"Snippet" -- a small piece or brief extract
This post is not about Mama -- exactly. Thoughts of her occupy my mind often, and all the more with her "Celebration of Life" service this Sunday. Yesterday was a hard day. Maybe because of that, maybe hormones, maybe my thyroid medicine change -- probably a combination of all that (and more). Losing is hard. Losing pets, losing people, losing at contests, losing anything is really difficult. But, it is part of life. We have to learn to lose well so we can win well. Losing keeps us humble, makes us appreciate the wins when they come, reminds us what NO or GRIEF or LAST PLACE feels like so that we can live in gratitude for all we have, fully enjoying YES or FIRST PLACE when it comes. Sometimes we get lucky straight out of the gate. Sometimes it takes long hours and lots of practice.
I've been reflecting on this quite a lot lately -- not just for me, as you can see from the photos. My niece and nephew have been experiencing this a lot recently. They were both local and state winners in our NCRA Young Authors Project. It was my nephew's first time winning, although he has written for 3 years now. My niece has won every single time -- it's been hard for him, but he's been such a trouper and has celebrated every win for her and with her, even though he didn't win. He wasn't going to write this year. It took lots of talking to convince him. I was so thrilled when he was finally a winner, and I love his poem, Magnified Light. Perhaps I'll feature it soon on my blog.
They both entered poems in the local AR Ammons poetry contest. Once again, niece won 2 honorable mentions and nephew -- nothing.
This weekend, they both participated in their first karate tournament. (Please forgive my ignorance of vocabulary if I use something improperly -- this is all new to me. . .) When they went into the ring, the first thing they had to do was demonstrate their bow skills. Nephew was reticent, but tried his best. He took last place in that event. Niece totally drew a blank in the ring, and even when the judges encouraged her and walked her through step by step, she still couldn't perform well. She took last place. There were tears of failure and disappointment on her part, but she still had two events to go. She brought me her bronze medal, wiped her tears, took a deep breath and stepped right back into the ring, taking 2nd place in Form, while her brother took FIRST place in that event! She brought me her silver medal and suited up for sparring, in which she took FIRST place. I've been proud of young people so many times in my teaching career, but never any prouder than I was of her (and her brother) on Saturday! One of the judges sought her out after their division and commented how proud he was of her for sticking with it and he reminded her that she went from last place to first place because she stuck with it! Perseverance and resilience emanated from her and when I asked her afterward if she was glad it was over, she said, "NO! I'm ready to go again!" Losing builds resilience and resilience brings courage and eventually perseverance brings WINS, and the confidence to try again.
It happened again on Sunday. She was to read her entry aloud at our small celebration gathering, honoring the NCRA Young Author winners for our local association. When she stood up to read, she got in her feelings and got teary. It took her a few tries, but she read her entire piece, to lots of cheers from the small audience! Resilience! Perseverance!
It applies to me, too, in my writing -- I've been writing and entering every contest I could for over a year now, with nothing but no's and no mentions and losses. Then, just a few weeks ago, I had a win in 50 Precious Words. Then I entered a birthday writing contest -- no luck, another loss. Most recently, I am thrilled to say I was named an Honorable Mention in the SpringFling KidLit writing contest, but many of my friends were not named this time. While my heart hurts for them, I know they are building resilience -- we are ALL building resilience. A yes today can be a no tomorrow, and a no today can lead to a yes! We must persevere and build our resilience so when the big YES comes, we'll be ready, and we'll be humble, and we'll be grateful.
And while it's not about Mama, I told my niece Sunday, "Your grandma would be so very proud of you. I know she's about to bust!" And it's true. I wish she were here to experience all the wins and to "encourage" us when we lose with her pragmatic response, "Oh well, that's life." But I know she is proud and as she said in her letter to us, "whatever you endeavor to do in the future go for the mountain tops, stars, space, etc. and I'll be there in spirit supporting you every step of the way." Thanks for the support, Mama!
And to all my writing friends that feel the sting of disappointment today, tomorrow is a new day (and Write Mentor mentorships will be announced and PBChat apps are due) and there are more and more and more opportunities for wins, losses, resilience, and perseverance! Good luck, and don't give up!
As a teacher for many years, I know that parents make the difference in the quality of learning and also make a difference in their involvement that doesn't just affect the kid, but also affects the teacher and the school. While there are school memories scattered throughout these other stories, these are simply specific to school. I am thankful that I had a mom who made a positive difference for me, my friends, my teachers, and my schools.
I didn't attend kindergarten (it wasn't required; yes, I'm THAT old. . . and plus which Mama said there wasn't any point in sending me to kindergarten since I already knew everything I would have learned there. [As a teacher, I might argue that point today in favor of socialization and herd immunity, but I certainly didn't suffer academically from her decision.]) From my earliest school memories as a first grader in Ms. Meachem’s class, Mama made sure I was prepared. I had a sweet little red and blue school satchel, and I remember taking oatmeal creme pies for snack. Perhaps she sent other things, too, but it is the creme pies I remember. I was already reading and probably writing, too, when I arrived as a first grader at Whiteville Primary School thanks to Mama and her reading to me at home and making sure I had plenty of books available to me. Mama became a grade parent right away and helped out at school whenever there were parties or special activities. I remember specifically her being there for the Easter egg hunt we had, but I know she was there for other events as well.
Also, that first grade year brought my first trauma -- Leon Brown. Leon was a black boy on my bus -- #161 -- who decided it would be cute and fun to tease and attack me, culminating at some point in ripping my red plaid dress. That’s the only detail I remember about the actual attack -- I know I came off the bus with a ripped dress courtesy of Leon Brown. Mama was livid. She made some phone calls -- or maybe she went in person -- I’m not sure. Coleman Barbour was in charge of buses, and he pulled a few boys together (I’m assuming they all rode my bus, but I don’t remember) and we did an old-fashioned “Line-up” with me identifying Leon as the perpetrator. I don’t know what punishment Leon received. What I do remember is that Mama had my back and she wasn’t going to sit idly by while someone hurt her little girl.
Mama also fostered friendships. She allowed me to go over to Terri Nobles’ house to play (and maybe spend the night? I have a vague recollection. . .). She knew Terri’s family and felt safe. However if she didn’t know the family, she would not allow me over to their house but she was always gracious and hospitable to my friends and allowed them to come to my house. In first grade, it was Cheryl Graham. She was my friend from the bus and my first school sleepover buddy. She and I sat on the bus singing “On Top of the World” by the Carpenters daily. When she came to visit, she did fine with Mama, but hid under the bed when Daddy came home. Mama always welcomed my friends and made them feel at home.
Mama continued to serve as grade parent until grade parents were not “a thing” anymore -- I know she was very active through 3rd grade. In the upcoming sewing segment of my tribute to Mama, you'll discover some other ways she positively poured into my schooling. Of course, even after grade parents were so "last year", she was still active in my school career. In middle school, I was involved in Gifted and Talented, and Mama was in PAGE (Parents of Academically Gifted . . . ). She was very active in that organization and was always quick to make sure I was allowed to participate in things that would help me grow and use my abilities.
In eighth grade, through PAGE and GT, we were allowed to take a psychology class in the evenings. It was a parent-child class, and it was Mama who went with me. I don’t remember how many sessions, but it was wonderful. Dr. Jerry Paschal taught the class and that was special, because he had been Mama’s teacher/principal during her schooling. He was serving as Superintendent of Whiteville City Schools. I don’t remember all the topics we covered. I do remember taking an IQ test -- and Mama and I having the same IQ -- 132! Those were special times at a difficult time for me -- middle school girls are an animal unto themselves. Our relationship wasn’t stellar during those years, but this is a pleasant memory amidst a lot of pubescent unrest in my world. I treasure those times we sat as equals and learners together.
Music made its first big appearance in my life in middle school. I joined band in sixth grade, which radically changed my life. As I began to play trumpet, new worlds opened up for me and Mama made sure I had what I needed and got where I needed to go to be able to participate, even though sometimes it was costly. She and Daddy allowed me to audition for All-County band starting in 7th grade, and it became an annual event through my high school years. Not only did she provide transportation and motivation, she also was the one at home who had to endure those first couple of years of practicing “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, “This Old Man” “The Old Grey Goose” and so much more as I honed my craft -- loudly. I know she was at least thankful that my bedroom was upstairs and that we had a big yard. I joined the chorus during my eighth grade year, and I remember my family sitting in the bleachers to hear us sing “Sentimental Journey” “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and other standards from the 40’s
Mama’s care and nurturing extended into high school, as I continued to pursue my course in music and drama. Twice, Mama took me to auditions for Governor’s School -- once for trumpet and once for drama. That meant traveling to Winston-Salem for auditions -- way out of her comfort zone, but she did it, for me.
Also, in high school, Mama was a devoted member of the WHS Band Boosters. She helped out in traditional and non-traditional ways; attending meetings, participating in fundraisers, and even creating a fund-raiser (much to my mortification as a teenager) where she paid Band Boosters for their “trash” -- labels and UPCs, etc. -- that Mama used vigilantly in her couponing and rebating/refunding endeavors to stretch our family dollars. While it might have been a hard pill to swallow, it came from her desire to help the band -- and help our family, which in her mind was a win-win situation!
Mama and Daddy also made the decision in my senior year to allow me to go to New York City for a drama club trip over Spring Break, which was QUITE a trek for this Southern country girl! I had only been to NC, VA, and SC at that point, and it was amazing and life-changing in my perspectives. We saw shows on Broadway and off Broadway. We went to NBC studios and saw Liberace at Radio City Music Hall. We ate Chinese food in Chinatown, shopped 5th Avenue, including FAO Schwartz. We rode the subway, walked for miles, and ate at Mama Leone's, where the waiters and waitresses were fascinated with our Southern accent (which we MIGHT have accentuated just a bit for effect ;-) I'm quite sure we didn't have the money for that trip, but they knew it was something they couldn't and wouldn't give me and they sacrificed in order for me to go. I didn't fully appreciate that then, but I am so thankful for that opportunity.
Throughout my school career, Mama pushed, supported, and nurtured my academic successes and my extracurricular endeavors. Without her support my life would have been much different in this area that has come to impact my life in more positive ways than I can begin to count. The friends and the teachers with whom I built relationships during these years and the musical/dramatic experiences that I participated in have shaped who I have become as an adult in myriad ways, and that wouldn’t have been possible without Mama’s support throughout my schooling.
**Sadly, I don't have any pictures of Mama serving as grade parent, helping at parties, chaperoning field trips, or selling concessions for Band Boosters. Moms, make sure you get pictures of you doing these things. Your children will want them one day. I know I do.
My brother, Dale has had MORE than his fair share of misadventures. From breaking his collarbone in kindergarten to shoving his hand through the storm door and running through hot ashes, his life seemed to be filled with medical emergencies! While I haven’t been quite as misadventurous as Dale, there have certainly been moments in my life where it was helpful to have a Mama that was also a doctor. Don’t misunderstand, Mama never attended medical school. Her knowledge is gleaned from experience and common sense -- and innate wisdom, but for all of her kids and now grandkids it has come in handy and it is often Mama that we seek when we have health questions, and now that she is gone, it is Mama that we miss calling on to solve medical mysteries large and small.
It is no wonder that she loved medical shows on TV -- from Marcus Welby to Quincy, ME back in the day to HOUSE, Diagnosis Murder, and NCIS episodes more recently, she would find herself fascinated by the medical knowledge. Mama was smart about many things. This is just one, but there were certainly times when her practical knowledge came in very handy. Here are a few of mine:
The Bicycle Accident
We were visiting friends Don and Joyce Meredith for vacation. As I remember it, it was our last morning there and Joyce was going to make toast for breakfast, but was out of bread. She sent her daughters, Donna and Susan to the local store to grab a loaf of bread. I was younger than either of them, idolized them both, and did NOT want to be left behind. Susan graciously allowed me to ride on her handlebars. Not the greatest decision. As we were riding down a gravel road, Susan hit a bigger rock, which cause the bicycle to careen off course. We toppled, wobbled and SPLAT! It was a tough and very painful tumble. For me, an apparently very dramatic 6-7 year-old it was quite traumatic. In fact, I remember running down the road screaming, "Help me, help me, I'm going to die!" Bless the woman's heart who came to our rescue. I guess Donna or Susan must have given her their phone number (pre-cell phone days). Our parents came and rescued us and had to take us to the hospital. We required bandages, tetanus shots and concussion watch. I remember Mama was proud of me because Susan cried for her shot and I didn't. I came home from vacation with bandages on my right wrist, elbow, and shoulder, along with my left knee and left ankle. It was quite an ordeal!
What we DIDN'T know was that I had brought back something else, too. Over time, as the wounds began to heal, Mama noticed the one on my right wrist didn’t seem right. There was a darkness in the wound that didn’t look good -- and it sounded/felt like bone scraping on bone. So she took me back to the doctor and he said it was just dirt in the wound and that my body would process it and deal with it -- nothing to worry about. I don't remember, but there may have been another doctor’s visit -- maybe a couple more. Nonetheless, Doctor Mama didn’t believe that doctor. She kept watching my wrist and began applying some home remedies. I was 6 or 7, so I don’t remember all the details. . . .I do remember an Irish potato poultice to draw out whatever was in there. I think there were some other steps, too. Over time, it became clear that there was something in my wrist. The potato poultice drew it up enough that Mama could tell it was pieces of gravel. Eventually she did "surgery" with tweezers and peroxide and ended up removing 3 small pieces of gravel from my wrist. We taped them to a piece of notebook paper and kept them for years.
While no part of that experience was enjoyable, I was thankful then and for all the years after to have had a mom with such great instincts, wisdom, and steady hands ;-)
I also had a couple of additional misdiagnoses --
In 7th grade my doctors missed a mononucleosis diagnosis and sent me home with a wrong answer. I was so sick. Fever spiking to 104 and higher. I almost passed out and felt so bad I thought I seriously might die. Mama's tenacity and knowledge ended up paying off again, as they put me in the hospital for 11 days and a diagnosis of mono after all. My sister was about 6-7 months old, so Mama couldn't stay at the hospital very much, and Daddy was working so I stayed in the hospital by myself, and eventually healed up good as new. I think that was at the very end of the school year. I know my 7th grade teachers, Mrs. Hooks and Mrs. Shearin sent me flowers in the hospital.
My sophomore year in college at SCC, the doctor had said to my mom that I had cancer and it had already spread to the lymph nodes. As it turned out, it was merely cat scratch fever, and I lived to tell the tale. But for the 3 weeks - 1 month that things were uncertain, every time Mama looked at me she would cry, thinking I WAS dying. . .
Even as adults, we have all called on Mama to identify rashes, look down our throats, make medicine or folk remedy recommendations -- for us, our spouses, our pets. . . .
All of us in the family have had circumstances where Mama was a better doctor than our doctors, and we have been incredibly blessed to have her as medical caregiver and as Mama.
These blog posts were first written as part of a book for Mama to say thanks and to let her know that I loved her and treasured so many amazing memories that we had made together, in spite of some rough patches along the way in our relationship. Faith was strong in my family. It shaped us, created us and measured us. It grounded us, connected us, and was a keystone in our times together. That doesn't mean our faith was without struggles. Mama struggled with her faith during the time that my grandmama was so sick and bedridden -- and for the rest of her life. We all struggled with our faith -- and our attitudes toward church (Not equivalent things in my way of thinking.) during a particularly challenging time as we were breaking away from a congregation we had been part of for a long time. We've each faced faith challenges in different seasons and for different reasons. The last 20 years have brought lots of change to the beliefs and practices of the faith of my family, but our love for Jesus has never wavered. Our sincere desire to do what Jesus would want us to do -- the concept of the golden rule (Treat others the way you would like to be treated.) has provided a benchmark our whole entire lives. While currently on Sundays, you may find us worshiping at home around our fire pit as opposed to fellowshipping with a structured church, the foundation is strong, the faith is strong, and the desire to live right, be who God created us to be and the hope for Heaven are hallmarks of my family and my growing up.
From my earliest memories we were heavily involved in church and regular in our attendance. For the first several years, I had to sit with Mama and Daddy during services. Folks who attended church with us tell stories of my sitting attentively at 6 months- 1 year old, and how Mama would tolerate nothing less. Some thought she was too harsh, but I appreciate the fact that I was one of those weird kids actually listening to sermons and taking notes as a young girl.
As I got older and began branching out, Mama would let me sit in front of her. If I became inattentive or otherwise was not doing a good job, she would reach up and thump me on the ear. Sometimes today when I’m sitting in a church service (or a teacher meeting or. . .), there are some people I wish were close enough that I could thump their ear. . . .
We were expected to be at every church service unless we were sick. Normally we didn’t mind, but Sunday nights were hard, because Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and The Wonderful World of Disney both came on and we always missed them. It was actually a special treat to be sick and be able to stay home and watch our favorite shows. We enjoyed church, but as a young child (and considering the small, conservative church we attended) it didn’t hold a candle to Wild Kingdom and Disney . . .
One of the books in our house was a Bible story book. It was part of a larger set that contained a Bible Encyclopedia and another big Bible-based book. They all had these burgundy-brown covers. Usually it was Mama tucking us in, and oftentimes it would involve a story from the Bible story book. Most of the stories had illustrations, and had comprehension questions at the end that were usually part of our bedtime routines, along with saying our prayers.
When it was appropriate, Mama would let me join in with the church ladies in their activities and events. When we were attending the 74-76 Church of Christ, we would meet up at Vi Thick’s house and make cards to go on the meal trays for the hospital and nursing homes. We would cut construction paper into rectangles and fold them, putting a sticker on the front with a scripture. Inside we would write the name of our church. Later when we attended the Whiteville congregation, I think we did something similar. I enjoyed being part of the group and learned a lot about serving from those ladies. I appreciate Mama so much for including me in those times.
Mama also allowed me to visit the Nursing Home with a mentor who had moved into the area. She took a couple of us young teenage girls under her wing and taught us a bit about sewing, took us to visit the folks at the Nursing Home. We would visit and read the Bible to the residents. I spent a lot of time in this mentor’s home and she and her husband always held hands when they prayed. I thought that was so beautiful and wanted to do that with my husband one day. Now I do. And my whole family does, but it all started with the time Mama allowed me to spend with godly mentors.
One of the values Mama instilled in me early was hospitality. It played out in a number of ways in our household. Here are a few:
Hosting the guest preacher -- I remember a number of times when our church was having a gospel meeting (revival) and the preacher would stay with us in our house for the week. I always treasured those weeks and enjoyed sitting at the feet of the guest preachers. Sometimes I had the special privilege of accompanying them to other members’ houses for dinner as their GPS. Sometimes they would teach me magic tricks or card tricks. Those are some of my favorite memories. One of the preachers who came and stayed with us brought his family for part of the time, and his daughter became one of my good friends. We counseled together at church camp and roomed together at Christian college.
Church Parties -- We hosted lots of church parties at our house -- baby showers, wedding showers, party parties, and New Year’s Eve parties. Mama would always get a little stressed when the time drew near as there was always so much to do, but I always enjoyed the special snacks and the extra fellowship time. Also, it often involved singing, which was always my favorite part. I remember lots of New Year's Eves, singing in the new year with my church family.
There were lots of other examples of my mama showing hospitality, but it is a value that I treasure and strive to emulate in my own life now. I am so thankful for her modeling in this important area of Christian living.
Mama always took our spiritual homework seriously. I got my 10 commandments bracelet for memorizing the 10 Commandments and a mini treasure chest for learning all the books of the Bible. Mama worked with us on memory verses and other memory work. At some points during our growing up time, Mama was also our Bible class teacher. Even when she was not, she made sure we were following up like we needed to.
The scriptures were always a regular part of discussions at our house. Whether it was around the supper table or while we were gardening, fishing, or whatever was going on, there was likely to be scripture involved in our conversations. I’m reminded of the passage in Deuteronomy 6 that says, “Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.” Mama modeled that very well. Scriptures were lived out in our home and there was no hypocrisy. What you saw was what you got -- wherever we were.
When we had trouble wrapping our heads around something at school or something someone said that conflicted with our church teaching, I really appreciate that Mama and Daddy didn't just quote doctrine. We went back to the source. We sat at the dining table, pulled out the Bibles and concordances, looked up scriptures and sorted things out the best we could based on what we read in the scriptures. It's still a practice in my house now, because it was instilled so fully then.
Commitment and Service
Our whole entire lives, these concepts were modeled and taught. My family was whole-heartedly committed to the Lord and to His church as we understood it. There was an understanding that if something was happening at church, we were to be there unless there was a very good reason we couldn’t be. Pretty much the only reasons we didn’t attend something was sickness or if we were out of town. Even if we were out of town, we usually attended the local congregation. We tried to schedule our work schedule around church times, but missing an occasional service due to work was acceptable as long as it wasn’t habitual.
For most of my life, Daddy was ministering from the pulpit and Mama was ministering from the pew and in the home. They both made sure that we understood that our church life was serious and we needed to take it seriously. Our church responsibilities came first. I remember one time -- elementary or middle school -- and I was supposed to get an award, but it required missing church. Mama allowed me to make the decision, but I chose to not attend the awards ceremony, but rather to attend church services.
While some of my specific beliefs and opinions have changed as I’ve grown and studied on my own and as I’ve had many more experiences, these hallmarks of my faith and precepts of commitment and service still serve me well as I make decisions about my priorities. I am thankful not to have to “decide to go to church on Sunday”. It is as ingrained as brushing my teeth every day.
(Full transparency note: Our church shut its doors in October 2019 before the Pandemic in March 2020. We were meeting with a small group at our house, but stopped meetings during the Pandemic. For most of the time since last March, Shane and I have worshipped alone -- at our dining room table or around our fire pit, studying Priscilla and Aquila, reading scripture, or sometimes enjoying an online church service. Even though we are not committed or regularly attending a specific church right now, our values and faith are strong and our desire to serve and grow in our Christian walk is also strong.)
I am thankful for the moral, spiritual, and ethical compass that these concepts provide. These ideals helped shape me as a person and as a Christian and I am so incredibly thankful to have grown up in a home that valued commitment to the cause of Christ.
While these ideals provide a stability that I value, my strong knowledge of the scriptures, coupled with a strong belief in thinking and studying for myself and not merely taking someone’s words as gospel have allowed me to stretch and grow and become a woman of impact -- a leader who stands firmly on her own two feet, but constantly leaning on the arms of Jesus for guidance, strength, and support. That would ONLY be possible with the strength, determination and spiritual guidance of my mother -- a woman of impact herself.
As a leader in my current church (refer back to full transparency note), these foundational scriptural truths and these critical views about commitment and service have given me solid footing from which to lead and have allowed me to be a leader who is willing to go the extra mile and brings a strong scriptural focus to our church.
I absolutely value all the conversations around the dinner table, and as we were driving, gardening, fishing, and living that helped make me the woman I am today. While I am still a work in progress, and I fail every single day, I have a growing understanding of His grace and mercy because of the foundations laid by my mama and daddy.
Sundays were church days and family days. Grandmama would often come home with us after church for Sunday dinner, which was always a Southern fried family affair -- fried chicken, rice and gravy, green beans and slaw or stew beef with rice and green beans and slaw, etc. Pictured from L-R are me (Tonnye Williams Fletcher), Cora Le White Smith, Mona Faye Smith Williams, and bottom -- Shanda Kay Williams (White)
One year ago (+a few weeks), I became active on Twitter. Originally, I wasn't excited about it. It was one of those things "they" say you need to do to become a successful author. So on Leap weekend, 2020, I leapt onto Twitter. As I explored and oriented myself to Twitter, I discovered the kidlit community. The first people to show me kindness and welcome were Kailei Pew and Kaitlyn Sanchez. Through them, I learned about this #SpringFlingKidLit contest, sponsored by Kaitlyn and Ciara O'Neal . Choose a gif. Write a Spring story in 150 words -- or less. Everyone who knows me knows I don't do much of anything in 150 words or less :-D But I threw my fairy story into the competition and did not place as a winner. However, I was a winner, because I was introduced to this amazing kidlit community that has provided help and encouragement to a new writer. And I have won every day since then -- sometimes I literally won (but mostly chance things -- critiques, (to help my writing improve), free books (to use as mentor texts), book bling (because . . .book bling! ;-), KidLit Zombie week came later and I got the "Miss Congeniality-ish" award from Jolene Gutierrez, who has become another dear friend in this community. With every critique, my writing and my knowledge improved. I took classes, webinars, read books, joined Twitter chats and mini-communities like #PBChat with Justin Colon, and #PBParty with Mindy Alysse Weiss, #KidLitSelfCare with Brittany Pomales. This year, I joined Julie Hedlund's 12x12 Challenge, and First Draft Friday with Hollie Wolverton. In this year, I have learned so much and grown as an author and as a person. I have won in so many ways. Most recently, I experienced my first big "win" as a writer, when I entered Vivian Kirkfield's #50PreciousWords contest. Yes, that's right -- a full story in 50 words. The top 51 were chosen out of 772 entries, and I was number 47! That's a ways down the list, but it put me in the top 16%, and it was the first time that my writing has won in a big international event. It has been a year of wins and losses, learning and growing, challenges and successes. I'm thrilled to be part of it all, and win or lose, I'm here for the duration, because that's the only way you'll ever be a winner!
I hope you enjoy my story about Venus. Feel free to leave me a comment here or on my Twitter or my Facebook. I've linked all the amazing people who have influenced my writing journey on Twitter. If you're missing any of them, go follow them now if you're an author hoping to win. If you're a reader, many of them have books out now, or will have soon, so check out their books.
Oh, and if you're an insect or very small animal, watch out for Venus.
VENUS' SPRING TRAP
72 words (not including back matter)
Venus awoke after a long winter,
stretched her leaves toward the sun, and set her traps.
She was hungry!
She unfurled her lobes,
Open wide. . .
What shall I eat first?
A row of ants ambled around. . .
A bunny bounced by. . .
A ladybug leaned in. . .
Finally. . .
a fly fluttered in for nectar,
touched the trigger hairs, and. . .
Fly made a delicious snack!
Interesting facts about Venus Fly Traps:
(This back matter is not part of the contest entry -- just here for your curiosity)
Venus fly traps are carnivorous plants with hinged traps that secrete nectar to lure insects. When insects touch trigger hairs, the hinge closes and the plant digests the insect with enzymes.
It takes Venus Fly Traps a while to reopen a trap once it closes, so they often don't waste their energy on tiny insects like ants. Most plants have several traps available so while one is closed, they can still catch food in the other traps.
Venus fly traps only grow naturally in boggy areas in the sandhills of North and South Carolina. They are a vulnerable species, and removing them from wild spaces is a felony and can result in jail time.
My family loves the outdoors. I could probably write a whole book for this section. Mama grew up on a farm and enjoys gardening and flowers and lots of outdoor activities. She tried to pass this along as well -- and has -- though probably more selectively than she would have liked.
I’ll start with the most enjoyable -- to me, at least. One of the greatest rewards (and most frequent) as we were growing up was to get to go fishing. It was sometimes bribe, sometimes reward, sometimes stress relief, sometimes recreation that we could afford.
I remember when we lived in the old white house there was a pond across the road. I was young and the memories aren’t very specific, but I do remember fishing across the road and conversations about a Grandaddy catfish.
During the years at New Hope, living at Cousin O’Dell’s house, I don’t have very many memories of fishing, but the times at Pleasant Hill are replete with fishing memories. Sometimes we would traipse through the small section of woods that led to the creek and fish there. Often, we would fish from the roadside as the creek fed into Hilton Cox’s pond. Hilton gave us permission to fish at the pond, too, so those are my very favorite fishing memories!
At the end of a day, when work was done, we would go digging for worms. Sometimes Daddy was home, too. Sometimes, Grandmama came over. (As I remember it, she was often the impetus for our fishing trips. . .) We would find rich soil -- oftentimes areas that Mama or Daddy had created for the purpose of drawing/breeding earthworms for fishing. Digging worms was often part of the adventure itself, although we often got whiny if they weren’t abundant and easy. Sometimes it took several tries to find the right spot for lots of worms.
Once the worms were collected into a can or a bucket and all the fishing gear was gathered, we would walk down to the creek, roadside, or pond and settle in. We knew we needed to be quiet or the fish wouldn’t bite -- or at least that’s what the adults told us. In retrospect, perhaps just for a little peace and quiet. It was probably a moot point anyway, but we did try. Quiet moments by the pond are some of my favorite childhood memories -- catching fish, turtles, and even eels. Oftentimes, just drowning worms, but we were doing it together.
Somewhere along the way, someone has gotten the idea that I don’t enjoy fishing anymore. That is absolutely not true. While it is difficult for me to carve out time from my other responsibilities at a time that is appropriate for fishing, and I don’t enjoy the heat of the summer always, and I really, really hate mosquitoes and gnats that sometimes come with fishing, I LOVE fishing! I love the peace of it, the quiet anticipation, the shared experience, the sometimes-excitement of the catch. It’s a legacy that lives on . . .
I had a love-hate relationship with the clothesline. Mama taught me to hang clothes out from the time I could reach. Even before that, I would hand her clothespins or hang out while she was hanging out the clothes. I loved the smell of sheets after they had dried in the sun. I’ve never smelled sheets that smelled like Mama’s sheets off the line. It’s a beautiful sensory memory from the New Hope days that I treasure -- so soft -- and THAT smell.
Some days I didn’t mind hanging out clothes -- or taking them in. There’s a comfort to it. I love the smell and the stiff-yet-soft feel as you’re gathering them up. The orderliness of shaking them out before hanging them up. The cool dampness of the fresh-from-the-washer clothes on a hot summer day. Even sometimes, the quick adrenaline rush of a quick unexpected shower and the mad dash to get the dry clothes in before they get wet again.
Some days, not so much . . .I don’t know why. I don’t know if there was a reason beyond my fickle childhood moods. Often it was my job. Sometimes I despised it, sometimes I tolerated it out of obligation, but sometimes I relished it and reveled in it.
As an adult, I’ve had times where I’ve hung out clothes, and where I’ve strictly used the dryer. Both have their positives and negatives. Sometimes I long for the feel and smell of air-dryed laundry. Sometimes I beg Shane to put up another clothesline. Then he reminds me that I work full-time and we are rarely here in the daylight and it would be a moot point. He’s right, but the memory is strong, and sometimes I sure do miss it.
I remember at times having probably 30 or more African violets in our house. Mama loves plants and she has always been great at nurturing them and nursing them back to health even from “almost-death”. She would grab an African violet for 25 cents that looked like death and pretty soon it would be vibrant and thriving again.
For a while, Mama really got into Gloxinias and we had them everywhere. They had beautiful showy trumpet-shaped flowers, and we enjoyed them for quite some time.
She loves anything green, and especially anything that flowers, but outside ones are her favorites. She loves planting them and watching them grow and bloom.
Mama always prefers living flowers over cut ones and often Daddy would get her a new rosebush for birthday or Mother’s Day or some celebration. She had quite a collection of Roses at Pleasant Hill -- Mr. Lincoln and Peace were the two I remember most vividly. Mr. Lincoln with its deep dark scarlet hues and Peace, looking like a swirl of orange sherbet, vanilla, and lemon sorbet, with pink lemonade accents. I loved the variety of Peace’s blossoms.
Long after I married, and once Mama and Daddy tried to get the nursery business established, they really got into Daylilies and we would take family trips to the daylily farm to peruse all the newest, showiest varieties and add a few new ones to their collection.
I remember once at Pleasant Hill, I wanted to establish a little bed of the tiny little wild violas. I loved them! Mama helped me carve out a spot in the yard and plant a few to try to get them established. I have no idea how well they did, but I always appreciated her taking the time to help me with something I enjoyed.
Our tastes in flowers tends to be very different, along with a lot of other things in life, but just like everywhere, variety keeps things interesting and makes life better!
We’ve had a garden as long as I can remember, and growing up, it was definitely a family affair.
Even though I’m probably the least farm-oriented member of the family, I still enjoy the feel and the smell of fresh-turned dirt, watching things grow, and eating things fresh from the garden. That appreciation comes from Mama and Daddy both.
Growing up in a gardening family was such a blessing, and it has spoiled me in many ways. There is NOTHING like a big slice of fresh garden tomato whether you’re eating them with pork chops or on a sandwich (with Miracle Whip of course). Grocery store tomatoes do NOT compare!
It was Mama who taught me to pick the worms off cabbages, how to pick butterbeans and string beans. She showed me when cucumbers and squash are ready and when you need to toss them, save them for seed or feed them to “the animals” (depending on which ones they had at the time) Because it’s always been something we do together, in this area, it’s hard to tell where Mama ends and Daddy starts and vice versa. Together, they taught me a lot about gardening. We’ve spent more hours than I can count shelling beans, snapping beans, shelling peas, “looking” collards, picking cucumbers and squash, shucking corn, silking corn, “squishing” strawberries, and lots more.
One area where I know it was Mama is the cooking of garden-fresh fruits and veggies -- prepping and cooking, freezing, canning were always Mama’s domain. Because of her, I know how to easily peel a bunch of tomatoes or peaches using boiling water. I know how to make strawberry punch bowl cake (a family favorite during the strawberry-growing years). I know how to blanch vegetables to put them in the freezer. I can peel potatoes using a knife (even though she still would complain that I leave too much potato on the peelings. . .) . I can peel and slice cucumbers and tomatoes, though never as evenly as she can. I can cook new potatoes and green beans. I can boil peanuts.
Because of her teaching, I don’t throw out a whole fruit or veggie just because it has a “bad place”. I know how to work around that, saving the good.
Because of her encouragement, I am willing to try lots of different foods, and I will eat almost anything, although turnips are at the BOTTOM of that list!!!!!!!!
Even though I’ve chosen a professional life and my continued “extracurricular” activities don’t allow much time for gardening, I so appreciate all the lessons that came from the time spent in the garden, and using things from the garden, and I appreciate all the effort that went into helping us eat well and eat healthy from the garden that continues even now! What a blessing!
Mama often accuses me of having more food memories than anything else. She’s not altogether wrong perhaps. There are lots of reasons for that:
1. I LOVE food, especially good food. :-D
2. Mama was an EXCELLENT cook!
3. We gardened.
4. Daddy was a meatcutter.
5. Mama couponed.
All of that together = lots of amazing food memories.
I talked about her chicken and pastry in the birthday tribute, but no one can do chicken and pastry like Mama, and while my husband has mastered the art of creating gluten-free pastry now, nothing holds a candle to Mama's. . . .
Stew beef. Yes, I know maybe you call it beef stew, but at our house it was stew beef. Oh, my! So good. . . Tender beef chunks, onions and potatoes. . . . all in a beefy, oniony broth, served over fluffy white rice, usually with green beans (often from our garden . . .). I've tried and tried, but I've never made stew beef that tasted as good as Mama's.
Potato salad! This one I've mastered, and it is still a family staple. With ham at Easter, with fried chicken , with pork chops, . . .or just by itself . . .every potluck dinner ("dinner on the grounds") growing up. Warm or cold, didn't matter. Often I would eat a bowl of potato salad for breakfast straight out of the fridge.
OK, so a little note about breakfast in our house: while Mama was an excellent cook, she didn't like to get up early, so breakfast was cereal, or Pop-Tarts, or whatever was in the fridge (Keeping in mind that I grew up pre-microwave days . . .which meant if it came out the fridge, you ate it cold.) Spaghetti sauce on bread? check Cold meatloaf sandwich? Yep. Cold vegetable beef soup? One of my faves. . . Mama cooked great breakfasts -- but we rarely ate them for breakfast ;-)
So many other foods that Mama cooked or created or put together were special. To this day, one of my very favorite meals is a pork chop (Mama's were always fried; we usually choose to grill or bake ours now.) Rice with speckled butter beans on top, and a fresh garden-ripened tomato sprinkled liberally with salt and pepper. . .so so good!!!!
I guess a food section wouldn't be complete without talking about fish. We live near the beach, and my family loves fishing. I have cousins who would often go spot-fishing, and bring us a "mess 'o spots". Dredged in cornmeal and fried to perfection, served with fish rice (white rice thrown into the last bit of the "drippins'" from the fried fish), and slaw (finely chopped cabbage, salt/pepper, Miracle Whip [Don't fight me on this. . . ], and a bit of sugar). One of Mama's favorites and her mama's before her. Also, one of my favorites!
I keep thinking of more and more, but I have to talk about carrot cake. This was another recipe handed down from a church lady or a family member. The best carrot cake ever! Cream cheese icing full of pecans. I'm the carrot cake baker usually now (or my hubby). It's a family staple. In fact, I think my nephew is requesting it for his birthday. It has been present at birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, pot lucks . . . .omnipresent. . . well, almost. . . . Mama would always argue a carrot cake and a glass of milk was a complete and balanced meal. (Eggs, nuts, and cream cheese for protein, flour for grains, carrots for veggies, cream cheese for dairy, and oil for fat content (and butter in the frosting). Milk rounded out for some extra dairy. . . . I don't know about balanced, but I do know it is DELICIOUS! I make a gluten free version now -- it's not as good, but still yummy!
Macaroni salad, slaw, deviled eggs, ham-rice, meatloaf, and so much more . . such good food. I could talk about this all day. . . .of course, we also ate our share of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (and I always liked Daddy's better, because he put more jelly ;-), Treet meat, vienna sausages, and Manwich from the can, along with Hamburger Helper. Our spaghetti sauce came from a jar and the only regular spices she used were salt and pepper. Chili con carne was as cultural as we got -- it was Southern, fried, and fresh from the garden -- or from a can. But whatever she fed us tasted amazing (except for Turnips, but that wasn't her fault. I'm still not a fan!)
Here are some of my favorite food memories with Mama:
~~~Pineapple Upside Down Cake~~~
Probably my earliest food memory is when I was three years old, living in Grandmama’s old homeplace. We were between houses. The place we were renting when I and my brother were born was not going to still be available. Money was tight, places were expensive, so, for a season we were in the old homeplace. There was no bathroom -- a chamber pot and an outhouse served the purpose. I don’t remember much else from that time, except the Pineapple upside down cake that we made there. We used a cast iron skillet -- layering slices of pineapple across the bottom, filling in all the holes with cherries, butter, and brown sugar. Then we topped that off with cake batter. After baking it off and turning it out, it was beautiful and delicious! And to this day, it's one of my favorite cakes!
Mama has always been an excellent cook. I remember when we were living in a cousin’s house in New Hope, Mama decided to try her hand at making potato chips. I was excited to help. We sliced the potatoes as thin as possible, fried them up in oil, and set them out to dry. Some of them were green, some of them were limp, but a few were crispy and delicious. Mama decided potato chips were not her forte and I don’t remember ever making them again, but what a fun memory!
These have been part of our family repertoire ALMOST as long as I can remember. The recipe came from one of our church ladies. I think they were called preacher cookies because they were often made for potlucks or when the preacher came calling. Most people I know now call these “No Bake Cookies” and there are tons of different versions of them. Ours used peanut butter, butter, sugar, salt, vanilla, and oatmeal. They were delightful little morsels that we dropped by the spoonful onto aluminum foil to set. Sometimes the weather was not really conducive to candy setting, so they stayed pliable and squishy and we got to eat most of them as they were “not fittin’”. We loved the little dribbles that didn’t make it into the gooey delicious piles because those were little jewels that we got to nibble. And we ALWAYS hoped there were a few left over when we took them to potluck (but often we were disappointed.) They are always a big hit wherever we go, and making them with Mama is one of my favorite childhood memories.
This recipe has been lost through time and it has been YEARS since Mama and I made Divinity together, but it remains one of my favorite food memories. It was a tedious process and one that had to be “just right”. We boiled a mixture of sugar, Karo syrup, and water until it formed a ball in a glass of water. That was one of my jobs -- to watch for the ball to form so we knew it was ready. Mama would beat the egg whites, mix them together with just the right timing and consistency and spoon them out (after adding a touch of vanilla) onto aluminum foil. My other job was to top each confection with a perfect pecan half. We spent many of my early Christmases making divinity for parties and to share with family. One thing is for sure, the candy was divine -- and so is the memory!
Now that I’m grown and supposed to be eating gluten-free, clean and healthy, I rarely get this treat anymore, but it’s one of my all-time favorites. A box of vanilla wafers, a can of sweetened condensed milk join with golden and dark raisins and lots of chopped pecans to form almost-cement perfection after lots and LOTS and LOTS of pressing, pressing, and more pressing. (That, along with shelling the pecans was part of my job. . . ) It was topped with half-cherry flowers and green cherries cut into quarters for leaves. It was then CAREFULLY cut into tiny squares (not an easy task due to its concrete construction . . ) and was the perfect blend of sweet and nutty.
There were also these yummy cookies Mama and I made. I have the recipe for them, but I haven't tried making them. . . .maybe that will be another blog post later.
And, for many years, our house was the house that hosted all the church parties -- baby showers, New Year's Eve parties, and more. Those always brought little finger ham sandwiches, Town House crackers with Cheez Whiz, and amazing pineapple delight -- marshmallows, crushed pineapple and whipped topping -- I always loved parties and the food that came with them.
Mama laughs and jibes me all the time about my food memories, but she is an excellent cook, and some of my favorite times with Mama were the ones we spent in the kitchen -- cooking up excellencies just like these. I hope that some of her cooking excellence has rubbed off through the years.
Author's Note: Not even 3 months since Mama left to be with Jesus. Honestly, it was hard to re-read this with all the "still" references, but I couldn't bear to take them out, even though . . . .
There were so many other ways Mama helped out at home -- to save money, make money, and stretch money. These are just some of the ones that stand out. . . .
Looking back, I don’t think I realized how tough things were financially for my family. Yes, I knew I wore hand-me-down clothing most of the time. I knew most of my clothes were not in fashion, and that became more of an issue in middle school/high school as I became more aware and those things became more important. I’d like to say I was mature enough that none of that mattered, but that would be a lie. The truth is, though, Mama did such a good job compensating in so many ways, that I didn’t grow up feeling “poor”.
I know it was hard raising a family of 4, then 5 on one meatcutter’s salary, but Mama did LOTS of things to help make ends meet.
While Mama and Daddy had decided that she would be a stay-at-home mom, Mama was always finding ways to supplement Daddy’s income. I have no idea about the time frame of these, but I remember these ways that Mama tried to make our lives a little richer….
Stop! A yard sale!
I remember from my youth, shopping yard sales with Mama. She was a bargain hunter in all realms, but this has always been one of her favorites and continues to be! If there’s a yard sale anywhere around, Mama’s probably going to find it -- and probably she’s going to stop and shop. . . whether it is someone’s garage, a flea market or a road-side sale!
Probably my favorite yard sale find ever was at the 701 flea market. It was before 4th grade, although I don’t remember exactly when. I reached down into a box and pulled out a semi-hardcover drab brown book. It was fairly thick, and there was nothing to draw me in, and yet it did. 25 cents, and Mama had purchased for me another item that would shape my life. It was a 1908 poetry textbook -- full of classics in all poetic genres. It helped me immensely with a big poetry project in 4th grade with Ms. Deavers and it is still one of my most prized possessions. It has traveled with me to college -- and to all three states I have lived in. It has sat opened by our bedside to favorite poems Shane and I have shared by candlelight-- with candlewax stains to prove its use. During my first year teaching, I often shared poems from it such that Joey would ask often if he could read my poetry book during free time. That book has enriched my life more than I can say.
Even now, Mama is constantly on the look-out for treasures for her kids. A couple years ago, she added a plethora of pastels to our Fiesta dishware collection, and so much more through the years.
Yard saling allowed Mama to get things for us that she wouldn’t necessarily be able to afford, and she is still might quick to call out on a trip, “Stop! A yard sale!”
Stanley Home Parties
Mama met a lady named Ona Lee who sold Stanley Home Products when I was young. One of Mama’s earliest ways to make extra money was selling Stanley Home Products. Even though I was pretty young at this point, I have LOTS of memories of Stanley Home Products -- visiting Ms. Ona Lee, helping Mama pack for parties, and lots of the products themselves. Mama would go out and have parties in people’s homes and introduce them to the products and they would order products, which she would later deliver to them.
They had everything from dishes and cookware to gadgets to cleaners and probably lots more.
Three of my favorite Stanley pieces were a little adding machine that I used for a very long time. It was a little hand clicker with a button for ones, a button for tens and a button for hundreds/dollars. It was red and I spent lots of time clicking those buttons and “helping” Mama… Another favorite was the bun-warmer. I don’t know if that is what it was called, but it is what we used it for. It was a big yellow pot with a shelf that set inside that was scored with holes. It reminded me of a Chinese checkers board. You would put a little water in the bottom and load that shelf up with hot dog or hamburger buns and they were the best ever! Soft, steamy, and perfect! Although sometimes there were a few that got soggy. They were not my favorites, but there is nothing like those buns! The other product was a set of nesting bowls. There was yellow and turquoise I know -- probably another color or two, but the yellow one is the one that has stood the test of time. In fact, Mama still has the yellow Stanley bowl. It has gone to more potlucks than I can count and has been used to hold all kinds of things. We used it a lot when we were freezing vegetables from the garden. My favorite use for the yellow bowl was popcorn. I don’t remember how often we used it for that, but my favorite memory was when we went to the drive-in movie as a family. We went to see Benji at the drive-in. I loved the movie, I loved being with my family and I loved Mama’s popcorn in the yellow Stanley bowl. In fact, I loved that memory so much that we recreated it years later when Barefoot Church hosted a movie night playing Benji and we all went together as a family with the yellow bowl in tow once again.
Friendly Home Parties
Later, Mama did something similar with Friendly Home Parties. It was the same basic premise -- parties in the home to introduce people to the products. They would order and we would deliver. I was older by the time Mama started with Friendly and I remember going with her and helping out with the parties themselves.
My favorite products from Friendly were a fiber optic lamp that looked like a fountain of rainbow colors or fireworks exploding in the sky! I LOVED that lamp. The other piece that I thought was so cool was a reversible doll. It was Little Red Riding Hood on one end, but when you flipped it over, it was the big bad wolf. As a reader/story-teller, that doll really appealed to me. It was so cool.
I enjoyed the time with Mama spent with parties and packing and wishing, and getting to visit the homes of friends, neighbors and church folk.
I don’t remember the time frame, although it probably would have been middle school or high school that Mama took a tax course so that she could do people’s taxes. She worked part-time during those years during tax season helping people with their taxes and it also helped in another way, because it allowed her to help all the family with their taxes through the years. I think this is something she and Aunt Gwen did together, and they are the family tax gurus even now. If anyone in the family needs help, they are the go-to ladies for all things taxes. . . .
I mention this in the birthday section, but it bears repeating, as it was a way Mama helped out our family, friends, neighbors and earned extra money to help ends meet.
Mama is a jack of all trades naturally. She is good at pretty much anything she sets her mind to, and this was no exception. She was basket-weaving frosting, whipping up royal icing, making roses on nailheads, decorating Mickey Mouse cakes along with the best of them before we knew it.
She made cakes for profit, and cakes for church. She made cakes for family and cakes for friends.
This foray was also during those middle school/high school years. Looking back, times must have been challenging for our family during that time. As Dale and I got older and involved in more things, and then Shanda came along during my 7th grade year, I know it was hard financially as our family of four became a family of five -- and I became a teenager with more school expenses and more extracurricular expenses as well.
While there were lots of ideas and things tried to make extra money, this was probably our favorite for lots of reasons:
1 -- More cake in our life -- you can’t go wrong with that!
2-- It was really cool and interesting to watch -- much more interesting than taxes!
3-- It allowed me, at least, to try my hand at it, which was fun -- and is part of the reason I teach reading, writing, math, and music instead of decorating cakes. Apparently, I did not inherit Mama’s jack-of-all-trades genes. Some things I am truly not good at -- this was one of them!
Mama’s cakes were beautiful and tasty and a testament to her talent and her willingness to work hard in many different ways to support our family.
Couponing and Refunding/Rebating
Another thing Mama got into during this time was couponing and rebating. Memory fades, but it seems she took a couponing class early on, and then began a club that met at our house. It was more fun than taxes, too, for several reasons:
1-- We got to meet interesting people like Augusta Davis and mailman Alan Buffkin and lots more. It was fun having people in our house.
2-- It was fun to help. I got to snip coupons and rebates and UPCs and so much more! Snip, snip, snip. It was my way of contributing.. .
3-- I also got to address envelopes for the rebates. Pretty soon I had learned the zip code for Minneapolis, Minnesota by heart.
4 -- It was fun to work alongside Mama doing something that helped our family -- and sometimes we got special things from rebates for us -- kool-aid cups, Del-Monte Christmas ornaments, etc. Those ornaments still have a place on the tree, and we each claim our own as we’re hanging them each year.
Coupons allowed us to eat foods we wouldn’t normally be able to afford, and double-couponing doubled our savings and we were able to eat like kings on the paychecks of paupers because Mama learned all sorts of tips and tricks and had this network of friends with whom she shared a penchant for saving money. They shared money-saving tips, coupons, rebates, and friendship that enriched our lives in many ways.
Later on, Daddy bought a farm and Mama and Daddy worked together to try lots of entrepreneurial enterprises. Strawberries, daylilies, rabbits, and so much more filled days and nights -- all with an eye toward making life better. Most didn't pan out the way they'd hoped, but Mama nor Daddy was ever afraid of hard work to make a dream come true.
Eventually, Mama got on with the US postal service, and served for about 20 years with them. It was hard for her, but she persevered, and later thrived. She developed amazing relationships with her postmaster, co-workers, and her patrons on her mail route. They left her little treats -- or sometimes full lunches in their mailboxes and Mama loved them. She often came home with so many stories about who she had met or gifts they had shared. She loved her job and the people she worked with and for, and for the first time in her life, she was bringing in the bulk of the money for the household. By then, I was out of the house and living my own adult life, but I was so proud of her for pursuing hard things, persevering, and always finding little and big ways to make all of our lives better.
Wiggling money had to have been hard, but we never went without delicious food, and the clothes may not have always been stylish, but they got the job done, and our lives were all richer for all the ways Mama contributed.
Contests abound in the kidlit community on Twitter. I always enjoy trying my hand at them. They are helpful for a lot of reasons.
#1. They encourage me to write.
#2. They force me out of my comfort zones regarding content, genre, number of words, etc.
#3. They offer amazing prizes if you're good enough to win (goals. . . )
#4. They build community as writers read each others' work, offer comments, retweets, shares, feedback, etc.
#5. They are FUN!
There are probably many more reasons to participate, but these are enough for me.
This contest is called 50 Precious Words. Hosted by Vivian Kirkfield, author (and person) extraordinaire, it is exactly what it says: You have (ONLY!) 50 Precious Words to tell a whole story!!! Characters, arc, etc. . . .Beginning, Middle, End . . .50 words! You can read more about Vivian and her inspiration for the contest as well as guidelines here: www.viviankirkfield.com
I became active in the Twitter kidlit community one year ago and this is my FIRST time entering Vivian's contest, but I had lots of fun brainstorming and writing this one. It's called
Bioluminescent fish line the midway,
At the underwater fair.
Octopus tentacles reach
To hold the mounts,
On the ocean carousel.
Giggle, and beg,
“One more time!”
Poor, dizzy Octopus is
spinning out of control,
Ink clouds the carousel
At the underwater fair.
My 54th birthday is looming large this week, and honestly, I would skip it if I could. . . It seems so wrong to celebrate a day without her that is only possible because of her. My first birthday without her. I didn't expect it to feel this way. I never really thought about how birthdays would feel without her. It is not the first sad birthday I've had, and it won't be the last, I'm sure, unless I die before the next sad one ;-) Amidst the tears of having a birthday without her, I'd love to celebrate this week, all the birthdays I had with her. . .
Mama grew up with an alcoholic father and a mother who had grown up during the Great Depression. Frugality and simplicity were the fabrics of her life growing up. Birthdays in our house were not often full of presents and abundance or frills, but they were always special.
Every birthday we got to choose our favorite meal for dinner. Usually, mine was chicken and pastry. It was a family favorite and another testament to Mama’s excellent cooking. Soft, tender, fall-off-the-bone chicken with a rich flavorful broth and clouds upon clouds of fluffy white pastries (Some call her style dumplin’s, but we always called them pastry.) It was always served alongside mounds of white rice to soak up all the thickened chicken juice. Usually a veggie rounded out the meal -- sweet peas or green beans or something green (often from our garden via the freezer).
And there was always cake. When I was in middle school maybe, Mama took a cake decorating class, so for a few years, we had very fancy cakes! Cakes shaped like Mickey Mouse and decorated to the hilt to make it look just like him -- cakes with beautiful roses, and all kinds of beautiful decorations. Sometimes, it was family favorite cakes -- like carrot cake -- or, for me, pineapple upside down cake. Whatever the flavor, and whatever it looked like, Mama’s cakes always had the most important ingredient -- LOVE!
There were also always cards -- carefully chosen and lovingly signed -- sometimes in Mama’s handwriting; sometimes in Daddy’s, but always a beautiful sweet card full of love.
Sometimes, we had parties. Certainly not every year -- and not the ornate events of today’s kids. Second grade, I think, Mama planned a party for Dale (my younger brother) and me together (both our birthdays are in February-- his the 2nd and mine the 24th) So we had our party right around Valentine’s Day -- we had heart-shaped candies and our friends came over to play and bring presents. (I remember particularly a Play-Doh Fun Factory that year -- it was well-used! :-) It was a rare treat to have a party and took a lot of extra effort and expense on Mama’s part, and looking back I really appreciate those efforts.
Also, in second grade, I remember Mama taking me to birthday parties of friends as well. That was a special treat too! I remember attending Greta’s birthday party in Sunset Terrace where we played croquet and Greer’s birthday downtown where we played musical chairs and I was enthralled because her house had an UPSTAIRS! None of that would have happened without Mama’s willingness to get a little gift and haul me over to a friend's house.
As we got older, we were able to plan our own parties, and Mama tried to help and accommodate us if she could. When I turned 16, I had a big party at our house -- a sleepover for the girls. I still have a picture of about 6 of us piled up in the bed under the covers. I don’t remember all that we did (although I think I remember Kim losing her contact down the sink), but I have very fond memories of the party itself and Mama’s help and willingness to make it happen.
She and Daddy allowed me to plan an 18th birthday party in “the barn” (upstairs play area for Dale and me above Daddy’s workshop downstairs in a log barn Mama and Daddy had built.) I invited all my friends and we celebrated big for my 18th!
As we grew into adulthood, birthday celebrations continued and morphed. At some point, we began having family oyster roasts to celebrate Dale’s and my collective February birthdays. We would buy a bushel of oysters, which required copious rinsing and scrubbing to get the ocean-y grunge off. Mama would scrub and rinse, and then direct our scrubbing and rinsing, until we got enough cleaned that she could begin to cook them. She would fill every big pot and pan full of clunky gray oysters and roast or steam them to salty perfection. Sometimes she would fry some fish or shrimp alongside -- or make hushpuppies. Sometimes it was just oysters and saltines. She was always ready to help us with those stubborn shells that wouldn’t release -- either wielding her knife or throwing it back in the pot to coax it open. Finally, Dale confessed, after years of doing birthday oyster roasts, that he didn’t really care for oysters, so we gave up that tradition, but those are special memories!
Birthdays may not have been elaborate affairs, but they always came with love and effort on her part to make it a special day in some way or other.
One thing is for sure, birthdays will never be the same again.
I've been a teacher of K-3 students for over 20 years; I'm also a writer of poems, short stories, devotionals and picture books. I'm wife to an amazing husband and mom to Sparkles, Mocha, and Rusty -- our feline fur babies . I love reading, writing, singing and listening to music. I enjoy nature, Bible study and spending time with friends and family!