Thursday, August 30, 2012

When Do You Leave Your Church?


My daughter, Jillian, and me. I love her hands. They look like mine. A mother never lets go of her children's hands.

My parents took me to Sunday school, revivals, and holy-rolling church services from the time I was in diapers. I don't remember my first church experience. But I do recall when my parents began to attend a large church near our home. I was eight. A fountain loomed into the sky on the mammoth front lawn of the church. At night after a long, hot church service, a bunch of us knobby-kneed kids would play under the fountain's cool water spray that turned colors in the dark. Pink, blue, green, and finally we stood in awe as fake blood trickled down the illuminated white cross in its center. On the cross was the word "LIFE." It was exactly what that church took from us. Our lives.

We were taught to resist the devil so he would flee. Turn our backs on society, because society would send our souls to Hell. We were told to pray for those we admonished, because until they walked inside our sanctuary and received Jesus as their savior, they were all doomed. We were right, they were wrong. We were good, they were evil. We were the elect of God because we spoke in tongues, they would never make the rapture. We had come out from among them and lived where the healing water flowed.

We gave our last dime and saw the blessings of the Lord in everything. A sale on pantyhose, a bigger tax return than we expected, a great parking spot at the grocery store, a found five-dollar bill at the bottom of our purse. We worked out our salvation in fear and trembling and never, ever doubted the Bible, our salvation, and most of all, our pastor.

We testified to the godless, but never associated with them, unless they joined our church. Not another church. OUR church. And we never cast our pearls before the swine.

I grew up in doctrine and dogma, until one day after I turned seventeen and married my childhood sweetheart, my parents decided they'd had enough. They left the church for good.

But my mother never let go of my hand.

I was to shun my folks, "give 'em a good lettin' alone!" I knew my parents wished they had never stepped foot in that church, but it was too late for me. I was married to it. The relationship with my parents became strained.

I continued to attend what had become a megachurch, striving to please, wanting to be one of them, hoping for good things to happen, believing the blessings of the Lord were right around the corner. I was held over Hell on many occasions when they felt me pulling away. But I always came back, falling to my face at the altar. I had surrendered all. All to Jesus I surrendered, always hoping He would notice and reward me for it. My faith wavered, but I was proud. My husband was on the ministry team, my children were active in the children's church, and I never talked much about our church life to my mom. It was a sore spot.

But my mother continued to pray for me.

As my children grew, they were discouraged by the church to attend Friday night school or social functions. (Our big church service was on Friday nights.) The fear of God had been planted in them. One day, something magical happened. I saw in them what my mother had seen in me. Bondage. It grieved me. I began to pull away. Slowly. It took time, but I wanted to do it before my children became fully indoctrinated. Before I lost them, as my mother had lost me for a time. I wanted to give them a choice. Freedom. And that's when I realized ... I should have left that place long before I did.

The years following were a nightmare. For all of us. I kept waiting for the time I would drop dead and fall into Hell. But it never happened. And it took a long time to shake the fact that I could not convince my husband to compromise. He chose his God and his pastor over me. I had become a contaminant. He did not need to understand me, and there was no reason to try. I was not redeemable. I was, in fact, the dog who returned to its vomit. My fate was sealed. I was dead already.

It took years, but one day I woke up to find my hand had never slipped from God's hand. Through my mother, He had held on to me. I had clawed my way out of the darkness and into the light of God's grace.

Many churches do not hurt. Their members are free to experience life in and outside the church. The church family is an extension of their own. If you belong to that kind of church, consider yourself greatly blessed.

But if your spirit is grieved and hurting, something is wrong. When should you leave your church? I think inside you know the answer to that question. Look into your children's eyes and answer it for yourself. Then you'll know.

Blessings to you and yours.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Writer's True Passion Comes From Anguish


I listened to David Wilkerson last night. A well-known fire and brimstone evangelist whose messages stir the emotion and bring most either to their feet or their knees. Clips of his sermons are posted on You Tube. You can search for him there.

"True passion comes from anguish," he said. His words flew into me like a fiery arrow, illuminating my past. Wilkerson's message centered around anguish and how todays church is void of it. He's a big believer in, Cryin' Holy unto the Lord. He professes the church has gone soft, that we're basically a bunch of babies who want to be soothed and coddled. That we no longer tarry for hours before the Lord, prostrate at the altar. That God wants to see our anguish over the state of the world and our Godless nation. Wilkerson has that pastor voice. You know what I mean? He's learned how to wail when he speaks, allowing us to hear his heart as it breaks for the sins of mankind. And if you've grown up as a fundamentalist, it moves you. Even if you've never sat in a tent revival, I think it would move you.

Whether or not you agree with Wilkerson's message, you have to agree that true passion is definitely born from anguish. As a writer, I believe the heartaches and hardships we experience give us plenty to write about.

The kind of anguish I'm talking about is not about a fender-bender in the parking lot. A bad grade on a test. Losing your wallet. Or a fight with your spouse.

Anguish, suffering, agony, grief, sorrow and angst ... comes from a break in your spirit. A temporary disconnection with yourself and the world around you. The loss of anything dear to you creates real, gut-wrenching anguish. The kind you feel down to the soles of your feet. Buckets of tears. Nobody wants to experience it. Nobody wants to go through something like that, and I hope and pray you never do.

But if you do, what you do with that anguish, how you channel it, will determine your future in many ways. And if you're a writer, it can propel you into another level. I've read books where I know, without a doubt, the writer has suffered at one point in his/her life. You can feel it in the way they put the story together. Raising the stakes isn't so hard, because they've lived it.

Not a pleasant topic to blog about, but I think it needs to be said. Personally, I hope I never see another drop of anguish as long as I live. I've had my share. David Wilkerson can wail as long as he wants about anguish, but I never want to experience it again. Ever. It's not a pleasant place to go to.

I want you to remember this, if you've closed the door on your anguish, the memories of it ... and if you're a writer ... you may want to revisit that dark place. Your writing changes. Something inside you clicks and literary takes on a whole new meaning.

My passion was truly born from the sorrow, grief, and the anguish of my life. Now, at least I can say, the joy of the Lord is my strength. At some point the tears have to stop. The river of sorrow has to trickle to nothingness. We have to move out of that place and use what we've learned to write the story of our life. It's not something we want to think about, anguish, but be thankful for it. It's made you who you are.

And despite the fire and brimstone, that's a good thing.

Blessings to you and yours.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

My Next Book ... The Sanctum


Televenge hovers only a month away ... and I'm thrilled to say the least. But I'm already working on the next book. Actually, I thought it was finished in 2010. After a couple rewrites, it has taken on a life of its own. Here is a preview:

Neeley McPherson accidentally killed her parents on her fifth birthday. Thrown into the care of her scheming and alcoholic grandfather, she is raised by his elderly farmhand, Gideon, a black man, whom she grows to love. Neeley turns thirteen during the winter of 1959, and when Gideon is accused of stealing a watch and using a Whites Only restroom, she determines to break him out of jail.

The infamous Catfish Cole, Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon of the Carolinas, pursues Neeley and Gideon in their courageous escape to the frozen Blue Ridge Mountains. After Gideon’s truck hits ice and careens down a steep slope, they travel on foot through a blizzard, and arrive at a farm of sorts—a wolf sanctuary where Neeley crosses the bridge between the real and the supernatural. It is here she discovers her grandfather’s deception, confronts the Klan, and uncovers the shocking secrets of the Cherokee family who befriends her. Giving sanctuary, the healing power of second chances, and overcoming prejudice entwine, leading Neeley to tragedy once again but also granting her the desire of her heart.

The Sanctum is a coming-of-age Southern tale dusted with a bit of magic, and set in a volatile time in America when the winds of change begin to blow.

Blessings to you and yours!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Do Writers Brainstorm Better In A Group?

It's me, brainstorming. I sat with a group of writers in the kitchen, throwing ideas into the air, and bouncing names and places off the walls. I remember thinking how productive is this, really!

But for a writer, brainstorming with friends can produce massive amounts of storyline, character traits, and titles to refer to when you're pushing hard for that next book. So you've got a few thoughts rolling around in your head, but they're not going anywhere. You see a character. What is this person doing, how are they dressed, where are they in terms of time and place?

Literary Agent, Donald Maass has a unique system he uses to flesh out these characters. If you are blessed enough to take any of his classes and/or seminars, do it. It flushes out the gunk so you can think. