Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Summertime Reading Adventures

          In other parts of the country, folks are looking for a “beach read”. They plan to stretch out on a lounge chair, shaded by either a beach umbrella or a large-brimmed hat, and while away the hours. In the Ouachita region, we are more inclined to a “ceiling fan read”. It’s just too dang hot to stay out on any lake-shore or creek bank for too long. Regardless, it’s a wonderful time to get lost in some good fiction.
          This year, your reading list will be a little different. It started off with an adventure! Because I count several authors as friends, I am sometimes asked to help promote a new project.  Many of my friends were asked to participate in something really exciting on July 2 at 6:00 p.m. A Book Launch party is today’s equivalent of a movie premiere. Without a requirement of wearing a silly hat, guests were able to learn more about the book and participate in the excitement live with fellow book lovers! Called Engraved on the Heart, this story is now officially launched, and gaining attention from all directions!
          The new book’s author is Central Arkansas’s own Tara Johnson. She is a lively wife and mom who shares her heart through her music and her inspirational messages at every opportunity. Her first work of fiction, set in the Civil War era. highlights the all too real struggle of a young woman who deals with a health issue that causes seizures. In a time when physical weakness was looked upon with disdain and isolation, she shows courage and strength, knowing that God has a plan for her life. Insider’s tip – I won a contest to help name the male protagonist of the book. So, you will see a character named Jennie mentioned somewhere in the book! There will be a prize from me for the first person to find it!
          I have a confession to make now. When I started reading this book I thought I would love it because I love it's author. But, the story began to sweep me along, and now, I am totally enthralled. It involves the Underground Railroad, and deals with the timeless issues of doing the right thing, and treating other humans with respect and compassion. A beautiful story with a handsome hero and a believable heroine. Perfect summertime escape. Have I ever steered you wrong? Read this book!
        A tradition of this column is to offer up a Christmas book to read during the heat of a Ouachita summer. Try “Restoring Christmas” by Cynthia Ruchti. This tale combines a home improvement television show with a tale of a couple who are defining their lives and their careers. Also, a fascinating mystery about the house and its owner, which unfolds as the demolition and rebuilding progresses. Short enough to be satisfying, involved enough to keep you guessing. This is another favorite author of mine, and I’m sure you will be a new fan of hers too.
          Another favorite author is enjoying tremendous success with a blockbuster hit called “Before We Were Yours”.  Lisa Wingate is a former resident of Mena, Arkansas, so some of you may have actually shopped at the grocery store with her. This book, which is her thirtieth, is a sensitive portrayal of a real life sinister plot to kidnap children and “sell” them to wealthy childless couples. Set in the 30s and 40s in the Memphis Tennessee area, there are still people alive who were involved in this scandal. The story is told from the perspective of one of the children, and also from the point of view of a present-day woman who is uncovering the truth about her own family’s history. The transitions from the past to the present make for a fascinating and hard to put down account. This book was recently chosen by the Arkansas State Library as their selection for the annual If All of Arkansas Read the Same Book  program. It has also been on the New York Times best-sellers list for several weeks.
          If you are in the mood for lighter reading, try a series by Ane Mulligan, called The Chapel Springs series. Set in a Southern tourist town, the main characters will remind you of your old friends Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz, and their humorous predicaments will keep you smiling long after the stories are finished. It’s not all fun and games. Some lessons are learned about how families love each other. Its all well done, and great fun.
          And then of course, if you are looking for some short selections to read between trips to the pool or popsicles on the porch with the grand-kids, you can find a collection of these monthly ramblings in my book called Turn, Turn, Turn. You can purchase it on Amazon in paperback or Kindle format. It will include some columns you may have missed, some you enjoyed in years past, and one or two you haven’t seen before. My hope is that it brings a smile to your face, and makes you want to be kind to someone you encounter in your daily walk. Just for you, my loyal readers. Enjoy the sunshine but be careful. You are loved!

Friday, June 15, 2018

A Dad's Legacy

          “Ain’t she cute, see her riding down the chute. Now I ask you very confidentially, ain’t she cute?” You can “google” this song if you want to learn the history.  It sounds like something that came out of the roaring twenties. Or maybe the fabulous fifties. It doesn’t matter to me. I will forever hear a booming bass voice singing it from behind the wheel of a late-sixties blue Buick sedan. Actually, not just any bass voice. My Daddy’s.
          As a girl who was raised by a single mom, all of the day to day, tough lessons are attached to my female parent. Because I only spent time once a year with my Daddy, I have only happy memories. He made a point to put his best foot forward for me and my sister during that anticipated yearly summer vacation. I was probably about ten when I pointed out to him that we didn’t need a special activity planned for every minute we spent with him. Waking up to his extra special blueberry pancakes and spending the day escaping the summer heat near a pool was perfectly fine.

          When our mother’s remarriage caused our move to Arkansas, it put a strain on these annual trips, and it took a bit for us to “hit our stride” again. But taking a look at the overall picture, we learned to accept our relationship as it was, and just enjoy every minute we had together. In his later years, I longed to cook a meal for him, and it just never worked out. One of his most treasured compliments came when we helped get him settled after leaving the hospital and he told me I “make a mean bowl of Jell-O”.
          The next Dad influence was from an Arkansas Traveler. No, not a baseball player, a real traveler. My Mom was a bank teller in our little Kansas hometown, and among the people who came in (or drove through) to cash their paychecks was one handsome welder who was working to build our new hospital. His beautiful blue eyes connected with her deep pools of brown, and the rest, as they say, is history.
          At this point in my step-dad’s life, I think he was ready to relax and have a little bit of fun after working very hard for his whole life. So, we spent weekends at the lake, with any or all of the rest of the blended family that could work it in. Without him, I never would have water skied!
          I dubbed him “Papa” since I still had a Daddy, and we hit it off very well from the beginning. Our phone conversations always began the same way.
          “Hello” I used the traditional phone greeting.
          “Hey Mert!” that lively voice on the other end.
          “Hey Gert!” Of course. What else would I say?
          The rest of the family just shook their heads.
          Shortly after James and I married, when I was working the switchboard at a Little Rock car dealership. “Gert” called in a panic.
          “I am in big trouble. It’s your Mama’s wedding anniversary, and I’m on the job and didn’t leave anything there for her.”
          “It’s your anniversary too,” I reminded him. But he was in no mood to hear that.
          I was honored to help him by calling a local florist where he had an account and making sure my Mom received a bouquet of flowers (probably a dozen roses) at her job that day. Yes, he was definitely a keeper.

          When my own Prince Charming swept me off my feet, I was delighted to learn that he came from a very stable family. After my childhood experience of a broken marriage, it was just exactly what I needed. The un-disputed head of this household was to be my father-in-law.
          His dominant trait, and the one most everyone remembers, was his genuine interest in people. He formed so many lasting friendships over his lifetime, by enjoying each experience and then relating that enjoyment in the form of telling a great story. He was a terrific listener in the bargain, and that endeared him to all.
          Like any good storyteller, repetition was key. We heard the same stories over and over, but now, we can repeat those stories to new generations. And the past lives on!
          Each family member has a favorite memory of this man. The story he told involving me was about the first time I cooked a Thanksgiving dinner as a newlywed. In our small rental house, there were only so many places to sit, and he settled at the kitchen table. He recognized that dinner wasn’t ready yet, and worried that he was disrupting my preparations. But, he was amazed that I didn’t tell him to move, and just sort of worked around him as I finished what I was doing. A simple, not very dramatic tale, but I think he retold it so often because it was the day that he and I really connected. We knew that we were no longer acquaintances, but real family from that point on.

          Happy Father’s Day to all who have wonderful memories of the Dads in your life.  Enjoy spending time with men who are a positive influence on children of all ages, whether related by blood or not. The smallest memories will last a lifetime.