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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AND BABY MAKES THREE

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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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