Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Christmas Emotions are Not Always Full of Cheer


So, have you ever talked to yourself on your way to work and said, “This is not a good time to be so emotional. You are going to smear your freshly applied makeup”? This was one of those mornings. Yes, it is a few days before Christmas and the world is decorated and full of cheer, but for me, the holiday has always been a mixture of emotions, not all of them good.

Christmas can be hard for many. In a time of year with everyone talking about family, friends, and togetherness, we tend to want to forget that there are those whose reality is loneliness and unmet expectations.

Just as luminaries shine brighter on the darkest night, losses glare when set against a backdrop of ‘Hallmark Christmas’ perfection. All that is not ‘right’ in your world becomes glaringly apparent. Maybe this year you are struggling with something putting a damper on your celebration. A divorce, a death of a loved one, or many other unanticipated events can do that. Maybe the source of your sense of unseasonal darkness stems from childhood distress or that fact that Christmas disappointments have always been your experience. The solace I can offer is that there is comfort knowing you are not alone and to encourage you to not assume that all those houses decorated with trees and lights are filled with people who would not understand your struggle. Many sing a Christmas carol while wiping a tear as I did this morning.   

This mixture of feelings is not a new thing for me. Three years ago in my memoir Leave Him? I wrote about how songs and Christmas traditions of the past swirl around creating a dizzying present-day Christmas. I’m not sure your past interacts with your present in the same way, but I am sure that someone will find some solace in reading my thoughts. Maybe that person will know they are not alone this Christmas. Here is the excerpt:

Christmas


Denise
The warm water pelting the back of my head as the sounds of ‘Mary Did You Know’ set my mind to wandering. For a second I am riding in the passenger seat of the Explorer with a thirty-something-year-old Mark telling me how much he loved the song and how it perfectly tells the story of Christmas. The thought of riding in the car with him at Christmas instantly spun me back to a time ten years before that. Just as vividly, I see it all. We were riding in our Mazda, turning onto Miller Academy Road on the way to Mark’s parents’ Christmas dinner with the Alabama Christmas cassette playing. A tiny voice from the backseat started singing her favorite song, ‘A Candle in the Window.’
“And there’s a candle in the window, a flame against the night. The candle in the window, it’s like God’s perfect light…”
I turned around to see the sweet little face singing every word and it was almost as if she had a halo beaming over her strawberry blond hair. I touched my seven-month-pregnant-belly. All was well with the world, there really was peace.
The song ended and Mark said, “You want to sing ‘Thistlehair the Christmas bear’?”
I reached for the soap…and I saw another Mark, one I wanted to forget. His gaunt cheeks seemed to draw his face in, a face covered by an unkempt, long beard, and hollow, blank eyes showing that his soul left long ago.


Leave Him? (available at Amazon.com in print for $12.99 and Kindle for $2.99) Also available for local purchase in print at at Willis Jewelry Company located at 203 Adamson Square in Carrollton, Georgia, the Therapeutic Lair at 723 E. College Street in Bowdon, Georgia, on the square in downtown Newnan, Georgia in Gillyweeds at 21 W. Court Street, and at the Wildwood Charm shop at 315 S. Hamilton Street in Dalton, Georgia.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Midnight Ponderings of Being Fearfully and Wonderfully Made


How often do you wonder about something? I don’t mean to be curious but instead to marvel. As many middle-aged women do, last night I woke up at 2:30 with my mind thinking about all kinds of things. As I lay in my bed wishing for a few more hours of sleep, I began to wonder about something.

Earlier that evening I had seen a TV advertisement for 23 and Me Genetic Testing and Analysis. I guess this might have spurred my thought process, but really it could have been the left-over Mexican food I had for dinner. At any rate I began to wonder or marvel about my conception. Yes, I do know where babies come from and am sure of my parentage, but this marveling is a story I’d like to share.

My mother has a keloid scar on the lower portion of her neck. As a kid, I remember her choosing her necklines and necklaces carefully to bring as little notice to this flaw. I also remember her explaining to me how she got the scar. In 1949 at the age of three, she came down with diphtheria, a disease that we have almost eradicated through DTP vaccinations. The disease caused a very thick mucus to form in her throat hampering her breathing. She was transported by ambulance to Grady Hospital and was given a tracheotomy to allow her to breathe. The wound from this formed the unique scar on her neck.

In the middle of the night I wondered at the fact that she survived such a rare illness and that she reached the hospital in time, for without her I would not be me. Not many people know about their parent’s close call with death. I grew up knowing this tale along with another one about my father.

When my dad was finishing high school about to enter college, one night he was doing what many his age did – riding around with friends on a dark, curvy, country road. The driver of the car lost control on a sharp curve sailing off into a tree. This was 1960, long before the time of seatbelts. One of his friends was badly injured and my daddy, who was tossed out of the car, was walking around and thought he was fine. The emergency workers noticed that he had blood coming out of his ears and said to the ambulance driver, “You better take him to the hospital as well.” There, at Newnan Hospital, they discovered he had a severely broken shoulder and a head injury. He was in a coma for a while.  In those days there was little that could be done for a head trauma except to wait and see if the bleeding and swelling would stop and if it did, wait to see how much damage it had done.

He did recover with very few signs of his head injury, although he would tell you that his short-term memory was better before, and his shoulder has never been the same since.

In the middle of the night as I pondered these things, I was filled with a sense of providence and the thoughts of that made the scripture Jeremiah 1:5 more real than before. It reads: “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart…” NLT. The 23 and Me people would certainly argue that without the unique combination of my mother and father’s DNA, I would not be me. My unique flaws and giftings, the mixture of mess and majesty that I am, was divinely provided for through the preservation of a sick, little three-year-old girl and a teen in a coma.

Other people might see it differently. Some might say it was just fate. I would rather sit in wonder of a grand creator that cared enough about me even before I was born to form my DNA as He intended. I prefer to believe that as Psalm 139: 14 says, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” – a thought appreciated much more with middle-aged insomnia.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Thankful He Has Always Been Faithful To Me


This morning I was  listening to the Lauren Daigle song “Remember” and a line that it repeats over and over is “You have always been faithful to me.” At this time of Thanksgiving, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate way to transform my thinking to reflect the gratitude that I should always have.

As I think about Thanksgiving my thoughts swirl together. Of course, there are those thoughts of my Grandma Hines’ turkey and dressing and all of the side-dishes and desserts that made it complete, but there are also thoughts of times that were a mixture of gratitude and disappointment. A hard balance between thankfulness and wondering why things had to be so hard.

I remember taking a family picture in front of an iconic church in downtown Carrollton for a story I wrote sharing about my first husband, Mark’s illness the first Thanksgiving after his diagnosis of a malignant brain tumor. The story told of his miraculous healing – It was. He was supposed to die a few months after diagnosis – I didn’t tell of how different he had already become, and how I was beginning to grieve the loss of the first him I knew.

I remember another Thanksgiving, where I was already adjusting to a diminished lifestyle forced by his ever-declining mental and physical abilities when another huge set-back occurred. Four days before that Thanksgiving, he had a stroke. Again, the mixture of gratitude that he had survived and could walk and talk with a limp and a slur combined with a huge feeling of disappointment bringing on thoughts of ‘Wasn’t everything hard enough? Why this?’

I remember another Thanksgiving when the night before, I had a dream that my 92-year-old grandma wouldn’t see another turkey and dressing feast, then arriving to find that she wasn’t feeling able to come to celebrate with us. I remember taking her a plate on my way home and finding the woman who had always been faithful to pray for us looking very frail and sick. The mixture of her consistency throughout the years and the thought that she soon would leave us shook me that cold day.

Memories of lighter, happier, Thanksgivings color my thoughts, sprinkling them with the brilliant fall colors that can’t be rivaled. Times filled with my little children dressing up in little Indian and Pilgrim outfits for pre-school presentations. Times filled with new introductions and new traditions. Times of true appreciation.

One thing I know for sure, as I celebrate my fifty-fourth Thanksgiving, is that He has always been faithful to me. I don’t say it enough I know, but with all my wanderings, my doubts, my anger, and my fear, God has never left my side. I am thankful for that above all else.

This Thanksgiving you may be in one of those swirl-type places I described, a place where your gratitude is mixed with thoughts of things that might have been – things you felt should have been. Know that you are not alone. Remember He is faithful and never leaves you. Those times when you feel that you are all alone are an illusion – for He is always there. Lauren has another song on her latest album (can you tell I’m a fan?) called Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. It is a remake of an old hymn. Sometimes we need to open our eyes and see that He is there in the midst of our joys and our disappointments and find comfort in that.

May God grant you and yours a blessed Thanksgiving!  

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Sign Here or Make Your Mark


The phrase “You need to sign here” may cause anxiety because it means monthly payments or a commitment of some sort, but for teens today it creates anxiety because it asks them to complete a simple task that they are not prepared to do. Yes, you heard me right. The majority of high school students do not know how to sign their name because they cannot write in cursive.

As with all things in education, the only thing that remains the same is change. Somewhere, about ten to fifteen years ago most school systems decided that the time spent teaching second or third graders how to write (and read) in cursive could be better spent learning other things, especially test preparation. I’m sure they thought not much would be lost by losing cursive. After all, these students will be typing on a keyboard anyway. And as far as reading historic documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, well, all can be accessed in type-written form online.

I don’t believe they gave much thought to the need for some sort of a signature. I don’t suppose it would have ever occurred to me that they had never been taught cursive until I started teaching high school six years ago. I have to admit that in the beginning I would even write my feedback notes on their writing assignments in cursive. None of those students ever mentioned that they could not read my suggestions, not that many of them wanted to read how they might improve their writing after it was graded. It was only when I was asked to have students sign to receive materials that I realized that they could not sign their names. Line after line would be filled with printed names.

I teach English and our system is focusing on increasing literacy – a lofty and important goal. Understanding and communication are necessities for success now more than ever. Yesterday, I decided to address the cursive issue with my students, thinking that a literate student should know how to sign their name. I gave them sheets, writing each of their names in cursive at the top, then helped them practice. I explained the importance of developing a signature that looked the same all of the time as a way of identification. Yeah, I know some of you are thinking that your doctor’s signature is nothing more than a hump here and there and a line to the side. That may be so, but you can bet that Dr. So-and-so knows that you do not print your signature. They may develop the hump and line method later, but for this week we are learning that little bit of cursive writing.

There are studies that show that learning cursive engages different parts of the brain than printing does, and learning cursive improves childhood development. Many teachers have commented on how much better the hand-eye coordination is with kids who have learned cursive. I will add that I do not believe that our little one-day lesson on how to sign your name will improve any of that for my high school students. I’m just trying to do my part to make sure the next generation doesn’t revert back to the days of “Make your mark here.”                   
X


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Remember to Make Halloween Memories...


As I am greeted by a small Super Mario and a wee witch riding a broom, I am reminded of a collage of memories of Halloweens many years past. I guess I enjoyed the creation of the costumes as much as anything. We never were the ‘go to Walmart and get the nylon suit and plastic mask’ kind of people; we tried to be a little more original than that.

There were the preschool kind of costumes with I guess my favorite, or most embarrassing for my adult child, costume was a hand-painted (by me) Superman emblem on a bright blue sweatshirt. It wasn’t the painting that made it embarrassing for him, but to create the look we needed the red Superman drawers to wear on top of the sweatpants. Being a resourceful mother, I told my four-year-old to wear a pair of red underwear on the outside. To this day if you look closely at the photos you can see the fly indicating that these super-pants were intended for a much more practical purpose.

The other thing I remember about Halloween with my kids was how much more they enjoyed it when we moved into a subdivision. We would walk with our neighbors as they approached every door collecting quite the haul of sweetness. The weather at the end of October was always unpredictable, and the year that I rented a gorilla suit for my oldest the temperatures after dark were hot enough to wear shorts. A fuzzy gorilla suit can be quite hot when walking a couple of miles.

My days of dressing a small James Bond or a budding rock star are over, but I’d like to remind those of you with little goblins to cherish the moments. This fall holiday offers you the chance to disconnect for a bit, interact over what costume to create, and then go on your candy quest. Carve a pumpkin, go on a hay ride, run through a corn maize – take a moment to forget the seriousness of life and play with your children. It won’t be long, and they will be in their thirties and you will be looking back at your collage of memories. Make sure to create a big one.   


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing Baby


I’m sure everyone has weird little habits that make them unique. I’m also pretty sure that some have a little more uniqueness than others.

Last week I needed to get some cash and instead of going to the ATM, I decided to walk around the newly remodeled Target. Not needing anything, but knowing that a purchase of some sort is required to get cash back, I wandered to the candy aisle. I didn’t want a full-on, candy binge with chocolate, caramel, and nuts – just something small, slightly tangy, and chewy. I decided on a small bag of Jelly Belly jellybeans with its label boasting of 30 flavors.

At my desk I opened the bag and dumped a few in my hand to examine them. I am sure there are some wacky people out there that just eat a handful of them, although I’m not sure how you could mix licorice, sizzling cinnamon, and coconut together for a great taste.

So I proceeded with my method. I dumped them out a handful at a time and used the handy guide on the back of the bag to identify the ones for consumption. Out of the thirty flavors, the one that I was happiest to find was juicy pear. When the first one of those melted between my teeth I marveled at how close to a pear the little circle of sugar tasted. There were three of them. Then I methodically picked out the only other ones I could stand to eat: green apple, lemon lime, Sunkist lemon, Sunkist tangerine, and peach. I raked the rest into a pile and put them back into the bag. Who wants to eat toasted marshmallow, tuti-fruiti or bubble gum flavored jelly beans anyways? What is really bad is when you pick up a yellow one thinking it is a Sunkist lemon and it turns out to be buttered popcorn, then you are forced to find another one you can stand to get the taste out of your mouth.

After an hour of sorting, eating a few, and being randomly disappointed I came to a conclusion that I probably should have discovered much earlier in my life. If you are craving a juicy pear, don’t be too lazy to walk to Publix, use their ATM, and buy the real thing. Sugary substitutes are always a poor imitation or as Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell sang years ago "Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby."

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Just a Taste of My Book to See If You Like It...

My first job was at Baskin-Robbins ice cream store. One of the best things they did was to have tiny, little pink spoons where you could try a flavor before committing to a whole scoop. Who doesn't like the idea of try it before you buy it? So, this post will contain the first chapter of my book Leave Him? That way you can get a taste of what the book will be like before you buy it- in Baskin-Robbins tradition.
Leave Him? (available at Amazon.com in print for $12.99 and Kindle for $2.99) Also available for local purchase in print at at Willis Jewelry Company located at 203 Adamson Square in Carrollton, Georgia, the Therapeutic Lair at 723 E. College Street in Bowdon, Georgia, on the square in downtown Newnan, Georgia in Gillyweeds at 21 W. Court Street, and at the Wildwood Charm shop at 315 S. Hamilton Street in Dalton, Georgia.


Chapter 1

Ella Mae
1914
The warm blood oozed out of the wound and dripped onto the wooden slat floor forming a small puddle on the hand-made pine board cabin Harvey Pate had carved out from the Western Georgia woods ten years before in 1904. The sound of dripping and the shooting pain woke Ella Mae. Her head had just missed the rock hearth of the fireplace where a small fire still burned keeping warm a kettle of grits that hung in an iron pot over the flames. After opening her eyes for a moment, she closed them again tightly, hoping not to relive the images just before falling to the floor. Unfortunately, it would take more than closed eyes to make her forget.
Ella Mae’s husband, Harvey had said, “Ella Mae, where have you been? I told you never to go anywhere alone.”
Ella Mae tried to tell Harvey that she had just returned from taking the kids to her parent’s house, but as so many times before, he started hitting her, first with his fists, then the chair. She had turned away to avoid his blows when the wood of the chair landed on the back of her head. This time it was a chair, last time it was a broom. And then there was the time she would never forget when it was a bullet from his pistol that pierced her shoulder.
She dared not stir and let him know she was awake, fearing that there might be more blows, or if he were finished there would be the usual apologies, and he would beg her to forgive him—again.
Then she heard it. A familiar voice was speaking. She strained to hear and then it got louder and very distinct. “Take your children and leave.” Over and over she heard the same words.
Gathering her courage, she tried to sit up and quickly looked around. Harvey was not in the house. He must have gone, he often left feeling guilty after their physical encounters. Where were the children? After a moment Ella remembered they were at her parent’s house. Realizing she was alone, Ella said aloud, “How can I leave? What will everybody think if I leave him and go back home to my parents? I have four kids—they’d be so ashamed.”
The familiar voice repeated what she had heard before, simply saying, “Take your children and leave.”
Her head was pounding and the blood now dripped steadily onto her neck, soiling her dress. Ella Mae wondered if the bleeding would stop this time without the stitches from Doc Flanders. She walked to the bucket of water and dipped a rag into it and squeezed it out. Ella Mae had gotten quite skilled at fixing herself up after their confrontations.
Even the soft wet cloth brought intense pain as she touched the wound. She put all the pressure she could stand on the spot and sat at the table hoping in her stillness the blood would clot.
Leave him…how can I leave him? Just two Sundays ago, on meetin’ day, the preacher had said for them to bear their crosses in life bravely—that we all had our troubles to endure. Ella Mae could feel the preacher’s eyes boring into her as he said the words. Preacher Ellison knew about Harvey beating her. Ella had confided in him years before, asking him what she should do.
Sitting at this same table he had told her, “Mrs. Pate, you know what the Bible says. I know your daddy is a good man. I know he taught you the Word. It says in Ephesians for you to submit to your husband and respect him. It may be hard, but God won’t put more on you than you can bear. ‘Sides that your chil’ren need their daddy and what would everybody think if you left Harvey? It’s just ain’t Christian.”
The words of the preacher caused Ella much more pain than any blow her husband had given. The Man of God said that she had no choice but to live in fear and in pain until, just like he had said in their marriage ceremony, “Till death do you part.” Ella had resigned herself to the fact that it would be her death that eventually ended her pain. With every fit of rage she wondered if this one would be it.
She took the damp rag off the wound on her head and patted it with another spot to see if it was still bleeding. It had slowed down, but the red blood stained the white cloth, encouraging her to hold it tight for a while longer.
To her surprise, tears began to trickle down her face. It had been a while since she cried. There was a time when all she did was cry, then, one day it was as if she had spent her lot. There were no more tears left. What good did they do anyway? Never did change nothing.
Somehow the tears had returned with abandon. Try as she might she couldn’t turn them off. What if he came back and saw her crying? She needed to stop and tried with no result. Then she gave in to them and sobbed. Trembling and weak, she asked, “What am I going to do?”
The answer was the same. Take your children and leave him.
Ella Mae knew God’s voice and didn’t want to disobey Him.
“What about my submitting to my husband? What about bearing my cross in life? Isn’t this just my lot? Everybody’s got something hard to bear.”
From somewhere deep within another voice rose up—a voice she had silenced many years before. It was the voice of an innocent, loved young lady who was her daddy’s treasure. It was strong and clear and full of hope. “I don’t deserve to be beaten. I haven’t done nothing wrong. My children don’t need to see their father kill me in a fit of anger. They need me… I will leave. I will take the shame and leave.”
She knew she had only a little bit of time to gather some things together before he returned. She grabbed the potato sack and began to put the things she thought she needed into it. She got her Bible from beside the bed first, then she reached for the picture of the two of them just after they were married ten years ago. Holding it in her hand she paused, knowing she should be in a hurry, yet she needed a moment to say goodbye…
The blue bird sat on the limb in front of her. His fast-paced chirp seemed to be directed to her. Ella stood there fascinated at the brightness of his feathers. He was sitting on the limb right where Harvey Pate had told her to meet him. Was it a sign? The blue of the feathers were almost the same color as Harvey’s eyes. Those eyes. That was one of the problems she had with Harvey Pate. Those eyes were so blue and deep they seemed to invite her to stay and swim in them for a while. She tried not to stare at them instead she looked down. She knew if she ever fully stared into them without reservation she would lose her soul.
The last time they met at this very spot, he had used those piercing blue eyes, dark hair and his boyish smile to urge her to marry him. Today she was to give him her answer. Why shouldn’t she follow him to the preacher’s house and be married? She knew Harvey loved her. She had no doubt about his love, but something within caused her to feel unsettled. Harvey came from a good family. Ella had talked with the Pates many times when she’d come over for Sunday dinner, and Harvey seemed like a good man, but there was something.
The rock sailed past her and made a big splash in the river beyond her. The bird flew away at the sound of the noise. Harvey ran the rest of the way towards her then reached around her and pulled her to his chest. She took a deep breath and looked up into those eyes. For just a few seconds their gazes locked. Just as Ella had thought, she felt her soul transfer through the warm spring air that stood between them.
No longer was her soul completely hers, she had been tempted to give part of it to Harvey Pate and those eyes. He lifted her face upward and kissed her, then whispered, “I was afraid you wouldn’t come. I don’t know what I’d do without you, Ella. I don’t ever want to know what that feels like. Let’s go to the preacher. Let’s get married today, right now.”
The spring breeze blew through her hair causing her to shiver. Was it the breeze or was it Harvey’s kiss? Every time their lips met Ella felt light headed, and she just wanted to give herself to this man. He squeezed her tighter and said, “Well, are we gonna go? Come on, Ella. Don’t you love me? Let’s go.”
Ella felt her head nod, violating her conscience, and before she knew it she was riding with him to the preacher’s house. Standing there before the preacher holding Harvey’s hand, she tried to silence the voice within that was telling her to stop.
Why shouldn’t she marry him? Her reasoning convinced her that he loved her, and evidently she loved him. The two of them should be together, shouldn’t they? Why had she not insisted on waiting until her parents could be there? Maybe her father could marry them like he married many of the area people underneath his big tree. Ella knew that her father would ask her questions. Questions she didn’t want to answer. Questions like, “Have you prayed and asked God if he is the one for you?” or maybe, “Do you have complete peace about this, Ella Mae?” She knew that she couldn’t answer either one of those questions with an honest yes, so they stood before the preacher after sneaking off to get married.
His words startled her as his preacher’s voice boomed, “Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband through sickness and health, til death do you part?” The preacher waited for her answer and looked more than a little impatient as she thought about it. Part of her wanted to run away as fast as she could, but Harvey’s eyes and tight grip on her hands told her she had gone too far to say no.
“Ella Mae, did you hear me? Well, do you take this man til death do you part?”
She swallowed hard and said two simple words that would forever change her destiny. “I do.”
She shoved the picture into the sack.
“What else should I take?”
The only thing she really wanted was to get away before he got home and tried to stop her.
“I need clothes and the kids will need their clothes.”
She opened her chest first and shoved her two other dresses in and laid her dress hat on the bed. In the children’s room she opened the drawers and crammed in as much as she could, with the last thing being a little dress that her daughter Sybil had worn when she was a baby.
Poor Sybil. Just touching the fabric caused Ella Mae to feel the hurt that never seemed to go away. Her oldest child, her beautiful little girl, had taken ill two years before, and at the age of eight went home to be with the Lord. Ella Mae could still vividly see the little wooden casket being lowered into the ground in the church cemetery. On cold nights Ella Mae always felt the urge to cover up her little girl, wishing she could keep her warm.
Things had gotten worse with Harvey after Sybil died. The cloud of depression they all were under intensified Harvey’s moods, and his moods always left Ella Mae bruised and bleeding.
At last she felt as if she had all she could carry in the sack.
She took the blood-stained rag and went to the mirror to wipe the dried blood from her face and hair. Quickly, she dabbed away the stains and brought some of her curly brown hair down over one of her bruises. She placed the hat on her head and pinned it in place, catching a real glimpse of herself for the first time in a long while. She tilted her chin up, noticed that her face looked thinner, older. Ella Mae tried to avoid mirrors. The mirror always made her think, ‘This is all my fault. I should have never married this man when I knew better. There is the person to blame staring back at me’.
Today was different. Today as she looked into the mirror, into the eyes filled with hurt and shame, she saw a woman who had found the courage to leave. She saw a woman who would have to face the scorn of Preacher Ellison and all his loyal deacons of the church, her neighbors, and even some disappointed family members. Today she saw a woman who was listening and obeying the voice of God even when many others would say otherwise. She adjusted the brim of her hat once more, turned and looked around the room one last time. Sack in hand, she walked out the door, slamming it, leaving the past behind, walking boldly toward her future.
Ella Mae was going to follow the voice. The wind blew against her, but with dogged determination Ella Mae walked toward the home of her youth, toward a life without fear.
Her father was at the edge of their property mending a fence as she walked toward him. She saw the familiar, but older, more wrinkled face tense up a little more as he squinted in the sun and saw her coming. He reached up and removed his straw hat and wiped the sweat from his brow with his handkerchief. As Ella Mae got closer she could see that he was looking at her big sack of things and the bruises on her face. She looked down in shame as she reached him.
She finally looked up. She could see that he was clinching his teeth together and his eyes were narrowed. She took a deep breath.
“Daddy, I’ve got to come home.” As the words came out, her tears started again. “I’m gonna leave Harvey. I can’t stay there anymore. I know it don’t sound right, but I think I’m supposed to leave him.”
Her father looked down for a moment and then, with tears in his eyes, and with a shaking hand he raked back her hair to see the bruises fully. “Ella Mae, that boy ain’t never been nothing but trouble. I’m a good mind I’d get my gun and kill him right now. I don’t know why that boy can’t see what a good woman he’s got in you and treat you right.”
“Daddy, you can’t kill him. You’d get in trouble and, and I don’t want him dead. I still love him and he’s the kids’ daddy.”
Henry Jones opened the gate to let Ella through. Once she was in the fence with him he hugged her tightly then held her at arm’s length and said,
“You can’t still love that man after all he has put you through. You and the kids will stay here with me and your mama. I’ll add on another room for the boys. I’ll take care of you, Ella Mae. You don’t need that sorry Harvey Pate.”
Ella Mae reached up and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “I know you will take care of me Daddy. I just never wanted you to have to. It ain’t your place. I’m a grown woman with four kids. It should be Harvey that takes care of me.”
Her father reached down and picked up the sack of belongings and slung them over his shoulder. He began walking towards the house. “Harvey should be doing a lot of things he ain’t, Ella Mae. That boy ain’t never gonna change. I’m glad you finally realized it before something bad happened.”
Ella walked alongside her father. Matching his stride reminded her of a far simpler time, a time before Harvey Pate, a time before she had been hit. The sun felt warm on her face as she walked beside him. If only she could forget.
Interrupting her thoughts her father asked, “Do you want me to get the doctor to come by and see about you?”
Ella Mae reached up and touched the fresh bruise. It still hurt to touch it, but she knew that there had been plenty of worse times and really all Doc Flanders would do is tell her that it would heal with time if she didn’t need stitches.
“No, there’s no need for that. I’ll be alright.”
****
It was three weeks since she left Harvey. She sat shivering in the dark bedroom with her children hovering all around her, looking at her with fear in their eyes. Ella Mae was sure that her eyes reflected that same terror. There was no way to hide the feelings that Harvey’s threatening voice evoked in her.
“I just wanna to talk to my wife, Mr. Jones. You know she should’ve never left me. I wouldn’t have hurt her once if she hadn’t made me do it. You can’t blame a man for wanting to keep his woman away from other men.”
Ella Mae heard her father, Chead Jones, clear his voice before yelling back, “Harvey, Ella Mae has never given you a reason to hurt her, in fact, there ain’t no reason to hit a woman. I have put up with more than I ought to outta you. I should’ve shot you dead when you shot her in the shoulder. If it weren’t for my love for God, you’d be a dead man right now. I’m only gonna say this once and I spect you to listen. If you ever come here again or if you ever try to see my daughter again, I’m gonna forget that I’m a Christian and you are gonna be full of buckshot, you hear me?”
Ella could see through the edge of the window the two of them facing off. She then heard Harvey say, “Ella Mae, I know you can hear me. I won’t see you with another man. If it kills us both, you won’t be in another man’s arms.” He adjusted his hat and went out into the night.
Ella Mae had tears flowing down her face. Her mother came into the room and took the children away giving Ella Mae a moment to herself. Her tears turned to sobs as she thought back to the words Harvey had said. She knew that he meant what he said. He would never see her in another man’s arms, besides, what man would want to cross Harvey Pate and touch his wife? At the age of twenty-eight had she forever lost the feeling of a man’s arms wrapping around her? Would she never again have someone to hold her tight? Should she just go back to Harvey? Maybe he would change. She knew that wasn’t true, but it would be easier to just go back. It would stop the voices. The women of the church had been talking. It seemed Harvey had told them that the reason he got into it with her was because she was unfaithful. Some of the women got to wondering about their husbands so badly that two of them asked Ella Mae if she had been with them. Then there was the preacher. Ella thought back to his last weekly visit.
He had said, “Ella Mae it’s your duty to go back home. You know you’re breaking your vow to God.”
Ella Mae had straightened her back in the kitchen chair as she had heard the words of the preacher. “I know you don’t believe me, but I know that God is telling me to leave Harvey.”
“Ella Mae, why would God tell you to do something that the Bible tells us not to do? Don’t you read your Bible? I know you know how to read. Some folks can’t, and I can see them saying something like that cause they wouldn’t know, but you know. You can read God telling you to obey your husband.” He had taken the big black Bible out from under his arm and opened it to the page and had pointed it out for her. “Read right there, Ella Mae. It says wives obey your husbands, and your husband is telling you to come back home.”
Ella Mae had shaken her head. She wasn’t going to give in this time. This time she wouldn’t let the preacher turn her thinking. “I ain’t going back, Preacher. I know what the Bible says, but I also know what God is telling me. He don’t want me to get killed by Harvey. He’s gonna kill me if I stay with him. I don’t think he will mean to, but he will do it eventually.”
The preacher had put his hat on his head and closed the Bible. “Ella Mae, you are in danger of going to hell if you don’t change and go home.”
He had walked out the door and Ella Mae had slammed it behind him. She had started to cry, and reached up and held her head between her hands. She had cried out, “God, if I go to hell for this, then you just ain’t fair. Why can’t Harvey treat me right? Why can’t you make him change?”
Ella Mae’s thoughts about that last visit blurred together with her feelings today. Just hearing Harvey’s voice caused a mixture of love and fear, with both fighting for control of her. In the darkness of the room she whispered, “I have broken my vow, God. I have made such a mess of my life.”

Christmas Emotions are Not Always Full of Cheer

So, have you ever talked to yourself on your way to work and said, “This is not a good time to be so emotional. You are going to smear y...