Claiming Kin

One of the things I like about the South is how quickly we can find a reason to claim kin with people. Mama excelled in this to the point that Daddy said if she found out that your grandfather’s dog crossed her grandfather’s cotton patch, that was sufficient to make you relatives.

I “take after” her which has caused me to renew interest this past week in the Miss Mississippi pageant. I probably haven’t bothered to watch for ten years, but this year I’ve claimed kin to one of the contestants, Miss Southern Magnolia. She is my daughter-in-law’s second cousin or first cousin once removed, depending on which count you use. Obviously, I’m kinfolk since that’s much closer than dogs crossing cotton patches.

Her double name, evidently as much a requirement as a drawl to enter the Mississippi pageant, is Mary Margaret. “Mary,” like “Ann” in my Virginia Ann substitutes in Southern culture nicely as the equivalent of “junior” for sons. Her mother is Margaret, as mine was Virginia.

I felt family pride in her platform of organ/tissue donation in honor of her mother and in memory of her grandmother who set the example in being a donor and a recipient. The donation gave her grandmother several extra years of life.

Social media and my daughter-in-law kept me up on the preliminary events all week as Mary Margaret enjoyed each segment and didn’t blink an eye during her talent segment but kept right on playing the piano and singing while the faulty microphones were fixed by little guys hovering across the stage about midway through her performance. In the final, Saturday night on TV, she was easy to spot as the only contestant with her hair up so we could say, “There she is!”

Mary Margaret didn’t win, but we were proud of her enthusiasm all week and her graciousness at the end. And there’s always next year. Right, cousin?


Ruined Stones

Ruined Stones by Eric Reed will do little to educate your mind or edify your soul, but it will take you away for an adventure to another time and place for a little while. Now and again – just what you need. 

The book is set during the 1941 Blitz with mysteries to be solved first of the death of an unidentifiable woman which leaves much speculation for a motive and then another of a man hated by enough people to create a cast of suspects. Both bodies are left in a backwards swastika formation. Are they related or is there a copycat in place?

Grace Baxter, new constable for Newcastle-on-Tyne, gets assignments that reflect the dismissive attitudes of her superiors toward a new rookie – and a woman at that – until she takes it on herself to start following leads.

Plenty of possibilities for the perpetrator exist with one man who is Dutch (or is he German?), one who works outside under cover of night while the rest of the village observes the blackout inside, and any of the group of people who are interested in the spirit world. The setting with a ruined Roman temple and a church in close proximity adds to the tension. Grace questions whether her own ability to sense the spirits of the dead, inherited from her grandmother, will help her find the culprit and wrestles with whether the murderer is the same for both victims.

I received this adventure that will be published on July 4 in an ARC from Net Galley and enjoyed a trip away and back in time. One helpful hint: Flip to the back matter before you begin reading to get an explanation of the Geordie dialect and definitions. While Reed writes with enough context to figure out the words he uses, knowing the terms will save some time and distraction.


The Morphing Wedding Dress

Ah, June! Anniversaries abound, including mine. Pictures of events from various decades posted on Facebook bring on an urge to tell the story of THE wedding dress.

Fortunately, its origin was in an era of the fullest skirts imaginable. I made the original version with twenty-five (yes, 25) yards of lace. The trick to getting all that fabric into the skirt was to take huge darts at the top and then gather the rest as tight as possible. I loved the dress as well as the guy I was marrying.

I didn’t get to see the next two versions since the Army had us too far away (New York City and Paris) to get back to Mississippi in days before one just hopped a plane for any occasion. Mama took the skirt off with plenty of fabric to play with and turned out two different versions for the next two sisters, Beth and Gwyn.

Being a little nearer (Fort Knox, KY) and with sheer determination not to miss all my sisters’ weddings, I made the last one. Mama transformed what looked like the last pieces of the lace once again for Ruth, the final sister. We were amused when news reports and pictures of Julie Nixon’s wedding dress came out shortly after the wedding and showed a version from some big-name designer. Mama could have sued for copying Ruth’s dress.  

The dress was not the only thing we had in common. Daddy performed all four ceremonies, and Papaw, the only grandparent we ever knew, gave us all away. The marriages, none of them perfect, all took. (My sisters are free to correct this assessment if they feel the need.) Two lasted more than four decades before completing the “until death do us part” promise, and the other two have passed their golden wedding anniversaries.

There were a few scraps from the wedding dress, passed on to me as the family hoarder. When our daughter began to plan her wedding, I asked the sisters for permission to use the last of the lace. They readily agreed, and I scrounged enough of the still beautifully white fabric to cover the bodice of her wedding dress and enhance the train and sleeves.

The one thing lacking in this tale is a good set of pictures. Three of us had photography issues. The best I can do is this offering of my picture where you can see the full skirt, taken by a cousin’s new black-and-white camera they had just bought for the bank where he worked; one of my daughter in her dress with the final relics of the lace, and a picture of the final version for the youngest sister hanging on my closet door, passed along once again to the family hoarder.

Having passed more than its projected points of usefulness, the time has come for that morphing wedding dress to disappear into the sunset. This hoarder bids it a nostalgic goodbye.

In less than an hour from my post, I do have a correction from a sister, but not about the perfection of the marriages. Beth made her own modifications for her dress (which I should have known) and sewed a fragment of the lace into a handkerchief for her daughter's wedding.


Midnight Without a Moon

An intriguing title can pull a reader into parting with some money in the bookstore. When that title treads a theme throughout a story taking the reader back into another time, it feels like a promise kept. The title, Midnight Without a Moon and the story from Linda Williams Jackson’s debut novel, fulfills that promise. In an interview on her website, she cites conversations heard in her family followed by her own “what ifs?” as the beginning for her narrative.

Thirteen-year-old Rose Lee Carter can’t wait to get out of Mississippi and follow the Great Migration as her mother and aunt have done. Living with her sharecropping grandparents, she begins to hear adult arguments over the NAACP and voter rights. A wide spectrum from sharecroppers who want to play it safe and not muddy the waters to the activists who want to go door-to-door insisting on voter registration accurately portray the times and feelings within the community. Mixed with big issues of the adult world is Rose’s own discouraging image in the mirror of skin so dark it is like “midnight without the moon.” With tensions already at a peak, an African American boy named Emmitt Till is killed in the next village over, supposedly because he whistled at a white woman.

Linda Jackson’s ability to create multi-dimensional characters, portray an accurate historical time period, and give the spectrum of feelings and reactions to trouble in the air reminded me of Mildred Taylor’s series that includes Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.

I didn’t want to close the book at the end, but Linda Jackson did skillfully what few authors do so well. She brought a satisfying close to the book while leaving a door wide open to the sequel, A Sky Full of Stars, scheduled for January 2018. I have it on my wish list for an ARC from Net Galley and am hoping that Jackson’s Carters will match the number of Taylor’s Logan family books. With any luck, I may get the sequel ahead of time. If I do, I’ll be sure to share another review.



Pat Mora coined the word “Bookjoy” and shared it with the audience at the 2017 Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival. I wished I had thought of it myself, but she gave me permission to use it. It fits an agenda important to me. Rather than giving kids rewards or points for reading as though it was something repulsive they have to be conned into doing, I would like to make the case that reading should be the reward. Bookjoy!

Pat’s word made me think of a picture in my stash sent by my daughter-in-law who heard someone reading as she did the laundry. With only a three-year-old and two-year-old in the house, she was puzzled. The picture shows the reader she discovered as Benjamin “read” the book he’d memorized because he loved it to his little brother – Wendell and Florence Minor’s If You Were a Penguin. Bookjoy!

I had a couple of methods of creating bookjoy as a parent and as a teacher. If a child got himself/herself off to bed on time without trauma, said child could leave the lamp on to read. I’ve taken many a book fallen on a child’s chest as he lost the sleep battle, put a bookmark in the place, and laid it aside for the next morning where it might be read again alongside breakfast cereal. And there was the summer night when my junior high mathematician son borrowed my book from my kiddie lit class. Finding a fellow math lover in Carry On, Mr. Bowditch kept him up all night. Bookjoy!

In a similar manner, my second-grade students who finished their work could read anything they chose for any time we were not involved in classwork. They brought their favorites, magazines, comic books, and hurried to be the first to read the treasures from my desk – Amelia Bedelia, Ramona, Stuart Little, All of a Kind Family . . . Bookjoy!

This week I had to close Midnight Without a Moon when the technician called me back for bloodwork at a routine doctor’s visit. She looked about the age to have a middle-schooler so I asked. She confirmed a daughter that age who shared her love of reading. I recommended the book and she put its name in her phone. “I’ll look for it,” she said, “I like to get her little ‘happies’ now and then.” Bookjoy!

Of course, my latest efforts are concentrated on a couple of grandsons. I just realized this second picture is also a Minor book, How to Be a Bigger Bunny. The boys have books from other authors, but Wendell and Florence are favorites with the preschool set.

I invite you to join Pat Mora and me in spreading Bookjoy!