Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mother!

She has the heart
that cares so completely.
She has the hands
that do things so sweetly.
She has the wisdom
that families treasure.
She has the love
that brings joy beyond measure.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas, Dear Friends

I heard the bells on Christmas Day,
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet, the words repeat,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow~

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thank you, Frank.

Frank H. Chambers
(Photo: The Journal Star)

* * *

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

Life

Life is a process of becoming,
A combination of states we have to go through.
Where people fail is they wish to elect a state and remain in it.
This is a kind of death.

~Anais Nin~

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Peaked-Looking Housecat

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There's nothing I enjoy more than getting together with family and friends, enjoying a big meal, visiting, reminiscing.

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."

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!"


* * *
Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends. And God bless.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Memoirs

I know I have been neglecting my blog again, and I apologize to my readers. I've been working on my memoirs.

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

Happy Birthday, Bill!

Some things just get better with age.

Like my hubby (the former hippie),

And our song.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Theo's Story


Books about politics and corruption are not my favorites, I must admit. But when I began Ron Rhody's novel, Theo's Story, I could hardly put it down.

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.
Rhody weaves such an intricate tapestry of Kentucky's diverse geography, cultures, and rich history that I felt I was riding along with Michael and Theo as they drove from one end of Kentucky to the other, gaining the support of powerful politicians throughout the Commonwealth; I was with them as they entered the mystical world of the Melungeons. (I've always been intrigued by the Melungeons!). It held my attention every step of the way. And that is no small feat!

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.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

Silas House: A Man With Soulful Eyes


I had a great weekend, the highlight of which was the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. Pitty Pat and I hopped into Suzanne's little Subaru early Saturday morning, and we sped down I-24 talking a mile a minute about all the books we would buy, the writers we would meet.
I was hoping to meet Rick Bragg, but he had already departed. I was also hoping to meet Elizabeth Berg, however, her presentation coincided with William Gay's movie (which was great!).
But we did meet Silas House.
Silas House is a young writer from Appalachia whom I came upon a couple of years ago when I was surfing the Internet looking for books by Southern writers. He wrote Clay's Quilt, A Parchment of Leaves, The Coal Tatoo. I have read them all and they are wonderful stories of family, love and loyalty, and very strong female characters.
A kind, gracious young man with soulful eyes, Silas shook our hands and smiled, more interested in talking about us than himself.
"Where y'all from?" he said.
"Paducah," we chimed.
"I've been to Paducah," he said, "And I love it, especially those beautiful murals down by the river."
I was proud to be standing alongside Silas House as Suzanne snapped our picture. He is not only a wonderful writer but a kind and compassionate human being.
I could see it all in his soulful eyes.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Froggy Went A-Courtin'

I KNOW it's your lawn chair, lady, but can't a guy get some sun?


Back off with that camera. Who do you think I am, Brad Pitt?


Whew...that was quite a leap!


Kiss my butt. I'm gonna go courtin'!

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Snippet List

I love to write. I get up each morning obsessed with what I'm working on, where my characters will take me, the next story I plan to write. And each time I leave the house I come back with new ideas, notes I've scribbled down, and snippets of conversations heard here and there.

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

The Powers That Be


I'm afraid I've been neglecting my blog lately.
My time has been consumed with eating barbecue and chili and all that good stuff, walking it off in this crisp fall weather, reviewing books, working on stories. And worrying about Leo.
We almost lost Leo. When I flipped his switch about a week ago, he was very weak. And unresponsive.
"Billy, oh Billy, please come quick!" I said, "Leo is sick! He's sick, sick, sick!"
"Dear wife, dear wife, it could be his heart," said Bill, "Call the doctor and prepare to depart."
As we rushed through the ER, I was babbling like a nut. One doctor stopped in his tracks and began scratching his butt.
"Oh, Doctor, oh, doctor, do you think Leo will live? Do you think he's done give all he can give?"
"Mrs. Wooley, Mrs. Wooley, I have not a clue. Nurse, nurse, call in the crew!"
"I can't stop worrying; I'm fixin' to cave! Is Leo headed to an early grave?"
"It's hard to say, but we shall see. His fate rests with the powers that be."
Leo is still in the hospital at this writing, but his medical team is positive about his recovery.
It had better be soon. I'm one step away from throwing my new "Vista-ed up" laptop straight to the moon.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Other Boleyn Girl


“Brenda, you’ll love this book,” Mother said a few weeks ago, “Both Patsy and I read it, and it is really good!”

