Fruitcakes and Silver Icicles

silver-iciclesSilver icicles.

            The first time I broke away from my grandmother’s Christmas traditions was the year I got rid of the silver icicles on our Christmas tree.
            My grandmother believed that traditions help make holidays special. This was most apparent when it came to her Christmas traditions.
            She had to have a Christmas fruitcake that had to be made before the first of December so it could age properly.
            Even though the same items could be found in local stores, she had to order at least one thing from the Sears Christmas catalog.
            And she had to have a Christmas tree covered in silver icicles.
            As long as these three traditions weren’t broken, we had a merry Christmas.
            When I was old enough to stand in a chair, I watched her make her fruitcake, wrap it and place it in a holiday-themed cake tin, then open the tin every few days and sprinkle the cake with brandy.
            By the time I was ten, she had taught me how to fill out catalog forms and call customer service numbers to place her Christmas orders.
            And as far back as I can remember, I decorated our Christmas tree as she sat in a chair directing.
            When my grandmother moved into a new house in 1988, she started a new tradition. Instead of directing me how to put up the Christmas tree, she told me the task was all mine. I was excited for about fifteen seconds.
            “You can decorate the tree by yourself this year,” she informed me.
            “Really?” I asked, trying not to let my excitement show.
            “It’s all yours,” she replied. “But, you’re going to have to get a new tree, new lights, bulbs, a star, and icicles.”
            I knew what that meant. The task was all mine, but she still wanted her tree done her way.
            I was moseying through a store gathering the items for my grandmother’s Christmas tree when I suddenly felt the urge to rebel, to break with tradition. I asked myself what she would do if I changed things up a little. Throw the tree out on the trash pile? And me with it?
           “She might,” my good sense answered.
            But I didn’t listen.
            That evening, my grandmother sat in her chair and watched as I put up the tree. She nodded pleasingly as I draped the lights around the tree. She said how pretty the bulbs were as they dangled perfectly from the branches. When I took the red bows out of the bag, she asked, “What are you going to do with those?”
            “Hang them on the tree,” I answered.
            “I don’t think those will look good with icicles,” she said.
            “I didn’t think so either,” I responded. “That’s why I didn’t get any icicles.”
            My grandmother tried to hide her frown, but it was hard to hide a frown that covered her entire body.
            When I was done placing the bows over the tree and placing the star on top, my grandmother’s frown turned upside into a smile.
            And we all had a merry Christmas.
            Last year, I broke the Christmas tree tradition again.
            Out went yesteryears glistening ornaments and colorful ribbons and bows. In came fall foliage and white doves.
            As I put up the tree, I couldn’t help glancing over my shoulder to see if my grandmother was sitting in the chair watching.
            If she had been, I’m sure she looked over the rims of her glasses and wondered when they started making pre-lit tree. I thought I heard her say how pretty the bulbs were as they dangled perfectly from the branches. And when I reached in the box and took out the brown, yellow, orange, red, silver, and gold leaves and then the white doves, I know she frowned and asked, “What are you going to do with those?”
           When I was done placing the foliage and doves over the tree and placing the star on top, her  frown couldn’t help turning upside into a smile.
            And it turned out to be a merry Christmas.

Remembering Mr. Bean

grandfathers photoMr. Bean was my grandfather, but I called him “Daddy.”

His name was Willie White, but I hardly ever heard anyone call him by that name. Instead, my grandmother and his friends called him, “Bean.”
He was “Uncle Bean” to his nieces and nephews; He was “Mr. Bean” to unrelated younger folks.
His big brother, my Uncle Walter, who was a couple of years older, called him, Son.
And his children and grandchildren, we all called him, Daddy.
By the time I came along, my grandfather was nearing retirement. He’d worked with his brother as a logger for years, but health problems were forcing him into retirement. What         I mostly remember are the years after he retired.
When my grandfather could no longer work as a logger, he became an entrepreneur.
He grunted earthworms and sold them as fishing baits.
He raised rabbits then sold them.
He collected aluminum and scrap metal then sold it.
He even put a vending machine on our front porch and sold sodas.
My grandfather did what he had to do to take care of his family.
Becoming an entrepreneur was an easy decision for my grandfather. After he retired, he quickly realized he had everything he needed to “sit and watch” as he made money.
He had a light brown Chevy truck.
He had a big yard.
A front porch.
And, he had an able-body workforce of children and grandchildren, who were already paid in shelter, food, clothing, and a lot of love.
For his fishing bait business, we would load up on the back of his truck with our wooden stakes and iron bars then head out to the woods, where my grandfather spent the day watching us grunt baits. I always stayed near my grandfather, who loved using snakes for target practice. When we got home, we became sales clerks, counting out fishing baits to customers, sometimes in the wee hours of the morning.
For his rabbit business, my grandfather bought several rabbits, sat in a chair and instructed us on how to build rabbit cages, and then waited. And not that long.
For his aluminum and metal collection business, he loaded us up on the back of his truck and we road to all of his established collection sites. When we got home, we processed and bagged the metal then packed the bags on the back of his truck for shipment to the recycling center.
Selling sodas didn’t start out as a business venture. Initially, my grandfather’s plan was to stop us from spending every quarter we got our hands on buying RC and Nehi sodas from Mrs. Lillie down the street. After he put the vending machine on the front porch, he quickly realized that his household members weren’t the only ones buying drinks from the machine. All times of day and night, we would hear people walking up on the front porch to buy drinks from the machine.
My grandfather was also a wise man.
He knew that all work and no play does not make for good children. So, when it was time to clock out, he let us play. And play we did.
On July 3, 1976, Daddy closed shop.
I was 11.

Who Would You Choose?

The Pages We Forget coverOne man’s touch ruined her life. The other’s touch saved her.

In this heartfelt, emotional drama, singer-songwriter June is trying to find the answers to love. Will she end up with the man in so many of her songs—the one who broke her heart—or with the musician who brought her to fame?

It’s been ten years since June’s first love, Keith, walked out of her life without saying goodbye. Ten years, two months, and sixteen days to be exact—since the night he first made love to her, then tiptoed out of the room while she lay in bed pretending to be asleep. June’s life was over after that night, but she didn’t stop living. Instead, she found a reason to live in her newborn son, and a reason to love again in Alex, an aspiring musician.

With Alex, she finds fame, fortune, and contentment. But now, her enviable life as one of music’s brightest and most beloved stars is about to change in a way she never expected. Before her last song ends, June will come face-to-face with the horrible truth about that night ten years ago. And who will she choose: the man whose touch ruined her life, or the man whose unconditional love saved her?

A “USA Today /  Happy Ever After Must-Read Romance” – Dec. 2014

Shooting a Wounded Bird

bird with broken wingA B.B. Gun

It was the one present I got for Christmas as a child that I didn’t ask for or want.

When my two brothers and I woke up that Christmas morning and rushed into the living room, we wasted no time ripping open the packages and gifts scattered about. As I put on my new skates, I noticed there were three B.B. guns on the sofa. I looked around and counted. Antmar makes one. Ken makes two. And Tony makes three. Even though I knew my arithmetic was correct. There were three B.B. guns and three sons. Still, I wondered out loud, “Who’s the other B.B. gun for?”

“What do you mean?” my mom asked.

“There are three of them,” I answered.

“I know,” she responded as though I had stated the obvious. “There’s one for you, Ken, and Tony.”

I couldn’t hide my confusion.

“What’s wrong?” she asked. “I see that look on your face.”

“I’m trying to figure out why you got me a B.B. gun.”

“You said you wanted one,” she explained.

I quickly corrected her, “No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Then you got one anyway,” my mother stated and ended the debate over whether I had actually said I wanted a gun.

I whispered under my breath, “I didn’t though.”

My brothers, cousins, and friends all had B.B. guns and wasted no time canvassing the neighborhood trees for robins. A few days passed before I took my B.B. gun out of the house. When I did, it was to follow the gang on their neighborhood hunting expedition. I wasn’t planning to shoot anything. I was just tired of being left out while they were out hunting.

I should have known things wouldn’t go as planned. As everyone set their sights on the red-chest birds high in the trees, I aimed at cans, bottles, and make-believe targets in the trees.

“You’re scaring the birds with all that,” I was quickly admonished. “Either shoot at the birds or don’t shoot.”

“He’s too scared to shoot a bird,” my baby brother joked. “He should have stayed home.”

This brought out that “other” side of me – the side that needed to prove them wrong. So, I looked in the trees, spotted a bird, lifted my B.B. gun, steadied my aim, and then shot. The bird fell to the ground.

“Don’t tell me I can’t shoot a bird,” I bragged.

“Well, you gonna have to shoot him again,” my brother said after going to pick the bird up. “He’s still alive.”

“What?” I asked.

“He’s still alive,” he answered. “You have to shoot…”

I was home before my brother could finish telling me what I needed to do.

A few days ago, I was reminded of that B.B. gun when I saw a group of kids gathered around something on the ground. One of the boys had a B.B. gun and had wounded a small bird. As the boy stared at the bird hopping around, a look that I was all too familiar with crept across his face. He was discovering what I learned a few days after I got my one and only B.B. gun for Christmas. Shooting a bird out of a tree was a monumental task for me, but shooting a wounded bird that was hopping around my feet was next to impossible.