Published in the Rains County Leader on June 2, 2022:
The people of Uvalde suffered a great tragedy last week, and we suffered along with them. When something like this happens, there is so much that needs to be said, but too many words are the wrong ones. Words spoken or written during times of shock, horror, grief, pain, and anger often come out wrong or are misunderstood by those who hear them or read them, and they end up causing more harm than good. I was reluctant to write about what occurred, but so much heartbreak can’t simply be overlooked. First, though, I want to share some thoughts about my grandson “T”.
T is eighteen years old, and he graduated from high school this weekend. Even those who are not doting grandparents recognize that he is an amazing young man – intelligent, handsome, talented, ambitious, loving, and caring. A family friend who has a beautiful home with a stunningly terraced back yard overlooking the Brazos River hosted a celebration for him on Saturday, and it was attended by friends and relatives from all over the country. One of the highlights of the evening was when the small professional jazz band that provided entertainment took a break and T and several of his friends took their place. We had missed the concert where his group won the best jazz ensemble award, so I was thrilled to hear them perform in person. I was also thrilled to watch him interact with a dozen of his peers as they played volleyball, engaged in a photo scavenger hunt, and generally enjoyed one another’s company. It was’t always this way.
Life was hard for baby T. He was temperamental, going from sunny to stormy without warning. He was super intelligent from the beginning, but his emotional development sometimes lagged behind, and he found processing life very difficult. But his parents and others who loved him found ways of helping him cope. As a baby, they discovered that swaddling him tightly in a receiving blanking and making a loud “shhhhhh” noise in his ear to mimic the sounds of the womb settled him when nothing else would. As he outgrew that method, T responded to a different kind of swaddling. His mom or dad would take him into their lap with his back against their chest, align their arms with his, and wrap him in a tight kind of reverse hug. Like the swaddling, this contact soothed him, and even though it was often a kind of disciplinary action, he sometimes asked to be held.
Published in the Rains County Leader on January 20, 2022:
January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. During this month, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services makes fighting against human trafficking a priority, and strives to improve awareness, services, and prevention efforts to help eradicate trafficking in Texas. In keeping with this goal, I want to share some of what I’ve learned during the research for the novels I have written about human trafficking, specifically about child sex trafficking.
Before I wrote the first book, my perspective was very narrow. In my mind, this unspeakable crime was limited to the back alleys of foreign countries or a few mega-cities in the U.S. where orphans or run-aways were snatched from a hopeless existence and forced into something even worse. And it didn’t include children.
Then, one Sunday evening, a couple from Tyler visited our church. They had founded an organization called For the Silent whose mission statement reads, in part: we work to end sex trafficking and exploitation by empowering the voices of vulnerable and exploited youth. Their visit was a real wake up call.
Published in the Rains County Leader on October 7, 2021:
I first became a member of the school pick up brigade when Christian was three years old. After several years of being a stay-at-home wife and mother, I rejoined the workforce and he entered the world of daycare. After a few false starts, we found a place we both liked, and I fell into a daily cycle of drop off, work, pick up, errands, and home. My quitting time was 4:30, so I avoided the pick-up crush of those who were on a 9-to-5 schedule.
By the time my little man was ready for kindergarten, I was working from home and we lived about two blocks from his school. When the weather was nice, we walked the two blocks together, crossing the one busy street with the help of a crossing guard. That orange-vested man with the hand-held stop sign became Christian’s hero. He says being a crossing guard is still on his bucket list. During bad weather, I drove, and sitting in line took longer than the drive to and from. Thanks to the same crossing guard, we always made the trip safely.
The summer between his first and second grade years, we moved further west. We didn’t like the local school system, so Christian entered private school, and I went to work in the school’s business office. One benefit of the job was on-campus childcare for staff, so we commuted together.
Published in the Rains County Leader on August 24, 2021:
Back-to-school week made me feel older than usual this year. Maybe it’s because my grandson is a senior, and my granddaughter is entering 7th grade. To emphasize their maturity, their first-day picture was taken in front of his car as he prepared to drive his younger sister to school. His own car? He just learned how to walk!
All of the returning student pictures on Facebook didn’t help matters. Many of them were of children I worked with in AWANA at church, and some of them were moving into their first college dorm room. I couldn’t help but remember those heart-rending moments when I cut those final apron strings myself – and my “student” will hit the half-century mark on his next birthday.
Aside of reminding me of my age, back to school has reminded me of how very much school has changed since I was a student. One picture showed a new fourth grader pulling a wagon full of supplies toward the school. I checked the supply list for Kindergarten in Rains ISD, and there were 29 items on the list if you include the extra items for boys and girls. The list included, among other things, 4 boxes of crayons. Not the generic 8-count box, but 4 of the 24-count boxes of the big-name crayons. Are they planning to color the entire building before the end of the year? It’s no wonder there are drives to help families who might otherwise have to choose between buying supplies or shoes.
Published in the Rains County Leader on August 10, 2021:
There was a time when children were to be “seen and not heard,” especially in church. The only thing I was allowed to do in church other than sit quietly and listen was lean against one of my parents and take a nap. Since I have always been able to drop off to sleep any time I get still, that was never a problem for me.
When Christian was born, we attended a large church in Dallas that had Sunday School for children only. The classes were during the worship service, so I didn’t have to worry about his behavior for the first few years of his life. By the time he was around four, we were living in Garland and began attending a smaller church. A Children’s Church might have been available, but I was a bit over-protective, so I kept him with me.
He was no trouble. First, he knew what was expected of him and second, he was easily entertained. I carried a plastic bag of cereal – non-crunchy if possible – and a special notebook that was saved for Sunday only. Christian was an early reader, and he enjoyed the children’s puzzle section from the Sunday comics. I cut them out, pasted them into the notebook, and gave it to him when he got wiggly.
Published in the Rains County Leader on May 11, 2021:
Mother’s Day weekend was extra special to me this year. Saturday was the 50th anniversary of the day I first felt my baby move. I was four months pregnant and had been waiting for that faint butterfly feeling I had heard other expectant mothers describe. But my son has always been different, even in utero. The first movement I felt was a definite rhythmic tapping, and that tapping continued off and on throughout the next five months. My doctor smiled when I described the feeling and said, “It’s probably hiccups.” He was right – Christian continued to have hiccups regularly for his first several months.
At that time, ultrasounds were not performed unless there was a problem, so I didn’t “see” my son until he made his public appearance, but I saw his shape many times. I had always enjoyed a warm, relaxing soak in the tub, and as the pregnancy progressed, the bath became an important source of relief for my aching back. He seemed to enjoy it, too, because as I lay back in the water, he would stretch like a cat getting up from a nap. During delivery I learned that he was “sunny side up,” or facing front instead of back, so as he stretched I often saw the shape of a little foot or fist move across the surface of my swollen belly.
Christian’s birth was difficult and required a last-minute C-section, so I didn’t see him until the nurse brought him to my room a few hours later. She held up that little bundle that had startling blue eyes and blond hair that stuck up as if he’d stuck his finger in an electric outlet, and I said, “Well, hello there.” When I spoke, his eyes lit up with recognition. For the next several weeks, before he learned to differentiate faces, his unfocused eyes would search for me if I wasn’t holding him, following the sound of the voice he had listened to for nine months.
Published in the Rains County Leader on April 13, 2021:
Christmas around the Square is usually a major event in Rains County featuring food, live entertainment, a Santa parade, and vendors – where else – around the Courthouse Square. In 2020, however, the festival which was supposed to raise funds for the Sandy Creek Playground became a non-event due to the pandemic.
The playground is a Keep Emory Beautiful Project and the brainchild of Heather Rollins. She started this mission with permission from the City and the support of the City Council in late 2019. Shut downs and cancellations wreaked havoc with her plans, so she was very disappointed by yet another roadblock in December.
Rollins isn’t a person who gives up, though, so she scheduled Spring Fling as a make-up event. It was a simple event with vendors only, but the hope was it would be enough to put the project over the top. Since I had registered as a vendor for the original event, I was grandfathered – or grandmothered – into the new one, and I looked forward to the first opportunity of 2021 to offer my books in public.
Last Saturday was the big day, and everyone involved held their collective breath as thunderstorms blew through the area toward the end of the week. But Saturday dawned bright and sunny, and hope was restored. True to unpredictable Texas weather, though, March winds made an encore appearance.
Published in the Rains County Leader on March 22, 2021:
One of the responsibilities of the President of the Friends of the Library is to submit a Year in Review Report to the Commissioners’ Court. My predecessor, Lyn Baldwin, made this submission in the form of an in-person PowerPoint slide presentation. Last year, because of COVID, I submitted the report for 2019 by email. It worked out well, and since I’m not much of a public speaker unless I’m talking about my books, I’ll probably do the same thing this year –assuming I can gather enough material.
2020 was the year of cancellations, and that included FOL plans. From April through September, FOL correspondence alternated between announcements of new plans and announcements of cancellations. I ended the year with a few photos of the October Book Sale, but not nearly enough for a presentation. So I made a plea for photos of any FOL or Library events. I heard the sound of crickets, but as usual, Library Director Wendy Byrd came through. She sent me pictures of the Tween Photo Contest display boards, Summer Reading winners, and little bitties enjoying story time early in the year. Her offering was more than enough for a decent PowerPoint and also for a bit of column inspiration.
Christian Piatt, my own son, was a great fan of Library Story Time. I was never sure which was the bigger attraction, the books or the children’s librarian who he planned to marry one day. Actually, he was a big fan of anything that involved words. He watched Sesame Street and the Electric Company, and he went to bed without a fight as long as I promised to read two stories and a poem.
Published in the Rains County Leader on June 25, 2019:
As a writer, I have a tendency to live inside my own head, thinking about my next column, laying out the plot of a new book, or working on a tricky scene or bit of dialogue. It’s not that I’m disengaged from what’s going on around me. But even during the most interesting discussion, the most challenging chore, or the most entertaining activity, a part of my mind is always searching for an idea to be stored on my mental hard drive and retrieved later to see where it might fit into a work in progress.
This isn’t always true when we’re watching TV. While David is surfing YouTube, Amazon Prime, and other streaming sites for interesting videos on sailing, RVing, metal detecting, bloopers, and other topics that interest him, I’m usually, writing, cooking, reading, working crossword and Sudoku puzzles, or playing with my phone. Once in a while, though, something catches my attention, and that happened this week when he was watching a video on auto detailing. (more…)
Published in the Rains County Leader on June 18, 2019:
I’m home with all bones intact but with a heart that has more marks than I can count. Let me back up a step or two in case you didn’t read my last column. I went to Royal Family Kids Camp last week, a very special place where kids in foster care can spend five days and four nights just being kids and having fun in a safe environment. In 2013 I served as a counselor and came home with a broken ankle and a broken heart. This time I was the camp scribe. I wasn’t as actively involved in the organized games and other strenuous activities – and David was home praying that he would get his wife back in one piece – so I came home physically undamaged. But as I watched and listened with the eyes and ears of a writer, I saw and heard the struggles, heartaches, and triumphs of more children and counselors than before when I was focused on the two campers that were my responsibility. There are more stories than I can write, but here are a few.
“Jane” was so afraid of the water that she brought her own life jacket and continuously questioned her counselor about the lifeguard’s ability to save her if she got into trouble. All campers are required to pass a swim test in order to venture into the deeper end of the pool or to go over to the pond. She wanted to take the test, but she was afraid, so she practiced long and hard. By Wednesday, she was ready to try. Everyone in the pool area had seen her struggle, and they all stopped to watch. When she passed, the cheers and applause were deafening. The wrist band she earned became her pink badge of courage, and she showed it to anyone who would look the rest of the week. (more…)
The story of a lonely, innocent girl who gets tangled up in the sex trafficking trade in a small Texas town. It’s about her relationship with Eric, a slick suburban pimp; Jesse, a Christian tattoo artist and motorcycle rider; and Mrs. G, a compassionate but tough attorney and foster parent.