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    Happy Halloween !


    2012 - 10.29

    Someone at the Door

     

    She felt the breath drift across the back of her neck and a chill skated down her spine. Nerve-endings were screaming a warning to the brain. The presence was so close; she whirled around to confront the intruder. But there was no one there!

    Well Erika, you’ve finally lost it. Mom said if you keep writing this “creepy stuff” you’ll lose your mind. Mom’s gonna be so happy she’s right. She sat straighter in her chair, trying to work the kinks from her neck and shoulders. Spending hours bent over the keyboard of a computer was a sure bet for muscle tension.

    Erika Stanfield-Writer Extraordinaire! Why can’t I get the words flowing smoothly tonight? Putting that last book to bed was good for my ego, but not good for my bank account. I gotta get this new one finished and in the editor’s hands soon! Maybe if the doorbell wasn’t being pushed every five minutes by all the little ghosts and goblins, I could get it finished. I thought Halloween etiquette dictated that if the porch light was off, don’t go to the door. Some mommies forgot to tell their little darlings, I suppose.

    Erika sat staring into space, the computer’s screen saver flashing across her face in random colors. She was remembering just how complicated it had been to finish that last book and hoped this wasn’t going to be a repeat performance. It had been titled “Someone’s at the Door” and the lead character had given her a great deal of trouble. His name had been Aaron Russell, and he proved as difficult to kill off in the book as was deserving of any good suspense character. But it had seemed almost as if Aaron had developed a mind, and a will, of his own. It had appeared that Aaron, this fictional, this imaginary character, had resisted his own death. Oh, he had been a handsome devil with his smoldering dark eyes and athletic physique, and Erika had almost hated to part with him. But the story line she had written demanded Aaron must be murdered. It had been with genuine regret that Erika had the mugger strangle Aaron with the telephone cord, thus ending the battle he had fought to stay alive.

    Sighing, thinking of all the valiant attempts Aaron had made throughout the book to stay alive, Erika began to walk back to the computer. Her train of thought was interrupted by the doorbell. Angrily, she stomped across the floor to jerk the door open. It was no child that stood there waiting for candy. The porch light was out, but even in the feeble light spilling from the open doorway, Erika could see he was a handsome man. Her anger quickly dissipated, turning into an unusual feeling of expectancy. Erika’s mood lightened and she felt almost as if she were greeting an old friend.

    “Hi. Kinda old to be out trick-or-treating, aren’t you?” The familiar stranger’s voice was husky and Erika had to strain her ears to hear his answer.

    “No…I mean…I’m sorry. I’ve had car trouble. May I use your phone?”

    Throwing caution to the wind, Erika stepped back to allow the man access to the room. She didn’t know why she was behaving so strangely, she knew she shouldn’t allow a stranger into her home.

    “Yes, of course. Come in. The telephone is in the kitchen. Do you need to see the phone book?” “No, thank you. I know who I need to talk to.”

    Coyly, almost shyly, Erika watched him walk across the floor. Why did he seem so familiar? “Uh, what’s your name? Are you from around here?” No response from the kitchen. Frowning, Erika stood chewing on her lip. How rude! I let him in to use the phone; he could at least be polite. “Uh…sir? What’s your name? Where are you from?” Still no answer. Erika grew angrier by the second. She decided she would force him to answer her, force him to show gratitude by exhibiting more manners. She marched into the kitchen, coming to an abrupt halt when she saw he was just standing there…waiting.

    “Hello Erika.” His voice was a deep whisper, barely audible.

    “H…how do you know my name?”

    “Oh Erika, we’ve been friends for a long time. Surely you recognize me!” Her heart trip-hammered in her chest, her mouth was almost too dry to speak.

    “No…no, I don’t know you.”

    His smile was startling; his handsome face took her breath away for many reasons.

    “No, Erika? Look closely, dear. If you think hard enough, you will remember who I am.”

    “I don’t care who you are! Just use the phone and get out of here. On second thought, forget the phone. Just get out of here!”

    His smile turned dark, like clouds passing over the moon. “I wish you had forgotten about the telephone earlier, Erika. If you had, I wouldn’t have to be here like this. I tried everything in my power to make you listen, but you refused.

    “Refused? Who the are you?”

    “Look at me, Erika. Look at me!”

    She froze, her eyes growing large when she at last saw the cord wrapped around the handsome stranger’s throat. It had cut deeply into the tender flesh surrounded by savage bruises. Erika raised her eyes to meet his and the breath froze in her heaving chest.

    “Aaron? No, it can’t be! You’re not even real! You’re a character in a book…someone I imagined! This isn’t possible…”

    Aaron walked toward her with slow and deliberate purpose. His smile had become a sneer and his hands were clinched into fists at his sides. As she stood rooted to the spot, she watched him untangle the cord around his own neck, all the while advancing toward her.

    “Erika, you really should be more careful, you know. You never know who it is when someone’s at the door.”

    And the beat goes on…


    2012 - 10.15

    I’m know I’m not good at keeping up my posts. What can I tell you? I’m a writer-I’m usually either too busy to write a new post or my imagination is out in “The Zone” and I forget about a new post. Either way, I know I’ve been remiss. Forgive me.

    My last book, Through the Shadows, came out in April and it’s doing okay, thank you all very much. And I just signed a contract two days ago for my next book. It’s an anthology titled Romance-the Spice of Life and it’s going to be a fun read. It has six stories by six different authors, each one is a subgenre of romance. We have a paranormal romance, romantic suspence, historical romance, inspirational, nostalgic and contemporary. Something for every romantic taste! Rumor has it that it’ll be out by Thanksgiving 2012. I hope you’ll support it as you have my other books. You all are great.

    On the flip side, I have started yet another new book. Working title is Too Hot to Dance and it’s about a good samaritan stalking a serial killer. Even though I just started, I’m already having fun with it. Here’s the possible prologue:

    Midsummer heat stripped the air to the bone and made buildings shimmer like the lost underwater city of Atlantis.

    Soaring temperatures can cause a lot of damage. I know because I killed a man.

      He’d driven in on the tail end of a tornado and he stirred up as much garbage and desolation in his wake.  I first heard of him in a whispered conversation between two friends, both frightened deer in the headlights, sitting in a booth behind me at a truck stop. True, it hadn’t been any of my business but I think the heat got to me. I’m not sure why but I’d taken it personally so I had to do something about it.

         Traveling across the Southwest he’d left his victims tortured but silent. They believed him when he said he’d come back to finish the job if they told anyone.  From what I’d learned, I had no doubt he’d live up to his promise.

    So, what do you think? Wish me luck as I do my research. (I hate doing research!) If I’m a good girl and the characters co-operate, maybe I’ll be done by the first of the year.

    On a more serious note….


    2012 - 03.28

    The only thing we have to fear is fear itself

    FDR may have been more eloquent in the presentation but he couldn’t have felt more passionate.

    As happens many times, I hear a song that strikes a chord within me, brings back a memory, allows me to ponder certain events in my life. That is what is on my mind today.

    I started writing for fun and profit (sarcasm there) in 1995. I sold several short stories that I’d written in the evenings after work. It was thrilling to see my words in national magazines and of course I daydreamed about, one day, seeing my name on the cover of a book, but deep inside I knew I’d never achieve that dream because I was too afraid to write an entire book. I feared rejection, I feared not being good enough, smart enough, witty enough, deep enough-whatever, to garner the attention of anyone that would publish an entire novel created from my imagination. So I toddled along, working my day job, writing whenever the muse came to visit, if I had time. Then time came to a standstill in my world. What at first seemed to be nothing was diagnosed as a very aggressive form of cancer. Whoa.

    Within the space of days, my entire universe tilted on its axis. I’ve often said that when a person has cancer, the entire family, everyone they love, has cancer. The disease is so frightening; it stuns everyone that loves that patient. In fact, it may be harder on the loved ones. All the patient has to do is strive to survive; the loved ones have to sit by and feel helpless and scared out of their minds.

    After several surgeries that I swore I wished I’d died instead of consenting to, the chemo began. Again I questioned why I was even doing that. Surely it was easier to just die already. My poor, terrified husband sought for anything that would make me smile, perk me up so I would want to continue living. He said, “Gloria, you’ve always wanted to be a full-time writer; now is as good a time as any.”

    “Are you insane? Now? I’m hoping to die and NOW is the time to start writing full-time?”

    He shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant. “As good a time as any, don’t you think? Start out slow, write more as you have the energy.”

    I mumbled and grumbled, then realized not only was I mad that he thought it was a good time to start a whole new career, in the middle of chemotherapy, but also because I finally had to face the fact that I was afraid I’d fail. I turned it over in my mind for a few days and then I had one of the many epiphanies I had during that time.

    I’m surviving cancer. I’ve all ready lived longer than they thought I would so, indeed, how bad can it be if I fail at being published in book form? I’ve made it through the valley; why not shoot for the moon? Even if I don’t make it, I went farther than I ever dreamed I would and after cancer, heck, what do I have to fear?

    It took months and the first two books were rejected so many times I finally gave up on them. But at that point my hair had grown back in, was shiny, soft and curly, so I got all fiery and sassy and thought, “No siree, publishing is not going to destroy me.”

    I’d written a short story that won first place in a large competition; the story was about my Mamaw, how she used to wash the dead before burial. I’d titled it “Tending the Dead” and it had come from my heart. One day I held that story in my hands and it gave birth to an entire book titled Saturday Night Cocoa Fudge. I submitted it for consideration and a publisher said he liked it and would like to publish it. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have lift-off!

    A few other books followed, including one that should be released this month titled Through the Shadows. I have had 58 short stories and articles published. I had a full page article (with photos!) in Women’s World, and was asked to be a contributor to a couple other authors’ books. When I do the math, I realize that NINETY FIVE percent of that has happened since I was diagnosed with cancer. Most of the success I’ve had came after I made it through that dark valley and said I had nothing left to fear.

    Fear comes in many forms. Fear of flying, fear of commitment, fear of being vulnerable.  One of my fears was being honest with my feelings, in my own life and the way I dealt with other people. I felt if I built a wall around me no one could get through to hurt me. But let me tell you, there’s no greater fear that the one of dying.

    So now I rarely hesitate when it comes to telling people how I feel. Most of the time that’s a good thing. I used to hold back, wouldn’t tell someone I cared about them because I was afraid they’d reject me, think I was being phony, or laugh at my honesty. No more. When someone touches my heart, when I love them, I tell them. I never know when a day may come when they won’t be there and I missed a chance to let them know. By the same token, if you anger me or hurt my feelings, I’m honest about that, too.

    Cancer freed me. I wouldn’t wish a disease or illness on anyone but I do wish that everyone had a life-altering event that made them stop, be still, truly, truly think…and allow themselves to hear what their heart is saying. It’s why I now feel that all life, no matter the creature, is precious. It’s why I’ll find a spider in my house and let it crawl on a piece of paper so I can take it back outside where it belongs. It’s why I’ll stomp the ground to shoo away a snake rather than try to kill it. My life is too short to be driven by fear, anger and discontent.

    Do I still get scared? YES! I still tremble before I speak to large groups, even though I’ve done it more times than I can count, and I’m still afraid to skydive! (Do you know which song I heard that brought this all about? Hint: Tim McGraw sang it.)

    I wish these parents would leave me alone!


    2012 - 03.07

    It’s the first week of March and my Bradford Pear Trees are in full bloom, even sprouting small, perfect green leaves. Last night I sat on the front porch, reminiscing about sitting on Mamaw’s front porch, the sweet scent of honeysuckle redolent in the heavy summer breeze that at times drifted across my face. It was the mid sixties and a couple neighborhood girls were sitting next to me and we were listening to WLAF. We cranked up the volume of the radio and sang along; we even did the Pony, Mashed Potatoes and the Twist in the yard to a couple of the rhythmic “makes you want to get up and dance!” numbers. I began to smile when I heard the opening strands of ♫ I thought love was only true in fairy tales; meant for someone else but not for me. Love was out to get me, that’s the way it seemed. Disappointment haunted all my dreams. Then I saw her face, now I’m a believer… ♫.

    Last week we lost Davy Jones, lead singer for The Monkees. I’m sure the previous generation may not have appreciated him as my generation did, especially the female populace though I was more interested in Michael Nesmith, preferring the tall, quiet type. Most of the music from that era reminds me of happier times, when I was free of adult responsibilities (except taking care of my much younger brothers-the brats!), when my life plans included who I was going out with that Saturday night, which dress would I wear, did I have any hose without runs in them, and which song was coming up next on “Teen Time”.

    It also brings back memories of Viet Nam, the young people we lost, too many Campbell County boys that would never cruise by The Tennessee Drive-in, see another movie at The Cherokee, get a hotdog at the pool room, or attend another dance in the gym at LaFollette High School. I’ve never forgotten them, still miss them, still deeply appreciate their sacrifice, and never stop saying, “Oh, I wish…”

    It’s ironic how time couldn’t seem to move fast enough during that decade and seems to be traveling at breakneck speed since then. So I’m calling a moratorium on age. I hit a major milestone in that regard recently and it may the reason for this rant against Father Time and Mother Nature, a set of the most abusive parents I’ve ever heard of.

    So, back off, leave me be, stop making me age! Instead, allow me to slow down, enjoy the rest of the ride and not reach my destination so quickly. After all you’ve put me through; surely you can extend that kindness to me.

    And the winner is…


    2012 - 02.26

    And the winner is…

    When I was in the second grade I was yet to become jaded by life. No one had told me that another person was inferior because of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs or how much money they had in the bank. Another great thing about being in the second grade, there was no “special ed”; we simply learned how to co-exist in a classroom and I learned more from that than any textbook.

    There was a boy in my class that had funny looking hair, wore dark glasses and wore clothes that even I could tell were threadbare. He was nice to me, was very funny (I always fell for the boys with a good sense of humor) and said I smelled nice. And he just happened to be blind. If he hadn’t been he may not have liked my red hair, my millions of freckles, the way my shoes “ate” my socks, or the way I had a habit of getting half of my collar turned into the neckline of my dress. Because he had no physical sight, he only “saw” the way I talked, teased him and the scent of my Prell shampoo. You know, I’ve forgotten many of the boys I’ve met in my life but I’ve never forgotten Paul Johnson of Spokane.

    I have an ulterior motive for what I’ve written because it’s actually about politics. Anyone that knows me well knows that I’m as likely to discuss politics as I am religion: I don’t. But in this time of mud-slinging, hurling snide and hurtful accusations, I’m just tired. One thing that I don’t understand, among many, is the fact that politicians insult each other so much yet when they concede their own bid for election, they turn around and laud praise upon the remaining president-elect. Unfortunately, this is done on both sides of the aisle; no party is exempt.

    I’d never wish for anyone to be blind like my friend, Paul, but I wish we all had his “sight”. Wouldn’t it be nice if all we could smell was their shampoo and be able to tell by the inflection of their voice whether or not they are lying? I realize that’s oversimplifying, but you get my drift.

    I wish our country the best, that God will bless us with worthy leaders, that the right person is sworn into office. I wish we no longer would lose sons and daughters on foreign soil. I wish everyone had a place to sleep and heat to keep them warm. And I wish no one had to get into that bed hungry. I wish that instead of attacking each other verbally, and sometimes physically, we’d work together for the greater good of our wonderful nation.

    Do you think I’m asking for too much?

    Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover


    2012 - 02.24

    I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was twelve. Because I was such a voracious reader it made me think it was easy to write a book and be published (boy, was I naive!) but a few things got in my way, inexperience, self-doubt, life in general, and several times, words from another person. Sometimes another person can influence a writer in one of two ways.

    By encouraging a young writer, or really anyone, that young person may go on to reach for the stars, touch the moon…live her dream.

    This is the flip side of that coin. Belittling. If only more people understood what they’re truly doing to a young person, crushing their faith, their aspiration, all with their words, perhaps they’d think several times before they spoke.

    In high school I had an English teacher that, for reasons I never knew, truly seemed to dislike me. Oh, she “got onto” other students but I felt as if she zeroed in on me more than most. Now of course that could just have been my interpretation, maybe I already felt inadequate, but that teacher only intensified my own lack of confidence.

    I was terrified of her. Not of her physically hurting me but humiliating me in front of my peers, something that, as an Air Force dependent, I’d dreaded all of my school life. It’s hard to always be the new kid, always having to prove yourself, always praying that you’ll make friends and not enemies because you’re different. But sometimes it’s not the other kids that are your worst enemies.

    “So Gloria, is that how they would answer that out in Los Ann Gee Leez? Is that the way those people in Hollywood pronounce that word? Well let me tell you, this isn’t California and we don’t do it that way here. You understand me? I don’t know what you want to be when you grow up but I sure hope it has nothing to do with the English language because you will never be able to string together the correct words to form a cohesive sentence.” Then she called on another student, one that hadn’t just transferred from Los Ann Gee Leez. I asked to go to the bathroom, quietly, because I was on the verge of tears. I barely made it to the girls’ room before the dam burst.

    When my first book was published, I took a signed copy to her. She was much older but still sharp as a tack.

    TEACHER: What did you say your name was again?

    ME: Gloria Teague. I was one of your English students.

    TEACHER: Were you any good?

    ME: No, according to you I wasn’t.

    TEACHER: You probably didn’t do your homework. I don’t remember you but if I said that, you did or didn’t do something you were supposed to do.

    And she didn’t even remember me.

    And just like that, it was over. The feeling that I would always fail, that I wasn’t good enough to be a writer, that people would put me down for even trying, it dissipated. I thought back to that hot high school classroom and thought, “How much weight could her words carry now?”

    Not only do we need to be more tolerant, more accepting of others, we need to open our eyes and our hearts. When you speak to anyone, child or adult, look into their face and watch the effect your words are having on them. Had I not been stubborn, had I not been working toward my dream to be a writer, that one, solitary teacher would have broken me.

       So take that, Miss W!

     

    By the Light of the Silvery Moon


    2011 - 08.18

    We played at night by the illumination of the porch light until someone would ease open the wheezing screen door just enough to slide a hand inside and flip the switch. We would then play by the light of the silvery moon until one of our parents or, Heaven help us!, Mamaw caught us and turned the light back on. “You’re going to fall over something out there in the dark, running around like a bunch of crazy chickens with your heads cut off!”

    “One potato, two potatoes, three potatoes, four, five potatoes, six potatoes, seven potatoes more. My mother told me to pick the…very…best…one. You’re IT!”

    We usually started with Swinging, or Frozen, Statues. “It” would grab your arm and sling you around as hard as he/she could before abruptly letting you go. Whatever position you landed in was the one you had to hold until one of the others lost by falling down or moving a limb. Everyone knows that frozen statues don’t move.

    I hated Tag because it seemed everyone’s legs were longer than mine and they were much faster. I could be “It” for hours unless someone felt sorry for me and relented, taking my place. My cousins played for keeps so that didn’t happen very often.
    Hide and (Go) Seek was fun in the daytime or even at dusk but scared me to pieces in the dark. I hated being alone, in the dark, not daring to breathe loud for fear of being found. But there were many times I gave myself away deliberately because I just knew that Frankenstein, Dracula or the Wolfman were creeping up behind me, ready to tear me limb from limb at any second. “Ollie Ollie oxen free” was usually called out while I was standing beside “It”, waiting to begin the count to 100. Then came a whole new terror when I had to actually go hunting the ones that were hiding. Of course each cousin would jump at me and make me scream every time I found him or her. (And they wondered why I liked to make up scary stories to frighten them half to death!)

    Red Light-Green Light had to be the most challenging, both in stealth and arguments than all other games combined. “Nuh unh, you did NOT see me moving!” How can you know if “It” saw you move or not? And sometimes the movement was so blatant that even a blind man would’ve seen them move. Perhaps we were all dropped on our heads as babies.
    Red Rover-Red Rover was an exercise of endurance. Just how bruised did you want to get by gripping the other hands, holding back a running dynamo of familial energy? Unfortunately, several times I was knocked head over heels because I refused to break rank and let the offender get through our defenses. I had the bumps, cuts and bruises to prove it.

    At the end of the evening we’d go inside and, if we’d been relatively well-behaved, we’d get a bottle of RC to wash away the dryness, then a cool washcloth to wipe away the dirt, grass and errant mosquitoes that had hopped aboard for the ride. These are some of the happiest memories of my childhood.

    How many childhood games do you remember? Want to compare? Ready? Set? Go!

    YOU’RE IT!

    Don’t get above your raising!


    2011 - 08.11

    A few days ago I created a new Facebook page for people to reminisce about our hometown in Tennessee. I was shocked how quickly it filled with new members, each one sharing funny, sad or quirky memories. One that still makes me laugh is when the football team put one of the cheerleaders’ car inside the school hallway. Yes, the car was small and the boys were large, so it was easily removed after they got the anticipated laughter and appreciation of those that can take a joke.
    This brings me to a point I want to make. We are where we came from. One of the things I like most about Dolly Parton is she has always been proud of her roots, where she came from. By the way, my hometown isn’t too far from where she was born and raised. It’s a beautiful part of east Tennessee and I will always be grateful that’s where my family is from. We had our odd “sayings”, our “different” beliefs, our own sort of linguistic shorthand, all of which makes us an original people. I’m blessed to have the heritage I have.
    No matter what part of the country you’re from, you have, I hope, fond memories of your childhood. And probably like many of us, the very thing you kept insisting you wanted to get away from as you grew up is the very thing you treasure most now. I’d like to see more people express pride in their hometown, their family, the idiosyncrasies that made each family special. I want to share one of the stories from my book, Saturday Night Cocoa Fudge, a book about my family. You think I’m not proud of them?
    I nestled into a corner of the room where Aunt Onita’s bed crowded the wall. I’d learned to play silently when other people were in the room. Mommy told me that talking out loud to my paper dolls was sometimes cause for other family members to keep asking her something about my head.
    “Oh lord, Ruby, what in the world are you talkin’ about?” My mother’s throaty, husky laugh caused short little bursts of cigarette smoke to come out of her nose and between her lips.
    “Oh Midge, don’t act like you don’t know what I’m a-talkin’ about now. Law ha’ mercy, girl! I wasn’t born yesterday, you know, and neither was you.”
    Even through the haze of hairspray I could see how red Momma’s face was. She slid her eyes toward me as if just then remembering I was in the room.
    “Now Ruby, you just watch that big ol’ mouth a-yours. Lil pitchers have big ears, y’know.”
    I hated those words. Those words were usually followed by the demand that I leave the room and I so wanted to stay. This was my favorite time of the week. Saturday nights were like a special holiday to me, like a joyful rite of passage for a little girl that desperately wanted to be included in the “grownups’ talk”. It always happened when my mother, aunts, and older cousins all got together.
    Tonight was a larger than usual group of women. A couple of the neighborhood women had joined us, their laughter blending in so well with the others, all in symphony with the crickets that sang just outside the opened, unscreened windows.
    We were in the “front bedroom”, meaning the one closest to the living room. There were only two bedrooms in my grandmother’s house. I had a grandfather but it just seems as if he was always a hazy memory, an “also-ran”, to these forages into the trials and tribulations of being an adult woman in the mid fifties in the Deep South. Papaw was in the living room, smoking his unfiltered Pall Malls, a deep frown on his face that would vanish when I stood by his rocking chair, as long as I didn’t block his view of the black and white images maneuvering their way across the television screen.
    Mamaw, the matriarch of this extended family, was sitting on “her end” of the couch, suffering through the news, waiting on “her program” to come on TV.
    As I waited for my marching orders, I watched Mommy dip her fingers into a glass of water, raising her arms to wrap small, tight loops of curls around her moistened fingers. She locked each strand into place with a black bobby pin. The rubber tips must’ve come off her old ones because there were a couple of new cards of them on the dresser. The woman’s smiling image on the rectangular piece of thin cardboard was interrupted by the long straight rows of black metal pins.
    The sweltering summer air was redolent with various scents that represented these rituals. Perfume, some of it just the cheap dime store variety, wafted past my nose when any of them moved across the room.
    Momma was still laughing when she reached over to dip her fingers into the water, knocking it over. All the women shrieked, and giggled at the same time.
    “Lawsie, just look what you done went and did now, Midge! God, what a mess. Susie, hurry-quick, go grab us a towel.”
    Fifteen year old Susie did as she was told. No one questioned a grown up in this family. It never occurred to us “younguns” that we could register a complaint. It’s just the way things were done. A grown up told you to do something-you did it. It was very simple. Besides, I’d seen a cousin or two dare to question a member of our family. After he or she handed Mamaw, or Momma, or Aunt Anyoneofthem a switch with shaking hands, they never again had a problem with doing as they were told. Who said Southerners were slow?
    The bottles of Avon liquid deodorant, cups of coffee (in that heat!), tubes of varying shades of lipstick, matching nail polish, round plastic curlers with tightly fitting covers–all of it was snatched from the rapidly advancing pool of water with stray hairs floating in the wake. The women would bump into each other in their haste, then laugh all the harder because they knew they were their own stumbling block. No big tragedy. It was only water, for God’s sake. Susie yanked the hand-crocheted doily from the top of the dresser, spraying me with water, before she dropped it on the cabbage rose linoleum.
    Momma mopped up most of the water, then leaned out the window and wrung out the threadbare cloth. She then sat on the windowsill and dabbed at her flushed face and neck, grinning at the coolness of the damp rag. She turned a look of mock disapproval toward the other side of the small room.
    “Now see, if you hadn’t been sayin’ stuff you shouldn’t a-been sayin’, Miss Ruby, that wouldn’t a-happened, now would it?”
    My aunt Ruby just stuck her tongue out at her younger sister then grinned, the red of her lipstick smudged onto her slightly crooked teeth looked like blood.
    “Well, you started it, Miss Midge.”
    “I most certainly did not! Who started that whole mess, anyway?”
    I could’ve found my way through the darkest starless winter night by the twin spots of brilliant red on Susie’s cheeks.
    “All I said was that some ol’ goofy boy at school asked me for a date. It ain’t my fault all of you’uns got crazy like that.”
    Eva from next door roared with laughter. “Well it’s for sure it don’t take much to get y’all started. Law, y’all are a mess.”
    Ruby straightened her back, puffed out her ample chest resplendent with the job her white lace slip did in holding it all back.
    “I was merely tellin’ Susie that she had to be careful, that all boys, no matter how old they are, only want one thing. And why buy the cow when they can get the milk for free? That’s all I said. Then Midge started that ‘lil pitchers and big ears’ stuff. Next thing I know we’s all runnin’ for stuff to clean up her mess.”
    Momma, her own slip a little more worn than her sister’s, threw her arms around Ruby. “You know, if I didn’t love you so much…”
    Ruby returned the embrace, laying her head on top of Momma’s head. “Yeah, I know. You’d kick my butt. Tell ya what, lil Sis…anytime you think you’re big enough, you know where I live.”
    The room erupted with laughter so loud it forced Mamaw off the couch. “What’re y’all causin’ so much commotion about in here, anyway?”
    Ruby pulled Mamaw into her arms, forcing her to share her embrace with them. “Lord Momma, it’s your youngin’ here, Midge. She’s in here causin’ all sortsa problems. You know how she is.”
    Mamaw sniffed, pulling gently free of the hold her daughters had on her, and frowned. “I know how all a you’uns are, that’s what I know. What I don’t know is where my snuff is. Did one of you’uns hide it from me again? If I find out you did…”
    Eva dared to utter the words, “Mae, what d’ya want to dip that ol’ snuff for, anyway?”
    Here at last I could do my part, avert an argument that would end in Mamaw telling Eva to get her raggedy ol’ ass out of our house and go home where she belonged.
    “Mamaw, I know where it is. It’s on the mantle in the back bedroom. I saw it there awhile ago.”
    Mamaw patted my face with callused slender fingers. “That’s my baby. Glora Lynn is such a good girl. Now y’all best behave. Don’t make me come back in here again, y’hear me?”
    Every woman and girl in the room assured her that yes, they had heard every word she had said and they knew exactly what she meant. We all knew Mamaw wouldn’t come back and do anything more drastic than to tell us to hush our mouths if we knew what was best for us.
    Mamaw was the ultimate authority figure in our family. No matter if you physically lived in her house or not, if you were related, her word was law. No matter what your mother or father may have told you, no matter that you had permission to do something, once Mamaw told you no, you better never try to sway her. There was no cajoling Mamaw once she’d put her foot down.
    The year before Mamaw had told my cousin Susie and me to do something. It seemed that Susie didn’t agree and convinced me (by pinching blue marks on my arms) to accompany her in flight to avoid persecution. We ran around the back of the house. I still remember Mamaw yelling to us, “I won’t run after you. You always have to come back, and I never forget. Go on, run your lil’ lags off. I’ll be here a-waitin’ when you get back.”
    We’d ran around to the back of the house and slipped into the kitchen door while Mamaw was still in the front yard promising us what was going to happen. We slid under one of the beds and the minute we stopped giggling we fell asleep. Mamaw was kind enough to let us take a short nap before she pushed the long, wicked switch under the bed. Swiping her arm back and forth so she could sting the legs of both her granddaughters as we came scrambling out, crying and begging, swearing we’d never, as long as we lived, ever run from her any more. It took several days for the angry red welts to fade, but we never ran from her again.
    It was by unspoken agreement that the discussion of men and all their failings was over for this evening. The ladies would kindly adjourn to the kitchen. It was time to make the candy–cocoa fudge candy.
    Making cocoa fudge was an experiment in patience for all of us. No matter how many of the women tried, no matter what different technique they may use, it rarely turned out right. I’d stand near the stove, inhaling the sweet, delicious aroma of the bubbling broth, hoping that this Saturday night it would turn out the way the box promised it would.
    Whoever was cooking would eventually declare that yes there was a hard ball formed in the cup of cold water. It was time to pour the candy into the large buttered platter waiting on the kitchen table. It was then carefully carried out to the screened in back porch so that it could “set up”.
    By this time, any neighbor women that had been present for the bedroom follies had gone home, no doubt to make their own cocoa fudge. We would all leave the kitchen to join my grandparents in the living room. The adults would suffer through “The Lone Ranger” for my benefit, the news for Papaw’s benefit, then God help us, Saturday night wrestling for Mamaw’s benefit.
    As long as I live, I’ll never forget the transformation that overtook my sweet Mamaw when she watched wrestling. It was as if some demon had possessed her faint, humped-back, pot-bellied, body. She would lean forward, seeming to get as close to the action as possible, and her eyes would become maniacal. Anger would distort her face, creating a mask of devilish hatred for whichever wrestler she wanted murdered in the ring.
    “Look out, he’s right behind you! Oh Lord…that’s what you get, you stupid fool! Oughta get your head bashed in for not watchin’ what’s a-goin’ on. C’mon, get up! Gawd, I wish I could knock that fool out myself. Hurry! Get your ugly butt off the mat!”
    As the referee counted, I could see dust motes floating through the room as she slammed her fist repeatedly against the arm of the couch. She’d bang her feet on the floor, trying in vain to make her man in the ring follow her directions. If only he’d listened, he could’ve won every bout. If only either one of them could have heard over the screaming audience, they would’ve heard everyone in the houses on our street shouting out warnings. They just never listened.
    Since Mamaw seemed as ancient as time itself, I used to worry that she would become ill with all this screaming and shouting. Momma would tell her she’d best just calm down or she’d give herself a heart attack. It never alarmed Mamaw. Papaw would just sit there, smoking his Pall Malls and looking at his wife as if she’d lost her ever-lovin’ mind. I was always thankful when wrestling was over and Mamaw was still alive, even if she was mad at the world in general and all of us in particular.
    Papaw would pull himself out of the rocker to shuffle across the room. He’d inform us he was going to bed after he’d used the bathroom. We would wish him sweet dreams, sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite, never understanding why he felt the need to tell us he had to pee.
    It was time for the movie. Late night Saturday was the highlight of the evening for me. During a commercial one of the women would run to the back porch to get the candy. After determining the condition of the confection, she would bring us the needed utensils for eating it. If I was handed a spoon, I knew the candy was thin and runny and if I was handed a fork, I knew it had “set up” like concrete and I was going to have to chisel it off the platter.
    We would get in the floor, forming a circle around the large oval platter, eating utensils in hand. Mamaw would sit in Papaw’s rocking chair, the only one with a saucer of candy that had been scooped out just for her. We’d place our bottle of RC nearby, but out of the way. The movie would begin and our eyes would be fixed on the screen. The only sound in the room would be metal against ceramic and feminine sighs of contentment.

    http://tinyurl.com/3ghhmzg (in print or eBook)

    Family commitments


    2011 - 07.25

    Because I’m swamped with family commitments and working on a new book deadline, I’m reduced to posting a chapter from Saturday Night Cocoa Fudge. But then again, it could be worse.

    The Day of the Dead Rabbit

    Papaw was a typical man in the deep south in the 1950s. He worked in a coal mine, watched wrestling on television, went hunting with his dog and a rifle and hung out in beer joints as often as possible, which was however much Mamaw allowed before she sent one of their sons out to find him. Whenever he got home there would be a terribly loud argument. Lord how Mamaw hated it when Papaw drank that beer.
    Because he died when I was young I don’t remember much about my grandfather. I do remember how yellow his fingertips were from smoking all those Pall Malls-unfiltered. I remember how he raked up a bunch of weeds and burned them in the backyard, not realizing he’d gotten poison ivy mixed in with it all. I remember how his eyes swelled shut and his lips were the size of the Goodyear blimp for several days. I remember his wearing suspenders over his plaid flannel shirts. I remember he could curse a blue streak, he could say cruel things to his kids but he was never mean or hateful to me. And I remember the day of the dead rabbit.
    It was a Monday but Papaw was now retired so he didn’t have to worry about climbing down into the mines anymore. But it was summer; he’d already pulled all the weeds and burned them, making sure there were no poisonous plants of any kind mixed in, so he had nothing important to occupy his time. So on a hot summer day when the starch your wife so thoughtfully ironed into your shirt melted under the onslaught of humidity and you had nothing to do…where do you go? That’s right—to the beer joint! All you have to do is lie convincingly to your wife so you can slide out of the house.
    “Mae, I’m goin’ huntin’.”
    “Jeb, you better come up with a better story than that. There ain’t any animal in season anywhere in this country. What you mean is you’re gonna go hunt beer. You don’t need a gun for that, Jeb.”
    “I ain’t gonna go to no beer joint, Mae! Dammit to hell!”
    “Stop that cursing in front of Glora Lynn, Jeb Housley!”
    “Aw, you’d make a preacher cuss, woman! I’m leavin’!”
    “If you leave to go to a beer joint, don’t bother comin’ back ’cause I won’t let you in the door.”
    “You damned well better let me in the door, this is my house.”
    “Who takes care of this house, Jeb Housley? And who made all the payments when you were out of work? If it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t have nowhere to hang that ugly hat of yours and you just best remember that!”
    Without another word Papaw stormed out the front door, letting the screen door slam shut behind him. Mamaw didn’t bother to yell at HIM for doing it, either.
    I forgot all about Papaw being in trouble the rest of the day. Gail and I made mud pies and decorated them with pretty purple clover flowers. She dared me to eat one of the blossoms and I enjoyed the look of revulsion on her face when I obliged her by not only chewing the flower but opening my mouth, sticking out my tongue to illustrate just what ground up clover flowers looked like before I swallowed it. She then dared me to eat a big ol’ fat worm crawling next to my leg. Before I was forced into a 1950s version of Fear Factor and have to prove my superiority by actually biting into that worm I was stopped by the squealing of brakes then the slamming of a car door.
    I stood up to peer over the hedge and saw a yellow car stopped at the top of our steps. I wondered if one of Miz Bennett’s cats had run in front of the car and hoped I wouldn’t have to go tell her, again, that one of her beloved pets had met an untimely death beneath the wheels of yet another car.
    I scampered up the steps just in time to see Papaw slide from the back seat of the taxi. He fell to the street, laughing, right next to the twisted body of a formerly beautiful rabbit. He managed to get to his feet, finally, brush himself off and throw his money in the open window of the cab.
    “Hey buddy, wait a minute! Don’t run over that rabbit again. I’m gonna take it in the house; give it to the ol’ lady. She can make me some rabbit stew.”
    Because he hadn’t noticed me, it was easy to run behind the hedge and hide. Not only did I NOT want to see him pick up that dead bunny rabbit, I didn’t want to watch him drag it in the house. On second thought, maybe it’d be fun to see how Mamaw acted when he handed it to her.
    Gail was less than subtle when getting my attention.
    “Glora, where you going? Get over here right now. I got that worm under a cup so it can’t get away. You’re gonna eat it, ain’t you?”
    “Shhh, I’ll be back in a minute. I gotta go do something.”
    “Hurry it up, then…ewwww, Jeb, what is that you got there? Is that a dead animal?”
    “Yep, it’s a rabbit.”
    “La’, Miz Mae’s gonna be mad at you…”
    There must be something blissful about dead rabbits because Papaw just smiled and kept walking. I was hidden in the back bedroom, closest to the kitchen, when he encountered his wife.
    “Oh dear Lord! Jeb, what is that you have in your hand?”
    “It’s a rabbit, for rabbit stew. Look how big and plump it is. Yessss, there’s some might fine meat on that one, there is. Now ain’t you glad I went huntin’ today?”
    I didn’t have to see her face to know the expression she wore.
    “Huntin’? Do I look as crazy as you are, Jeb Housley? Law, I can smell the beer clear over here, across the room! Where’d you get that rabbit, you ol’ fool?”
    He sputtered, stuttered and cursed but Papaw couldn’t seem to recollect exactly where it was he DID get that rabbit.
    Always the helpful granddaughter, I dashed into the kitchen to help clear up Papaw’s confusion.
    “It was in the road, Mamaw. The cab that Papaw was ridin’ in run it over. It was dead as four o’clock when Papaw fell out of the back seat. It ain’t his fault the rabbit’s dead, Ma’am.”
    Papaw leaned over to make a swipe at me with his hand but lost his balance and fell to the floor with a decisive thud. He just lay there, looking up at his wife. Mamaw stepped over him, paused long enough to give a not so gentle kick at his backside, then went outside to sit on the porch. I heard Papaw’s loud drunken snores before Mamaw eased the screen door closed behind us.
    She shook her head and would’ve been angry if Papaw could’ve seen the slight smile on her face.
    “Glora, c’mere hurry!”
    Mamaw stood quickly to tell Gail to stop shouting.
    “Jeb just got in and he’s asleep. Don’t wake him up, Gail.”
    “Yeah, I saw how drunk he was, Miz Mae. Mommy says she don’t know why you put up with him…”
    “Shut up, Gail Tidwell before I give you a whipping. Glora Lynn, you’ve played enough today. Time to come in and get ready for supper.”
    Gail protested mightily but I merely nodded as if in weary agreement. I was, in fact, thrilled to be told I couldn’t play with Gail anymore today. I’d seen that big ol’ fat worm crawling from beneath that stained coffee cup.

    To buy this book: http://tinyurl.com/3aw86l9
    (Simply go to my homepage, www.gloriateague.com, to see what all I’ve written)

    Honeysuckle & Ramblers


    2011 - 07.14

    Summer is a little more than half way through for school kids. I remember this time of year so well, when I was young. Right around the middle of July I was bored, though I had so much to do with taking care of my little brothers and cleaning house while Mom was at work, I don’t know how I got bored. I also hated to see it come to an end. I knew when those school bells began to ring, the leaves would start turning those awesome colors everyone goes gaga over but to me it only signifies the leaves are dying and that is rapidly followed by a long, cold, dismal and gloomy winter. Yeah I know, I’m a regular ray of sunshine. But there was also a trade-off. When the colder weather settled in, it meant wrapping up in a blanket and a boyfriend’s arm while pretending to watch a high school football game. It meant hearing a good movie was coming on TV and making sure you had hot chocolate ready, pajamas on, a couple of blankets and pillows, and snuggling with those same little brothers for the rest of the night till bedtime. Yeah, they got on my nerves but, boy!, did I (and still do) love them.

    My family was so great that I could almost forget we were so poor. We couldn’t afford to go to a movie; we’d have movie night at home with pop corn and Kool-Aid. We couldn’t go to amusement parks but we could go to Cove Lake State Park just down the road from us, use their playground equipment. Well, my brothers played; I was too old for that silly stuff—unless I thought no other older kids could see me, then I was swinging up to the moon and slipping down the slide to land, hard, on the packed dirt at the bottom. My mom drove a 1959 Rambler with fin tail lights. Oh yeah, it was hot pink! If you were embarrassed by your parents’ cars when you were a kid, think on this car. You would’ve been mortified, but it didn’t stop me from trying to borrow it every day after I got my driver’s license. Man, I loved that push-button transmission!

    Sometimes the car radio wouldn’t work, no matter how many times we smacked it. No problem, we had our own music. Nope, no MP3 player or fancy cell phone (had no idea those would ever be invented) that played all the latest hits. We had each other. I remember many of those rides back from the park. We’d all have red cheeks either from sun or wind burn, Mom would have her hands on the steering wheel at ten and two o’clock and she’d glance at us and ask, “Who’s going to sing lead?” It all depended on which song we sang as to who sang lead. My brothers said, and of course Mom agreed, I was the best lead on the song “Amen” so that’s usually what we started with. As with every song, the longer we sang, the louder we got and the bigger we smiled. We’d start with our favorite gospel songs and end with songs Mom had sung to us when we were little. The one that took us on in home was usually “Once there was a tree-a pretty little tree-prettiest little tree, you ever did see…tree in the hole, hole in the ground, green grass growing all around all around, green grass growing all around.”

    And if you don’t know which song that is, then I pity you. And if you didn’t have to come up with ways to entertain yourself and to do things as a family because you had no money, then I feel bad for you. I think that when life is handed to us on a silver platter, we don’t even notice how it shines and shimmers in the sunlight. And if you never got bored enough to create a chain out of honeysuckle vine, what a sad life you’ve lived. Of course I’m joking but I so hope that you have, at different times in your life, been forced to slow down, notice your blessings and pulled the stem from the honeysuckle to lick the sweet nectar free. If you haven’t, then poor you, you haven’t LIVED