Get the Moon Right

With the ocean’s roar in front of us and the chirping of cicadas behind us, my daughter and I sat in our beach chairs watching the strollers, shell collectors, and frolicking children. We noted an increased number of dogs on the beach and wondered about their possible discomfort. It was sweltering.

Weren’t the dogs hot? Surely, they were. Two big, brown dogs walked by, their leashes tightly held by a man. Although the canines were walking rather briskly, their long pink tongues were hanging out, and we could see that they were panting.

“You know those dogs have got to be hot as heck with all that hair,” Elizabeth said.

“I was just thinking the same thing. They look like Alaskan Huskies better equipped to handle an Iditarod race than a walk on a Southern beach.”

“Those are Huskies? They look more like German Shepherds to me.”

“I don’t know. All I know is that they aren’ t poodles or Chihuahuas. I’ll look it up in my dog book when I get home.”

“You have a dog book? Seriously?”

“Sure do. I bought it at Good Will after reading that writers should be as specific as possible.”

This morning, I remembered our conversation and tried to match the dogs with some photographs in the dog breed book.

I couldn’t decide. And in this case, it doesn’t really matter. I used the dogs as a way to introduce something I learned when reading Pat Conroy’s My Reading Life. When he was a high school student, Conroy and his English teacher visited South Carolina’s Poet Laureate, Archibald Rutledge, who suggested that Conroy make the close observation of nature part of his life’s work.

Mr. Rutledge encouraged the teen to learn the names of things and told him specifics would prove fruitful to the validity of a narrative. “A Cherokee rose, not just a rose. A swallowtail butterfly, not just a butterfly. That kind of thing,” he said. “Get the details right. Always the details.” Conroy, Pat. My Reading Life (p. 46). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

A couple of weeks after reading of the exchange between Conroy and Rutledge, someone in my writing critique group wrote, “I’d like to know more about this White Ibis” on my submission. That was her tactful way of telling me I needed to be more specific. Readers need a visual. Big dog, butterfly, and white bird aren’t enough.

A quick Google search taught me more than I needed for my short article, and I described the White Ibis as a medium-sized bird with white plumage, a reddish-orange down-curved bill, and long legs. I also mentioned that among other things, small aquatic prey, such as insects and small fishes, are dietary staples. And that’s it. The nonfiction piece wasn’t about birds and their appearance, habitats, and diet but rather a visit to an aviary.

Earlier this week, I read Eudora Welty’s “Listening” and was reminded once again of the importance of getting the facts right. Welty writes of her interest in and knowledge of the moon, stars, sun, solar system, and constellations—everything in the “velvety black sky.” But she didn’t know the moon didn’t come up in the west until Herschel Brickell, a literary critic, told her she’d misplaced it in a story.

“Always be sure you get your moon in the right part of the sky,” he said.

Curious after reading of Welty’s awakening, I wanted to know exactly about moonrise and moonset. It’s more scientific than I can comprehend, so I’m sticking to the simple explanation from May, 2009 edition of the Farmers’ Almanac.

“The Moon, more often than not, rises in the east and sets in the west; however, depending on the phase of the Moon and the time of the year, the rising might actually occur in the east-northeast or east-southeast, and the setting might take place in the west-northwest or west-southwest.”

“When the Moon is full, it rises close to due east and sets close to due west on those dates nearest the Vernal and Fall Equinoxes.”

Good to know.

Be specific. Draw a picture for the reader. And get the details right.


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Annie Moore

img_5282-1It’s been a while, maybe ten years, since I saw the above flag. Its ginormous size caught my eye, and as I walked by it, the flag began to change. The red, white, and blue stripes and stars morphed into dozens and dozens of black and white photographs. I didn’t know who the people were or where they came from, but I assumed they were either immigrants or their descendants who had emigrated from their homelands to seek refuge in the land of the free.

I’ve read that forty percent of Americans can trace their ancestry to at least one person who came through the immigration center at Ellis Island, the location of that amazing flag and its dozens of faces. On that spring morning, I had wondered away from my friends and was alone when I experienced the exhibit. I gulped. And then I began to examine each face, searching for someone with features like mine. Who am I? I wondered.

My search was in vain. Not one person looked like me.

The futile search haunted me, and the next time I went to Ellis Island, I hustled to the room where I’d seen the flag a few years prior. It was gone. Downcast, I went from hall to hall, room to room, until at last I spied the flag. Just the flag, no faces.

I stared at the familiar icon for a few minutes and then visited exhibits of photographs, audio, and video of people who arrived on the island to be processed before entering New York. Located in the New York Harbor between New York and New Jersey, Ellis Island welcomed millions of newly arrived immigrants through its doors for over sixty years. In fact, estimates are that close to 40 percent of all current U.S. citizens can trace at least one of their ancestors back to this processing center at the mouth of the Hudson River.

Lady Liberty stands proudly in the harbor, her right hand holding a torch aloft. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” she says. She stands in plain view from the windows of the Ellis Island processing center, and I’ve often wondered how many American newcomers saw and responded to her.

Quick story. Once at a writing conference, I heard a middle-aged writer tell of his Greek father’s arrival in America. Father and son were fishing on one of the piers in Myrtle Beach, and the teen, in an effort to better understand his father, asked, “Who was the most beautiful woman you ever saw?”

“The lady in the harbor,” he replied, his voice tremulous with emotion.

Born and raised in the United States, the boy was both taken aback and moved by his dad’s revelation.

But back to that forty percent mentioned above. I looked up the name of the first immigrant to be processed at Ellis Island. Turns out it was Annie Moore, a seventeen-year-old who arrived from Ireland with two younger brothers on the S.S. Nevada in 1892. Her parents were already living in New York. Sources indicate that Annie died at fifty and spent her life on New York’s Lower East Side. She gave birth to ten children, and this morning I’m thinking of her descendants.

The first line of my husband’s DNA report: “Ireland 39%.” No, I’m not claiming lineage to Annie Moore, just reminding myself and all the rest of us, that unless you’re related to a Native American, your ancestors were immigrants too.

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What Are You Working On?

Critiquing behind us, someone at our writing group meeting asked what everyone was working on. I mentioned that I wrote a little something every day even if it was just jotting down a gratitude list or some observations on something I’d seen or overheard. Sometimes I might even make up some dialogue based on seeing people talk.

A couple of people said they always felt inspired after reading something. Me too. More often than not, however, there’s an interlude between the reading and the writing, mainly because real life intrudes. I get busy with painting, doing laundry, dining with friends, reading……..

Excuses behind me, here’s what I’ve been reading lately and a synopsis of my takeaways so far.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. Recommended by a couple of people in my writing group, the book explains a lot about the 2016 election. Page after well-written page about life in Appalachia and the Rust Belt reveal an alternate universe right here in these United States. Vance describes neglect, hunger, drug abuse, poverty and a host of other issues that many folks would rather not acknowledge.

In one scene Vance describes eight pairs of eyes peeking from behind curtains at him and a cousin as they walked by. The eight pairs of eyes belonged to hungry children with “an unsettling combination of fear and longing.” Their thin, young, jobless father was on the front porch.

In another scene, the author discusses an episode of The West Wing in which the president considers possible solutions to problems in education: should he push school vouchers that would allow children to escape failing public schools or focus on fixing those same failing schools? Vance notes that the issues surrounding the struggle of poor kids in school pretty much always emphasize the schools themselves. But then he adds a quote from one of his former high school teacher. “They want us to be shepherds to these kids. But no one wants to talk about the fact that many of them are raised by wolves.” Sobering.

I ordered Mary Antin’s The Promised Land (free on Kindle) after hearing about it from Garrison Keillor. My world is expanding. Until I began the book, first published in 1912, I didn’t even know there were Jews living in that part of Russia. I’m learning a lot about life there, especially for Jews. From bullying to marriage traditions and food to festivals, I recognize that Judaism is not just a religion but also a lifestyle with a set of principles and beliefs that underscore every aspect of life.

Here’s a quote that saddens me. “The first time Vanka threw mud at me, I ran home and complained to my mother, who brushed off my dress and said , quite resignedly, ”How can I help you my poor child? Vanka is a Gentile. The Gentiles do as they like with us Jews.” Although I haven’t read that far yet, I know the author and her family emigrate from Russia and settle in America, and I’m looking forward to her observations and insights about her new land.

Dipping into The Hidden Life of Trees  has me considering whether to plant a tree next to a sad-looking crepe myrtle tree in our front yard. The author, Peter Wohlleben, says trees are connected and that they provide nutrients to each other through their root systems. “It never does anything,” my husband often says about the fragile, solitary tree. He wants to dig it up and replace it with something more green and stately, something that flowers colorfully in the spring and summer. I want to plant another tree close-by, one whose roots can mingle with the lone one.

I’ve realized once again that I read more nonfiction than fiction, and that’s my excuse for not being able to write fiction. One of these days, maybe I’ll surprise my critique group with an awesome story filled with authentic dialogue and a believable plot. But for now, it’s back to reading Hillbilly Elegy.

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Name Change?

I enjoy blogging.

It gives me the opportunity to write about things I care about and share them with others. Plus, blogging puts me in touch with other like-minded people who may think similar things….or who can teach me a thing or two about topics I’m interested in. Some people blogging as a waste of time. I see it as good practice.

Today it’s time to make some changes, and I’m hoping that by writing about past and current blogs, I’ll gain insight on how to proceed.

Over the past dozen years, I’ve begun and maintained and discarded several blogs, each with a different purpose. It takes a lot of energy and time to compose, proof, and post a blog, and following the principles of reciprocity to read and respond to others’ blogs is a huge time eater.

At one time I had six blogs; now I have two.

The first was Mom’s Musings. It’s one of the two I still have today although I have become neglectful of late. When I created Mom’s Musings, that’s how I saw myself: a mom. Things have changed now, expanded. I’m now a grandmother and a retiree. I’ve kept the blog because it’s a catchall place where any and everything goes. Travel, religion, politics…it’s all there.

When I was still working full-time and looking for a way for my students to express themselves and perhaps earn a little extra credit, I began a blog titled PsychCentral. It worked well. I’d post once or twice a week, and in its heyday, I could always count on some responses. It was popular because of the topics and the extra credit. Students who were reticent about speaking up in class found a forum for their thoughts.

This blog, Gossip and Solitude, is supposed to be about all things writing: personal projects, writing woes, critique groups, writing tips, book reviews, and personal writing discoveries. The title came from a phrase in one of writer Nancy Peacock’s books in which she says writers need two things: gossip and solitude. Yes!

I enjoyed using the WordPress format and decided to start another blog, Beating a Path, about teaching in a community college. It included experiences in and out of the classroom and advice for students who wanted to succeed in college. That blog eventually became a self-published book, Crossing the Bridge: Succeeding in a Community College and Beyond.  Since many of the posts related to teaching, I’m now using some material in what I hope will be a fun and interesting book about teaching in a two-year college.

Soon after Crossing the Bridge was published, I developed a blog based on the book. It had minimal activity and quite frankly, was a lot of work. Many writers base blogs on writing projects and post updates hoping to engage would-be readers. Or at least, I think that’s their purpose. After a few months, I deleted Crossing the Bridge.

Several years ago, I used Blogspot to post Eve’s Sisters. A sister-in-law invited me to a Bible study about Queen Esther, and the course ignited an interest in learning more about the women of the Bible. Before that experience, I had naively thought of Ruth, Rachel, and Rebekah as paragons of virtue—if I thought of them at all. And Rahab and Tamar and Bathsheba were strangers to me.

I began learning more about the women of the Old and New Testaments and started a blog exploring how their stories bore many similarities to our stories today. It was fun. I was on fire. At some point, I realized I had enough material for a book, and my blog became Eve’s Sisters the book. I’ve deleted the blog and have been faithful to WordPress ever since.

Summative statement (at last): Blogging can be fun. It provides writing practice, puts you in contact with people with all sorts of interests, and can even provide material for a book. For me, I’m down to two blogs, one on reading and writing and the other on life. But now I need a new title besides Mom’s Musings. Help!

Posted in Biblical women, blogging, books, books on college success, books on teaching, college success, community college students, community college teaching, nancy peacock, reading, stories, teaching profession, Uncategorized, women in the Bible, writing | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

I’m Doing, I’m Doing


Whenever someone asks my husband how he is, he often replies, “I’m doing, I’m doing.” By his tone of voice, I know that means, “I’m doing okay.” When someone asks me how I am, I usually say, “Fine.”

Neither of us is very specific.

Today a friend asked me how I was, and I immediately thought of something I’d read years ago. Although it was in some psych literature, it wasn’t scientific—but interesting. According to the writer, there are four basic emotions: glad, sad, mad, and scared.

There are layers of feelings within each of the four categories. I was feeling fine today, relatively upbeat and “glad.” Then I heard a friend laugh. And laugh again. And again. Before long, I found myself laughing along even though I was in another room. A person who’s sad could have the blues or be clinically depressed. A scared person could be a little anxious or downright terrified.

Back to the question from my friend. It prompted me to think of how those four emotions apply to me today. Tomorrow might be a totally different story. A lot can happen between now and then.

I’m glad to be part of a network of family and friends, one of them a two-year-old granddaughter who likes to have her toenails painted a bright pink color. She makes me laugh. Another granddaughter has a bearded lizard whom she loves so much that she brought him to Camden with her this weekend. I found his mealworms in the refrigerator this morning. Ksjf98emks (I just learned that’s a keysmash, a term used to express strong emotion). I’m glad that my children are all well and responsible and sane and kind. I’m glad to have had about a dozen high school friends over for lunch today. We had not one, but two, delicious desserts, and some people sampled both.

I’m sad for all the suffering in the world and for the hungry children. Even the Palmetto State has its share…and then some. Some sources say one in five children in South Carolina has hunger issues. I wish I knew for certain what these children were doing for lunch now that school’s out for the summer. And don’t even get me started on the refugees.

I’m mad at man’s inhumanity to man. I’m heartsick/helpless/angry about Otto Warmbier and his senseless death. What can be done to combat such evil? Anything?

I’m scared of the boogey man, of uncertainty, of the world my grandchildren will inherit. I shudder when I imagine Warmbier’s reaction to the news that he’s being forced to stay in North Korea while his friends are flying home. I’m upset (good all-purpose word) when I allow myself to think of his parents and the horror and pure unadulterated fear they undoubtedly experienced month after month.

Looking at the above list, I can say truthfully say, “I’m fine.” Sure, I feel sad and mad and scared, but it looks like glad heads the list for the evening. I could easily get on a soapbox and expound on social injustice, prejudice, judgmental attitudes, and a host of other issues. But not tonight. Tonight I’m counting my blessings and pondering what I can do to make more things right.

What about you? How are you? 

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Just-World Fallacy



This morning a Facebook post from June 4, 2011 popped up among my memories of that day and prompted this post.

Have you ever wondered why good things happen to bad people, especially when the cheating, no-account, lazy, shiftless liars appear to live charmed lives? I’m overstating the situation, but honestly, I do see good people suffer in especially painful ways, and I have to ask myself why.

A friend recommended You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney. “a compendium of information about self-delusion and the wonderful ways we all succumb to it.“ I’m enjoying the book and its reminders of the dozens of ways we delude ourselves in order to make sense of the world. Among others, we use the confirmation bias, self-handicapping, groupthink, and the self-serving bias (love this one). Rereading about these fallacies in thinking was like taking a refresher course.

But then I came to the just-world fallacy, the tendency to see the world as just and fair. It stopped me in my tracks.

People have a misconception, McRaney writes, that people who are losing at the game of life must have done something to deserve it. Maybe they’re lazy bums. Or perhaps they made poor choices or are addicted to drugs, cheated on their income tax, or dropped out of school. The truth, like life, is more complicated than that.

Since we like to view the world as just and fair, we perceive the people with the trophies, the winners, as having worked hard. They buckled down in school, dressed for success at work, paid their tithing at church, helped little old ladies cross the street, and set goals with the best of them. While this is sometimes true, McRaney reminds his readers that it’s just as likely that the beneficiaries of good fortune did little to deserve it.

Sometimes good people who follow all the rules can’t seem to get a break no matter how hard they try. Sometimes bad things happen to good people.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to teach a young woman whose goal was to become a pediatric nurse. She had served a stint in the Air Force before beginning the nursing program at Central Carolina. That summer Tricia was in one of my Human Growth and Development sections, and she made an immediate and lasting impression. Bright and spirited, she enjoyed sparring with her classmates over issues of child development. I sensed that a compassionate heart beat beneath that tough exterior.

I was right. We became Facebook friends after her graduation, and I learned of her desire to serve a medical mission in Haiti. She served several such missions and developed a love for the Haitian people.

On a somewhat regular basis, Tricia posted about her work in the medical field and her love for God. She’d often post a scripture and link it to something that had happened to her at work or within her family. She and her husband had a baby, and all was well.

About a year ago, I realized I hadn’t seen any recent posts on Facebook from her. I figured she’d probably just moved on. Or maybe she’d deleted her account. Then again, hmmm, perhaps she’d unfriended me. At some point, I put her name in the search bar.

Her cover photo was one of many taken at her Memorial Service in April, 2016.

How could it be that someone with such promise, someone on the cusp of her adult life as a wife, mother, and nurse, die?  There was no information about cause of death.

Months later,  I was cruising along I-95 when someone in the front seat asked, “Did you ever teach _______ _______?”

“Yes. But she died. Not sure why, but I’d be willing to bet her husband did it.”

Silence from the front seat. And then, “Yeah, that’s what happened. It was in the Sumter papers. Air Force, right?”

“Her husband was still in the Air Force, but I think he was stationed somewhere else. Virginia, maybe.”

My informant shared the particulars of Tricia’s murder, and I confirmed them for myself that same evening. Her death was untimely, gruesome. She left a bereft family behind, including a precious child. And this young woman was a winner who had a heart and mind and spirit superior to many. Her death is yet another reminder of the just-world fallacy.

Why do bad things happen to good people? 

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Anyone who’s read this blog on even a somewhat regular basis knows I’ve written a book about teaching community college students. Truthfully, the book is more of a project, a work-in-progess, since it’s still on my Mac awaiting edits. It needs some jazzing up, something to make it more enjoyable to read and a format that’s more inviting.

Last month I read Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon. Interesting, I thought.

Last week, I read it again, this time with a greater appreciation for Kleon’s creative approach to encouraging artists, writers, musicians, and creative people of all sorts. How does someone so young know how to put together such a plethora of information in a work that’s both engaging and instructive?

I’ll add motivational to the mix, too. Kleon’s inclusion of Craig Damauer’s quote brought a smile to my lips and a nudge to my muse:  “Modern art = I could do that + Yeah, but you didn’t.” I asked myself, So what if people don’t like your work? So what if they think they can do it better? Get it out there, Jayne.

I recently gave a friend a copy of William James’ Talks to Teachers on Psychology, and although the cover is colorful and trendy and not my friend’s style, the font is larger, and there are spaces between paragraphs. It’s basically all text with no frills, but the updated version is easier to read. Some people expect more these days. They don’t want just to learn…they want their books to be pretty too.

Have magazines with their slick photographs and engaging layouts spoiled us, thus upping our desire for something more than straight text? Or is it the digital age allowing everyone the freedom to express themselves without fear of censure that’s whetted our appetites for more than just “good” writing? Have mediums such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and various blogging sites encouraged people to thumb their noses at would-be critics?

Editing is hard, especially when there’s a lot of tweaking to be done. I want my book to hit somewhere between Steal Like An Artist and Talks to Teachers. I want it to be interesting and inviting, but I also want it to be educational and beneficial. As it is now, the manuscript is heavy on “Thou shalts” and light on illuminating stories and fun experiences.

Everything I know about teaching is what I learned after joining the profession. Observation, evaluations from supervisors and students, and discussions with colleagues went a long way in shaping my thinking, attitude, and performance. So did courses and seminars.

On my first day of class, I somehow found my voice and jumped into the business at hand. I called the roll, distributed the syllabus, and went over all six pages of notes scribbled on my yellow legal pad. Then I gave out some note cards and asked the students to answer three or four questions about themselves before leaving for the day. As the first person rose to turn in his note card, I noted that it was 10:20. All that work, all those notes, all that talking, and it was only 10:20!

I learned two things that morning: (1) I enjoyed the classroom magic, and (2) I had a lot to learn. I want my “project” to morph into an informative, fun book that introduces  would-be teachers to the magic of a classroom and offers beneficial advice about what to do once inside that classroom.

Students and teachers, do you have some advice for me to include? Or an amusing or enlightening story? 

Posted in books, books on teaching, community college teaching, competent teachers, Uncategorized, writing, writing projects | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Pistol Packing Grandmother

It’s turning out to be a mammoth task, this family history that I’ve been working on for a couple of years. I’ll start and stop and then start again. I’m fascinated by the people and their lives, but well, I feel inadequate to tell their stories without more research.

I’m working on the research aspect, and in the meantime, I’ve have been jotting down thoughts and memories on a daily basis. Or at least every other day. Last week we saw a second cousin and his wife at a local restaurant and had an interesting and enlightening chat in the parking lot.

“What do you write about all the time?” his wife asked.

“Whatever I’m thinking about. Or sometimes I just jot down notes in a journal.”

“Like what?” she wanted to know.

“It depends. Sometimes it’s a list of things I’m thankful for, and other times, it might be a scene or conversation or memory I want to get down before I forget it.”

She looked disappointed. “Oh,” was all she said.

“Lately, though, I’ve been working on a family history, and it’s turning out to be harder than I thought.”

“How so?” she asked, her interest piqued.

“Well, for one thing, ignorance. Plain old ignorance about people. I know their names but very little about them.”

I looked at my cousin who’d been quietly standing by. “For instance, I have only one memory of our great grandmother, and she was old and frail and gray haired. Seems like her hair was in a bun.”

“Yep, that’d be her. She spent a lot of her last months in a wheelchair, but she wasn’t always sick and weak.”

“I wish I’d known her better. I understand she was a feisty little woman in her younger years.”

My cousin smiled. “I’ve been told she was quite handy with a pistol. Used to stand on her front porch and wait for a chicken to walk past and then she’d raise her pistol and shoot it for dinner.”

“No! Are you kidding?” I could visualize my great grandmother standing on the high front porch that overlooked a long road leading from the highway to the Hegler home. The yard was her focus on chicken-shooting days, though. Not the road.

“Nope. It’s true,” he said. Grinning, he added, “When she came to our house in Camden, Mother would always make her check two things at the door, her pistol and her snuff box.”

My knowledge of Great Grandmother Annie Jane was growing. The chicken shooting story gave credence to the daughter-in-law shooting tale I’d heard. Apparently, Annie Jane thought her son’s wife was an intruder when she came in from work one night, and thinking to teach the would-be trespasser a lesson, my great grandmother shot the younger woman in the stomach.

We parted company with my cousin and his wife with a promise to take a day trip to check out the stomping grounds of our shared relatives. Unless my math is off, one eighth of my DNA comes from a pistol-packing grandmother who shot chickens for dinner and “intruders” for protection.

Today I had lunch with a couple of old friends, and at some point our conversation turned to family and the need to preserve our memories of those who came before so that their posterity can know of their heritage. A few hours later, I’m sitting on our screened-in porch listening to birdsong and watching the tree branches dance and sway to the breeze.

Did my grandmothers ever have the leisure to sit and listen and think and write? It’s time for me to get to get back to work on their history and see if I can discover more about how they spent their days.

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Fourteen Years Ago…

Braden texted me yesterday afternoon to remind me that today was his fourteenth birthday. I smiled at his words and texted back. “Hi! You still have about nineteen and a half hours. I know because I was waiting in the hall with Granddaddy Crolley.”

He texted back with pictures from the middle school yearbook and the words, “Yep, then I’ll be 14.” Braden added a few emoticons, and right there next to the bananas, my eyes began stinging as I recalled the afternoon of his birth. I marveled at how a tiny newborn could have grown into such a handsome fellow exchanging texts with one of his grandmothers fourteen years later.

I wrote about Braden’s birth in a story entitled “Older Brother,” and although I can’t find the original manuscript, I’m copying some of it from the 2011 The Petigru Review.

My sweet daughter, a tough little cookie, had delivered a perfectly formed, three pound baby boy on a December night a year and a half before Braden was born. The baby, Spencer Paul, was stillborn, the word itself an oxymoron. He was still, unmoving and without breath or cry, and yet he was born.

Here’s part of the story from TPR.

“….we stood outside the door, me with my chin trembling and trying not to weep. Her father, on the surface, appeared calm, but I knew he too was troubled.

“A woman, probably in her 30s with brown hair and dark glasses, looked at us with concern. She walked over, hugged me, and said some reassuring words. I later learned she was a doctor. There’s a lot to be said for the kindness of strangers and eight years later, I still think of her compassion.

“Carrie’s father and I made small talk while we waited, me tearful and him stoic, a rock. Memories of the events of a year and a half earlier flooded my mind, and I became increasingly agitated and anxious.

“What’s taking so long?” I wailed.

“It hasn’t really been that long,” he replied. “Things are fine. Nothing to worry about.” Whether he believed his own words, I don’t know.

“The minutes ticked by. All we could hear were muffled sounds coming from the other side of the closed door. Was everything okay? Why didn’t they tell us something? Was the baby here? Was Carrie all right?

‘That’s when I heard it—the cry of a newborn. At first weak, Braden’s cry became stronger and louder. It was the most wonderful sound I’d heard in years. Laughing and crying at the same time, I looked at his grandfather and read relief and joy in his eyes.

“After what seemed like an eternity instead of a mere twenty minutes, we were allowed to enter the room. There was my grandson cradled in the arms of my beautiful daughter, her face beaming. Weeping with happiness and relief, I hugged her tightly and then put my hand on Braden’s tiny chest as it went up and down, up and down, breathing in life.”

That was fourteen years ago, almost to the minute. Now Braden is an awesome teenager. Responsible, smart, handsome, and kind, he’s a delight to be around. He’s chosen to spend his birthday weekend with the South Carolina side of his family in Myrtle Beach this weekend. Why the beach? It’s one of his favorite places. 🙂




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Two Words

A friend posted something on Facebook yesterday that I’ve been pondering ever since. She wrote of her ambivalent feelings about Mother’s day and her awareness that it’s not a happy flowers and chocolates kind of day for everyone.

There are mothers who have lost children and children who have lost mothers. I have a friend whose mother passed away when my young friend was only age seven, a deep cut that never completely healed. There are mothers and children with strained relationships. There are women who’ve chosen not to have children and those who long for a child. There are are those with children they didn’t want…or who are a disappointment or burden to them.

This morning I listened to a podcast that reaffirmed the fact that while there are excellent mothers, there are terrible ones, too. The things some parents do to their children are Horrible, Horrific, and Heinous. In my sheltered little world, mothers were kind and loving. They washed your clothes, prepared your food, and kissed your boo-boos. I recall having a visceral reaction, a nauseating one, as I read about the cruelty inflicted on Chris Sizemore, the real “Eve” in The Three Faces of Eve.

Trust me when I say that I’ve read about and listened to accounts of mistreatment and neglect by mothers that haunt me. Like my friend, I’m sensitive to the negative emotions experienced on Mother’s day. I too feel ambivalent about its celebration. At the same time, I had a wonderful mother and wish others could have had the same experience. Would keeping quiet about her virtues assuage their pain? No.

As writer Marianne Williamson said, your playing small serves no one (paraphrase). Downplaying my mother’s life and influence serves no one.

Here’s an incident that occurred late in my mother’s life that, in two short words, shows what kind of woman raised me and my fortunate siblings.

About two years before she died, my mother and I were going through some growing pains that were trying for both of us. Determined to make my own choices at the ripe age of fifty, I turned a deaf ear to her entreaties to straighten up and fly right.

Talking didn’t work. Nothing did. Neither of us wanted to say anything to wound or upset the other. I decided to take Melody Beattie’s advice and detach with love so that both of us could simmer down and develop some empathy.

For years, I had faithfully called her each Sunday evening at 6:00 PM. In those days, a long distance call was serious business—expensive too. But Sunday night arrived, and I couldn’t/wouldn’t dial her number. I felt burdened, bothered, and befuddled, and I didn’t want to hear any words of wisdom no matter how well-intended. She didn’t call me either.

Another Sunday came and went. No call, no words, no communication. I swallowed hard, a lump in my throat. Was she angry? Hurt? Uncaring? I could be stubborn, too!

 The following Sunday was Mother’s day, and as the week unfolded, I began to get antsy. I had never missed spending that day with my mother and knew that regardless of my attitude, I couldn’t miss this one either. She was my mother, after all, and a darned good one. The best.

On Friday morning, I dialed her number. The phone rang and rang until finally her message machine clicked on. Phew, I didn’t have to talk yet. I left a cryptic, matter-of-fact message about coming to see her on Mother’s day and hung up, relieved that I’d done something. The ball was in her court.

The phone rang five minutes later. This was before the day of Caller ID, and I didn’t dream she’d be calling back so soon.

“Hello,” I said.

“Hello, Darlin’,” my mother said, her voice the first I’d heard upon my arrival on Earth, the voice of reason, comfort, assurance, discipline, forgiveness, and love. Always love. In those two words, I heard everything I needed to know.

That’s the kind of mother I had.

While I appreciate Mother’s day and all it symbolizes, I realize that everyone doesn’t feel the same way. There are women and men, boys and girls, who suffer each of the twenty-four hours of the day and just want it to be done. I’m sensitive to that, and yet I couldn’t let another day pass without paying tribute to Mama.


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