Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!


Christmas waves a magic wand over this world,
and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.

~Norman Vincent Peale~

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Writing

The profession of writing is a violent, indestructible passion.
When it has once entered people's heads, it never leaves them.

~George Sand~

Friday, December 2, 2011

Kamy

 

Each time I gaze into your eyes,
I thank God for you

~Granda~

(Photo:  Amanda Melton)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Luvean Revisited

Mary Ellen, Mother and I with the Oak Ridge Boys

Mother, Mary Ellen and I had a great time last night.  We were guests of The Oak Ridge Boys at their Christmas show here in Paducah.  We were also invited back stage where this photo was taken (thanks to Eddie's Photography).

As readers may recall, The Oaks considered recording a song (Luvean's Leavin') which Mother and I wrote back in 1983; however, it never came to fruition.  But the minute they saw us last night, Duane yelled, "I had a true love, her name was Luvean!"

"She's a fixin', she's a fixin'," called Joe.

We were flabbergasted.  "Y'all remember the words after all these years?"

Joe laughed.  "Sure we do! Even our kids know the words!"

Before we could digest this, Duane chimed in, "Could you send us another copy?"

I dug up another tape of the famous Luvean's Leavin' this morning and sent it to the Oak Ridge boys.

Stay tuned.  We'll see what happens this time around!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Poem, Yellowed and Creased


~Dreams~
Dreams are like mist at evening,
Blown in from the cold, gray sea;
A night bird's lonely calling
For things that never can be;
Like down from a thistle passing
On the wings of a summer breeze,
Or the heartache in the murmer
Of whispering, restless trees.
Sometimes, like distant music
Strangely sweet and clear,
I dream I hear you calling,
And feel that you are near.

Mabel Clare Thomas


Note:  I found this poem, yellowed and creased, clipped to an entry in my journal when I was sixteen, long before I had suffered loss of any kind.  It was as if I somehow knew it would be relevant in the years to come.   

Friday, November 11, 2011

God Bless Veterans Everywhere.

In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.
~José Narosky~

Monday, October 31, 2011

Welcome to the world, Kamy!


My heart is full today, dear readers.  On Saturday, October 29, at 6:30 a.m., I became a great-grandmother! 

Kamryn Elizabeth Monical was five weeks early (4 lbs., 3 oz., 17 inches long), but the doctor says she's as healthy as can be.  The above picture was snapped by her Grammy just minutes after she was born.

Welcome to the world, Kamy!

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Letter From Brooklyn

Mother is the family historian.  She has saved everything from our ration books from WW II to family letters.  And I'm so glad she did.  This letter is Uncle Leo's response to Maw Maw Wilson's letter informing him of Mother and Daddy's wedding on January 26, 1938:

Friday, October 14, 2011

Style

Style is knowing who you are,
what you want to say,
and not giving a damn.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Beginnings

I have been ignoring my blog of late and I apologize.  My characters are clamoring to be heard and refuse to be ignored.  Following are the beginnings of a couple of stories I'm working on:

Basketball Fever

It was a cold, windy morning near the beginning of spring, my Sophomore year, when the principal poked his head in the door of our history class.  I could hear the bounce, bounce, bounce of basketballs in the gym where the Indians were practicing nonstop for the big game with Paducah Tilghman.  If we won, we would go on to the regionals at Murray State and maybe win the state title.
    
"Pupils, I have some real bad news," Mr. Perkins said, "Louetta Alcock has just been killed in an automobile accident."

There was a group gasp followed by nervous twittering.  One girl left crying.  I was dazed, dumbfounded, various questions zipping through my mind:  Was she ejected from the car and died on the highway, looking peaceful, as if asleep?  Trapped in the car, dying in a pool of blood, face mashed beyond recognition? 

As the March winds squalled around the corners of the old school house, the air charged with anticipation about the big game and my crush on the basketball star in full swing, I felt I might explode. 

And now this.

The Transient Hotel

Fred Watts sits in his worn recliner, gazing at the ancient hotel next door. Several transients are languishing in the two porch swings, vacant looks in their eyes. No doubt anticipating their daily trek to nearby liquor stores, thinks Fred. He watches them leave around noon each day, returning with bottle-shaped brown paper bags, some taking swigs every now and then, eyes darting here and there; others hurrying back to the hotel, expectant looks on their faces.

Fred sighs, wishing he were a drunk. Then he would have something to look forward to.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Leave a Trail


Do not go where the path may lead,
go instead where there is no path
and leave a trail.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson~

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Great Pretender


I loved all rock & roll music when I was growing up:  Elvis, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, The Platters, The Drifters, Ricky Nelson, Pat Boone.  The list goes on.  But no songs struck a chord in me like the Five Satins' In the Still of the Night, followed closely by To The Aisle.  I listened to the radio day and night, and each time those songs were played I danced around and around the room, pretending I was dancing with whichever boy I had a crush on at the time. 

Is it any wonder The Great Pretender was another favorite of mine? :)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ancient People From Another Time

They were always there, in the shadows. They seemed unreal, like the heavy dark furniture that crouched against faded cabbage-rose wallpaper in the parlor. Or in the bedrooms, where the scent of mothballs hung in the air and portraits of long-ago ancestors held court.

Then one day, when I was four years old, they became real to me:

Maw Maw George and I are spending the day with them: my great-grandparents, Granny and Pappy and my great-great aunt Hannah.

They greet us warmly. When Granny hugs me, I pick up the scent of something foreign, dark, exotic. But not unpleasant. As she talks, a stick in her mouth rolls from one side of her mouth to the other, and I stand, gazing at it. Why does she have that little stick in her mouth, I wonder.

“You have such pretty curls, Brenda Gail!” she says, smiling at me and patting my head, “Let’s go ahead in here and get you a little something to eat."

She hurries out to the big kitchen and I follow along behind. As she opens a cabinet drawer and rummages around in it, I gaze at her black, lace-up shoes, fragile legs rising toward the hem of her dress like the thin stalks of Maw Maw’s palm plant.

She pulls out a bag of marshmallows. “Get you some, hon.”

She allows me to take as many as I want, so I stuff two in my mouth and put several in the pocket of my green corduroy jumper.

She pushes a tendril of grey hair from her face with one blue-veined hand, the stick rolling back and forth.  Suddenly, she turns, sniffing the air. “My beans!”

I follow her into the big country kitchen, where the tongue-in-grove walls are painted a bright blue. In one corner stands a large yellow pie safe; in the opposite corner is a tall cupboard the color of Buttercups. I study the pattern on the linoleum as she settles into the worn spot in front of the iron stove and lifts the lid of a big pot.

The ham-and-beans smell makes my mouth water.

Maw Maw enters the kitchen. “Do you want to go on in the living room, Brenda,” she says, “and play with your doll?”

I’m tired of playing with my doll, but I meander out of the kitchen, still eating marshmallows.

In the living room, Aunt Hannah and Pappy sit in matching rocking chairs in front of a crackling fire. I jump as the big clock on the mantle begins to chime, but the two ancient people seem not to hear it. They just keep rocking back and forth, gazing into the flames.

I slip across the floor toward the bedroom. As I open the door, ice-cold air hits me in the face. A tall, dark dresser and a big iron bed sit in the middle of the room. On the walls are portraits of ancient people.

All staring at me.

I hurry back into the living room, where Aunt Hannah and Pappy are still gazing at the fire.  "Come on over here, Brenda, where it’s warm,” Aunt Hannah says.

Her voice startles me. She hasn’t moved, or even looked at me. How does he know I am here?

I hesitate and then walk over and stand between their rockers.

Aunt Hannah places a wrinkled hand on my shoulder, “It’s warm here in front of the fire, ain’t it?”

She wears a starched print dress that smells of soap. A wooden cane lies tilted across her knee, the handle hooked onto the arm of her rocker. Her hair is in a knot on top of her head, like Granny’s, but her face is fuller than her sister’s. She has the same kind blue eyes, though, and they seem to be looking through me.

Aunt Hannah is blind.

I stand between the ancient people for a long time, gazing at the popping fire. Every now and then Pappy turns and smiles at me. His blue eyes are pale and faded. But kind. He wears a blue shirt tucked into loose brown trousers held up by suspenders. A brown cap dangles from the back of his rocker. His back is bent, and I wonder why he doesn’t straighten up.

I return to the kitchen where pots and pans are clattering, ham and beans simmering and Maw Maw and Granny are chattering. Maw Maw is stirring the batter for cornbread and Granny is making pie crust. She rolls the rolling pin over and over the dough, dousing the rolling pin with flour, rolling it over and over again.

“Now, back up, Brenda,” Maw Maw says as she pours the cornbread batter into the sizzling grease of a big iron skillet, “You might get burned.”

As I am heading back to the living room, Granny catches up with me and hands me a Sears & Robuck Catalog.  “Sit down and look at them pretty pictures, hon,” she says. She dusts her floury hands on her bib-apron and rushes back to the kitchen.

In the living room, Aunt Hannah and Pappy are still gazing into the fire. I stare at it a moment or two, trying to see what they are seeing, and then I plop on the floor and begin turning the pages of the catalog. The clock ticks; the fire pops. Aunt Hannah rocks every once in a while. Pappy rocks every once in a while, too, although he appears to be asleep.

I begin ripping pages from the catalog and tearing each page into tiny pieces. When I finish, I pick up the handful of the tiny bits of paper and transfer them from one hand to the other.

“Dinner’s ready!” Granny calls from the kitchen.

Pappy leans forward, grasping each arm of his rocker, and pulls his body up. He stands for a minute, body trembling, and then he heads toward the kitchen in short, jerky steps. Aunt Hannah unhooks her cane and places the pads of her hands on the rocker arms. I stand, staring at her. She’s blind! How will she find her way to the kitchen?  I jump up, run over, taking her warm, dry hand in mine.

“Well, I’ll be!” she says, “You’re real helpful, Brenda!”

She, too, is shaky, and although we walk at a snail’s pace, we catch up with Pappy. We all arrive at the table at the same time.

Aunt Hannah lowers her body into a chair. “I don’t know if I could-a made it without Brenda,” she says, smiling at me, “I just don’t know what I’d a-done.”

After our dinner of country ham and soup beans, buttery mashed potatoes, green beans flavored with bacon and onions, light, crusty cornbread, coleslaw and peach cobbler for dessert, I am sleepy.

“I’m gonna have to take nap,” Aunt Hannah says, getting up, “Brenda, you did such a good job helping me to the table, could you help me to the couch?”

I take her hand, and we make our way to the bedroom where she drops onto the big Victorian settee. “Do you want to lay down a spell, too, hon?”

I climb up next to Aunt Hannah and she puts her arm around me. As I lay my head on her soft, cushy shoulder, I hear the clattering of dishes from the kitchen, the soft croon of Maw Maw and Granny’s voices. As I drift off to sleep, I see Pappy in the living room, still gazing into the fire.

I wake with a start, not knowing where I am. Suddenly, I am sliding off the couch. Aunt Hannah tries to grab me, but she rolls right off with me.

I jump up, afraid Aunt Hannah is really hurt, but she starts laughing. She sits on the floor beside, her body shaking with giggles. Soon I'm giggling along with her.

Maw Maw and Granny rush in, alarmed looks on their faces.  But Aunt Hannah waves them away. “We’re fine,” she laughs, “just fine!”

Maw Maw helps Aunt Hannah up and I lead her into the living room where she lowers herself into her rocking chair alongside Pappy.

I stand for a few minutes, gazing into the fire, and then I grab the cut-up pieces of paper from the catalog, go over to Aunt Hannah, and tap her hand. She opens it, and I place the papers into her hand. She closes her hand and I walk away. After a minute or two, I go back and tap her hand. She opens it, and I take the pieces from her hand and tap Pa Pa’s hand. When he opens it, I place the pieces into his hand. I do this over and over again, stopping every now and then to gaze into the crackling fire, still trying to see what they are seeing.

The next time I place the pieces of paper in Aunt Hannah’s hand, I gather the nerve to ask her a question. “Aunt Hannah, can you see anything?”

“I can tell when it’s daylight,” she says, “And I can tell when it’s dark.”

I close my eyes and try to walk, but I don’t get very far before stumbling on the catalog which I’ve left on the floor. I open my eyes and walk back to her rocker.

“Could you ever see anything?” I ask.

“I used-ta could.”

“Why can’t you now?”

“I got cataracts.”

I turn to Pappy. “Can you see, Pappy?”

He turns to me, his head bent forward, as if it is sprouting from his chest, reminding me of a small tree I had once seen in the Mississippi River bottoms near our house. It was growing straight out of the side of the bluff.

“I can see,” he says, “But I cain’t see as good as I usta could.” He looks back at the fire, chuckling. “Cain’t hear as good, either.”

I spend the rest of the afternoon transferring the pieces of paper from Aunt Hannah’s to Pappy’s hands. I like tapping their warm, dry hands and dropping the paper into them.  And I like watching them open them again as I take the paper back. Each time I place the paper in their hands, I keep expecting one or the other not to open their hand the next time around. But they always do.

As the fall sun casts slashes of orange-gold across the living room, Papa arrives to take us home. Although Maw Maw says there is no need for them to see us out, Granny walks us to the door, and Aunt Hannah and Pappy rise slowly, making their way across the room in their short, shaky steps.

“Come back and see us, hear?” says Granny.

Pappy smiles and pats my head.

“Me and Brenda had a big time today,” Aunt Hannah says, “A real big time.”

As Paw Paw starts up the coupe and we drive away, the three ancient people stand at the door, bathed in the golden light of the setting sun, smiling and waving until we are out of sight.

* * *

Although I saw Granny often after she went to live with Maw Maw and Paw Paw, I rarely saw Aunt Hannah and Pappy. They just seemed to fade away. Like the cabbage rose wallpaper on the walls of the living room.  But I thought of them often through the years, remembering how I felt on that cold winter afternoon, wondering why I felt so comfortable with them, why they made such an impression on me.

Now that I’m older, I know. I was drawn to the deep quiet that surrounded them, their goodness; peaceful resignation. They were seeing the past as they stared into that crackling fire: the good times, people loved and lost, mistakes made, roads not taken. Nearing the end of their lives, they knew it and accepted it. Maybe even longed for it.

They step back in the shadows, voices quiet now; their story told. But it is comforting to me, just knowing they are there. And they will be there as long as I remember them.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Good Old Folk Music

Every now and then, I get a hankerin' for some good old folk music.  Today is one of those days. 

One of my favorites is John Prine's Souvenirs.  He co-wrote it with Steve Goodman.

Goodman also wrote City of New Orleans, another of my favorites.  He died several years ago, but I think his song will live forever.         

Monday, August 29, 2011

Creativity


Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns
in order to look at things in a different way.

~Edward de Bono~

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fiction


Fiction, imaginative work that is,
is not dropped like a pebble upon the ground, as science may be;
fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so lightly perhaps,
but still attached to life at all four corners.

~Virginia Woolf~ 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Latest Celebrity Gossip

Mother gave me a bunch of National Enquirers, so I'm catching up on the latest celebrity gossip:

Sandra Bullock is dipping snuff!  (Bet she picked up that disgusting habit from her silly ex-husband, Jesse James.)

Angelina Jolie is furious (waving her tattooed, stick-like, arms, no doubt).  Brad Pitt is smoking pot most afternoons  in a dirty Airstream trailer near the back of their estate.  He says it helps him relax after a hard day on the set.  "You are setting a bad example for the kids!" she screamed.  (She's a fine one to talk!)

Johnny Depp is up in arms over a tell-all book ex-girlfriend Kate Moss is writing.  He doesn't want his kids to know about his wild, drug-fueled days.  (Don't blame you one bit, Johnny!)

Leann Rhines is scary skinny these days.  Friends say the singer's weight has dropped to 99 lbs.  (Maybe she's worried about her career; she hasn't had a hit in ages.)   

At the other end of the the spectrum is James Brolin's youngest son.  He weighs 300 lbs. and is living in shelters, staying with friends, or sleeping in his beat-up '81 Toyota pickup on the streets of Ventura, California.  (Seems to me his father could talk step-mother Barbra Streisand into finding room for the poor boy on one of her estates!)   

Elizabeth Taylor's eldest son, Michael, is having a hissy fit about his mother's house.  He thinks her estate dumped the house for a quick payoff.  (They got eight million for it, and he and his three siblings will get a whopping one hundred million dollars apiece.  What more does he want?)

Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber is shelling out around $15,000 a week on dinners and entertainment for his huge entourage of friends.  (His mother needs to get that boy under control!) 

Cher is afraid son Chaz is going to have a heart attack.  He has lost forty pounds and is doing three-hour workouts at the gym each day in preparation for his wedding in early 2012.  (Good luck, Chaz.  Looks like you're got a long way to go!)

Marie Osmond is having throat problems, so brother Donnie sang one of her signature hits dressed in drag as his sister.  (That's pretty strong stuff for a Mormon!)

Al Pacino, of The Godfather and Scarface fame, is all set to play record producer Phil Spector in an upcoming HBO biography.  He is already sporting Spector's wild, ratted-up hairdo.  (Can you imagine that?)

Kathy Griffin called Michelle Bachman a bigot.  (I wonder why? :)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Life's Lessons


Mother at her 90th birthday celebration, December, 2010
(Photo:  Gina Wilson Diesel)

Mother has always loved poetry, so I was exposed to it at a very young age.  I didn't much appreciate it then, but I certainly do now.  Yesterday, at our July literary meeting, she read one of her favorites.  I love it, and I think you will as well.

Life's Lessons

I learn, as the years roll onward
And leave the past behind,
That much I had counted sorrow
But proves that God is kind;
That many a flower I had longed for
Had hidden a thorn of pain,
And many a rugged bypath
Led to fields of ripened grain.

The clouds that cover the sunshine
They can not banish the sun;
And the earth shines out the brighter
When the weary rain is done.
We must stand in the deepest shadow
To see the clearest light;
And often through wrong's own darkness
Comes the very strength of light.

The sweetest rest is at even,
After a wearisome day,
When the heavy burden of labor
Has borne from our hearts away;
And those who have never known sorrow
Can not know the infinite peace
That falls on the troubled spirit
When it sees at last release.

We must live through the dreary winter
If we would value the spring;
And the woods must be cold and silent
Before the robins sing.
The flowers must be buried in darkness
Before they can bud and bloom,
And the sweetest, warmest sunshine
Comes after the storm and gloom.

~Anonymous~

Friday, July 15, 2011

Defining the Sixties


Nobody does it like Bob Dylan.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Real Blessing


I have not posted in a while, and I apologize to my faithful readers.  Dudley suffered a broken leg, so we have been going back and forth to Lone Oak Animal Clinic.  Dr. Rogers tells us he will recover but will have to wear the splint for about a month.
In the meantime, we have been waiting on him hand and foot.  But the little fellow deserves it; he's a real blessing to us.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Lake of Fire

From My Journal

Sunday, June 26, 1955

We ate dinner with Maw Maw Wilson after church today.  It was delicious.  We had pork roast, boiled potatoes, green beans with bacon & onions, corn on the cob, slaw, sliced tomatoes and biscuits and gravy.  (Maw Maw's gravy is SO good!).  Then we had apple pie with vanilla ice cream on it for dessert.  I love Maw Maw's pies.  Nobody anywhere makes pies as good as she does.

I am disgusted with the church people!  Wish they would leave me alone!  I can't get saved and that's all there is TO it!  When Brother Crowley gave the invitation today, Miss Ora came down from the choir and talked and talked to me about getting saved.  Everybody was looking at me and it was SO embarrassing!  
I used to like "Just As I Am," but now I hate to hear it because I'm always afraid somebody like Miss Ora will come and talk to me in front of everybody.  Brother Crowley said if a person doesn't come forward and get saved, they are low down rotten sinners and will burn forever and ever in the lake of fire.  I haven't done awful things.  But they make me feel like I have.  I used to love going to church, and I still would if they didn't keep embarrassing me and trying to get me saved all the time.        

Friday, June 24, 2011

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Girls At DOE

I worked for years in Illinois, first in Chicago and later in Bloomington.  I loved my job, co-workers, bosses, everything about the organization.  I was promoted and ended up in one of the top executive secretarial positions in the company.

I hated to leave my job after my divorce in 1979, but I wanted to live near my family.  I moved back to Kentucky where I accepted a position at the U. S. Department of Energy near Paducah.  The job paid well.  And I had great benefits, which were very important to me.  I had a young daughter to raise.

I had to wait months after I was hired; they had to thoroughly check me out.  After my Q Clearance came through, I was fingerprinted and ready to go.

On my first day, my supervisor introduced me to the clerical staff.  They were all smiles, welcoming me, offering to help in any way they could.  As we chatted amicably, my supervisor told me most of the women had begun working there right out of high school.  Many of their fathers and some mothers were working there.  Some had grandparents who retired from the company.  "You'll fit right in with the girls at DOE, Brenda," he said, "They're one big happy family!"      

As soon as he headed back to his office, the women's smiles disappeared.  Then they did a group-turn and scurried away.  I was taken aback, but I didn't think too much about it.  I had a new job to learn.

At lunchtime, several rushed by my desk on their way to the cafeteria.  Others trotted into the conference room with their brown paper bags.  I looked up and smiled, expecting to be invited to join them, but they all ignored me.  Except one.  She threw me a dirty look over her shoulder.

The conference room was less than six feet from my desk, so I could hear every word they were saying:    Well, la-de-dah!  So she worked up north!  Did y'all hear that northern accent?  They all cackled.   

I was shocked.  I had never had trouble getting along with co-workers.  Or anyone else, for that matter.  What on earth had I done to cause such animosity?  I was a new employee.  I didn't know them and they didn't know me.  I told myself things would get better. 

I was wrong.

As time passed, they seldom spoke to me.  If I asked a question, they gave me short answers and walked away.  Other times, they gave me wrong answers and snickered among themselves when my supervisor brought my work back for corrections.

I began going to the men when I had questions.  They were very helpful and gave me all the information I needed to get my work done correctly.  That infuriated them:  What a flirt!  She just can't leave the men alone!
 
I dined alone in the cafeteria for a few days, and then I began lunching at my desk as I read a book, trying to block out the gossip in the conference room:  That new girl is snooty!  All she does is read books and ignore us!  

By the time I had been with the company for six months, I had earned a healthy raise.  But I had had enough.  I began ignoring them.  Which went totally against my grain; I was raised to be kind and considerate.   

Shortly thereafter, a new employee was hired.  Anna was a young college graduate from Iowa who had just moved to Paducah with her new husband.  Sadly, they treated her as they had treated me.  I introduced myself on her first day and told her to come to me if she needed help.  We became good friends, much to the chagrin of the girls at DOE.

Anna left in tears after two months on the job.  She was replaced by the sister-in-law of a cousin of one of the girls at DOE.

Eventually, I came to the conclusion that they were like clannish mountain people who saw me as an outsider.  Maybe even a threat.  My supervisor was right; they were one big happy family who refused to let anyone in who wasn't related to, or associated with, someone in the company.  (I never told them my father helped build the plant and worked there for several years before leaving.  He had tried to talk me out of taking the job.  "I think it's dangerous to work in that place," he said.)

I hung on for another six months at Union Carbide before landing a better job in Paducah.  A huge weight dropped from my shoulders and I felt as light as a feather the day I left.  I have never been back.  A dark feeling of dread washes over me just driving by the road that leads to the plant.   

Sunday, June 19, 2011

For Daddy


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.
~Anonymous~

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Writing



For me writing has always felt like praying…
you feel you are with someone.

~Marilynne Robinson~

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Perspective

If you’re like me, you have a favorite place in your living or family room where you normally sit while reading, having coffee or watching television. I typically sit in the recliner, Dudley squished in next to me.

Late yesterday afternoon, I was dusting the living room.  I plopped into a chair I seldom sit in and immediately noticed that everything looked strange.  But pleasing.

What was it?

I pondered on it a second or two before realizing I was viewing the living room from a different angle. I was looking at our twin floor-to-ceiling bookcases filled with worn, well-read books, my grandmother's old-fashioned sewing machine, brought alive by the glow of the setting sun, and my favorite English Ivy plant hanging in the corner.  Had I not moved from my comfortable nest, I would not have noticed those things. I knew they were there, but I wasn’t really seeing them.  

I suddenly realized life is like that. If you always settle in the same spot, and look at things in the same way, everything becomes mundane.  Soon, you cease to notice anything at all.  But if you move from familiar, comfortable places and become conscious of, appreciate, and reflect on things that usually go unnoticed, you will find yourself looking at life from a whole new perspective.

Friday, May 20, 2011

World Without Sound

I love roaming around old cemeteries, as does my husband, so one autumn afternoon a couple of years ago we stopped by Oak Grove Cemetery here in Paducah. 

We strolled from one side of the cemetery to the other, reading headstone after headstone, my thoughts lingering with the families who had gathered there to say goodbye; what they might have said, how deeply they must have grieved.

We had plopped on a stone bench to rest a bit when a sudden dazzling ray of  V-shaped sunlight slashed across the cemetery, illuminating a huge headstone near the back. 

Bill squinted.  “That’s really bright!

“It's shining on that one headstone," I said, "Let’s walk back there and look at it.”

When we got to the headstone, I was stunned.  Carved in the red granite was the name “Jesse T. George.”

I had known my great-uncle was buried in Paducah, but I didn't know where.  I was living hundreds of miles from home when Mother called with the news, but I was unable to come back for the funeral.

Uncle Jesse was a tall, slim man with a head of thick brown hair.  He was very neat; his trousers always sharply creased, shirts starched, shoes polished to a high gloss.  He had a "semi-hawkish" nose, bright blue eyes framed by thick brows, and high prominent cheekbones, no doubt dating back to his Indian ancestry.

Although he was a very dignified man, Uncle Jesse easily related to children.  One summer, when Pitty and I were spending a week with our grandparents, he was there for several days.  We had a wonderful time, playing card games, listening to Paw Paw play his harmonica as he clapped along, and watching them play jokes on each other.       

Uncle Jesse was Paw Paw George's younger brother, and he was deaf.

His wife, Aunt Linnie, a gentle, plump woman with deep auburn hair, was also deaf.  She had been that way all of her life, but Uncle Jesse had not.  Due to an ear infection when he was less than two years old, he lost his hearing. He could talk a little, but you had to know him to understand what he was saying.     

Uncle Jesse, who was educated at Kentucky School for the Deaf, in Danville, Kentucky, played a big part in Mother's childhood.  He taught her sign language, and she accompanied him in his buggy on Saturday afternoons to the picture show (which worked well for him; the movies were silent back then).  Mother was thirteen when they got married, and she and Aunt Linnie became fast friends.  The couple often took her along to neighborhood hoe-downs where they danced to country and bluegrass singers, fiddles and banjos whining in the background.

“You should’ve seen Uncle Jesse back then,” Mother said, “He could really dance!  Before he married Aunt Linnie, all the girls wanted to dance with him.  One very pretty girl had a big crush on him.  And she wasn't even deaf."

As I was growing up, Uncle Jesse and Aunt Linnie sometimes came to our house for Sunday dinner.  Neither had learned to drive, so Herman Phillips, a deaf friend, drove them.  When someone yelled, “Here they come!” my siblings and I trooped into the yard to watch Herman Phillips’s old Model-T whiz up the lane.

I was fascinated, watching them conversing in sign language. Mother’s fingers moved like lightning as she murmured softly, eyebrows raised, facial features exaggerated. Uncle Jesse and Aunt Linnie also made gestures and murmured softly as they signed.  If Mother signed sad news, Uncle Jesse said, “Ohhhh...” very softly; if Mother signed about something pleasant, like us kids, he smiled and said, “Ahhh...,” a big smile on his face. 

Each time they visited, Uncle Jesse held his hand above our heads, “Beg,” he said, “Beg.”

“He said y’all have grown big,” Mother explained.

Maw Maw didn’t sign; she just clearly pronounced her words in a very soft voice.  And she gestured a lot.  But it didn’t seem to matter whether anyone signed or not; Uncle Jesse understood everything everyone said. 

Herman Phillips was another story.  I couldn't quite figure him out.  Whenever anyone said anything to him, or even looked at him, he laughed. 

I loved those Sundays.  One in particular stands out in my memory: 

I stroll around the living room where the men are talking and joking, their deep voices punctured with laughter every now and then.  The women’s soft voices croon like pigeons over the clatter of pots and pans as the mouthwatering scent of roast beef drifts through in the air.  I gaze at the smoke from Daddy's cigarette hanging in the sunlight like thin strips of fog, listening to the giggles of my little brothers and sisters elsewhere in the house.

I move to the kitchen where I observe Maw Maw lightly tap her foot to get Aunt Linnie’s attention.  Suddenly, I have a brilliant idea.  Pitty is all for it.

We creep up behind Herman Phillips, stand for a moment, and stomp our feet as hard as we can.  Herman Phillips jumps, his face turning as white as a sheet.  He quickly regains his composure and bursts out cackling and pointing his finger at us.

Mother frowns and takes us aside.  “Don’t y’all do that again,” she says, “Ever!”

I often stared at my great-uncle's face when he wasn't looking, trying to imagine what it would be like to live in a world without sound; never to hear Maw Maw and Paw Paw’s voices, Aunt Linnie’s.  Or anybody’s.

“Can Uncle Jesse hear anything?” I said.

“No,” Mother said.

“Not even a freight train?”

“He can’t hear it.  But he can feel it.”

“How?” 

“He can feel the ground vibrating.”

“What if Herman Phillips was driving that Model-T and a train was coming and he couldn’t feel the ground vibrate because he would be in the Model-T and it would be shaking so much that he wouldn’t know the train was shaking the ground and they all got killed?”

Mother sighed.  “Brenda," she said, "Go on outside and play."

The sun was setting as I ambled around the yard, listening to the croaking frogs, the song of the night birds, the distant whine of a John Deere tractor. I could hear the bounce-bounce-bounce of  Terry's basketball on the other side of the yard; the voices of my little brothers and sisters as they played nearby.

I stopped and stuck my fingers in my ears.  I could still hear sounds, but it was like I was underwater, everything above the surface, far away.  I felt isolated, out of touch.  What would it be like to never hear the birds singing; the frogs croaking; the voices of my parents, my brothers’ and sisters?  Not even my own? 

As time went by, I saw less and less of my great uncle and aunt.  I was busy with my friends.  Aunt Linnie’s deep auburn hair faded to the color of pale carrots; Herman Phillips’s hair turned gray, and he walked with a limp.  But other than a touch of gray at his temples, Uncle Jesse looked the same.

Paw Paw and Uncle Jesse had farmed all their lives, but when they could no longer make a living there, they were forced to get jobs elsewhere.  By the time I started to college in Paducah in the fall of 1958, Uncle Jesse had been working at Walgreen's for several years.  Since the campus was nearby, Mother asked me to stop by and say hello.

"He won't even remember me," I said.

"Of course he will!" Mother said, "He'd be tickled to death to see you."

To appease Mother, I looked for him when my girlfriends and I stopped by the store.  Time and time again.  But he was nowhere to be found.  I was beginning to think they were wrong; maybe he didn't work there after all.

Then one day as I was rushing in to pick up some school supplies, I spotted him.  He was back in the kitchen.  He was wearing a chef's hat and a long white apron.  And he was washing dishes. 

I stopped in my tracks, a thought spinning in my head:  Uncle Jesse shouldn't be washing dishes at Walgreen's.  He's too smart!  He reads books!  He can do all kinds of things!

After composing myself, I walked up to the counter, perched on a stool, and waited for a chance to get his attention.

Finally, he emerged, carrying a big box of napkins. He set the box on the floor and began stacking the napkins under the counter in front of me.

I tapped his shoulder. 

Startled, he looked up.  And then a big smile zipped over his face.  “Bina!” he said, his voice soft and familiar, “Bina!”

“Hi, Uncle Jesse,” I mouthed.

“School?” he said, “Gonna school?”

“Yes.”

He leaned across the counter and patted my hand.  His hands looked the same; very strong, very clean.  Shriveled, now, from the dishwater. 

“Mama and Dada?”

“Yes,” I said, “Mother and Daddy are fine.”

Back in the kitchen, a young man with shaggy hair, obviously Uncle Jesse's boss, was staring at him and frowning.  He began slapping his hand on the counter, trying to get his attention.  I wanted to yell at him, tell him Uncle Jesse was smart, smarter than he, in fact, and should be his boss! 

But I didn't want to get him in trouble. 

I got up.  “I better go, Uncle Jesse,” I mouthed.

He pointed in the direction of the college. “School?” 

“Yes, I'm going back to school.”

He patted my hand again.  “Bye, bye Bina.”

As I left, he was still standing straight and tall in his long white apron and chef’s hat.  His boss was still glaring at him, but he stood smiling and waving until I was out of sight. 

“Sounds like he was a good man,” Bill said.

“Yes, one of the best men I have ever known.”

As brilliant yellow, orange and red leaves flitted across Uncle Jesse's grave and the sun sank out of sight, I knelt and gently touched his name, thanking him for his kindness, his love, the joy he gave us all, remembering the dignity with which he lived his life in a world without sound.

Uncle Jesse and Aunt Linnie
May 21, 1933


Friday, May 6, 2011

Thank you, Dr. Martin Luther King

Since learning of the killing of Osama bin Laden, I have had conflicted feelings:  I'm glad he's gone, but I am unable to celebrate his death.

I was struggling to put those feelings to words when the following quote was posted on Facebook:


I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives,
but I will not rejoice in the loss of one,
not even an enemy.
Returning hate multiplies hate,
adding deeper darkness to a night already
devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness;
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate;
only love can do that.

* * *

Thank you, Dr. Martin Luther King.     

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Otis Redding: The True King of Soul


Otis Redding is my favorite soul singer.  My husband loves Otis, too, and These Arms of Mine is 'our' song.  Another favorite is Come To Me.  I have never heard such passion, such feeling in a singer's voice.
Born in Macon, Georgia, Otis began singing as a youth when he kept winning local talent competitions.  It was a time when racial segregation was strictly enforced, so white people were not allowed to attend.  But unbeknownst to Otis, he had two white fans who parked their cars outside the theater and tuned in on their car radios.  They later became his managers.  They were spurned by the white community as "N-Lovers," while the blacks accused Otis of being a "White Man's N." 

Otis tragically died at 26 when his private jet crashed into a Wisconsin lake.  He had just recorded his famous Dock of the Bay which was released after his death.

I'm sorry Otis Redding died so young.  And I'm sorry he did not live to see the changes the Civil Rights Movement brought.  But he left behind a legacy of beautiful, haunting songs.  And he sang those songs with feeling and passion from deep within his soul.

Some people tout Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and others as the kings of soul.  And they are wonderful singers.  But in my opinion, Otis Redding is the true King of Soul.  And always will be.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Food That Makes Us Hungry


An interesting book is food that makes us hungry.

~Marie Von Ebner-Eschenbach~

Friday, April 29, 2011

Congratulations, William & Kate!

May you have a long and happy life together.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Leigh's: Best Barbecue Ever


When Bill and I get a hankering for barbecue, we head to Leigh's.  Their pork is smoky, tender and moist; the thin, vinegar-based sauce total perfection.           

Leigh's is located about ten miles west of Paducah on old Hwy. 60.  It is a family-owned business and got its start when Union Carbide came to town in the early fifties.  Housed in a small, cinderblock building, it's nothing fancy, just a wraparound counter, stools, a small television set perched high on a shelf.  The food is served in paper plates, drinks in styrofoam cups.  But their barbecue is the best I've ever tasted. 

Which is saying a lot; I was raised on the stuff.  And I've sampled it in Kansas City, Texas and Memphis, all claiming the title of the world's best barbecue.
As we entered, the owner was perched on a stool behind the counter, watching his son hack up a huge steaming pork shoulder.

The waitress was wearing a Heath Pirates tee-shirt.  And a cap.  "Hi," she called, "What do y'all want?"

She and I were the only females in the room, reminding me of sitting down for dinner at my aunt's Detroit boarding house.  The men were discussing UK basketball as they tore into thick barbecue sandwiches and guzzled Pepsis from big styrofoam cups.  One chubby gent in bib overalls practically drooled as the waitress carried his food to him:  a huge pile of steaming pork, potato salad, baked beans, two slices of white bread lying atop.
The menu is on the wall: whole pork shoulder, chicken, rib, pork and ham plates.  Not that we ever look at it.  We always have a barbecue pork sandwich (mine on a bun; Bill's on toast), slaw and a bag Ruffles potato chips.  Sometimes we pile the slaw on top of the pork; other times we eat it alongside. 

For dessert you have your choice of Twinkies, Honey Buns, Fruit Pies and Hostess Cupcakes. 

But who needs a fancy dessert when you're stuffed to the gills with the best barbecue ever?

* * *

Note:  They close early in the afternoon or whenever they run out of meat, which they often do.  And they are closed on Wednesdays.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

I Will Try!


I have several projects in the works, so I haven't posted in a while.  My apologies to my faithful readers; I appreciate each and every one of you! 

I'm happy to report that my short story, I Saw the Light, has been published in River Poets Journal.  My contributor copy should be arriving in the mail soon.

Better get back to work.  There are so many stories floating around in my head that if I wrote day and night for the rest of my life, I would not have enough time to write them all.

But I will try!

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Hundred Years From Now


A hundred years from now, dear heart,
We'll neither know nor care
What came of all life's bitterness,
Or followed love's despair.
Then fill the glasses up again,
And kiss me through the rose-leaf rain;
We'll build one castle more in Spain,
And dream one more dream there. 

~John Bennett~


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Nemesis: The True Story

I read Peter Evans's book, Nemesis, back in the late eighties.  The story of the love affair of Jackie Kennedy and Aristotle Onassis, it was very interesting.  But a couple of weeks ago, Mother recommended Evans's sequel, Nemesis: The True Story.  He wrote it in 2005 (don't know how I missed it!) and includes many more details of Jackie's personal life.

"You won't believe it, Brenda," Mother said, "I've never seen anything like it!"

Mother was right.  According to the book:

Jackie was money-hungry.  Next to her children, money was the single most important thing in the world to her.

She had an affair with actor William Holden.  When she became pregnant with the first child she lost, she didn't know if the baby was his or her husband's.  President Kennedy believed the baby was Holden's until the day he died.

Her affair with Aristotle Onassis began before President Kennedy died and only six weeks after she lost her last child (a boy, Patrick Bouvier, who died a few days after he was born).  She snatched Ari from the bed of her sister, Lee, who had planned to wed him herself.

Shortly after JFK's death, Jackie began a long-term affair with brother-in-law Bobby.  But that didn't keep her from sleeping with Ari and other rich men, juggling several at a time.

And here's the kicker:  Aristotle Onassis financed the killing of Bobby Kennedy.  Sirhan Sirhan merely pulled the trigger.   

This book is a real page-turner.  If you, like me, are interested in anything and everything about the Kennedys, you will not be disappointed.

Yes, I'm a murderer.  I'm a thief. 
But I am also a millionaire and powerful.
  ~Aristotle Onassis~

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Things You Didn't Do


Twenty years from now
you will be more disappointed
by the things you didn't do
than by the things you did do.

~Mark Twain~

Friday, March 18, 2011

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Wildwood Flower

It is a cold Saturday night in the 1950s in Western Kentucky.  We are in Maw Maw Wilson’s warm kitchen where pork chops are sizzling in her big iron skillet, the scent of biscuits wafting from the oven.  An apple pie cools on the counter, and I am sneaking tiny pieces of the warm, tender crust when no one is looking.

Mary Ellen is doing her homework at the table.  "My goodness,” she says, dropping her pencil, “Abe Lincoln was born in 1809!”
 
“Good night, that's a long time ago," Terry says, "What year were you born, Maw Maw?"
 
Maw Maw lifts the last pork chop from the skillet and dusts her flour-covered hands on her bib apron.  "Eighteen eighty-two.”

I almost drop a piece of crust.  “What?  You were born in eighteen eighty-two?”

"Sure was," Maw Maw says, opening the oven door and pulling out the pan of biscuits, "Y'all come on and eat.  Now, whose turn is it to give the blessing?”

As we eat supper, I gaze into the living room where Maw Maw and Paw Paw’s wedding picture hangs.  They were young, expectant looks on their faces.  They had no grandchildren back then; Daddy wasn’t even around.  Now Paw Paw is gone.  And Maw Maw is old.   

“Maw Maw,” I say, “When did you and Paw Paw get married?”

“July 26, 1903.  We went over to Cairo and got married.”

“In a buggy?”

“Naw,” Terry laughs, “They drove a big ole Cadillac over there!”

I make a face at Terry and look at the picture again.  Paw Paw sports a thick handlebar mustache, his hair a startling black.   Maw Maw’s hair, arranged in the Gibson-Girl style of the time, is a deep auburn and very thick.  They both look happy.  And very young.

I gaze across the table at Maw Maw's snow-white hair, the patchwork of wrinkles crisscrossing her face, fogged-up glasses perched on her nose.  She doesn't look at all like the young bride in the picture. 

As soon as the dishes are done, Maw Maw hangs her apron on the nail beside the kitchen door and we head to the living room to listen to The Grand Ole Opry.  "We're just in time," she says, turning on the big radio, "It's just starting."  

Lonzo & Oscar are strumming their fiddle and guitar and telling jokes.  Suddenly they burst out singing I’m My Own Grandpa, and Maw Maw laughs so hard that she has to take her glasses off and wipe the tears from her cheeks.  Her eyes are blue and very pale, nothing like the bright eyes of her youth.  I wonder what happened.

While the commercial is on, Maw Maw tells us she once traveled all the way to Nashville in her Model-T and went to The Grand Old Opry.  “It was a long time ago,” she says, “There was no floor back then, just sawdust on the ground.”

“Sawdust?” Patsy says, “I never heard of such a thing!”

Maw Maw adds another stick of wood to the stove and the pipe turns red.  Warm, my stomach full, I am getting sleepy.  Terry and Patsy are fighting to stay awake, and Mary Ellen is curled up on the big Victorian settee already asleep.

When the king of country music, Roy Acuff, begins to sing, Maw Maw hums along with him to The Great Speckled Bird.  And her face lights up when the Carter Family comes on.  She tells us the story of A. P. and Ezra Carter, who married cousins, Sarah and Maybelle, and came all the way from the mountains of West Virginia to audition in response to an ad in the newspaper.

“I'm been listening to them since they first came on the radio,” she says, "Of all their songs,  Wildwood Flower is the one I like best." 

Wildwood Flower is my favorite, too.  The music is beautiful, haunting, causing me to long for something I cannot define.  I try to remember the first time I heard it, but I can't.  I have been listening to the Grand Ole Opry with Maw Maw on Saturday nights as long as I can remember.  

As they sing, Maw Maw tells us that A. P. plays the fiddle, Sarah, the autoharp, and Ezra the banjo and fiddle.  “But the best one of those Carters is Maybelle," she says, “She plays the autoharp, the banjo, the fiddle and the guitar, and she can sing Wildwood Flower like nobody I've ever heard."  

Tears gather in her eyes as we listen to Maybelle's mournful voice, and I drift off to sleep wondering if the song makes her think of Paw Paw.

I am pulled awake by fiddle and banjo music.  Maw Maw is standing by the radio and the volume is turned up even louder.  She sways from side to side in time with the music and then sashays to the center of the room and holds out her hand. 

“Come over here, Terry.”

He, too, has been asleep and looks startled.  But he rises to the occasion and takes her hand.

“Now, stand right there,” she says. 

She takes me by my shoulders and places me a few feet from Terry, and then she places Patsy across from us.  Still swaying, she glides over to Mary Ellen, places her next to Patsy and begins clapping her hands in time with the music, motioning for us to do the same:

Square your sets with a smile on your face; everybody dance, right in your place.

With a click of her heels, Maw Maw begins dancing in place.  “Come on, y’all,” she says with a grin.  She lifts her skirt above her knees, her feet moving faster:

Form a ring and make it go, when you get just right we’ll do-si-do.  On your heel and one your toe, you’ll ever get around if you go too slow.

We stare at each other in disbelief; we have never seen Maw Maw dance.  We all join hands and spin round and round, laughing so hard that we are stumbling.  But not Maw Maw.  The skirt of her dress swishes around her legs as she moves like lightening across the floor.  

Maw Maw Wilson 2Soon we are catching on, dancing and clapping and giggling.  But what is most fun is watching Maw Maw skim across the floor.  Cheeks pink, eyes sparkling, she is the young bride in the wedding picture.

By the time Mother and Daddy arrive to pick us up, we are exhausted.  But still giggling.  "Looks like y'all had a big time tonight," Daddy says.

“We did,” Maw Maw says, a twinkle in her eye, "We sure did." 

After we say our goodbyes and head down the road toward home, I watch Maw Maw waving from the porch, and I feel peaceful, comforted somehow, knowing that behind the snow-white hair, glasses, and patchwork of wrinkles, young Muriel still resides.
All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley