A Taste of Heaven

When I was growing up, summer was synonymous with blackberry season. I monitored the thorny vines from the first appearance of the delicate white blossoms, through the ripening stage—impatiently eating more than a few of the hard, red, sour berries—to when they were gloriously plump and black and juicy. A little taste of heaven.

Barefoot and wearing shorts, my brother, sister, and I roamed the fence rows and overgrown fields in our search for the most succulent berries, which in many cases were just out of reach. When that happened, we had to go in. There was no passing by those perfect specimens just because of a few thorns.
We learned how to avoid getting scratched and poked, how to gingerly grasp each spiny vine between thumb and forefinger, ease it to the side and slide forward through the tangled mess, over and over, until we had worked our way to the prize. Then we had to work our way back out. Despite our best efforts, many times we didn’t emerge completely unscathed; instead, occasionally we sported battle wounds of bloody scratches on arms and legs. But those luscious berries were worth it. And the inevitable chigger bites were worth it as well.

Mama picked the berries too, but not for herself as did her greedy kids. She canned them in quart jars, and they joined our substantial larder to be made into blackberry cobblers in the winter months. And as long as the vines produced, we had cobblers during the summer too. When us kids could control ourselves, not eat everything we picked, all we had to do was take a pail of berries to Mama, and she’d make a cobbler.

Lord knows how many years it’s been since I’ve tasted blackberries as sweet and juicy as those wild ones of my childhood. My son cultivates the thornless variety, but just like any other plant that scientists have fiddled with, they aren’t on quite the same par as the original. Yes, they’re good, but in my opinion, a bit of flavor has been sacrificed along with the thorns. And they aren’t as juicy; when making a cobbler, one has to squish them a bit before baking to get an adequate amount of juice.

Or perhaps does the blame for the loss of flavor rest with my aging taste buds?

Or the viewing of my childhood through rose colored glasses, where everything appears better and grander?

The only way to know for sure would be to travel back in time and conduct a taste test, pop a few blackberries in my mouth and see if they are as special as I remember. Only thing with that is I might never come back, and mess up the whole space-time continuum. I don’t think the government would let me do that.

Damn government!

©️2019 KT Workman

Photo via Pixabayhttp://www.pixabay.com

7 Mile Road

Wow! I didn’t realize so much time had passed since my last post—almost four months. Looks like my intended short break from blogging turned into an extended time off.

But I have been writing. Two of my short stories have been recently published, “Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are” and “Birds of a Feather”, plus one poem, “Red”, will be later this month. “Come Out, Come Out…” was published in Tell-Tale Press, clicking here will take you straight to the story, and “Birds of a Feather” was published in The Literary Hatchet, Issue # 24. I don’t have a direct link to it, but you can go to their website here and download a free PDF of Issue # 24 if you wish to read it. I also have three brand new shorts I’m currently trying to place, so wish me luck.

And in my WordPress absence I have started a novel in my preferred genre when writing long pieces: Southern Gothic. According to a web search, characteristics of Southern Gothic literature include:

  • Isolation and marginalization
  • Violence and crime
  • Sense of place
  • Freakishness and the grotesque
  • Destitution and decay
  • Oppression and discrimination

I think my novel will include everything on that list, and then some. Truth be told, every novel-length piece of fiction I’ve turned out has been Southern Gothic to a greater or lesser degree. I am drawn to it, perhaps because it’s what I know, especially the sense of place. I am rural Southern through and through.

The working title is 7 Mile Road. And a lot of bad things happen on 7 Mile Road.

On a side note, the title was inspired by an actual road sign I saw on a recent vacation. Traveling along a state highway in Arkansas, I saw a turn off for a road called “4 Mile Creek Road”, and I grabbed my phone and typed it into my notes app (which has taken the place of the pen and pad I used to carry with me). The name intrigued me, and when I got home and sat down a few days later to work on my novel, 4 Mile Creek morphed into 7 Mile Road. I like to put a title to a piece early on; it grounds me to the story. And in this case, it served as inspiration; it cemented the setting, allowing the flow of additional plot details.

I don’t know if this novel will ever venture forth into the world, be it by the traditional route or self-publishing. I just know that it’s in my head, the characters yacking back and forth, wanting their story to be told.

Well, I’ve got some catching up to do on WordPress. I know I can’t read all the posts from all the blogs I follow that I missed. Not enough time. But at least I can get back in the flow. I’m a capricious person, and as such might drop off WordPress again in the future. But at least for now, I’m back.

©️2019 KT Workman

Photo via Pixabay

A Plethora of Books

How many books on writing do you own?

If you’re like me, more than you wish to admit, especially considering the money spent on them; and if we are to be honest here, most gathering dust on the shelf, floor, chair, desk, wherever.

Years ago, I routinely checked my thesaurus, dictionary, grammar handbook, and more. All were kept within easy reach. But over time, the internet has pretty much made reference books obsolete. Why turn to a book when with the click of a mouse you can have your answer, which is up to date, not five or ten years old?

To go with the reference books, I have shelves—yes, shelves, as in plural—of books telling me how to write and sell my novel, how to create conflict and suspense, writing the paranormal, etcetera, etcetera. And though I seldom crack one open, I can’t seem to part with them. Just the thought of it hurts my heart.

Digital is rapidly replacing the printed form, and though I embrace new technology, there’s a sterileness to it. A Kindle doesn’t feel like a real book in your hands. A smartphone doesn’t have that ink-and-paper aroma. Curling up with an iPad on a rainy day doesn’t quite satisfy. Occasionally, I have to have that fix, so about every third or fourth novel, I dive into a real book.

But almost all my writing research is now done on the internet. My dictionary and thesaurus are apps on my phone. Questions are answered by a Google search. How-tos are explored through YouTube videos and web sites.

I am a modern writer.

But on occasion, I long for a simpler time…flipping through books and articles, taking copious notes on yellow legal pads, trips to the local library. This is not to say that I don’t ever use paper and pen, don’t ever read physical books, just less and less as time goes by.

I see a future where books will only be published in digital form. I know it’s better for the environment if we use less paper—save a tree and all that—but to me, that will be a sad day. I wonder what books will think when they live only as ones and zeros, having no physical form. I wonder if they will miss the feel of human hands. And I wonder if they will be lonely.

©️2019 KT Workman

Photo via Pixabay

A Father

What makes up a good father?

I would imagine there are as many answers to that question as there are people. And I would imagine that most answers would be influenced by what one’s own father brought to the table, or what he lacked in parental skills.

My father was “Daddy” to us kids, and later on, “Pa” to his grandchildren and great grandchildren. His oldest grandchild, Johnny, christened him Pa—probably short for grandpa—and it stuck. It suited my dad; he was an informal man.

To me, he was a perfect father, or as close to perfect as one can be. He got to be the fun parent, and to my mom fell the roll of disciplinarian. Looking back, I can see how it worked out that way. When I was a child, Daddy was gone a good part of the year, working as a lumberjack in Northern California, while Mama kept the home fires burning. When Daddy came home for a while in winter, it was almost like a holiday.

My earliest memory of him is him holding me up in the air, and me looking down at the humongous grin on his face. My last was the final words he spoke, at the age of ninety-four, before he closed his eyes for the last time: “I think I’m gonna go find Ma’am now.” Ma’am (what he called Mama) had passed away a little over a year previously.

And in between, so many memories—

Daddy playing the harmonica, and singing “Bimbo”. Holding my hands while bouncing me on his foot. Rubbing my cheek with his whiskers while I shrieked in delight. Running and jumping onto his lap when I had gotten in trouble with Mama, and him telling her not to spank me, I’d be good. Watching boxing on TV, grunting and shifting in his chair as if he were in the ring. Walking out among his cows, patting their backs and calling them by name. Saying grace over our meals. Laughing when I accidentally drank from his glass of buttermilk (I sat beside him) and sputtered at the awful taste. And many more…

My memories of him during my teenage years was more of a strong background presence that anchored our family. Like most children of that age, I had pulled away from my parents.

After I married and became a parent, I came to appreciate my daddy, to realize how blessed I had been, and still was, to have both him and Mama, two normal people who loved each other, and their children. And who had done their best to give us a good life, a happy life.

My daddy took my husband, who had lost his father at an early age, under his wing, and loved him as if he were his own son. My husband adored Daddy, and took him hunting and fishing, looking after him as Daddy grew older and not as strong and sure footed.

As Daddy got along in years, I remember his stories most of all. My siblings and I, along with our spouses and children, always gathered at my parents house every Sunday afternoon. Sitting at the kitchen table, Daddy spun tales of his childhood, times in California, his and Mama’s courtship, and everything else under the sun. And he was good at it, had us all laughing and asking questions.

There’s so much more to him than I can even begin to relate here. He was more than just a good father; not perfect, but he was a good man, a kind man. He is the standard against which I judge all men. And not many have measured up.

If there is an afterlife, I’m sure my daddy is there, he and Mama raising crops and kids. And I’d like to think he knows how much I love him, how much all his children love him, and knows what an inspiration he was to all who knew him—and Lord knows, there were many. He touched a lot of lives.

As he touched mine.

So on this day, and every Father’s Day since he has been gone, I look up and say, “Happy Father’s Day, Daddy…your baby sure does love you.”

©️2019 KT Workman

Photo via Pixabay

The Barn

The barn was a big part of my childhood. It had always been there, and it had always been old. But long before I entered the world, the barn had once stood new and proud on a ranch/farm that would one day belong to my parents.

According to what Daddy said before he passed away, Mama bought the barn and house, and the land both occupied, while he was away working as a lumberjack in far-off California. They’d been living in a little three-room house on land owned by Daddy’s parents when the place went up for sale. Mama called Daddy and he told her to buy it. And if memory serves me correctly (Bear in mind that I am going on what others have told me; I wasn’t even born yet.), Mama moved my older siblings in, lock, stock, and barrel, all on her own. No indoor plumbing, no electricity, but to my parents and brothers and sisters, that place became home. And after I was born, it became my home as well.

I have often wondered about the family who lived there before us. And I wondered what that old barn had seen in its heyday. All I know is what it saw when it came into my family’s possession, and maybe a little of what it heard and felt.

Laughing kids playing in its rafters, building hidey-holes in the bales of hay stored there for feeding the cattle in winter. Daredevil kids scaling its gray, splintered walls to stand on top of its rusty, sheet-iron roof to look out upon the field, barn lot, and small calf-pasture surrounded by woods that stretched out as far as the eye could see.

Mama standing by the gate that led out into the field, calling the milk cow in her own unique way. I didn’t understand the soo-wees and other noises that went into it, but the milk cow did. She trotted or meandered, depending on her mood, to the wide gate made out of crossed boards and cedar poles, and Mama let her into the barn lot, then inside the barn. There, Mama had a big pan of cotton-seed hulls ready, and while the cow ate, she milked. On the ground nearby, an old pie plate awaited a few well-aimed squirts of fresh milk for the barn cats. I remember that at least on one occasion, a contrary milk cow kicked off Mama’s glasses, and she called a couple of us kids out there to help her find them.

And I remember the calves born inside that barn. In cold weather, my daddy kept a close eye on the pregnant cows, and when their times came, he herded them inside and out of the elements for the birth, and for protection the first few crucial days afterward. Sometimes the birth was difficult, and Daddy had to help by reaching inside and turning the calf so the front hooves came out first. He couldn’t save every calf in distress, and it was sad when he couldn’t. But we all rejoiced—and maybe the barn did too—when a little, wet calf took its first wobbling steps and suckled.

The barn served as protection for our food as well. In a shed separated from the main part of the barn, we laid out freshly dug potatoes on clean hay and sprinkled them with lime to keep them from absorbing moisture and rotting. One year, we had drying peanut plants hanging from the rafters. I remember sitting up amongst the hay bales cracking the hulls open and popping nuts into my mouth.

Near the barn, an old oak spread its shading limbs over the feedlot. My brother nailed a few boards to form a platform high in the oak’s sturdy branches, and we christened it “The Tree House”. I bet that old barn heard me sitting up there singing or talking to myself—two things I still do to this day—after my older siblings pushed and pulled me up into The Tree House and left me there while they went off to play. Maybe it enjoyed my singing. Maybe it laughed when I carried on conversations with imaginary friends. I’d like to think it did.

The barn is no longer there. Quite a few years ago, it was torn down before it completely collapsed, and a new one took its place. But that old barn, the smell of it—hay and manure—will stay with me for the rest of my life. Those two combined odors symbolize home to me. Security and warmth. Love and family.

A lot of people might shake their heads, and think, “Poor girl, poor children, to grow up so deprived.” But we were never deprived. We had plenty to eat, a fireplace to warm us—one side at a time—and a mother and father who put their children first in every aspect of their lives.

And we had a barn.

And it had us.

© 2019 KT Workman

Parable of Motherhood

When my mother died in 2003, my sister’s friend sent her this. I think it’s the most touching piece of writing I have ever read about mothers.
For all of you out there whose mother has passed on, this is for you…

Parable of Motherhood
By
Temple Bailey

The young mother set her foot on the path of life. “Is the way long?” she asked. And her guide said, “Yes, and the way is hard. And you will be old before you reach the end of it. But the end will be better than the beginning.” But the young mother was happy and she would not believe that anything could be better than those years. So she played with her children and gathered flowers for them along the way and bathed them in the clear streams; and the sun shone on them and life was good, and the young mother cried, “Nothing will ever be lovelier than this.”

Then night came, and storm, and the path was dark and the children shook with fear and cold, and the mother drew them close and covered them with her mantle and the children said, “Oh Mother, we are not afraid, for you are near, and no harm can come,” and the mother said, “This is better than the brightness of day, for I have taught my children courage.”

And the morning came, and there was a hill ahead and the children climbed and grew weary, and the mother was weary, but at all times she said to the children, “A little patience and we are there.” So the children climbed and when they reached the top, they said, “We could not have done it without you, Mother.” And the mother, when she lay down that night, looked up at the stars and said, “This is a better day than the last, for my children have learned fortitude in the face of hardness. Yesterday I gave them courage, today I have given then strength.”

And with the next day came strange clouds which darkened the earth, clouds of war and hate and evil–and the children groped and stumbled, and the mother said, “Look up. Lift your eyes to the light.” And the children looked and saw above the clouds an Everlasting Glory, and it guided them and brought them beyond the darkness. And that night the mother said, “This is the best day of all for I have shown my children God.”

And the days went on, and the weeks and the months and the years, and the mother grew old, and she was little and bent. And her children were tall and strong and walked with courage. And when the way was rough they lifted her, for she was as light as a feather; and at last they came to a hill, and beyond the hill they could see a shining road and golden gates flung wide. And the mother said, “I have reached the end of my journey. And now I know that the end is better than the beginning, for my children can walk alone and their children after them.” And the children said, “You will always walk with us, Mother, even when you have gone through the gates.”

And they stood and watched her as she went on alone, and the gates closed after her. And they said, “We cannot see her, but she is with us still. A mother like ours is more than a memory. She is a Living Presence.”

Shelter From The Storm

Here in the South, spring ushers in our first tornado season.

“First?” you say.

“Yes,” says I. “First.”

Unlike Tornado Alley that lies in the Midwest and has one tornado season, we here in Dixie Alley are blessed with two. We have the traditional spring tornado season of March, April, and May; then in fall, November, and December. In Tornado Alley, it’s usually too cold in the fall for tornadoes to form, but owing to the South’s lower latitude, we have more low pressure systems that breed tornado-producing storms.

The majority of our twisters are mindful of the two seasons in Dixie Alley, but there are renegades out there that can strike any month, any week, any day of the year.

Aren’t we blessed?

Earlier today as thunderstorms rumbled over my house in the city, my mind slipped back in time, way back, to my childhood country home and a stormy night that stands out in my memory…

When I was small, my daddy worked far from home in California as a lumberjack. He was gone a good portion of the year, returning in the winter for a few months before going back to make the money he couldn’t make here. That left my mama to take care of a bunch of kids, livestock, and everything else on our farm/ranch. At the time, Mama’s aged mother and uncle lived with us. She had her hands full.

I was such a wee thing, I don’t remember many details of the turbulent night Mama took us all to The Bluff. I do remember being scared, though, and I suppose Mama was too or she wouldn’t have attempted to herd a bunch of kids, and her mother and uncle up the steep, wooded hillside behind our house to the only place she thought might shelter us: The Bluff.

That’s how my siblings and I refer to it—The Bluff, a proper noun. That rocky crag holds a prominent place in my childhood, a place where we all played, and later on our children played, and some great grandchildren as well.

But I digress…

There’s an area of The Bluff where it forms an overhang, and as added protection, a half-buried, humongous rock lies in front of the overhang with just enough room between the rock and bluff for a handful of bodies. That’s where Mama took us.

I remember an upward trek, a dark night and flashes of lightning, bobbing beams from a flashlight(s), labored breathing. And yes, I remember being scared. But I also remember feeling that I would be okay because I was with Mama.

And isn’t that what we all want, to feel safe? Not just from tornadoes but from everything in life that can harm us.

Mama was my shelter from the storm. Long ago, I learned to deal with standing outside in the wind and rain with not even a flimsy umbrella to protect me. But I still miss the security, the feeling of safety, the knowledge that everything would be all right, my mother’s mere presence provided.



©️2019 KT Workman

Pretty Flamingo

I’ll say it right up front—I love pink plastic flamingos.

So do a lot of people here in the South. A few put them right in front of their houses for all the world to see, not giving a fig what said world thinks. Me, I hide mine in back amongst shrubs, flowers, and weeds. Yes, I’m a closet pink flamingo lover.

Why is it tacky to display the exotic birds? One can fill the yard with gnomes, fairies, frogs, and whatnots, but put a single pink flamingo out there, and one is labeled white trash, trailer trash (no matter that one’s house is brick), or plain old garden variety trash, all of whom are known for their cheapness and bad taste. I’ve read that some homeowners associations slap fines on owners for displaying the flamingoes because they believe the birds lower real estate values. Better tell that to Madison, Wisconsin. In 2009 they made the pink plastic flamingo their official bird.

One can buy tee shirts, plates, glasses, towels, shower curtains, and a plethora of other items sporting a pink flamingo, and proudly display them; but woe to her that plants that plastic bird on the lawn.

That’s why I keep mine in back. I’m not brave; I hate ridicule.

I wonder if there are others out there who nurture the plastic birds in secret. There must be. When I bought my pair on Amazon a few years ago, there were a gazillion reviews from verified purchasers. Of course, none listed their last name. Cowards, like me. I imagine they received their pink flamingos in unmarked boxes and waited until the dead of night before taking them to the backyard and displaying in a secluded area not visible from the street. Probably erected privacy fences to further shield the birds from curious eyes.

From my kitchen window, I can see the pretty flamingos. On warm days I can sit on the patio and admire their gaudy beauty. During winter, they’re the only colorful things in an otherwise bleak landscape. They make me smile.

Call them tacky if you will; I call my flamingos beautiful.

But they’re still not coming out of the closet.

©️2019 KT Workman

Mama’s Garden

I have a lot of good memories of my mama, some of them, surprisingly, from the time she was dying.

A little back history for clarification—

By the time she was in her late 80s, Mama’s heart was failing from simply being “worn out,” as her doctor put it. Knowing her time was limited, she asked not to be taken to the hospital under any circumstances, to be allowed to die at home. My siblings and I honored her wishes. We arranged our schedules so two of us could be there around the clock to care for her, supplemented with visits from hospice. During this four-month period, a lot of Mama-memories were added to my considerable store, some heart wrenching, some bittersweet, and all priceless.

One day in early fall, I was with Mama when she wanted to see her garden. I’m sure she missed it. She had always enjoyed “digging in the dirt,” whether it was working in her flower beds or tending the large vegetable patch behind the house. Over the years, when I dropped by to visit, if the weather was passable, many times that’s where I’d find her. I think for her the inside of the house was of secondary importance—except for cooking, but that’s another story.

That day, my sister, brother and his wife were there as well, and the four of us got Mama into a wheelchair and rolled her outside into the warm, sunny day.

We started across the bumpy yard, brother pushing the chair, and were doing fine until he hit a chughole in the thick Bermuda grass. The wheelchair stopped abruptly and Mama almost shot out of it. Of all things, she burst out laughing, and with a smidgen of relief that she had stayed put in the chair, the four of us laughed along with her.

Then we were off again, a bit more slowly this time.

When we reached the edge of the garden, brother parked the chair and set the brake. Mama looked out over plants that were still mostly green and growing, saying nothing. I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through her mind, how she felt about not being able to do what she had always done, how she couldn’t just get out of that chair, walk out in the rows and start weeding.

I don’t remember if sister, brother, sister-in-law, or I talked to fill the silence; all I remember is feeling sad as I stood there staring at Mama’s garden. And I remember wishing, as I had many times after Mama’s health started deteriorating, that I could give her some of my healthy years. But life doesn’t work that way, and she wouldn’t have taken them if such a thing had been possible. Mamas aren’t like that.

After a time, Mama closed her eyes and turned her pale face to the sun. And smiled.

That beautiful smile took away a little of my sadness, and lives on in my memory, warming my heart until the day I can see it again.

©️2019 KT Workman