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.
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.
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.
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.