Saturday, July 6, 2019

Need to Unplug?

Have you ever thought about unplugging for a bit? I felt the need to do a modified period of unplugging. Since the school year ended at the close of May. I have not checked any of my three email accounts. Maybe having 3054 unread emails would drive you over the edge. I have found that not knowing about the great sale that Zulily is having on my favorite brand or seeing the email receipt of a bill paid has not bothered me a bit. In fact, this absence of constant info has allowed me to focus on the moment.

I have not totally been unplugged. I have posted pictures of my summer travels and a few pictures of my outdoor babies (plants) at their peek on Facebook. I still scan through posts once a day, but I am not checking constantly. And again, I have lived just fine experiencing all I can in my days off. I have made two trips, visited with family, and enjoyed some pleasure reading.

I have never had my phone connected to give me instant notifications of emails or social media which, I guess, has made my time of somewhat unplugging easier for me. I also know that some in their twenties and thirties have never had a time in their life where they were unreachable. For them, my children included, a few moments without access to a cell phone could cause duress.
Even I have a hard time remembering how we navigated or booked a hotel room before the days of the internet. As my friend Renee’ and I wandered around the streets of Savannah last week using Google maps to give us walking directions to a restaurant, I pondered life before… How did I make reservations for hotels? I know I did because we went places but there wasn’t a Priceline or Expedia or even a Google Search. Did I just call information (younger people wouldn’t know what that is either- a real person who looked up things in telephone directories for a small fee on your phone bill) and ask for hotels at Gulf Shores? Then, after calling and reserving a room with a real person who worked there, we would get the address and look it up on a paper map and chart our course. After we arrived, and we always did even without navigation assistance, my mother always wanted me to call her (on a push button or rotary, land-line telephone) and let her know we were okay and give her the phone number of the hotel to call in case of an emergency. Then, we would enjoy a few days really unplugged from our friends and family.

I know the story of how to go on vacation before cell phones makes me sound ancient. Some days I feel as if I am, but in reality, this happened about twenty-five years ago. In those years we have watched mailed letters be replaced by email, pagers be replaced by cell phones, and maps be replaced by navigation devices.

Last week, as my friend and I followed the walking directions from Google Maps in an effort to find The Public Market restaurant (a great place to eat by the way) in circles, I longed for a relic from the past- a good ole paper map, so that I could decide the closest path to our destination.

I guess the most inspiring reason for me to encourage you to be a little more unplugged came at the end of our trip. We watched a beautiful sunset at the Riverwalk Park next to the Savannah River. I sat admiring the colors of the setting sun as it reached the river’s edge just beyond the expanse of the bridge when I noticed a family of four sitting on the bricks across from me. The parents were both entranced in the screens of their personal devices while their two girls played nearby. I snapped a picture of them to serve as a reminder to be present in the moment. Of course, they didn’t notice. They never looked up. I sat looking at them a few more moments and thought about how many people are just like them, and I guess I was thankful that twenty-five or thirty years ago I didn’t have a screen to stare at. I made enough parenting blunders of my own without that to add to my not being attentive enough. If I would have had the courage I should have walked up to the couple and asked if I could send them the photograph I had made, so they might see. Even then they might have only seen a typical family photo.

Enough of my unplugging ramblings. Pause for a moment and think about what you might unplug for a bit. You might find that you could live without that thing for a moment and have time to see what’s in front of you.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Finally... My New Book... A Fight for Life

Sometimes you feel as things are just dragging out, taking longer than they should, then you see something that makes you realize that perfect timing may come a little later than you thought it should. This happened to me as I finally uploaded my second book for publication. I finished writing the book in January, polished it up and got it ready to print by March, but it took until this week to get everything together for a launch. This morning as I looked at my publishing account I realized that I launched my first book, Leave Him?, May 15th of last year, so this year’s book was ready a day earlier.

When I mentioned to my mom that I had another book ready to release, I could hear the unspoken ‘Oh no, what is this one about?’ in her tone of voice. She seemed relieved when I told her that this one is “good, old-fashioned fiction with no family secrets to reveal.” I realize that some readers will be glad about this, while others will be looking for more of my personal story. I have to admit that publishing fiction doesn’t hold the same gut-wrenching feeling – that I am walking around naked feeling – that publishing a memoir does, but it is exciting to put a story I created out there to see if others will enjoy it as much as I have.

My latest book is called A Fight for Life.  In it Addie Wilson, a mother desperate to save her college-aged daughter’s life, will do anything.

Forced to rely on two men for her daughter’s life, Addie Wilson is pushed well beyond her comfort zone as a solitary, stained-glass artist to expand her relationships. Torn between one man that wants to control her and another that seems to open once closed off areas of her heart, her struggle takes her to see a prophetic dream play out.

Addie faces old and new fears in this vivid and thrilling fight for life. 

As with any book, if a reader knows the author they look for glimpses inside the author hidden within the characters or story line. I will give a few tips for those looking. I have dabbled in stained-glass but am far from a paid professional artist. I have been on a trip to Russia in the early 2000’s where I gained some insight into their culture. But be sure that this book is a work of my imagination, not personal history.

I hope that my characters come as alive to you as they are to me and take you on a journey through the pages of A Fight for Life. You can purchase the printed book for $9.99 and the Kindle version for $2.99 at

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

"What's that you are reading?"

The other day one of my students, I’ll call him J, saw a copy of my book lying in front of my printer by my desk. J read the title out loud, “Leave Him?” and with concern in his eyes he said, “Mrs. Johnson, you are not thinking about getting a divorce, are you?”

I smiled and paused for a moment and thought that there may be potential readers out there that might be contemplating leaving him, whoever he is, but are not so bold as to have a book lying around sporting that title.

This wasn’t the only time this topic has come up. Last summer I had someone say that they might tear off the front cover so their husband wouldn’t worry.

Here’s the thing- I never wrote this story to inspire someone to leave, and the truth is that after you read these stories you are able to see the costs both I and my great-grandmother paid you would think long and hard before making that decision.

Contrary to what the title Leave Him? might suggest I never intended this book to be looked at as an answer for someone else in turmoil. Each person must make their own hard choice and live with difficult consequences. My book confirms that. What I do know is that people need to know they are not alone in their struggles, their doubts, and their fears. They need to know that the God that they may be angry at never leaves their side, nor expects more than they can give.

I have almost finished writing my latest book and am struggling to come up with a title. Unlike with Leave Him? (a title I felt strongly about from the beginning), this latest book had a working title that it seems to have outgrown as it developed. That is not the only thing that is different about my latest work. It is a suspenseful fiction book, a work based on imagination rather than experience. I hope that I have been able to bring real-life struggles to life in a fiction world.
Back to my student, J. I went on to tell him that I had written the book beside my desk. He looked a little puzzled at the name on the cover, then asked, “Is that your maiden name?”  I said no and waited for him to figure it out. I finally had to give him a hint and said, “I did leave him.” He finally understood and reached for the book saying, “I want to read it.” Yeah, one of my reluctant readers suddenly wanted to read a 332-page book. I took it from him and said, “Nope, not for students.” His curiosity wasn’t strong enough to cause him to think any more about it.

If you haven’t read it yet maybe your curiosity could inspire you to pick up a copy. Copies are available locally 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. Leave Him? is also available at in print for $12.99 and Kindle for $2.99.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Making Memories: Stevie Wonder, Football, and Things

You know you are getting old when you remember participating in the Super Bowl festivities the last time Atlanta hosted, showing off the then “new Georgia Dome.” As I looked it up to get my facts straight, the Georgia Dome was deemed an architectural wonder, being the second largest covered stadium in the world in 1992. And as with all state-of-the-art things, years later that shine had worn off and talk began of building the Mercedes-Benz Stadium to take its place. I’ve been to both and have to say that the new one is amazing.

I am not writing an architectural review; however, but to take a stroll through some memories that hearing about the Super Bowl festivities stirred in me.

It was the last weekend in January of 1994, and the eyes of the world were focused on Atlanta, the venue for Super Bowl XXVIII. Of course we, working hard to raise two kids, did not have the money to attend even if it was to be held in our backyard of nearby Atlanta, but we did decide that we could manage to take a day to explore the related events that were held in the streets of downtown Atlanta. So, we loaded up our five and eight-year-old kids and headed out for fun.

As we did on most occasions when in Atlanta, we decided to stop at Guitar Center and have a look around; after all, Mark always wanted to see the latest guitars and pick one off the display to strum and dream of owning for a minute or two, and the kids loved all things music.  After a few minutes, we wandered out of the guitar section following a sound coming from the keyboard section of the store.

It was there that we saw Stevie Wonder swaying back and forth as he filled the room with song. We stood there and watched, getting our own private concert. Stevie’s bodyguard noticed us but determined that we weren’t a threat, nodding in our direction.

As we got the kids back in the car, we explained who was playing the piano and told them about his blindness and just how famous he was. I know that we were probably more impressed than they were at the time.

Our next stop would be Peachtree Street in search of the perfect commemorative T-shirt. We walked around taking in all of the festivities, shopping at the vendors, and finding something to eat. The city streets that we normally drove thru had a much different look about them. Traveling by foot, we looked up at the tall buildings to see the night sky instead of passing along in a car.

Seeing Stevie earlier that day was a reminder that other famous people were probably among us, although most were most likely dining at places we could never afford. Still, the feeling was that this was a moment in local history that we could participate in.

This week as I watched the Super Bowl coverage in Atlanta from the comfort of home, I didn’t have the urge to go down there and participate. I was satisfied with my view from the couch, but I did remember…

The thing that came to me was the importance of taking the time to be in the moment and make a memory for tomorrow. I’m glad that I let Mark persuade me to spend money we probably didn’t need to spend, to do something that some would consider a foolish waste of time, because we made a memory that I and my kids will always have. Not many people have had a private Stevie Wonder concert and, I might do well to do as Stevie says and “Don’t You Worry Bout a Thing.” Those worries that we tend to worry about today, probably won’t be the things we remember tomorrow.

I want to remember the importance of making a memory. There are still many more things to do and see- more memories to be made. Take the time today to do something memorable.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Dear Younger Me

Inspired by the first and latest profile picture fad on Facebook, I decided to pull mine and I felt drawn to tell younger me a few things. Maybe these things would be helpful to you. I hope I have learned something along the way!

Dear Younger Me,

       Realize that this journey is just that- a journey. It is not a race to be won. There is not a destination to arrive at called happiness. If you are not careful you will spend all of your todays looking forward to your tomorrows, only to find that the moment you were in was the prize. There will be times when you waste your today looking back at yesterday, sometimes in longing for things long past and sometimes in regret for the choices that you have made. The moment you are in is so much more important than that. Be present.

      Cut yourself as much slack as you bestow to others. Self-criticism dished out in heaping spoonfuls does not motivate you to change. Comparison to others or some ideal only leaves you wanting to be more. Acceptance of yourself always seems just a little beyond your grasp. When I look into your younger eyes I see that urge to be more… I know the road you will travel, and I want to tell you that you are already enough.

           Embrace the chances you have to really get to know others. Enjoy that others trust you with their secrets knowing you are trustworthy. Also, continue to pull back when you have had enough to rejuvenate with just you and God. Older you tends to forget how important that really is.

       I know you can’t imagine it but it won’t be long until your children will be grown and doing their own thing. If there is anything older you wishes for, it would be a few more minutes to hold a small hand, play a game, or to teach a valuable life skill. Again, treasure the moment.

       Know that you are loved, not just in a casual way, but in a way that really matters. As you learn to love your children through hard times when they need your unconditional love and forgiveness, you glimpse a tiny portion of just how completely you are loved by your heavenly father. Imagine him delighting over you with a song of your praise, not with a pen and tally sheet recording your deeds. Know that nothing you could ever do could separate you from the love of God.

Older Me

These thirteen years should have caused wrinkles galore with all of the hardships they brought. And yes, I have earned a few that show clearly, but overall I think that I was shielded by grace from much that my troubles could have caused. I also believe that my genetic makeup has helped. Maybe a little of my mom’s Oil of Olay mentality rubbed a few of them away, and Lord knows hair dye is a must! I can’t help but wonder what the next ten years will look like but I think I will take my own advice and try to be present in the moment. I will try and show myself more grace. I will value my friendships and take time for myself. Mostly, I will rest in knowing that I am completely loved!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Christmas Gift- excerpt from Leave Him?

The Christmas Gift
The house was still dark and the cold air seeping through the cracks caused Ella Mae to awaken in order to check to make sure the children were still under the layers of quilts. First, she tucked the covers tightly around Roselle, then she got out of the bed. She shuffled over to the boys’ bed on the other side of the room to find the three of them snuggled together. She lifted Henry’s arm and placed it under the cover, noticing how cold the skin of his hand was. ‘I need to go put more wood on the fire to ward off this cold.’
As she went into the living area she saw her father had already beat her to the job. As the remaining embers crackled under the weight of the new logs, Chead Jones straightened up to his full height and held out a hand toward Ella Mae. Reaching for her he pulled her close for a warming hug. “What are you doing up this time of the morning?”
Ella Mae felt his warmth and thought of how different Harvey’s hugs felt. Her father’s hugs were gifts given with nothing in return expected. “I could ask you the same thing. You look ready to go out. Are you leaving this early again?”
Chead put his hands behind his back and rubbed them together hoping to absorb the warmth of the fire for a few last minutes. “Yep. Helping Mr.White pick up supplies in Carrollton three days a week for his store is a good paying job, although I enjoy it a heap better in the warmer weather.”
“Daddy, I hate for you and mama to have to work so hard to support us. It shouldn’t be this way.”
Chead shifted his feet back and forth then smiled at his daughter. “Ella Mae, it ain’t like you don’t do more than your fair share around here.”
“You and mama should be enjoying your days as you get older, not worrying about us. If that new factory at Banning would hire me I’m thinking about working for them, then maybe I could afford a little place.”
Chead picked up his coat and gloves off the seat of the chair and put them on. “You know Ella Mae that your main job is to raise them kids of yours. Working in some factory for hours expecting youngens to raise themselves just so you can live in some raggedy shack on your own ain’t worth it. Maybe when the kids are older, but not now. This is working and besides, your ma and I wouldn’t know what to do without y’all around. Let me get on to work and you go back to bed and rest a spell longer.”
Ella Mae soaked up a little more warmth from the fire, took a deep breath, and decided to take her father’s advice and return to the bed for a bit longer. It would be two hours before daylight came, and sitting by a fire recounting all the things she wished were different in her life would not help them change. Neither would a few more minutes of sleep, but rest seemed the better choice.
Chead Jones had already been to the Carrollton loading dock and had the wagon stacked tight and was now ready for the ride back to the Whitesburg store. Other than the cold encircling him like a red hawk circles its prey, he had come to enjoy seeing the sun pierce the cold, blue sky from the ridge of Oak Mountain. He had noticed that the coldest mornings produced the most vivid colors of pinks and golds eventually giving way to an orangey-yellow. It was on his ride back that he made a conscious effort to pray for his family. This was added time from when he and Annie knelt beside their bed every night joining hands and giving thanks to the Lord.
As he watched the sun creeping over the horizon he called aloud the names of all of his children and their wives or husbands asking God to bless and protect them.
He then moved to specific areas of need. “Lord, I know you have always provided for our needs. There may have been times when I didn’t know how you were gonna do it, but you always have. I know my oldest, Bill, worries about making enough to provide for his wife and kids. I pray that you will bless his efforts as you have already blessed Luther. I thank you that everything that boy touches seems to turn out good. I know that it is only because of you that it is that way. And my other boy, Arthur, who wanted to start on his own early, is already learning to make his way. Bless his marriage to Buvenia and little James.” He gave a cluck of encouragement and a pop of the reins to inspire the mule team up to the top of the ridge. The shades of pink and gold welcomed him over the hill. “Lord, I am truly a blessed man with most of my children married and giving me and Mary lots of grandchildren. I couldn’t name everyone in the time between here and home. Each one of em is special and different showing how creative you are. Of course the ones I see the most are Ella Mae’s kids. I see those boys trying so hard to be little men for their mama, especially Henry and Floyd. I know that you blessed us all with Roselle. She is like the promise of your redemption after the death of her sister, Sybil. I know you are watching over little Sybil until we all get there.”
Chead pulled his hat down a little to shade his eyes from the bright morning sun and grimaced a bit as his thoughts wandered, then he forced himself back into prayer.
 His lips thinned and his eyebrows tightened a bit, “Lord, I know it is not good for a man to harbor anything but love for another man, but I gotta say that the more I think about that sorry Harvey Pate the more I want to teach him a lesson, but then I know he was taught better. His daddy is a good man. I just don’t know what’s wrong with that boy. I forgave him like I was supposed to when he shot Ella in the shoulder. I even forgave him when I would see her with bruises on her face or her lip all busted open. I forgave him, but it ain’t right to treat a woman that way, especially my daughter! If I thought he could change I wouldn’t keep Ella Mae and the kids from going back to him, but I have seen into his cold soul when he would face me without even an ‘I’m sorry’ as if he has done nothing wrong. I know that Luther and Bill gave him quite the talking to after he shot her. They went to do it to keep me from killing that boy. Didn’t do no good, any more than his daddy’s beating him for the first time he hit her. He worries me Lord. I just don’t know what he is lible to do. I guess I should be asking you to heal him and make him right, and I guess I would if I thought you could. I’m ashamed to say that I’m not sure even you could fix whatever is wrong with that boy, Lord.”
He could see the store just ahead. There were already a few people out front as he pulled around to the back of the store. He climbed down from the wagon, tied the mules, and began the task of unloading. The lighter boxes were on top, but the heavier ones took all the strength he could gather. He remembered a day when he considered work like this easy, old man work. He smiled a little as he hoisted the last box to the dock. ‘I guess I am that old man that needs a little easier work now.’
Mr. White, a short, thin man about Chead’s age but his time spent indoors afforded him far less wrinkles, opened the back door of his store, and took off his apron to help.
 “How are you doing this morning Chead? It shore is cold, but I think it’s gonna be a pretty day, not a cloud in the sky.”
“Yep, it will be a good winter day, better than those cold, rainy ones for sure. You want me to help you get these crates inside? I got something I want to talk to you about anyhow.”
The two worked together to get the boxes in their places. When they finished Chead took off his gloves and wiped his forehead.
“John, I saw these when I was loading em in Carrollton. How much could I buy one of these for?”
John White opened the top of the crate. It was the new Singer sewing machine he had ordered.
“Awe, Chead, you don’t want one of these. They are a lot more expensive than the other ones I already got for sell. Look at that one to your left. It has one drawer and not all that fancy woodwork and sews just as good. It’s a whole lot cheaper. I just bought this one to see if one of those Virginia families that just moved in might want it. They seem to have more money than they know what to do with.”
“Can we get it out of the crate so I can look at it?”
“Sure.” The storekeeper got his crowbar and began pulling the top away from the sides. Chead helped him unwrap the protective layer of material.
“It is a fine piece. Let’s open it up and I will show you what the machine looks like.”
He folded open the top piece of wood, reached in to grasp the throat of the machine and pulled it up, then folded the wood stabilizers underneath it to make a home for the machine to sit upon. “It is a fine machine.”   
Chead slid his hand over the gold-encrusted word S I N G E R and the delicate wooden overlays that made the drawers look feminine, then he examined the trundle below.
“I bet a person that was used to sewing everything by hand could really stitch some clothes with this thing—maybe even do some things up for sale for those Virginians who have too much money. What’ll you take for it, John?”
“You don’t want to look at one of these others? They could make the same clothes just as fast for a whole lot less.”
The corners of Chead’s mouth turned up as he said, “You know John, you ain’t much of a salesman. You got a man trying to buy something from ya, and you trying to talk him into something cheaper.”
“Awe, it ain’t that. I just know how hard you work for your money and I’m trying to save you some. Let me look up the order, so I can know the price for sure, give me a minute.”
John went to the desk behind the counter, opened the drawer, and pulled out the order form. He took the pencil from behind his ear and scribbled some numbers on a small sheet of paper, then walked over and handed it to Chead.
Chead looked at the paper, remained expressionless, and shoved it in his pocket. He put on his gloves and his hat adjusting it in the doorway of the store.
“Don’t sell that machine to those people who have more money than they know what to do with. I want it John. I will have your money by next Tuesday, so I can bring it home for Christmas. I know somebody who needs something good to come to her this year. Thank ya John. I will see ya Wednesday morning.” Chead climbed into the wagon, clicked to the mules, and headed home to begin his regular day’s work.
Buford pulled as hard as his five-year-old arms could on the rope around the goat’s neck.
“Come on Bessie. You know pawpaw won’t go with us to cut down a tree if I don’t get you inside the barn with the other animals. He said you will get too cold tonight out here.”
The tan goat glared at her leader and lifted her horns a little higher and leaned back toward her hind legs. She did not seem to understand the boy’s pleadings. The barn door flung open wide enough for Henry and Floyd to creep out. Floyd slid the latch down to keep the other animals secure while Henry ran to his youngest brother.
“Here. Give me that rope. I gave you one simple job, to get this goat to the barn, and you can’t seem to do it.” He turned to the goat. “Now look here Bessie I ain’t about to put up with your stubbornness keeping us from getting a tree. I’m big enough to give you a lickin now if you don’t come on.” He raised the goat’s chin to look at him , pulled on the rope and said, “Come on girl. Get in this barn!”
Buford wiped a tear that escaped out of his right eye and watched his brother do what he tried and failed at. Henry closed the latch back after getting Bessie in, just in time to see the tear.
“You ain’t crying are ya? Don’t be a baby!”
Floyd chimed in saying, “You gotta grow up and do your fair share. Me and Henry can’t do it all.”
Now there were more tears coming out of Buford’s eyes than he could squeeze in. The barn door opened once again, and Chead stood over them, noticing the tears falling down Buford’s face. He reached down and scooped the boy up. He still weighed less than a sack of taters. “If y’all want to go cut a tree you better stop pickin at ya brother. You know he still has some growing to do, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that. What if I pointed out everything that I could do that the two of you can’t do? How do you think you’d feel about that?”
Floyd looked up at his grandpa then looked down at his feet and said, “Sorry pawpaw. I never thought of it like that. Come on Buf… Let’s go find the perfect tree.” The younger two ran ahead.
As they scampered off Chead reached over to pat Henry on the shoulder. “I know you are trying to lead these boys. Just remember to always lead out of love instead of leading out of fear. People will give you their best if you are good to em. I know you saw your daddy lead out of fear, and I’m sure he scared you more than one time, but I pray for you to see that love is a far better way Henry. I pray that everyday.”
The oldest Pate boy stiffened a little and looked up at his grandpa. “I would never hurt anybody like I saw my daddy hurt mama. I woulda stopped him if I had been big enough. We all tried to walk around really quiet and do everything he asked us to do to keep him from getting mad. Even mama did. She always had his supper ready before he came in and would do her best to keep all of us quiet so we wouldn’t give daddy a headache. Even if we did everything just right so that he hardly had to do a thing, he would still come in mad. His being mad would turn into his yelling at us, then at her. When we were old enough, she would shew us out of the house before he got mad enough to hit her. When I got old enough she told me that it was my job to take the little ones to your house when daddy got in one of his fits. She took me and showed me exactly how to go. While I hauled the little ones on the trail that last time, I thought about how in a few years I’d be big enough to stop him. I would teach him that we didn’t need him and his anger. I can work and so will Floyd; we will show him we don’t need him!”
Chead stopped walking for a moment and took the boy’s chin in his hand, and raised it up then said, “I’m so sorry you had to live like that! Even if you had been bigger, it shouldn’t have been your place to stop your daddy, he should have been man enough to stop himself.”
The two started walking again. “You know son, I have had a hard time forgiving your daddy for all he has done to you and your mama. I don’t know if I completely have yet. I pray about it bout every day. You need to forgive him, too. You don’t want that anger you have for him, even if it is justified, to boil inside you and spill onto somebody else. You can forgive him, just like God forgives you.”
The two walked towards the younger boys’ shouts of “We found the perfect tree! It’s over here!”
Henry, in a low voice-almost a whisper, said, “Do ya think that’s what’s wrong with daddy? Do you think he got hurt and let his anger boil?”
Chead reached up to shift his hat back a bit. “I don’t think with your daddy it is as simple as that. I think there is something more to it. Let’s cut down this tree before it gets dark.”
Ella Mae and Mary brought the biscuits, ham, and butterbeans to the table just as the door swung open bringing in a burst of cold air and three cold boys. Chead followed behind and shut the door. “We found the perfect tree. We got it soaking in some water. After supper we’ll make a stand and bring it in. Mary you still got some of that popping corn? We can cook it up and then the youngens can string it for decoration. Come on to the table boys, so we can eat.”
Ella Mae took Roselle into her arms and said, “I can’t believe it is almost Christmas, and it’ll be Roselle’s first Christmas.”
The baby giggled as Ella Mae twirled her around before sitting her in her lap on the bench next to her mother. Buford sat beside her. The other boys sat on the other side with Chead and Mary taking their usual place in the chairs at the ends.
Chead said, “Let’s say grace.” The family joined hands, bowed their heads as he began, “Lord, we thank you for this food that you have so graciously provided. We also ask you to teach us your ways and help us to forgive those that have hurt us. Thank you for your protection and saving grace. Amen.”
Chead filled his plate first, then passed the bowls to Henry. The food finally made it around to Buford who waited patiently. Chead noticed the boy swinging his feet underneath him with anticipation. “Buford spotted the tree first and helped saw it down.”
The boy looked up at his ma beaming with pride. “Henry and Floyd took turns pulling the tree home, so this tree is a family to-do.”
Ella Mae quietly thought about a much different Christmas last year. Over eight months pregnant and not feeling her best, Ella Mae struggled to get dinner fixed before Harvey got in. Usually she was ahead of his arrival because Harvey wanted to eat the moment he got home. The door opened as she was frying the last piece of fatback and stirring the peas. The boys stopped their playing and tried to be quiet and still. Harvey came in and slammed the door.
“That ole man Jenkins thinks he can get me to do anything he wants. I ain’t his slave and just cause he pays me don’t mean I ought to do all the work. I had to load three wagon-loads of wood all by myself. My back is killing me. You ain’t got supper ready yet?”
Ella Mae hurriedly put the last piece of meat on the plate. “I got it now. Here it is. Come on boys, sit down.” Ella fixed Harvey’s plate for him before sitting down.
“I guess we ought to say grace. Lord thank you for this food. Amen.”
After they had eaten, Henry took his plate and his father’s to wash them and as Harvey stood to go outside for a smoke, Floyd eased up next to him and asked, “Daddy can we go to cut down a Christmas tree soon?”
“Did you not hear me say my back is hurting boy? Do you think I feel like cutting down a Christmas tree after working like a slave all day? Don’t ask me again. If you boys can’t do it yourselves then I guess you won’t be having one this year, and don’t be asking your ma to help. The baby’s too big for that. Now go outside and make sure them chickens are all in the roost fore they freeze.”
Harvey stepped onto the porch and Ella Mae breathed a sigh of relief. She had thought that he might light into Floyd for asking for the tree. She couldn’t stand in between Harvey and the boys being this pregnant, and it was worse to watch them get beat than to take one herself. She was glad that the only lashes tonight were given by the tongue…
Roselle reached for her mother and said “Mama” while she washed the dishes. She dried the last dish, then her hands, and lifted the child. The boys stood by the fire as her mother shook the pan causing the kernels to begin to pop open. Holding Roselle close she realized how much better it was for the kids to be living here. She knew it was better for her too, even though she still longed to have Harvey’s strong arms around her holding her tight. She knew she had to set her needs as a woman aside to make a better life for the youngens. She tightened her lips and her resolve to not sway even a bit, fearing if she did, she would never be able to keep away from Harvey.   
Tuesday morning December 24th was the coldest morning of the year. Chead and the boys did the usual chores with a little more hurry than usual hoping to get back inside and stand by the fire for a spell. It was almost noon when Chead sent the younger boys inside and asked Henry to help him hitch the team of mules to the wagon. “Where are you going pawpaw?” Henry asked as he pulled the two mules to the front. Chead put the harness on one mule while Henry worked on the other.
“Well, I got some Christmas business to take care of at the store in Whitesburg, and I might need your help if you can keep a secret from your brothers.”
Henry hooked the harness to the wagon and looked up at his grandpa. “Of course I can. I’d love to help.”
Chead smiled at the boy. “You are becoming quite a big help around here son. You are well on your way to becoming a man.” Henry stood up as straight as he could growing into the praise he had been given. “Let’s eat a quick bite and tell the others we are going.”
A few minutes later the pair climbed aboard the wagon for the ride to town. With a click and a snap of the reins they were on their way. The rattle of the empty wagon reminded Chead of the quietness of the ride and he decided to break the silence. “You wanna know what the secret is you are gonna be keeping?”
“I’ve been saving up some extra money to make this Christmas special for y’all. I thought I would let you pick your present out if you want and help me find some things for your brothers and sister. I already picked out a present for your ma.”
“That’ll be fun, pawpaw, but you ain’t gotta get me nothing. I know us staying with you costs lots of money.”
Chead looked down at the boy and smiled. “You got a good heart son, but, yes, you are getting a present too. I got something really special picked out for your ma. I can’t wait til you can see it, and I really can’t wait to give it to her. That’s why I’m giving it to her when we get home this evening.”
A hawk circled just in front of them showing his great wings against the bright blue winter sky. “It almost don’t seem like Christmas with the sun out. Seems like every Christmas I remember when I was a boy it always rained a cold rain, cept this one year when it was bout hot enough to go swimming in the creek. That year didn’t seem like Christmas at all. You gotta warm up by the fire and eat teacakes for it to be Christmas to me.”
They could see the store in the distance next to the railroad tracks. Two other wagons and three saddled horses were parked out front. “Look pawpaw, see that car over beside the church? I wonder whose that is?”
“I see that. Probably one of those people who just moved down here from Virginia that Mr. White was telling me that had more money than they know what to do with.”
The boy squinted in the sun to get a better look. “You think I could walk over close to it and take a look? I’d shore like to get me one of them when I start working.”
Chead pulled hard on the brake of the wagon and said, “I reckon it won’t hurt for you to look. Just don’t touch anything and hurry up and come inside to help me shop.”
 He watched as the boy bolted over to the car then walked completely around it, even bending over to look underneath.
He then turned back and ran to him saying, “I think I saw what makes it work up underneath. The tires are so pretty. The spokes are nothing like a wagon wheels and those seats look so soft. I bet it rides good.”
Chead tussled the boy’s hair and smiled. “You could use a hat. Every man needs a hat. Let’s go see if we can find one.”
As they walked up the steps the door opened, and Henry stopped still. Harvey Pate was leaving with a sack of flour under his arm.
“Well, hello boy. Are you not even gone speak? Where’s yo manners?”
Chead stood behind Henry and put his hand on his shoulder. “Well, where are yours Harvey? You didn’t speak to me?”
“I guess you’re right. Afternoon Mr. Jones. How’s my wife?”
     Chead’s eyes narrowed, “She’s fine.”
     Harvey gave Henry a pat on the head. “I was gone come by and see her and the kids tomorrow for Christmas.”
     “Henry you go on in the store and look at the hats. I’ll be in shortly.”
     The boy did as he was told, and when the door closed behind him. Chead pushed his hat back a little on his head so that Harvey could see his eyes and said, “Harvey, you ain’t gonna come to the house tomorrow or no day. You gave up the right to see your wife and kids when you hurt them as far as I’m concerned. A man’s gotta take care of his wife and family, not hurt em.”
     Harvey took a step back from Mr. Jones and said, “I thought you were supposed to be a Christian. What ever happened to forgiving people for their sins? Can’t a man change? You don’t know, I might never hurt Ella Mae again.”
     “I pray to forgive you every day Harvey, but forgiving you and letting you hurt the ones I love again are two different thangs. How many of them chances for change did Ella Mae give you? I know of more than I can count on my fingers and toes. You had a chance to change and that’s done. All I know is this: you show up at my house tomorrow, Christmas or no Christmas, I’m gonna come out with my gun and show you to the sheriff’s office.”
     Samuel Pate, Harvey’s father, came outside in time to hear the warning. He tipped his hat to Mr. Jones and said, “Harvey ain’t gone cause no trouble for y’all Mr. Jones. He’s gone have Christmas with me and his ma. Ain’t that right Harvey?”
     Harvey glared at his father and said, “Yeah, that’s right daddy. Let’s go on home. At least could you tell Ella Mae I said Merry Christmas?”
Chead Jones was not one to tell a lie so he said, “Good day, men.” tipped his hat and entered the store.
The bells on the door jingled as he entered. He glanced around finding Henry trying on hats in front of a mirror, and joined him.
“I think the brown one looks good on you.” He adjusted the brim and nodded. “How do you like it?”
“I like it fine.”
“Let’s get it then. Did you talk to your grandpa?”
“Yes sir. He said he missed seeing us and would bring us some sweets grandma had made for us.”
“Your grandpa is a good man. What do you think we oughta get Floyd and Buford?”
The boy led him over to the display of toys and he picked up a spinning top that was carefully painted in bands of red and black which stood out against the wooden rest of the top. “Floyd would like this.” Chead could tell that Henry liked it as well.
“Alright, we’ll get it.”
Henry handed it to him then reached for a leather bag. He reached in and pulled out some of the contents to produce marbles with swirls of different colors on each one.
“Buford could take these to school and play with the boys. Me and Floyd have a couple of marbles to play with but Buford never gets to play cause he ain’t got none. He’d feel big if he had this.”
“I think that’s a good idea, too. You’re a big help shopping. I wouldn’t of known what to get without you. Let’s pick out a little doll for your sister even though she’s too young to understand why.”
They looked at the dolls. “They all have those breakable heads, she’d bust those in a day dropping it on the floor. Look at this little bear Henry. You think she’d like it? It’s soft and he has a little bow tie. What do you think of that?”
“I think she’d love that. She may bite on his ears though.”
“Probably so, alright now let’s take all this up to Mr. Smith and talk to him about the big present.”
Mr. Smith took the money the customer handed him and put it in the register, noticed Chead and said, “Well, look who’s back to get the prettiest sewing machine these parts has ever seen. How are you doing, Chead? I’ve had a lot of people look at this beauty but they back away when I show them the price and tell them I can order them one. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to get one of these others? They work just as good.”
“No sir, I told you I wanted to make this Christmas special. Do you see it Henry? What do you think your ma will say?”
Henry raked his hand across the gold S I N G E R and opened one of the tiny drawers. “I think she’ll cry. This is beautiful pawpaw!”
“Alright, let’s settle up. I want all of this and I want a five pound bag of white sugar and six oranges. It wouldn’t be Christmas without your grandma’s teacakes and oranges.”
Chead took out his wallet from his back pocket and counted the bills straightening out seventeen of them.
“It comes to $15.75 with tax and all.”
Chead put one of the bills back and slipped the quarter into his pocket as Mr. Smith put the other items into a box. Henry put the hat on his head and carried the box as the men picked up the sewing machine and loaded it into the back of the wagon. They tied it carefully and wrapped it in the shipping paper so that it would make the trip without damage. As soon as they were on the road  Henry tipped his hat back like he had seen his father and grandfather do millions of times, looked at his grandpa and said, “Is daddy really gonna come tomorrow? I guess I should want to see him but I really don’t want him to come and ruin our Christmas.”
“No, he won’t be coming tomorrow. I know you must have mixed feelings about him. It reminds me of a horse my daddy had when I was growing up. He was a beautiful chestnut, strong as could be, and stood seventeen hands high. Daddy got him from a feller pretty cheap. We didn’t know why until we tried to ride him. He’d eat out of my hand and let me lead him around anywhere. We became close friends. I thought if he got to know me he would let me ride him. I spent months brushing him, talking to him, and feeding him treats like apples. Finally I decided to ride him. I climbed on that saddle and started across the field. He was okay for awhile, I even leaned over and whispered in his ear. On our way back to the barn he bolted up and threw me off. I landed on a rock and got a big gash in my leg. From then on I still loved him, but I was scared of him and didn’t trust him not to hurt me.”
Henry nodded as he stared across the horizon. The sun was sitting low in the afternoon sky as the days had gotten so short. As they pulled the wagon to the barn Henry said, “Thank you pawpaw for everything.”
“You’re mighty welcome, Henry. Now let’s get this wagon unloaded and take your ma her present.”
The two tucked the presents away behind a stack of hay bales by the door, untied the sewing machine, and unwrapped it. They then picked it up, one on each side, and carried it to the door. “Let’s sit it here on the porch and get everyone ready.”
Henry opened the door and entered followed by his grandpa. Mary was standing near the door and after kissing Chead said, “We were anxiously waiting on you. I told everyone that you had a big surprise coming. Buford and Floyd rushed and got all the evening chores done early.”
“Well, y’all sit around the table. Ella Mae you sit in my chair and close your eyes. Henry, let’s get it in here.”
Ella Mae couldn’t imagine why she had to close her eyes, but she obeyed. She heard the door open and close again, then heard something being set on the floor and what sounded like a hinge moving then the younger boys stifle giggles.
“Okay Ella Mae, you can open your eyes now.” She looked their way. “Now I know this has been a hard year for you. I can’t count how many times me and your ma have heard you say that you wanted to make more money to help out around here. We thought this would be a way for you to do that and do something that you love. Using this you can sew clothes for us and people who will pay you for it a whole lot faster. Mr. Smith says there’s some new people with lots of money from Virginia who might buy things.”
Ella Mae felt the tears welling up in her eyes as she touched the machine. She opened the tiny drawers down the sides that were filled with instruction sheets, spools of thread, and extra needles. She saw the foot pedal and the carved wooden decorations on the cabinet. She started to cry as she looked at her parents.
“How much did this cost you, daddy? It had to be a lot. You shouldn’t’ve.”
Chead pulled her to his chest. “I should’ve. This is something that you can call yours to keep forever. It is a Christmas gift to you. Just like God gave us all the gift of Jesus, he wants us to be kind and give to one another. You needed extra kindness this year, and don’t you worry about it. Your mama and I have been so excited we could hardly wait for you to have it. That’s why we gave it to you tonight. Now, let’s eat some supper and you and your mama can make us some of her famous Christmas teacakes. I got some sugar at the store.”
Henry moved over and hugged his mother tightly, and afterward she leaned his face back looking into his eyes. His grasp on her and his look of compassion told her that her oldest was growing up, becoming wiser than his years.

Leave Him? (available at 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. 

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