Tuesday, September 17, 2019


Since I was a kid, I have always enjoyed genealogy and the family lore my grandmother whispered as if the whole county didn't already know. My grandmother Naomi made gossip an art. She often proudly reminisced that as a teenager she gently opened family letters above a kerosene lamp so that she could read the latest happenings. Then she would seal the envelope back together before being caught and whipped for such a crime.

It has been no surprise to me as I have grown older that I am undoubtedly my grandmother's child in numerous ways. Her love for knowing family legend was passed to me across her kitchen table. Her love for writing it down was passed to me from her soul.

This summer I spent a great deal of time in Arkansas. In one visit I took the chance to attend a writer's conference from a local author and teacher. While I could list numerous lessons I learned in that week, perhaps the most impactful was my narrowing down of what words I wanted needed to write. I've heard it said that you should never embark on the journey of writing a novel unless you feel deep down you cannot go on unless you share that story. I've always had an idea bouncing in the back of my head but was too afraid no one else would care. I shared this with Gwen, our instructor. She gave me the confidence that I would have readers and that I should--I must--put this book into focus.

I came home to Texas and thought.

Then my fingers could not quit wrestling. They had to write this story. I have written two chapters--both of them are Chapter One. It is a book my soul cannot live without telling, yet I fear deeply that I will not tell it adequately.

As I have researched for this novel, I have spent countless hours with my grandma's brother who has provided (a bit unknowingly) a plethora of stories from which I have pulled. I have also had late nights and early mornings sitting here at my dining room table browsing the latest hints on ancestry.com. My dad's phone records would show my influx of calls telling him I found a headstone related to the lore or an infant child we never knew about or a picture of kinfolks we had never laid eyes on before.

Today as I studied our family tree I found that my great-great-grandmother was born in a little community north of town called Jethro. You may know my parents own Jethro Farms and suffice to say I lived the first 18 years of my life right there in Jethro where my great x2 grandmother was born in 1879.

While I have always known we go generations deep in North Franklin County, it is reminders such as these that make me think about the land on which I came of age. It amazes me the trees I rode my horse through were trees where my great-great-grandparents may have met. It fascinates me that the river we played in was a river that for so many generations provided for my family. It fills me with daydreams that the very dirt beneath my feet for the most formative years of my life was the dirt that my great-great-great grandparents cultivated to merely survive. It is the dirt on not just where I was raised, but it is the dirt of home. Roots so deep that try as he may my husband has yet to pull them completely out of Jethro. Land where when I take my last breath and my body longs for rest that I pray it finds its peace back in that very dirt where I can take my place alongside my ancestral legends. And, honestly, I pray too that when that day comes the lore told of me pales in comparison to what I have learned of them.

I thank those of you who read this blog. I do not post regularly, and it has never been my intention to gain a wide audience or payments for writing it. I prefer writing when it's good. When it's something that strikes me. For now my writing is centered on my book, but as you see today sometimes I need a break. Occasionally I need to write in a new format and feel more casual. So thank you for allowing me this outlet to put thoughts on paper and explore ideas. And, if you're curious about this book I'm writing, here is a prelude to give you a taste. It is historical fiction. I will stress fiction. I don't need crazy kinfolks pulling out their old ways on me. But much of it is of course history too. I will let you decide on which side each word falls.

It was all over the news that summer: records from the Great Heat Wave of 1936. Maybe it was a record worth recollecting; maybe it was a slow news day. Either way the news reporter sent to our local nursing home to get recounts on this heat wave 60 years later sent a chilling shock into our home. At first no one could blink for fear they would miss the story unraveling. I stared at my dad who held his breath as his grandfather was the first resident interviewed.

“Sir, do you remember the summer of 1936?”

Stone cold and not looking up from his afternoon dominoes, my great-grandfather gave a hard no.

Taking his cue that the old man either didn’t remember or didn’t care about the summer of 1936, the reporter went to the next table. There he found a few folks who enjoyed a reminiscent chat a little more than my grandma’s folks. At least when it came to 1936.

Grandma was always telling stories of her kinfolks from the old days. But those kinds of things you just tell family. And probably family doesn’t really believe it anyhow. When she marched into our house that evening, that smirk meant both she had told us so and yet could we believe anyone else almost found out. We lived out in the country so we didn’t have neighbors within any sort of earshot, and it was probably for the best since she didn’t even make it to the door before she let in on everything she had told us forty-eleven times about 1936, “And that old man just sat there like he couldn’t even remember yesterday. Oh, he remembered that summer. He remembered. He could lose all his memories and half his toes and he’d still remember 1936.”

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