The Barefoot Heart

adventures & derring-do in the third half of life

Page 2 of 80

16: The Engineer and The Artist, Sitting In a Tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G . . .



There were love letters hand delivered by my friend who had the most adorable little brother who had a crush on me. Larry, biological brother to my friend Valerie sent this card that still tickles me. When we were close enough, Larry would sidle up beside me, reach his arm up, and put it around my waist. His mama said she knew he was a heterosexual from the get-go because he loved me so. In addition to the cards and occasional letter, he made me hand-crafted campaign signs:


(In a scant three weeks, I’ll be acting as toastmaster and standing in for Valerie to deliver the toast as her adorable little brother (now my Other Brother) takes the equally adorable Becky to be his lawfully wedded wife. I wish her notes and love letters on her pillow at night that are so sweet, she’ll find a beautiful box to keep them in.)

The days when a male showed his affection by clubbing a woman on the head and dragging her off to his lair by the hair on her head were (fortunately) long gone by the time I cared if boys liked me or not, but that doesn’t mean that when boys of my own age first began liking girls (and vice versa), there weren’t mating calls and rituals to be had . . .

When we got old enough to take an interest in boys, we’d kick the school year off with a denim-covered three-ring binder with a clip on the inside front cover and, using our new ball point pins, we graffitied the cover with declarations of our love for the boy du jour. Those of us who liked to plan ahead would even practice writing our married name – Mr. and Mrs. The Engineer – and get used to writing our new initials that would eventually appear on luggage and pinky rings. Of course when the inevitable break-up came, well, that was a problem requiring a new notebook or finding a new boyfriend who happened to have the same initials as the old one.

Teddybears and other trinkets were won at county fairs to show a guy’s undying love for his girlfriend. In second grade, Jeff C. was out for a week while his family went on vacation. The day he came back, I took my seat to find a set of wings – you know, the kind the stewardesses flight attendants would give well-behaved children as a reward or badly-behaved children as a bribe – waiting in the pencil trough of my desk. Though he never said a word, I caught him watching me and smiling that big goofy smile of his, so I kinda’ put two and two together and figured this was from him. And who could ever forget that ill-fated box of chocolate covered cherries intended for me as a gift from Allen S. and Kent J.

Speaking of candy, back in Those Days we gave valentines only to those we wanted to give them to, and it was always a thrill to take possession of the white lunch bag bearing your name and the red hearts you’d attached to festoon it and see who all had given you a valentine. Dan W. and I shared a Valentine’s Birthday – in fact, our mothers met in the hospital after giving birth – so every year he gave me a big ole’ heavily-decorated box of candy, and I gave him a model car I bought in Scarbrough’s drugstore. We stopped that practice about 10 years ago when I no longer needed the extra inches around my waist and his eyesight got so bad he couldn’t see the little tiny car parts.

The older we got, the most public we became with our love-interest allegiances. When smitten with Dana in high school, Teevie Lee (a.k.a. Steven S.) declared his love by spray painting their initials on all three 4-way stop signs in the county. (Steven is an artist now. I think we can see where he got his start.) And Gordon K. took up a lot of our time in Mr. Mac’s Advanced Algebra-Trig class ranting about how unfair it was that he and Terry G. couldn’t get married at the ripe old age of 17.

Possessives were fine in those pre-feminist days when a boy could make a girl swoon by calling her “my girl”. “Nobody talks to my girl that way,” he’d say. or “How’s my girl doing?” and yes, to know that you belonged to him would bring on a swoon. At least on the inside.

Boys also showed their love by walking with their arms around their girl’s shoulder. And in the days of bench seats in cars, we girls would slide over and sit real close to our guy who’d rest his arm on the back of the seat behind us. He’d handle the steering and clutch, we’d shift the gears – that’s how we got to where we wanted to go.

One way we’d let a guy know we liked him was to pull the tab off the back of his oxford cloth button-down-the-front shirt. This wasn’t necessarily a declaration of love – especially when the tab came off with shirt attached – but generally a girl didn’t bother to collect tabs of guys she wasn’t interested in.

Of course there were the couples who went to the drive-in theater or parking in certain secluded pastures and woods, but I wouldn’t know much about that. Moving on . . .

In the fall, I always tried to date a football player because, well, there was just something special about waiting by the locker room door for your big hunka hunka burning love to come out with his hair wet from the showers and his clothes clinging to his body from the heat. As The Girls Who Dated Football Players, it was our unspoken duty to monitor their post-game moods. If our team won, we’d give them our biggest smile and run into their arms with all the squeal and delight we could muster. If they lost, we quietly took their hand and squeezed it hard, inviting them to tell us all about it only later in the privacy of the car on our way to the post-game party in somebody’s basement or to Dell’s where we’d celebrate or drown our sorrows, depending on the scoreboard.

For the away games, we paid our buck fifty and rode the student bus, and not that I would ever two-time my boyfriend, but on the rare football season when I wasn’t dating a player, those of us with dates or crushes would leave about mid-way through fourth quarter to get a good seat in the back of the student bus where we could make out talk about the game the whole way home. Whether we were coming back from the north or the south, we had our landmarks that served as our cue to start singing the school’s alma mater – boys and girls alike – and I declare, to this day, I can’t think of a sweeter feeling or sound than when people would release their lip locks, sit up straight, and sing, some of us providing a little harmony on the last line.

Our strong band, can ne’er be broken,
Here at Fayette High,
For surpassing wealth unspoken
Sealed by friendship’s ties.
Alma mater, Alma mater
Loud her praises tell
Hail to thee, our alma mater
Fayette High, all hail.

Warning: this paragraph could be out of place in the chronological order of things, but . . . Eventually the kissing started – the Kiwanis-run skating rink saw many a first kiss, especially on the side where you sat to put your skates on. I didn’t own my own skates, mind you (I never did learn to pick my feet up when skating), but I did own a wicked pretty set of orange and white pom-poms with a bell in the center that I tied onto my rented skates. – and I’m kinda’ proud, in a strange way, to tell you that if the boys are to be believed, my cousin Elender excelled in kissing. Rumor has it that Webb excelled on the guys’ side of things, (but I wouldn’t know because whenever we were together, Webb and I spent our time choreographing dances to the then-popular songs). If practice makes perfect, Chris R> would take home the trophy for kissing. (At our last high school reunion, I asked everybody who’d ever been kissed by Chris to stand up. Every single one of the guys stood as did a few of the girls.)

Our mothers got together and decided that we girls could double date at age 15 and single date when we turned 16. It was a complicated rule book that allowed boys to come visit us at our house from age 14 to 16, and when I dated Joe L. before either of us turned 16, he would come to call behind the hweel of his John Deere tractor. When I turned 16, Joe was still 15, his dadd would chauffeur us around in his big ole’ green Buick, and a couple of times we were lucky enough to get his sister, Dixie, to drop us off to see a movie (the first one we saw together was Bonnie & Clyde, in case you’re wondering) while she shopped.

When it became serious enough, boys gave girls Their Senior Rings. Some girls wore the ring on a chain around their neck. Me, though, I didn’t want to invite back problems, much preferring to wear that honking big thing on my finger so it would hit up against everything I came within 3 feet of. How’d I get it to stay on, you ask? A little kitchen magic did the trick. I boiled some water in one pan, and in a separate pan went a little Gulf Wax clear paraffin that I tinted to the desired color with crayons melted in with the wax. When the wax turned to liquid, I’d pull the pan off the stove and let the wax cool till it was of pliable consistency. Then I took up a blob of it, kneaded it in my hand until it began to get hard, and put it inside the ring. I slid the ring onto my finger to shape the wax to the desired thickness and contour, then removed the ring and used a sharp knife to cut the excess wax off each side. If something went awry and the ring showed knife marks or looked like those Christmas candles we made by pouring hot wax over a milk carton filled with ice cubes, I removed the wax and started over.

To Be Continued . . .


Along with the love notes and campaign signs, Jeanne still has the airline wings, the lavalier, the fraternity pin, the engagement ring, and the wedding ring, but alas, she can’t show you pictures cause everything’s atop the mountain while she is not.

Jeanne is conjuring a story a day for 100 days, and while most are technically rough drafts, she hopes you enjoy them around, over, and through the rough spots. If you want them delivered right to your mailbox every morning, mash the button at the top of the screen where it says “right this way” and follow directions. Or you can become friends with Jeanne over in facebook land.

15: Recalling the Essence When the Specifics Escape Us


He chatted with his mama in her room at the nursing home for a while. Realizing that she didn’t recognize him, he asked, “Betty Jo, do you know who I am?”

“No,” she said after studying his face closely, “I don’t.”

“I’m your son,” he told her, pointing to the big picture she had of him on her wall.

Miss Betty Jo looked at the picture, then back at him, then at the picture, then back at him. “No you’re not,” she said confidently, “but he’s a real good man so I can see why you’d want to be like him.”

This was, as it turns out, the last thing my childhood friend Webb Howell ever said to me. His mama was right, you know – he was indeed a good man, and a fella could certainly do worse for a role model.


Jeanne Hewell-Chambers is bad to tear up at tender stories.

100 Days, 100 Stories. If you want them to land in your e-mailbox every morning, avail yourself of the free subscription by mashing the button in the orange bar at the top of the screen or become friends with Jeanne on facebook.

14: Dancing Fools


I don’ know how we got the gig, six 7th grade girls as go-go dancers for a band made up of High School Boys, but if we ever once thought that our association with these High School Boys would raise our stock with our classmates in elementary school, we were sorely mistaken.

We wore our little league cheerleader’s uniform – circle skirts made of blue corduroy with white lining, blue bloomers, white short-sleeved shirts with peter pan collars, fold-down socks with saddle oxfords – and lest someone commit a faux pas and mistake us for cheerleaders, I borrowed my teacher’s stencil and made us little tiny tags to tape to our blouses proclaiming us to the world as Go-Go Girls.

The song the boys chose to perform for the local talent show was Louie, Louie, and apparently there were some bad words in it (which is probably why they selected it, although it occurs to me just now that it could be that Louie, Louie was the only song they knew how to play) but since nobody on the Kiwanis Club selection committee could actually pick out the bad words when listening to the song played by the original artist, the band won on a technicality. Members of the band never spoke to us, not even as we waited in the wings for our their name to be called. They prepared the music. We listened to our 45 rpm vinyl and practiced our dancing, without ever considering that Louie, Louie, when performed by this bunch of High School Boys, might not sound exactly the same as it did on our record. We went on stage together, performed as we said we would, then exited and went our own ways. There was no getting to know each other, no hey-could-your-parents-bring-you-to-town-so-we-could-work-some-things-out-over-a-milkshake, no expressions of appreciation, congratulations, or hey-could-your-parents-bring-you-to-town-so-we-could-celebrate-over-a-milkshake afterwards.

I thought about that last night as we danced the night away while The Village People sang Macho Man, In the Navy, and the perennial crowd favorite, YMCA. (Did you know that to make the M by letting your elbows stick up in the air as you put your fingertips on your shoulders is WRONG? It is with a red face that I tell you that I, long-time/hard-core Village People fan that I am, didn’t either till last night.) My daughter, Alison knows The Biker, and tired as he was, he still came over to meet us for a drink at a nearby restaurant last night after the show. We talked and laughed and laughed and talked for a couple of hours that passed in a snap. Eric is so approachable, so attractive, so affable, so easy and fun to be with. All that, and he’s talented to boot. He regaled us with stories from the road, we talked Southern to him, and I declare: he may be a California turned New Jersey boy, but he’s got a streak of Southern in him, too.

You know, next time I see him, I’m gonna’ suggest they get them six go-go-girls as stage dressing. Just picture it: Biker, Construction Worker, GI, Policeman, Indian, Cowboy AND Go-Go Girls – three on each side of the stage. This could work. This could really work.


Though she can no longer fit into her cheerleading/go-go girl get-up, Jeanne Hewell-Chambers needs only two feet and a floor to dance. Stories are her music now as she waltzes through 100 stories in 100 days. You can add her to your dance card by mashing the button in the orange bar at the top of the screen and becoming friends on facebook.

13: Pink Galoshes Portrait: Maude Hewell


Allow me to introduce you:
Starting with the adorable little boy in the left forefront
and working our way around:
Crawford Hewell, Jr., who would grow up to be my daddy
Crawford Hewell, Sr., a.k.a. Granddaddy
The woman is Maude (Montie) Gay Hewell, a.k.a. Grandmother
And the chubby little baby she’s holding is the fella I’m named after:
my Uncle Gene

. . . . .


When it was time to bury Juanita, her one-day old daughter,
she tied a knot and hung on.

When Edgar and Earl, her twin boys, were born dead,
she tied a knot and hung on.

When the tractor turned over, crushing and killing her 18 year old son Gene,
she tied a knot and hung on.
When her beloved granddaughter reached for the Zero candy bar kept in the back of the fridge,
she tied a knot and told her “No” for the first time
because that is the candy bar Gene was going to have for an afternoon snack
after he finished pulling up tree stumps with the tractor.
She kept it as her private memorial to him,
thinking of him every time she opened the fridge to get
or milk
or just to remember a spell.

When the bank robbers came and held her family hostage over night,
when they kidnapped her husband,
when they put a gun to her five-year old’s head,
when they drank their prohibition liquor and rebel-roused and threatened
her mother,
the midwife,
and her newborn baby boy,
she tied a knot and hung on.


Meet Maude Gay Hewell,
My grandmother
and the first woman featured in my
Pink Galoshes Portraits of Irrepressible Women series.

. . . . .

This picture was taken in November 1933,
six months after the bank robbery and kidnapping.
As with all my Pink Galoshes Portraits, I’m also identifying how these women remained irrepressible in the face of devastation and hardship. For Grandmother, she had a loving family, and she loved her family. Plus it was 1933, right smack dab in the middle of The Great Depression, so she had no time to wallow and settle herself into the victim chair. She had babies to feed and a husband to love, so she pulled on her pink galoshes and tromped on through the mud and the muck to get to where she needed to go.

. . . . .

Pink Galoshes Portrait, Maude Gay Hewell
20.25″ x 16.25″
photo transferred onto fabric
pieces of a 1930s double wedding ring quilt somebody started but never finished
French knots (36 hours’ worth)
hand stitched

. . . . .

I’m penning 100 stories in 100 days, limbering up to (finally) write a book about that weekend in May 1933 when the bandits came knocking and held my family hostage, including my daddy who was five years old at the time. Had things gone horribly awry, I would not be sitting here today, penning these words – think about that for a minute. Kinda’ makes your head hurt, doesn’t it?

To make sure you don’t miss a story, you might want to get your free subscription by clicking the button in the orange strip across the top of this page. Just mash then follow the directions, and voila!

And hey, if you are or know any Pink Galoshes Women,
please holler cause I’d love to meet and profile you and them.

12.5: In Our Own Language 4:11

IOOL4 11

In Our Own Language 4:11

Meanwhile in the background, I’m still stitching.


Nancy, my developmentally disabled sister-in-law, draws.
I, Jeanne, the woman who flat-out loves her, stitch.

12: First Day of First Grade: A Once In a Lifetime Happening


Jeanne, First Grade

We didn’t need have kindergarten or pre-k or pre-pre-k or pre-pre-pre-pre-pre k. We just started in first grade, and that was that. The ensemble of first grade teachers stood in front of the room (by “the room”, I mean the boiler room which was also the lunchroom which was also a storage room), dressed in their finest and smiling their biggest. The air was filled with Important Occasion vibes, for this was surely a turning point in our young lives and a new beginning for the teachers.

We sat on the lunchroom freshly-painted benches with our parents, nervously awaiting our name to be on the slip of paper pulled out of the soup pot. Though she never said anything, it was fairly obvious to me that my mother wanted Mrs. Peeples to draw my name. Oh Mrs. Peeples. I still kinda’ swoon at the memory of her always-smiling (but then I wasn’t in her room) (sorry for the spoiler) countenance. Those cat-eye glasses. That perfectly coiffed hair with the little spit curls on each side of her forehead. Lipstick to match the dominant color in the shirtwaist dress she was wearing on any given day, always with a petticoat. That thin white embroidered handkerchief that was always starched, ironed, and on the ready, tucked under her belt. She wore high heels, too, and stockings (well, everybody wore stockings back then, and I don’t mean pantyhose. I mean stockings.) every single day. Yes, my mother, who’s always had a keen sense of style herself when it comes to fashion, prayed that she would hear Mrs. Peeples pull out that slip of paper and read aloud the words “Jeanne Hewell” at which time I would leave my mother and go stand with My First Grade Teacher and Classmates, my new tribe.

But the woman who called out my name was Mrs. Mae Bess Price. I don’t know how long Mrs. Price had been teaching, but I’m pretty sure she invented it as a profession. That woman was o-l-d. Ancient. Beyond ancient. I never saw so many wrinkles, and she was the only woman I knew besides my grandmother who had gray hair. Old, I tell you.

There’s a chance I wouldn’t have behaved the way I did had I been standing with Mrs. Peeples. At least that’s what I tell myself.

The first thing we learned in first grade was How To Line Up Straight. Straight was Important. Each teacher would hold her right arm out for us to use as a guide, and we didn’t move one iota until there wasn’t a single shoulder or toe sticking out to one side or the other. Once we’d mastered that, we followed the teacher up the steps to the hall that ran down the center of the building, a space wide enough to parallel park a 1957 Buick. A hall with a floor so shiny, it could’ve been covered with glass. That hall floor was a piece of art created by The Janitor, to my first grade worldliness way of thinking, the janitor was The Strongest Man Alive. You should’ve seen him operating that floor machine – sometimes guiding it with a single finger, I’ll have you know. And when somebody threw up, who do you think the teacher called but The Janitor who would come scatter those red shavings over it, leave it a bit, then sweep it all up and dispose of it.

With every step up from the boiler room, my enthusiasm for this social experiment wavered. I couldn’t stay here all day, I thought nervously, I had things I needed to tend do. How would the pets survive a day without petting? What would my grandmother do without me readily-available to dote on? And perhaps most pressing of all, how would I ever know if Loretta Young was cured enough to get out of that iron lung if I wasn’t home to watch tv at 1:00 in the afternoon? By the time we reached that shiny, creaking hardwood floor, I thought it a good idea that Mother stay with me a while longer. And I was quite vocal about it, too, so Mrs. Price found an extra first-grade-sized chair for Mother and pulled it right up beside my first-grade-sized desk. And with that taken care of, I could breathe again.

Mrs. Price pointed each one of us to a particular desk, and I needed a step stool to get up into mine. The front of the room was covered with wall-to-wall blackboard with a wooden chalk tray holding an assortment of colorful chalks and erasers. Big cards with every letter of the alphabet – both upper case and lower case – decorated the top of the blackboard. Mrs. Price’s wooden desk and swivel chair with arms sat to the left side of the front of the room right under the window. Oh those windows. The left wall of the room was filled with windows lined up one right next to the other. Each window was the size of a football field, but only a little ole’ rectangle in the center of the bottom of the glass actually opened to let any air in.

The door was on the right wall, up near the front of the room. The silver wall-mounted pencil sharpener was mounted to the left of the door, and The Janitor kept it so clean and free of fingerprints, it shone like a mirror. Shoot, if she had an extra hand and were interested in such things, a girl could fix her hair, get the peanut butter out from between her teeth, and sharpen her pencil all at the same time.

We tended to the business side of being in first grade first. Mrs. Price pulled out her roll book, which once spread open had a wingspan of about 4 feet. Using her fountain pen, she wrote our names in alphabetical order, last name first, in the rectangular spaces to the far left, wrote the date in the appropriate space at the top of the page, then put the first of many check marks in the date box to indicate that we were present and accounted for. For the rest of the year, every day started out the same: we’d put our lunch boxes in the designated area in the back of the room and hang our coats, sweaters, or raincoats up on the pegs. Then we’d each go to our desk, pull out two yellow No. 2 pencils, go sharpen them if needed, then place them in the trough at the top of our desks. We’d yell out “here” when we heard our name during roll call, then we’d stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance to The Flag in unison.

Mrs. Price handed out the spelling cards, square sheets of cream-colored card stock filled with seven columns of words – one column for each day of the week. We were to learn how to say each word, spell each word, and use each word in a sentence. I loved those spelling cards like you wouldn’t believe. What I wouldn’t give to hold one in my hands right this very.

Once we each had a spelling card, we were given our reading book. Reading about Dick and Jane and their mischievous little dog Spot quickly came to be my favorite time of the day (next to recess, lunch, and going home, of course). Soap operas for first grade, that’s what it was. I couldn’t wait to open that book every day and see what those two rascals had gotten themselves into or where they’d go next.

We were given a primary tablet for writing filled with sheets of thin gray newsprint covered with pink and blue lines, some solid, some dashed. It had a blue horse on the front, and I later learned you could save those blue horse pictures and redeem them for all sorts of fantastic prizes like more tablets, pencils that were red on one end and blue on the other, big chunky erasers or pointy pink erasers with a hole in the bottom that was just the right size for sliding over the eraser Certain People had already chewed off in their nervousness.

Mrs. Price then went over the Mae Bess Rules Of Order:
1. Thou shalt always make a straight line when coming in from recess or going to and from the lunchroom.
2. Thou shalt raise thy hand before talking.
3. Thou shalt keep thy pencils sharp.
4. Though shalt not talk to thy neighbor.
5. Thou shalt ask permission before going to the bathroom.

And before you knew it, all necessary business was tended to and it was time to learn our first foreign word: recess. We lined up at the door – in a straight line, of course – and marched out into the hall, and down the steps at the each end of the building. Without any further ado, Mrs. Price went over to the bench under the one tree on the vast expanse of the hard red clay playground to take her seat with the other first grade teachers. There were slides as high as the Empire State Building. There was this thing made of red and blue boards that you stood sat on to go around and around the central metal pole. Swings hung on chains from a metal A-frame. We stood there for a moment, our eyes getting used to the light, then we took off in all different directions. Actually, it’s They took off in all different directions. I was quite content to stand there and watch, noting things like who played with who, who went to which piece of playground equipment first, who let who break in line, what the different laughs sounded like – all those oft-overlooked things . . . but my mother (who we learned that day likes being in the thick of people a whole lot more than I do) was decidedly less content to observe.

“Why don’t you go slide?” she asked, giving me a firm push in the direction of that gleaming metal contraption.

I stumbled about two steps from the shove then stopped.

“Go on,” she said, giving me another hard shove. “You know you like people.”

In the spirit of compromise, I grabbed her hand and pulled her with me to the sliding board. There were about four people in line, so it took a little while to get to the top rung of the ladder, but I made it, checking with every inch of ascension to make sure that Mother was still standing at the base, waving to me. Finally my little white tennis shoe clad foot with the lacy fold-down white socks on it hit the top of the slide. I did like I’d seen the other kids do, placing each hand on one of the metal rails then hoisted myself up, swinging my legs out in front of me so that when I came down, I was seated on the top of the sliding board. With August being by far the hottest month of the year and school starting just after Labor Day, my new panties with the rows of ruffles across the back provided absolutely no insulation from the heat of that metal sliding board that had been baking in unfiltered sun for more than 31 days.

I looked down to make sure Mother was still watching, determined to make her proud. Her daughter would be The Best Sliding Board Slider Ever. I could just hear the supper table conversation. “Crawford, you should’ve seen her. She went down that slide faster than anybody else alive. She just zoomed, and nobody had run wax paper over it either. She’s got real potential. I’ve always said so.” My daddy would beam as he leaned over to give me a kiss on the top of my head. I hoped we were having cubed steak, mashed potatoes, cornbread, and corn on the cob for supper. This exchange just HAD to happen over cubed steak, mashed potatoes, cornbread, and corn on the cob.

Sure enough, Mother was still there, smiling and waving. I released my grip on the handlebars, giving myself a little shove to get me started. Just as I’d imagined I would, I broke the sound barrier with my rapid descent. When my feet touched the ground, I turned and started running back to get my congratulatory hug from Mother . . . but she was gone. I instinctively looked in the direction of the Oldsmobile she’d parked on the street at the beginning of This Most Auspicious Day, and there it was, pulling away, the hem of her dress sticking out where she’d closed the door on it. I tell you what: abandonment like that could’ve stunted the growth of lesser 6 year olds.

The bus bringing me home from a long day at school got to our house about the time that big ole’ Olds pulled into the driveway bringing Mother home from a long day afternoon at the office. I was so tired, I just walked directly over to the sofa and took myself a good, long nap. Mother woke me up with a call to supper, and I salivated in keen anticipation the whole way from the sofa to the kitchen table, but when I slid into my chair it was not a meal of cubed steak, mashed potatoes, cornbread, and corn on the cob I saw on the plate before me, but a plate full of weenies without buns cut into bite-size pieces.

I learned enough lessons to fill a book on that first day of first grade . . . and not all of them were lessons Mrs. Price was gonna’ grade me on.


The dress I’m wearing in my first grade picture? It was the most fetching shade of royal blue cotton fabric you’ve ever seen. The collar and cuffs were white trimmed with red rick rack. The embellishment around the waist had ever color in the rainbow with the possible exception of orange. I loved that dress, and I still love those two-tone-blue-and-white-cateye-with-silver-sparkles glasses. You know I do. Making my way through 100 days of stories, and you can tune in daily if you want by mashing the button in the orange box at the top of the screen and following the directions. I’ll see y’all tomorrow.

11: We Didn’t Need Recess, and It Had Nothing To Do With Test Scores


Later generations called it The Fire Station cause that’s what sits there today. Midway back generations called it The Pink Palace. My generation call it Fourth Grade. It was an interesting building with I don’t know how many different rooms, each with its own outside entrance and – wait for it – bathroom. I’m not kidding: each room had a bathroom with doors opening to the inside of the classroom. The building’s exterior was covered with brown tar paper made to look like brown bricks. It didn’t fool anybody. Things were so bad that on Picture Day, we went inside the main building and borrowed Mrs. Duke’s room to have our pictures taken.

There was an upright piano in the back of my fourth grade classroom because Mrs. Lunceford thought music important . . . plus, she just plain liked to play it. She’d slam that teacher’s edition history book shut in the middle of a string of dates about some war or other and march from her desk in the front of the room to the piano in the back of the room, straightening the belt on her cotton shirtwaist dress as she went. She’d give that piano seat a smart twirl with her right hand, sit herself down, and commence to playing. She didn’t need sheet music in front of her, she’d just hear a song in her head and start playing. She was a full-bodied piano player, Mrs. Lunceford was, whose feet kept time on the dirty wooden floorboards and whose head swayed and bobbed to the music as her hands played. We’d sing along, and when it was time to go back to the history lesson, she’d hum all the way back to her desk.

A couple of the piano keys started sticking, so Mrs. Lunceford hired a blind German fella to come in and tune her piano. He came during class, of course, and we learned all about tuning forks and resonance and how blind people do things and even a few German words to boot. Turns out that a couple of mice had crawled up in the piano and lost their way out. Deprived of food and water, they eventually died, their tails keeping the hammers of certain notes from touching their assigned piano wire. You know, Mrs. Lunceford didn’t even shiver as the German fella produced the mice from the back of the piano and took them outside, but I sure did, even when she talked to us about survival of the fittest and food chains and all.

My grandmother taught me piano lessons, just as she taught every one of her 14 grandchildren. Well, that’s not quite true. My Cousin Stacy lived way up yonder in New Jersey, and I’m pretty sure his mother had a death wish for him cause she signed him up for trombone lessons, of all things, and made him wear linen shorts with knee socks and the funniest cutest little hat you ever saw. People around here never saw anything like it – not even in the Sears and Roebuck catalogue – until Stacy came for a visit.

Well, when I hit fourth grade, I thought it time to branch out, and I begged my mother to let me take lessons from Mrs. Price who had everything going for her: she was a newcomer, the mother of two teenage boys, and had a swimming party at the end of every year for her piano students. But Mother was having none of that and signed me up instead for lessons with Mrs. Crump who lived within walking distance of my fourth grade classroom. Because I was a good reader, every Tuesday morning during reading lessons, I was excused to take my piano books and walk down to Mrs. Crump’s house for my 30-minute lesson. Every week while I played my homework, Mrs. Crump gave herself a manicure.

One day in February while I was at my piano lesson, Mrs. Lunceford gave her blessing to the idea Allen Smith and Kent Jackson hatched and let them walk to town, go in Alford’s, and spend the 57-cents they’d saved up between them on a box of chocolate-covered cherries – a birthday present/Valentine combo gift for me on the occasion of my turning a decade old. Mrs. Lunceford believed in love, you see, even in the most unlikeliness of love. Once, when using a spelling word in a sentence, she told us that she had always wanted to marry a man with a head full of wavy brown hair but instead, she’d fallen in love with Mr. Lunceford whose bald head looked like a peeled onion.

When I got back from Mrs. Crump’s house, Mrs. Lunceford told me to put my books up then come stand in the front of the room. My head raced as I wondered what on earth I had done to deserve this. Nobody in our class ever misbehaved – unless you count that time Kimbo Neal used his magnifying glass and the sun to set fire to the 33-gallon trash barrel outside our front door, and Mrs. Lunceford counted that not as misbehaving but as a science experiment and gave him extra credit. – so I didn’t know if I’d done something awful or awesome. I couldn’t think of anything that qualified as either.

As Mrs. Lunceford played Let Me Call You Sweetheart, one of her favorite love songs she told us later, Allen and Kent each took a side of that box of chocolate covered cherries and began their walk up the aisle to present it to me. Now when Robert Reeves turned around in his seat to watch the proceedings, he wound up with his legs sticking out in the aisle. Neither Kent or Allen saw the legs, and down they went, spraying the entire room with chocolate covered cherries. Kids were coming way up out of their seats to catch a piece of candy, and I was happy to share cause I never have liked chocolate covered cherries.

It seems that when Mrs. Lunceford was a child, there was no such thing as store-bought toothpaste, or if there was, her mama and daddy didn’t have enough money enough to buy it, so Mrs. Lunceford brushed her teeth with a mixture of equal parts of soda and salt. As her eyes misted over at the memory, we actually saw the lightbulb go off. The next day, everybody was to bring their toothbrush, and she’d bring the soda and salt. Sure enough, the next day each one of us filed into the bathroom one at a time after lunch to brush our teeth using the soda and salt mixture she brought from home.

The roof was bad to leak in that fourth grade classroom, so with the first rain, Mrs. Lunceford told each one of us bring a pot from home the next day. We kept the pots under out desks, and when it rained, we’d quietly pull it out and put it somewhere to catch the trespassing raindrops. When it quit raining, Mrs. Lunceford had us water her flowers with the water we collected.

In the springtime when it was time for members of the Baptist Girls’ Auxiliary to wow The Reviewing Board and make our way up the ladder toward Queen, Mrs. Lunceford paired each of us Baptists up with a Methodist and sent us out to stand between the sticks in the ground that had been boxwoods in better days. “Methodists,” she said as we stood in line ready to exit the building, “I want y’all to hold the books for your assigned Baptist and call out the questions for them to answer. And listen real close when they recite the scripture verses ’cause I don’t think it would hurt y’all at all to memorize a little bit of the Bible yourself.” (In case you can’t tell, Mrs. Lunceford was, herself, a Bible-toting Baptist.)

As the bell rings heralding the start of another school year, I can’t help but scratch my head and wonder if today’s parents would stand for their child to attend school in such a dilapidated, pitiful-looking ole’ building, but I can tell you one thing: you can’t judge an education by its classroom any more than you can judge a book by its cover.


I wish I still had those blue-and-white-cat-eye-glasses-with-the-silver-sparkles. Oh my goodness can you even imagine the stories I’d write through those glasses? Speaking of stories, I’m conjuring one every day for 100 days, and if you’re at all interested, you can make sure it lands on your digital doorstep every morning by mashing the button in the orange bar at the top of the screen and following the directions that ensue.

10: Verily I Say Unto You, Thou Shalt Check the Bathrooms Before Thou Leavest


I’ve been quite vocal about wanting to take myself on a silent retreat. When the idea first came upon me, I wanted a weekend – two days of nothing but silence. Doesn’t that sound heavenly? Then I decided a week would seem more like heaven. Lately I know that the only silent retreat that will do me any good at all must last a minimum of two weeks. Tonight I almost got an impromptu silent six-day retreat . . .

It’s a nice church off the main thoroughfare in Jonesboro, Georgia where The Front Porch Players hold their rehearsals and stage their shows in the gym with the blue floor. Their upcoming production is Dearly Departed, a comedy that shows us once again that Southern funerals are never just about burying dead folks, and if you haven’t seen it, you ought to. Write that down. My daughter Alison is in the play, and because she has had some health issues as of late, I am staying with her and going to rehearsals.

Tonight, just before we back out of the parking space to head home, nature calls my name, so I go back in to avail myself of the church’s bathroom facilities, and let me tell you something: that women’s bathroom has the cutest pink linoleum floor you’ve ever seen. I want some on my kitchen floor, though Alison thinks it better if I paint my walls pink, my cabinets turquoise, and put down black and white linoleum on the floor. I can live with that. Especially if I find me a nice mid-century sofa. But that’s another story for another day.

I open the bathroom door to find the gym completely without form and void and darkness upon the face of the deep. I did what anybody locked in the church bathroom would do, I said aloud, “Let there be light” then gave it a few seconds. Nothing.

I say again, a little more forcefully this time: “Let there be light” and wait a few minutes for a chance to call it good. I really, really, really want a chance to see the light and declare it good, but nothing doing. In this church on this night, the only thing that would divide darkness and light was me standing in the doorway of the women’s bathroom holding the door open, keeping the bathroom light on by running my hand in front of the light switch that turns on when it senses movement and off when things are still for too long.

The bar on my phone is in the red, meaning I better give some serious thought about who to call. I call Alison – it goes straight into voicemail. I ring her again, and again, it always goes straight into voicemail. She started a facebook group this afternoon, and people are flocking to it, which is, as you might imagine, infinitely more interesting than her mother calling in a plea that she not be locked in the bathroom overnight.

I consider walking over to the door, but I have no night vision to speak of, and I remember there being tables and chairs in between me and the door. That could hurt.

I text Alison: HELP! I’m locked in the bathroom, and I can’t get out.


I remember that I have the director’s number, so I text her the same message, and I get the same response: nothing.

Though it eats up more phone battery, I try to reach Alison on the phone one more time. Nothing. I call Karen. Crickets.

On the verge of being resigned to a lock-in for one, I start laying down some plans of how I will spend the next six days until church members begin to arrive in all their finery on Sunday morning. My phone battery will be completely out of juice soon, and I begin to wonder if I can make it with no contact with the outside world for that long. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I’ll have plenty of uninterrupted time – something I’ve longed for – but I left my stitching bag in the car. You know I did. But wait – there’s a piano, and I’ve been saying how I want to play the piano again. Now I’ll have the piano, the time, and nobody to howl and complain while I tickle those ivories and sing.

My spirit brightens. I feel a little better.

There’s a kitchen, and though I’ve never been in it, any church worth its pews has food around somewhere, so I’m sure I won’t starve. There is a couch on stage as part of the set – and there are covers and pillows, too – so I’ll have a soft place to sleep, thank goodness.

Then reality strikes . . . to get to the kitchen or the couch or the piano, I have to walk across the gym floor, and if I do that, I will surely set off the alarm. Which will bring in at the very least, a deacon or two, but more likely, will mean the arrival of police cars, fire engines, ambulances, helicopters, swat teams, dogs, robots, bomb squads, and local newspaper reporters.

As my spirits plummet at the prospect of my unplanned six-day retreat, my phone dings. “Stand still so you don’t set off the alarm,” Karen texts me. “My phone was in my pocketbook in the backseat of the car. And besides, it was turned off from rehearsal, but I turned it on when I got home, saw your message, and I’m getting my keys and will head back over.”

I hear them laughing before I see them walking, Alison and Karen, and within a few minutes, I am freed from the lion’s den – praise Jesus – and on my way back to Alison’s house. And what of my silent retreat, you ask? Well, I’ve about decided that I’m just going to ask everybody around me to be quiet for a week or two and call that Enough.


I’m penning 100 stories in 100 days, so you know what that means, right? You’re reading rough drafts of most stories, so please be kind and don’t judge. Said another way, I’m showing you my warts, and I’d sure appreciate it if you wouldn’t hold that against me. If you’d like to read along, mash the button in the orange bar at the top of the page and follow the directions. Thank you.

9: scraps


the cake might’ve been eaten
in a single summer afternoon.
a lifetime later,
we sleep sweetly under the quilts,
eventually coming to understand
and appreciate
the investment made.



the steady, rhythmical whirring
of the old singer machine
is interrupted
only when
she stops to reach
into the brown paper lunch bag
pulling out bits of fabric,
pinning them to each other,
right sides together.
to create quilts –
one for each child,
one for each grandchild.


BrianQuilt1a copy

the scraps she got from
the woman across the street,
paid for with her
coconut upside-down cake.


To get my writing legs back under me, I’m penning 100 stories in 100 days. Maybe you want to subscribe and have it delivered to your front door every morning? Just mash the button in the orange box at the top of the screen and follow the directions.

8: The Hidden Why of It


She bought cloth
not because her cupboard was bare,
not because she had nothing else to do,
not because she was addicted . . .

but because she needed to feel hope
and believe in the goodness of tomorrow.


Mostly she bought cloth because she was scared
and didn’t know what else to do
but keep her hands busy.


To get my writing legs back under me, I’m penning 100 stories in 100 days. Maybe you want to subscribe and have it delivered to your front door every morning? Just mash the button in the orange box at the top of the screen and follow the directions.

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