Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Plots


It all started when we were preparing to move from Memphis to New Jersey. I was determined to tie up every loose end and prepare for every emergency prior to our departure. I sent off for our marriage license since the original was lost before we left for the honeymoon. Notarized copies of all our birth certificates as well as baptismal records were also secured.

There was only one remaining minor detail. I felt strongly that we needed to select funeral plots before we moved. I couldn’t face making that decision in grief. My husband didn’t see the urgency. No problem. I phoned my Great Granny Watts’ cousin down in Cedar Creek, Texas. He was the superintendent of the community cemetery. I learned we could have four at no cost because my family had donated part of the land for the cemetery.

The thought of spending eternity in Texas inspired my devout Tennessean spouse to consider plots in the local Catholic cemetery, and we toured the facility.  The superintendent of the cemetery had a dark sense of humor and loved puns. When my husband remarked on the high cost of the plots, the superintendent replied, “Are you kidding? People are dying to get in here.”

We also learned that all vacant spaces in really old burial grounds are not truly empty; especially if they’re on an incline. Gravity pulls everything downhill. The headstones may be scattered across the hillside, but all the occupants are double and triple parked down at the bottom.

We finally settled on four plots not far from where his parents are buried. A man who had lived two doors up from us for 20 years was buried two plots over. It seemed an appropriate spot. At the time, I didn’t notice anything unusual about the surrounding headstones.

No one in the family gave the matter any further thought until two or three years later when we were all together in Memphis to celebrate Christmas. My husband took the children out to Calvary to put wreaths on his parents’ headstones, and Marie, the cemetery secretary, spilled the beans. Our plots were smack dab in the middle of the Irish gypsy section.

The Irish gypsies are a group of petty thieves who winter in the mid-south. They masquerade as itinerant house painters and specialize in swindling the elderly and naïve. The headstones in their section are huge and ornate. The women burn candles at the base of tombstones and drape them with strings of beads. They argue over the attentions of dead men.

“Well, there went the neighborhood.” My husband wasn’t about to put up with such nonsense, and immediately was on the phone in search of other available plots. And that, friends and neighbors, is how we were temporarily one of the largest land owners in Calvary Cemetery.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Orange Slice Cookies


 

 
I was in our local grocery a couple of days ago in search of Christmas candy to use as Bingo prizes. Those of us in our immediate family who are in town will gather for lunch Christmas Eve to exchange gifts, eat lunch and play bingo.

It will be a simple meal of beef brisket cooked overnight in the crockpot and a potato casserole and vegetable salad with plenty of rolls and topped off with chocolate chip cheesecake.

The bingo prizes need to be extra appealing because after swapping gifts and with extra full tummies, our tribe may either be too excited to sit still for a game or too sleepy.

There was an entire aisle of candy treats ranging from M&M’s to foil wrapped Santas. The comparison to what was available in the 1950’s when I was a child made me smile. Back then, we had peppermint candy canes.

Some families had small, table-top plastic trees with points on the branches where gum drops could be stuck to decorate the tree. Mother made drop cookies with oatmeal and chopped gum drops in the batter.

She also made bar cookies with orange slices. The hardest part of preparing this batter is cutting up the orange slices. I tried using a food processor. It created a huge gummy mess that was impossible to use in the batter, but it might help to spray Pam on the knifeblade

Mother would allow the baked cookies to cool before slicing and then roll the cut bars in powdered sugar. The finished product doesn’t look very impressive, but oh, they as so good. Mother always baked well in advance of the holiday and froze the cookies to keep the family from eating everything before Christmas Day.

But she always weakened. It usually happened on a Saturday night while we were all sitting together watching television.  She’d break out one frozen orange slice cookie per person. It might have not been the most respectful way to treat our teeth, but oh, was that frozen cookie good, and it took longer to eat because it was frozen. The recipe for orange slice cookies is included below.
 
Orange Slice Cookies

1 pound orange slice candy, finely cut                            5 large eggs

2 ½ packed cups brown sugar                                          2 C flour

Pinch of salt                                                                     1 C chopped pecans

Beat eggs. Add sugar, candy, salt, flour and chopped pecans. Bake in a greased 13” X 9” pan at 325° until golden brown and slightly pulled away from the edges of the pan. This is usually about 30 minutes. Cool, cut into finger-size slices and roll in powdered sugar.

 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Shame

  
One of the discussion groups I attend recently read Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending, a Booker Award winning novel. Granted by the British, the Booker is one of the most prestigious literary awards in the world.

The Sense of an Ending is the story of an upright, uptight Englishman who spent a superficial life out of fear of being embarrassed. He never stepped out of his comfort zone to get too heavily involved with another person. Love is a major gamble most of us make; usually more than once. It can be messy and yes, embarrassing. It was a risk this character wasn’t willing to take.

I recently had an all too brief visit with a philosophy professor friend of mine. He spoke of the next book he’s planning to write as soon as he gets his health and other academic responsibilities in order. The topic: shame.

This is one of those times in my life when all too many roads lead to the same destination: shame.

Research on my family lead me to a description of the Scots Irish. From the time the glaciers began to melt in the area that became the region between Scotland and England, the Scoti tribe, who would later become the Scots Irish, were known as a group of destitute ruffians who worked from can to can’t. They loved a good fight and didn’t always feel obligated to obey the law. They were also exceedingly proud. Their sense of self-worth was all they had. 

Pride seems to walk hand in hand with shame. The Scots Irish knew all too well they were the bottom of the social ladder, but the bottom supports the rest of the social structure.

All they had was their own innate sense of their self-worth which pushed them to the extreme in their labors and put a chip on their shoulder when it came to dealing with others.

In Copperhead Road, Steve Earle sings about being drafted for Vietnam. The “White Trash” goes first. The “White Trash” Scots Irish have been the foot soldier in every war this country has ever fought. They’re proud of it.

Self-consciousness and a sense of shame have held too large a presence in my own life. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Berkshires in western Massachusetts where I bought the most wonderful chenille knitted cap. It was outstanding with a great flower knitted on the side and a nice brim to turn down to cover my ears.

I wore it one time in Memphis. Standing in line for a sandwich at the local deli, I realized I was the only person in the room wearing a hat. A woman across the room kept looking at me. Or at least I thought she was looking at me. I never wore the hat again and put it in the clothes drive the next spring.

Now that I have a dog and walk in all weather, I dearly wish I’d kept my hat, but my own insecurities shamed me into giving it away.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

5488


On the way home a couple of nights ago, I drove by our first house. I make a point to drive down our old street every few weeks to keep an eye on things. The modest neighborhood has held up well.

The trees are way bigger. The oak our neighbor dug up as a weed from her flower bed and helped me plant in our front yard is now at least two stories tall.

It was in this house that three of our four children were conceived. I was folding laundry there the afternoon the call came that Mother had finally succumbed to cancer. It was in this house that we sat around the dining table one Christmas Eve to write my mother’s-in-law obituary and plan her funeral.

In that back yard, we staged countless Easter egg hunts and one first communion. I pulled toddlers up and down that street in a wagon trick or treating with our cat shadowing us by moving from bush to bush to stay hidden and still be close by in case the children might need her.

It was at this house that I had the mail box moved away from the drive before the children started school in anticipation of the young drivers they would become. It was from this house the girls left on their first dates.

Time has faded the names one of our children wrote in crayon on the brick by the kitchen door. The horrific ice storm of the 1990’s felled the huge magnolia in the front yard.

The majority of the street is now Orthodox Jewish as was the last resident of our former home. Their lifestyle is not conducive to home maintenance. Built in 1958, the house is beginning to show its age and require special attention they couldn’t provide. The landscaping is pretty much gone as well as the "in the ground" swimming pool.

I was able to visit the property recently while the house was empty and undergoing repair. The rooms are smaller than our current home; the ceilings a bit lower. The yard seems greatly diminished without the pool but feels cozy. It could be a gardener’s paradise.

Intellectually, I know you can’t go home again; emotionally I’ve never left. There’s as big a chunk of my heart remaining at 5488 as there was on the Holcomb Place back in Bastrop County, Texas, where I spent the first eleven years of my life. But it seems to me, the more of my heart I leave in the places I share with family, the bigger my heart becomes; the more love I have to give.  

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Why Do You Ask?


 

She wrinkled up her nose, gave me a disdainful up and down look and asked, “Jackie, why don’t you lose all that weight?”

Her words took my breath away. I was too startled to think. I barely knew this woman; had only been in her house for group functions with New Comers. I gave her a forced smile. “Bless your heart.” I murmured and slipped away to another part of the room. That Southern response can express anything from an outright insult; i.e., her grandma kept a house of prostitution where her momma was the star attraction, and she’s following the family tradition. Bless her heart; to a genuine blessing.

I wasn’t ready to share the story of my early childhood. Gays aren’t the only ones who keep a part of their real identity carefully tucked away in a secluded place. I think most of us clutch an extremely private background behind a carefully constructed personal façade. But this sudden invasion of my privacy may have unconsciously influenced my decision to write Raiders and Horse Thieves, Memoir of a Central Texas Baby Boomer.

All my adult life has been spent sharing stories of my Texas family with family, friends and neighbors. These stories were carefully constructed to conceal dire poverty and regrettable behavior. During my early childhood my family lived in a hand hewn log cabin. We never went hungry, but oh, what a monotonous diet.  Most every meal was one form or another of fried meat and pinto beans.

Our father raised hogs during the earliest years and had a contract with a local independent baker to buy his stale pastries to feed the hogs. Baked goods would be piled on the dirt floor of the barn storage room in a mound higher than my head. The jellied centers of the sweet rolls gleamed like jewels in the half-light. The sight and aroma made my mouth water. We would go weeks without anything sweet. And there were all those goodies; so close at hand but forbidden. Mother threatened us with dire illness and possible hospitalization to keep us away from the spoiled food. It was probably no exaggeration.

Food plays a much greater role in all our lives than merely fuel to run our bodies. Cooking and baking provides a satisfying creative outlet. Eating can be a solace for a variety of emotions including grief, frustration, weariness, boredom, and loneliness.

What a pleasure it is to create and serve food to those you care about. Sitting at a dining table and sharing food initiates a bond, an intimacy. I’ve always loved to try new recipes and entertain.

Yes, I’m over weight, but the doctor assures me that when I’m truly elderly and need to go to a home, the staff will not need a forklift to get me in and out of the bathtub.

I’m indebted to that gal for her bold question. It made me seriously consider my lifestyle and values. But I do wonder what possessed her to ask. Was it intended as a moot question? How would she have reacted if I’d taken that opportunity to spill my guts and give her the long, honest recital of my childhood? Whatever her intentions, I suspect they originated in her childhood story.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Southern Fairy Tale


I am indebted to Go Set a Watchman for providing insight into one of the greatest works of twentieth century fiction.  Written by an author with obvious potential, it’s an honest portrayal of the 1950’s South.

Every novel is a journey. In Watchman, the main character, Jean Louise Finch, is faced with the challenge of an internal journey that starts with her arrival back home after an extended absence. She views the people there through almost adult eyes and compares the life she’s currently living in New York City with the lives of her contemporaries in Maycomb.

Her widower father and uncle have reared her with the highest morals, but on her return, she sees her father participate in a racist organization.  Jean Louise is impetuous; quick to pass judgment and the least likeable character in the book. She throws one heck of a temper tantrum. Her father and uncle respond with love and restraint.

They beg her to move back home; not because her father’s health is failing, but because they feel she could make a difference in the community. They believe only those who live in a society can change it.

Three distinct social groups comprised the segregated society of the South in the 1950’s: African Americans who had been brought to this country as slaves, Caucasians who had insight and believed a community is no better than its weakest resident, and Caucasian segregationists.

A major percentage of the Southern Caucasians are descended from the Scots-Irish who have failed to succeed on every level of society since the time of King James of England and Scotland. In the 1950’s, the majority of them were as bad off as the poorest former slaves. The only point of pride these people had was the color of their skin. These were the proponents of segregation.   

Go Set a Watchman was factual. To Kill a Mockingbird is a beautiful bigger than life fairy tale. That’s the only logical explanation. No white attorney practicing in the 1950’s could make a mockery of Jim Crow law like Atticus Finch did without expecting serious consequences to himself as well as his family.

If the reader assumes life goes on with the Finch family after Mocking Bird ends, the potential reactions of the community must be considered. It would not be pleasant. All or some of the following suggested events could take place shortly thereafter in no set order.  The day after the trail, the White Citizens’ Council would call for a boycott on the Finch Law Firm; effectively ending his practice. Calpurnia would be abducted by a group of men, gang raped and seriously injured. For the rest of her life, she would never have a moment free of the memory of that day. The Ku Klux Klan would burn a cross in the Finch’s front yard. It might catch the house on fire. The children would be taunted and bullied at school. If they had a pet, it would be stolen and killed; its body left artfully displayed in a place the children would be the first to see.

The Atticus Finch in both novels was a devoted father. In Go Set a Watchman, he was working quietly within the framework of local society to integrate African Americans into the community. That’s the way things get done, but a plodding, methodical character is pretty dull.

The Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird was a knight in shining armor with no fear of repercussions from his actions. The book is totally oblivious to the complexity of segregation in 1950’s Southern society. It’s a beautiful fairy tale that would never have happened at that time in that place.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Down and Dirty and To the Nitty Gritty


In 1990, my husband’s department was moved from Memphis to the home office in the north east. This uprooting our family was one of the hardest times in our collective lives. It meant leaving the two eldest girls in Tennessee for college while the rest of us re-located to the wilds of north central New Jersey.

Change is never easy, but much good did come from it. It broadened all of our horizons. We passed through the Newark airport terminal so often the baggage handlers knew us by name and inquired about family members who weren’t present. We learned people are the same all over; they just sound different.

It may have been the transfer or it may have been my age or a combination of the two, but I became more grounded in my identity and comfortable with who I am. The farther away from my origins I lived, the greater my realization of how much I enjoy being a Southerner and a Texan became.

Fishing in the Dark by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was popular about this time. I played a tape of their greatest hits continuously while chauffeuring the children, a third grader and freshman in high school.

Up until our move, the children had always gone to parochial schools, but now we had to attend religious classes once a week after the public school adjourned. It would be after 5 pm and dark as pitch when they were dismissed. It would also be incredibly cold. The carpool line filled the church parking lot and lined the street for blocks. Did I mention how cold it was?

My children are sociable souls. When CCD was dismissed, the high schooler chatted with friends and the third grader played a quick game of gotcha’ before looking me up in the carpool line. Late afternoon on a school day is not the time to dawdle. There's limited time in the evening to do homework, eat dinner, and have some down time before bed. It was like Antarctica out in that parking lot. The car pool line moved with all the speed of a glacier.

The solution was simple. Once I was in the middle of the parking lot in full view of everyone, I turned on the lights inside the car, rolled down the windows and turned up the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. “You and me goin’ fishin’ in the dark. Lyin’ on our backs and watchin’ the stars while the cool grass grows” blared across the parking lot and shook the stained glass windows of the church. There was an immediate stampede of two. From then on, my children met me down the street and around the corner from church the very minute classes were dismissed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Voice from the Past


The last of my parent’s generation died this summer. Her husband had been my father’s first cousin. She'd been the head of the cafeteria in my high school. I’ll never forget the five dollars she sent me as a high school graduation present. Back in 1964, that was a significant sum.

She had a long and productive life. Her services were truly a celebration of life. One of the morticians assisting in the arrangements asked if the deceased was related to my father. His father had been my father’s banker.

Bankers today are an anonymous lot who frequently change institutions and job titles, but in central Texas of the 1950’s, they reached out to their clients and worked hard to develop a relationship with the entire family. This particular banker drove all the way out from Austin to Cedar Creek one afternoon to visit our general store. He was there when I stepped off the school bus and was effusive in his praise of my report card.

I spoke to his son, the mortician, this afternoon. He recalled all the names of my brothers and sister and spoke warmly of my mother. He still has the pillow she gave him for graduation from high school and has fond memories of the time he and his family visited the Cedar Creek Homecoming.

He reminded me of the time our father gave Mother a registered Hereford bull for Christmas. Immediately after the holidays, Mother stopped in to visit the banker. She said she appreciated the bull but really needed a new washing machine and asked him to help arrange the purchase.

The man I talked to today was an only child while there were four of us. My sister and I were reminiscing recently about the time our family was invited to dinner with the banker and his family. All the toy soldiers at their house looked brand new while the same ones at our house had obviously seen repeated serious combat.

I go back to central Texas at least once every year to visit family and friends and always stay at the same hotel by the airport where they allow me to hold informal gatherings in the lobby. The banker’s son will be the star of the next such get-together. I can hardly wait to hear the stories he has to share of my family. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Too Much Information


Our youngest child and only son was in third grade when my husband’s job took us to Basking Ridge, New Jersey, a small Colonial circa village and the home of A T &T until sometime in the 1990’s.

The school system there proved to be a challenge or rather I should say some of the assignments were a challenge to our entire family. I suspect these were developed by enthusiastic young teachers who had no idea what they were asking of working parents with more than one child. 

The record must reflect that neither my husband nor I ever participated in the preparation of science projects or any other special assignments up until our move; however, when each child in our son’s grade school science class had to boil a chicken, remove all the meat, and glue the bones back together, our attitudes did an about face. As old parents, that exceeded our limits of reasonable expectations. Or as my husband put it, “Please don’t ask me to do that. I’ll never be able to eat chicken again.”  

There was an easy solution. Our youngest daughter’s boyfriend did it easily in no time and thought it was fun.

Another year there was an ancestry unit in social studies. Every child had to prepare and present a report on their family heritage with visual aids. It doesn’t sound too hard, but wait. Our son decided to talk about his grandfather the Texas rancher.

New Jersey is the heart of political correctness. The children there live incredibly sheltered lives. So our son proposed to tell these youngsters who probably thought chocolate milk came from brown cows about what ranchers did to raise cows back in the time of his grandfather. That would include branding, de-horning, de-worming, castration, and taking calves away from their mothers to wean them.

It couldn’t be done. Every child in the class would have nightmares. The school psychologist would have to bring in reinforcements. A social worker would be ringing my doorbell.

When in doubt, take food. The butcher at Shop Rite special ordered round steak that I chicken fried. I served the meat in bite sized pieces from a cast iron skillet with a red bandana tied around the handle.

 North easterners are incredibly diet conscious. There are no fast food restaurants in Basking Ridge. Fried foods are verboten. The chicken fried steak disappeared in a flash. The skillet looked as though it might have been licked clean. Our son made an excellent grade.  

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Pushy Characters


I finished writing the rough draft of a novel a couple of months ago and have set it aside for a while to give the characters time to settle down. I made up a small social structure of personalities with a specific aim for their performances, but as the story progressed, they took over. I would sit down at the computer with the goal to create one scene only to have another entirely different event evolve.

I’m lucky enough to have an editor who is concerned with the story as well as grammar and punctuation. Most Saturday afternoons this past spring and summer found us at a local coffee shop pouring over my rough draft. As the story progressed, we debated the behavior of my characters. “Don’t re-write,” she would urge. “Just keep writing.” The characters developed as the story played out. The personalities who started with me were more complex and talkative and opinionated by the end of the story.

The characters I’ve created are constantly on my mind. As I walk the dog in the park, my thoughts are with the piece of fiction I’m working to create. My main goal is to match the personalities with the action.

One of the women in my short story discussion group grew up in William Faulkner’s neighborhood. She and all the other children disliked the man in the white suit who walked down the street as though he was in another world. They didn’t realize he was creating another world. Faulkner was preoccupied with organizing the plots in a series of books while the real children around him were scheming how to splash him with mud.

Another lesser known author had a remarkable experience with an insistent character. Alan Bradley was writing a piece in which the main character was driving an open car down a narrow English lane. He or she rounded a curve to find a small girl seated on a stool at the side of the road.

In a swirl of dust, the driver pulled up alongside the child. “What are you doing, little girl?”

She looked up from the pad on her lap, “I’m making note of the license tags of all the cars passing by.”

“That’s silly,” replied the driver. “No one drives down this way.”

The child smiled. “I have your number.”

That was Bradley’s introduction to Flavia de Luce and the beginning of a mystery series with her as the central character. According to the author, he put aside whatever he was working on at the time to write The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

While I struggle to make my characters fit the plot, I highly recommend you acquaint yourself with Flavia. She’s a walking definition of assertive.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Call of the Wild?


Late every afternoon I drive my standard poodle, George, to the Outback, an off leash dog park of over 100 acres. It makes my heart happy to drive down the boulevard with George. He hangs his head out the back window and sniffs the breeze like a wine connoisseur testing the latest batch from a favorite vineyard.

The time we spend at the Outback is therapeutic for us both. It’s good for me to walk outside in the fresh air while George “visits” with the other dogs. “Visit” is my euphemism for all the sniffing of sensitive areas the dogs do. It’s fascinating in an anthropological sort of way. What in the world do they actually learn about each other? Does one breed smell different from another? 

George has simple pleasures. All he wants to do at the park is run. Nothing pleases him more than to find another fleet of foot pooch willing to chase and growl with him. The growling is essential. The two usually run long spurts and then make a tight circle back to their owners. That’s when they growl at each other. It reminds me of little boys in the back yard playing cowboy and Indians and making shooting noises at each other.

My dog doesn’t want to chase a ball or stick or frolic in the water. We’ve been visiting this park daily for almost a year ago, and in all this time, not once on even the hottest most humid day has he offered to join the others in one of the three shallow ponds on the property.

We are not fair weather attendees. Two days ago we were there almost by ourselves to walk the paths in cool, softly drizzling rain. We took our usual route through the park with George leading the way. As we headed back to the entrance, George took a detour and walked straight into a pond. Standard poodles have a delightful prance which was totally absent on this occasion. It was more like he was headed to the guillotine. He stopped with the water at chest level and turned back to look at me with an expression that seemed to say, “Now what?”

I don’t do water. As a child growing up on a secluded piece of property with open stock tanks, Mother taught me to fear the water. She knew I was likely to wander away from the house and wanted to avoid the need to drag the two open bodies of stagnant water if I went missing. I signed up for swimming lessons at university but had so many ear infections, I was given a medical release from the class.

 I do sort of know how to swim. Well, I can float and my dog paddle isn’t bad but not in boots and a rain coat. George and I stood staring at each other in the misty rain. No amount of cajoling or whistles would make him budge. He seemed frozen with fright. 

There was no choice. I set my handbag on the bank and waded in praying all the while that any water moccasins residing in that particular pond were busy gathering their supper on the other side. I had to drag my beloved hound out by his collar.

We were back at the park yesterday. George resumed his usual routine. My dog friends laughed about our adventure and reminded me poodles are water dogs. They know it and I know it, but did anyone think to tell George?

The Christmas Tree

 
We're empty nesters, and this Christmas was the first time I was left to decorate our tree by myself. The tree  is always a challenge in our household. My husband isn't handy or enthusiastic about sentimental holiday traditions.

Securing the tree in the stand is always a tremendous challenge for me. One year around 1985 or '86, it fell down during Christmas dinner. We removed all the ornaments and had it out on the curb immediately after lunch. I had all the children stand out on the curb the next morning and took their picture with the naked tree.

The next year I used the same stand and put the tree in the same spot close to a window in the living room. I then hammered a small nail into the top of the window facing and tautly tied heavy weight fishing line from the nail to the top of the tree. The line looked like a spider web. Every few days, I would forget what it was and make a mad dash for something to clear it away.

It was also about this time that our neighborhood completed a cycle in its development. Many of the original owners became empty nesters and sold out for smaller places. The Orthodox Temple had moved from mid-town to a couple of streets over from us. Our neighbor changed to approximately half Catholic and half  Jewish.

The Orthodox children living close to us played with our children. On more than one occasion, I was aware one of my little ones was conducting a tour of Orthodox children through our house decorated for Christmas. I considered it a cultural exchange and ignored them.

Fast forward ten years.We were unpacking in our new house in Jersey when I read an newspaper article about making the holidays a bit easier. One of the options was to order the tree directly from a grower who would deliver it and put it in the stand.

The first delivery was made by a young man wearing specially insulated coveralls. He brought the tree in the house and painstakingly installed it. There was only one problem. The front of his coverall was brown with tree sap that smeared all over my white carpet as he wiggled around under the tree securing it in the stand.

I could hardly wait to get him out of the house before the sap became a stain. He went on his way with a tip and a small pound cake and a puzzled expression. He knew something was amiss, but I didn't want to embarass him. Once the sap was wiped away, I phoned the planter to explain. A young couple neatly dressed and clearly in love made the next year's delivery.

The grower delivered and installed our tree for ten years or so. Every time I called to place the order, the person on the other end would always respond, "Yes, we were talking about you the other day and wondered when you would call." My purchase had become a pleasant holiday experience for all concerned.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Way Deep In the Heart of Texas

 

The creation of Raiders and Horse Thieves began when my eldest grandchild was born. At the next gifting holiday, his mother presented me with a Grandma’s Memory Book. Much like an album devoted to the first twelve years of a child’s life, the pages of Grandma’s Memory Book were mostly empty and topped with headings like Education and Favorite Pet and Best Friends.

As I leafed through the empty album, I realized I did have a story to tell, and this album was woefully inadequate. It also came to me that if I didn’t record my story, the memories I hold of the kin who preceded me would be lost. The age bracket or two ahead of mine would be reduced to mere names and dates on tombstones for my descendants.
 
My first editor was a friend. She grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn to become a newspaper reporter. After reading the first chapter, she suggested a cultural anthropologist specializing in the study of remote tribal customs would be better equipped to work with me. She couldn’t relate to the lack of running water and having to share the phone line with five other families.
 
The professor in a day-long writing seminar at Ole Miss suggested hanging a long piece of butcher paper on the wall and constructing a time line. This became the outline for a non-fiction writing class I took over the internet. The classes ran out before the project was completed. By word of mouth, I found an editor in Texas to help me complete the project.
 
It was his idea to submit it to Sam Houston State for publication. Publication is a slow and frustrating process. It was seven months before my work was accepted.
 
My brother and sister have been carefully consulted through-out the writing process. The concept of memory has been a major topic among us. Each of us has slightly different recollections. The basic story remains the same, but the details vary from one to another.
 
It is one thing to privately publish a limited number of copies for immediate family and quite another to submit it to public scrutiny. Raiders and Horse Thieves is not a pretty story. It wasn’t easy to record how we lived and what happened to us. As an adult, I understand so much more about the actions of my relatives and have tremendous sympathy for them.

Raiders and Horse Thieves, Memoir of a Central Texas Baby Boomer is the first writing challenge I set for myself. It lead me to tackle fiction. The rough draft of my first novel is complete. Please check back with me here now and again and follow me as I struggle to develop my craft.