On caregivers, faith, family, and writing…

Published in the Rains County Leader on November 24, 2020:

Like everything else this year, Thanksgiving is going to be a bit different. We usually go to the home of relatives for the holiday, but as the messages began coming in that various families were staying home alone this year, I began to plan my menu. David said I didn’t have to cook anything special, but I knew we would both be disappointed with hamburgers.

It’s hard to make a special meal for two without an overwhelming amount

of leftovers, so I suggested we invite Connie and Charles from across the street to share our bounty. Then I talked with Aunt Fay, and after she told me that she was going to buy a bag of dressing mix and a rotisserie chicken for her meal, I suggested she join us. She’s a busy lady and wasn’t sure if she could make it – but if she does, our Thanksgiving dinner for two will have grown to five.

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Published in the Rains County Leader on November 17, 2020:

David and I visited with our dog friend Spike this weekend while his people took a break from raising cattle. Spike was unusually subdued, maybe feeling the pressure of 2020 like the rest of us. More likely, though, his calm attitude is because of the strict restraints he’s under to keep him from chasing several new calves. Instead of having the run of the ranch, he stays in the barn, the house, or tethered on the patio, and he walks on a leash. He’s a country dog living a city life, but he doesn’t seem to mind as long as there are plenty of treats and an occasional session of petting.

Sunday morning I woke up a little before 6:00 am. I thought I might catch a few more winks, but I must have stirred around too much because Spike appeared at the bedroom door and did his I-need-to-go-out dance. I knew more sleep was probably out of the question, so I dressed and took him for a quick turn around the yard. He did his duty and we came back inside for a treat and a cup of coffee – his treat and my coffee. He had his breakfast while I had my quiet time, and once the sun was up enough to take the chill off the air, we took another walk to the gate and back, about a quarter of a mile round trip. He ambled along at my pace, sniffed a few bushes, and barked at a passing car. On the return trip I noticed a splash of color in the grass between the gravel driveway and the fence. It was a single Indian Paintbrush waving happily in the breeze, unaware that it was completely alone and out of season. It was a hopeful sight, a promise of Spring in the midst of bare branches and fallen leaves.

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Published in the Rains County Leader on November 10, 2020:

My husband David has been a biker most of his life. He learned to ride his

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uncle’s old Cushman motorcycle when he was nine, and since then, hitting the road on two wheels has been an almost magical experience to him. He’s owned several motorcycles, and when we met in 1999, he had a Yamaha Virago 1100 that he rode every day.

Shortly after we began dating, he asked if I’d go riding with him. I wasn’t sure about the bike, but I liked the man, so I said yes. I think we both knew that was the first of many rides together. By the time we celebrated our first anniversary I had my own helmet, boots, and leathers and had put in many miles on the buddy seat.

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Published in the Rains County Leader on November 3, 2020:

The subject of racism is impossible to avoid today since it’s at least

The Dictionary Definition of 'Racism' Has to Change - The Atlantic

mentioned in a majority of news stories and broadcasts, social media posts, and many conversations. It’s easy to assume that the definition of such a common word is common knowledge. But as we all know, assumptions can be wrong.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I have been mentoring a young lady for almost seven years. I’m not sure how much mentoring I do. Mostly we just hang out once a week and talk, but even that has been a real challenge in 2020. First there was the shutdown, and when school started back in August, no visitors were allowed – but we’ve worked it out. Once a week, with her father’s permission, I pick her up for lunch, and we eat fast food in the park or the church fellowship hall. We have to squeeze a lot of words into her thirty-minute lunch period, but it’s better than nothing. And we don’t have to hurry too much because her hospitality teacher doesn’t seem to mind if she’s a few minutes late.

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Published in the Rains County Leader on October 26, 2020:

“By the time this column is published the remaining books will have been

The Problem of Too Many Books ~ The Imaginative Conservative

hauled away to be sold at Half-Price Books, but the Book Shed behind the Library won’t be empty.” This sentence was in the final paragraph of last week’s column in which I talked about some of the book lovers I met at the Friends of the Library Book Sale. Part of the sentence is true, but the other part – not so much. The book shed is far from empty, mainly because the new policy at Half-Price Books is to accept no more than two boxes at a time. FOL members aren’t easily discouraged when it comes to books, though, so a search began for alternative means of disposing of leftover books.

The first method employed the idea that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Several sets of books were put into open-topped boxes and set on the ground beside the library dumpster. The old saying proved true as all the books disappeared the first day, long before the truck came to collect the trash.

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Published in the Rains County Leader on October 20, 2020:

The Friends of the Library 2020 Book Sale has come and gone, and I’m exhausted. In fact, many of the more seasoned FOL members are exhausted

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after a week of setting up tables, unpacking and sorting thousands of books, displaying them, and repacking them. We’re all hoping that, by the time the next Book Sale rolls around, we’ll have some younger members who will step up and take over the forty-year tradition of saving gently used books from the dumpster. There are certainly plenty of book lovers in the area – I met many of them at the sale.

Some of them, like Gloria, are as mature as those of us FOL members who will be complaining of aching muscles and joints for the next week or so. She was in a wheel chair but was working her way through the large fiction section under her own power. I asked if I could help her find anything specific, and she said she was headed toward the Westerns. We chatted as she continued to peruse the novels, picking up one or two along the way. She said that, at eighty-six, one thing she really missed was talking with someone with whom she shared a history. When we reached the small selection of Louis L’Amour and Willam Johnstone books, she looked at each one, knowing she’d probably read them all more than once. Still, she picked up half a dozen and added them to the pile in her lap.

When her son came over and saw her choices, he said, “Mom, I have all those at home.” She knew that because he had inherited his father’s complete L’Amour collection, but she seemed to want to revisit the common history she shared with the characters in those books. She reluctantly put the Westerns back on the table and put her other choices into the almost full bag her son was carrying. As they headed toward the check-out table, I hoped he would pull out a few Louis L’Amour’s for her when they got home.

There were also younger book lovers who were shopping for others. One leaned over a round table filled with selections by a popular author, holding her cell phone in one hand and reading titles to someone on the other end. Another asked for help in finding titles by a specific author her friend really liked. And still another left the Religion table with a big smile and an armload of inspirational and devotional books she planned to give as Christmas gifts.

My favorite readers, though, were the children. One little boy found an empty box under a table, and he climbed into it to look at a book that had caught his eye. Another boy was holding a story book and, while his mother shopped, he was having a very animated, one-sided conversation. I went over and asked him what he had, and he proceeded to tell me all about it. Then he began to point at a book on another table. He couldn’t quite reach it, so I looked at his mother for permission. When she nodded, I handed him the book.

“Who is that?” I asked, pointing to the Muppet on the cover.

His excitement overcame his powers of speech, and he couldn’t get the name out. His mother came to his rescue. “You know who that is. It’s Elmo.”

His eyes grew wide when I said, “My daddy’s name was Elmer, and some people called him Elmo.” As I moved on to other duties, I thought about how books can bring us together in the most unexpected ways.

The absolute highlight of the children’s area came late on Friday afternoon. A young couple with four boys came in and headed for the children’s area. The baby began to fuss, and the mother found a quiet corner to feed him. The father moved over to some nearby tables that interested him, and the other three boys settled onto the floor with a couple of books. Two of them who looked to be between two and four, shared a book that was making noise of some sort. It looked as if the older one was explaining what was going on to the younger one.

The oldest boy was sitting a little apart from the other two with a book on his lap and a very serious look on his face. He looked up at me and said, “It says that there were over one hundred wagons, but there are only twenty-two in the picture.” He held the book up so I could see.

“Maybe they ran out of room to draw wagons,” I said. “Or look – there’s a hill over here. Maybe the other wagons are on the other side.” He nodded in agreement and went back to his reading. The family left shortly before closing time with a bag full of books.

Yes, I’m very tired, but I also feel very good about all the books we sent out the door to new homes – and about the money we raised to help fund programs and projects for the Rains County Public Library. By the time this column is published the remaining books will have been hauled away to be sold at Half-Price Books, but the Book Shed behind the Library won’t be empty. People are already dropping off books for the next sale. Hopefully by then we’ll have some younger, stronger FOL book lovers who can do the heavy lifting.



Kitty’s Story

Fallen Angel Salvage

Tatia’s Tattoo

Mom’s Long Goodbye

A Long and Winding Road

Published in the Rains County Leader on October 12, 2020:

Have you noticed that, when you’re trying to be careful of what you eat, you are suddenly surrounded by food? Everyone at work or Bible Study has a birthday accompanied by your absolute all-time favorite cake. Every commercial on TV and every print ad you see are designed to make you hungry – and it works. Every gathering of any kind involves an artery-clogging potluck meal with, as Granny used to say, enough food to feed Cox’s army. And everyone you know wants to give you food.

David and I are not on a strict diet of any kind, but along with our workouts at the gym, we’ve been watching what we eat. Instead of cereal and cinnamon toast for breakfast, most mornings we have protein smoothies made mostly with almond milk and fruit. We eat smaller portions, sometimes using salad plates instead of dinner plates for a meal. And after years of considering ice cream as one of the major food groups, my lactose intolerance has finally caught up with me, and I’ve had to give up my nightly servings of Homemade Vanilla. David doesn’t have the same digestive issues, but in sympathy, he has decreased his servings from three scoops to one.

Whatever you call our routine, it’s working so far. David has dropped around twenty-five pounds and is wearing smaller jeans. I’ve only lost 

ten pounds, but everyone knows it’s easier for men to lose weight than it is for women. Besides, I’ve lost enough inches to wear some of the clothes that have been banished to the back of the closet for a couple of seasons. But just when we’ve adjusted to our new regimen, here comes the food.

First, the monthly breakfasts at the House of Prayer and the American Legion have come back after months of shutdown. Bacon and eggs aren’t too bad if you watch the portions, but the same can’t be said for the biscuits and gravy or the pancakes. We haven’t had many family get-togethers because many of us are in the vulnerable-age category and several are health compromised, but the Believers’ Baptist Annual Chili Cook-Off is next Sunday morning. Have you ever tried to eat moderately when tasting thirty-plus different chilis and an equal number of desserts?

Friday Night Home Group is also dangerous to the waistline. It has long been known as “cheat night” when even the most stringent dietary restrictions are allowed to go by the wayside. And one night isn’t too bad. But there’s always food left, and everyone is aware of how much David loves to eat. “Do you want to take home this (fill in the blank)” they’ll ask, knowing he’ll look at me with those puppy-dog eyes and I’ll give in. Sometimes it’s the following Friday by the time I manage to serve the leftovers in acceptable portions.

And then there are the food giveaways. Dirk and Pat volunteer at the monthly distribution at Freedom Church of God, and they frequently bring home extra food that will not stay fresh until the next month. Did I mention that they love to share? Connie is the same way when she picks up food at Freedom Church or at Good Samaritans. David frequently comes home from a coffee break with Charles carrying a bag full of rice, chips, fruit, and whatever else she has in excess.

I recently made a cake with some of Connie’s apples, and in an effort at weight control, I sent a sizeable chunk across the street with David. A day or two later he turned with the empty dish and more apples. And last weekend I took them some Cheesy Chicken Soup made with some Velveeta-like cheese and pre-cooked chicken patties she had given me. She immediately sampled it, complimented my culinary effort, and asked what was in it. When I mentioned the cheese and chicken, she asked if I needed more.

I’m not complaining. So far David and I have managed to maintain our weight loss, and as soon as soon as he has recovered enough from

his surgery for us to resume our regular workout schedule, we should be in good shape (pun intended). But even if we don’t, I love our little community that is characterized by love and generosity. When I read in the Book of Acts that “all who believed were together and had all things in common,” this is the type of society I picture. When someone says, “Hey, I’ve got an extra bag of rice if you need one,” that’s my idea of redistribution of wealth.



David and I spent the weekend in COVID jail – not because we had the virus, but because we didn’t. He had some minor surgery on his hand on Monday at the VA in Dallas, and as part of the pre-op procedure, we had to go in Friday for him to have a COVID test. The results were negative, but as we were leaving, the nurse said, “You’ll need to self-quarantine until the procedure on Monday.” Not too bad, we thought at first. Then we began to think about specifics.

“Are you gonna text the Schutters’ and let them know we won’t be at Home Group tonight?” asked David. Dirk was serving bratwurst and red cabbage, so I had done an Internet search for an appropriate side dish. I had prepared pickled beets and eggs earlier in the week so the eggs would have plenty of time to absorb the flavor and the color. I had even dragged out a decorative platter – as opposed to my usual redneck Tupperware – so I could create an attractive presentation. I explained to David that I planned to drop my contribution off – at a proper distance – and that I’d let them know what was going on while I was there. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in the Rains County Leader on September 29, 2020:

It’s not unusual for me to turn on my phone in the morning and find a text from my neighbor Connie waiting for me. She has trouble sleeping some nights, and she finds that a good time to catch up on her correspondence. Tuesday morning was a little bit different, though. I received a message in real time at 7:26 AM telling me that Floppy, their beloved canine friend, had crossed over the Rainbow Bridge a few minutes before.

David and I dressed hurriedly and walked across the street to pay our respects. We arrived as Charles was closing the grave. David helped smooth out the dirt, and we all watched as Connie scattered some flower seeds on the freshly turned earth. Throughout the day, the gravesite evolved into a site that was outlined by two tiers of fence posts and adorned with a small American flag and a stepping stone with a cross and the first lines of John 3:16. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in the Rains County Leader on September 22, 2020:

Masks used to be something that appeared on the store shelves sometime in September in preparation for Halloween, something worn to prevent frostbite while skiing, or something worn during the commission of a crime to hide one’s identity. In the last few months, they’ve become a life and death matter to some, a symbol of the loss of individual freedom to others, and a matter of regulation to the government.

We didn’t have to deal with masks in Rains County at first because it took us a while to reach the threshold of 20 active cases for mandatory masks. However, well before I had to deal with covering my own face, I was very aware of the controversy that surrounded the little pieces of cloth that have caused such a kerfuffle. Even I don’t spend that much time with my head in the sand.

Our neighbor Connie had given us several of the medical-style masks before anyone ever heard of COVID-19 just because she believes in being prepared. David always wears one when he mows, but other than that, they stayed in the kitchen junk drawer or the console of the car – just in case. I never really gave them a thought until the day I stopped by the Senior Center to pick up a couple of grab-and-go meals and received an unusual greeting. Instead of Margaret’s usual cheerful hello-how-are-you welcome, she was waving a pleated rectangle with loops on either end and saying “Gotta have a mask to come in!” The Center is operated by the East Texas Council of Government and is subject to their rules.

I stopped in my tracks. “I have one in my car. I’ll go get it.”

“No,” she said. “I’ll give you one.” Read the rest of this entry »

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