Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
* * *
Sixty-five years ago, on December 16, 1944, one of the greatest battles in American history began: The Battle of the Bulge. Seven hundred thousand troops, mostly American, participated. And when it was over, on January 25, 1945, 19,000 Americans were dead, 47,500 were wounded, and 23,000 missing.
Fast-forward fifteen years: It is a cold, dark morning in 1960. I am nineteen years old and beginning my first full-time job. As I gaze at the tall, intimidating building at 43 East Ohio Street in downtown Chicago, I consider hopping on the next south-bound Greyhound and heading back to Kentucky. What's in store for me? Can I do the job? Will I mess up and be fired the first day? What will my boss be like?
As it turned out, I had two bosses: Cullen B. Sweet and Frank Chambers.
Mr. Sweet was a laughing, gregarious man with white hair. He was very kind, but I was a little uncomfortable around him, reluctant to ask questions, afraid of doing something wrong.
Frank Chambers immediately put me at ease with his open, friendly manner. He took an interest in me as a person, wanted to meet Carroll, hear all about my family in Kentucky. When I needed help, he told me what I needed to know, how to do it. When I was ready to throw up my hands in despair, he appeared and made things right.
"You're doing a great job, Brenda," he often said, "This letter is perfect!"
"I'm glad you changed the wording in this report, Brenda. It reads much better!"
He took Carroll and me under his wing, invited us into his home; he and wife Doris treated us like family. (I will never forget what fun we had one Saturday night playing cards, their two little ones, Margie and Johnny, giggling and playing nearby.) After we relocated with the company to Bloomington, Illinois, we often dined out together, went to their home for cook-outs.
In the mid-seventies, Frank took a position with the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation and he and Doris relocated to Lincoln. A few years later, Carroll and I parted ways and Suzanne and I moved home to Kentucky.
After exchanging Christmas cards and letters every now and then, we lost touch. But I'm happy to say Frank and I recently reconnected and are corresponding frequently, catching up on each other's lives, reminiscing about days gone by. He is 86 years old now and still going strong. He has changed little in the thirty years since I last saw him.
I knew Frank had served in the Army in World War II, but I had no idea he had participated in The Battle of the Bulge. He kept a journal during the war and his younger brother saved all of the letters Frank had written him while he was overseas. He recorded his experiences on DVD and sent me a copy; he also sent me this story, which made the front page of the Lincoln Journal Star on December 16th.
Thank you, Frank, for your service to our country. And thank you for being such a good friend to me.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Thursday, November 26, 2009
When I was growing up, we usually had Thanksgiving dinner at our house. The house was bursting at the seams, with various people in attendance from year to year, but Maw Maw Wilson and Maw Maw and Paw Paw George were always there.
Mother cooked a big turkey, made cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes & giblet gravy, corn, cherry pies. Maw Maw George brought sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows, green beans simmered for hours with fatback, pumpkin pies, a three-layer cake, (oftentimes jam). Maw Maw Wilson brought roast pork (so tender you could cut it with a fork), turnip greens, and apple pies, the likes of which I have never tasted since.
Afterward, the men retired to the living room, lighting up their pipes and cigarettes as they settled back in their chairs for the afternoon. The kids rushed out to play, and the women stayed at the dining table, lingering over coffee and dessert.
One sunny Thanksgiving day, when I was about nine, my brothers and sisters were playing baseball. I didn't want to play. I was no good at it anyway. So I stayed inside, skulking here and there, evesdropping on the adults.
There was nothing much happening in the living room; the men were talking about farming and politics. The women talked about politics, too, and they reminisced. But my ears really perked up when I heard more interesting tidbits: Geraldine had a spell last night. It was a bad one, Toy said. Node Morgan's wife ran off and left her kids. Poor Miss Eda had one of her nerve attacks in church last Sunday. She's not doing any good.
"What's a nerve attack?" I said, "Where did Node Morgan's wife run off to?"
"Brenda, what are you doing in here?" Mother said, "Go on outside and play with the other kids."
"You need to get out there in the sunshine," Maw Maw George said, "You look kind of peaked."
