Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year, Dear Friends!

We will open the book.  Its pages are blank
The book is called "Opportunity." 
We are going to put words on them ourselves. 
And its first chaper is New Year's Day.

~Edith Lovejoy Pierce~ 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Happy 90th Birthday, Mother!

Mary Evelyn Wilson
(Photo:  Mary Ellen Thomason)

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Takin' Care of Business On Christmas Night

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas, Dear Friends

Christmas is forever, not for just one day,
for loving, sharing, giving, are not to put away
like bells and lights and tinsel, in some box upon a shelf.
The good you do for others is good you do yourself.

~Norman W. Brooks~

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Real Thing

A few days ago, I decided Bill needed a new suit and tie to wear to Mother's big birthday bash on the 30th. 

"I don't need a new suit and I don't like to wear a tie," he said, "I'll wear my navy blue slacks and sportcoat and one of  my turtlenecks. 

"Okay," I said, "We'll go to Davis Clothing and buy you a new sportcoat and turtleneck."

We went back and forth a while (he rarely buys anything for himself), but he finally agreed.

We headed out to Davises, where he selected a suede camel-colored sportcoat.  He has excellent taste; the color goes well with his deep brown eyes and thick gray hair.
Since they didn't carry men's sweaters at Davises, we were forced to go to Kentucky Oaks Mall, where there was not one genuine man's turtleneck to be found.  Those the salesclerks called turtlenecks were not turtlenecks.  They were fake turtlenecks.

Bill would have none of that.  "Let's get out of this damn mall," he said, "I'll wear my old black turtleneck.  It's the real thing."

As we stopped at a red light on our way home, I could hear R.E.O. Speedwagon's Take It On The Run blasting from the radio of a little white truck next to us. 

"I love that song," I said, "Suzanne played it all the time when she was a teenager."

I began singing along:  Heard it from a friend, who, heard it from a friend, who, heard it from a friend you been messin' around...

I glanced over at the driver of the little white pickup, a young man wearing a cowboy hat.  His window was down and he was singing along, too, fingers tapping the beat against his steering wheel.  He nodded at me and grinned. 

The man was Kevin Skinner.

I lowered the window.  "Kevin?"

"Yes," he said, turning the volume down and smiling.

"We're so happy you won America's Got Talent!" I said, "We voted for you."

"We sure did," called Bill.

His smile grew wider.  "Thanks, y'all," he said, "That sure means a lot to me."

"Good luck in your career," I said.

"Thanks," he said, "Thanks a lot.  I really appreciate that."

The  light turned green. 

"Merry Christmas," he said, "And God bless y'all!"
As we watched his little truck head toward Bockbuster Video, I turned to Bill.  "Kevin is a deep-down good person, isn't he?"

"Yep," Bill said, "He's the real thing."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Feeding Your Soul

A few days ago, I was informed by the publisher of Rose & Thorn Journal that my short story, Amazing Grace, has been accepted for publication in their online winter issue.
"Remember that morning you said your biggest dream was to see one of your stories in print?" Bill said with a smile, "And now you've had thirty published!"

I had forgotten about that morning four years ago. I had bought my first computer and was writing stories day and night. Although I had been writing most of my life, I didn't think anything I wrote was good enough for publication. (I had a couple of stories rejected years ago and promptly gave up.)
In the meantime, I kept writing. I was unable not to.
And then my mindset changed. Overnight. I got up one morning knowing I would be published. And I didn't know why: Positive thinking? Working hard? Giving it all I had?
I think it's all of the above.  As I wrote in my December 2007 post (All I Ever Wanted):   If you are driven to write, persist, and work like a coal miner digging those words out with a pick, your dreams will come true.
That statement does not only apply to writers. We all have talents, be it writing, painting, music, woodworking. Anything that feeds our souls. But if we ignore those talents, we are denying a part of ourselves and missing out on one of the most rewarding experiences of our lives.
Go ahead. Feed your soul. Trust me, you'll be glad you did.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Big Brother

He was two years older than me, and for a time it was just the two of us.

We were Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, riding our stick horses around the yard singing Happy Trails To You, or Gene Autry and Smiley Burnette, singing Back in the Saddle.  We snacked on leftover breakfast biscuits as we played, he shooing the chickens away as they tried to snatch my biscuit out of my hand. 

"Get outta here!" he yelled, stepping between me and the culprits, "Leave her alone!" 

By the time Pitty Pat, and later Mary Ellen, joined us, we were Tarzan and Jane; they, "Boy" and "Cheeta."  We roamed a little wooded area near our house, happening upon lions, tigers, venomous snakes, and natives of the jungle intent on boiling us alive.  (He always came swinging  in on a grapevine, saving us all and yelling that Tarzan yell). 

Sometimes we were soldiers, fighting valiantly against Hitler and the Japanese, he jumping from being the good guy to the bad guy.

"Tat-tat-tat!" he yelled, waving his stick machine gun in the air, "Tat-tat-tat!" 

He usually arrested us and took us to Hitler who sentenced us to hard time in the screened-in front porch.  But it wasn't long before he charged over the hill and busted us out.
When we sisters became bored by rough-and-tumble games, we retired to the side porch where we served tea to our dolls.  He showed up, sooner or later, pisols drawn.  
"Come out with your hands up, or I'll shoot up this place!"
We scurried here and there, trying to protect our dolls.  Despite our best efforts, they were all hit by flying bullets, which necessitated turning our tea-party area into a hospital.  They recovered.  But not always right away.  I seem to recall one doll lying around for weeks, a rag tied around her head. 
During the wintertime, one of the games we played was "Bank."  He was the banker; Pitty, Mary Ellen and I proprietors.  We snipped pages from Sears & Roebuck and trimmed them into shapes of bills which we presented to our younger brothers and sisters with instructions to shop at our stores.  When the business day was over, we took our money to the bank.
"Y'all have got to save your money," he said, counting our money and writing receipts, "And the place to put it is in this bank." 
Sometimes he donned his lawyer hat, and we lined up at the desk for legal advice.  When things got out of hand, we went to trial where he presided as judge.  Things were usually resolved without incident; however, I was once banned from the court room because of my "big mouth."
One day, a major problem arose.  The subject was an old setting hen who had been trying to flog some of the little ones.  We often had to rush out and rescue them and run her off. 
I suggested she be taken into custody and put on trial.  The judge agreed.
Pitty, Mary Ellen and I were on the jury, as was our younger brother, Ted.  The hen was found guilty and sentenced to three "dips," which meant dunking her head three times in a bucket of water.
Mother soon put an end to the dunkings.  But that hen never tried to flog anyone again.   
One election year, he and I were Presidential candidates.  We stood on an upside-down wash tub in the back yard, making numerous campaign promises.  He was Dwight Eisenhower and I was Adlai Stevenson.  The little ones sat in a circle around the tub, clapping and cheering after each speech.  (One day I walked off in a huff.  They were cheering louder for my opponent!)
Those are just a few of the fun things we did when we were kids down on the farm.  And it would not have been the same without my big brother.
Happy birthday, Terry.  I miss you more as the years go by. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Ways of War

Mary Ellen snapped this photo of Uncle Tom and me just after his 91st birthday last December.  We were discussing the battle of Anzio Beachhead in which he participated during World War II. 
During the course of our conversation, I asked him if he still dreams about the war.  "Well," he said, a faraway look in his brown eyes, "Every now and then." 
Although I was five years old when the war ended, I can still put myself back in that time and place:  Uncle Tom's tiny, slick V-mails, Mother and Daddy huddled near our big battery-powered radio listening to President Roosevelt's fireside chats, Mother tearing rationing stamps from a strange little book, the look on Daddy's face when he learned one of his best friends was a prisoner of war.  
But what I remember most vividly is the gaunt look on Uncle Tom's dark, handsome face and the restlessness and nervous energy surrounding him when he returned home.    
I pulled up some of those memories and wrestled them into a short story, Because of the War, which was published in the spring 2008 issue of Straylight Literary Magazine.
I think it is very important that all veterans (particularly World War II veterans) leave behind their personal accounts of war.  My former boss and treasured friend, Frank Chambers, wrote his.  And Uncle Tom recently published The Ways of War, which was edited by Mary Ellen. 
Congratulations, Uncle Tom.  God bless you and veterans everywhere.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

G. I. Joe & Lillie

A friend sent me a link to this very touching song, which was written by Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys.  It is a tribute to his parents, both of whom served in the military during World War II.  He wrote the song in conjunction with his book, G. I. Joe & Lillie: Remembering a Life of Love and Loyalty. 
I doubt you will be able to watch the video without shedding a few tears.  
I know I couldn't.     

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Miss Lily Takes Over

Sometimes writing is difficult and gut-wrenching; other times it's sad and poignant.  And every now and then it's just plain fun.  
I started writing a fictional piece about Miss Lily, a retired school teacher, and she moved right in, took over, and just about wrote it herself.  I chuckled all the way through it.   
Late Corn is scheduled to be published in the January 2011 issue of Front Porch Review.      

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dudley Takes A Hike

Hey, y'all!  I'm in Gina's pickup headin' to Laketon!

Some hikers take off in a hurry as I try my best to keep up.
Others are dillydalling, talking and laughing.

As Popsy and Eric, in deep conversation, bring up the rear.
Me?  Well, I'm gazing into the distance, realizing we will NEVER catch up.

Back at the ranch, I flirt with Beatrice.
And hide among the feet as this photo is taken.

Ending this fine day by the campfire on Popsy's lap.

* * *

(Note:  Thanks to Suzanne and Gina for some of these pictures!)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Quiet Your Soul

Take a few moments and quiet your soul.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Pitty Pat hosted our literary club meeting yesterday.  She combined it with a Halloween party.  We had a delicious meal, a productive meeting, and a rollicking good time. 
Pitty Cat greets a cute little gypsy woman (who also happens to be our Mother).

Mary Ellen, as a sexy Dolly Parton, and Tom, a very scary Jason.  (He was wielding a hatchet and a knife!)

Gina, a very pretty railroad lady, and our guest (Pitty's grandson, Sawyer).  He didn't dress up, but he spent a great deal of time laughing at us all.

Aunt Mona changed out of her costume early.  She had a senior citizens dance to attend later that afternoon.

Eva, flapping around as a great Daisy Gatsby.  (She left feathers behind when she departed.)

Daisy and Dolly serenade us on the piano as the railroad lady looks on.

All the while, Sawyer and his great-great aunt cutting a rug.  (That's Maddy in the background, running for cover.)

As the party broke up, Sawyer snapped this photo.  That's me in the middle, dressed as a policeman who has just been roughed up by thugs.
Happy Halloween, dear friends! 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sunday, October 24, 2010

My Favorite Season

No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace
as I have seen in one autumnal face.
~ John Donne ~

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Meeting Miss Barbara

It is a cold Saturday afternoon and my grandmother and I are entering Bardwell Deposit Bank.   

I stare at my new patent leather shoes, the ambiance of this strange and foreign place enveloping me: the clinking of coins, the soft murmurings of very tall people--top halves of their bodies a blur--the marble floor, high ceilings.  I smell mothballs, old paper, dust.  And other scents I am unable to identify in my not-yet-three-year-old mind.
As Maw Maw leads me to the teller cage, a huge woman's face appears behind the bars.

"Hello, Miss Muriel," she says, peering down at me over tiny spectacles, "This your little granddaughter?"

Maw Maw smiles.  "Yes, this is Brenda" she says, "Tommy and Evelyn's oldest girl."

"What a fine little girl you are!" she says, spectacles sliding down her nose a bit.

I hide my face behind Maw Maw's coat and observe her shoes.  They are black, lace-up, with strange chunky heels.  

She gently nudges me forward.  "Say hello to Miss Barbara."

I keep gazing at Maw Maw's shoes.  And her stockings.  They are the color of Mother's nightgown, and very thick.

"She looks just like Tommy," Miss Barbara says, slapping a stack of bills on the counter, "Can she talk?"

"Oh, yes!" Maw Maw says, "She's just bashful." 

"What's the matter?" Miss Barbara says, pushing her spectacles up where they belong and chuckling, "The cat got your tongue?"

I look away.   

Maw Maw puts her money in her purse and takes my hand, "Now, say bye bye to Miss Barbara."

"Bye bye, Brenda," Miss Barbara says, smiling, "Come back and see us!"

I am anxious to leave.  I am tired of Miss Barbara.

As we head to the door, Maw Maw kneels to button my coat.  "Wanna go down to the dime store and get a candy bar?

"Yes, Maw Maw!  I wanna go get a Payday!"

She takes my hand and we walk out of the bank, my new patent leather shoes making satisfying little clicks on the marble floor.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Still Woman Enough

I love biographies. And autobiographies, if the writer tells all. So I was thrilled when I discovered Loretta Lynn's 2002 book, Still Woman Enough. I knew if anyone told all, it would be her.

Loretta (with Patsi Bale Cox) writes about things she couldn't put in her first book, Coal Miner's Daughter. Why? Because her husband was still alive.  And he ruled the roost in the Lynn home. In the book and movie, he was portrayed as a happy-go-lucky drinker and philanderer; harmless, even funny at times.

But there was a darker side to Doolittle Lynn.

As in her first book, Loretta writes about their marriage in 1948 when she was thirteen, his dumping her for another woman when she was pregnant with their first child, their reconciliation and move to Washington state where Doo found work as a farm hand.

And thus began the most miserable twelve years of Loretta's life.

While cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, working her garden, canning, taking care of her children and sewing all of their clothes, she cleaned Doo's employer's house and cooked meals for thirty-six field hands each day. Her pay was a rent-free house for the family.

Doo was paid in cash, so he considered all of the money his. He took off on drinking binges for weeks at a time, leaving the family penniless. Loretta picked gallons of strawberries for money to buy groceries; when that ran out, she was forced to rely on Doo's employer for food. When there was no food left, she shot squirrels and rabbits to feed her children.

"I put up with it because of the kids," Loretta said.

But she's the first to admit it was Doo who bought her a seventeen-dollar guitar and forced her to sing in public.

"I could never have done it on my own," she said, "Whatever else our marriage was back in them days, without Doo and his drive to get a better life, there would have been no Loretta Lynn, country singer.

Loretta quickly rose to stardom, recording sixteen number one hits, Doo's shenanigans providing grist for songs such as Don't Come Home A'Drinkin' (With Lovin' On Your Mind) and Fist City.

"Every song that I wrote, you can bet that half of it was about him," she said.

Loretta said the happiest time in their marriage was when they toured the country together in 1960 to promote her first record, I'm a Honky Tonk Girl. They had a common goal and were working together.

But Doo was brutal and controlling. He beat Loretta, often calling her an "ignorant hillbilly,” and took charge of all of her earnings. While she was on the road (over 300 days a year), he was spending money faster than she could make it: swigging whiskey like it was going out of style, starting businesses that went belly-up, and sleeping with other women.

It was a lonely life for the singer, and when she was home she found it hard to fit into her family. "I felt like a money tree that had been shook," she said. "I never felt like I was needed, wanted, or anything. They all had their own lives."

Doo seldom accompanied her on the road, but every now and then he showed up unexpectedly. "He was checking on me," she said, "He thought I was two-timing him." 

There is much more in her book: the loss of her son, Jack Benny (the darkest time in her life), the deaths of her parents, brothers, Conway Twitty, and Doo's illness and death. She cared for Doo night and day. And shortly before he died, in 1996, he apologized for all the misery he had caused her.

"I miss Doo," she said, "I miss him a lot."

Now, Loretta lives in the shadow of her own myth, running a dude ranch and tourism complex about an hour west of Nashville. She lives in a house behind the larger one that she shared with Doo. She never felt comfortable there, she says, because Doo's girlfriends were in the house when she was on the road.

Last year, she went home to Butcher Holler to decorate her parents' graves. "I looked around and I thought, `How did I get out of this place?' If it hadn't been for Doo, I'd still be back there."

After reading the book, I think she might have been better off.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

None Too Happy

Bill and Dudley usually go to bed before I do, and Dudley always sleeps under the covers near the foot of our bed.  Imagine my surprise when I found him snoozing on my side of the bed tonight.  He knew he would soon be moved back to his regular place, so he was none too happy when I snapped this picture.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Where minds fail, music speaks.

~Hans Christian Anderson~

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Puff Daddy

I fell in love with Eddie Fisher's voice when I was thirteen.  Before I ever laid eyes on him.  He was singing Oh, My Pa Pa at Milwain's as we stared at the black screen, munching on popcorn and waiting for the movie to begin. 

After that, I fought the family to watch his TV show, Coke Time, each Wednesday night, and scanned Photoplay and Modern Screen magazines to find out all I could about the handsome singer. 
"He needs to marry Debbie," I said, "She'd be perfect for him."

"Hollywood's a big place," Pitty Pat said, "They might not even know each other."
Debbie Reynolds was my favorite movie star.  I had pin-ups of her all over one wall of the bedroom I shared with Pitty and Mary Ellen.  I even wrote her a fan letter.  She quickly responded, scribbling me a personal note and including an autographed photo:  "Fun Always, Debbie Reynolds."  (Wish I still had it!)
We were dumbstruck when Debbie and Eddie began dating.

"That's unbelievable!" Pitty said, "It's like you got them together!"

I followed their courtship closely and was thrilled when they tied the knot.  I was appalled, however, with their choice of names when their daughter was born.

"She's so cute," I said, "Debbie should've named her something besides Carrie Frances!"

A few years later, Eddie left Debbie for Elizabeth Taylor, who, strangely enough, was Pitty's favorite movie actress. (She had pin-ups of Liz on another wall of our bedroom).  But Eddie was history by then; Elvis had burst on the scene and rock & roll had arrived. 

Eddie lost Liz to Richard Burton, and he went on to marry Connie Stevens.  They divorced, and he married two more times.  Somewhere along the way he began taking drugs, and he admitted spending his twenty-million-plus fortune on drugs and gambling.  He wrote two books, mostly devoted to trashing Debbie and Liz.  Carrie was so upset that she threatened to change her name to Reynolds.

I'm glad she didn't.  I read today on her blog that she called him "Puff Daddy."

Eddie died a few days ago, at eighty-two.  And although he made many mistakes in his lifetime, it does not change the fact that he was once a handsome and successful young man with a melodious tenor voice.

Rest in peace, Puff Daddy.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Happy Birthday

to my lovely daughter, Suzanne

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Seasons in Life

Thanks, Pitty Pat, for forwarding The Seasons in Life.  I loved it, and I think my readers will, too.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Like It's the Last Goodbye

Kevin Skinner
(Photo:  Perry Jones)

I love Kevin Skinner's video, Like It's the Last Goodbye, from his CD, Long Ride (Cypress Tree Records, John Lloyd Miller, Director).  Although you will be forced to sit through a commercial before Kevin sings, it is well worth the wait.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Unique Life of a Hermit

When I was younger, I was on the go all the time, working full-time, getting together with friends, going to movies, shopping, running all over the place.  And when I wasn't going, I was thinking up places to go.

Since retiring, I find I love spending time at home with Bill (and Dudley), writing, thinking about writing, reading, reflecting on life, cooking, taking long walks, and just puttering around. I still enjoy visiting with family and friends, taking short vacations, dining out, and catching a movie every now and then.  But afterward, I can't wait to get home.

That is one of the reasons I enjoy Cara Swann's blog, Mad, Mad World.  She is a writer who is a widow and living alone in the Deep South.  Like me, she loves her solitude.  I suggest you check out her site; I think you will enjoy it.  A few days ago, she posted this video, Unique Life of a Hermit, and I found it very interesting.        

Sunday, August 29, 2010


There's nothing to writing.
All you do is sit down at a typewriter
 and open a vein.

~Walter Wellesley Smith~

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Angelina: An Unauthorized Biography

I just finished Andrew Morton's latest book, Angelina: An Unauthorized Biography, a birthday gift from my sister, Mary Ellen.  It was entertaining.  And very shocking.
According to Morton, the award-winning actress has had more lovers than you can shake a stick at, including actors Jeff Goldblum and Timothy Hutten, Rolling Stoner Mick Jagger, and Calvin Klein model, Jenny Shimizu.  
She has taken every drug you can imagine; loves participating in threesomes, and keeps an array of knives, toys and whips to enhance her sexual enjoyment.  
She once hired a hit man.  To kill her.  She is fascinated with blood (often cutting herself) and has tattoos all over her body.  "I love getting tattooed," she says, "The heavy rattle of the needle turns me on."
When she wed British actor Jonny Lee Miller in 1996, she wore a pair of black rubber pants and a white shirt, on which she had written the groom's name in her blood.  They divorced a couple of years later.  (She ate him alive, friends say.) 
After taking a shine to Billy Bob Thornton, she had his name tattooed below her bikini line before they became lovers (talk about self confidence!), and then she took off after him like a hound dog chasing a coon, suffering a nervous breakdown in the process. 
After recovering, she swooped in and snapped up Sling Blade before he knew what hit him.  Although he was engaged to actress Laura Dern and planned to have children with her, he left with Jolie and never looked back.  (Leaving Dern a howling, devastated mess, friends say.)

The couple got married in 2000 and were soon wearing vials of each other's blood around their necks and bragging about their wild sexual shenanigans.

"Sex for us is almost too much," Billy Bob said, "I almost got killed last night.  You know when you love someone so much you can almost kill them?  Well, I was looking at her sleep and I had to restrain myself from literally squeezing her to death!"  (Sounds like her craziness rubbed off on Billy Bob!) 

When Jolie set her sights on Brad Pitt (while co-starring with him in Mr. and Mrs. Smith), the boyish Missouri-born actor dropped wife Jennifer Aniston like a hot potato and followed Jolie all over the globe.  Jennifer had been trying to convince Brad to start a family, but he refused. However, as soon as he and Jolie got together, they adopted two more orphans (she already had one) and had three biological children. (What a betrayal!)

Although her father, Jon Voight, tried to be a positive influence in her life, Jolie blames him for all of her problems.  But she thought her mother, Marcheline Bertrand, hung the moon. 

According to the book, most of her problems were caused by her mother.  The couple split up when Jolie was only a few months old; after that, Marcheline couldn't stand to look at her.  ("Because she looks so much like him!" she said.) 

So how did Marcheline deal with the situation?  She installed the baby and her nanny in an apartment two floors above the apartment in which she lived with her other child, three-year-old James.  Jolie and her nanny lived there for about two years, Marcheline popping in to visit about once a week.  (Can you imagine?)

Despite all of the above, Jolie has still managed to become a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations and the "most powerful celebrity in the world." 

If you like books about celebrities, this one will knock your socks off.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Remembering Laketon

Wilson Family Hike
 Fall, 2006
 (Photo:  Tim Walker)

It has been so hot lately that I'm already looking forward to crisp fall weather.  And our annual family hike.

We hike in late October or early November in the Mississippi River Bottoms near Laketon each year.  We feel like kids again, joking, making puns and laughing as we roam those familiar hills and hollows, looking for lucky rocks and reminiscing about the place we love so well.  Sometimes we tramp deep into the woods, braving snakes and other critters, searching for the tree on which our young Uncle Doyce carved his initials over eighty years ago.  It takes a while, but we always find it.

Later, as the sun sets and the weather turns cool, we gather around a big bonfire for a wiener roast.

We call the whole area Laketon.  But the little town is no longer there; it disappeared years before we were born.  As we were growing up, though, everyone acted as if it were:  "The pears are ripe," Maw Maw Wilson says, "We'll go down to Laketon today and get some." "Where is such-and-such?" someone says.  "On the other side of Laketon," says Daddy.

I hope the next generation of Wilsons keeps up the tradition of family hikes.  And I hope they will always remember Laketon.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Being Dead Is No Excuse

One of several birthday gifts I received from my lovely daughter was a very entertaining book: Being Dead Is No Excuse, by Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays. I read it cover to cover last night and chuckled all the way through.

Subtitled The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral, the book gives you a look at the rituals and food surrounding a Southern funeral: the appropriate flowers, the proper language in the obituary (glossing over the not-so-nice things the deceased did during his/her lifetime), and making sure you spend eternity among your relatives in the family graveyard after being glowingly eulogized at a well-attended funeral.

The stories are hilarious. One dowager wanted to be laid out on her dining-room table; one minister fell head-first into the grave; one family got three sheets to the wind and ate the entire feast the night before the funeral.  And although old Mrs. Gilbertson's daughter hacked her to death with a pair of garden shears, relatives threw her a lovely funeral. 

Southern women are very serious about the preparation of their special dishes to take to the bereaved family. (Sometimes they start preparing their dishes before the poor person has died.) Aside from the tongue-in-cheek humor, which the authors swear is more truth than fiction, there are delicious Southern dishes that must be served.

"The deceased cannot be expected to leave this earth," says Metcalfe, "without that Southern comfort food!"

Each chapter includes delicious recipes, many of which are found at funeral receptions in the Mississippi Delta. They include tomato aspic (with homemade mayonnaise), fried chicken, butter beans (with crumpled bacon on top), tomato pie, pimiento cheese (the paste that holds the South together, say the authors), fried walnuts, Liketa Died Potatoes, pickled figs, Can't-Die-Without-It Caramel Cake, Aunt Hebe's Coconut Cake. 

And those are only a few of the recipes. (I can't wait to make fried walnuts, hot pimiento cheese with bacon, and those Liketa Died Potatoes!)

The food is divided up by religion.  Methodists are known for their casseroles with the cook's name taped to the bottom of the Pyrex dish. "Nothing whispers sympathy quite like a frozen-pea casserole," Metcalfe says, "And the Baptists have tiny marshmallows in their salads.  The Episcopalians?  "We spend our lives making cheese straws."

Some of the names in the book have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty, although Metcalfe and Hays agree it would take townsfolk "about two seconds" to figure out who's who. "If you make a beautiful coconut cake, we used your name," Metcalfe says. "But if you hacked your mother to death, we changed the name."

Southern women always want to look their best, even if they happen to be dead. "Bubba" Boone is the local undertaker, who, Metcalfe says, "could make you look better than a plastic surgeon, though, unfortunately, you do have to be dead to avail yourself of his ministrations."

Bubba did such a good job on Sue Dell Potter, a waitress over at Jim's Cafe, one matron couldn't believe it when she went to call. "Never in a million years would I have thought it was her, bless her heart."

As for the cemetery, some Greenville women already have their names etched in stone, just to assure their place. And your place within the cemetery is important. One "uppity" Greenville matron had boxwood planted around her grave to block out the neighbors. And each time one Greenville native, who now lives in New York, returns home, she goes to her plot and stretches out, to ensure that nobody has encroached. (Her big fear is ending up in the new part of the cemetery where, she says, she doesn't know a soul.)

If you want a lot of laughs and some wonderful Southern recipes, I think you will enjoy this book.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Regulars

There was a time when I loved to shop.

Many Saturdays, Suzanne and I could be found at Eastland Mall in Bloomington, Illinois, strolling through all the stores, checking out the latest styles, trying on clothes, buying clothes, having lunch, looking at more clothes, buying more clothes.

Now, I hate to shop.  And it's no wonder.
Most women's clothes of today are designed for six-feet-tall teenagers weighing a hundred pounds or less:  dresses and blouses splattered with bright blues, oranges, purples, not to mention those horrible zebra stripes; very short, odd-looking skirts with belts dangling on the hips; suits with jackets ending just below the bust line (which make a normal woman's hips look wider than Oprah's!), and those five-inch heels, with toes sharp enough to smash cockroaches in the corner.

A few weeks ago, I traipsed all over Kentucky Oaks Mall searching for a nice dress or suit to wear to my nephew's wedding.  But when I entered Dillard's, I knew I was in trouble.  They were having a sale, and The Regulars were out in full-force.

The Regulars are women who shop til they drop.  All the time.  And when a sale is going on, they go crazy, traveling in packs, rushing here and there, huffing and puffing, giggling and squealing:

"Ooooh, look at this, Maxine, this would look SO cute on you!"  

"Oh, no, Joyce," Maxine says, mopping her brow with an embroidered handkerchief, "It would look a whole lot cuter on you!" 

I was in a bad mood (as I usually am when I shop), so I moved as far away from them as possible.  The other side of the store, actually.  But as soon as they spotted me, they rushed over and start pawing through clothes on the very rack  was looking through.  When I moved to another rack, they moved right along with me:

"Oooh, look at that CUTE zebra-stripe dress!" says Joyce, her moist breath on my neck, "Do you think they have it in size twenty?"

"I dunno," says Maxine, turning to me:  "Do you see a twenty over there?"

I grit my teeth and try to arrange my face in a pleasant look:  "No, these are all eights and tens."

A sudden blast of music almost knocks me flat:  Johnny Cash and June Carter's "Ring of Fire."

It is Joyce's cell phone.  She lets it ring a while (to make sure every customer in Dillard's hears it, I suppose), and then she answers.  In my EAR:  

"WHAT!" she barks,"No!  We ain't through yet!"

"Husbands!" she says, dropping the phone in her gigantic gold purse and rolling her eyes at me.

I leave the store without buying a thing.

I know I'm sounding like a bitch, and I guess I am.  When it comes to The Regulars.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Life Without Love

Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit.
~Khalil Gibran~

Monday, July 19, 2010

Shared Memories, Part II

(Thanks for the photos, Billy!)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Shared Memories

Friday night, I attended a gathering at Luke's Family Restaurant in Arlington for the first two graduating class of Carlisle County High School. 

Since this was a yearly mini-reunion, all of our classmates were not there.  But I got to visit with two of whom I had not seen in years: Barbara, who traveled all the way from Florida for the event, and Richard, who is in bad health but still has that same twinkle in his eye.
After delicious catfish dinners, there was much reminiscing.
"Remember Judy sitting out there on the sidewalk, crying her eyes out, when we were in first grade?" said Joyce Gail.
Judy laughed.  "I was such a baby!"
"Not as big a baby as Jimmy Lee," I said, "The poor boy cried so much that he walked around with bloodshot eyes and a bloated face for weeks!"
Later, our group gathered in the parking lot for pictures. (I must've had my camera on the wrong setting; the picture came out too light. Darn it!)
"Alright," called Billy, "Who's going to the play-party tonight?"
"Listen up!" I said, "Billy will be at The Hut tonight in his big ole black car to take us to the play-party!"
Pitty Pat and I loved going to those play-parties, although Mother had forbidden us to go.  "They drink and do no telling what over there!" she said.  Nevertheless, we piled into Billy's car and sped off to Wickliffe every chance we got.
"Remember Ray Smith?" Billy said.

"How could anyone forget Ray Smith?" someone said.

"He always sang Elvis's Hard Headed Woman, I said, "At every play-party!"

Several people began singing:  "Well, a hard headed woman, a soft hearted man, been the cause of trouble ever since the world began...!" 

Believe it or not, Ray shot to fame a couple of years later with Rockin' Little Angel.

"Remember that hayride Sophomore year," someone said, "When SJ smooched so much that her lips bled?"

There was almost total silence, and then everyone burst out laughing.  (Fortunately, SJ was not there!)      

Before the evening was over, Billy, Jackie and Buddy, and Chuck told me they read my blog.  (Thanks, y'all!) 

"Trouble is," Billy said, "You've quit posting!"

I'll do better, Billy.  Promise!

Ah, the days of play-parties, hayrides and rock & roll!  There are no friends like old friends; no memories like shared memories.  And I appreciate them more and more as the years go by.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Life is always a tightrope or a feather bed.
Give me the tightrope.

~Edith Wharton~

Friday, June 25, 2010

At Home in the World

As most people know, J. D. Salinger was the author of the twentieth-century American classic, The Catcher in the Rye.  Many people also know that after the book was published, he moved to a farm in New Hampshire, never wrote another book, and lived in seclusion for the rest of his life. 
"What a genius he was," I said to my husband, when Salinger died earlier this year at ninety-one, "And what a lonely life he led."
Genius, maybe.  But after reading Joyce Maynard's memoir, I've learned his life was not what it seemed.  And far from lonely.
In At Home in the World, Maynard reveals the details of an affair she had with Salinger when he was fifty-three and she was eighteen.  (She looked about twelve, though, with her huge, sad eyes and wafer-thin body.)  A freshman at Yale, she came to Salinger's attention in 1972, when the New York Times Sunday Magazine published her photograph on its cover in connection with her essay An Eighteen-Year-Old Looks Back on Life.  Salinger wrote her a fan letter, and thus began a months-long courtship by mail and telephone, which culminated with Maynard's visiting him at his farm in New Hampshire. 
She eventually dropped out of Yale and moved in with him. Still a virgin and very tense, their relationship was never fully consummated.  In one scene she writes:  He takes hold of my head, then, with surprising firmness, and guides me under the covers. Under the sheets with their smell of laundry detergent, I close my eyes. Tears are streaming down my cheeks. Still, I don't stop. So long as I keep doing this, I know he will love me.
Salinger indoctrinated her with his homeopathic theories about food (they ate peas and brown rice most of the time, and lamb burgers, which he froze and cooked for a few minutes at 150 degrees).  He also taught her how to induce vomiting in order to avoid absorbing "toxins."  (I'm sure that helped her anoxeria!)
He controlled every aspect of her life, going so far as trying to talk her out of cooperating in the promotion of a book that Doubleday had contracted her to write.
At Home in the World is a memoir by a writer who has the courage to show herself, warts and all.  (And I very much admire that.  As a writer of sorts myself, I know how difficult that is to do.)  She also writes about her strange family, her terrible marriage, her children, and her career adventures.
Even before she decided to write the book, Maynard says, she knew she'd be taken to task for "presuming to talk about this icon, Salinger." She feels there's a double standard afoot, that "the same kind of truth-telling that has resulted in my being labeled, by some, 'a shrill, hysterical fishwife' or 'a vengeful harpy,' if manifested by a male storyteller might be termed 'brave, gritty, raw honesty.'"  (Right on, Joyce!)

Salinger often accused Maynard of writing too much callow, crowd-pleasing journalism.  "Some day, Joyce, you'll stop looking over your shoulder to make sure you're keeping everyone happy," he said, "And you'll simply write what's real and true."  (Little did he know she would one day write his real and true story!)

After nine months, J. D. Salinger discarded Maynard like a worn-out rag doll, causing her to go into a deep depression and a long-lasting obsession that she confronts at last in the book.  And although she left thinking she would always hold a special place in his heart, she learned years later that she was just one of many very young girls he lured into his New Hampshire hideaway hole.
All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley