Tag Archives: stories

Jezebel Doing the Town

Portrait of My Mother

My Mother, circa 1943-1944

To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power ~ Maya Angelou

If you’ve been around my blog for a while, you know that I love sharing my mother’s stories. Not only was she a remarkable woman of great personal strength and character, she had a unique perspective on life. At the center of that was her sense of humor and her Nellie-Forbush sense of cockeyed optimism. She could also tell the best stories, often at her own expense. I’ve been saving this one, which is one of my favorites, for just the right moment, and since today is J-day on the A-to-Z challenge, it’s a perfect fit. So grab a cup of your favorite beverage and settle in…..

I met Kenneth when I was fourteen at a church convention. He was tall, dark, and handsome, or perhaps I was young, naive, and easily persuaded. When I was fifteen, he asked me to go to a church skating party, our first date, and on my sixteenth birthday, he gave me an engagement ring. We were married when I was seventeen, in June 1942. Ken joined the navy, finished boot camp and entered radio school in Chicago. I got a free ride from home to Chicago, only to arrive at 11 p.m. to find lodging, a job, and my husband. We lived in Chicago six months.

While in Chicago, she worked at the Rock Island arsenal and earned extra money singing and dancing on stage for USO Shows, at veteran’s hospitals, and for private parties. After Ken completed his tour of duty in the Pacific at the end of World War II, the couple returned home to Iowa, where Ken eventually decided to continue a family tradition and enter the seminary, eventually becoming the fifteenth minister in his family. As part of his education, he became a pastor for various churches around Iowa, which meant that housing often came with the job.

Living in a parsonage is somewhat like living in a fishbowl. Everyone told me so. Especially if you “care” what the neighbors think and care and say about you, especially in a small town. It really never upset me. I always had wonderful neighbors, and they always knew my business, whether I wanted them to or not.

The couple moved around several towns as Ken experienced working for different churches. Finally, they were able to settle into the church at Corydon, Iowa, to enjoy a nice, peaceful service to the church and community. Or so they thought…..

When we applied for the church at Corydon, Iowa, we were told one of the events of the upcoming summer was to be their centennial celebration. We accepted the call in May, planning to move in the latter part of June. Ken immediately began to grow a beard, which I think he always wanted to do and finally had an excuse with the centennial. When we moved in, the congregation was so pleased he was interested in their ventures, they wanted me to be involved in them also.

The centennial celebrations lasted several days, and on the last day, they were going to have a style show of “old outfits.” Would I wear a gown and be in it? I said sure and got out an old full-skirted formal of mine. It had a red taffeta bottom and a black, tight-fitting top.

Mom in her Jezebel dress

Mom in her infamous Jezebel dress

I gathered the back of the skirt, made of 15 yards of scarlet taffeta, up into a hoop and felt very “old” and “original” looking in this bright red bustle. When I arrived at the style show, I was handed a card and pencil and was told to fill out the following information: Name of participant, original owner of gown, date gown worn, occasion on which gown was worn, and any other pertinent information about the authentic gown.

I knew immediately I had not been properly informed, and we were to hand our cards to the announcer of the style show as we walked onto the stage. Not one to back out of anything I start, I simply wrote across my card: “Replica of the gown worn by Jezebel doing the town.” I walked across that stage with all of the authenticity I could muster. I ended up winning second place.

A newspaper reporter came to our home a week later to interview the new preacher and his wife, since I had “won” as Jezebel. He asked the usual questions, and we responded with the best and most honest answers we could. We thought everything had gone quite well, until we saw the headline in print the following week: Former Showgirl Is Now Housewife at Corydon. It took a few explanations to get over that.

As the reporter noted in the article, “up until this story gets out, they have been held in high regard by everyone in the community.”

[Note: This post is #10 of 26 of the April A-to-Z Challenge. Please see the button on the right of the page for more information.
Last year’s “J” post: Jabberwocky.]

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Review: The Way

“You don’t chose a life, Dad. You live one.” ~ Daniel Avery (Emilio Estevez) in The Way

The quotation above is probably the most succinct summary possible of the film, The Way, the new movie written and directed by Emilio Estevez and starring his father, Martin Sheen. In brief, the story centers on Tom, brilliantly portrayed by Sheen, a 60-something ophthalmologist who loses his only son, Daniel, in a tragic accident.

In all truth, Daniel was lost to him long before the accident. But as Tom determinedly sets out to finish what Daniel had just started, making the pilgrimage of walking the Camino de Santiago as others have done for thousands of years, he has little understanding of the road ahead. What unfolds in the next hour and a half is the story of that journey. Tom and the merry band of stragglers who end up traveling with him tackle this road with growing honesty, to each other and to themselves. Through laughter and tears, forging friendships and even a sense of family, Tom and the rest discover what Daniel knew all along – everyone is on a journey, a quest of discovery, but not everyone finds their way.

Press photo, "The Way," from the official website

Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez at the Dayton Art Institute for a screening of their new movie, "The Way"

My husband and I received free tickets to attend the preview of this movie at the Dayton Art Institute and the question and answer session with Sheen and Estevez which followed. Not surprisingly, especially as Sheen is originally from Dayton and still has family here, the room was packed full. Students from the Wright State Film program, local clergy, fellow pellegrinos who had completed the walk, Dayton’s mayor, and members of the general public proved to be an interesting audience mix.

Yet despite the variety, the reactions across the room were identical – laughter at the unexpectedly humorous moments, some tears at the times when reality smacks the characters with its honesty, never letting them really escape from the journey they are making. And by the end? You realize what they do — even if you are not walking the Way of St. James, each person is on their own quest, trying to discover the life they want to live. Or as Tom discovers, “the difference between the life we live and the life we choose.”

Although it has obvious religious overtones, I would categorize this film as more spiritual than religious. As Estevez noted in the question and answer session, the literary structure of the film revisits The Wizard of Oz, imagery which rings apparent once stated. Sheen’s Tom is an out-of-place Dorothy in a Spanish Oz, and his comrades on the yellow-brick camino become as loveable as the familiar Tin Man, Lion, and Scarecrow, and with startlingly similar quests.

If you have the chance, I recommend this movie, if for no other reason than the scenery and landscapes. Filmed along the Camino de Santiago, the Spanish lands and people had me revisiting the months I lived there. Also, this project was the first ever to be allowed to film within the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, which is stunning. But the message is excellent as well.

Take a look at the trailer on the official movie site. If you like what you see, the movie will be out in theaters in October.

Either way, let me know what you think.

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A Life in Pictures

If God had intended us to follow recipes,
He wouldn’t have given us grandmothers.
~Linda Henley

I’d like you to meet my paternal grandmother. Grandma Nellie lived in the same small town I grew up in, just across the length of the town from my house. I could see her house out the front window of our house. In fact, my mother and I would watch the barn behind her house every weeknight. As soon as my mother saw those barn doors close, she would head into the kitchen to put the final preparations on dinner as that signaled my father was done for the day and headed home.

I have only vague memories of Grandma Nellie. I remember her house, surrounded by farmland, barns, grain silos, and gardens. The old horse trough in front of it that had an old pump. The chicken coop door that I spent hours hammering nails into while she babysat me. Her refrigerator, filled with homemade treats and home-canned foods. The old pot-belly stove in the sitting room, next to her rocker, and the couch with her crocheted afghan across the back. Her dresser, holding the box of powder and antique glass perfume bottle that smelled of lilacs. I remember how strong her arms were. And spending lots of time sitting at her kitchen table watching her cook.

The stories I most remember about her involved cooking, as that’s where she spent a lot of her time. I, of course, always wanted to help, and she was patient enough to let me, even though now I realize I caused more trouble than I actually helped in any way. One of her prize canning recipes was the one for her pickled beets. I did not like them, but they were the most beautiful color. Their juice was vibrantly scarlet. I loved the color so much she would save me all the leftover juice so that I could fill the sink with water and soap bubbles, pour in the juice, and play with a mound of scarletly-pink bubbles until they disappeared. My hands would be stained pink for days! One very memorable time, she indulged my whim to help her fry some liver for dinner, not anticipating the abandon with which I would toss the floured piece into the cast iron skillet of hot oil. She scrambled for a bucket of ice to cover the burns on my arm before shuttling me into the pick-up truck and driving me uptown to my parents, who were attending a meeting at the church. From the time in her kitchen, I learned the best way to roll biscuits, how to make an amazing white gravy, and the recipe for pumpkin bread that I still use today. I was only eight when she passed away.

As I’ve gone through the first round of family photographs and started organizing them into family groupings, I’ve found a mix of pictures of her, so I thought I’d share some moments of her life as I’ve discovered them.

A life in pictures.

Grandma Nellie was born in Kentucky in January 1887. The earliest picture I have ever found of her is, unfortunately, the one in the worst shape, and, of course, undated. I’m guessing she was probably four or five at the time, but that’s just a guess.
The small image at the top of this post came from a larger picture I had not seen until recently, a family portrait of her family taken when she was about thirteen. Her youngest sister, Conie, was born in 1891, so I’m going with the later date on the photo of around 1900. Somewhere between 1891 and 1900, the family moved from Kentucky to Illinois, although I have yet to learn the reason why they moved.

Nellie, on the left, with her younger sister, Conie.

When I was growing up, my family used to say that I looked exactly like how my Grandma Nellie looked in this picture. I knew for sure we had the same light blue eyes. As a child, I had long hair that I often wore in two braids down my back, like she has here.

One of my favorite photos - all the sisters.

I simply adore this photograph, with their beautiful dresses and exquisitely done hair. This photo makes me wish I could enter the moment it was taken, just to listen in on the conversations that must have been going on as they were getting ready. Taken July 1903.

High School graduation

In my stack of family documents, I have the diploma she is holding in this picture.

With her sister, Conie

This photo is another one where I wish I knew the context around it. Were they dressed up just to get their pictures taken? Was it for some special occasion?

Sisters and friends

Wedding Portrait

I have found no other photographs of her wedding, nor any of my grandfather in anything but his later years.

My father was her first-born child. Taken April 1914.

Aunt Edith, Grandma Nellie, and my dad, 1954

This photograph was taken in front of my grandmother’s house. My grandfather died in 1951, and she lived with my father and his sister, Catherine.


Grandma Nellie holding me in her lap.
The last picture I have of Grandma Nellie, taken approximately 1972.

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The First Ones

book cover NO time FOR love

A book reads the better which is our own, and has been so long known to us, that we know the topography of its blots, and dog’s ears, and can trace the dirt in it to having read it at tea with buttered muffins. ~Charles Lamb, Last Essays of Elia, 1833

Today, it’s all about firsts. And before we get too far, there is a very special first happening here on Monday — my first guest blogger! I am thrilled beyond measure that Tara Taylor Quinn will be blogging here on Monday, May 16, as part of her extensive blog tour for her newest book, co-written with her husband Tim Barney, It Happened on Maple Street.  We celebrated the launch of the book back in April, so I’m very pleased she will be joining us for a stop along the way. The excellent reviews keep pouring in, as in today’s Library Journal review. So please make a note to come back on Monday for this very special first!

Given that fantastic first, it is only fitting to talk of another. Do you remember the first romance novel you read?  The first time you lost yourself inside a story? Or maybe even found yourself?

I don’t recall the absolute first romance novel I read.  I’m sure there were a few before the ones pictured here.  But these are the first two I remember reading, or being able to recall characters and the story anyway.  On a whim, I tracked both of these down on Amazon.com, surprised that I could actually find them for purchase — you really can find just about anything there.  Once in hand, I reread them.  I wanted to see why I could remember, thirty years later, these two books enough to google the story to find the author and title.

Of course, that answers the heart of the question, doesn’t it?  I remembered the story.

No Time for Love (1980) was an early favorite, and I know it was most definitely because of the story.  The heroine, Lorelei, was a violinist with the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra; her love interest was concertmaster, playing first chair.  She was innocent, shy.  He was grumpy, distant, committed only to his career.  Throw in a healthy violin competition and references to classical pieces, a European tour, and a stalker and you’ve got a story.

book cover winters loving touch Winter’s Loving Touch (1979) is harder for me to understand why I remembered this story so long.  Maybe it was the exotic Alaskan setting, as this was a few years before I had the chance to visit that beautiful state.  Carrie, the new doctor in town, was engaged to a like-minded environmentalist.  The hero thinks her cold and hostile.  She thinks Zachary is arrogant and a danger to the environment in his job as an explorer intent on developing the rich energy resources hidden in the land.  Competing goals and personalities wove a tale set against a harsh, unforgiving and distant environment.

Reading these again showed that the basic story held true to my memory of it, but given the intense stories around these days, the plot and structure were decidedly flat. What it also showed, not surprisingly, is how very far the genre has come in those thirty years. Some of the language and actions, behaviors and descriptions would not be in a book published these days — too misogynistic, too “forced” – and that is especially true at its most literal meaning in what were considered the “love scenes.” Shudder. So why were they so memorable? Does the story triumph? Or is it a combination of things? I still am not sure.

What was your first one? What made it so memorable for you?

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Mother’s Day

Grandma Ivy and me

Grandma Ivy holding me

[Lynda’s note: Tucked away in that same notebook with A Parable for Mothers was a piece that my mother was writing about her own mother. It was definitely a work in progress, written out on old notebook paper with her scratched out words, phrases, and sentences. I can remember her telling us kids some of these stories, both for entertainment and as motherly advice. For me, there’s no better way to remember my mother today than to share her tribute to her mother.]

Mama Was That Way
By: Bonnalee Hunt Hayden Phillips

Mama had arthritis and during the later years of her life she spent much of her time in a big chair rocking in front of a window so she could see everybody coming. She finished sixth grade but had a degree in Psychology (the common sense variety) that any professor would have envied. I went many times “to cheer up Mama” but I always left her knee realizing it was I that had been cheered.

We were very poor, but Mama never told us seven kids. Oh, we found it out when we grew up and had to help with expenses, but when we were little our cups were so full of Mama’s love, we didn’t realize they were so empty of food and material things. Mama was that way.

As a little girl, I remember Mama always made everything alright. “Mama, Mary called me a bad name and I don’t like her.” And Mama would say, “Mary shouldn’t have, but, honey, did you look at Mary’s eyes? Next time you look at them, and then tell her how pretty they are.” When I confronted Mary the next time, I was compelled to look at her eyes just to see if they really were pretty. They were. There is no way you can be angry with someone when you are looking close enough to see if their eyes really are pretty. Mama knew that. Mama was like that.

The day I won “9th Grade Prettiest Girl” Mama said, “Just remember, pretty is as pretty does.” She used all the cliches. And when Alma and I were mad at each other for over a month, and I could have “killed” her for some of the things she was doing to antagonize me, Mama said, “Kill her with kindness, honey. You’ll find it’s much better.” I must have been somewhat of a normal child for my room was not picked up as Mama would have it, and my excuse would be, “But I don’t have time, Mama.” The answer came right back, “If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, when will you have time to do it over?” My next older brother and I were extremely close for siblings, and when he was about to be married, I went to Mama. “But I don’t like her, Mama. She just doesn’t seem to love Jack enough.” Mama said, “If Jack can love her, we can all like her.” And we did. Mama knew that. Mama was like that.

Toward the end of her 84 years, Mama had to be in the hospital several times. Mama was very independent and we never had a car, but this time she just didn’t feel like calling a cab. I was the only daughter that learned to drive and I lived 200 miles away. So she called her oldest son to come after her. He couldn’t get away at the moment, so he called his wife to go get Mother and take her home. Well, she griped while in Mother’s room, and she griped all the way home about everything, including the fact that someone else should have picked up Mother. But she made a mistake by griping that she needed a new permanent but didn’t have the $20. After Mama had her cry from having her feelings hurt, she wrote my brother’s wife a thank you note for coming after her and included a $20 bill for the permanent. Mama was that way.

I miss Mama, but her presence and precious teachings will always be with me. I am a bit heavy like Mama, and many people are always telling me, “You look just like your mother.” I am working on my virtues –patience, loving kindness, joy, peacefulness, and love– so that they will say instead “You sure ACT like your mother.” Then, perhaps, my children can say, “Mama was like that.”

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