THE NIGHT THE ‘MATERS BLEW UP IN GEORGIA

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

Hardworking though she was, Mama canned little from the big garden we grew every year. The houses we rented back in the fifties almost always had garden spots.  Mama had no pressure canner, but neither did most of our country relatives.  They simply boiled the filled jars in the wash pot for a couple of hours.  “Aren’t you afraid the food will still have germs in it?” I asked my mother’s mother one day.  She laughed.  “Honey, if they was as many germs as they claim, we’d all be dead!”

Pessimist that she was, my mother probably thought there were more germs than they claimed.  Anyway, she only ever canned a few green beans that she knew we’d eat within the next couple of weeks—or less.  But all our country relatives canned and at any family gathering the women liked to brag about their current tallies of vegetables canned for winter. Aunt Thelma was particularly aggressive about this and one year she got Mama’s dander up by saying, “I can’t believe you don’t put up some of your garden, Nell.”

As it happened, we had a bumper crop of beautiful tomatoes that year.  Mama kept looking at them the following week, and saying things like,  “Boy! It would sure burn Thelma if I beat her on tomatoes this year.” Then she was saying, “They say tomatoes keep better than other canned stuff, being they got a lot of acid in ‘em.  I keep hearing people claim you don’t have to have a canner for them.”  Finally, she said to Daddy, “George, get me some canning jars. I’m putting up tomatoes. I’m gonna show thelma a thing or two.”

Mama filled 72 jars of those beautiful tomatoes. We lined them up against the walls of the kitchen and just stood back and admired them. Even Daddy was impressed enough to pat  Mama on the shoulder. “Guess that’ll show Thelma!”

Daddy’s compliments were few and far between, so I guess Mama didn’t know how to deal with them.  She shrugged off the praise.  “We’ll see how they eat.”

The next day she wrote Thelma a postcard,  casually saying at the end, “Well, the garden is doing good.  Particular the tomatoes.  So far I’ve put up 72 qts.”  After the postman had picked up the card, Mama said, “I wish I’d invited Thelma and Bob to come and spend the day.”

As things turned out, it was probably a good thing she didn’t. A couple weeks later an explosion jolted us all awake in the middle of the night.  Daddy hadn’t gotten over his army training days when he heard explosions and gunfire every day. He bellowed, “What in the hellfire is that!” Then we heard him running for the kitchen.

Mama didn’t answer.  Maybe she already suspected what had happened.

A blast of cursing erupted in the kitchen. “Something cut my foot!” Daddy yelled.“ Then came a second and a third explosion. “Good Lord a-mighty!”

Don’t move, George,” said Mama, pulling the light chain in the front bedroom and putting on her shoes.  All four of us kids were at the kitchen door when Mama pulled the chain on the kitchen light.  There was Daddy in his underwear and undershirt, surrounded with red liquid and glittering shards of glass.  Red was dripping from the walls. Some was dripping from Daddy too.

Mama was crying.  “My tomatoes are blowing up”.

I’m about to blow up,” Daddy yelled. “I’m over here bleeding to death, and you’re blubbering over tomatoes. Get me a rag.”

Several months later at a family gathering, Thelma asked Mama how her supply of tomatoes was holding out.

That’s when Daddy redeemed himself for a lot of past sins. “They been gone,” he said, winking at Mama. “Kids couldn’t get enough of ‘em. I told the Old Lady not to fool with putting ‘em up no more.  They didn’t even last ’til cold weather!”

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IT ALL STARTED IN COFFEEVILLE

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

School Where my Father-in-Law Taught and His Sons Attended

The Largest Store in Coffeeville

My husband’s parents moved to a tiny backwoods town in Alabama in 1947 when Daddy Gibbons became the new Agriculture teacher at  the one and only public school there. At first, Mama Gibbons was dismayed with the move.  As a woman who grew up in Auburn, a college town, she felt she’d moved to the back of nowhere.  The only pavement was the main highway.  There were no sidewalks.There were two small stores, a tiny post office, and a collection of houses. Around the town there were many small farms.  Daddy would get to know these farms well.  He had been in veterinary school at Auburn until he reached the level where he had to have surgical instruments.  It was during the depression and there was no way he could find the money for such a purchase, so he switched to agriculture as his major.  

When it became known in the community that the  new ag teacher was almost a vet, he was soon on call to deliver calves, treat sick horses and cows, and castrate bulls. Of course he could not charge for this and most of the people could not afford to pay anyway. It was also discovered that he was an electrician, a lawnmower repairman, and general handyman. All without pay. Many people were appreciative and tried to show it, but Daddy had almost no free time. Exhaustion was his constant companion.

My husband said he once asked his father why he was willing to get out of bed to treat a farmer’s sick animal when he got no pay for it.  Daddy answered, “Most of these people can’t afford to pay veterinary bills and the loss of one animal might mean the family would go hungry.  I don’t want any children going hungry.”

One old panhandler from out in the county hitched into town every two or three weeks.  He would do his shopping at the stores in coffeeville and then shoot the breeze with anyone willing to give him the time.  When he was ready to go home, he would lug his purchases to the Gibbons house. Even if Daddy was out on a sick animal errand, he would take a seat in the living room.  He wouldn’t ask for a ride, but he would make no move to leave. Invited guests might arrive, Mama could begin supper or even call the kids in to bathe for the night, and the old man wouldn’t budge. Finally, Daddy would ask, “You need a ride home?” Invariably, the man would reply as if the thought had only that moment come to him, “I believe I do.” On a teacher’s pay, gas was a luxury even back then. Daddy said he wouldn’t have minded taking his turn if only the man had spread the favor around to others in town. He never did.

To complicate life further, Daddy wasn’t a well man during his early Coffeeville years.  At 6 feet, 4 inches, his weight eventually plummeted to 130 pounds.  At last a doctor in Mobile discovered the problem—he had a benign growth on his thyroid gland.  The doctor successfully removed it, and after that things got better for Daddy.

The Gibbons boys took to Coffeeville at once. Benjamin was five and Earl one when they arrived. They had a Tom Sawyer childhood. The Tombigbee River was close by and there were forests galore. There was even a long abandoned “ghost” mansion right in the middle of town. Earl eventually married a local girl, and they still live in the area.  Benjamin visits frequently with friends who’ve stayed in Coffeeville and some of those who moved away. Mama came to love Coffeeville and the women who were her neighbors.  She was often the first to show up when neighbors had sickness or a death in the family. They showed up when Mama needed help too.

When Benjamin and Earl were nearly grown, and their mother pushing 40, Mama gave Coffeeville something to gossip about—There was a late, unplanned baby on the way in the Gibbons family.  When the shock wore off Daddy was probably the one who let the cat out of the bag.  He was so proud! And when a beautiful girl was born in 1957, he bragged to everyone in town about his “fall crop.” Mel Anita was six when I came into the family. She was still a beauty.

Coffeeville had one last bit of hot gossip to pass around in 1967, when Daddy announced he was leaving to take a job at a school in Elmore County.  It was a hard move for Mama.  The end of the world had become the center of the world for her. Years later, on one of her last medical visits, the doctor asked, “Now, Mrs. Gibbons tell me about this pain in your side that you’re having every now and then.”

Mama thought for a moment and then said, “Well, it all started in Coffeeville…”

I believe she had it right, at least for so many things in her life—they started in Coffeeville.

No better place to start!

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ME TOO ALL OVER AGAIN

ME IN MY HOMEMADE DRESS

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

In recent years, women—mostly well-known, but some not—have been coming forward in droves to tell their stories of harassment, assault, and even rape which have hurt their careers and damaged them psychologically.  Probably a majority of career women have experienced at least some degree of this.  I can’t claim I have much to report.  I was a teacher—no one ever said, “Either you grant me sexual privileges or you’ll never work in the county schools again!”  There were a few random bad days like every teacher has when I could have responded to such a threat, “Make my day” or “Take this job and shove it.”

However, there is that one humiliating experience I’ve never forgotten.  It was the summer following my first teaching year.  After deductions, my monthly check was $233—you read that right, that was two hundred, thirty-three dollars.  I had college loans to pay off.  So I spread the word through friends and fellow teachers that I needed a summer job.  Soon I got a call at the boarding house where I stayed.  A manager of a local business, who was also the husband of a high school friend, said he thought he might be able to help.  

The very next day I showed up at his business in the nicest of my homemade dresses.  “Mr. Jerk” met me hand extended and welcomed me into his office.  It looked plush to me then—mahogany desk, high back swivel desk chair, and oriental rug on top of wall-to-wall carpeting.  Mr. Jerk motioned for me to have a seat.  He closed the office door, and that should have been a warning, but I was clueless.  He told me how good I looked even as I was noticing a puckered seam in my black dress.  He told me what great things he was hearing about my teaching.  I doubted it—it was my first year, and I had learned more than my students that year.  He asked about my folks.  In short, he talked about everything except the reason for my visit.  Awkwardly, I tried to steer the conversation to summer jobs.

Mr. Jerk smiled.  “I’ll sure put in a word for you if I hear of anything.”

“But when you called,” I began.  “I mean, I thought you already knew…”  I stood.  “Well, thanks anyway.”

“Wait!” said Mr. Jerk, motioning me to sit.  “It just now occurred to me that you might like to go up to Chattanooga one night next week.  We could drive around, go out to eat.  With school out, you don’t have to be home early.  Heck, you’ll have all night.  My wife is out of town.”

I finally got the picture.  “I have to go,” I said, backing toward the door.

Mr. Jerk laughed.  It was a smug, mocking laugh.  “Scared you, didn’t I, Sweetie?”

Suddenly my embarrassment turned to pure anger.  I walked slowly back to his desk, put both hands on the shiny mahogany and leaned over until our faces were only inches apart.  He no longer looked so smug.  His smile wavered.

“No, Mr. Jerk, you didn’t scare me.  I’m just not the least bit interested.  I wouldn’t be interested even if you were good looking and charming. I don’t go out with married men.”

I let myself out.  Needless to say, a summer job never materialized.

And that’s fine.  Even this many years later, I wouldn’t want to owe that man anything.  

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YOU CAN’T CATCH ME

FARMER BEN AND HIS RUN AWAY TROY

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

Every spring it is the same.  Right before my eyes, my husband turns into Farmer Ben.  Forgotten are last year’s butterbeans that put out shiny leaves and vines and didn’t produce enough beans for seeds.  Forgotten are the 2021 tomato plants that gave us only enough unrotted tomatoes for a few BLT sandwiches.  Forgotten, too, are all those hours of hoeing, gathering, shucking, and shelling.  Oh, and let’s not forget disintegrating farm equipment like the tiller that’s too ancient to buy parts for except on eBay or roadside flea markets.  It’s SPRING!  All the world is new, and this year things are going to be different.  Smell that soil!  See how all of nature is putting out new life!  Time to work on the TILLER.

My husband’s tiller, like Benjamin himself, is one of a kind.  And it’s older than him and me both.  It’s a Troy-Bilt from way back “when they made things right.”  According to Farmer Ben, there isn’t a tiller on the market that could compare to this one.  I think he’s right.  Mainly our tiller stays sprawled in the shop, an oily, dirty mass of fearsome metal, surrounded by disassembled parts that are being cleaned and greased to be reattached somewhere.  With each reassemble there seem to be parts left over, but I’m never worried.  Benjamin has assured me those parts weren’t needed anyway.  And apparently he’s right—every year he gets that old tiller back on the job.

This year was no exception.  Benjamin got the Troy-Bilt chugging along on the day the almanac—or maybe his internal clock—said corn should be planted.  He always plants the corn “over on the hill” in the direction of our farmer neighbor, James Guy.  I’m not sure whether he’s hoping some of that Guy farming magic will assure a good crop, or maybe he’s trying to provide us exercise with trekking back and forth when the corn is ready to harvest.

Well, this year the tiller made it to the planting site, which seemed like miracle enough—for a moment.  Then Farmer Ben tried to shift it into low gear only to find the gear shifter stuck fast.  Easily solved.  Lifting his foot, he stomped the lever.  Suddenly all hell broke loose.  The tiller leaped up and took off like a scalded dog, leaving Benjamin sprawled in the dust.  By the time he could get to his feet. the tiller had gained considerable yardage and was still accelerating toward the highway.  Freedom was in sight!

“Whoa! ” Benjamin yelled, taking off after the runaway despite his bad knee. 

Bouncing with joy, the Troy-Bilt seemed to be picking up speed with every second, and to add insult to injury, had started slinging dirt clods back at him.  It seemed bound and determined to hit the road, Jack.  Benjamin swears he heard it calling, “Run, run fast as you can.  You can’t catch me—I’m the Gingerbread Troy!” 

Just then the tiller jolted into the ditch beside the highway and slung off one wheel, which went scudding across the pavement, just missing a passing car.  Fumes still belched from the crippled tiller and its motor still roared, but the great escape had been thwarted.  

Well, it’s back to the shop for the ancient Troy-Bilt.  Once again, Farmer Ben will exercise his superpowers to get the tiller to do its job for one more season.

And perhaps he’ll check out some of those leftover parts from previous repairs.

          Maybe…                    Well, it could happen.– 

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THE BOOKS THAT SHAPE US

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

When Shepherd.com, a new online book blog recently asked me to name some of my favorite books, I was overwhelmed with the massive job of selecting five from hundreds.  There were too many books to list.  Fortunately, Shepherd allowed me to cut the number by listing only the books in a certain category.  My category of choice was “Coming-of-age books.”

The process of narrowing that list got me to pondering all the books that have influenced my life.  It wasn’t always the award-winning books, although some were.  It wasn’t necessarily the best sellers, though some have sold very well indeed.  The common denominator was the value of what they taught me.  RAMONA THE BRAVE by Beverly Cleary pulled me through a very dark adult period. When I frequently woke in the middle of the night to find my fears clinging close, I would go get my worn copy of RAMONA THE BRAVE and read how this courageous little girl fought her way through her own terror. Then I was able to go back to bed and sleep.

The YEARLING by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings taught me not once, but several times, that sometimes we have to make terrible choices.  Sometimes love is not enough to solve all problems.  Then there was JACOB HAVE I LOVED by Katherine Paterson, a YA novel that helped me to get over my jealousy of my more beautiful sister. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austin allowed me to dream in my young years that there could be a Mr. Darcy out there for me (There was, but he had less money, and he didn’t own Pemberley).  CHICKEN TEN THOUSAND by Jacqueline Jackson is one of the most satisfying and joyful books I’ve ever read.  It’s a picture book, but it has a story that can satisfy both kids and grown-ups.  This is one of those books that somehow did not get the attention it deserved. Thank you, writer friend Marileta Robinson for calling this book to my attention. I go to this little book often to reassure myself that happy endings are possible in the worst of situations.

Despite some recent criticism about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s insensitivity in the Little House Series, her stories, first read to me as a child by one of my best teachers, made me love books and turned me into a lifetime reader.  It also made me love the West and Native Americans, who are part of my own ancestry. SEND ME DOWN A MIRACLE by Han Nolan helped me to remember my own southern childhood in a better light.

BLACK BOY by Richard Wright was a riveting eye-opener for me.  The section in which he learns to walk the streets of Memphis despite the bullies he knows will beat him up and take his family’s grocery money, was as powerful as anything I have ever read and made me see the world through a black child’s eyes.  AN HOUR BEFORE DAYLIGHT by Jimmy Carter brought back a part of my own rural Georgia origins, though Carter’s Georgia was a wealthier, more educated place than mine.

Reading has shaped—and is shaping—my love of history. AT HOME by Bill Bryson brings everything, including the kitchen sink, into this recent book. He himself lives in a historic English parsonage, so he is well qualified to tell about how people lived in those houses a hundred years and more ago. Another writer who inspired a love of English history in particular was Norah Lofts.  I discovered THE TOWNHOUSE in college.  Lofts authentically brings medieval England to life.  Her hero, Martin Reed, must struggle through grinding poverty to raise himself from serfdom to a man of property with a townhouse.  Lofts follows a number of generations in that same house, believably, conveying the details of English life in Medieval and later times. Her writing was a big reason history was one of my college majors.

Finally, I must mention a recently written memoir that I have added to my list of favorites: THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeanette Wiles.  Her childhood had a lot in common with mine, with poverty, uncertainties, and rootlessness being the main things she could count on.  It was heartening that her experiences confirmed that of my siblings and myself: you can overcome almost any bad childhood with education, basic values somehow gathered along the way, and luck— maybe a whole lot of luck—and determination.

This book list is bound to grow. I’m still reading, still learning, still gaining strength, knowledge,  and courage from the wonderful books I love.

Sh-h-h-h!  Time for a reading break.


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A MATTER OF TASTE

AUNT MATTIE IN ONE OF HER EVERYDAY DRESSES

MAMA ALL DRESSED UP FOR MY WEDDING

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

One of my Aunt Hilde’s favorite epithets for people she did not like was, “He (or she) has no taste whatsoever!”  I always went along with her opinions because I idolized her.  She was the German war bride of my favorite uncle, William Junkins.  She was ambitious, self confident, and to her country Georgia in-laws, always seemed to have plenty of money. To me and my family at that time, just having enough clothes to cover ourselves, and to keep warm in winter was the best you could hope for. Basic furniture for sleeping, cooking, eating, and storage on top of that was pure bounty.  Good taste simply wasn’t a part of the equation.

When Hilde first came to mountain Georgia after World War II, she lived pretty much like the rest of the Junkins clan—for a short while.  But she quickly moved on and up.  She began polishing her language skills and typing speed, aiming for an office job with visions of promotion.  So she and William moved to Dalton, where he got a job as a mechanic at a car dealership.  Hilde got her office job and  thereby impressed the heck out of her family-by-marriage.  She soon bought a used car—a woman, driving! “What in the land is this world coming to?” my grandmother Junkins asked. “ Well I’ll not ride with her.” And she didn’t—not until her other rides dried up and it was frequently her only transportation.

Hilde got a television set in 1952 and learned good taste from “I Love Lucy”!  She dressed in heels every day, bought taffeta dresses and matching costume jewelry. Even her hair was styled like Lucy’s. On weekends, she wore shorts!  “Lord, have mercy?” Maw Junkins said the first time she saw her son’s wife in such scandalous attire.  I was shocked myself, but if Hilde wore it, it must be in good taste, I told myself.  My mother wasn’t quite so generous, but what did she know!  Turns out, she probably knew more than I gave her credit for. She had another family role model.

Mama’s Aunt Mattie Searcy did not get her ideas of style from “I Love Lucy.” In my memories, her style seemed modeled on the Duchess of Windsor, whose fashions she followed in magazines like Vogue. She had the figure to wear clothes well too—even into her older years. Of course, she couldn’t afford Paris couture, but she could get the same basic styles in the better stores where she shopped. Sometimes when her closets were overflowing she would give-or more often sell-Mama a dress or a pair of shoes she’d gotten tired of. Mama was very selective with these proffered bargains. One dress and pair of shoes could be her best outfit for a long time.  I especially remember a black crepe dress and suede pumps that she wore for years to any dress-up event she attended. She added a string of dime store pearls and matching earrings and she was dressed to kill.

It wasn’t until after college that I had the money or interest in being stylish myself. Fortunately, the Jackie Kennedy look was in by then, and it was flattering to just about everybody. By this time Aunt Hilda had left Lucy Ricardo behind and had adopted the Jackie look too. She had also upgraded her taste in furniture. Gone were the I love Lucy spindly tables and tacky couches.  Hilde had moved on up to “Danish Modern” and gradually filled her house with it.  I didn’t like it, but what did I know? I still don’t like it, only now I trust my judgment more.  I guess Danish Modern isn’t for everyone.  

One Sunday, right after she finally completed filling her dining/living areas with Danish Modern Aunt Hilda looked around complacently and said, “I wish Abbie could see this!” Abbie was a sister-in-law she did not like. “Abbie has no taste what-so-ever.” Soft spoken Uncle William was sleeping off a Sunday night binge on the living room floor, but apparently had roused up at the sound of his sister’s name. “What Abbie don’t have is money,” he said. “If I didn’t have that good job at Hub Ford and you didn’t have your big job at that construction company, you wouldn’t have good taste either.”

I don’t recall Hilde’s response, but his words certainly gave me plenty to think about. Not everybody with money has good taste, of course, but being really stylish takes a certain amount of money beyond basic living expenses. But maybe not too much.  Recently, when I looked through some old family photos, I saw my mother, a couple of aunts, and several cousins with fresh eyes.  In spite of low income, some of them had good taste in clothing and several even looked stylish.  

I guess it just goes to prove you don’t have to be rich to have good taste, and, thank goodness you don’t have to have Danish modern!

By the way, Hilde, if you’re hearing me from the great beyond, you’re still my favorite aunt. And love trumps good taste every time.

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A BURNING LIBERAL GOES DOWN IN FLAMES

Faye Gibbons with husband, kids, Daughters-in-law, grandkids and grandpuppies on the first day of 2022.

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

I have always liked to think of myself as liberal—someone ahead of her time. Despite some compelling evidence to the contrary, I have clung tenaciously to that cherished notion.

And maybe it was true for a girl born and raised In the north Georgia mountains way back then.  In that time and place fundamentalism ruled. I questioned scripture every now and then, but was smart enough to keep it to myself.  When I was about fifteen and was questioning everything, including why in Gods’s name I had size 11 feet in a world where the largest shoe for a woman was size 10, I happened to hear my father discussing an astonishing question with some of his cronies.  Was man descended from monkeys? 

While his companions argued for the Adam and Eve version of creation, Daddy said,  “Well, I don’t know about ya’ll but I have some kinfolks still swinging in trees.”  After the laughter died down, he added, “How do I know how God made us? Even if He had put all that down in the Good Book, I wouldn’t be smart enough to figure it out.  And what does it matter? However it happened, God done it.”

Wow! Talk about radical!  My very conservative, uneducated father was way out ahead of me. Despite all my reading and questioning, I was eating his dust.

In college, I took a year’s Bible study and for the first time became aware of the Apocrypha, the holy writings that did not make the cut when King James compiled the official Bible.  Feeling daring, I read some of those writings, but of course never mentioned it to my mountain Baptist relatives.  Not until one day in the 1980s when I visited my 90-year-old uncle, Roy Junkins, who was a most unusual preacher.  Though he had only hit-or-miss backwoods schooling, he had educated himself.  He read widely and even took correspondence courses and studied by lamplight after days of laboring on poor rocky soil.  When he was called to preach in middle age, he didn’t holler, stomp, and wave his arms in the pulpit like most of his fellow preachers. His sermons were short and quiet, and rarely went in a predictable direction.  He impressed the heck out of me, and I guess I wanted to impress him, so that day I said, “You know, Uncle Roy, there were some holy writings that didn’t make it to the Bible.”

Uncle Roy nodded.  “And they’re right there in that bookcase next to my Bible.  You can borrow them if you want to.”

ZING!

My liberal guise carried on into my parenting years.  Once when my older son was in fifth grade, I said to a fellow room mother, “With my son nearing his teens, I worry about him getting into sexual activity.”  She looked across the playground at her cute blond daughter and nodded. “I just tell Jennifer to talk to me beforehand.”

What?

“Not me,” I said when I was able to catch my breath. “If one of my boys decides to have sex, I don’t want to know a thing about it.”

I still don’t.  Both my sons are now married and father to a total of six kids, so when I look at those grandkids, I know SOMETHING  happened.  That’s enough information.

Back to the rear line of the liberal parade.

Another reality check occurred when my sons had entered their teens.  I was talking to the husband of one of my best lifelong friends, and for some reason the subject of homosexuality came up.  This was back when most people thought it was purely a lifestyle choice.  Believing myself shockingly forward in my thinking, I said to Bob, “If one of my sons goes that way, I’m going to treat him same as always—like a son I love with all my heart.”

Bob said, “And why not?  Love is love, no matter the gender.  I’d dance at the wedding.”

Once again, my brazen stand was lit by a revealing spotlight.

Now I am 83 and a new year is beginning, so I guess a resolution is in order.  Maybe it’s best to resolve to try to stay current enough to associate with the real trailblazers among my friends and relatives.  You know who you are.  I love and value all of you.  The best of you even manage to love those who have totally different ideas.  Maybe you can do the same for this old fossil who has a foot in each camp. But I’m still learning.

And I’m doing it in size 11 shoes!

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THAT CERTAIN SOMETHING

ME WITH THAT CERTAIN SOMETHING

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

I must have been a big disappointment to my mother.  She was always pretty, and so was my sister.  I took after my father—overly tall and big boned with an average face and size 11 feet.  Worst of all, I never learned the flirty coquettish ways that southern girls are supposed to have as a birthright.  Mama simply couldn’t understand.  She had married at fourteen and had me at fifteen.  Lord knows, she tried to help.  “A girl don’t have to be good looking to get a boyfriend,” she told me soon after my younger sister began to date.  “Now I don’t mean you have to be trashy or anything like that,” she quickly added, as though she hadn’t made all that clear before I ever heard the Facts Of Life.  “A girl just reaches that age where she has a certain something about her that makes the boys pay attention.  Now if you started wearing a little make-up and let me give you a home permanent….”

“You gave me a Toni,” I reminded her, “ and I looked like Little Orphan Annie. Besides, I don’t want to date.  I’ve never seen a marriage I’d want.” And that was true.  I’d already made up my mind about that before Dwight McFalls wrote me a love note back in fifth grade.  I had walked to the trash can, which unfortunately was right next to Dwight’s desk and tore his note into tiny bits while giving him a witheringing stare.  The poor boy turned red and sank down in his desk.  I never got another note from Dwight. Or any other boy in that class.

There were a few boys Who made my heart flutter, but those boys didn’t know I was alive. And, I told myself, if I really got to know them, they’d be as undesirable as all the rest.  So I went on through twelve grades of school without a real date.  I won’t count the two unfortunate blind dates I got roped into.

So I went off to college in ’57 with no flirting skills.  That was back when Berry College had uniforms that did my figure no favors.  If I had started developing that “certain something” probably no one would have noticed in those uniforms.  The skirts were full-gathered, because can-can petticoats were still the style.  I had enough sense to know I didn’t need a pile of ruffled crinoline underneath that full skirt.  Besides, I knew I’d never look as ravishing as Lorna, Mary Ann, and Barbara floating around in their ruffles.  Making  “A” in every class was my goal.  

The closest I came to flirting was totally unintentional.  One of my bachelor  professors was about a foot shorter than me and seemingly ancient.  Dr. Sweeney had traveled in Europe extensively and frequently told amusing stories  from his time abroad.  Traveling in Europe was a treasured dream of mine and so I frequently stayed a few minutes after class to ask questions.  Apparently too frequently.

One day when I approached his desk, he started hastily gathering up his lecture materials and heading for the door.  “I’m too old for you,” he said, “and I don’t socialize with students.”

“What?” I said, suddenly aware that the man thought I was trying to get something going romantically!  Me and Dr. Sweeney?”  It would have been funny if I hadn’t been so humiliated. For days I examined everything I’d said and done and remained  totally mystified at this misreading of my actions.  Needless to say, I never stayed after class again.

When I graduated college and finally decided I wanted to date, the Jackie Kennedy look was in, and the style was flattering.  Then I discovered the miracle that a good haircut could perform.  Make-up wasn’t far behind.   But what a time to start my dating life—the Swinging Sixties!  I still hadn’t learned to flirt and I sure hadn’t learned to be diplomatic in dealing with dates who assumed that I was a woman of experience.  Fortunately, I never dated many that I was worried about insulting with bluntness.  I didn’t have a huge number of second dates, but there were enough.

My mother was relieved.  There was hope for me after all! Every time she heard I was dating someone, she’d ask about his job, his age, and possible bad habits.  Then it was, “Why don’t you marry him?  You’re going to end up an old maid.”

Just when I was learning to flutter my mascaraed eyelashes, I met my husband-to-be, and fell in love.  Fortunately it was mutual and few feminine wiles were required to win him.  When Mama met him, she could hardly believe my luck.  Once when she was angry, she said, “How you ever managed to catch and hang on to a good man like Ben, I’ll never know!”

Well, Mama, I guess I just finally got “that certain something.”  

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HAVING A BABY IS A SCREAM

My First Child Ben

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

When I got pregnant for the first time at age 30, I wanted to have the full experience.  I figured being as tall and big-boned as I was, delivering an eight-pound (the doctor-predicted weight) baby would be a piece of cake.  I confided my plans to my mother, who had birthed five children—the first three with only my Grandmother Junkins in attendance. “If you could do it,” I said, “surely I can. I want that religious experience you’ve told me about.” Religious Experience.  That’s how Mama always described the euphoria following childbirth.

Mama shook her head.  “Yeah, but I was just fifteen when I had you.  And I was younger than you are now when I had my fifth. Old as you are, you could end up at the Pearly Gates.  Better take all the help they’ll give you.”

That pulled me up short, but I still mentioned the possibility of natural childbirth to my older obstetrician.  He rolled his eyes. “That’s up to you,” he said, “But make up your mind now.  If you decide on natural, don’t start screaming for relief halfway through. I can deliver that baby without your help.”  Well, that shut me up.  I never have volunteered for pain, but I still hoped for an easy delivery.  I longed to see my bald-headed baby (Infants with piles of hair had always looked weird to me) and have that religious experience anyway.  

Three weeks past my due date, I finally went into labor.  I was huge by that time, but I still found good reasons to expect an easy delivery.  After all, the labor pains were five minutes apart when I called the doctor, and they were very bearable.  About an hour later, in the hospital, when the real pain started, I began to realize what I had taken on.  Benjamin later said he heard me screaming all the way down the hall in the father’s waiting room. It was a ten-pound baby, turned wrong for the best delivery.  I was happy to take whatever they gave me and then more.  And they must have given me a lot!  I didn’t wake up to see the baby right after delivery.  In fact, it was hours later when they brought in my baby all cleaned up.  The first thing that registered with me was black hair.  Huge amounts of black hair.  My baby looked weird!  I cried.  Maybe it isn’t mine, I thought.  Maybe they had mixed my baby with someone else’s.  But wait, that couldn’t be—he looked so much like my mother-in-law, that it had to be my baby.  

Back in those days, thank goodness, they kept mother and baby in the hospital four days unless complications required even more.  So by the time I went home, I had realized that my baby was perfectly beautiful.  The nurses in the delivery room thought so too.  He fussed and cried less than any other newborn in the nursery.  And he slept all night the first night home from the hospital.

How beautiful is that!

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COOKING UP A STORM

Part of Faye’s Cookbook Collection

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

When I first married I could cook two menu items: Kraft Spaghetti Dinner in a Box (with hamburger meat added for company) and Kraft Mac and Cheese in a Box (with store brand weiners on the side for company).  Later, I added redneck soup (mix one can of Campbell’’s Cream of Mushroom Soup with one can of Campbell’s Cream of Chicken Soup and heat) to my repertoire.  I served with peanut butter sandwiches, store brand. My husband always carried Tums in his pocket.  They didn’t make store brand in THEM, and he needed the best money could buy.

When we had our first son, I was so swept away by motherhood that I decided to learn to cook from scratch.  My mother-in-law, a prize winning cook, was glad to share her recipes.  No doubt she’d been longing to for years!  I collected recipes from the local extension office and bought every recipe collection put out by churches, schools, and Junior Leagues.  Over the years I learned enough southern recipes to put out a decent meal, but I would never have given Julia Child or Martha Stewart—or my mother-in-law—any competition.  Time passed. By 1990, when our second son left for college, I was tired of the same old, same old.  So I took cooking classes with big plans of venturing out into cuisine.  I took classes in Mediterranean, then French, then Italian cooking, followed by several classes at William Sonoma.  Of course I bought cookbooks during and after each class. My cookbook collection outgrew its allotted shelf, sprawled into a small bookcase, and then a second larger one.

My kitchen equipment grew to include a Cuisinart, a fancy ice cream maker, an electric grill, Two waffle makers, a blender, a bread machine, a salad spinner and TWO electric pressure pots. I even bought a sour dough starter and began the never ending process of feeding it and making our own whole wheat bread.  After we each put on about ten pounds, I slowed down a little on the bread-making. But the starter is still in the fridge, demanding to be fed on a regular basis.

The main thing I learned is: cooking is hard work.  Especially when it means changing the way you’ve done everything for the last 30 years, and—more important—the results are sometimes inedible.  My husband stocked up on Tums again, but he rarely complained, since he fully believed that this was leading to glorious food somewhere down the road.

Boy, was he wrong!  I’ve finally admitted that I simply don’t want to cook anymore. Both my son’s wives are wonderful cooks.  Why can’t we move next door to one of them and then drop in at mealtime? A good plan, but neither of my daughters in law have picked up on my hints. Until they do, I’m in a fallback mode.  I cook huge one-dish meals (stew, soup, casseroles) two or three times a week.  I freeze enough to make several other meals through the week.  Ten minutes in the microwave, then add a fruit or salad, and we’ve got a meal.

Anybody want to buy a nearly-new cookbook collection? And if someone wants to steal a sourdough starter, it’s on the top shelf of the refrigerator, right behind the triple washed arugula.   Take the organic sweet miso and the tofu too.

As for me, maybe I should check and see if Kraft still makes those dinners in a box.  Tums anyone?

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YA’LL COME!

Junkins Family Waving Goodbye to Visitors

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

When I was a child in the mountains of North Georgia, people like us had no telephones, so when you wanted to visit folks—especially relatives—you just loaded up the family in the car or truck, along with maybe a dog or two, and went.  Heck, calling would have given prospective hosts a warning—a chance to leave town.  Forewarned, my overworked mother might’ve done exactly that. Summer weekends (when most of these visits occurred) she was tired from working all week at the mill.  Without modern conveniences, cooking just for family was hard enough without adding in eight or ten visitors.

However dismayed she might be, Mama always rose to the demands of Southern hospitality. Her smile was in place by the time she reached the front porch.  “Well, look who’s showed up! Good to see you.  Come on in and set a spell.  Have you had any dinner (or breakfast or supper)?  Mama felt required to ask, even if we had just cleaned the kitchen from our own meal.  If the visitors said they’d eaten before leaving home, Mama felt compelled to offer again —and again.  

Daddy was even more insistent.  “It wouldn’t be a bit of trouble.  Ain’t nobody going to say I let company go hungry.”

By this time one of the men in the group would allow that he could always find room for a few of Nell’s biscuits. That was the signal for Mama to say, “Faye, go light up the kerosene stove and draw me a fresh bucket of water.” Several of my siblings would be sent to gather corn, okra, tomatoes, or squash from the garden.  There was always something ready for harvest.  Daddy might make a run to a nearby store for meat—chicken, if we were flush, Spam, if times were lean. Since we had no refrigerator, we couldn’t keep fresh meat on hand.

While the younger kids ran and played, and the men set up straight back chairs on the porch or  beneath a shade tree, the women got busy in the kitchen. While supposedly riding herd on the younger kids, I drifted from the talk of births, deaths, and other family gossip to where the men discussed who was laid off from work, who had gotten into a knock-down, drag-out fight, and the fine details of overhauling a motor.  Sometimes they passed a bottle around and told stories in low-pitched voices too indistinct to make out.

Finally the meal was ready.  I’m sure my siblings and I had never read a book on table etiquette, but we had been well-trained in Southern table hospitality.  The first rule was that we could not take a helping of meat until guests had been served.  Then, no second helpings until guests got theirs.  Breaking the rules meant a hickory switching after company departed. Actually, there were a host of other infractions that could incur a switching penalty when visitors were barely on the road home.  

Things began to wind down after the meal—unless the guests planned to spend the night—and hospitality required that hosts urge, or even beg them to stay. “”Don’t go,” my mother would say.  “We can make pallets for the young’uns.”

My father always joined in even more wholeheartedly.  “You just now got here.  What’s your hurry?”

After this, came the departure, in which the visitors insisted that their hosts go home with them. “You ain’t been to our house in a coon’s age.  Why don’t ya’ll load up and go with us?”

My Aunt Hilda, a German war bride who was new to our customs, actually accepted the invitation, much to the shock of the departing guests.  My Grandmother Junkins who was one of the few relatives who refused to go through much of the ritual, managed to stop Hilda.  “Set down,” she ordered Hilda.  “You ain’t going nowhere.”

At last, the requirements of southern hospitality had been observed and the last of the visitors and their dogs had loaded up.  As the motor rumbled to life and the vehicle began to move, Daddy would call, “Ya’ll come back, now that you know the way.”

Still smiling and waving, Mama would heave a big sigh and mutter, “Thank God they didn’t stay for supper.” 

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LOVE AT SECOND SIGHT

Faye and Benjamin at their wedding 29 August 1964

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

I didn’t fall in love with my husband-to-be at first sight.  My brother John introduced me to his Auburn roommate and fellow co-op student.   He was just another college kid in Coke bottle glasses and floppy, out-of-style clothes (This was when tapered, James Bond clothes were cool).  It was the second sight that caught my attention—at an impromptu party my brother threw the following evening.  

This was when “the Twist” was in—the one dance that anybody—including uncoordinated  people like me—could do because all it required was standing in one spot and swiveling side to side.  So while Chubby Checker bellowed, “Let’s Twist again like we did last summer,” everyone in the entire room was swiveling seductively. Everyone except me and a few other wallflowers.  And there, in the middle of the room, was What’s-His-Name in his floppy clothes and Coke bottle glasses, having more fun than anyone else.  Not just with one partner, either.  Every girl there seemed to love dancing with him. And he wasn’t a great dancer, but he was having so much fun that it didn’t matter.

It was as if he didn’t remember who I was.  I kept trying to catch his eye, but totally failed.  Later I learned that he and John didn’t particularly like each other and Benjamin had made up his mind before meeting me that he wasn’t going to pay me any attention, So the night wore on and I became more and more bored.  Finally, I thought, I could go out there, tap his date on the shoulder and say, “May I cut in?”  What if he said, “No,” What if they ignored me?  I would be humiliated in public.  More time passed and I had a chance to think out my plans again.  So who would know back home in Georgia that I had behaved in this unladylike manner?  Nobody.  And heck, it wasn’t as if I’d ever see this little college boy again.

So I acted on my impulse and headed out on the dance floor.  The young lady surrendered the boy in the thick glasses and suddenly there were two bad dancers on the floor, having more fun than anyone.  Then I felt a tap on my shoulder and heard, “May I cut in?” The girl had come back to claim her partner.  

Darn!

I waited a few minutes and then tapped her on the shoulder.  Then one of the male wallflowers cut in and danced me to another part of the room.  When I finally got back to Benjamin, I threw caution to the winds. Leaning close to his ear, I whispered, “Next time someone tries to cut in, we don’t hear them–right?“

“RIGHT!” Benjamin exclaimed and danced me back to the kitchen and gave me the best kiss I’d ever had.  It scared me half to death.  I’d just been having fun, and this had suddenly taken on a life of its own.  I think Benjamin had the same reaction. 

Flash forward 56 years.  On Valentine’s Day, 2020, our church had a Sweetheart Dance with a real band (This was shortly before Covid ended all such fun).  Benjamin was, once again having more fun than anyone else.  I danced maybe five dances with him before my knees gave out —see the attached video—and then I had to tell him I was finished for the night.  “Would you mind if I danced with some other people?” he asked.  There were a number of women there whose husbands had some kind of disability.  There were also several widows.  Benjamin danced with all of them.  And folks, I have to tell you that even though he’s mine completely and faithfully, I felt a little pang as I watched.

Thanks to Alice Veros for granting me permission to use this video.

To view the video you must click on http://blog.fayegibbons.com/?=711 located at the bottom of the page.


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STROLLICKING WITH SHERRY MEIDELL

Sherry Meidell

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

I’m sure you’ve noticed that my blog has a whole new look these days, and it’s all due to a talented artist named Sherry Meidell.  Sherry lives in West Bountiful, Utah. With her husband Dave, former member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Though Utah is home, they venture everywhere.  Recently they were on a long term mission to Hawaii.  Though hit by the Covid pandemic, the mission continued online.  The Meidells have five grown sons and several grandchildren.

Sherry illustrated three of my picture books published by Boyds Mill Press, so we go back a long way.  She studied a lot of my old family photos to get the feel of Georgia mountain country of bygone days. And did she ever get it right!  She didn’t need the photos to capture the love of family—we already had that in common.  I learned that when my husband and I visited her on a trip out west a few years ago.  She and her family took us in as if we were long lost relatives.  They even included us in a family dinner.  It made me realize that all over the country—and the world—family is still what nourishes and renews us all.

Aside from family, Sherry has other interests.  She paints, and she illustrates for publication.  She attends conferences, and teaches art.  Her biking and hiking adventures give her ideas for her painting.  She also speaks to children in schools everywhere.  At this point, you may well be asking what doesn’t this woman do?  Not much!

When I decided to give my blog a fresh new look, I knew Sherry would be the one to capture the whole concept of strollicking—having fun, frolicking, wasting time creatively, kicking up your heels.  And I was right. Did she ever nail me on that ramshackle motorcycle with my two hounds, traveling the curving mountain roads of my childhood.  Okay, I’ve never ridden a motorcycle, and never intend to.  Or at least not until I’ve learned to ride a bicycle without falling and shattering my one remaining “good knee.” And, no, I don’t have—and have never had—hounds.  But I’ve had many dogs, sandwich mutts (half bred), and if I were going to travel on a motorcycle, I’d take my present dogs with me, along with my husband and two or three grandkids.

Also, the Faye in Sherry’s art has a better figure than the real Faye, and she has better hair (which is FINE with me, Sherry).  Other than these small points, I will paraphrase Huck Finn when talking about Mark Twain: She told the truth mainly.  She certainly made an eye-catching improvement in “Strollicking.” And as far as I’m concerned, for a woman whose home is in Utah, she miraculously captured the spirit of the Georgia mountains as I remember them from my childhood. Thanks, Sherry.

If you would like to learn more about Sherry, visit her at: sherrymeidellart.com

Faye and Sherry August 2015

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ALL OVER BUT THE WHINING

Faye and her orthopedic boot. This boot is not made for walking.

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

Back in the Eighties I had hammertoe surgery, which I assumed would take care of all my foot problems forever.  No, the doctor didn’t actually promise that, but there are some things you just assume.  So when my left little toe began to fold under the toe next door, I refused to acknowledge it until it felt like walking on a rock. Anyway, I told myself, someone who had put up with the misery of three inch heels and dangerously pointed toes back in the Sixties could live with a mere straying toe. I wasn’t going to whine.  I despised whiners. I could take this.

But, no, apparently not.  Since I can’t even bear a tight belt now, why did I think I could bear walking on my own toe all day long, every day?  So two months ago I went to the orthopedic surgeon.  “I can fix that toe,” he said.  Then he said, “You have a bunion on this same foot.”

Really?

He grabbed the toe and moved it.   “Doesn’t that hurt?”

“No,” I yelped, jerking my foot back.  “Not much.  Not enough for surgery. Not now, anyway.”

“It soon will,” he said.  “Why not take care of it at the same time?”

“Sounds like a good idea to me,” my husband said.  I had made the mistake of having him accompany me.  

I glared at them both.  

“Same recovery time,” the doctor said.

“I guess I will,” I said.

The doctor’s assistant gave me pages of information about surgery and recovery and I vaguely recall the mention of a scooter for six weeks.  But I’m sure there was not a word about how difficult it would be to lift the wheels up and over the high thresholds of our century-old house.  No hint of having to back the blamed thing up to make it around tight corners.  No warning about slamming the “good foot” into the bedpost and breaking the right little toe.  And there definitely wasn’t one word about having to do this at two-o’clock AM when I was still half asleep and desperately trying to make it to the bathroom before my bladder exploded.

Thoughtful wife that I am, I did not risk waking my husband by turning on the light and thereby actually being able to see the threshold, which I believe had risen an extra inch with nightfall.  When I slammed into it, I discovered I didn’t have a tight grip on the handlebars. And when I lifted the scooter up a foot and a half over the threshold and turned a sharp right to go into the bathroom, all hell broke loose.  I went airborne and landed rear-end-first on the tile floor.  Then my head crashed into my husband’s desk.

To heck with thoughtfulness. I called, “Benjamin!”

Lulled by the hum of his sleep apnea machine, my husband snored on. (Contrary to popular opinion, it is possible to snore while using these machines.  In fact I think it increases the volume.)  So, unaided, I pulled myself up by clutching the desk.  I found the scooter and managed to roll to the commode. There I had to figure out how to transfer one-legged to the pot while at the same time pulling my gown up and my drawers down.  It can be done, but forget dignity and grace.

Turning on the light, I examined my injuries.  There was no blood, but my right little toe was purple and throbbing.  My tailbone was screaming.  My head was pounding and sported a knot the size of a lemon. And the return trip was yet to come.

Turning out the light was my first mistake.  The bedroom was now dark as a dungeon.  I didn’t see those slits of light around the slats of the bedroom window, so I took it slow.  I bumped into what I knew had to be the chest of drawers, and wasn’t that the bench at the foot of our bed?  It didn’t feel like our furniture.   It didn’t feel like our room.  It didn’t feel like any place I’d ever been. I was too far from a light switch to verify anything. So I kept rolling—past the foot of our bed, or was it the reading chair?  I think I must have rolled into my closet and then right on into the Twilight Zone.  In fact, wasn’t that the familiar Ta-da-da-da, Ta-da-da-da theme  

Time passed, and finally I ran into what I was almost sure was a table.  I reached out and clutched the arm of a chair and fell off the scooter again. 

Suddenly I saw a glow in the darkness.  Yes!  It was the luminous hands of my bedside clock.  I was sure of it.  I was back in our solar system.  Crawling to the bed, I managed to get in without falling again.

Benjamin rolled over and mumbled, “You need me to help you to the bathroom, honey?”

“No,” I whined.  “I don’t need to go.” 

The doctor took me off the scooter after that and put me into a knee high orthopedic boot.  My husband put a night light in our bedroom.

I’m back in our universe, and I’m almost through whining!

___________________________________________________________________________

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SOMEBODY MIGHT THINK I’M DANCING

Maw and Dad Junkins 1952

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

 

Everyone’s heard the joke about why Southern Baptists don’t make love standing up—Someone might think they’re dancing!  My mountain Georgia kin felt that even square dancing was the work of the devil. My father’s mother was convinced of it.  However, that didn’t mean she didn’t love music.  Most of what she heard on the Grand Opry was acceptable.  Anything sung by the Chuck Wagon Gang was first rate.  While driving home from a dental appointment recently I listened to a CD of Gospel music, and thought of my grandmother.  You’ve heard the songs, or I hope you have.  Songs that my older son says sound like a truck driving down a bumpy dirt road.  Titles like “Turn Your Radio On” and “Some Glad Morning.”  In my mind’s eye, I can still see my grandmother tapping her foot and smiling—as close as she ever came to dancing.  Her special favorite seemed to be “After a While.”  It begins, “After the sunshine comes the rain, after heartbreak, grief and pain.  There will come a better day after a while.” And then there is that wonderful spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” She nodded her head all the way through this one. Check out the link to Dee White’s wonderful rendition of this one.

Except for the joy of those wonderful songs, Grandmother Junkins never allowed herself much of what little fun was available.  Maw, as we always called her, was always trying to “get to a better place.”  She read the Bible every single day, though with less than one year of hit-or-miss schooling, I’m surprised she could make sense of it—and more surprised she didn’t find some of it X-rated.  She took everything seriously and always seemed uneasy if someone was having a good time in her presence. Once as a child when I laughed at one of her family stories and asked her to tell me another, she frowned and said, “Well, one time they was this girl that allus thought about having a good time, when what she ort to be studying was how to git to a  better place.”

That wiped the smile off my face!

I don’t mean to condemn her.  Now that I am older than she was then, I understand her better, and know enough of her hardships to be amazed she could find anything to be cheerful about.  She was born into a large fundamentalist religious farm family.  At fifteen, she married a neighborhood boy who was known to be a jokester and a prankster, and maybe that’s what drew her to him.  If so, she was sorely disappointed.  He believed in a good time, all right—for himself—but, as far as I could tell, he was never considerate or kindly toward Maw.  Without a doctor or a midwife, she birthed ten children and managed to raise the first nine to adulthood.  By the eighth, she much later told my mother, she was hoping to goodness and mercy that was the last of them.  It wasn’t.  When she told Dad she was expecting the tenth, he said, “Why did you want to do that for?  I didn’t aim to have no more.”

I have long realized that I inherited a lot from Maw.  I have her height, her straight back, and her bony feet.  Unfortunately, I seem to have inherited most of her health problems—fallen arches, hammer toes, heel spurs, knee problems, hip problems, bone spur in the neck….I could go on, but you get the picture.  But here’s the difference:  Thanks to Medicare and Blue Cross, I have been able to get relief and sometimes cures.  There is also the fact that I birthed only two children—with the help of an obstetrician —and have had a loving, supportive husband for 55 years and counting. I ought to be happier than Maw.  I have much more to be happy about.

In addition, I have come to appreciate her deep faith, which brought her most of the joy in her life.  And Maw, I’m sure you are looking down with relief that I’m working on achieving the level of faith you wanted for me. Those wonderful Gospel songs are helping me get there. Sing on, Dee White: at this link:

https://www.facebook.com/deeann.h.white/posts/10224202721758927

Maw, you’ll just have to look the other way when you see me dancing!   Everyone else already does.

 

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THE OLD GREY MARE

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

Faye was the first children’s writer to be recently inducted into the Alabama Writer’s Hall of Fame

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Lingering at one of the tables with dessert after a big family dinner back in the late Nineties.

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A family dinner in the early nineties. Benjamin, Faye, and David in the kitchen.  But look who’s wearing an apron!

Well, I thought I was old to do it anymore.  I was sure all that was behind me.  In fact, I hadn’t even dreamed of doing it for years.  And I’m not hinting about a night of romance.  I’m talking something requiring a lot more energy.  I’m talking about hosting the family Thanksgiving gathering.

There was a time back in the Eighties when I volunteered to take over my mother-in-law’s job of hosting that gathering.  I never did it with as much style as Mama Gibbons, and I didn’t offer as many family dishes as she always had in her spread, but I knew, unlike her, I could do it without using every single pot, pan, dish, and culinary tool in the kitchen (and leaving them for volunteers like me to scour after the feast).  However, I knew right out of the gate that I’d have to use mostly her recipes, because she had set too high a standard to do otherwise.

So I did.  I dug through my recipe box.  Though not as well-organized as I’d like, it is easy to spot the good dishes.  As a onetime friend once told me, if you want to find out whether you’d like a Faye recipe, you only had to lick the index card.  I confess—each time I use them, those recipes collect more debris.  So I selected all those butter stained, cream splotched cards and in a couple of days I put out a Thanksgiving feast that I felt proud of. In fact, I did this for maybe twenty years.

Then something wonderful happened—Benjamin’s cousins invited us to their Thanksgiving gathering in Memphis.  The burden of cooking for days was lifted from my shoulders.  I didn’t even have to clean up afterward.  Several men in the family (one in particular) INSISTED that cooks should not have to clean up afterwards. Don’t you just love that kind of sexy man?  I qualified as one of the cooks, since I always provided my mother-in-law’s jam cake.

Time moved on, and our oldest grandchild, Matthew, went off to college at Auburn.  One of his scholarships was for band, so that meant he had to be back at Auburn on Friday after Thanksgiving to practice for the biggest game of the year—the Iron Bowl.  Memphis was out of the question.  The parents of this grandson live in Huntsville—still a long drive from Auburn.  Our younger son and family live near us, but in a small house with a small dining room.   A shiver of apprehension passed over me.  Was I going to have to step up and volunteer after all these years of sloth?  Then David and his wife Aca saved me.  Despite the crowded conditions, they wanted to do the family gathering.  Miracles still happen!  Now where was that jam cake recipe? And could I still read it beneath last year’s splatters? I could.

That brings me down to Thanksgiving 2019.  Matthew was still in Auburn.  Still in the band.  Still had to be in Auburn to practice the day after Thanksgiving.  BUT David and Aca (younger son and wife, remember) were in the middle of renovating the kitchen, one bathroom, and the dining room.  They didn’t even have a kitchen sink!

No one stepped forward.  There WAS no one to step forward except for the person who’d been sitting on her rear end for the past eighteen or so years and letting someone else do the work.  So I bit the bullet and volunteered.  I do have a few excuses for all that sitting—a few back problems, a worn-out knee, and feet problems—okay, I’m old.  In light of this, I decided that with some help from my husband, I’d do as much as possible ahead. I made dressing first, freezing it in quart bags.  Then I made cake layers for jam cake and chocolate layer cake and froze those layers.  I made squash casserole and put that in the freezer.  A couple of days ahead I made Cousin Barbara’s marinated vegetable salad and refrigerated it.  A day ahead I made Sister-in-law Jo Ann’s wonderful chocolate chess pie and refrigerated that.  My husband in the meantime, did most of the cleaning.  Be still, my heart!  Keep. Mind. On. Cooking.

Thanksgiving Day, my wonderful daughters-in-law appeared with side dishes.  I pulled that turkey out of the oven (baked by my mother-in-law’s foolproof method), along with dressing, squash casserole, and so on and on and on.  I sat down with everyone else—as amazed as anyone that I had done it. There’s life in the old girl yet.

Two post scripts: 

First, I should say, my terrific sons cleaned up afterwards.  Sexiness must be genetic.

Secondly, I am praying that David and Aca’s renovation will be complete by Thanksgiving 2020!

Faye Gibbons

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WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LITTLE BLACK DRESS?

 

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1964 with Faye in her homemade black dress 

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

It’s been at least twenty years since I owned a real dress.  I quit buying dresses when the local tall girl shop went out of business and the one line of nice dresses with a waist long enough to hit my middle in the right place disappeared from the department store racks.  The other day, for the umpteenth time, my wonderful husband mentioned how stunning I always was in the black dress I was wearing the night he met me fifty-five years ago this past January 21, and he asked for the umpteenth time, “Why don’t you wear that dress anymore?”

There are a number of reasons, but let’s just say the answer is complicated.  Number one, that dress would be rotten with old age if it still hung in my closet.  Secondly, the waist would never, ever accommodate my present circumference.  Though I weigh approximately the same amount in actual pounds, my flesh has decidedly expanded and more of it hangs around my middle.  So as the years have gone on, I’ve found a new look—mix and match “separates.”

I didn’t actually purchase that dress my sweetie loved, by the way.  What with a beginning teacher’s pay and student loans to pay off, I couldn’t afford store bought clothing.  So after college, I took up sewing.  I’d never had lessons—had even refused several opportunities for sewing classes.  Who needs a class, I thought.  I can read patterns.  Well, yes, but I didn’t always understand them.  Why worry about the “ease” designed into a sleeve, when it was much quicker to simply cut off the extra fabric after sewing it into the armhole?  Then there was the option of just going sleeveless.  Back then, I had trim, firm upper arms, and I wasn’t bothered by chilly air.  Many of my dresses were sleeveless.  Ain’t youth grand!

Another saving—I never needed as much fabric as the pattern called for.  Simply by ignoring the silly part of the instructions about cutting on the straight of the fabric, and going with the “nap,” I turned those patterns this way and that to best save on yardage.  Then there were zippers.  I had trouble sewing a straight line, and so my stitching meandered from the standard required half inch from the zipper teeth to so far off that I drifted past the seam allowance entirely.  Or, other times got so close to the teeth that the zipper had to be tugged repeatedly past those areas.  No problem—if you had matched your thread properly, you simply resewed in the proper place and frequently you didn’t even have to pull out the meandering seam.  Who would notice?

My future mother-in-law, for one—and on our first meeting!  A decade later, after I’d had taken sewing lessons and learned all kinds of things, Mama Gibbons said one day, “Faye, you’ve learned so much since you married.  Now you make drapery, your sons’ jeans, and nice clothes for yourself.  Before you and Benjie married…” She shook her head. “Well, you could cover yourself.”

For a few years, there was a golden time when I was actually able to make a few acceptable dresses for myself and a still better time when it was possible for me to shop the tall girl shop earlier mentioned, and the department store’s Liz Cleiburne dress line.  At one point I likely had four or five flattering dresses all at one time.  No more.  Today stores don’t have what I need, though I have looked and even tried on.  Some dresses have the waist up under my armpits.  Others strive for the casual A line, reminiscent of maternity attire.  None tempted me to pull out my checkbook.  So I returned to the fabric stores.  Lord, do you realize what good cloth costs these days?  Fifteen to twenty dollars per yard and more.  Then there are patterns.  They run from ten to thirty dollars.  And none of them promise to be very flattering.  I don’t care for the “cold shoulder” look or the asymmetrical, look and I no longer want to display my knees or my bosom.  Oh, and although my legs are one of the better preserved parts of my anatomy, I don’t want to wear skin tight leggings or skinny pants which reveal any cellulite or body hair that happens to be present.  I hope the public appreciates this.   Not every woman my age is this considerate.  Just go to any Sprawl-Mart and see for yourself.

So I am still left with the problem of finding that little black dress my husband is longing to see.  Hmmmmm.  Maybe the answer is to hire a hypnotist to convince Benjamin to “see” me in that black outfit from 1964.  His fee is almost sure to be less than I’d pay for an actual dress, and I don’t have to dig my sewing machine out of storage!

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IF YOU’RE LOOKING AT ME, YOU’RE LOOKING AT MUSICALLY DISABLED COUNTRY

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Faye at the time of the great PTA musical 1967-68

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

Loretta Lynn said in a recent interview that mountain people didn’t need music lessons.  Just hand them an instrument and they’d fool with it a while and then start playing music.  Apparently this applies to song writing too, in her opinion.

Well, this mountain girl didn’t get any of that talent.  I took piano lessons for two years as an adult and then naively asked my teacher how long it would take for me to just sit down and play without having to plod along note by note by note.  Honest man that he was, he didn’t sugar coat his reply. “You’ll never be able to do that,” he answered.  “Why not? “ I asked.  “Because you don’t have any talent,” he said.

That finished my music career! But I really should have figured it out for myself.  One time, back in the Sixties when I was teaching 5th grade in Huntsville, Alabama, the Huntsville School System music coordinator came to our school  to prepare our students for a PTA program in which each grade would perform one song.  She asked all us fifth grade teachers to practice our assigned song with our students until her return.  On the appointed day she had each grade level perform, making suggestions for improvements for each group.  When the three fifth grades took their turn, she began to frown.  “You,” she said pointing to a student of mine in the first row, “Come stand by me.”  The song continued and she pointed to another kid, and another, and another.  Before the song was finished, she had practically every student in my class crowded around her.  She chose several of my students after listening to them sing a few lines.

“Mrs. Gibbons,” she said, “I don’t want you singing with your class anymore.  I’m going to choose one of your students with a good ear to lead singing from now until the PTA program.”  She didn’t say my musical skills sucked, but I got the message.

I know who’s to blame for my missing musical talent—my mother.  When in a very good mood, Mama would sing around the house.  It was maddening to hear her slaughter a perfectly good song, sometimes getting almost on the right tune, but never quite making it.  None of us kids had the nerve to tell her, but somebody else must have, because occasionally she would say after one of our father’s musically talented relatives performed, “I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.”  And nobody argued with her.

After I became a regular at the little Methodist church we moved close to when I was fifteen, one of the church leaders asked me to sing a solo some Sunday.  He said he’d noticed my singing talent and thought I should share it!  I wanted to believe him, but in my heart I knew it was just his way of drawing me closer to the church.  I’d heard some of the other “talented” girls he’d found.  Some were good, but some were embarrassingly awful.  Thank goodness, in the end I let my common sense overrule my ego.

The man would have been wiser to ask my brothers.  John, Jerry, and Mike inherited Daddy’s musical talent—and his confidence.  No doubt that self assurance is a part of it.  I once heard an expert say that even when he’d lost a lot of quality from his voice, Frank Sinatra was still worth listening to because he could “deliver a song better than anyone.”  The Junkins men had the voice and the delivery.

Now I confine my singing mostly to church services.  And then I take pains to sit near a very good singer, whom I can follow and sort of blend with. I learned never to sit near another person as bad or worse at carrying a tune than myself.  One fellow church member years ago was so bad and so loud that I didn’t sing at all until I changed to another pew well across the sanctuary.  I learned from experience that if I were close, I’d follow wherever she led.  Cain’s Chapel United Methodist ChurMW is two hundred years old, but that woman and I might have closed down the church long before now if we’d tried to harmonize.

So Loretta, I hate to tell you, but not all of us mountain people are as talented musically as you.   However, you still ain’t woman enough to take my man!

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THE BIRDS AND THE BEES

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Me at fourteen and a half, shortly after my big talk with Mama.  Mama (lower right corner of photo) hadn’t yet recovered from the BIG TALK.

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

Back in the stone age, when I was a kid, parents seemed to assume that any information a girl got about S-E-X should come as a divine revelation, hopefully just before she got married. I didn’t know what caused babies until I was fourteen and a half. I don’t recommend such ignorance. You’d think observation would have provided me some clues. We didn’t live on a farm with breeding animals, but we frequently visited relatives who did. And even in the mill towns where we lived there were stray cats and dogs about. However, I’m sure Mama had Daddy get rid of any females that began attracting admirers. Perhaps I didn’t want to know any facts. I’ll bet my younger sister had things figured out long before I stumbled over the information one evening at Aunt Hilde’s house.

While the adults lingered at the supper table and the younger kids watched a snowy program on a black and white television as big as a small refrigerator, I looked through a large stack of Reader’s Digest magazines. The title on one cover arrested my attention at once: “How to Tell Your Child the Facts of Life.” I knew where babies came from, thanks to having asked my mother at a crowded family reunion eight years before. What I lacked was the essential information about what started the baby. Now at last maybe I had all the other facts here in my sweaty hands. I furtively turned to the article and began reading—ovaries, hormones, periods, “intercourse”….what the heck? My parents? My grandparents, Aunt Murdess and Uncle Jim Bob? Impossible! There had to be an alternative method, and I was going to have to get up the nerve to ask Mama what it was.

It took several days. It was summer and my mother wasn’t working at the mill. Because of a nervous breakdown several months before, she was home recuperating with lots of help from Miles Nervine. I finally got up courage to broach the big question. Better not tell her about the article—and risk never being allowed to read anything at Aunt Hilde’s house.

“What causes babies?” I asked.

“What?” Mama said, clutching her broom.

I managed to choke out the question again.

Mama snatched the bottle of Miles Nervine from her pocket with shaking hands. She took a swig and then muttered, “Later. Can’t you see I’m busy now?” She began sweeping vigorously. Her face was scarlet.

It must have been two hours before she finished in the house and came outside to sit beside me on the front steps. “Y’all go on,” she told my younger siblings. “Play somewhere else.”

They didn’t need the house to fall on them—they figured out something was going on and drew closer. They weren’t about to miss any excitement.

Mama came up with plan two. “Ya’ll can go to the store and buy some candy,” she said and dug in her pocket for change. That did the trick. We rarely went to the little store down the highway, and we almost never had candy.

When the kids were out of hearing, Mama began telling me about the ovaries, but she called them ‘egg sacks.’ At some point in her 29 years she must have read an article similar to the one in the Digest, because the information agreed so far. Once a month, she said, one egg was released. The body got ready to grow a baby. Only most of the time that didn’t happen, so all the materials were dumped, and that was what a period was. Now she sidetracked on to the subject of periods, which I didn’t need, because I’d been having them for a year.

Mama took another drink of Nervine and dropped her eyes. “Well, anyway, sometimes, ever now and then, something happens to the egg and it starts to grow into a baby. Well what happens….It takes something from a, uh, man. Well, and, well, I think I better tell you more about the egg.”

She did. She went over every excruciating detail and then all the information about the period, even getting into sanitary pads and sanitary belts, and the importance of bathing “privates.”

Just then my sister and my brothers reappeared in our driveway and Mama said, “I’m no good at explaining stuff like this. Do you reckon you could take everything I’ve told you so far and figure out the rest?”

I leaped to my feet, relieved. “Yes!”

And I did, thanks to Reader’s Digest. A good thing too—this was the nearest approach Mama made to discussing sex with me until well after I was married and had a child on my own.

By then, folks, it was too late—one of those eggs had had something happen to it!

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THE MOTHER OF INVENTION

 

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                                        My Creative Siblings in 1958

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

(Author note: This blog was originally written in early October. Just when it was ready to post my computer crashed, and this was one of the files that could not be recovered. Though my new computer has been in operation for a couple of weeks, I couldn’t get motivated to reconstruct the original. Since all evidence is gone, I’m going to claim that the original was ten times as funny and interesting as this version.)

In his book, GUNS, GERMS, AND STEEL, Jared Diamond argues that native children are likely much more innovative and creative than modern day American kids, because they have to devise their own entertainments, instead of having everything handed to them ready to use with no effort required. My own childhood seems to confirm this. Growing up in poverty in the Georgia mountains, we Junkins kids had few toys. We had to devise our own diversions or do without. We owned no books beyond the Bible and the Sears Catalog. This was before TV. And radio was a sometime thing with us. When no books were available, I made up stories to entertain my four younger siblings. And I’m still making up stories, but otherwise I don’t seem to have struck the motherlode of creativity.

My brothers were another story. While many kids were riding tricycles or pedal cars, they built their own vehicles out of scrap wood and stray wheels from junk yards. Sometimes they made their own wheels by sawing small tree trunks into rough circles. They built multi storied tree houses so lofty that it made me dizzy to look at them. My sister was no slouch herself. Before her teens she began designing and making clothing for herself. No tools were ever denied us. Knives, saws, scissors, and axes were all permissible as soon as we could walk. You just better return them to their proper places afterwards.

Maybe my creative gene was damaged at three and a half when I was trying to cut wood with Daddy’s axe and chopped my left leg instead. I screamed in terror as the blood flowed. Daddy laughed and told me that would learn me to leave the axe alone until I was old enough to use it. It did. I’m still not old enough.

Once my sister fainted while using lighter fluid to take a spot out of her coat. “Better go outside next time,” my mother told her when she cleaned the gash on Jean’s head. “And set down so you won’t fall so far.”

My father, who had only a second grade education, was very creative. He devised all kinds of inventions which made the big textile machines at our hometown mills work far better and more cheaply. He took pride in the innovations but never received extra money or the patents for these. His brothers showed the same skills, which had been developed and honed on the mountain farm where they grew up.

As adults that creativity paid off. It paid off for my brothers too—all three have taken on successful building projects for which they had no formal training—bricklaying, deck building, even constructing sheds, sunrooms and porches. My sister was one of the best teachers I ever knew.

Of course, as an adult I saw all the dangers my siblings and I had miraculously survived and determined that MY boys were going to have safe childhoods. No knives, sharp scissors, or dangerous tools for them. Santa brought them safe plastic toys with no sharp edges. But I noticed that before the wrappings had even been gathered on Christmas morning Ben and David were playing with the BOXES that the gifts came in. Stacking them, rearranging them into cities, and using the larger ones for caves and hideouts.

Fortunately, there came a point where my husband had enough of my safety rules. “A boy needs to learn to use a knife,” he decreed when they were maybe ten and twelve. And so they did, probably just in time to save their creativity! They both became engineers and can tackle just about any job Lowe’s sells tools for.

And then there are my grandchildren—geniuses, every one! Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Jared Diamond.

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