Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Guest Post ~ Dee Ready

Prayer Wasn’t Enough: Guest Posting

Recently I published Prayer Wasn’t Enough, a memoir about the eight-and-a-half years I spent in a Benedictine convent in the 1960s. Rick has graciously invited me to do a guest posting today about that memoir. So “Thank you” to Rick, and “Hello” to all of you reading this post. 

After leaving the convent in 1966, fifty years passed before I began to write this memoir.
During that time, a question haunted me: “Why had so many women whom I admired been able to live the life and I hadn’t?” I left the convent feeling a failure. That feeling never left me.

Then, in 2016, a friend said, “Dee, you love to write. Write about the convent. Maybe that’ll bring an answer to your question.” 

Prayer Wasn’t Enough did become an answer. Writing the memoir helped me get in touch with that twenty-two-year-old, idealistic, young Dee Ready who joyously donned the Benedictine habit as well as the thirty-year-old who left the convent almost catatonic. 
As I sat at the computer for eighteen months, sometimes crying, often laughing, I remembered it all: the prayer, the obediences, the teaching, the clothing, the silence, the rules, the traditions, and my own mistaken notion that I had to be perfect to be a nun. That, I discovered, had been my stumbling block. My own emotional and spiritual immature had sent me over the edge.

Writing the memoir finally freed me from the guilt I’d felt for walking away from a vowed life of prayer and teaching. 

If only during those years of feeling a failure, I’d remembered that in 1989 writing helped me with the grief of losing Dulcy, the cat with whom I lived for seventeen-and-a-half years. Dulcy helped me through that grief by giving me two books: A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story and A Cat’s Legacy: Dulcy’s Companion Book. 

I’m busy now polishing a novel that takes place in first century Palestine. It has two main characters: a Pharisee and Yeshua—the Hebrew name for Jesus. Without the convent experience I don’t think I ever would have conceived the idea for this book, which will be published this September. The memoir has given me the confidence to share the crisis of faith that is the thread running through that novel.

One last thing: Please consider writing when you want to work through a past trauma or when you fear that the road ahead will be daunting. Writing may help you, too, embrace the thoughts, fears, and feelings that lie deep at the center of your being. In that center all of us find our true selves. Trust me on this—we all have a story to tell. I encourage you to tell your own unique story. Telling mine brought liberation.

NOTE: Dee's book is available HERE.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Telling Stories

Ever since I was a kid in Sloss Hollow I’ve enjoyed stories. I remember sitting on my grandmother’s front porch listening. She could talk for hours about her life with my grandpa
in the early years when times were hard.   I’m glad I recorded some of the pieces of our family’s history. Mr. Plunkett who lived next door could spin a good yarn too. Sometimes it was hard to tell if he was pulling your leg, but when he said “This is the God’s Truth,” you knew he was shooting straight. I’ve learned that everyone has a story.

Many people when asked say, “There’s nothing interesting about my life.” But if you start a conversation and listen, you often hear something remarkable. Some people overcome hardship, others have rare talents, and some of them do unique things. “Oh, that. It was no big deal,” they might say. When in fact what they did was extraordinary. Trying to coax the facts out of these folks is like pulling teeth. 

Storytelling is an important part of our culture. It’s a way to share experience, education, and history. Oral history gives insight on events from our past. A good story can make you feel as if you were there. 

My grandmother told a story once about when my grandpa was making moonshine in Kershaw Hollow. The authorities got wind of the illegal operation and showed up at dusk one evening to arrest him. One agent got the bright idea that he would try bluffing my grandmother into telling them the location of the whiskey still.  “We had to shoot him,” the officer said. Mama Watson wasn’t fooled. As she was standing at the edge of their garden, listening to the officer, Pap, who was hidden under sweet potato vines, reached up and gently wrapped his hand around Mama Watson’s ankle. “I almost jumped out of my skin,” she said. She realized that it was Pap and that touching her ankle was his way of telling her he was OK. The agents went away empty handed. Stories are treasures.

When my job at Bevill State ended, I approached The Mountain Eagle about writing more features. Through the years, I’ve written a few stories for the paper in addition to my weekly column.  The idea of capturing stories from the people in East Walker County appealed to me. The publisher agreed. It took some time before I got the call but I started the first of May.

So far, I’ve written about an 80-year-old gardener in Sumiton, and a piano teacher who received national recognition for excellence. This week I interviewed three high school seniors, an 87-year-old golfer, and a man who was on the mining rescue team that helped in the aftermath of the Brookwood Mine accident in September of 2001 that claimed the lives of Alabama miners. 

The stories I’m hearing are amazing and I can’t wait to hear more. At the bottom of this column is my email address. If you know someone young or old who has an interesting story to tell, feel free to drop me a note with contact information.

Sunday, May 20, 2018


Our dance cards have been punched these last several weeks. We had nothing on our calendar for today. So, we sipped coffee and read the papers this morning. It felt good to veg out.

Yesterday, before heading out to the wedding, we walked down and surveyed the garden. The tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes are coming along nicely. 

When I checked the blueberries, they were hanging full. The wasn't enough time to pick them so I made a mental note to do that this morning.

While Jilda did a few chores, I took a basket and headed to the berries. You can't get in a hurry while picking blueberries. They play hide-and-seek with the limbs and leaves. I picked about an hour and took over a gallon of blueberries inside.

We'll eat some and start putting bags in the freezer. We can use the frozen berries in the protein shakes we have in the morning. Jilda also tosses some in her pancakes and waffles.  Before the end of the season, she'll make a blueberry pound cake.

We once had casualties here at a party when two people went for the last piece of her blueberry pound cake. Fortunately, the injuries didn't require medical attention and the two people involved began talking to each other again a few months after the altercation :)

NOTE: On Tuesday, my blog friend Dee Ready will do a guest post on my blog. Dee recently published a book, Prayer is Not Enough, about her eight years in a Benedictine convent in the 1960s. 
I enoyed this book. I hope you'll tune in on Tuesday.

Saturday, May 19, 2018


Jilda and I attended a wedding today. It was south of Birmingham. The groom is a great-nephew. The wedding and receptions were beautiful affairs. The wedding cake was some of the best we've ever had.

One of the things they did was ask all married couples to go to the dance floor. The MC then told anyone who's only been married a few hours to sit down. Obviously, the bride and groom sat. He then started stepping up in two-year increments. I told Jilda, that we'd be there a while. By the time he got to 44 years, there were only 6 couples (out of a hundred) left. The couple married the longest was a couple married 64 years. They were rock stars.

It was after eight when we got on the Interstate for home. Just outside of Birmingham when we left the city lights behind, we could see the horizon. The sunset left a crimson wash on the western sky.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Hot gig

We played tonight in downtown Jasper. It was a songwriter in the round thing. It was fun but the temps were in the 90s when we started a 7 p.m. By quitting time, I felt like a wilted petunia.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Giving back

Jilda and I fund a scholarship for a high school senior graduating from our old high school. We started in the scholarship 2008, so this year was our 10th anniversary.

The young man that received our first scholarship went on to get his bachelor's degree in music and then to the New York Film Acadamy for his master's in acting. He is a remarkable young man that has made us and his community proud.

This year we had a stack of applications as thick as the Bible. We asked a few simple questions: What are your interests/ hobbies? What do you plan to study in college? What would you consider a dream job, and why? What does success mean to you and why?

We pay close attention to the last question because it's often telling.

The young lady below had an answer that resonated with Jilda and me, She talked about doing work and having an opportunity to give back to the community.

Her answer won her our scholarship.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Rust Lilly

Jilda had some physical therapy and some routine tests today. I wrote my column sitting in the waiting room.

I also completed two other long features for the paper today. All together it was almost 5,000 words. My head is a sponge tonight.

I had to look back in the archives for a picture I took last year of a lily. The rusty beauty was one her mother gave her back when Clinton was in the White House.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Flowers in ivy

It's been hot and dry here. We planted the garden this past weekend and we've had to water it almost daily. I was beginning to be concerned until I saw the weather forecast yesterday ago. A tropical depression moving across the Florida Keys was coming into the Gulf. That usually means rain is on the way.

Today, I had early morning interviews and two more after lunch. As I climbed into my truck, I heard thunder in the distance. By the time I got a few miles away, the rain fell so hard that my wipers were sweeping it off, even on high.

About 20 minutes after it started, the clouds raced off to the south. That looked strange to me because the storm is coming from the south, but apparently, the storm is causing swirls and this was one of the swirls.  It's confusing unless you're used to the weird weather.

I did get a chance to get in a short walk and I came upon yellow flowers in a patch of poison ivy.

I kept my distance because I'm allergic to poison ivy, but I did get close enough to snap a photo. They don't look like daisies, but I'm not sure what they are. Your thoughts?

Monday, May 14, 2018


Jilda and I got up before the morning sun rose above the trees to the east. The back was in shade. I'd pressure washed all the grunge off last weekend and allowed a week for the wood to back in the sun.

On Sunday morning it was ready. I'd bought two paint rollers with handles as long as a broom. Before starting, I took the leaf blower out there and blew any leaves, pollen, and dust that had settled onto the surface.

On the edge of the deck was what I thought was a brown butterfly. Jilda said she thought it was a moth. I did some Googling and the closest thing I could find was a Cecropia Moth. This critter was beautiful whatever it is.

I gently picked it up with a sheet of thin cardboard and shifted it from the floor to an azalea on the ground. It waved its wing in thanks.

We made sure work of rolling the water seal onto the deck and were finished before it got too hot.

Check another todo item off the list.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Happy Mother's Day

Back in the mid-1990s my mom first started having problems with her health. I wrote a series of email to our friends detailing the experience that my mom and the rest of the family were going through. This was before my blog.

The emails were sad, poignant, and (you know me) sometimes humorous. Somehow, the Birmingham News got wind of they emails and did an article in their lifestyle section.

I wish I still had the article...actually, I wish I still had the emails. I don't have either, but I do have the photograph the Birmingham News photographer took one day while she was in the hospital.

Happy Mother's Day Mama.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Fish Fry Saturday

Our nephew Haven and his wife Alesha hosted the fish fry this year. In years past he cooked the fish but we did it at our house. Our backyard is massive and by 4 p.m. it's shaded by towering pines, sweet gum, and Leiland Cyprus trees.

The house they bought last year has some trees but they provide no shade at that time of day. We knew this but his young son wanted it at their house because he could have a Jump-Jump. That's a blow-up kid-friendly thing that they get on and bounce around.

Jilda made slaw but that's all she had to make this year. When we drove by the blinking bank sign it read 97 degrees. That was at 3 p.m. The heat doesn't reach its peak until about 5:30.

It was toasty, even in the shade, but it was still a lot of fun. The thing about having it at his house is he had to spend weeks cleaning his house, yard, and doing the prep work to the get ready for the crowd.

Today we sat in the shade sipping cold drinks and barking out orders to the cook (Haven) who had three friers going wide open cooking a boatload of fish.

It was a lot of fun and the kids had a blast. The best part was that after we ate and howdy'd up with everyone, we left for home. No fuss no muss.

When heading home, we drove by the bank sign at 6:09 p.m. it read 101 degrees.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Garden work

Our great nephew Jordan was here early this morning. Today was May Day at school and his mom let him skip since it wouldn't go against he attendance. 

He was still sleepy when he walked in. He always takes his sneakers off and puts them on the mantle. I taught him that when he was four-years-old. He'd visited us and lost his sneaker. I told him whenever he comes and takes his shoes off, to put them on the mantle. He's never forgotten and he always knows where his shoes are when it's time to leave. He also puts the other stuff he wants to take home with him on the mantle too. 

Today, Jilda gave him some space. We drank our coffee and let him wake at his own pace. 

Jilda started breakfast. One of his favorites is bacon and waffles so that was on the menu today.

After breakfast, I asked if he wanted to help plant the garden. He was thrilled. It took a while for me to till up the space, so he picked blueberries while I did the heavy work. After I finished, I stepped over and snapped a picture. 

He ate more blueberries than he took inside. That's OK. There's enough to go around. I snapped a picture for his mom.

We worked a few hours getting our plants in the ground before calling it a morning. I was whupped and so was he. 

It was a fun day.


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Sweet Potato Cobbler

Jilda worked for Wallace State Community College in the PR department in 1986. She got a call one day from Clarke Stallworth. He was a journalist that worked for the Birmingham Post Herald and Birmingham News. He covered some of the big stories during the civil rights era. He was famous among journalists...and he was an old friend.

He asked Jilda if she could put him in touch with Harlan Moon. Harlan was a legend himself with musicians. He was a guitar whisperer. He made and repaired fine instruments.  It was not uncommon to see the tour buses of world-famous artists in his front yard. They'd stop over at his house in Holley Pond to have him repair an ailing guitar. He was a master and the music world knew it.

Jilda has always been a master networker. A few phone calls later, and we were invited to their house for the interview. Clarke was thrilled.

We arrived mid-morning and Clarke and Harlan sat out on the porch and talked a spell. He was wrapping up and we were about to head out when Harlan's wife said, "Y'all ain't leavin' yet are you? It's lunchtime."

She made cornbread from cornmeal they'd ground in their barn. We had butterbeans, cabbage, fresh squash, and some of the best fried chicken I've ever put in my mouth. For dessert, Mrs. Moon made a sweet potato cobbler. She made sweet tea in a gallon jar with water from their well. It was an amazing meal.

Before we left, I snapped a picture of the group. Had I been really clever, I would have packed a tripod and been in the picture, but hindsight is always 20/20.

Harlan is picking the banjo, Clarke is standing behind him. Mrs. Moon was giving Clarke the news. Jilda is second from between thier daugher and son-in-law.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Worth the wait

The blueberries have tortured me the last few weeks. The bloomed early and berries formed in prodigious numbers. Even the yearlings are loaded with berries. Each morning I inspected each bush for any sign of critters. They've been perfect.

Late last week the area around the stem turned fuchsia. My mouth watered involuntarily. We'd have berries by Sunday.

When Sunday came, more of them had turned, but still, none were ripe. I could almost hear them taunt, Na Na Na Boo Boo, We're turning slowly.

Yesterday we walked and they were closer. I picked one, but I knew before I bit into it that the taste would be slightly bitter. It was.

It seems that overnight, they decided OK, time to stop taunting Farmer Rick. This morning when we walked, I picked a half dozen ripe blueberries and tossed them in my mouth. They were worth the wait.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Interesting stories

I was on the golf course by 7:30 this morning. I don't play golf, but there's an 87-year-old gentleman who plays three days a week. The interview with him was like talking to an old friend.

He was a railroad man for over 30 years and married to the same woman since Eisenhower was in the Whitehouse. The love of his life died in 2016 it's been hard since then. Golf helps.

He started getting a little antsy when the long hand approached 8 a.m. "The tourney starts at 8," he said. I wrapped up quickly and hustled outside to grab a picture before tee time. 

I'd thought of a photograph of him kneeling down and lining up a shot. When I asked if he could squat, he said, "Not so good." 

He put the ball in the grass, and I laid down on the ground with the ball in the foreground. The morning dew was still clinging to the grass. He said, "You'll get wet." I told him that it was a small price to pay for a decent picture. We both got a smile out of that. The picture did look good. I think the story will be a good one. 

When you ask people about their lives, many are quick to say that nothing is interesting about their lives. I think if you dig deep enough, everybody has an interesting story. 

I've spent most of the day on the screen porch with the ceiling fan whirring overhead. I knocked out a couple pieces and then went out in the backyard to get some steps. I needed several thousand to reach my daily goal.

It was almost dark when I finished. Sitting on the bench by the flowerbed, I drank water as I cooled off. Clouds to the south near the horizon were the color or orange sherbet. A jet plane heading into the sunset left a thread behind it. I figured it was too dark for a picture, but I took one anyhow.

Monday, May 07, 2018

I wanted to be a turtle ~ my column from Sunday's paper

I’m not sure what it is about this time of year, but I tend to daydream a lot. It started in grammar school. When May arrived, I knew the final day of class was approaching. It was like an itch that could not be scratched. I spent a lot of time with elbows propped on my desk looking out the window and dreaming of summer life.

Back then, the clocks and calendars played a cruel trick on me. They slowed enough to make the final few weeks seem longer than the previous nine months. The teachers had pretty much given up on trying to teach anything meaningful. In fact, I often saw them gazing out the windows at things only they could see.

One of my May daydreams was about river turtles. You know those critters that line up with their friends on dead limbs hanging over creek banks. They all take a nap in the warm spring sun and let life flow by underneath them. I wanted to be a river turtle.

This week while driving I pulled into a roadside park not far from where I live. The road to the park leads down the roadbed for the old Highway 78. Back in the day, the 78 ambled from Memphis through Alabama, Georgia, and on to Charleston, South Carolina. Near Graysville, the old highway crosses a concrete bridge over Five-Mile Creek. The county placed giant boulders blocking the entrance to the bridge so that cars couldn’t drive across it. It was a sunny day, and I had a little time to kill, so I parked and walked mid-bridge to have a look.

The water was clear. Beneath the moss-green surface, I could see small-mouth bass and bream in a feeding frenzy. Further up the creek where the sun fell on the water, a dead sapling leaned about halfway across the stream and just above the surface. The afternoon sun was warm. Seven turtles were lined up lazing on the limb. Leaning on the guardrail, I stood for a long time absorbing all Mother Nature had to offer on that warm spring day.

The scene reminded me of the place where I fished when I was younger. We called it the Backwater. The body of water is a slough (some would call it a lake) formed where Horse Creek flows into the Black Warrior River below Dora. The Slough is about 500 acres of shallow water with a carpet of lily pads.

Those pads are a perfect sanctuary for large-mouth bass, bluegill, and cottonmouth moccasins. The cottonmouths usually mean a hard pass on the area for most people. I can tell you from experience that they are great for testing reflexes and coronary health when you happen upon one of those slithering devils. But, the slough is a great place to catch your limit in spring and summer. I’ve also seen hundreds of lazy turtles lined up on logs like a traffic jam. Sunbathing turtles remind me that summer is around the corner.

I can't seem to find my graphic for this column. I have pictures of turtles on logs, but they elude me. I found an old picture of Jordan and a turtle. It's not the kind of turtle I wrote about, but it's a turtle.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Missing Ol' Buddy

We got out little dog Ol' Buddy from Jilda's mom in 2005. He was just a pup then. Ruby adored Ol' Buddy (she called him baby) but after she broke her leg, she knew he would not long be able to live with here. I wrote about this in a blog post that was one of the stories in my first book. It's called Ol' Buddy Changed My Mind.

He loved to ride in my truck. He was a rockstar at the bank drive-thru. All the tellers would come to the window each time we came through. They asked for his pawtagraph.

The little turd grew on me like no critter had done in many years. I wrote about him a number of times. I have hundreds of pictures of him but the one below is my favorite. 

Tomorrow will be five years since he got cancer and died. It broke my heart then. But I still smile every time I look at this picture. 

Saturday, May 05, 2018

I hit the jackpot

Today was our 44 Anniversary. I bought Jilda petunias and blue suede shoes. That's exactly what she wanted. She bought me a new disk drive for my laptop which was what I wanted.

Tonight we had dinner a Black Rock Bistro in Jasper. It's one of the best restaurants in Alabama according to a New York Times review a few years ago. How they found out about Black Rock I have no idea. I had the Catfish Pontchartrain. It on the list of 100 things you should eat before you die list that I think came from Southern Living.  Jilda had the Shrimp and Scallop Carbonara. Both dishes were out of this world.

It was a low-key day but a good one none the less. Our nephew Haven was there with his wife Alesha and their son Anthony. He bought us a dessert what was out of this world. Had I been clever, I would have had him shoot a picture of us but I didn't think of it until we were on the way home.

Below is a picture from several years ago. I hit the jackpot with this one folks.

Friday, May 04, 2018

I think I was forgiven

We received a card this week through the mail from the Red Barn Veterinarian Clinic. It said it was time for Caillou's annual checkup. He was not excited about the checkup. It's not the checkup so much as it's riding in the truck. He hates it.

Each time he has to ride, he lays his head in my laps and pants...and drools. I put him on a leash but that's not necessary. He minds better than most children.

When I take him inside the clinic, there are often other critters in the waiting room. He's a friendly dog and wants to be loved by all. Other critters don't share that Kumbaya spirit as much as he does so the leash is a good idea.

When the vet tech called us back, Caillou knew where to go. He stepped into the exam room. When they asked to get his weight, I stood and he walked by my side. I pointed to the scales and he stepped up on them and stood. The vet tech said, "We need to see more collies in here."

He weighed 84 pounds which is not as much as I thought, but then he's all hair. He stood like a trooper as they checked his ears, his teeth, and everything else.  The vet petted Caillou and gave him a few shots.

When we walked out, I snapped the leash off his collar and pointed to the truck. When I opened the door, he bounded into the front seat and looked at me as if to say, "Let's go home pop. I'm over this place.

On the way home, I pulled into a store and picked up a giant Slim Jim. During the rest of the drive, I'd bite off a bit of Slim Jim and give it to Caillou. I think I was forgiven.

Next week I'll take him to the groomers and get him groomed. He'll get a summer cut which should make his life much easier as the heat moves in.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

A bouquet

Jilda and I just rolled in from a performance north of where we live. It was just over an hour away but by the time we loaded our equipment and said our goodbyes we didn't get out until 8:30.

Tonight I have a picture of an iris I shot at my sister-in-law's house. She is a gardener extraordinaire.
He yard is a bouquet right now.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Post interview flowers

We had an early morning appointment in Birmingham. We swilled coffee and scooted. Jilda had her first physical therapy session. While they put her through the paces, I sat in the corner and wrote my column for Sunday's paper. 

A talker, as we refer to chatty people, came up and sat next to me. I quickly pulled out wireless headphones and shoved them into my ears up to the second knuckle. I then found my Deep Concentration music stream and hit play. Soon, I was somewhere else tapping keys and laughing to myself about the clever lines I was writing. I crack myself up sometimes. Too bad other's don't get the humor. 

By the time Jilda came over and tapped me on the shoulder, the talker had moved on to more fertile ears. A young PT was listening to be polite. 

We practiced once we got home. We have a gig tomorrow evening and we're rehearsing some songs we haven't played in a long time. 

Later, when Jilda headed out to work, I left for an interview with a gardener. I'll be writing a story about the things she plants each spring in her flower and container gardens. It was an interesting conversation. This is what the newspaper calls an Evergreen story since it is not time sensitive.  Page designers love evergreen stories because they can keep them for slow news days. 

I shot a ton of pictures because the flowers in her beds were stunning. The paper will only use one or two, so I decided to use one on my blog tonight. I .think it's called a clematis. 

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Hydrangea bouquets

The wild hydrangeas are beginning to bloom. Anyone who's never seen one, here's a picture I shot several years ago. They line the sides of the canopied road to the barn. They are delicate and have an earthy smell.

They bloom for weeks and Jilda picks hydrangea bouquets for the table and our bathroom vanities. It looks all Martha Stewart'ish and what not.

I love this time of year because it seems each day when you step out, the show changes. One day it's the azaleas, blueberries, and Confederate Jasmine, then the next day it's the irises, roses, and hydrangeas.

Some people ask us why we live miles from the nearest grocery store. When I tell them it's the hydrangea bouquets, I don't think they get it.

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