I rushed to my bedroom and gazed in the mirror, searching my face. Was it serious? Did I look sick? Outside, I could hear the smack of the bat and my brothers and sisters cheering.
"Come on, Brenda," Terry called through the window, "We need another player!"
"I told you I don't want to play!"
And then I thought about my peakedness. Maybe baseball would help.
I rushed outside, where I was soon up to bat. Terry tried to show me how to hold it, but I grabbed the bat and held it with both hands directly in front of me.
"I'll hold it however I want!" I said, "Just throw it!"
He suddenly spun around and threw the ball.
I dodged, but the it hit me on the arm. So I threw the bat down and headed toward the house.
"Where you going?" said Mary Ellen.
"The game isn't over," Pitty Pat said.
"I don't feel like playing. I'm peaked."
"You are not!" said Mary Ellen, hands on her hips, "You're just using that for an excuse!"
Pitty Pat stared at me, a thoughtful look on her face. "You don't look peaked."
"I'll tell you what she is," called Terry, "She's a housecat. A peaked-looking housecat!"
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Here are a couple of excerpts:
Part I - Windy City
I was mesmerized by my co-workers at 43 East Ohio Street, who welcomed me into the fold with open arms. I had grown up in a small town in Kentucky where everyone was white and Southern Baptist, girls taught to keep smiles on their faces, be nice to everyone and keep their personal lives to themselves. Most of the Chicago girls were Catholic, a religion that was unacceptable down home. Or at least in our little community, where backwoods preachers ruled with threats of eternal agony in the lake of fire to those who questioned their doctrine.
The girls knew nothing about keeping their personal lives to themselves; they didn’t care what they said or how someone took what they said. Most of them smoked and drank and were fond of saying, “Oh, my Gawd!” in response to just about everything. They were kind and caring. And they were not hypocrites. I began to rethink my religious upbringing, and, for the first time in my life, question it.
Down on the fourth floor, Carroll was getting a rude awakening. Marie, his boss (whom I nicknamed "Helmet Head"), was a wild-eyed, fifty-something spinster who wore her bleached hair in a heavily sprayed pageboy. She ruled the accounting department with an iron hand, and nothing anyone did pleased her. She yelled, stomped and threw fits when everything wasn’t going to her satisfaction. Some days she went into frenzies and yelled so loud that she could be heard from one end of the fourth floor to the other.
Each day, on our way home, Carroll had another story to tell about Helmet Head. She had jumped all over him or a co-worker, yelled at someone for a mistake, or made a mistake and blamed someone else. One day she ran out of her office, glaring at Carroll and others in the department. They hadn’t done anything wrong, so she reared back and kicked the file cabinet. She blamed them all when she broke her big toe.
* * *
Since Carroll and I had no money, we were short in the clothing department. I had three outfits, a blue shirtwaist dress and a two-piece floral green dress with a peplum and straight skirt. They were seconds; I bought them at a factory in Southern Illinois for three dollars each. The third was a beige sheath wool dress with a short matching jacket, the neckline trimmed in fur, which I splurged on when we went to a company banquet at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. I rotated the outfits that whole winter.
Carroll owned two used suits, a black one, the trousers of which were long enough for a six-foot man (he was five feet, four inches tall). When they were altered for him they just cut off the legs, and if he raised his leg you could see his Fruit of the Looms. He called them his “Knee Straddlers.”
“Looks like it’s the Knee-Straddlers today," he'd say, pulling on the wide-legged trousers, or “Can’t decide what to wear today; oh, I think I’ll wear my ‘Panama Suit!’”
The Panama Suit was a very light gray flannel, almost white, which reminded me of Humphrey Bogart's attire in “Casablanca.” His wool topcoat, given to him by a tall friend in Southern Illinois, sported tiny blue checks on a cream background, and it fell to his ankles.
“We should have it shortened,” I said.
“Keeps my legs warm," said Carroll.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Saturday, October 31, 2009
It all begins on a snowy night in 1941, when the coatless body of prominent newspaperman Benjamin Dannan is found beside a lonely road in eastern Kentucky one hundred miles from home. No one knows why he was there, how he got there, or whether his death is an accident or a murder.
Thirty years later, Dannan's son, Michael, CEO of a large corporation in San Francisco, moves back to Kentucky to run for governor, drafting his boyhood friend, Theo, to help him make it happen.
And thus begins a fascinating tale that takes you through the hills and hollows of Kentucky, climaxing in a struggle for the governorship between a self-made Appalachian power broker and a rich and gifted young man who has everything going for him.
The mystery, suspense, and clearly drawn characters make this book a real page-turner. There is love and romance, ambition and murder, and it's all bundled into a mystery that doesn't play out until the very end. And what an ending it is!
Ron Rhody is a former newspaperman and broadcast journalist who grew up in Kentucky where he learned his craft. He now lives with his wife in Pinehurst, North Carolina. He is the author of several books, but Theo's Story is his first piece of fiction.
I hope it is not his last.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Friday, October 9, 2009
Some snippets stay in my head for years before I use them. As was the case with a Don St. Arbor quote.
Don St. Arbor was one of Terry's best friends. He lived across the field from us, so they practiced basketball together, hunted and fished together. He was there much of the time, so during the summertime he could often be found at our dinner table.
One day Mother baked two chocolate pies for dessert. Her pies could win a contest, the chocolate filling smooth and velvety, crust tender and flaky, meringue standing in peaks.
Since guests were always served first, we drooled as Mother turned to Don. "Would you like a piece of pie, Don?" she said.
"No, thanks, Mrs. Wilson," he said, "Seems like all the chocolate pies I been eatin' lately have been awful lumpy."
Now, what writer could resist a comment like that? I used it in a story forty years later.
Another snippet stayed with me over fifty years before I pulled it from memory and put it on paper.
When I was three, I went with Maw Maw Wilson to take dinner to an old riverboat pilot in Laketon. I don't know what his real name was, but everyone called him Pilot. He lived at the bottom of Laketon hill in a tiny tarpaper shack, and he had no family that anyone knew of. He was all alone. And he was very sick.
I felt very sorry for the old man, but I was a little afraid. So that is probably why the following incident left such a deep impression on me.
"Do you need anything, Pilot?" Maw Maw says, placing his dinner on his bedside table.
A bushy grey head appears from deep within the covers, eyes dark and sunken. "No, thank you, Miss Muriel," he says, "I don't need nothin' a-tall. But thank you for being here."
My story, Thank You For Being Here, has been accepted by Kentucky Monthly, and will be the featured nonfiction piece in their literary issue. It will be coming out in November.
The snippet list is getting longer each day. So I'd better get busy. If I wrote all day for the next fifty years, I would never be able to use them all.
But I will try.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Friday, September 18, 2009
I’m not too keen on books set in that time period (the sixteenth century). Besides, it looked a bit cheezy. But since I love reading about the royals, and neither she nor Pitty Pat has ever recommended a book I didn’t like, I reluctantly brought it home.
I’m glad I did.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Monday, September 14, 2009
He was standing on the balcony of his second-floor hotel room in L.A., looking down the people, when a homeless man asked him if he had a shirt he would give him.
Monday, September 7, 2009
I wish Paw Paw Wilson could have lived longer, but I have always been thankful for my three remaining grandparents. They were a big part of my life, and although they are gone now, their influence lives on.
My grandson and I spent many happy times together as he was growing up. And if I have influenced Chase only half as much as my grandparents influenced me, I will have been a success as a grandmother.
Chris Holm, an online friend and excellent crime writer, has written a touching tribute to his grandfather, and all grandparents should take the time to read it.
It will warm your heart.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
I've always admired Jane Fonda. Her book, My Life So Far, is a great read. It is honest and compelling (especially her account of ex-husband Ted Turner's philandering!).
Like many of us, 71-year-old Jane has been bitten by the blogging bug. Her blog allows readers a peek into her day-to-day life, complete with photos of family and friends.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
A few days ago, I was notified by Colin Galbraith, editor of The Ranfurly Review, that my fiction piece, Line Dancing, has been accepted for publication. The Ranfurly Review is an online literary journal based in Scotland. Line Dancing will be in their September issue.
And I will be reviewing southern books for Kentucky Monthly. Stephen Vest, editor & publisher, says my first book is on the way.
Have a great weekend, dear readers!
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Friday, August 14, 2009
There were sometimes a few who were disabled--leg problems, back problems--and some were elderly people, unable to walk all the way to the car. But they had a place to sit as they waited for busses or relatives to collect them.
Bill sometimes joins the group when he accompanies me to Wal-Mart. He loves being outside, enjoying the sunshine, watching the people, chatting with fellow bench jockeys.
And then, about two weeks ago, an odd thing happened. When we pulled up, several elderly people were standing in front of the store. At both entrances.
"What are they doing there?" I said as we got out of the car.
"They don't have a place to sit," said Bill, "The benches are gone." He stopped a Wal-Mart employee who was walking by. "Where are the benches?"
"I know they're gone," he said, "But why?"
"Because I got tired of cleaning around them!"
When we got home that day, I called Wal-Mart and spoke with a manager (who had an attitude like the hotel boss's nephew in Dirty Dancing). He said he knew nothing about the benches being gone. When pressed, he said he would check with the other managers and call me back.
The call never came.
A few days later, when I went back to Wal-Mart to pick up a few things, there were two people standing in front of the store. One young man, obviously in pain, was leaning on crutches. "There used to be a bench we could sit on when we were waiting for the bus," I heard him tell an elderly woman on a walker.
"It makes me mad as a hornet to see those poor people standing when they could be sitting," I said, "There's no reason on this earth why they should have taken those benches away!"
I called the Wal-Mart corporate office.
The customer complaint representative in Arkansas was very friendly and thanked me for calling. He said he would submit my complaint and I would be hearing from this area's customer representative in three to five business days.
A week passed. And no call came.
By then, it was time to grocery shop again.
When I pulled into the parking lot, there were three people standing at the entrance: a couple of elderly people waiting to be picked up (one with a cane, legs trembling), and a girl in the last stages of pregnancy, legs swollen, another child on her hip. She was waiting for the bus. (How did I know? I asked.)
When I got home, I called Wal-Mart corporate. And told them the whole story again.
That afternoon, the customer service representative called. "Mz. Wooley," she said, "Ah'm the customer service representative of the Wahl-Mart you cawled about. And I understand you're havin' a problem."
"I'm not having a problem, but some people are," I said, "Why have the benches in front of the entrances been removed?"
"Well, Mz. Wooley," she said, "We decided to move them inside so it would be more comfortable for are customers to have a nice, air-conditioned place to wait in during these hot summah days."
"I know, Mz Wooley, but we thought it would be more comfortable for are customers to have a nice air-conditioned place to wait in."
"There are elderly people who are unable to stand very long," I said, "They need a place to sit while they wait for a family member to drive up to the entrance. And people waiting for busses need a place to sit, too."
"They can sit inside, Mz. Wooley, in air-conditioned comfort."
"But they need to sit outside, particularly people waiting for a bus."
"Mz. Wooley," she said, "We would be happy to have a Wahl-Mart employee to come and assist them out of the store."
"The people are able to get in and out of the store on their own. But they're worn out from shopping. They just need a place to sit while they are waiting to be picked up."
"Well....we try to do our best to help our customers, Mz. Wooley."
"So you are not bringing the benches back out. Right?"
"Well, we decided to move them inside, Mz. Wooley, so it would be more comfortable for are customers to have..."
"I know, I know, 'a nice air-conditioned place to wait in,'" I said, "So you're leaving the outside benches inside, even though there are already plenty of benches inside. Is that what you're saying?"
"Well...yes, Mz. Wooley."
I called Wal-Mart corporate again.
"I thought Wal-Mart cared about their customers!" I shrieked at Michael, the nice customer complaint representative who took my call, "Sam Walton would be appalled by treatment of the elderly and handicapped at this store. But I guess you don't care at all! What in the name of heaven is wrong with leaving a couple of benches outside your store where elderly and disabled people can sit?"
Yesterday, I received a call from the customer service representative.
Give me your tired, your huddled masses with no place to sit,
The wretched refuse of your teeming store.
Send these, the seat-less, tempest-tossed to me,
I give them a seat outside the golden door.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
I was in Grand Rivers, Kentucky.
It was August, 1956, and my cousin, Patsy Elsey, and I were both fifteen. When she and her family came from Indianapolis to Kentucky for their annual visit, they invited me to accompany them on a fishing trip to Kentucky Lake.
I was excited beyond words. Among the things I packed was my new outfit: a white sleeveless blouse and a pair of bright red shorts. And my diary. I recorded everything back then, and I rarely spent a night away from home without it.
Patsy Elsey and I hurriedly unpacked and rushed outside where the only moving object was an elderly woman sweeping the porch of the grocery store across the street.
“What are we going to DO all week in this hick town?” said Patsy Elsey.
We often strolled down to the diner where we sat on saggy stools at the counter sipping Cherry Cokes, munching on potato chips and chatting with Joyce, the waitress. It seemed Don’t Be Cruel or Blueberry Hill was always playing on the jukebox.
It wasn’t long before one boy after another began sidling in. Some sat at tables pretending not to notice us; others played the pinball machine, sneaking looks every now and then.
Bud was a handsome, muscular boy with a deep tan; Richie was thin and pale, with freckles and the brightest red hair I had ever seen.
“He’s a dreamboat,” whispered Patsy Elsey.
I thought so, too. But she had the upper hand. She knew how to flirt.
“You chicks wanna go out sometime?” said Bud.
Patsy Elsey batted her eyes and gave him a coquettish smile. “Depends on what you’ve got in mind.”
They showed up as we were having our coffee each morning and accompanied us on our daily walks, Patsy Elsey and Bud flirting endlessly; Richie and me laughing and kidding around. He was from Michigan, he said, and had been vacationing on Kentucky Lake with his family since he was a tot. He planned to be a chemist, and he didn't laugh when I said I wanted to be an actress.
Richie bid on one and shared it with us. Afterwards, there was a beauty contest.
“Come on, all you guys,” yelled the master of ceremonies, “Bid on your favorite ladies, just a nickel a vote!”
Suddenly, Richie jumped up and waved a ten-dollar bill in the air. He pointed to me. "All the votes this can buy for that girl there!"
“See y’all tomorrow,” Bud called as they took off into the starlit night.
Richie turned and waved. “We’ll take another speedboat ride!”
I couldn’t get Richie off my mind, sorry I didn’t let him put his arm around me. Or tell him goodbye. I looked over at Patsy Elsey, wondering if she was thinking about Bud. She was fast asleep, head back, mouth open.
About half way home, we pulled into a gas station. A tall, thin teenage boy, ducktail hair greasy with Brill Cream, loped out to fill the tank.
Patsy Elsey, suddenly awake, jabbed me with her elbow. “Well, hubba, hubba!" she said, "Where has HE been all my life?”
I didn't reply. I was busy writing in my diary.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
"I'm not gonna put you through misery," David Hasselhoff told Skinner tonight, "I'm gonna tell you straight. You're going through. And you deserve it! We'll see you in Hollywood!"
Overwhelmed, Kevin was close to tears.
"Bless his heart," I said, "Makes me want to hug him."
"Hope he makes it to the top," said Bill.
Press on, Kevin Skinner! Nothing can stop you now.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Thursday, July 16, 2009
On Decoration Day, Pitty and I helped Maw Maw prepare the flowers for transport to our ancestors' graves in various cemeteries in Carlisle County. Each year, she planted two rows of flowers of all kinds in their garden just for Decoration Day.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
* * *
Friday, July 10, 2009
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Buddy and the guys went to a local museum to look at a prehistoric mammal. His clients wanted him to make a replica of it! Too much? Not for Buddy. He made the cake, and it looked just like that mammal; there were trees and all kinds of things around it! Needless to say, they were extra careful as they bumped over pot holes on their way to the museum. I cringed as Buddy and several of his bakers carried the 400-pound cake up those steps. But they made it. And they were delighted with his creation.
I was rather disturbed, though. Buddy's cousin, Anthony, was driving the cake van. Stretch was nowhere to be seen. Where is Stretch?
Buddy also made a Sweet Sixteen cake, which, although very colorful, just didn't do it for me. I was losing interest until Anthony and Danny "The Mule" attempted to carry it down the stairs. The Mule tipped it a tad too much, and suddenly it began slippin' and a-slidin.' It hit those steps with such force that gooey gobs of cake blanketed the steps from top to bottom.
As you can imagine, Buddy went into a tailspin. The whole staff had to drop what they were doing and decorate another cake. It only took them two hours, though, and they got it to the Sweet Sixteen party on time. The spoiled little teenage girls were thrilled.
A couple came in requesting a dove wedding cake. And Buddy promised them a tall, ornate cake, with old-world flavor, like his father used to make. With live birds. The bride and groom and their guests loved the cake, but there were some awkward moments. The newlyweds were unable to get the doves to come out of their glass cage, so Buddy stepped up to the plate and coaxed them out.
A father-to-be came in and went on and on about how much his pregnant wife loved Buddy's pastries, especially his lobster tails. So Buddy made her an assortment of pastries, including luscious chocolate-dipped strawberries and a giant lobster tail filled with a pink custard/whipped cream concoction.
"I dyed the custard pink because the baby's a girl," Buddy said, a pleased look on his face, "And she's gonna love it!"
Buddy delivered the goodies himself, but the mother-to-be didn't even mention the pink custard. She was too busy stuffing herself.
Lil Frankie, after pleading with Buddy, finally got to make and decorate his own cake for Buddy's niece's dance recital. (It was beautiful, by the way.) The whole family was there, and Lil Frankie beamed from ear to ear.
I'll sign off for now. But first a message for Buddy: Where is Stretch?
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Thursday, July 2, 2009
It wasn't long before their waitress, Yakeisha Ward, brought Crystal's, so she decided to sample it while she was waiting. But as she was nibbling at her All-Star Special, Yakeisha reappeared.
"You ordered your All-Star Special to go," she said, "So you can't eat it here."
"That's ridiculous!" Crystal said, "I'm not going to eat my All-Star Special here. I'm only eating some of it while I'm waiting for my friends to get theirs."
"Well, you can't eat it here," said Yakeisha, "You've got to leave."
"I can't believe you're making all this fuss," said Crystal, "Give us our All-Star Specials and we'll go."
"No, you've got to leave now."
Well, things got downright ugly after that. Crystal grabbed her waffle from her All-Star Special and threw it at Yakeisha. (She missed, by the way.) So what did Yakeisha do? She jumped right over that counter and started punching on Crystal. And as astonished diners looked on, Yakeisha kept punching her.
Crystal fought back, and finally got away from the crazed waitress, and then she and her friends high-tailed it out of that Waffle House. (Don't know if they took their All-Star Specials with them or not.)
You'd think that would have been the end of that. But, no, Yakeisha wasn't through with Crystal. She rushed out the door and beat a path to her own car, reached inside and grabbed a gun. And she stood right there in that parking lot and loaded it!
Naturally, Crystal and her friends were scared out of their wits by then, and wanted to get away as quickly as possible. But before they could even get their car started, Yakeisha opened their car door and jumped on Crystal and started pistol-whipping her! The gun went off, hitting Crystal in the arm, but Yakeisha kept pistol-whipping her. And when the sheriff's deputies arrived, she was still pistol-whipping her.
Yakeisha was hauled off to jail, where she was charged with assault and battery with intent to kill. So she could be cooling her heels in the slammer for a good long while. (She won't get any All-Star Specials there, I'm sure!)
Crystal was treated at a hospital and released.
I have dined at many Waffle Houses across the country (although I have never had the All-Star Special), and the waitresses have always been as nice as they could be.
But I never threw a waffle at one, either.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Nor a sail to take us there,
But always a guiding light
Whose love shows us the way.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Monday, June 15, 2009
We don't limit our meetings to stories. Mother records what is happening in the area; what's happening around the world; and what's going on in our own lives. We also talk about memories and family history.
Mother has a memory like no one else, and Saturday she focused on her grandmother (and our great-grandmother), Ellen Kane Elsey.
"Her father said she was the only one of his children who inherited her mother's Scots/Irish black hair and blue eyes," Mother said, "So he called her his 'Scottish Lass.'"
I remember Maw Maw Elsey as a thin, ancient woman (I was ten when she died). But from listening to the adults' conversations, I soon learned she was a very intelligent, witty woman. And very outspoken. Usually dressed in neat dark dresses with lace collars, her black hair was streaked with only a few strands of silver.
She was a schoolteacher. And she loved teaching. She taught for years before she married my great-grandfather, Liburtis Elsey, when she was thirty. And even after my grandmother, Mary, was born, she continued. The schools were too far away to commute by buggy each day, so Mary went along with her each week, and they boarded with families of her students.
"She was way ahead of the times," Mother said, "That was unheard-of back in those days."
Maw Maw quit teaching a few years later, and she and Paw Paw Elsey lived on the farm until they retired and moved into town. My memories of their home in Bardwell are a faded oriental rug and scratchy horsehair furniture; vanilla-scented smoke drifting from Paw Paw's pipe; a big warm-morning stove. And the smell of Lux soap in the kitchen (always a big bar in a soap dish above the skirted sink.)
"She was a wonderful cook and homemaker," mother said, "And she loved tending her flowers and gardening. She had no desire to go anywhere much; she liked staying at home. And she loved to read."
Mother hesitated, a faraway look in her eyes. "I can see her now, sitting in the front yard on those summer days after the housework was done, reading her books and magazines and reciting poems."
"Poems?" someone said.
"Maw Maw loved poetry," Mother said, "I can't count the times I heard her suddenly burst out reciting a poem, right in the middle of cooking, cleaning, washing clothes..."
"The same one?"
"No, all kinds. She quoted Longfellow and a lot of others."
Mother pulled a sheet of paper from her tote bag. "Uncle Tom and I were talking about her not long ago. She taught him this poem when he was little. I remember it, but not all of it, so he recited it to me last week and I wrote it down."
It was William C. Bryant's poem, Thanatopsis.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Like his previous books, The Prince of Frogtown is rip-roaring funny, fascinating, and heartbreaking. It chronicles the life of his father, Charles Bragg, who was only mentioned briefly in previous books.
What inspired Bragg to write about his father was his relationship with his ten-year-old stepson. (He has no children of his own.) He tells the story through chapters that alternate between his father’s life story and his own experiences with fatherhood.
Since Bragg was very young when his father died, he remembers him as a hard-living, hard-fighting, hard-drinking SOB. But through numerous stories provided by his father’s remaining friends and family members, an alternative portrait emerges. The result is a somewhat gentler, faintly sympathetic look at the proud and unyielding veteran of the Korean War.
Rick Bragg is an amazing writer with a gift for choosing the exact word or allegory to make his point. You’ll find yourself chuckling in one chapter; teary-eyed in the next. But who else but a southern writer can throw laughter smack in the middle of such a tragic story? Rick Bragg doesn’t “pretty it all up” with fancy wording and flowery phrases; he just gets to the true heart of southern storytelling: the language, the metaphors, the wretchedly funny lives, the accents all rolled up into a rich and painful tale.
All Over But the Shoutin,’ a tribute to his long-suffering mother, Margaret, remains my favorite, and Ava’s Man, a tribute to his maternal grandfather, is a great read. But The Prince of Frogtown is more powerful. Through most of the book, I wanted to break Charles Bragg’s neck. But in the end I realized he never had a chance. The cards were stacked against him from day one.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
An old friend sent me this link (thanks, Mike!), and it brought back many pleasant memories of my school days. (Can't believe it has been that long!) Thought you might enjoy it as well: