Monday, December 31, 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!


Never a Christmas morning,
Never the old year ends,
But someone thinks of someone,
Old days, old times,
Old friends.
 
 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Tragedy at Sandy Hook


My heart is breaking for the families of the victims of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and I'm praying that God gives them the strength to get through those dark days, weeks, months and years ahead.        

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Gift From Above

Kamryn

A great-granddaughter is a gift from above,
one to cherish and to love.
 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Advice From A Sage

 
 
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the
things that you didn't do than the ones you did do. 
So throw off the bowlines.
Sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover.
 
~ Mark Twain ~
 
 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Writing


 
Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.
~ William Wordsworth ~

 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Elephants of Thula Thula

The Funeral Procession
 


On March 7, 2012, Lawrence Anthony died.  He is remembered and missed by his wife, two sons, two grandsons and numerous elephants.

Mr. Anthony, a legend in South Africa and author of three books including the bestseller, The Elephant Whisperer, bravely rescued wildlife and rehabilitated elephants all over the globe from human atrocities, including the courageous rescue of Baghdad Zoo animals during US invasion in 2003.
Two days after Mr. Anthony's passing, the wild elephants, led by two large matriarchs, showed up at his home, and separate wild herds arrived in droves, all to say goodbye to their beloved man-friend. A total of thirty-one elephants had patiently walked over twelve miles to get to his South African house.

Witnessing this spectacle, humans were obviously in awe, not only because of the supreme intelligence and precise timing that these elephants sensed about Lawrence 's passing, but also because of the profound memory and emotion the beloved animals evoked in such an organized way:  walking slowly, for days, making their way in a solemn one-by-one queue from their habitat to his house.
So how, after Anthony’s death, did the reserve’s elephants — grazing miles away in distant parts of the park — know?
 
“A good man died suddenly,” says Rabbi Leila Gal Berner, Ph.D., “And from miles and miles away, two herds of elephants, sensing that they had lost a beloved human friend, moved in a solemn, almost ‘funeral’ procession to make a call on the bereaved family at the deceased man’s home.”

“If there ever were a time, when we can truly sense the wondrous ‘interconnectedness of all beings,’ it is when we reflect on the elephants of Thula Thula. A man’s heart’s stops, and hundreds of elephants’ hearts are grieving. This man’s oh-so-abundantly loving heart offered healing to these elephants, and now they came to pay loving homage to their friend.”

Lawrence's wife, Francoise, was especially touched, knowing that the elephants had not been to his house prior to that day for well over three years.

But yet the elephants knew where they were going.  They obviously wanted to pay their deep respect, honoring their friend who had saved their lives, so much respect that they stayed for two days and two nights without eating anything. 

Then one morning, they left, making their long journey back.

* * *

*This heartwarming story was written by Rob Kirby.  Thanks to my cousin, Joe, for sending it to me.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

One Proud Pooch

Daley models his new sweater.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Big Party

Happy Birthday, Kamy!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

October

Look how those steep woods on the mountain's face
Burn, burn against the sunset; now the cold
Invades our very noon: the year's grown old,
Mornings are dark, and evenings come apace.
 ~Hilaire Belloc~

Friday, October 19, 2012

To See a World...

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
~William Blake~

Monday, October 1, 2012

Lost



 
When I was growing up on the farm in Carlisle County, Kentucky, my siblings and I attended services at Mississippi Baptist Church each Sunday morning with Maw Maw Wilson. 

I loved Sunday School and I loved singing hymns.  But I hated the long and boring sermons that followed.  I sat with my friends on the back pew of the church, drawing, whispering, giggling, and ignoring the warnings of what awaited sinners in the hereafter.  What happened in the hereafter was of no interest to me.  I had other things to do, like playing with my siblings, picnics, swimming in the pond, Saturday matinees at Milwain's.       

And then came revival time.  And Brother Stair.       

I wrote a story about that angst-riddled time in my life.  It was accepted by Barely South Review, a literary journal created by students and faculty of Old Dominion University’s MFA program in southeastern Virginia.

Lost is on Page 185.            

Thursday, September 27, 2012

From My Memoir: Journey To A Normal Life



Part I - Windy City

The Commute
It was always snowing or sleeting that first winter.  We waded across the back yard of our Brookfield dwelling each morning in snow up to our knees.  It seemed to take us forever to scrape ice from the windshields and sweep snow off the top and hood with a broom.  If we made it out of the alley without getting stuck in a snow bank, we bumped (so hard my teeth rattled!) on chained tires over ice-crusted streets and slipped and slid all the way to Congress Expressway.
The expressway was a nightmare; cars weaving from lane to lane, moving too fast for conditions, and every day—coming and going—we saw several wrecks (which just about scared me to death; I was certain we would be killed the first week!).  Helicopters whirred overhead, and we listened to them on the radio as they advised commuters to take a by-pass here or there to avoid a pile-up.
We exited onto Lower Wacker Drive which took us deep into the bowels of the city.  Eye-stinging gasoline fumes hung in the air, echoing sounds of car, bus and truck motors bounced off the walls, and strange, hopeless-looking people hovered in corners or lay sleeping on the edges of sidewalks (barely out of the way of traffic) or sat on their haunches ripping the last bits of chicken from bones from nearby garbage cans. 

Two people we saw regularly in that vast and dark place were a thin, haggard man in bib overalls who carried his Bible and preached hellfire and damnation, a rooster perched on his shoulder; the other, a tall, emaciated woman with a Dutch-boy haircut perched on a curb, chin resting on her bony knees, yelling, “I got bugs!" 

(Excerpt from my weekly letter to my family:  I've never seen anything like Wacker Drive!  There are very strange people down there!  It's almost spring, and I don't think it will EVER stop snowing here!  I bet the frogs are croaking at home.  Oh, how I wish I could be there to hear them.  I sure do miss everybody.)

Then there were pleasant parts of our commute.  Like the mouth-watering scent of fresh-baked bread wafting through the air as we drove past Dressel’s Bakery, the sight of the bright morning sun illuminating the Wrigley building, the Tribune tower and nearby buildings in all shapes and sizes as we crossed the bridge over the Chicago River, the commuters coming and going up on Lake Shore Drive where there was a long, glittering line of vehicles as far as one could see.  The force of the city seemed to swoop down like a whirlwind and suck me into its roaring chaos, sending electrifying energy coursing through my veins.  

At times like those, I embraced the Windy City with all my being and never wanted to leave.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

This Picture Speaks To Me.

European Beech Trees
Mariemont, Belgium
(Photo:  Jean-Pol Grandmont)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What a Wonderful World


What a Wonderful World 
This was sent to me by a friend.  It made me realize how lucky we are to live in such a world.   

Thanks, Ben!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

May God Bless You All

These Are the Days

* * *
My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001.  May God bless you all.        

Monday, September 3, 2012

Art

Art is the lie that tells the truth.
~Pablo Picasso~

Saturday, September 1, 2012

As She Lay Dying

Throughout my adult life I have had psychic experiences.  Among other things, I somehow know when someone is going through bad times; when they are sick, depressed.  I don't know why I pick up those feelings.  I don't look for them.  Maybe it's because my mother has them.  Nevertheless, it happens every now and then and I'm come to accept it.

One of my first experiences occurred during the early morning hours of my 22nd birthday:  August 5, 1962.

My husband and I lived in Bloomington, Illinois.  We had gone out for dinner that night with friends Mike and Janet, and after we got home we settled in to watch television. 

I usually stayed up late on weekend nights; however, at around 10:00 a sudden wave of exhaustion swept over me.  I felt as though I had been doing deep physical labor all day or running for miles.  And then I got so sleepy that I could hardly hold my eyes open.

I reluctantly went to bed.

I tossed and turned for what seemed like hours.  Which was unusual for me; I normally went to sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.  I was restless, anxious, waiting for the other shoe to drop. 

Finally, I drifted off to sleep. 
 
I woke with a start.  I knew Carroll was still in the living room; I could hear the murmurings of the television, see intermittent flashes on the bedroom wall from the changing of the scenes.  Other than that, there were no other noises.

So what had awakened me?        
 
Suddenly, an icy shiver zipped through my body.  I snapped to attention:  What on earth was that?  I was shaking, now, teeth chattering.  It was a hot August night, so why was I so cold?  

I didn't have time to ponder on it.  The ice-cold feeling was quickly replaced with feelings of isolation and hopelessness, darkness.  It was as though I were all alone in the world.  The clock on the night stand pointed to 2:05, and a thought ran through my mind:  Thank heavens I'm safe and cozy in my bed with many people who love and care about me.  How awful it would be if I were all alone in the world right now!  

I was not sad or depressed, so I knew the feelings weren't my own.  And then I realized I was picking up the feelings of someone else.

But who?

I was still trying to figure it all out when the dark, empty feeling lifted.  I became very calm and peaceful and soon fell into a restful sleep.

The next morning, as I was stirring up batter for pancakes, I turned the radio on.  "Marilyn Monroe," the announcer said, "Dead at 36."

It has been fifty years since Marilyn Monroe's death.  And the time of her death has been debated for years and years.  Some say she died around 9 or 10 p.m., Saturday night, August 4; others say it was near midnight.  But I think it was sometime after 2:05 a.m. on August 5.  And as much as I would like to believe otherwise, I think I was experiencing her thoughts and feelings as she lay dying.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Whippersnapper!

Dudley and Daley
Two weeks ago we adopted a brother for Dudley.  Daley, also a miniature Dachshund, is a fine little dog.  But Dudley is disgusted with him.  Why?  Well, Daley does not go by the rules.

I present Dudley and Daley with their morning bones.  Daley hides his beside the bookcase and then hurries back and watches closely as Dudley leisurely gnaws on his.  Suddenly, he rushes in, snatches the bone from Dudley's paws, sprints back to the guest room and crawls under the bed.  Dudley looks at me, ears elevated:  What the....?

Dudley lies on my lap, as he does most evenings, watching television.  Daley, who is draped in Bill's lap, looks at us with great interest and then he leaps from Bill's chair to ours, landing on top of Dudley.  After extricating himself, Dudley looks at me like a wise old sage:  That pooch is a disgrace to dogs everywhere!

Bill opens the door this morning to get the newspaper in the driveway.  Daley slips out, takes off down the driveway and sprints up the street as fast as his short little legs will carry him.  Relief is written all over Dudley's face:  I hope that little whippersnapper NEVER comes back!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Little Jokester

From my Journal, August 19, 1965:
I had all my housework done this morning by 10:00, including washing and polishing the kitchen, bathroom and entry floors.  I have SO much free time!  Guess I'll wash some windows this afternoon.
Had my hair done Thursday night ($2.50 for wash and cut).  Carroll really liked it, but he didn't quit when he was ahead!  "Why can't you get it to look like that when you do it?" he said, "It usually looks like it hasn't been combed." 
Well, how do you like THAT???  I can't help it if my hair is so curly!

Last night, Suzanne picked up my purse and put on my scarf and said, "Bye, Mommie, I'm going in the car to get my hair done." 

She is such a little jokester!

I'm making fried chicken, mashed potatoes & gravy, corn-on-the-cob, slaw and ice tea for supper.  I also made an apple pie.  I made the crust with Golden Fluffo shortening and it's SO tender!  But I'm not going to eat any of it.  I'm trying to lose weight.  I weigh 114 lbs., and I want to get down to 110.  Don't want to let myself go, like Judy.  Last time I saw her she looked like she weighed about 150 lbs.!!!

Suzanne is sitting on the couch with her doll, now, looking at a book.  While ago she heard me banging around in the kitchen and said, "Mommie, don't you knock anything off and break it, will you not?"

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Writer's Block


I've had writer's block for quite a while, now; can't seem to bring myself to write anything.  So I'm listening to Van Morrison for inspiration.  I'm hoping my favorite, Into the Mystic, will do it.

Sing it Van! 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Place



A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers
it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it,
loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.

 ~Joan Didion

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Sack of Salt

Joe and Miss Eda were a sweet little couple. They lived in our neighborhood and went to our church. They could often be found in their yard, Joe mowing the lawn or tinkering with his mower, washing windows, trimming shrubs, raking leaves; Miss Eda shaking out rugs, sweeping the porch, hanging out laundry, taking laundry off the line. They were very friendly, always smiling and waving as we drove past their neat little house.

And then one day, without warning, Joe jumped into his car, raced down the highway, zigzagged across the grounds of Mississippi Baptist Church, plowed through the cemetery and down into the woods where he hit a big Oak tree.

How do I know? Well, Maw Maw Wilson and I saw the car, bumper still resting against the tree, on our way to pull weeds from Paw Paw's grave.

"Why is Joe's car down there?" I said.

"He had a little accident," said Maw Maw.

I stared at the car, a very old, dusty convertible. There was a huge sack propped up like a passenger in the back seat, and I thought it was a sack of salt. I was fascinated. But a little scared. It reminded me of a story our Sunday School teacher had told us about God ordering Lot's wife not to look back at a city. If she did, she would be turned into a pillar of salt. Well, she looked. And she was turned into a pillar of salt. 

I thought Joe had looked at something he shouldn't, and he had been turned into a sack of salt. And he would always be there. In the back seat of his old convertible.

I don't know why I didn't voice my concerns to Maw Maw. Maybe I didn't know how to put it into words. I was very young at the time, maybe three or four years old.
I have visited the cemetery many times in the years since, and sooner or later I find myself gazing beyond my grandparents' graves and down into the woods, seeing that old convertible again, bumper still resting against the big Oak tree, Joe trapped forever in a sack of salt.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Family Pictures

My Great-Great-Great Grandfather
John Montague Elsey


Monday, July 16, 2012

Write Only


Write only if you cannot live without writing.

Write only what you alone can write.


~Elie Wiesel~

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Mr. Arthur's Story

My nonfiction piece, Fish Bones, is now online at The Cossack Review.

Mr. Arthur's story had been floating around in my head for a very long time before I finally wrote it.  Fifty-six years, to be exact.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Advice From a Sage


Have a heart that never hardens,
A temper that never tires,
And a touch that never hurts.

~Charles Dickens~

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Man of Many Talents

Tommy J. Wilson
Summer of '61 
My father was a man of many talents.  He was a very hard worker, a great conversationalist, a good listener, and a wonderful storyteller.  I was mesmerized by his stories of the past.  He loved his home and family, working the land, and the music of Hank Williams.

I miss you, Daddy.  Especially today.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Fish Bones

Several months ago, I began thinking about Arthur Elliston.  He was my grandfather's hired hand.  I had not thought of him in years.

Mr. Arthur was around long before I was born--since Mother was a child, in fact--so he was like one of the family.  Though he didn't have much to call his own, he was always in good spirits, constantly laughing, joking.  And he was always kind to my siblings and me.

Since I couldn't get him off my mind (as often happens before I write a biographical piece), I scribbled down a few memories and shared them at our monthly literary meeting.  But the memories kept coming.  There was no way around it; I had to write Mr. Arthur's story.

I sent the story to The Cossack Review, a new literary journal in California, and "Fish Bones" was accepted.  It will be published in a future issue.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Good Author

What I like in a good author is not what he says,
but what he whispers.
 
~Logan Pearsall Smith~

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Mother



A mother is the truest friend we have,
when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us;
when adversity takes the place of prosperity;
when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us;
when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us,
and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate
the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.

~Washington Irving~

Monday, May 7, 2012

What You Read




It is what you read when you don't have to
  that determines what you will be when you can't help it.

~Oscar Wilde~

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Scents From the Past


There are many things that pull up memories:  sights, sounds, songs, facial expressions and mannerisms of people who remind us of someone we once knew.  But, for me, nothing conjures up those scenes and emotions from the past like scents. 

I remember the mildew smell of the old patchwork quilt on which my siblings and I rested in the yard during those hot, steamy days of summer; the smell of bacon and onions wafting through the house as wilted lettuce or spinach sizzled in Mother's big iron skillet; the scent of freshly laundered clothes rising from the ironing board as she moved the iron back and forth across them.

I remember the smells of homes of those closest to me:  My great-grandmother Elsey's living room (vanilla-scented smoke from Paw Paw's pipe) and her kitchen (Lux soap, which lay on top of her skirted sink). Maw Maw George's house (floor wax), her dresses (that fresh-from-the-clothesline scent), her Christmas fruitcakes (rum).  And her yard (Honeysuckles, which ran from the house and all the way down the lane to the mail box).

I remember the scent of Tweed perfume that rose from Maw Maw Wilson's dresser at which I spent much time gazing into the wavy, tilted mirror; her cold hall in the wintertime (wood burning); Irish lace curtains: (dust, and something pleasant, which I'm still unable to identify), and her upstairs bedrooms (mothballs). 

I remember the deep, mysterious scent of the earth after a summer rain; the scent of moist soil as Daddy broke up the ground for his garden each spring; the scent of fresh-cut grass mixed with the smell of gasoline as he mowed the yard each week; the scent of wood shavings as I stood at his knee watching him plane the wood.  (I played with them, amazed that the shavings looked just like my curly hair.)

I could go on forever.

When I was around eleven, as I was helping Maw Maw George clean out her closets, she pulled out a big box stuffed with all kinds of things.  One thing that really caught my eye was a tiny crown-shaped perfume bottle with a unique stopper. Maw Maw told me it was a Christmas gift from Uncle Tom who lived in Detroit.  I had never seen a perfume bottle like it.
I pulled out the stopper and sniffed it.  Although the bottle was empty, the scent still lingered:  floral, romantic, light and airy.  I couldn't get enough.  I sniffed the bottle over and over.
Although I didn't know the name of the perfume (don't guess I thought to look at the bottom of the bottle!), that light, romantic scent stayed with me.  So after I got my allowance the following Saturday, I made a bee-line to the dime store.  I didn't expect to find that exact scent, but I hoped to find something that smelled similar.
No such luck.  All I found was Blue Waltz and Evening in Paris.  Blue Waltz smelled cheap.  Evening in Paris smelled nice, but I didn't have enough money.  It cost ninety-eight cents.
After I became a teenager and had long forgotten about the crown-shaped bottle, I went through many perfumes:  all the Avon perfumes:  Here's My Heart, Topaz, Somewhere, Woodhue (after saving my allowance for a month), and a few others.  Back then, there wasn't the array of perfumes that are offered today, and stars had not yet begun to sell their 'signature' scents (which, for some reason, irritates me no end!).
When I got married, I was still wearing Avon perfumes.  But after I began my first full-time job in Chicago and had money to burn ;), I branched out, trying Chantilly (ugh!), Taboo (too strong), White Shoulders (too heavy).  I even tried Joy, which was then advertised as the most expensive perfume in the world.  I didn't like it either.
Then one day, while sampling one scent after another at the perfume counter of Marshall Field's, I came across a tiny bottle shaped like a crown.  Not the fancy bottle with a unique top like Maw Maw's, but crown-shaped, nonetheless.  A thought ran through my mind:  Could it be?  Could it possibly be?
The instant I sniffed it, I knew it was.
The name of the perfume was Prince Matchabelli's Wind Song.  It has been my everyday perfume for many, many years.
I'm told Wind Song doesn't smell the same on everyone; has something to do with body chemistry, experts say.  But I have had many people (mostly men) through the years walk right up and ask me what perfume I'm wearing.  "I'm going to tell my wife to get that perfume!" one gent said; "Ahh...I've never smelled anything like it," said another.  And a coed from ISU once told me I smelled like her grandmother.  "I loved my grandma so much," she said, "And Wind Song makes me think of her."
I've read many reviews on Wind Song, and although many women love it, others say it smells old-fashioned, out of date.  But how can a smell be out of date?  Is the scent of flowers out of date?  Musk?  Spice?  That makes no sense to me. 
Not long thereafter, I discovered Nina Ricci's L'Air du Temps.  A light, airy scent, something like Wind Song (but more expensive), I wear it when I go out in the evenings.  Like Wind Song, the reviews are about the same:  many women love it; others say it smells out of date.  But their opinions make no difference to me.  I doubt that I will find any that suit me better than Wind Song and L'Air du Temps, old fashioned or not.    

"When nothing else subsists from the past,
after the people are dead,
after the things are broken and scattered
the smell of things remain poised a long time,
like souls· bearing resiliently,
on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence,
the immense edifice of memory"

~Marcel Proust~
The Remembrance of Things Past
.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter!

Kamy in her Easter frock

Friday, March 23, 2012

Kamryn

Smiling at her Daddy

Sunday, March 18, 2012

From the Archives

Several readers told me they have tried to find this essay, which was published a few years ago in Birmingham Arts Journal, but the archives were so confusing that they gave up.  I'm posting it here.  (And thanks for your interest, dear readers!)



The Southern Way
 Brenda Wilson Wooley
(Reprinted from Birmingham Arts Journal)

Many of my favorite writers are Southerners: William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, Lee Smith, Anne Tyler.  The list goes on.
Don't get me wrong; I enjoy other writers' work. But you just can’t beat deep, dark stories like Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury;” Tennessee Williams' “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Glass Menagerie.” Shocking ones, like Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” sad, tragic ones, like Lee Smith’s “Black Mountain Breakdown.”  And the quirky ones, like Fanny Flagg’s “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop CafĂ©.” 

One of the reasons I enjoy Southern writers’ work is because I identify with them. And although I'm small potatoes compared to the literary giants, we do have some things in common. 

First and foremost, we are Southerners.  We think of ourselves as being from somewhere, as belonging to some place.  Regardless of how far we roam or how long we've lived away, most of us eventually come home. And we are welcomed back with open arms. 

But not without validation.  

When I returned to Kentucky after many years in Illinois, I was met with a little suspicion and a lot of curiosity.  Until they figured out who I was:  "Oh, you're Tommy and Evelyn's oldest girl." "You're Miss Muriel's granddaughter, aren't you?" "I should’ve known you were a Wilson; y'all all look alike!" 

Another tradition of Southerners is storytelling. Our ancestors told stories they never would have been able to write, and I think it was their way of handing over the legacy. 

Like most Southerners, I grew up in a family of storytellers. I loved sitting on the front porch on summer nights listening to my relatives tell one story after another:  a great-grandfather, who walked everywhere he went and had a song written about him (“Walk, Tom Wilson”); a corncob-pipe-smoking great-great grandmother who took off running and hopped on her horse from the rear; neighbor Anna Lee, who baked cakes when she was depressed. Many cakes. All night long.  A distant cousin who strolled into the local truck stop, perched himself on a stool at the counter and leisurely sipped a cup of coffee. (Did I mention he was clad in nothing but a towel?) 

And that is just a drop in the bucket. 

It took the storytellers a long time to get to the point; they were always adding to the story. Or jumping in and telling another story about the person in the story. Which reminds me of writer Barry Hannah's version of the light bulb joke: “How many Southern writers does it take to change a light bulb? Two...one to unscrew it and the other to talk about what a good old light bulb it was!” 

A powerful thread that runs through Southern writers' work is religion. And it's no wonder. We were threatened with hellfire and damnation at every turn. During revival time, the evangelists' screaming sermons echoed in my ears long after souls had been saved from the fiery pits of hell and baptized in Tyler's pond. Even now, when I hear the relentless chant of Katydids on stifling summer nights, frogs croaking, bugs thumping against the window screens, my mind conjures up images of that volcanic lake of fire where one lost soul begged for a drop of water for his parched tongue. 

I was relieved when we left the church after those scary sermons, but a sense of impending loss surrounded me as we drove away. And I still feel that sense of impending loss when I return. My childhood fears coming in on me? Mourning the past? I don't know. All I know is I am unable to leave it all behind, and I am driven to write about it. As Faulkner once said, “The past is not dead. Actually, it isn't even past!” 

Like the fog that hung in the swamps, secrecy shrouded the South in which I grew up. There were things I couldn't quite put my finger on, unspoken things that simmered just beneath the surface. And then there were things everyone knew. But acted as if they didn't.  (As Pat Conroy wrote in “The Prince of Tides,” “That’s the Southern way!”) Things like Anna Lee's nerve problems, Mr. Leonard's “spells,” or Imogene, who "had something to do" with any man who showed an interest.

The adults spoke in low voices when they discussed such things, so I skulked here and there, gathering information. I was fascinated. And a little fearful. But I was thirsty for more, regardless of how horrible it might turn out to be. 

My siblings were also curious, though not as curious as I. We were unable to get any answers, so we were soon joining in. "Guess Mr. Leonard’s having a spell tonight," one of us would say as we drove by his three-story house late at night and saw it all lit up, cars parked haphazardly in his yard. (Neighbors always sped right on over as soon as they got word. His wife needed help; it took several men to hold him down.) 

So how do Southerners deal with such things? We write about the Anna Lees, the Mr. Leonards, the Imogenes. I've written Anna Lee's and Imogene's stories.  And I'm in the process of writing Mr. Leonard's.  Believe it or not, I still don't know what caused his spells. And I don't think anyone else does, either. 

Nevertheless, that metaphor was my identity and love, where my family and community were. It nurtured my imagination as I lolled in the front-yard swing on hot summer days, the scent of fresh-cut hay drifting through the air as the big trucks rumbled past our house; on frosty nights, sitting close to the warm-morning stove, reading. And listening, always listening. To me, there wasn't a better place on earth to grow up. Everything I am is in that land. That place. Those people. 

Southerners seldom lose their sense of humor, even during their darkest hours. I learned at a very young age that even within the most dreadful situations, people continued to say and do peculiar things. My siblings and I were quick to pick up on it, and we sat trembling and stone-faced, stifling our giggles, at every somber occasion.

Just being kids? Maybe. But it might have been our way of dealing with that burden of a religious philosophy that insists that things of this world are evil. And we were evil because we were laughing when we should have been crying. Or, at the very least, acting serious. (I can't say my siblings felt that way. But I know I did. To me, it was not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be endured.) 

There is not much porch talk anymore; most people have no porches. Air conditioning takes us inside during the hot summer nights; television has replaced the storytelling, often portraying Southerners as ignorant, toothless hillbillies who do nothing but feud and swig moonshine. Movies, like “Deliverance” perpetuate that image. 

I resent that classification. I know better. And I guess that is one of the reasons I write about them. Granted, there are odd people in the South, but there are odd people everywhere. It's just that Southern writers feel compelled to write about them. As Flannery O'Connor said, “When I'm asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it's because we are still able to recognize one.” 

Although I prefer the word "eccentric" to "freak," I know what O'Connor means. And I agree with Eudora Welty, who said, “In a way, I think Southerners care about each other, about human beings in a more accessible way than some other people.” 

We do care about all of our people, including the eccentrics.  We celebrate their lives by writing their stories. 

That’s the Southern way.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

This Young Kentucky Writer

Gina, Pitty Pat and I had a great time Monday night.  We heard Silas House speak at West Kentucky Community & Technical College.  (Regular readers might remember my post of two or three years ago, Silas House:  A Man With Soulful Eyes, just after Suzanne, Pitty Pat and I met him at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville.)

I have read all of his books (my favorite is The Coal Tattoo). They are wonderful stories of family, love and loyalty. And very strong female characters.

Silas spoke about method writing and his use of music to get into the minds of his characters.  Later, he took questions from the audience and read passages from Eli the Good and his newest book, Same Sun Here, which he wrote in collaboration with New York City writer Neela Vaswani.

Although we are from opposite sides of the state and he is much younger, there are similarities between us.

We both grew up in storytelling families and lived near our grandparents and other relatives.  We knew everyone in the little communities in which we were born.  He, too, was subjected to hellfire-and-damnation sermons each Sunday morning and grew up obsessing about the Rapture. 

I wrote about my experiences in my short story, Lost, which will appear in the September issue of Barely South Review.  I worried incessantly about the day when I would be thrown into the fiery pits of hell where I would burn forever and ever without one drop of water for my parched tongue.  And I suspect Silas did the same.

Silas House is a wonderful human being and very talented.  I predict we will hear much more from this young Kentucky writer in the years to come.     

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Kamryn Elizabeth

A baby girl is wonderful
A very special part
Of all the hopes, dreams and plans
We cherish in our hearts.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Gemini Flight and An Odd-Looking Couple Called Sonny & Cher


From My Journal
June 3, 1965

I'm watching the Gemini space craft flight live on TV.  Just a minute ago Ed White stepped out into space, the first American to do so.  This is really exciting!  It makes me nervous because no matter how smart the scientists are, they can't know for sure what's going to happen.  Just think how White must feel floating in that vacuum of space!  

He just said, "It looks great."

I keep expecting one of them to start screaming, "Let me out of this thing!  I can't take it any longer!"  I guess they're trained for this sort of thing, but I can't help but feel that something is going to go wrong on this flight.  I'm praying it doesn't!  

He's back on the spacecraft now, thank heavens!   Guess I'll turn off the TV and listen to some music.

So far today I've vacuumed and dusted every room in the house, cleaned out the kitchen cabinets, mopped and waxed the kitchen, bathroom and entry floors.  I've been kind of restless lately.  I want to get out and do things, go somewhere besides Tupperware parties and coffee klatches!  I've thought about going back to work, but here I am with my feet on the coffee table sipping a cup of hot tea. 

Oh, I shouldn't be thinking that way!  I should consider myself lucky that I don't have to work, like Agnes and Judy.  Besides, I can't bear the thought of leaving my precious little Suzanne with a babysitter and missing out on all the cute things she does.

Can't believe she is 21 months old.  She's learning to count, now.  And she's talking all the time, saying, "I love you, Mommie," "Daddy's gone in the car," etc.  Today she saw the neighbor's dog in the yard and said, "Look at that dog!  Oh, Mommie, look at that dog!"  Right now, she's doing her favorite thing:  piling up blocks.  She has piled up fourteen so far.  "Just look!" she said just now, clapping her hands.

I Got You Babe is playing on the radio.  I love that song!  It's sung by an odd-looking couple called Sonny and Cher. 

Sonny is shorter than Cher and not good looking at all.  Cher always wears pants.  She says she will NEVER wear a dress! 

Joyce Moreland just called and invited me to a Tupperware party.  But I am NOT going!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Love Means Hot Cocoa & Vegetable Soup

My thoughts always drift back to my childhood when I'm sick.

First, Mother would press her cheek against my forehead to check my temperature, and then she would give me a big hug and say, "Oh, Brenda Gail, bless your heart.  I'll bet some hot cocoa and vegetable soup would make you feel better."

Mother's hot cocoa was smooth and creamy with just the right amounts of cocoa and sugar.  It tasted very rich; I think she added a little evaporated milk. 

To make her vegetable soup, she started with chopped onions, tomatoes and potatoes, adding whatever vegetables she had on hand:  carrots, celery, corn, peas, sometimes green beans.  She seasoned it with salt and lots of black pepper and set it on the back burner to simmer. 

I've never been able to duplicate it.

For about a week, now, I've been nursing a sore throat and a head cold.  I phoned Mother last night, and when I told her I was sick she said what I knew she would say:  "Oh, Brenda Gail, bless your heart."

And if I were there now, I have no doubt she would offer to make me some hot cocoa and vegetable soup.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Divine Inspiration


There never was a great soul
that did not have some divine inspiration.

~Marcus T. Cicero~

Monday, January 23, 2012

Bobby and Betty


I received my contributor copies of the February/March 2012 issue of of Looking Back Magazine in the mail today. It contains my nonfiction piece, "The Little Seat."
As I was bumping over those country roads on the school bus all those years ago, obsessing about Bobby and Betty, I never dreamed I would someday write a story about them.  And their story would be published.
 
I like to think they would be pleased.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Lost

I received great news today!  My short story, "Lost," has been accepted for publication in Barely South Review, a literary journal in Norfolk, Virginia.  It is published by students and faculty of The MFA Program in Creative Writing at Old Dominion University, the Norfolk Division of the College of William & Mary.

"Lost" will appear in their September 2012 issue.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Treasure Each Moment

This morning, while gazing at this sweet photo of my daughter, Suzanne, and her granddaughter, Kamryn, I dug out more pictures from the past.  And I'm glad I did.  They reminded me of the swift passage of time and how we should treasure each moment we have with our loved ones.

Kamryn and Grammy
January, 2012

Suzanne and me
July, 1965

Grandson Chase and me
Fall, 1986

Chase and daughter Kamryn
December, 2011
All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley