This family drama was true southern prose full of spirits and stories and spells. Sin and family and forgiveness. No one dies quite like a southerner, taking their specific cooking and unique lineage, leaving us our heritage and pockets full of stories to embellish for many generations to come.

“…. sorrow is food, swallowed too quickly, caught in the throat, making it nearly impossible to breathe.”

This was a book with a strong second half. I appreciated the lyrical writing and ghostly references only a southerner could fully appreciate.


2021 thoughts…

I have spent the past couple of months ‘getting my mind right’, as many of us do at year’s end. What am I being drawn to? What do I need to gently lay down?

I have been increasingly drawn to my past during this quarantine year. Not necessarily my past, but my roots. Where I come from.

I have been interested in retracing/learning about my southern roots – mine in particular and the South as a whole. I have always had a bittersweet feeling about the South. There is a scar in it’s heritage that seems to go either unnoticed or is gingerly stepped around, generation after generation. I’d like to embrace it under a different light. I love what Bitter Southerner is doing and was glad to have stumbled upon them during my ‘gather all the resources’ preparations for 2021.

Meanwhile, I’m remembering so many wonderful times throughout my childhood, visiting family in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama. They were good people and wonderful influences on my life. I want to tell some of those stories. I want to highlight the progressive movements happening in the South currently. I want to talk about food and great books – fiction and otherwise.

My father was born in Commerce, Oklahoma, the son of a miner and the third of four brothers. Just as he was preparing for college, his father died of lung cancer. I believe this shape-shifted my father’s identity that resulted in me being raised by a well-rounded man who took part in every aspect of raising children and making a house a home. That was a lucky commodity in the 1960’s.

My mother was born and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana, the youngest of five children. She wasn’t the hell-raising, boot-kicking kind of southerner. She wasn’t a couture society girl either. She was proper and ladylike (the words most used at her funeral.) She had her own career as an English teacher and proudly served in that role from college until retirement, save a few years she took off to be with me and my sister. She embraced Emily Post’s Book of Etiquette, Dreyer’s English, and Paul’s letters to the Corinthians in equal measure. I knew how to set a proper table at 5 and was stitching day-of-the-week dish towels by 10. White after Labor Day, not returning an RSVP and first-degree murder were on par with one another in egregious behavior. I balked at her rules as a child but have grown into an appreciation for their deeper intention.

My parents prized humor, common decency, and as educators, lifelong learning and reading were central to our daily lives. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with their stories as well as the South’s larger legacy.

I don’t know where this will lead me, but I’m excited to follow the nudge it has been giving me these past few months. The past and the future, holding hands in the present. How they will intersect is yet to be determined.

To the South – and beyond!

A Few Christmas Glimpses

So many people struggled with the decision of whether or not to decorate for this weird 2020 holiday season. I can fully appreciate those who decided to skip it or simply go smaller than normal. For whatever reason, I felt unusually excited to decorate this year. I think I needed the safety net of memories and glittering lights to buoy me through the canceled plans and stay at home orders. It’s helped me out a lot, to plug in the tree lights and watch them do their thing.

I mention it every year but this pink ornament is from my parents’ first Christmas together in 1961. It has valiantly survived the years and it makes me smile each time I unpack it from the many layers of bubble wrap I store it in.

Just like this bowl of sugared fruit that sat in their kitchen window. Is it even Christmas if there’s no bowl of sugared fruit??

The gnomes are holding court by the front door, keeping evil out and mischief in. Their biggest job this year has been greeting the Amazon delivery guys. *wink*

Did you decide to decorate this year or to give yourself a needed break from the tinsel and glitter? We hope to go over to an area of town called the Fab 40’s this evening and drive through their neighborhood. Their lights will be fun to see. Then home for some homemade hot chocolate. It’s SO GOOD!!

Happy celebrating to you, however you’ve chosen to do that this year. Your choice was a correct one, so rest peacefully in that. 2021 Christmas will be here soon enough!

the second question

I hesitate to use the word ‘collector’. Many times it conjures up images of crammed shelves filled with wide-eyed porcelain figurines or collectible teacups. There’s nothing wrong with those things, mind you, but they weren’t really my mother’s style.

Let’s just say she enjoyed hearts. Especially unusual hearts. She found them difficult to pass up in antique shops or a good Jones Store department sale. 

As a result, I, too, find myself eyeing knick knack hearts. They are a universal symbol of love. But for me, they are also a nice reminder of my mother.

I wouldn’t call myself a collector either. Unless we talk about people’s stories. I am a sucker for a good story. Most of the books I’ve read over the years that stand out as favorites, are usually an intimately shared memoir or a big sky coming-of-age story. I am a pile of hard rocks when it comes to crying over the things most people find themselves easily weeping about. But give me a good Steve Hartman opening line and I’m a puddle of messy tears.

Collecting people’s stories has taken some practice, especially in current times. We are quick to give answers, many times assuming others do not want to truly hear how we’re doing or what our job is or how many children/grandchildren we have. We have cursory answers that almost always suffice – quick and to the point. I have found, however, the bigger story gets edged out of hiding at the moment of the second question. So how old were you when you started that hobby? Wait a minute, I don’t understand – where did you meet again? Tell me a little more about the town you grew up in…

The second question seems to be the go-ahead. The absolutely-I-want-to-know-more. The open-ended permission to go a little deeper. The whos and the whys and the wheres of a person’s life story are fascinating to me. I collect them covetously and the best part is – they don’t require much dusting.

I bought this wooden heart on the tenth anniversary of my mother’s death. As I type that I instinctively think about all she has missed in the last decade. Truthfully though, it was the eight years prior that she really missed out on, Alzheimer’s stealing each moment. I’d like to believe she’s been keeping an eye on the last ten. Mom was a strong woman. In a pinch, she’d be the one you counted on for no hysterics and a calm, steady voice. But her softer side came out when she held her newborn grandchildren or when she read from her red-pencil-underlined Bible. When she gathered with her siblings (the youngest of five children) she unexpectedly fell back into the youngest of the family role, deferring to her older siblings. 

Her tenderness also came through when she let her gaze take a second look at the brass jewelry holder at the store, now etched with her initials. Or the small red heart lapel pin or the antique heart with removable lid (still filled with a few safety pins, a teacher’s milestone pin and some ancillary buttons.) Her subtle tenderness came through where words sometimes failed her. 

In a time of societal disconnectedness, ask the second question. It will take more time and it might get lengthy or circuitous in nature, but it will lead the teller of the story to a soft remembrance and you to a better understanding of their life and your expansive capacity to share in it.

Where did you get that wooden heart decor? Why did you choose that particular one? Everyone has a section of their life story they’re waiting to make known. Be on the receiving end of that gift.