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Category: LOVE

In the last five days, I’ve: 

Approved the final back cover for MODEL FOR DECEPTION, my next and second novel I’ll be releasing, and worked with the graphics person on formatting its content and taming a Table of Contents that, when properly formatted, ran on for 5 pages….sheesh.

Finished the final manuscript revisions to THE HART WOMEN, the third novel I’ll be releasing, which I pared down to 127 pages.

Researched how a novel is actually supposed to be formatted (then re-formatted THE HART WOMEN to meet those standards) and began a conversation with the extremely talented artist who will be transforming this story into a book.

I’m not above using my Homeless Champion Award when trying to pitch HARBORING EVIL, which features a formerly homeless man as the protagonist

Visited with a bookseller to see if my THE HART WOMEN idea is crazy or brilliant (and exactly how much does a bar code from Bowker cost?).

Filed HARBORING EVIL: A COOT LONG MYSTERY with a small press, after tackling the thankless job of revising its synopsis.

Touched base with another small press that was considering HARBORING EVIL to see if they’ve made a decision (no response yet).

Me after going to 2 Walgreen’s and a post office and still not finding a usable mailer

Filed THE BONE TRENCH with a small press, this being the novel that was agented until my agent dropped me to join the Foreign Legion (actually, to sell foreign rights) which, incredibly, required 4 trips to 4 different stores/post offices just to find a damn envelope.

Reviewed my Bio for Crack the Spine Journal that will be publishing a short story (which I didn’t know would be used as my contributor’s note so the bio contains NONE of my publishing credits and makes me sound like a dork), only to realize how OLD I am compared to the other contributors.

Revised and filed 5 short stories with literary journals, which includes cross-checking to make sure I haven’t already sent these stories to these particular journals and researching to make sure none of them have bitten the dust since I last submitted on a regular basis about 4 years ago (some had).

Revised 2 outtakes from JAZZY AND THE PIRATES (that became orphaned after I deleted the Jean Laffite narrator from that story) and filed them with 5 literary journals that hopefully will not die before they can read my work.

Set up 2 additional book club appearances for TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE—yay! You can listen to the TRACKING HAPPINESS AUDIBLE sample here.

Mailed 2 copies of TRACKING HAPPINESS  to a review service (which, I know, is wayyyyyy late, but I decided to see what they had to say about it and maybe I can use it to the good) and submitted it for an award, I’ve forgotten which.

Novels coming at you, one chapter at a time . . .  plus extra goodies.

Worked with ACX to get the right distribution on TRACKING HAPPINESS so the podcast can go forward (because even if you’re using ACX as the exclusive audiobook distributor, if you’re using the audio content in your podcast, that’s a non-exclusive distribution—okay?)

Worked with the podcast producer of ELLEN’S VERY SOUTHERN VOICE: NOVELS TOLD WRITE to get a promotional video going.

Fluffy chicks for book signing

Drafted an email to send to my friends begging them to come to the TRACKING HAPPINESS book signing at Novel Memphis in 3 weeks so I won’t be mortified when 4 people show up, but if 4 people show up, they’re gonna get to take home punch and nuts.

Researched audio capabilities at said signing and food/punch at said signing and created a vignette for said signing that will physically represent the theme music from the podcast, “Get That Chicken Off the Tracks.” (I have a sick, sick sense of humor). 

Arranged to go to a book event this week with the Pulitzer-prize winning author of The Gulf, which inspired my next novel on which I am currently reading and researching, MOSES IN THE GULF (which spellcheck, for some reason, thinks should be MOUSE IN THE GULF).

Reading for Moses in the Gulf, which will be set in Mississippi

Began planning for a talk at a creative retreat in March of 2019 that I want to participate in to be around other writers.

The above is in addition to the endless IG, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads postings that seem to be necessary to keep TRACKING HAPPINESS alive. 

All of this is to say that being a writer is so much damn work. And I know I’ve made my job that much harder by deciding to release these novels myself (and in ebook, print, audio, and podcast). And I feel like I’m involved in a marathon, one I set for myself and, of all things, it has an end, which is called MOSES IN THE GULF. I will write this final novel and get it out there one way or another. Then that will be that. 

At least that’s how I feel now. Get the 4 old novels out there (TRACKING HAPPINESS, MODEL FOR DECEPTION, THE HART WOMEN, and HARBORING EVIL). Then get the 3 new ones published one way or another (THE BONE TRENCH, JAZZY AND THE PIRATES, and MOSES IN THE GULF). Then call it quits. 

Or maybe return to short stories. 

But there will be a stop, maybe a soft one, but definitely a stop. 

As if any of us are truly able to plan our futures. <3

 

Jesus was an Ally

I’m sitting in church this morning, and I’m getting madder and madder. How much longer am I going to have to listen to that secondary, pitiful account of creation (“poor ol’ Adam—wah, wah, wah—all by his lonesome needed a helper”) and ignore the primary story of creation: “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea….So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number…” (Genesis 1:26-28).

Why would my modern Episcopal church choose the wah-wah Adam story over the story of God’s creation of “them” “in our likeness”? The church has a choice, and by choosing the wah-wah story over the “in the image of God, male and female” story, we refuse to proclaim from the pulpit that women were created in the image of God exactly like, at the same time as, and with the same blessing as men. Instead, we validate and continue a story where women were only created because of some man’s needs.

I thought of walking out. I truly did. I felt complicit sitting there. (Was this life-long reaction to male-dominated storytelling exacerbated by the recent stamp of legitimacy on devaluing women as evidenced by the Kavanaugh hearing? You tell me.) But I didn’t want to leave my husband’s side, a man I love dearly who would fear I wasn’t feeling well. So I sat in the pew, and, finally, Jesus entered the scene.

The Gospel reading was the admonition against divorce found in Mark 10 where Jesus does the extraordinary thing of extending the right to divorce to women as well as men (“and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”) This was a radical departure from the belief at the time that women were property to be treated as men decided. Then, whoa, along comes Jesus and says, guess what? Women can divorce too. As a woman who divorced a rotten husband, I don’t like the admonition, but Jesus recognized I had the same right (and same responsibility) to divorce as my rotten husband did. How did Jesus get there? Well, he started with the primary creation story: “But at the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.” He had to start there because you can’t get to equality starting with the wah-wah Adam story.

Now, I am fully aware that those who are against same-sex marriage and even same-sex love quote this “male and female” language to say, see: it’s only supposed to be male and female. But Jesus wasn’t asked, can same-sex couples marry? He was asked, can men divorce women? And Jesus said, yes, with consequences. And guess what? Women can too.

This is why Jesus was an ally of women. He found every opportunity to say, you blind men, quit judging it only from your point of view. If you want to divorce, understand women can too. If you’re without sin, throw your stone at this woman (this John 8:3-11 story isn’t the generic “don’t be a hypocrite” story it’s been turned into—it’s a specific story about men wanting to control and judge the sexuality of women while letting their own sexual behavior go unchecked.)

Further more, Jesus says, by the way, you women who have co-opted yourselves into the patriarchy? You open your eyes too. Quit telling other women they have to follow traditional homemaker roles (how many specific stories about women’s equality like Luke’s Mary/Martha story have we turned generic so we don’t have to hear the message?). And don’t call my mother blessed because she was a baby-maker; she was blessed because she followed God (Luke 11:27).

Jesus heard the devaluation of women in the question, in the comment, in the action. And, when he heard it, he called it out. That’s what an ally does. He stood up for the equality of women. The church has spent hundreds of years running from and piling dirt on top of this truth about Jesus, and it needs to stop.

As I said to my husband as we exited the church, “The only reason I’m a Christian is because of Jesus.” Literally, thank you Jesus for that.

I alternate between super excited and terrified. That’s because it’s both hilarious and super embarrassing, this new podcast I’m about to release. 

I mean, a print or e-book is one thing. The reader is safely tucked away in the privacy of their own home, curled in an overstuffed chair, giggling as they read.

Logo for the new Podcast

 With an audiobook, I’m talking to them. My voice is saying things out loud. I am present as they experience my words. They know how I sound. They know ME. It is so personal. That is the mortifying part. 

At the same time, the podcast makes me giggle, and I already know the joke.

Novels coming at you, one chapter at a time . . .  plus extra goodies.

 Season 1 of Ellen’s Very Southern Voice: Novels Told Write launches Friday September . Season 1 features Tracking Happiness: A Southern Chicken Adventure. Each episode has 3-5 minutes of deep background on Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. The actual chapter follows. So: me introducing a chapter, followed by the chapter itself. Like an audio book with benefits. Some writer talk. Some truth or fiction? talk. Some random outtakes. Lots of Fun Chicken Facts and Helpful Train Hints.

And, most amazingly, the podcast features an original musical theme written and sung by the incredibly talented Corinne Alexander Sampson. “Get That Chicken Off the Tracks.” If you can’t stand my writing, if humor in a book makes you wanna barf, if you’ve hated me since you first laid eyes on me in the 5th grade, you need to listen to the podcast to hear this theme music.

Season 1: Tracking Happiness: A Southern Chicken Adventure. Join single-again Lucinda Mae Watkins as she takes off on a wild—if slightly ribald—cross-country train ride to clear her dead daddy’s name from a drug scandal erupting at the local fried chicken joint. Hopefully along the way, she’ll discover the secret to happiness. Spiced with Fun Chicken Facts and Helpful Train Hints. It’s all good. 

See, hilarious and also I might die of mortification (which is kind of redundant, since mortification is death).

Find us on iTunes, Stitcher, and other fine places.

But there’s no stopping it. We’re gonna do this thing. Ellen’s Very Southern Voice: Novels Told Write will be found on the Oam Network, iTunes, Stitcher, and other fine places. I’ll share the URL Friday.

Baby Groot, et al.

As I was talking to my grandsons about my crush on Baby Groot (and sharing a video to prove how cute he was), it occurred to me that this is not an aberration. The boys will remember that I love the bug band (officially known as the Fiesta Trio) in Dora the Explorer (“Gogi! Come quick, it’s the band!) and correctly conclude that I have an affinity for small adorable critters.

So here’s a list to prove my life-long attraction to adorable non-human bitties that began with the bug child from the Pogo comic books, which I so loved in the sixth grade I sewed it into being with leftover fabric and stuffing. (Surely that gives me extra credit on the aptitude test for commitment.) In fairly chronological order:

  • Pillsbury Poppin’ Fresh Dough Boy. My dad who was in the grocery business actually got me a vinyl Poppin’ Fresh doll exactly like this one; if nothing else, I have family who loves me.

    Poke him in the stomach, and he giggles
  • Chilly Willy, the penguin who cries ice cube tears in Bugs Bunny cartoons. My sister gave me a sweatshirt with little Chilly Willy embroidered all over it; I wear it every Christmastime. (see above re: family who loves me)

    He’s sooooo cute
  • Potbelly pigs. I never got one, stuffed or otherwise.
  • Hedgehogs. I once adopted a hedgehog at the Jackson Zoo. His name was Reggie. As his adopted parent, I got to pet his tummy. I’m not gonna tell you the rest of the story ’cause its sad, and this is an upbeat post.
  • Mothra’s fairies. These cutie-pie twins who summon Mothra with Mothra’s Song are my all time favorite movie characters, other than Godzilla of course, and excepting my current crush on Baby Groot.
  • And, as the one outlier to “non-human,” I include the E-Trade baby, remember him? He was the cutest thing, though connoisseur that I am, I only liked the original baby.

Baby Groot is actually a refinement of my “small adorable” attraction in which I’m particularly taken with “small adorable and odd.” Here’s a photo of my Halloween collection. You’ll see the level of my devotion.

Those green monkeys are erasers. The pumpkin is a snow globe. This is but a small sampling.

Similarly, my unconventional Nativity scene is full of odd but adorable critters.

What my crèche looks like. Note the hedgehog. And put-out duck.

My cousin the psychologist once walked through my house and asked what my extensive collection of odd critters said about me. I have no idea. But here’s a National Geographic article that says while the attraction to baby-like creatures relates to nurturing and protecting, the odd factor morphs it into simple joy. I can go with that. 🙂

Happy Sunday!

All the Way From Canada!

Please enjoy this kicking review of Tracking Happiness: A Southern Chicken Adventure found on Susanne Fletcher’s Wuthering Bites blog. I am thrilled Susanne compared the comic dialogue to P.G. Woodhouse, whose Jeeves collection I long ago fell in love with and read in its entirety (how one gets so lucky as to be compared to a beloved writer, I don’t know.) It’s an extra special bonus when a review quotes some of your very own favorite lines from your book (“…a woman who represented everything I was not: sophisticated, voluptuous, and a really good speller.”) A well-written review is surely a gem unto itself.

If you haven’t discovered Susanne’s Wuthering Bites blog, take some time to look around. She is a great creative nonfiction writer, a true wordsmith who combines spectacular turns of phrase with insights that make you nod in recognition. I have followed her for years and thoroughly enjoy her work.

As an extra special super bonus, if you follow the link below, you can enjoy a haunting rendition of Gordon Lightfoot singing “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” which, yes, is relevant to the review. Happy reading!

“Tracking Happiness”

Lucinda Mae takes off on a cross-country train trip to, among other things, escape the goings-on back in her hometown of Edison, Mississippi.

Uncultured Smells

MEMPHIS AS BABYLON

Traveling North Parkway with the windows open, I drive through a scent, and my head jerks in memory: a cracked sidewalk with weeds springing tall; a blossoming hedge that smelled so sweet. That’s all I remember, but it’s enough to keep me searching for the bushes all spring. Along roadways, on vacant lots, in other untended places, the hanging Ligustrum drapes the city like weedy Babylon. With the nonchalance of a woman tossing her hair to course water before wrapping a towel, the May branches weep cream, almost colorless blossoms. 

“Noxious” the garden manuals call the smell and advise us to await its departure in June. My nose has never been compliant. 

MALATHION MARATHON

Mississippi summer nights in the 1960s, dusk descending on our block, we run behind the fog machine. The orange truck, spraying for mosquitoes, idles down the street, hitting every yard, and my sisters and I are right up underneath it, breathing in, holding the burning in our lungs, breathing out—the heavenly smell!

The dense smoke plumes white, the motor chugs. The evening descends around us, the thrall of summer stretches just beyond our reach. We weave inside the fairyland down our block, then—Mother said just our block—turn and trudge back home.

Behind us, mosquitoes drop dead in droves.

PLANTED LINSEED

On Sunday afternoons, on our drive to Mamo’s farm, we cut through the poorer section of town. The linseed plant rises full of steel tubes and open-air wires. We kids tumble to the car window, roll the glass, gasp in the oily smell. 

A thing I loved: leaning out of the car as Mother slowed for the linseed plant. But sometimes when we drove and rolled, the linseed plant was shut down, and there was no smell. Disappointed, we wrapped our fists around the crank and slowly closed the dividing window.

TEARS FROM HEAVEN

A rainy day descends on the farm. Restless, we run outside as soon as the rain slacks off and discover the tarp over the tractor. The onslaught has filled the green tarp with water, wetting the mud below. We slosh our hands through the warm water, pat the fat belly of the tarp as if it were a beloved water baby. We squat and shape the slick mud into doll plates and saucers, our noses full of the clean mud smell. The caramel clay curves and molds; the tiny dishes sit sweet. The scent of the canvas tarp is as strong as an animal hide.

When we return the next day, the water has soured. Dirty moss furs the belly of the drained tarp. The dishes are no more. We don’t go near the tractor again.

ROSE-STAINED GLASSES

All grown up, visiting a tony Memphis flower shop, I walk the dampish aisles. Expressing leaves reach from pots and kettles and man-made bird’s nests. As I venture deeper, the musty earth and growing smells close rank as if the floor itself might crumble to dirt. I bend to smell the red roses. 

“Now, roses aren’t going to smell,” the clerk says.  

Excuse me? Rose hand cream and rose body powder and rose eau-de-toilette, all thick in the outer vestibule of Mamo’s country Methodist church? The old lady smell that wafted the sanctuary, burrowed into the oaken pews, colored the rose light streaming through the cheap stained-glass windows? 

Since when are you telling me roses don’t smell?

MADISON STREET AT THE RIGHT TIME OF DAY

Hit Madison Street at the right time of day and you’ll slam into the yeasty hotness of the Wonder Bread factory. The scent billows like a cloud through downtown Memphis, spreading to Monroe, Adams, Jefferson Streets. I inhale and recollect: one time at Mamo’s Sunday dinner I ate seven Brown-N-Serve rolls. In this new, adult city where smells give way to concrete, the white bread factory provides an unencumbered memory.

Or maybe not. Turns out, the wages paid by the bread factory are crumbs. The workers picket. The smell stops. For weeks, the streets run blank while we hunch along, cobbling life together best as we can in an arid world.

FINALLY AT THE RIPE STAGE

“Those puppies stink,” my husband says, so I take the dogs—finally at the ripe stage where I can bury my nose in their fur and sniff deeply—and reluctantly hand them over to the groomer. No, do not perfume them, I recoil. Bows, that’s okay. 

Outside my wintertime house, the Mississippi River sinks low, the thick river smell rises high, and I step into the brushy bank to get close. You have to be near and stilled to smell it. I use the dog as my excuse. She sniffs the tips of leaves, and I peer down the slope through the angled tree trunks, searching for the moldering scent of narrow, matted pecan leaves and a play house that never lost its raw lumber smell and knit hats tight on heads. Only once every seven years did it snow and bring out the sleds that crunched on ice that slicked because it melted fast. More normally, it was a cold too wimpy to scare a soul and bare fields of swinging vines with the cool rot of lake mud and the slick part of the branch exposed when bark the color of coffee peeled away, and the bark stuck to your gloves and the vine’s nasty thorns must be slowly carefully plucked from your sweater or the vine would grab again, loathe to let you go. 

Like a woman stepping into the hidden current of the river, I move through my days, desperately seeking my known world of uncultured smells. Yet, you cannot hold on to scent. I must wait until the end when I am embedded in the coughing aroma of incense, the bitter scent of a chrysanthemum blanket, the wormy aroma of turned earth. And, finally, when all is over, I’ll sleep in the thin, clean aroma of Ligustrum, weeping over my grave.

The weedy bank of the harbor by my old house on Mud Island in Memphis

(This essay is another of the old essays I wrote a while back and dutifully sent off for publication and received warm gushes of praise in return but no offer of publication. I’ve decided life is too short to keep them sequestered in my computer. If one person enjoys the words or grasps at their own flickering memories, I’ve succeeded in doing a good thing. – ellen)

Now, Now, Now!

Today, today, today! Time to buy TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

AUGUST 1st: Time TO BUY TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE has arrived!

E-BOOK

PAPERBACK

BOTH ON AMAZON

For you go-getters who’ve already bought into Lucinda’s antics, TODAY IS THE DAY TO POST A REVIEW!

Join others who’ve found Lucinda’s adventure “uproariously funny” with “gritty Southern determination” and a feel reminiscent of Confederacy of Dunces and Wicked while presenting a story that “truly entertains the reader” and “defines the greatness of the human spirit.” All in all, “perfect summer reading.”

To post a review on Amazon, follow this link and click on Write a Customer Review.

“I personally don’t see the point of being in business with chickens if you’re not gonna be nice to them.”
Lucinda Mae Watkins

Single-again Lucinda Mae Watkins—of the “Edison, Mississippi, fried chicken royalty”—learns Big Doodle Dayton is blaming her dead daddy for the drug scandal exploding at the local Chicken Palace fried chicken joint. She takes off cross country on the train to clear her daddy’s name, while hopefully discovering the secret to happiness along the way. Join Lucinda on the most hilarious—if slightly ribald—adventure of her life.

Lucinda Mae takes off on a cross-country train trip to, among other things, escape from the goings-on back in her hometown of Edison, Mississippi

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

What Makes a Good Book?

A good book should remind you of another book you really loved.
Ellen’s incredible imagination, keen wit, perceptive knowing, and spoofy style is reminiscent of John Kennedy Tooles’ “The Confederacy of Dunces,” as she captures the delightful craziness of small-town Mississippi life. Amazon review

It should have values you share.
gritty Southern determination
and a particularly strong confidence in her abilities
scoops of endearing drama that spell out what honor, integrity, loyalty, sex, and determination are made of
Amazon Reviews

The writing should be awesome.
The book is beautifully written, with phraseology reminiscent of Gregory Maguire’s writing In “Wicked”. This is a fun story that you will love. Amazon Review

You always want a page turner, no draggy plots allowed.
“Tracking Happiness” kept me turning the pages to see what could possibly happen next to such goofy but very likable characters. Amazon Review
It only gets better from there. Amazon Review

A healthy dose of humor is a must.
Tracking Happiness: A Southern Chicken Adventure is an uproariously funny and refreshingly different look into life in the modern South and beyond. Amazon Review

It really, really can’t be fake or a stereotype.
Author Ellen Morris Prewitt, a Jackson, Mississippi native, utilizes her unerring eye for the real south to bring to life a story that truly entertains the reader with a quirky hilarity that defies description. Amazon Review

You want a deeper message mixed in with the fun times and entertainment.
Ellen Prewitt shares Lucinda Mae’s cross-country, coming-of-age journey that paints not only a picture of the New South but defines the greatness of the human spirit. Amazon Review

It should all come together and work.
Prewitt has produced perfect summer reading. Amazon Review

When you finish, you want to know your time was well-spent.
It’s worth the ride! Amazon Review

So there it is. The reviews are in: TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE is all a good book should be. Hope you enjoy it soon.

“I personally don’t see the point of being in business with chickens if you’re not gonna be nice to them.” Lucinda Mae Watkins

Single-again Lucinda Mae Watkins—of the “Edison, Mississippi, fried chicken royalty”—learns Big Doodle Dayton is blaming her dead daddy for the drug scandal exploding at the local Chicken Palace fried chicken joint. She takes off cross country on the train to clear her daddy’s name, while hopefully discovering the secret to happiness along the way. Join Lucinda on the most hilarious—if slightly ribald—adventure of her life. 

Lucinda Mae takes off on a cross-country train trip to, among other things, escape from the goings-on back in her hometown of Edison, Mississippi

Enjoy this excerpt from TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE where Lucinda Mae’s amazing train trip is interrupted by a phone call from her mama Rita Rae and her mama’s boyfriend Clyde Higgenbotham. Turns out, back home in Edison, Mississippi, gossip is flying about Lucinda’s poor dead daddy’s role in the local drug scandal, with the flames being fanned by none other than her daddy’s old business partner, Bennie “Big Doodle” Dayton. 

Tracking Happiness: A Southern Chicken Adventure: CHAPTER 3

Clyde was talking in that nasally voice he used when he wanted to sound important, like at the supper table when he was spouting off Learning Channel wisdom. “Law enforcement are crawling all over the Chicken Palace, looking for evidence on the drug ring. And Stirling’s getting remarried.”

“Don’t tell her that.” Rita Rae was back on the line. “She can only take so much. You wouldn’t believe what they’re saying about your daddy now.”

“Who’s saying?” I asked.

“Newspaper. Online.” Clyde again, a real I-told-you-so tone to his voice. Clyde was at his most obnoxious when the topic was small-town politics. Clyde’s dad had been a state legislator. Never mind that after the man had died, they discovered the old coot had another family over in Jackson. Mother claimed that mortification didn’t count because Clyde “wasn’t from that other family.” 

The Clarion Ledger’s been quoting inside sources saying your daddy was the linchpin king behind a goat-doping, chicken-smuggling scandal.” 

“Daddy? A goat-doping scandal?” I flashed on an image of a goat sitting on a stool, arm braced for the illegal shot that would make him a better mountain climber. “What does that even mean?”

“Focus, Lucinda.” It was my mother. “They’re saying Bill ran a drug ring out of the Edison Chicken Palace, and Bennie Dayton isn’t raising a finger to stop this malicious talk.” 

“Ol’ Bennie practically called Edison a rogue operation,” Clyde added. “‘Whatever the local investors were up to shouldn’t reflect on the good name of the Chicken Palace Emporium,’ blah, blah, blah.” 

“They’re calling Daddy a criminal? Are you sure?” Mother and Clyde had a tendency to exaggerate (“They’re closing the I-20 exit to Edison! Traffic’s being re-routed to Bovina!” When the only thing that was happening was a re-paving). It was best to ask twice. 

“You got your work cut out for you, little lady, dealing with that Bennie Dayton. Your mama is counting on you to clear this mess up. Everybody in town is believing your daddy was a criminal. People’ll believe anything they read on the Interweb.” 

He paused. “The scandal could improve attendance at the museum, though.” Clyde was referring to Big Doodle’s Chicken Palace Emporium Museum located off the highway exit. The museum featured memorabilia commemorating the Chicken Palace story, such as the Ride-a-Rooster—a big, bucking chicken whose name took on a whole ’nother meaning when us kids hit middle school. “That crappy museum might finally outdraw the Tomato Museum in Bovina.”

At that, Mother snatched the phone and launched into a garbled explanation of the “biggest drug ring in the Southeast”—something to do with goats imported from Jamaica, smelly chicken parts, and a tractor-trailer distribution system—until I said goodbye, trying to remember as I hung up: did someone say Stirling was getting remarried?

Hope you enjoyed this excerpt. For the rest of the story, get TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE in print or e-book on Amazon—audio book coming soon!

“I personally don’t see the point of being in business with chickens if you’re not gonna be nice to them.”
Lucinda Mae Watkins

Lucinda Mae takes off on a cross-country train trip to, among other things, escape from the goings-on back in her hometown of Edison, Mississippi

 

 

Ladies in Waiting

At the end of the dock on Ocean Isle Beach, three ladies sit.

They are waiting on the moon.

Together in their small southern town, they were high school friends, skinny as bean poles all. Waved and curled in the 1940’s style, their group was “It.” Now they’ve spread. Not spread as in, “You gaining weight, or are you just starting to spread?” Spread as in across the years, over the miles, through the landscape of their lives. Into and out of time, like waves upon the beach, like the moon rising in the sky.

                      *

At the beginning of the ladies’ beach week, the moon rose quickly. The first evening, at six o’clock, hardly allowing the sun to set, the ready moon showed its shiny face. 

But each day thereafter, it lagged.

The women waited impatiently—there wasn’t enough time left to waste. Just one week together, just one life. The unheeding moon took its own sweet time.

                        *

The bouncy redhead of the group, the one with the gangly young-girl limbs: she lives in Boston now. Married to a doctor who works at a university, she’s in academia. Sophisticated, you know. Still, her whole face erupts when she smiles, and when she says “Hello, darling,” she swallows her vowels like any woman of the South. 

Which she is. 

Not even up North for fifty years can erase that. 

Her first marriage still intact, all her children alive, when the moon arrives, she might look at it and slowly say, “Hello, darling.” Sophisticated even with the moon.

                     *

The night is May, the ocean air cool. When the moon drags its feet, the women drag blankets from the beds. In their rockers on the dock—each has her own by now—they wrap themselves warm. 

Eleven o’clock, the moon deigns to rise.

                      *

The lithe brunette with the big brown eyes, she has survived three marriages, and she’s never going to do it again. “Lord, no,” she’ll say if you ask. “I tell them right up front”—she points a shaky finger —“Friends. That’s all.”

But she has family and fests and luncheons she beautifully readies, and sometimes a man friend is at the table. When he tells a joke, she just laughs. Because without the softening glow of the moon what is the night but endless?

                     *

The women have talked all week, catching up. They’ve giggled themselves back into the group they once were. But when they sit on the end of the dock, waiting, they are quiet.

                      *

The third and final lady—the auburn beauty who is now my white-headed mother—she is the hostess of the group. Early on, right out of college, she married the brunette’s brother. “People think we’re sisters, not sisters-in-law,” the two brag. But the brother died, the auburn beauty remarried. Her new husband brought her to Ocean Isle Beach where she fell in love with the pounding surf (“We don’t have a surf on the Gulf Coast.”) Now she’s brought her high school friends to her beloved beach so they, too, can fall in love. Who knew it would be the moon that stole their hearts?

                       *

It’s the last night of the trip. At two o’clock the stubborn moon rises. “We set our alarms,” they proudly tell us afterwards. In the darkness, at the time when the sea oats wave alone, when only the phosphorescent waves lick the shore, the moon appears.

Cold. White. Haughty moon.

Trailing into the sky like a queen ascending her throne.

Down below, on the dock, the shimmering light catches on weathered boards. The moon’s attendants gaze into the distance. Their upturned faces shine silver, bathed in the coveted glow.

As they said in the 1950s when twin beds gave way to the double, “It is proving VERY popular.” Y’all are buying and reading and sharing photos of your very own copies of TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. That tickles me to no end. Your smiling faces, your wonderful support—thank you, thank you!

“I personally don’t see the point of being in business with chickens if you’re not gonna be nice to them.”
     Lucinda Mae Watkins

If you want your book signed by me, the author, hit the Contact form with your address and tell me what inscription you want. I’ll send you a signed bookplate for your copy of TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

Signing bookplates for TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

Don’t be left out. Get on the bandwagon and join Lucinda on the most hilarious—if slightly ribald—adventure of her life.

DIY Saturday

I needed a place to read my Walter Mosley mystery so I put together the porch cot.

My summer afternoon Coleman reading cot

The last two years, I’ve put together lots of furniture in this house.  Some of it was easier than others, like these pieces:

My claw foot writing table
A canvas sink/champagne holder
A sextant lamp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Others were harder, like these sets of shelves:

A wheeled set of shelves
My makeshift closet area for the bunk beds
These shelves came fully assembled but I did drag them up 3 flights of stairs (yep, those are bitty pirate hooks holding up the netting)

I guess I technically put this side table together, but it was more of a design: add a tray to a discarded garden table:

That lamp is made from a water collection my sister brought to me from her travels around the world—the Nile, the Arctic Ocean, Great Barrier Reef, Indian Ocean, and way more

 

And here is my piece de resistance:

This chair was HARD to put together, but I did it

 

I’m getting out the bookplates on TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. If you want one, use the Contact form, and I’ll mail it to you. As they said in the 1950s when twin beds gave way to the double, “They are VERY popular.” As Lucinda says, “I personally don’t see the point of being in business with chickens if you aren’t gonna be nice to them.”

Bookplates for TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

Speaking of beds, I’m now off to the garden to add stepping-stones to the soon-to-be flower/crops bed. Being productive makes me feel so good!

It’s 94 degrees—of course I’m out moving stones

 

Have I told you about the time I was at a book launch for my beloved mentor Rebecca McClanahan where I found myself seated on a sofa and a woman with the most pronounced South Carolina low country drawl I’d ever heard leaned over and said, “My huzzzz-band wrote Riiiiising Tide,” and I realized the man seated next to me was John Barry, the author of the book that was at that moment my most favorite book ever? I was not cool. I erupted into a fit of hero-worship. John graciously offered to sign my book if I mailed it to him, which I did, and he did, and I have loved him even more ever since.

Autographs matter.

Now I’m the one who’s published a book that’s calling for me to sign it for all the lovely people who are buying it. I refuse to be daunted by the geographical distance that separates us. Blame it on my peripatetic life or relationships born on the Internet, but we’re miles apart. You couldn’t sling the book at me if you had the world’s strongest arm. And I WANT to sign it. 

Sooooooo.

If you click here and send me your address using this website’s contact form, I’ll send you a bookplate, a little sticker you can put in the front of your book. I’ll sign it. With my name. And inscribe it to whomever you want (you or a person receiving the book as a gift.) It’s specially designed for TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE and features a shot of the book cover. I’ll send it to you FOR FREE (I mean, it’s an envelope and stamp 🙂 ). It’s cute as all get out.

To make this work, put Sign My Book! in the Subject box of the Contact form and in the Message box tell me:
* how many you need—I’ll send you one for each book you’ve bought
* who you want (each) inscribed to or if you simply want me to sign (them)
* the address where you want me to send it

Then hit Submit. In a few days, you’ll have a book signed by me, the author. It’ll be magic.

TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE Bookplate for Your Book

Lord, why do I want you to buy my book? What’s so important within the (amazingly awesome) covers that justifies your spending $13.99 for a print  book or $3.99 for an ebook? I mean, why does this book matter, other than the fact that it’s mine?

Top Ten Reasons to Buy TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE (From Worst to Best)

10. You feel sorry for me and want to make me feel better by liking my book

9.  You need to money launder $13.99, and no one can trace your money to my book

8. You want to see if I can spell “sashayed”

7. You’d given up on my ever publishing a novel, and now you’re old as Methuselah, and you can’t afford to wait for the next novel to come out to see if you like it better

6. You are my mother, my husband, or my dog

5.  I bought your book

4. You want to find out how an entire novel can be set on a train without being boring as dirt

3. You’re headed to the beach and need a really good escapism read

2. You want to read about sex in a treehouse

1. You love chickens and want to see them passionately defended in a novel

1 +  You’ve heard my short stories and know my novel will be funny as hell with a good message

1 ++  You think the cover is really funny and promises a good read

Final 1 (I promise) The jacket blurb caught your attention and wont’ let go: 

Okay, there were 13 reasons. I tend to share Lucinda’s exuberance. And 13 is an unlucky number, so I had to lie.

If (and only if) any of these reasons apply to you, click here to buy TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE in paperback or ebook

The chickens and I thank you for your support. 

 

I personally don’t see the point of being in business with chickens if you’re not gonna be nice to them.” Lucinda Mae Watkins

Single-again Lucinda Mae Watkins—of the “Edison, Mississippi fried chicken royalty”—learns Big Doodle Dayton is blaming her dead daddy for the drug scandal exploding at the local Chicken Palace fried chicken joint. She takes off cross country on the train to clear her daddy’s name, while hopefully discovering the secret to happiness along the way.

RELEASE DATE: Tuesday June 26, 2018

 

When I left Mississippi, I lost the Midnight Gardner.

In the middle of the night, he would arrive. The next morning, on my way to work, when I locked the door behind me, a small brown paper bag with a crumpled neck waited on the hood of my car. Inside the bag tumbled tomatoes. The tomatoes might be a little wormy or spotted with yellow patches, but they were homegrown. They were delicious. I would eat so many my tongue broke out in hives.

The Midnight Gardner did not confine himself to tomatoes. Sometimes a round cantaloupe would bulge the bag. The Midnight Gardener was known to prefer the Ambrosia Hybrid melon whose meat was so smooth it would melt under the knife, the knife slicing through the orange, the slice curving onto the plate. 

I knew the bag was from the Midnight Gardener and not some bomb-wielding terrorist because the M.G. always used Ace Hardware bags. How he got such a large cache of these bags, I don’t know. Sometimes, when special instructions were needed, a typed note would be stapled to the bag and, in a spidery hand, would be the valediction: “Signed, the Midnight Gardener.” Standing in the morning air of my stoop, spying the bag’s brown striped visage, my mouth watered. Jumbled inside would be pods of homegrown okra aching for an iron skillet, calling for buttermilk and cornmeal, eager to be fried in hot oil. 

Or—oh, my goodness—the figs. Purple skinned, shaped like the ball on a court jester’s hat, the figs would be stuffed into a plastic baggie. The baggie steamed from the breathing life of the figs. Rescue the caught figs quickly, or they liquefied. Don’t bother with peeling, wash them off, sink your teeth into their seeded insides. Gulp them down—plenty more where that came from.

How did I know about the unlimited quantity of figs? Because the figs came from my family’s tree, the officially-certified State Champion Fig Tree of Mississippi. That means it’s the largest fig tree in the state. The gargantuan tree produced enough figs to make fig preserves, fig tarts, fig whatever. But because my family is a family of fig purists, mostly just plain, raw figs. Summer rolled around, the tree did its job, and the figs flowed.

Until I moved away, and it all stopped. 

Not right away. For a while the Midnight Gardener took to the post. He couriered the produce between my old law firm in Jackson and my new law firm in Memphis. 

But that didn’t last. 

Law firms aren’t big on couriered produce.

Soon enough, I lost it all. Figs, Ambrosia melon. Silver Queen corn. Banana peppers. The food of the gods offered like manna in fistfuls, sufficient only for a couple of days. More than sustenance, it was essence. The essence of what it meant to live in the South in the summer. To be fed with the land’s bounty, not from a tilled field but from a plot of earth you could identify. Shared produce, gifted from a generosity of seeding and weeding and watering and hoeing and picking before the pods got too large, the worms too destructive, the birds too greedy. Then slipped into a crumpled brown bag by my Uncle Hebron who donned his magical cape and became, for the night, the Midnight Gardener. 

Stepping into my drive, he settled his bounty on the hood of my car. He is still with us, my uncle, but not the produce he produced.

Dear Midnight Gardner,
I love and miss you still.

COMING SOON: TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

RELEASE DATE: Tuesday June 26, 2018

 

For all of you who’ve been following my tortuous path to publishing a novel, I am pleased to announce that TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE will be released this coming Tuesday, June 26. Full and exciting instructions on how to purchase it will be posted right here on this very blog on Monday. Love to you all, ellen

RELEASE DATE: Tuesday June 26, 2018

Gold Coast Dreaming

When Mississippi was dry, my mother drove across the bridge to buy liquor. The bridge was concrete, pockmarked and moss-covered. Below meandered the muddy Pearl, a brown sludge of a river that lazed along until the spring rains came and flooded its banks, a rising loaf of a river that spread through unprotected Jackson. 

Jackson was the law-abiding capital of the state. Semi-law-abiding. Its citizens, like my mother, bought black market liquor. They didn’t buy it in law-abiding Jackson. Yes, they drank it in Hinds County, even at the Jackson Country Club, where in 1966 the raid by the Sheriff’s Department during the revelry of the Carnival Ball—the deputy sheriffs with raised axes surprising the tuxedoed men and perfumed women, ruining the biggest social event of the year—belatedly put an end to Mississippi’s Prohibition.

Yes, you read that correctly: Mississippi did not allow the legal sale of liquor until 1966. Before that, the good—but thirsty—citizens of Jackson drove across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and entered Rankin County’s Gold Coast to buy their liquor. The liquor was bootleg. Sort of. Mississippi might have been officially dry, but it also officially collected sales tax on the liquor. The black market tax was collected by the State Treasurer who would later become Governor of Mississippi. No one held the man’s black market tax collections against him. How could they? They were the ones paying the tax.

Only on special occasions, such as New Year’s Eve, would Mother cross the bridge, and only once do I remember her including us, her children, in these trips. Deep into the curve of Jefferson Street, we turned left instead of taking a right to Battlefield Park where we usually played. The car bumped onto the bridge, the joints of the bridge clicking under our tires. Nose pressed to the window, I watched the overhanging vines squirm in the breeze, flicking their dragon tongues. 

We crunch into the gravel parking lot. Mother disappears inside. I gaze at all the lawbreakers, men in cowboy boots, and wait for Mother to emerge with a brown bag. We drive away. Back across the bridge, back into the normal world where we played tennis and swam in swimming pools and didn’t undertake illegal activity unless it was to snake our arms inside the vending machine to snag a free Zero candy bar and, even then, sooner or later, we confessed.

 Last week I learned the iron stool that stood in my grandmother’s kitchen throughout my childhood then moved to Mother’s kitchen after Mamo died; later, it would make its way to my sister’s kitchen—the stool was from the Gold Coast. It was confiscated in a raid by a deputy sheriff who donated the doubly illegal stool to his family friends. 

Once bootleg.

Now a family heirloom.

Hard stool under my butt, foot propped, sipping a beer: I’m Gold Coast dreaming in Mother’s kitchen. Where, I want to know, does a Mississippi girl buy her illegal booze today?

COMING SOON: TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

Last week, I drove through my old Belhaven neighborhood in Jackson, Mississippi, taking photos of the houses I’ve lived in. I spent two periods of my life in the neighborhood: from age 3 years to 12; and again through the decades of the 1980s and ’90s.

My life in Belhaven began in a duplex my mother rented when we moved back from Denver, Colorado, after Daddy Joe died. On this street, we ran behind the fog machine that sprayed  for mosquitos and lived to tell the tale. (The house doesn’t tilt; that’s me tilting the phone as I took a photo through the car window.)

When I was in the 5th grade, Mother bought a house (!—a single mom with 3 little girls: the older I get, the more I’m impressed with that feat). We adored the Arlington Street house. It had 7 levels (if you counted landings) and 2 balconies. As you can tell, the balcony over the front porch where we used to sleep under the stars has been removed. Who knows if they still use those French doors to go out on what is now basically a roof. The house is also painted blue where it was white then. And you can’t see the little house in the back which, though it was a real house, we used as a playhouse and where Cheep-Cheep the duck lived for a while. 

We left this house when Mother married, and we moved to North Carolina. I moved back to Jackson in 1982 to practice law and returned to my old neighborhood, kicking it off with another duplex. My unit was the downstairs screen door on the left of this yellow house.

I didn’t last long here before I moved to the Arcadia. I loved this four-plex (that’s my unit with the upstairs porch on the right), but I left it when I married. Doing my drive-by, I noticed it still has window units. 

We (actually me, though I was married) bought this wonderful little house that we extensively renovated. It’s on Pinehurst Street, right down from Eudora Welty’s house. Miss Welty is a famous short story writer. You can hardly see the house up the hill. The sign indicates it’s for sale again. 

For a brief period, I lived in exile from Belhaven. When I got divorced, I returned to the neighborhood and bought my very own house which I loved dearly. The trees around it have gotten so overgrown it, too, is almost hidden. It had a magnolia, fig, redbud, and an oak. When I married again, I commuted a while between Jackson and Memphis. I sold my house (marriage was not good for my house tenures) and rented the Love Shack behind this pink house in Belhaven. That’s an orange trailer of some sort in the driveway. You can’t see the Love Shack, but I didn’t want to leave it out of the chronology. It was tiny. It had 3 patio areas. The heating was terrible in the winter. I adored it. 

When I look at these collection of houses, I see how similar they are. My taste did not change much. As you can tell, the Belhaven neighborhood is lodged in my heart. It formed me. It might be why I’m a writer. I dream of it at night. It’s now a historic district.

Oh, and just for fun, here’s the ditch area where we kids told each other a crazy horse with red eyes reared and stamped in the darkness. We never saw the horse.

The smell of a Mississippi summer is a dirt and weed smell, hot and bitter and full of insect noises and blaring sunlight and popping grass seeds that scent the air black and loamy so that your mind wanders to your toes and the dirt below and the small things that crawl inside the cool dark earth. But, in a flash, the blazing sun will bring you back to your world, the human world above, where the heat churns the growing smell, packing it into layers that fill the spaces between the draping honeysuckle and the broad-leafed hydrangea, the needly pines and the big-headed poison oak. Acrid, stringent, porous—the smell comforts like a green stem broken, weeping into my fingers.

Rain won’t make the smell bow out. Heavy clouds only re-form the scent into an uplifted storm, flooded grass waving in clear water, backyard mounds of rain-slicked clay.  

Or steam rising from baked concrete.  

Or magnolia blossoms ringing through the newly-drenched night.

A smell that dense, you’d think it could never be lost, but you’d be wrong. Its stamp is easily washed away by years of moderate lands, civilized places, articulated loves. And even if it lingers and is remembered, too often the mind will interrupt, the curtain of smell will part, the knowledge of the Mississippi past will invade and the sweet, dirty perfume of my home state will evaporate into righteousness, severity and decay.

If I’m blessed by its return, it arrives, patient but thickening, to round and throb the air until it hovers like a Genie just outside my stretching fist, grasped and released, grasped and released. And when it is finally grasped, I’m called back again, into the pine trees of Sunday afternoon, thick old pines whose branches begin at scrambling height and whose trunks are scarred with rutted sap—hardened, milky, streaked with reality. 

Up in the covering scent of the tree, I bend the rubbery branches until I can peer inside the green cones flowering with yellow pollen, then sit back into the vee and pick the layers of bark—crumpled and pleated on top, smooth as gray slate beneath—and drop them through the branches to the lacerated ground below.

Hot pine straw. Heated brambles. Lightly fluttering mimosa gowns.  

Mississippi, come back to me, quickly, this summer.

(I’m gonna credit WKNO-Memphis for first airing this essay, though for the life of me I can’t remember if they did or not. Happy Summer!)

Odd but God

Can I talk about God for a minute? I mean the God that presents when we step out in vulnerability, trusting that the Spirit guided our first faltering step and will be there if we succeed or fail. Lord, these steps are hard. Not because they involve a dramatic climb to the mountaintop where we’ll change the world. Rather, they mock us with how very simple—and frightening—they are.

Say you’re the Dean of a big ass traditional Episcopal cathedral, and you want to open the service with a call for the congregation to take a deep breath together as we center ourselves in the Spirit—well, that’s just not done.

Or you’re African-American in a mostly white church and unfamiliar with a liturgy that confuses even cradle Episcopalians (and then you pick up the 8:00 bulletin at the 11:00 service) but you’re in the pew, determined—well, how uncomfortable is that?

Or you’re a mama with a fussy—no, screaming—baby that drowns out the guest preacher and makes all heads in the pews swivel your way—well, mortification is a real thing.

Or maybe you’re saying goodbye to a beloved staff member, and you choose to call the congregation down front so they can lay hands on her in blessing—well, only the Episcopalians in the group understand how truly odd that is.

They’re simple and easy, these steps—bringing your baby to church, worshiping in a new way, granting blessing, breathing— but those taking them make themselves vulnerable. They risk failure, ridicule, embarrassment, shame, rejection. Oh don’t exaggerate, you’re thinking, but that’s because you’re not the one taking the step. Imagine that each person is doing the one thing they wish they would never have to do—be the object of staring eyes, feel out-of-place, appear foolish, risk no one joining in. That is hard.

Becoming “that mama with the screaming baby,” showing yourself as an outsider, leading the congregation down an unfamiliar path. Each of these tiny steps in vulnerability manifests God. A spark is lit. If more than one of us is being brave and lighting sparks at the same time, the result is extraordinary. The congregation breathes deeply, calling forth the Spirit. Those in the pew who arrived as strangers leave as new friends. A baby—when he’s not screaming—bestows joy all around him. And blessing hands laid on shoulders create a bond of God.

Maybe, if we’re sure of ourselves, God struggles to be present because our focus on ourselves leaves so little room. (Don’t confuse passion with certainty—a heart fluttering like a frightened wren can beat beneath a wash of passion.) And I know—God is there, always, always there.

But God sometimes goes from unseen to seen. When we risk being real with each other, we see God’s presence in each other, in our interaction with each other, and finally in the collective infused experience that is the sum of all of our strivings to do what seems odd but is God.

Here it is. The cover for TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. I love this cover. My sister Elli shot the photo—yep, she’s a professional photographer. That’s Goldie the Chicken as the chicken cover model. For the record, I am walking down abandoned railroad tracks. I wasn’t going to get hit by an oncoming train. The tracks run outside the Morris Ice Company in Jackson, Mississippi. As in Ellen MORRIS Prewitt. Anyway, here’s the back cover blurb. Look for a June release date.

“I personally don’t see the point of being in business with chickens if you aren’t gonna be nice to them.”
Lucinda Mae Watkins

If Fannie Flagg and Jack Kerouac had a daughter, her name would be Lucinda Mae Watkins. Single-again Lucinda—of the “Edison, Mississippi fried chicken royalty”—learns Big Doodle Dayton is blaming her dead daddy for the drug scandal exploding at the local Chicken Palace friend chicken joint. She takes off cross country on the train to clear her daddy’s name, while hopefully discovering the secret to happiness along the way.

My Uncle Merwin

Without him, I might have never liked eggs. That seems like such a small accomplishment, frivolous even. But I’d been forced to eat eggs almost every morning of my life. I hated eggs.  My loathing of eggs exceeded the bounds of good manners—as a child, I hid my eggs wherever I could find a secretive spot: under my plate, tucked against the clapper of the dinner bell. Later, my older sister would wake in the mornings to fix our breakfast before school, but I was a kid without an ounce of gratitude. I ranted and raved against her eggs. I was incorrigible. The only way I could tolerate an egg was hardboiled with a sliver of butter on it. Even then, I wouldn’t eat the white. I especially hated scrambled eggs.

Then my new uncle came over to our duplex on Colony Road. I was in the seventh grade, and my mother had recently married “Mr. Van Hecke.” All of my dad’s extended family came to a huge gathering at our Charlotte house for brunch. My new Uncle Merwin not only cooked; he put cheese in the scrambled eggs. Miraculously, the clouds parted, the sun shone, and the hated eggs tasted good.

My Uncle Merwin was a journalist and a scholar. He is in the N.C. Journalism Hall of Fame. He chronicled the rise of Charlotte, NC, from an awkward pro-wrestling town to a proud Southern city. He was the last living brother of the four Van Hecke boys who grew up in Chapel Hill where their dad was the Dean of the Law School and their mom a saint. He learned and taught and shared all he knew. But, for me, his impact was deep and personal in ways most people wouldn’t even credit.

At family gatherings, at some point, I would find myself seated on the sofa next to Merwin. I was not unique to this. Most family members gravitated to his side for a spell. There, he would explain to me the intricacies of North Carolina’s participation in the Revolutionary War. Or the true story behind a power play to take over the Charlotte airport. He was a man of broad knowledge.

When I was forced to have my hips replaced at a far-too-young age, Merwin took me aside and told me not to listen to negative things people might say. He had also faced hip replacement in his 50s, and he said those bad things wouldn’t happen. When deep panic set in the night before the first surgery—I was willingly allowing someone to cut me open and insert something artificial into my body—I held on to his reassurance. I told myself, Merwin did this. I can too.

I don’t know if we ever understand the impact we have on others. If we take time to think about it, surely we place odds that our mark will be left by the “big things” we’ve managed to do. If my experience is any measure, we’re probably wrong.

Please enjoy the article about Merwin honoring him in his Charlotte Observer and the story of his life written by his son Michael.

M.S. Van Hecke

#MLK50: No Neat Bow

I spent yesterday at two different events. One was a service at Calvary Episcopal Church to dedicate a new marker on the site of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s slave market. The old marker referred to Forrest’s time in Memphis where his “business enterprises made him wealthy.” The old marker did not identify Forrest’s business as human trafficking—selling men, women, children, and babies.

The old marker went up one year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision overturning the “separate but equal” doctrine. The old marker was proud of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s time in Memphis, how wealthy the city had made him. The marker commemorated a fine, upstanding, honored Memphian . . . who specialized in selling slaves smuggled into this country illegally. So in a way, the marker did tell the truth: 100 years after all moral people had repudiated slavery, white Memphis wanted to honor a man who sold Black folk.

The new marker where Forrest sold enslaved people

The service and unveiling of the new marker was extremely emotional. The emotion became palpable, causing all in the sanctuary to rise, when the names of many people sold at the site were read aloud. Calvary is a predominately white church. Both Black and white Memphians attended the service. The primary impact—in my opinion—was white people acknowledging denied truths, and Black people hearing them do it.

The afternoon I spent at the National Civil Rights Museum. When I walked into the courtyard, I expected to see a racially mixed crowd like the one I’d just left at the church. The NCRM crowd was almost all Black. I was shocked. Ignorant as always, it simply hadn’t dawned on me that white faces would be missing from those gathered at the NCRM. After all, I had set our travel schedule around being in Memphis on the anniversary. I couldn’t imagine not being at the NCRM on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s death.

I believe later in the day—when the Reverend Al Green performed, for example—the crowds were more mixed; I assume the same for the ticketed events with speakers and panels. But that afternoon, Black families had taken off work to be at the Museum. Parents and kids were sitting on bleachers and curbs and makeshift perches simply to be there. The feel of the gathering was one of sacred presence. Witnessing. Being with others to remember together.

When I saw the solemn gathering, I felt a wash of shame, knocked down a notch or two for my attitude—I’m going to the MLK50 celebration! Yesterday, I posted a quote from Dr. King’s last book my MLK50 posts have been based on, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? The quote said white folks will never understand what it means to be Black in America. The quiet being-present of the Black families at the NCRM brought this home to me.

Main Street Memphis during the MLK50 Anniversary

No matter how much I admire Dr. King, it’s different for me, and it always will be. For those gathered, this isn’t a “cause.” It is life.

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