Flattened

unknownBlind-sided, thunderstruck, ambushed, stunned,  floored flummoxed.  Just flattened.  By what’s just happened in our country – no, not what  just happened – what just surfaced.

As my genteel cousin put it, “Surely not?”  Exactly.  Surely we are not the people screaming racist epithets, intimidating  children, advocating jail for our  rivals.  We are not the people that believe  silencing those who don’t look like us oreuters-porland-oregon-anti-trump-protestr believe like us will solve our problems.  We are not the people who obsessed on the media’s  24/7 shouting matches, while shaking our heads about the ugly campaign.  We don’t  riot
in the streets after an election and burn the President Elect in effigy.  We can’t be those people.  And yet we are.

Until November 9, I carefully sidestepped awkward social and political conversations.  After all, everyone’s entitled to her/his own opinion, right? And what does it matter really?   Things will go on pretty much as they always have no matter what I do, right?   So why risk damaging a friendship, causing a ruckus. Why be “that” woman?  I really didn’t know what my friends, my neighbors, even some of my family, believed at a core level,  didn’t really want to know, and  didn’t  share my own opinions.   We  coexisted; polite and superficial  strangers under the skin.  So when November 8 happened, we were amazed to find out who was living next door, or even in our own house!

It’s pretty clear   we don’t understand each other.  Perhaps we don’t really understand ourselves.   Hopefully the 2016 election will inspire us to learn more about  ourselves and our government and moreover,  to become involved in our communities.   We can learn to images-1listen respectfully to each other with no other agenda.  We can  have discussions that don’t deteriorate into  shouting matches.    Ideas that challenge us are healthy precisely because they make us uncomfortable.  They stretch us and keep us growing.

On the morning of November 9, I began  a one woman listening campaign. I talked  to neighbors on my morning walk.  I listened to  members of my church, to my family, to  my Facebook and Twitter friends.  And I  heard some surprising things.  Some not easy for me to hear.   But my friendships were not threatened.  In fact, just the opposite.  After all, we all want to have our voices heard.

I  know the fluttering of the butterfly wing in my tiny corner of the ranunculus-aconitifolius-1548312__480universe cannot influence world events.  But just as one vote makes a difference, so does one honest conversation.

So let’s talk!  Leave a comment.    Tell us what the  2016 election meant for you.    Who knows?   We might not be as far apart as we thought.  At the very least, we are sure to learn more about our own beliefs.

 

 

 

 

PLEASE SPARE OLD BETTY, by Lesley Humphrey. A “Southern Transplant” shares her art and love of horses.

“1914 : Old Betty, War Pony” by Lesley C. Humphrey

As an artist and painter, one never knows when inspiration will hit… Last year, during a visit to the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester, England, I encountered a remarkable photo and letter written during World War I, to Lord Kitchener by a young girl, Freda Hewlett. The poem inspired “War Horse” the play… An excerpt follows:

“Dear Lord Kitchener,

We are writing for our pony which we are very afraid will be taken for your army. Please spare her! Daddy says she is going to be a mother early next year and she is 17 years old. It would break our hearts to let her go. We have given 2 others, and 3 of our family are now fighting for the Navy.

Mother and all will do anything for you, but do please let us keep old Betty and send official word quickly before anyone comes.

Your Troubled Little Britishers,
Freda and PL Hewlett.
Little Betty letter. 3

Don’t you just love the passion and creativity of children? Within days, they received their response.

Happily for them, their pony was spared…

The letters were inspiring enough but, by coincidence, I grew up and rode ponies in Haigh, exactly where ‘Old Betty’ and the “Troubled Little Britishers” lived 100 years ago. The result is my painting above “1914 : Old Betty, War Pony” by Lesley C. Humphrey is a 30” x 40” oil on canvas. It bears fragments of the “Little Britishers” letter and Lord Kitchener’s response. Colour and strong, gestural lines wind turmoil with hope in this painting, about gentle children caught in the turbulence and mayhem of war. It was commenced as an art exhibition at the centenary World War 1 event at Haigh Hall, Wigan, 2014.

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Born and raised in England, Lesley Humphrey has lived for 31 years in Houston, Texas with her husband Larry and three children.  Lesley is a prolific artist and horse aficionado. Her art is well known to Texans as well as internationally.  In her words,  Lesley “loves being a southern transplant.” You can view more of Lesley’s work at http://www.lesleyhumphrey/net.

Storytellers

I come from a long line of Storytellers.  If I asked my mother what day of the week Christmas fell on this year,  her answer might take a few minutes as she reckoned it against the events of  last year.

“It was on a Wednesday last year, I know that, because  I remember thinking I wouldn’t have to iron that week, Wednesday being my ironing day.  And I know it was last year because that’s when  Emma’s grandbabby was born.  Poor little tyke  had to have an operation of some kind.  I forget now.  Had to be in the hospital for several daysstoryteller and Emma was just beside herself.  I had to go over and help her with the housecleaning, she was so upset.  She had all that company, all the way from Oklahoma, you know.  Her two brothers, Pete and Buddy, and their wives and five kids, the oldest only seven,  her great Aunt Mary,  in a wheelchair, and Aunt Mary’s lapdog.  Meanest little cuss you ever saw.    All of them there to see the baby.   It was a crowd, I’ll tell you that.  Poor little tyke.  But  he’s OK now, you’d never know anything happened. Such a pretty baby.  And smart as a whip.   Emma’s so proud.

So since it was Wednesday last year, it must be on a Thursday this year.”

If all of that sounds a little convoluted and tedious, you don’t come from a family of Storytellers.    Nothing happens in isolation to a Storyteller.

“The Wreck At Sugarmill Junction”  is inspired by an accident that happened in a small town near my home in Louisiana. The accident itself was unremarkable. Nothing much more than a slightly damaged squad car.  What interested me was that no one who witnessed the accident saw the same thing. Not even close.   But even more intriguing was the Storytellers’  strong sense of place.  Each identified themselves in unique relationship to their community, relating the story in the context of the place and people they knew.  The Storytellers  savored, almost seemed to taste, each detail in their narrative.  In the long years away from home, I had forgotten about the Storytellers’ version of the news.   I was spellbound,  a child again, for a moment in time,  hypnotized by the lyrical cadence of the speech, the escalating excitement as the story approached its apogee,  the dramatic conclusion, the inevitable coda, “Oh, and another thing…”

Storytellers cannot be rushed.  They require a peaceful setting.  A porch swing accompanied by mending and fresh lemonade is ideal, but a vegetable garden or a kitchen will do.   Storytellers do not frequent Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. The story is based on fact,  but details can be altered if need be to make the point.   Truth, not fact,  is what Storytellers are about.

And my mother’s storytelling; while mixing biscuit dough, hanging clothes on the clothesline, sewing, picking peas from the garden;  in the midst of life is where I learned our family history.  Here is where I met my ancestral heroes and villains (in Mother’s opinion), learned about my grandmother’s struggles in the Great Depression, and her mother’s difficult life in the “War Between the States.”  Here is where I formed my concept of right and wrong, good and bad, what is acceptable behavior and what is definitely not.

My mother worked hard.  There were no vacuum cleaners, automatic dryers, microwaves or air conditioners.  Our food came mostly  from our gardens and stockyards, not the local A&P.    My clothing did not come from Neiman Marcus, my mother sewed it on a vintage Singer sewing machine.   She did not have the luxury of sitting down every morning with a Moleskin journal and a pretty pen to write her memoirs.  Her stories were her memoir.

I am afraid we’ve lost the art of storytelling.   At the least, it’s a dying art. In our large cities, the people, places and things around  us  provide little more than a backdrop for our busy lives. We rush past traffic accidents with no thought for the victims, more than a little annoyed that we’ll be late for whatever seems crucial at the time.  We read in “bytes.”  I wonder how War And Peace  would make it in our “Haiku world”.  But there’s no chance of turning back the clock, and the idea of that is no doubt better that the reality.  But, every now and then, I just need to listen to a Storyteller.

———-

Look for The News from Sugarmill Junction, Chapter 3, coming soon.

Flying Toward Forever by Marla Cantrell

Eunice Iola Mondier was my grandmother. Small and short and black-headed, with crystal blue eyes, she attended the Second Baptist Church. She sold Beauty
Eunice Mondier 001Counselor makeup. Even then, when I was a girl, I felt as if she should have attended the much bigger First Baptist Church, as if she should have sold Avon cosmetics. Those were names a person could get behind; they were A-list material. At least that’s what I thought when I was all of nine years old.
Which is a nice way to say that my family was very nearly poor and not well connected, which seemed at the time to
matter more than almost anything else.
Not that she ever said that to me. Her life suited her just fine. She wore old clothes and drove quick new cars in bright colors with wide racing stripes. She wore big straw hats and spent afternoons fishing. She got her hair done on Fridays and spent the rest of the week sleeping with a pair of satin panties on her head to keep her up-do up.
My best friend’s grandmother wore a bun, made her own clothes, and baked like she was getting graded on it. What she talked about, when I sat at her cozy kitchen table, was the weather.
My own grandmother defied storms, standing in front of her picture window as lightning struck, as hail pelted the catalpa tree, as thunder shook her little house.
You don’t learn to crochet from a grandmother like mine. You don’t learn to bake, or clean, or do cross stitch.
I did learn from her, though. She taught me the books of the Bible when I was in her Junior Sunday school class and gave me a religious charm bracelet as a reward. She picked up a raft of kids on her way to church, from places that made our trailer, that we’d parked right behind Grandma’s house, look palatial. She sang in the choir, her alto voice so low that it verged on being bass.
At home, she talked back to soap operas and indulged in a little gossip, both things my parents disapproved of. But she also took in her full-grown nephew after he suffered a brain injury that made living alone impossible. What I remember most was how she seemed to delight in him, and in doing so he got a lot better than anyone expected him to.
When I got engaged at a ridiculously young age, she kept her mouth shut and bought me a can opener. “Man’s gotta eat,” she said, and that’s all she said. Later, when the marriage failed, she told me about her first love, Alonzo Willett. I had seldom heard his name, even though he was my grandfather. The story of his treatment of my mother and grandmother was cautionary and filled with so much pain it rarely got told. But on this day she said, “There’s no love like your first love, and he was mine.”
The statement solidified everything I knew to be true about my grandmother. She was not easy to pigeonhole. She taught Sunday school, but smoked clandestinely, a big no-no in the Baptist faith. She shunned divorce but had gotten one from Alonzo in the 1930s when her community considered it treachery to do so. She remarried a saint of a man soon after, someone she loved dearly, and when he died, she went out and found a third husband. “If something happens to him,” she said, once, her head held high, “I’ll go get me another one. I can’t live without a man.”
As far as I know my grandmother never wrote anything other than a few letters, so I don’t get my writing gene from her. And she didn’t read excessively. A few magazines, the Bible, her Sunday school lesson. She had a collection of Reader’s Digest condensed books that did little more than frustrate me, so I didn’t get my incessant need for stories from her either. I don’t think I got my brains from her either. She was a dozen times smarter than I will ever be.
I like to believe I got a dose of kindness from her, but I might be flattering myself. I do know that I’m glad she wasn’t the pie-baking, hand-sewing, fairy tale-reading grandmother I thought I wanted when I was younger. She was tough like cowboys are tough, and soft they way women whose hearts are broken early sometimes are. When I think of her now, it is always when she is behind the wheel, her foot hard on the gas pedal, her eyes just barely scaling the top of the steering wheel. I want her to slow down, but she can’t, and so keeps going, until the road turns to silver beneath her and the sky opens up and takes her away.

Native Texan, by Zetta Brown

ZettaB2I was born in a very small North Texas town, and I was born a Negro…which became black…which became Afro/Black/African-American. But while American society came up with new names to call me based on my race, I just considered myself a Texan.

I remember as a child playing in the red dirt of my parent’s home town, eating Moon Pies, drinking grape Nehi or red cream sodas, giant pickles from a pickle jar, salt-and-vinegar chips like a home-grown Southern kid. I think it’s very telling that my earliest memories of living in the South centers around food.

Then we moved to Colorado and snow, which had been a novelty before but became a part of life. It didn’t take me long to realize that I’m not a huge fan of snow. My parents were surprised when we were showed homes in racially diverse neighborhoods. We wouldn’t be “blockbusting” after all.

Years later, circumstances and finances had me moving back to Texas and living with my parents. I was nervous at first, considering the stories my parents told me about growing up in the segregated South, but when I arrived and visited the small hometown my parents grew up in, I was shocked at what I saw.

A small North Texas town more racially integrated than some of the neighborhoods I left behind in Colorado.

After living in Colorado for 17 years, I came back to Texas. After living in Scotland for over seven years—I came back to Texas with my Scottish husband who loves it here.

Why? Because my roots run very deep here, unlike some of the politicians who have represented the state in recent history. Despite these “prominent” citizens, the people of Texas really are friendly, are caring, and do have common sense.

Living in Texas has made me appreciate history and especially the history of my family. History is nothing but a bunch of stories; some of it is fact, some of it is fiction, but it’s all about the story. Texans have been known to tell a tall tale or two.

The South is full of myths, legends, and stereotypes that mix in with reality and creates a wealth of inspiration for stories. But sometimes these elements turn into propaganda—for better or worse.

Is Texas perfect? Hell, no. Ever wondered why there are so many churches in the South? Because there’s a whole lotta sinnin’ goin’ on! You can’t take us at face value. You have to come and experience it for yourself.

So come on down to Texas. You may not have been born here, but like the bumper sticker says, you should get here as soon as you can.

Zetta Brown is an editor and the author of several published short stories and a novel. Her short story “Devil Don’t Want Her” is set in Texas and available as an ebook. She blogs about writing and editing at her Zetta’s Desk blog (zettasdesk.com) and has a featured blog at SheWrites.com called [REALITY CHECK]

The South Travels With Me by Sally Whitney

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeing southern is a vital part of who I am, a part I’ve never tried to disguise or discard. Growing up in North Carolina, I absorbed southern culture as easily as I inhaled air, and I thought about it just as much. It was my life; there was no need to question or remark on it.
The first time I realized southerners could be regarded as different, I was an undergraduate at Duke University. Although Duke is a southern school, many of its students come from other states and other countries. Not meaning any harm, they seemed unable to resist pointing out the oddity (to them) of our food, our wardrobes, and our accents.
Not long after college I left North Carolina and began a decades-long journey that included living in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kansas, and New Jersey. I loved the people and the experiences I encountered in each of those states. My friends who live there will continue to be friends for the rest of my life. I learned from these women that we are more alike than different. Any preconceived ideas they had about me or I had about them were purely superficial. As co-workers, as elementary school parents, as church volunteers, we respected each other, even though our speech may have been peppered with different expressions and our food with different spices.
But that’s not to say I never had to defend my southern heritage. A New Jersey co-worker once asked me, “Why do southerners talk so slow?” Of course, the answer to that is easy: “Because we think before we speak.” Not a bad idea for anyone.
Most of the time—in fact, all of the time—my southern heritage is a blessing. Interest in people (chatting in the grocery store line always delivers entertaining tidbits), acceptance of the unusual (everybody in the south has a bizarre relative), reluctance to be rude in any situation (my mother would’ve disowned me if I ever ignored a comment made directly to me), and enduring patience (you don’t cut off somebody in line at the grocery store or on the way to the exit ramp) have served me well personally and professionally. As my son said when we were discussing the importance of manners in business: “You know, Mom, good manners are just treating other people like you want to be treated.”
So I keep my southernisms with me all the time. I live in Maryland now, but no matter where I’ve lived, my sensibilities and my imagination live in the South. The short stories and novels I write are all set in the South, usually in North Carolina. And my leading characters are southern women. They’re intelligent, educated, perceptive, like many women everywhere, but they also have a vulnerability and compassion that I think are distinctly southern. Lydia Caton, protagonist of my new novel SURFACE AND SHADOW (coming from Pen-L Publishing in 2016) fights for her right to uncover the truth about a wealthy man’s suspicious death. Along the way, she’s drawn into helping the dead man’s mentally challenged granddaughter and his professionally trapped grandson.
She’s a complex southern woman—just like me.