Ghosts Of Christmas Past – Feeling Connected

Baby's First Christmas 1960

Harper Family Christmas - 1960 - Gene, Elizabeth, & Judy

I’ve always been someone who asked a lot of questions so much so that sometimes when I say,”John …” from another room he will answer with, ” Let me ask you something ” repeating words he’s heard me say many times before.

It’s disconcerting for some people, they think I’m being nosy or too intense, but all I really want to know is who they are and what matters most to them.

Years ago, someone said that he wished he could talk to his girlfriend the way he could me. He added that he felt connected to me in a way he wished he could have with her. I told him that I thought questions were important when it came to feeling connected and the reason he felt connected to me was because I’d encouraged him to share who he was by asking the right question.

I said that he needed to ask his girlfriend a few questions that mattered to him and then listen. Ask and listen … don’t think, plan your next question, or worry about having to fix anything, just ask your question and pay attention to the response. I heard later that they got married and from what I see on Facebook, they still look very happy together.

I wish I knew more of what my mother and father dreamed of for their own lives growing up and what kind of life they imagined for me that first Christmas. I wished I’d asked more questions when my father was living and my mother still speaking to me.

Sometimes we think we have forever … another year, another Christmas, another chance to connect and we put off important questions until it’s too late. People die or leave us in some way and the things that need saying are lost or never asked.

Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Think of the one question you wish you could ask and then consider what’s stopping you and move past it.

Birthday Surprises

Elizabeth's First Birthday - September 10, 1961

This photograph is fifty years old.

Taken September 10, 1961, it’s one of me with my parents, Judy and Gene Harper.

It is a bit faded and blurry, but I’ve seen it so often I think I know it by heart.

For the longest time I focused on the hugeness of the cake preferring its sweetness to a sad memory of a mother with no contact and a father who died too young.

It’s funny how your vision can change as you grow older.

You go along adapting to the shifts that occur with perception and depth until one day you look at a photograph you’ve seen forever and your eyes see something you’ve missed.

Suddenly, this still young family looks different to me.

It’s no longer the size of the cake or the look on my mother’s face that draws me in, but the image of my tiny body leaning ever so slightly towards my dad and my small hand reaching for his.

I never really noticed it before … my hand in his, and it feels like a gift of awareness, a happy birthday of sorts fifty years later from my father to me.


Hello Dollies – The Taste Of Christmas

If we are friends on Facebook, you probably know I have been in a modest panic over the last few days because I could not find pecans, a key ingredient in four of the must have treats for my Christmas dinner. Okay…maybe the Hello Dollies aren’t exactly required to make dinner complete, but I had to have pecans for my sweet potato casserole in addition to a special cranberry salad, a cheese ball, and a pumpkin pecan pie all of which must have pecans to make them properly. So you can see why I was beginning to send out SOS messages to the community. Tina, my running buddy answered the call with a shop that still had them and John picked up a couple of bags yesterday just in time for me to make some of the tasty sweets to send off to Jersey to his daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter, Jersey Girl.

After Judy Harper asked for the recipe and Cindy a friend from high school expressed an interest, I thought I would share both the recipe and a view of my putting it to all together this morning. I have to say that while I finally got my hands on some pecans, there were no graham cracker crumbs to be found and I had to substitute something used for crumbles here. I was skeptical at first, but I think it really adds to the overall taste of the Hello Dollies so it gets my vote for a positive change to an old favorite.

This recipe is part of a collection of family favorites that my step-mom Cullene put together for me on recipe cards a few years ago.

As you can see by the picture above, I have a bag of honey roasted cashew nuts and peanuts that I tried in this recipe too. I made one half with pecans and the other with the mix above. The slightly salty sweet taste of the honey roast made for a taste change I liked.

A problem with cooking here and using local ingredients for my recipes from home is the need to translate measurements. Take the Jersey butter above. That butter package is 250 grams. My recipe calls for 1/2 cup. See what I mean. These cookies should take about 10 minutes to put together, but making a special dish here for the first time can take a bit longer than normal and it can require an extra kitchen aid to help with the conversions. ( note my laptop bottom right )

Butter and crumble mix and molded into bottom of dish to form a base crust.

Then you add chocolate chips and nuts. I prefer a little less chocolate in mine.

The sweet glue that makes it all one chewy mixture goes on after the coconut flakes.

Pop it in the oven until it looks like the picture below. Some people prefer it a bit lighter in color with less oven time, but I like mine chewy. Just be careful not to burn the bottom. I would watch them when they start to get close to being done.

The finished product.

Ready for taste testing … Mmm.

Tell Me A Story Tuesdays – 42 Steps


Obediah fixed the coffee tray to carry to her room. It was 42 steps from the sink in the kitchen to the top of the stairs where the door of old woman’s room sat just left of the last step. He knew it was exactly 42 because he’d counted them over and over each time she screamed his name, yelling for him in the endless way that she did all hours of the day and now even into the night. “OBIE…!”  She’d shout, distorting his name even more atrociously than the standard way of shortening it. New people he met tried to call him Obed as if something less formal sounding might shrink the distance between them suddenly making them instant friends instead of the strangers they really were.

Obediah didn’t really like most people and he liked strangers even less. He’d grown up wary tending to keep to himself after his family had moved out to the country. Back in New Orleans, his Old Testament sounding name was never looked on as ridiculous or even odd by the people living closest to them.  New Orleans welcomed the weird and unusual so much so that being not just another Jennifer or Jason was appreciated and sometimes expected.

When forced to introduce himself he always gave his full name, Obediah Jenkins, but damned if people didn’t immediately ask him, ” What do you like to be called? ”  He couldn’t understand this. Why did people think he’d introduce himself one way with no indication that he might like to be called something else unless he’d offered it up in the first place. Obed, seemed to be the most popular choice when people were trying to rename him and even though he didn’t like it, he tolerated it coming from some people like the smiling checkout girl down at the Handy Pantry over in Hattiesburg.

Her name tag said her name was Bertie, but she’d told him that was because the store manager was too lazy to say her whole name when calling her up to the front whenever the store got busy and the lines were too long. Roberta had frowned a little when she’d told him this story. She said she hated the way Frank Stillwell, the store manager always sounded as if he was laughing a little when he called her name making Bertie sound more like Birdi slurring it all together like the southern Mississippi man he was.

Originally from Michigan, Roberta had trouble sometimes when folks around Hattiesburg pronounced their T’s like they were D’s. She said she spent what felt like half her life saying, ” What…or I’m sorry, could you repeat that.”  It never occurred to him to tell her that he preferred Obediah to Obed when heard her say it the first time. There was something so sweet in her northern way of speech that it almost sounded like a new name completely. It was enough to keep him coming back every couple of days to spend an extra minute or so talking to her when she was shelving peas or some other food group…none of which he usually wanted. He’d spot her down an aisle and act as if he’d been looking for just the particular item she happened to be holding, once even taking the can of pears directly from her hand so that their fingers touched for just a second. Even though the Wal-Mart Super Center out on Highway 49 had everything he might ever need and at a lower price, the one thing missing there was Roberta.

Listening to the noise coming from upstairs, he placed the items on the lace covered tray in the way he’d been taught. It seemed as if he’d been carrying this same cup of coffee for years, assuming responsibility by default after his father had died one day after coming in from cutting the grass. Obediah thought back to how a cold glass of milk on a hot summers day had changed his life forever.

He remembered because he couldn’t forget and he avoided the sofa in the living room in the same way that he now avoided milk. Looking more red-faced than usual, his father had plopped down on the largest place to sit in the room. Along with size, it was also the most sturdy and even though his mother would have yelled at him for “plopping” as she called it, his father did it anyway that day making it seem as if something was wrong before actually was.

Gus Jenkins had called out to his son asking him to please bring him something cold to drink and Obediah had gone to the old Frigidaire that came with the house and poured out a tall glass of cold milk. He’d carried it in to his father who downed it quickly and then stretched out on the sofa, putting his feet on the lacy throw that his mother had spent the winter crocheting with a tiny needle. He had started to tell his father that there were bits of grass dropping out of his cuffed trousers onto the seldom used coverlet, but the sound coming from his father stopped his words before they could form properly in his mouth. Looking up from his father’s feet in the direction of the unfamiliar sound, he realized the soft puffing noise was coming from his father. Seeing him with his hand tight to his chest, Obediah should have been able to tell right away that he was having a heart attack, but all he could focus on were the tiny white bubbles blowing across his lips created from the milk residue and the puffing brought on by the pain.

He’d stopped drinking milk after that and he never again sat on the sofa after the paramedic’s had lifted his father’s body off the spot where he’d plopped for the last time. Now all he had was this life that was no longer his own. He wished for more, but his mother had taken to her bed permanently it seemed after his father’s death. He had no life outside this house and the woman waiting for him upstairs. It seemed he only got tiny minutes of his life back during his trips into town to pick up the groceries they needed, but just this morning his mother had been whining that she couldn’t be left alone anymore. ” Obie,” she’d said, “we’ll just have to have what we need delivered.”  ” Your mama needs you here with her.”  She said all of this in what he thought of as her, ” I’m too sick to be denied ” voice and knew then that he had a choice to make.

No more trips to the Handy Pantry meant no more visits with Roberta and Obediah felt ill thinking that his life would be permanently confined to the walls of this old house. He wanted more than a few minutes in the frozen food aisle with her, but that was never going to happen unless a few things changed around here. He pulled the dusty box out from underneath the kitchen sink where he’d stuck it a few weeks ago after telling himself that kitchen was being overrun with ants again. Searching through the old gardening shed out back, he had found the box with its brightly colored warning signs still prominent even though the box had faded from sitting on a shelf for the last few years. He’d noted the directions for use at that time and what to do in case of accidental poisoning before tucking it into a dark place back behind the Pledge he never seemed to get around to using.

It didn’t matter now he thought, since his mother never came downstairs anymore. She never noticed whether there were ants crawling through the sugar bowl or dust on her mother’s antiques. Obediah sprinkled a little ant poison around the back of the sink  where they seemed to be coming in through a crack in the wall. Using a teaspoon that he’d taken from the kitchen drawer, he dusted the area carefully trying to be precise. Shaking out another spoonful of the white powder he dropped it into the cream on his mother’s coffee tray giving it a quick stir before leaving the used spoon behind in the sink. He hurried along thinking he would wait and wash up when he came back down as his mother’s shouting was beginning to get on his last nerve.

Picking up her tray, he counted the steps as he had for the last ten years, one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, knowing that this time was different. Obediah had first begun counting the steps years ago when the distance between the kitchen and her door seemed never-ending. Knowing it was only 42 steps helped him make the journey over and over too many times a day to remember all the trips. It might still be 42 steps from the kitchen sink to his mother’s door, but somehow today it seemed more final as if these steps were now part of a destination and not just more of the same old daily journey.  “OBIE!”  Obediah heard her shrill voice calling him and instead of his usual anger at hearing his name so distorted he counted, seven Mississippi, eight Mississippi, focusing instead on the steps leading up to his freedom.

Thanks to Leon for the topic suggestion that I used for this week’s TMAST.  I also want to thank MrsDoF for her topic sentences and Judy Harper joined me again in writing a story for TMAST. Her story can be found on her blog here. Although Judy and I have not been comparing notes, it seems we tend to choose the same topic sentences and photographs for our TMAST projects. I find it interesting that it has occurred several times already and it makes me look forward to seeing what next week brings. Please take a look at the pictures for next week’s TMAST and offer up suggestions for topic sentences based on the photographs. Thanks for reading and commenting and please consider writing along with me next week.

Additionally, I want to thank each of you who leave a comment especially on TMAST days. These little stories are fun to write and are the seeds I hope for the bigger stories and real work I imagine for my writing future.

Tell Me A Story Tuesdays – The Return


Ahhhhh, home!

Rounding the bend near the end of the lane, Joyce saw at once that the cars were still there sitting like a permanent part of the landscape in the place she’d remembered. When she was a child she had gone missing for an afternoon after she had crawled in through a broken window. She’d brushed the tiny pieces of glass off the seat and onto floor of the car after slipping a few pieces of what looked more like diamonds than broken glass into the center pocket her blue jean overalls. Always a petite child, she’d dropped easily into place behind a steering wheel that would seem huge compared with those found in modern cars today, but back then even sitting up as big and tall as she could, she had barely been able to see over the wheel. Tilting her head back so that her nose pointed up she’d struggled to see over the cracked dashboard of the abandoned car. After a while her neck had begun to ache and she diverted her attention to what was easy to see and close enough to reach. Picking at the peeling strips of interior paint, she tried to tug a piece loose scratching at it gently the way she might pick at the scabby places she always seemed to have on her knees.

Joyce had disappeared that day, lost for what her foster family would say seemed like most of the afternoon and evening. Sitting in the remains of someone else’s dreams, she been lulled to sleep by the heat of the afternoon sun which even in late summer was still baking hot and only bearable because of the cars position under a leafy canopy of trees. Walking through the tall grasses was easier at her age now as she made her way over to the shell of what had been her first mode of transportation. This old wreck of a car had never actually moved from its present location not with Joyce in it anyway, but looking back she remembered the places she’d traveled in her mind while sitting on its worn front seat using her imagination as a roadmap to all the places she would go.

Seeing the tireless rims of what had been her spaceship to the moon and an airplane built for one, she thought about the times when she had pretended that this old car had special powers that could protect her from the evil outside forces that threatened her daily life. Outside evil forces was the name she given what she couldn’t understand and it was the comic books that taught her about superheroes and their powers. She’d found them stuffed inside an old cardboard suitcase almost too small to contain them all. One day while hiding in an old shed behind the barn, she had made herself as small as she could and pushed in behind a dusty tarp. Backing up against a wall, she’d bumped into the suitcase that held what she would come to think of as her handbooks for survival.

Joyce shifted a bit, restless with the discomfort caused by old memories and the weight of the box she held in her hands. It had been so long since she was last here that she wasn’t sure where the path was anymore. As overgrown as it was now, she couldn’t quite see it and tried to remember with her feet instead of looking with her eyes. She knew that the last member of the foster “family” had died not long ago. The old man had held on to his miserable life long after she wished him dead for the first time and now years after she’d left this place which was never a home, she finally felt safe enough to return.

The air was so hot that she could barely move feeling like it took too much effort to even walk, but she was on a mission to return what she’d taken years ago even though it meant going back to the place where she’d found it. A friend that she’d confided in had suggested she sell the contents of the box, after all there was a huge market for old comic books. Joyce had explained as patiently as she could that these well-read worn out pages had no value to a collector in their condition and that selling them would be like selling off the stuffed Pooh bear her friend had treasured since childhood. ” These Masters of the Universe belong to another world ” she’d said, while thinking quietly to herself…a world that I am finally done doing battle with.

Thanks to Karen Caterson for her suggestion that I used for this week’s TMAST. Judy Harper joined me again in writing a story for TMAST and her story can be found on her blog here. Please take a look at the pictures for next week’s TMAST and offer up suggestions for topic sentences based on the photographs. Thanks for reading and commenting and please consider writing along with me next week.