk around me.  “Jeffrey and Faye?”  “Faye and
Jeffrey?”  Maureen Bailey ran up by my side and asked, “Do you like
Jeffrey?”

I shrugged.  “He’s okay, I guess.”

“But do you like him for a sweetheart?”

“He’s okay,” I repeated, darting into my waiting bus.

Jeffrey was already on the bus, seated many rows back from his usual
place behind the driver.  I took the seat beside my sister, Jean, near
the front.

Life went on. After that year, Jeffrey left East Side and enrolled at
Dalton High.  I eventually went to North Whitfield High.  After
college, I taught at North Whitfield for two years.  I got a car,
gradually bought a few nice clothes, and started getting good
haircuts.  Life was definitely getting better.

One day when I was dressed for some big occasion, I stopped for gas,
and there on the other side of the pump was Jeffrey.  He looked like
he’d just stepped off the movie screen.  “Faye,” he said, smiling his
wonderful smile.  “Faye Junkins–the girl I secretly loved for years
at East Side….”

I’m lying. The truth is, Jeffrey didn’t recognize me until I told him
my name.  And maybe not even then.  But the worst part was, the grown
up Jeffry was so ordinary.  So average.  Not at all like the shining,
gallant Jeffrey of my memories.  It’s been a few decades now, and
thank goodness, I’ve managed to blot out that meeting almost entirely.

Handsome Jeffrey is restored to my memory in all his glory, and he is
still my first love.

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PEARL

My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction. Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazon

It’s a wonder I even liked my cousin, Pearl when we were growing up in
the 1940s and 50s.  She was beautiful and she was good.  She was also
a hard worker.  My Grandmother Junkins, whom I know meant it for my
own good, was always comparing me to Pearl to point out precisely
where I needed improvement.  Unfortunately for Maw, I never got fired
up for self improvement.  The way I saw it, Pearl was born with
advantages I didn’t have.

She had a happier family for one thing.  Her father was a religious
man, but not a fanatic.  Her parents adored each other and their three
children.  In addition, Pearl was born beautiful.  She inherited the
dark complexion and black hair of her Cherokee blood from both
parents.  She didn’t need any cosmetics to enhance her looks and
didn’t use them.  Slender and graceful, she moved like a dancer.  She
had a beautiful smile, but if she had moments of hilarity, I never saw
it.  Dignity seemed to come to her as a birthright.

As Maw reminded me frequently, Pearl was a worker too.  Her mother
died when Pearl was a teenager, and since the older daughter was
married by this time, all the housework and cooking fell to Pearl.
Uncle Roy’s house had no electricity, so she cooked wonderful meals on
her mother’s old iron cookstove.  She milked the cow, churned butter,
took care of the chickens, fed the hog, and still looked like a
princess.

And she sang.  Uncle Roy and his children formed their own gospel
group, specializing in songs that the Chuck Wagon Gang made
famous–”Walk on the Sunny Side,” “After a While,” and “Some Glad
Morning.”

Young men around Carter’s Quarter noticed Pearl for sure, but most
were too intimidated by Uncle Roy to court her.  One boy didn’t get
scared off.  Jimmy Nolan was Pearl’s brother’s best friend, and the
friendship allowed him to see Pearl other than in church.  He took
advantage of that to try to impress her.  Perhaps because he was a
little younger than her, Pearl refused to give him any encouragement.
Jimmy finished high school and was drafted.  During eighteen months of
service, he saw a lot of the world other than the mountain of Georgia,
but he never saw another girl that interested him.  When he came home
he had made up his mind that he wasn’t going to take no for an answer.
He later said the only way he could see her was to go to every church
service in the country, and that’s just what he did.

My grandmother did not approve.  As far as I knew, she had no specific
complaints about Jimmy.  He simply wasn’t good enough for Pearl.  But
then nobody would have been good enough, in Maw’s opinion.  She called
him “that Jimmy.”  “That Jimmy was setting with Pearl in church again
last Sunday,” she would report, frowning, or “That Jimmy was at every
revival meeting last week, setting with Pearl.”  Finally, it was,
“They say that Jimmy is trying to talk Pearl into marrying.”

Marry, they did, and life changed for Pearl.  Jimmy loved boating and
hunting.  If Maw had still been living, she wouldn’t have believed her
Pearl in a swimsuit or strollicking all over the country on hunting
and boating trips, even after they had a daughter.

On one of my last visits to Uncle Roy’s house, I had a glimpse of the
new Pearl.  She and I were both wearing jeans.  Probably in response
a look or a comment from Uncle Roy, Pearl said, “Daddy doesn’t like us
wearing pants.”

“It’s not me you have to worry about,” he replied.  “Read your Bible.”

Pearl winked at me, and as Uncle Roy left the room she said,  “The old
folks won’t ever change, but I think we’re okay.”

I nodded.  I was okay.  Thanks to Maw’s comparisons, I’d improved more
than I probably ever would have done on my own. And if I never made
A+, that was all right too.

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SWASHBUCKLING BO

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A BOXER NAMED BO

My latest book, HALLEY, Awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction. Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazon.

I’m a dog lover, and I particularly love Boxers.  So when I found Bo
at a humane shelter about ten years ago, I was smitten right off.
Despite his claims to the contrary, he was half something other than
Boxer.  His long snout was a dead giveaway.    But he managed to charm
his way into Boxer Rescue anyway.

Bo had been surrendered by his original owner because he could leap
four-foot-fencing and had been roaming many neighborhoods at will.  To
make him ours, my husband and I had to agree to install six foot
fencing and to pay for heart worm treatments.  Bo wasn’t a cheap dog,
and if I hadn’t already been in love, I would have moved on.  But we
paid for the treatments and a six foot fence surrounding a large area
of yard and connecting to a doorway into a building we call “the
cottage.”  Inside the dogtrot hallway of the cottage, my husband,
Benjamin, built a carpeted, insulated doghouse, and he installed two
100 watt bulbs, to provide heat in winter.  A curtain over the doorway
kept out winter drafts. It had carpet.

Bo inspected everything, scent marked key landmarks and then announced
he wanted out.  He tried to leap the fence, and then he tried to climb
it.  Then he whined and whined and howled.  The second day we let him
out so he could check out the rest of the yard.  Immediately he took
off for the busy highway.  We chased and we yelled, but Bo was
oblivious. He zipped across that highway, totally ignoring honking
cars and eighteen wheelers, and raced across the cotton field on the
far side.  Back to the fence.

The next outing Benjamin led him by leash into the woods behind our
house, and then staked the leash next to a stack of concrete blocks.
“You can get acquainted with your new home while I dig the foundation
for this shed,” he said.  Bo  was sniffing the air and then he was
racing around, smelling the ground.  At that moment a mouse scurried
across the pine needles and ducked through an opening in a concrete
block.  Bo was right behind him and managed to thrust his head through
the block. When Bo tried to pull his head out, the three-layer stack
of blocks began to shake and then crashed down.  Bo wore the block he
was stuck in until Benjamin could free him.

We eventually trained Bo to know his own yard, but he “forgot” on a
regular basis, especially when chasing a stray dog or cat, a squirrel
or possom.  On those occasions he seemed to forget even where home was
and sometimes he didn’t come back until the wee hours of morning.
Occasionally he returned smelling of a dead animal he’d rolled in.

One July when I was recovering from cancer surgery he pulled one of
those disappearing acts and he didn’t come back by morning.  Benjamin
went looking for him.  None of the neighbors had seen him. He wasn’t
at the trailer park about a mile away, where one of his former cat
chases had taken him.  Another day passed and no Bo.  I pictured him
lying in a field somewhere, dying.  A third day came, and by then I
was sure Bo was gone forever.

At mid-morning a truck pulled up in the yard, and a neighbor got out.
“That dog you been looking for–is he caramel colored and about yay
tall?  I’ve been hearing noises in my barn loft for several days, but
I figured it was just squirrels.  It’s been so blamed hot I didn’t
hardly see how it could be anything else.  Then this morning I decided
to check.  Well, there he was.  He was scared of those stairs–had to
whip him with a broom to get ‘im down.  Soon as he was outside, he
drank about a gallon of water from the pond.  I ‘spect you need to
come after him.  Not sure he’s able to walk this far.”

Bo recovered, and I wish I could say he learned his lesson.  But then,
if he had, we would know it wasn’t the real Bo!

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A MOST HAPPY FELLOW

 

 

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FOLKLORE, CHARMS, AND OLD WIVES’ TALES

 

In the Georgia mountains of my childhood, there were some people who were superstitious.  Not many actually believed in ghosts, but many believed in “signs.”  If your hand inched, you were going to come into some money.  If your nose itched, you were going to have company.  Many believed that people could bring bad luck on another simply by wishing it on them.  I think practically all the women believed that a pregnant woman who got scared or had a bad experience could “mark” her baby.  When expecting me, my mother saw her pet dog run over by a car, and when I was born I had a red birthmark on the back of my head.  “It was just exactly the shape of the puddle of blood around my dog’s head,” she would say.  My grandmother Long believed she had marked her firstborn son by constantly craving strawberries while pregnant.  She wasn’t a bit surprised when he was born with a birthmark on his chest shaped like a strawberry. 

My Grandfather Long, like many other farmers of that place and time, planted and harvested by the astrological signs of the zodiac.  He was sure that his success depended on obeying these signs precisely.  Not only that, he believed that as mundane a chore as digging fence post holes had to be planned by the signs and the phases of the moon.  According to him and others, you had to dig out a lot more dirt when you didn’t go by the signs.  In addition, common illnesses could have worse consequences if they happened at an unfavorable time.

There was folklore about having your wishes granted too.  Many believed that if you wanted something very badly, you could simply name that wish and then open the bible at random.  If either of the pages contained the phrase “It came to pass,” then your wish would be granted.  I didn’t really believe this, but I did try it a few times just to be sure.  It didn’t work for me.  

Some people were reputed to have mysterious healing powers.  Some could “draw the fire” out of a burn injury, so there would supposedly be no more pain.  My great grandfather Fields was said to be gifted with the power of curing babies of  the “thrush,” by breathing in their mouths.  He dipped snuff, so the smell of tobacco spit and rotten teeth might have driven away almost anything!

A college friend of mine grew up on a Georgia farm along with four sisters.  Eleen’s father died a couple of months before the youngest girl was born.  That child never saw her father, and according to a common superstition that fact automatically gave her almost unlimited healing powers.  People would bring their loved ones from great distances to have a laying on of hands.  She did not charge–that, it was believed, would have canceled out her power–but people would give free will gifts in accordance to their means–a quarter, fifty cents–occasionally even a dollar.  Perhaps from jealousy, the older girls teased the youngest constantly about her “powers.”  The reluctant healer began hiding in the woods when she saw visitors coming.  Her mother always sent the other girls to fetch her–the family needed the money, but Mama also didn’t want to turn desperate people away.  

I remembered Eleen’s story when writing HALLEY, and I gave Opal, an African American girl, this power of healing.  But I decided I would also give her the goal of going to medical school and becoming a true healer.  Opal’s family, who all worked so one could go to school, served as a stark contrast to Halley’s family, who valued education so little.

It’s easy to laugh at superstitious beliefs from earlier times, but we have our own illogical beliefs.   If you doubt, just look at those who play the stock market. They shell out big money on “hunches” or unchecked tips.  And every time the stock market shows a long rising trend, they believe against all logic that it will last forever.

I guess each generation has to give young people something to disbelieve and laugh at!

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MOZART IN THE MOUNTAINS

 

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ELEMENTARY, MR. WATSON

“Mr. Watson” was not the kindest, most handsome, or the best teacher I had at East Side School in Dalton, Georgia.  He had a sarcastic way about him sometimes.  One of my vivid memories is the time I was marching in from recess with the rest of the class and slammed my shoulder against the classroom door frame.  “We are really going to have to widen these doorways,” he said to a teacher across the hall, and laughed.  I was mortified.  

But Mr. Watson was the teacher who told all 40 kids in our class every day that they mattered.  He told us we could do anything we wanted, if we got our education.  In fact, he would list possibilities:  doctor, lawyer, teacher, nurse, airline pilot, engineer, scientist or whatever else we dreamed of.  Of course, for a roomful of kids whose parents almost all worked 8-5 at the mills, except during lay-offs when nobody worked, this seemed unlikely.  But, still, there comes a time you begin to think just maybe it is possible.

Mr. Watson told us one other thing that was important.  “While you’re getting an education, make sure you learn at least one skill that involves using your hands.  It will make your life more satisfying, and it might help you make a living.”  Mr. Watson’s skill was bricklaying.  He had paid his way through college with it, and even as a teacher he took summer construction jobs to add to his income.  He had done all the brick work on the house he and his wife lived in.  It was near Mill Creek, so I saw it often on our long bus ride to and from school.  Then, when my family mainly lived in small, rundown places, his house looked fancy and large. 

Time passed.  Even though my mother couldn’t see the sense of it, I went on to high school, instead of dropping out and working at the mill as she wanted.  Often I wondered myself about the sense of it.  There were problems in our family.  It seemed like Mama had been sick forever.  For two years my sister and I took day about, missing school to stay home with her.  Some days my only relief was to head for the woods.  On our most recent move we found a house just beyond Mill Creek.  The woods behind our house were my refuge.   

One afternoon, just after several days of rain, I was walking through the woods to the creek bank. I was deep in thought.  It was getting harder and harder to stay caught up with school work.  I hardly had any clothes to wear and every few days I was having to hand stitch the soles of my shoes to keep them attached. I had untreated cavities in two molars.  Maybe Mama was right about finding a mill job.   I came to the old bridge, which had been closed to traffic for at least ten years.  I stepped on it and took several strides before I realized a man was on the bridge.  He was leaning over looking at the water.  As I retreated, he looked up.  

Mr. Watson!  I hadn’t seem him in several years, but it was him.

“You still in school?” he demanded.

I nodded, still backing up. “Yes sir,” 

“Good.  Get your education.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, turning.  “I will.”

  On the way home, I thought–hard.  Getting more schooling might or might not take me to a place I wanted to be, but it almost had to be a better place than where I was now. Mr Watson had laid one more brick to decision process.  Though I sometimes wavered, I became more and more sure that I needed all the education I could get.

Sometimes the best teacher is the one who tells you what you need to hear.

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