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.
Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl is a riveting tale of love, sex, ambition and intrigue. It shows just how far one ambitious family was willing to go to secure their position of power in England during the Henry VIII era.
Mary Boleyn, who is fourteen years old, catches the eye of Henry VIII. Dazzled by the king, she falls in love with him. (That was before he got as big as the side of a barn!) But while she is pregnant with his child, the king’s interest wanes and she is forced to step aside for her sister, Anne. (The king could not be expected to do without sex for a few weeks, of course!) It is then that Mary realizes she is a pawn in her family's ambitious plots, and she knows she must defy her family and take her fate into her own hands.
Since Gregory added many historically accurate details, I kept forgetting it was fiction. And I could not put this book down. It drew me into the story and held my attention, even though I knew what the ending would be.
And, as we all know, it was not a good ending for Anne.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Kevin Skinner: You Make Us All Proud!


Kevin Skinner did it! He won the top prize on America's Got Talent: one million dollars! He received the most viewer votes and beat out nine other finalists.
In October, Kevin will headline an "America's Got Talent" show at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino hosted by Jerry Springer.
"I've always loved to perform," he said, bursting into tears, "I want to go out there and give 'em the best show I can."
Congratulations, Kevin! You make all Kentuckians proud.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Kevin Skinner's Big Night


Tonight is Kevin Skinner's big night on America's Got Talent. The show begins at 7:00 p.m, and the winner will be announced during the finale on Wednesday night. So be sure to vote!
I found the following story on a fan site about the character of Kevin Skinner:

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.
“Long sleeves or short sleeves?” Kevin said.
“Long sleeves.”
Kevin went to his closet, picked out a shirt, and threw it down to him.
Then the man asked if he had a dollar he could spare. So Kevin went inside and put some money into a small box and threw it down to him.
With tears in his eyes, the man looked up and thanked him.
"God bless you," said Kevin.
Now, that speaks volumes about the kind of man Kevin Skinner is.
If proud Kentuckians (and all of his fans throughout the U.S.) vote for him, Kevin could soon be a millionaire and have his own show in Las Vegas.
I don't think anyone deserves it more than he.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Grandparent's Influence

All of my grandparents were living when I was born, although my paternal grandfather died when I was three. I remember him, though; his kindness, the pats on my head, his snow-white hair and blue eyes, his gentle ways.

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

Congratulations, Kevin!


Kevin Skinner sang his father's favorite song, Willie Nelson's Always On My Mind tonight on America's Got Talent, and nearly brought Piers Morgan to tears. (That's saying a lot, since he is the toughest judge on the show!)
I'm not surprised, though. Kevin can bring anyone to tears with his heartfelt songs.
Congratulations, Kevin! May all your dreams come true.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Jane Fonda


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.
Jane has come a long way since her Barbarella days!


Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Very Good Week

Writing and reading are my true passions, so I've had a very good week.

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

Celebrity Gossip


Last week, Mother gave me a big stack of National Enquirers. I've only had time to read one, but I've learned some interesting celebrity gossip.
O. J. Simpson is having problems. His cellmate at Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada is scaring the daylights out of him.
"He's nuts!" O. J. squalled to a close friend, "He's a killer and a rapist, and he told me he hates my guts because I got away with murdering my ex-wife!" He went on to say his cellmate glares at him all the time, and now he's afraid to go to bed. "He told me he's going to strangle me in my sleep the first chance he gets!"
What a pity.
Remember Shelley Duvall, Jack Nicholson's reed-thin wife in The Shining? She lives in Blanco, Texas, and wanders around town by herself, looking disheveled and strange. She has gained 75 pounds, and dresses in odd, mismatched, hippie-ish clothing, her wild gray hair knotted in tie-dyed scrunchies. And she says she communicates with aliens.
Poor Shelley.
Larry King's wife, Shawn, has had divorce papers drawn up, and she says one false move from Larry and that will be it.
One false move from Larry? Seems to me she has been making the false moves. Larry caught her cheating with their sons' baseball coach. But she denies it, saying Larry is the one who has been cheating.
I'll bet Larry's suspenders are in a wad.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Give 'em hell, Harry!


Although I was a small child when Harry S. Truman was president, I do have hazy memories of Mother and Daddy talking about a newspaper headline stating that Dewey had defeated Truman.
"I kind of feel sorry for Dewey," says Mother, "Don't you?"
"No, I don't," laughs Daddy, "I'm just glad Truman got back in!"
I remember the adults quoting him: "The buck stops here," "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen," and the hoopla caused when a man yelled, "Give 'em hell, Harry!"
I remember seeing him in the newsreels at Milwain's; in one, he was walking at a fast clip around the White House grounds, Secret Service and newsmen trying to keep up. And I remember everyone talking about the atomic bomb. And Hiroshima.
A few days ago, a friend shared some little-known facts about our thirty-third president, and I found it most interesting.
Many U. S. scholars today rank Harry S. Truman among the top ten presidents. He probably made as many important decisions regarding our nation's history as any of the other forty-two presidents.
Truman paid for his own travel expenses and food when he was president. And when President Eisenhower was inaugurated, Truman and wife Bess drove home to Missouri by themselves. There were no Secret Service following him. (I can just picture the Trumans, giddy with relief, speeding toward Missouri, the weight of the world off their shoulders!)
The only asset he had when he died was the house in which he lived. His wife had inherited the house in Independence, Missouri from her mother, and other than their years in the White House, the Trumans lived their entire lives there.
When he retired from office in 1952, his income was a U.S. Army pension reported to have been $13,507.72 a year. After Congress discovered he was paying for his own stamps and personally licking them, he was granted an 'allowance.' Later, he received a retroactive pension of $25,000 per year.
When offered corporate positions at large salaries, he declined. "You don't want me," he said, "You want the office of the President, and that doesn't belong to me. It belongs to the American people and it's not for sale."
Even later, on May 6, 1971, when Congress was preparing to award him the Medal of Honor on his 87th birthday, he refused to accept it, writing, "I don't consider that I have done anything which should be the reason for any award, Congressional or otherwise."
Today, politicians have found a new level of success in cashing in on the Presidency, resulting in untold wealth. Many in Congress also have found a way to become wealthy while enjoying the fruits of their offices.
"My choices in life were either to be a piano player in a whore house or a politician," Harry Truman once said, "And to tell the truth, there's hardly any difference!"
I agree. Today's politicians have proven that.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Candle


My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light.

Edna St. Vincent Millay



Friday, August 14, 2009

Outside the Golden Door

For as long as Wal-Mart has been in existence, there have been benches just outside of each entrance of every store where I have shopped. I never paid much attention to them; I never sat on one. But I did notice people sitting there, waiting for busses, chatting, some smoking.

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."
"There were already several benches inside."

"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.
The benches are back.
* * *

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

Grand Rivers, Kentucky, 1956


I’ve been diligently working on a short story for days, so I decided to take a break and clean out my desk. My old diary was in the first drawer I opened, so I thumbed through the faded pages to see what I was doing on this date all those years ago.

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.
We stayed in Grand Rivers, a sleepy little town on Kentucky Lake.  Not much was there other than a grocery store, a rundown diner, an old brick schoolhouse and a small concrete motel, where we stayed for a week.

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.
“There is nothing going on in this one-horse town!” I said.
“No boys anywhere!” said Patsy Elsey.
We could not have been more wrong.
The next morning, Uncle Terrell and Aunt Eva and the boys rose at the crack of dawn and headed for the lake with their fishing gear. Much later, when Patsy Elsey and I got up, we plopped down in folding chairs on the motel lawn, sipping our coffee and mourning our fate.

“What are we going to DO all week in this hick town?” said Patsy Elsey.
It was then that we spotted two teenage boys sauntering down the road directly in front of us. Across the street, three boys were exiting the grocery store. Several more were milling around in front of the diner.
All were staring at us.
After that, boys were everywhere. When we walked out the door each morning, two or three were perched on the steps of the grocery, others ambling up and down the road. When we took long walks each day, several tagged along. When we went swimming, they were there. Always at a distance.

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.
Joyce popped her gum and winked at us: “Looks like y'all got a followin.’”
One day, two more boys appeared. And they weren't too shy to talk to us. They just walked right up and introduced themselves.

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.
We were both interested in Bud, of course.

“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.”
As luck would have it, little red-headed Richie liked me. And every time I turned around, he was at my elbow.
“My dad’s got a boat, Brenda. Want to go for a ride?”
“No, thank you, I get real bad sunburns.”
They were not deterred.

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.
Soon the four of us were zooming across the lake at breakneck speed in the big blue-and-white boat, Richie at the wheel. We all went swimming together. He bought my Cokes and chips at the diner and sat gazing into my eyes, fascinated by anything I had to say. And he kept me laughing all the time.
On our last night in Grand Rivers, Bud invited us to a dinner at the schoolhouse, just across the street from our motel. Uncle Terrell forbade us to go, but relented after a little coaxing from Aunt Eva: "Oh, come on, Doc! It's just across the street!"
It looked as if the whole town of Grand Rivers had turned out; the place was packed. And when we arrived, men were bidding on box lunches the women had prepared. Just like in the olden days.

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!"
As everyone looked at me, I scrunched down in my seat. “Richie! Don't do that!”
“Why not? You're the prettiest girl in the place!”
My heart did a flip-flop.
As it turned out, a six-year-old girl beat me out. But Bud and Richie walked us across the street to the motel that night; Bud's arm around Patsy Elsey; Richie and I walking along side-by-side. (I was a prude…wouldn’t even let him hold my hand!)

“See y’all tomorrow,” Bud called as they took off into the starlit night.

Richie turned and waved. “We’ll take another speedboat ride!”
By the time the sun rose the next morning, we were headed home.

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.
August 12, 1956:
We left Grand Rivers today…we had a GREAT time! It was WONDERFUL there! We met all the boys in town and went to a box supper! Richie put my name in a beauty contest and paid $10.00! Me! In a beauty contest! Fun, fun, fun!!!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Performance of the Night


Kevin Skinner performed "To Make You Feel My Love" on Tuesday night's episode of NBC's America's Got Talent, and touched me again. His heartfelt singing always brings me to tears.
Judge Sharon Osbourne said she was impressed with his performance and his new look, and Piers Morgan told Kevin his singing was the performance of the night.
"You are what this contest is about: pure unadulterated talent," said David Hasselhoff, "You deserve to be here. You're going all the way."
Truer words were never spoken.
Now on to the semi-finals, which I predict he will win.
Congratulations, Kevin! Western Kentucky and people all over the world are behind you. Every step of the way.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dudley's New Bed


Until one has loved an animal,
a part of one's soul remains unawakened.
~Anatole France~

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Press On, Kevin Skinner!

Since wowing judges on America's Got Talent early this month, Kevin Skinner's video, If Tomorrow Never Comes, has been viewed on YouTube more than a million times. And he is now one of the forty quarterfinalists.

"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

Published!


I was thrilled when I went to the mailbox today. My contributor's copy of Birmingham Arts Journal had arrived containing my personal essay, The Southern Way.
Birmingham Arts Journal is supported by the Alabama School of Fine Arts and other literary-minded organizations. And it is published without profit by passionate volunteers, which makes it even more special to me.
It is also available in its entirety online (click on "latest edition"). My essay is on page 37.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Unpardonable Sin



People are talking about President Obama. And it's not about bail-outs, health care, or other hot topics.
They are accusing him of wearing Mom jeans!
When he threw out the first pitch at the 2009 Major League Baseball All-Star Game last week, he was wearing a large, oversized pair. Unlike me, his were "borderline," so that's not as bad. But they were a tad on the short side. And he almost showed sock! Just walking across the field!
Our president must be appalled, as was I when Suzanne pointed out my fashion faux pas.
But, like me, he hates to shop. Had we gone to the mall more often, we might not have committed the unpardonable sin.
Maybe I can convince Suzanne to accompany us to Kentucky Oaks Mall next time he's in Paducah.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Second Fiddle

Pitty came for a visit and brought her new dog.
.
So now I'm playing second fiddle to Maddox.


He even took over my favorite napping place.


I'll just go ahead on and sleep on the floor.


But I don't mind telling you this situation makes my tail curl!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Morning Glory Rituals


I love Morning Glories.
Bill planted some for me under two big trees in our yard, and now they are climbing those trees at breakneck speed. One morning not long ago, I was thrilled to look out our dining room window and find two blooming.
I thought of Maw Maw George.
Pitty Pat and I spent a lot of time with our maternal grandparents, Maw Maw and Paw Paw George, when we were children. Especially during the summer.
We slipped between crisp ironed sheets, giggling and whispering late into the night to the Katydids' chants. We woke to the sounds of sizzling bacon and gurgling coffee, the familiar creaks of the worn linoleum floor as Maw Maw moved from stove to sink to table.
We meandered down the gravel lane to the mailbox, after breakfast, the air heavy with the scent of the Honeysuckle vines shrouding the fences on either side. Later, we spent time in our playhouse behind the Hollyhocks and rosebushes, stirring up exotic concoctions of leaves and weeds in the old pots and pans. Sometimes we paraded around the house in old dresses and high heels Maw Maw kept for us in the closet.
Other times, we played paper dolls on the big screened-in back porch. When we decided they needed a place to live, Maw Maw dug out file folders and showed us how to cut out pages of furniture from Sears Roebuck and glue them on the folders. After that, our voluptuous, long-legged beauties had homes, complete with living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms.
When we tired of other activities, we climbed high in the huge Oak tree in the front yard. We sat gazing through the fluttering leaves at the scene below, like sentinels in search of secrets, reveling in our anonymity: Nobody knows we’re here…

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.
That morning, she carefully snipped the flowers and placed them in big cardboard boxes, damp newspapers between the layers. Then Paw Paw carefully loaded them in the trunk, fired up the little black coupe, and we were on our way.
Pitty and I loved following Maw Maw through the quiet, peaceful cemeteries, watching her place bouquets on the graves. Every now and then, she pointed out various relatives' graves: Here are my grandparents’ graves; over there are Paw Paw’s grandparents, his little sister, Katie.
She always stood quietly, a faraway look in her amber eyes, before two small graves: Catherine, who died at five, and J. T., who was eighteen months.
One evening at twilight we were strolling through the back yard. Maw Maw was pointing out various species of flowers and telling us their names when I spotted a cluster of the brightest flowers I had ever seen. They were a startling violet, and seemed to glow.
I was enchanted.
"Maw Maw," I said, "What are those?”
"They're Morning Glories," Maw Maw said, "They don't open until twilight, and they close when the sun hits them."
"Do they always do that?"
"Always."
For some reason, I couldn't believe they always bloomed at twilight.
Thus began our Morning Glory Ritual. Regardless of what we were doing or how tired we were, Pitty and I raced to the back yard to check them out. I had a sneaking suspicion that we would come upon them one evening and find them hanging limply, heads bowed.
We never did, of course.
Now, I have my own Morning Glory Ritual. I gaze at them just outside my window as I have my morning coffee. And I think of Maw Maw, who will always bloom in my memories.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Still Going Strong


* * *

It was the year of big hair and shoulder pads. George Herbert Walker Bush was sworn in as president, and Oliver North had been convicted in the Iran-Contra affair. Unemployment was 5.3 percent; the cost of a first-class stamp was 25 cents, and gas was 97 cents a gallon.
Popular movies were When Harry Met Sally, Driving Miss Daisy, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Anne Tyler's Breathing Lessons won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction; Rain Man won the academy award for best picture, and Bobby McFerrin's Don't Worry, Be Happy was song of the year.
It was 1989, the year the first meeting of the George-Wilson Literary Club was held. And after 20 years, we're still going strong. Especially Mother.
She has never missed a meeting.

Friday, July 10, 2009

You GO, Kevin Skinner!


Kevin Skinner hails from Mayfield, Kentucky, which is only a skip and a jump from Paducah. And I was thrilled when he wowed the judges and audience of America's Got Talent with his rendition of "If Tomorrow Never Comes."
I was disgusted, though, by the judges' reactions when Kevin walked onstage...the shaking of their gleaming dyed heads, the smirky smiles, cracks about his Southern accent. And his job as a chicken catcher. (They had a ball with that one!)
"I am sick and tired of this," I said, "They are always making fun of Southerners. They think we're all ignorant, toothless hillbillies!"
"Yes," Bill said, "They do it every time."
"But no one ever complains about it"
As it turned out, I was wrong.
When I opened The Paducah Sun yesterday, there was a piece about Kevin by Adam Shull, entertainment reporter. "By the time the esteemed judges introduced Skinner to let him sing," he wrote, "I wanted to roast them in a barbecue cooker."
Fire up that barbecue cooker, Adam, I'm here to help.
And you go, Kevin. We're rootin' for you here in Paducah!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Where is Stretch?

I turned on TLC Monday night at 9:00 and found they were having a Cake Boss marathon! Had I known, I would have tuned in sooner. But I got to watch a few episodes.

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

Happy Independence Day!


We must be free not because we claim freedom,
But because we practice it.
~William Faulkner~

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The All-Star Special

Not long ago, Crystal Samuel and a couple of her friends went to a Waffle House in Manning, South Carolina and ordered the "All-Star Special Breakfast" (grits, sausage, toast, eggs and a waffle) to go. And then the three sat down in a booth to wait for their orders.

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

It Wasn't That Long Ago

Aunt Mona
* * *

It wasn't that long ago when you played games with me,
Treated me to ice cream sodas at Petrie's Drug Store,
Took me to Saturday matinees at Milwain's.

It wasn't that long ago when you swung me in the big tire swing,
Fixed my hair like Rita Heyworth's and Lana Turner's,
Let me ride with you in the rumble seat of the old Model-T.

It wasn't that long ago when you taught me to play
"Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer" on the piano,
Let me dig through your stash of movie magazines,
And didn't get mad when I tore some up.

It wasn't that long ago,
But it must have been.
Your hair was burnished auburn then,
And now it is sterling silver.

* * *

Happy 80th birthday, Aunt Mona. And thank you.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Always a Guiding Light

One Father's Day, back in the seventies, Pitty Pat and I were surprised to learn that we had given Daddy the same Father's Day card. We didn't know until he opened his gifts. We later talked about how long and hard we had searched for the perfect card for Daddy, she in Kentucky; I in Illinois.
And we found it:
A Father is neither an anchor to hold us back
Nor a sail to take us there,
But always a guiding light
Whose love shows us the way.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Cake Boss

I was channel-surfing a few weeks ago when I came upon a reality show, TLC’s Cake Boss. And I was mesmerized, unable to stop watching.
The show centers on Buddy Valastro and his century-old Carlo’s Bake Shop in Hoboken, New Jersey. An award-winning fourth-generation baker, Buddy is the mastermind behind the operation and oversees a staff, most of whom are family.
Buddy, 32, is husky, kind of cute (in a little-brother sort of way), extremely talented. And very high-strung. When catastrophic events occur, which is often, Buddy yells in a high whiny voice, sending most of the guys running for cover. Some stay and take the heat, though, and one very big baker yells back. (I suspect he is one of his brothers-in-law.)
Buddy is constantly tackling ornately complicated themed cakes, like a flower pot cake, a super hero cake, a circus cake for Britney Spears’ 27th birthday, a smashing red wedding cake with intricate gold trim. And some of his cakes were in wedding scenes in The Sopranos.
He drapes fondant that ends up looking like silky cloth over layers of wedding cakes; "quilts" fondant, and is constantly placing sugar flowers, butterflys and all kinds of things over layer after layer of one cake or another (they are always making several at a time). “I kinda go into a trance when I’m creating a cake,” he said, “I can see it in my mind.”
But Buddy does not go into a trance when dealing with “Stretch." A tall, thin boy with weird hair, Stretch delivers the cakes. “You better get this cake there on time today,” Buddy yells as Stretch heads out the door carrying a big cake, “Or else!”
Stretch says nary a word. He just skids off in the cake van, bumping over one pot hole after another (there are many pot holes in New York; my head hit the ceiling of a taxi in Manhattan once, and for a while I thought I had a concussion!).
Stretch pressed on, and he arrived on time. But when he opened the door, one side of the huge cake was smashed. (You should have seen the look on the poor boy's face.) A couple of bakers were sent to repair it, but not before Stretch caught hell from Buddy again.
On another day, Stretch delivered a huge cake one day early. “What’s this?” the hotel doorman ranted on Stretch’s arrival, “What’s this?"
The doorman's rants sent Stretch and the cake back to the bakery, where he caught hell from Buddy again. “How many times have I told you to look at the slips,” he squalled, “Look at the slips!”
I don't know how much of the show is staged, but it is certainly entertaining.
Last Monday night’s episode, Weddings, Water and Whacked, was hilarious. Buddy spent days on a huge roulette table cake for a local businessman who resembled The Godfather. He feared he might get whacked if the cake was not up to their standards. So he and two of his bakers rode alongside the huge cake in the back of the van as Stretch nervously transported them to their destination. (They made it, by the way, and The Godfather seemed happy with it.)
And then a bitchy bride-to-be, unhappy with the lovely wedding cake Buddy had made for her, hauled off and smeared red, blue and green frosting all over it! (I must admit, I have occasionally had the childish urge to slap the top layer off a wedding cake or dip both hands into the punch bowl at some formal function. So it was weirdly satisfying to see her ruin that beautiful cake!)
“When I’m decorating,” Buddy says, “I’m a happy guy.”
I'm glad he's happy. But I do wish he would lay off poor Stretch.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Scottish Lass

Gina hosted our June literary meeting on Saturday. Although attendance was low (several members were on vacation), we had a very productive meeting. And Gina's lunch (as always) was delicious.

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."

Why should the hard way be the only way up?
Why should the lonely way be the only way up?
Why should one suffer so much through their soul?
Then to reach at the end their ultimate goal,
To find the goal they had sought
Was not worth the battle
Through which they had fought.
(I can't find this poem anywhere, so I'm unable to give the poet credit.)
Maw Maw George (Mary) was with her the night she died. She had drifted in and out of consciousness for days, when all of a sudden she was lucid. And speaking. Maw Maw couldn't make out what she was saying until she leaned closer.

It was William C. Bryant's poem, Thanatopsis.

...By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him,
And lies down to pleasant dreams.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Prince of Frogtown


I have almost finished reading Rick Bragg's latest book, and I don't want it to end! The Pulitzer Prize winner and Alabama Distinguished Writer of the Year has outdone himself again.

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.
Rick Bragg says The Prince of Frogtown is his final book about his family. But I hope not. I want more!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Take Me Back to the Fifties

I'm afraid I've been remiss in updating this blog for the past couple of weeks; I've been busy writing. But I promise to do better!

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:

http://oldfortyfives.com/TakeMeBackToTheFifties.htm

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Take a Moment

As we share this holiday
With our friends or family
Take a moment to give thanks
To those who died so we'd stay free.
~Del (Abe) Jones~

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Southern Way


I have always felt a deep connection to my favorite writers, particularly William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams and a few others. I didn't choose their works because they are Southerners; I have just always been drawn to them. And not too long ago, I asked myself why.
Is it because we share a powerful sense of land, of place? A deep attachment to home and family; love and appreciation for those stories and legends handed down from generation to generation? Those powerful hellfire-and-damnation sermons to which most of us were subjected as we grew up? The secrets that simmer just beneath the surface in every family, every town? Eccentric characters who are too weird not to write about? Were the literary giants like me...unable to leave the past behind, driven to write about it?
When a subject takes hold of me, it sinks its teeth in and won't let go. So I was soon jotting down my thoughts, revelations. And before I knew it, I had an essay. I had planned to post it on this blog, but since I was excited about what I had discovered, I gave it to Suzanne to read.
Mom, this is more than a blog post," she said, "It should be published!"
I sent it to Jim Reed, editor of the Birmingham Arts Journal, and I heard from him on Monday. "The Southern Way" will be published in a future issue of the journal, both in print and online.
Have a great Wednesday, y'all!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Mom Jeans


There was a time when I wouldn't have been caught dead wearing anything that was out of style. My closet was bulging with the latest fashions, from earrings to shoes and everything in between.
But somewhere along the way my sense of fashion disappeared.
Since retirement, I've lived in jeans. Well, I dress up when I have to, like weddings, funerals, or some other formal occasion (I'm not a complete slob!). But I hate to shop, and seldom so, although I occasionally buy a few pairs of jeans. When I dress each morning, I just grab a pair, put them on, and go on about my business.
And then. It happened.
Yesterday, I stopped by my daughter's house. And as I was leaving, she walked me to the door.
"You look nice," she said.
"Thank you, sweetie."
"Your hair looks really good, and I love your blouse."
"Why, thanks!" I said, patting my hair and smoothing the sleeves of my new blouse. Suzanne is a fashion expert; she's always up to date on what's what in the fashion world. And she has impeccable taste.
She hesitated, a pained look sliding over her face. "Mom..."
"Yes?"
"I hate to tell you this..."
"What?"
"It's your jeans..."
I looked down at my jeans, "What?"
"Well," she said, placing her hand on my shoulder, "They're mom jeans.
"Mom jeans?"
"You know...tapered."
I held one leg out and looked. She was right!
"Oh, my goodness!" I said, "I was in such a hurry that I put on these old ones! I have newer ones; they're boot-cut. And I have several pair!"
"I know you do," she said, "And I knew you'd want to know."
Today I attacked my closets with the vengeance of an HGTV fashion consultant gone mad, slinging jeans all over that bedroom. I had no idea I had so many Mom jeans! Tomorrow I'm buying several more pairs of boot-cut. Maybe I'll buy a few others things, too.
Or maybe I'll just start all over and buy a whole new wardrobe. I just realized there might be some Mom dresses in my closet!

All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley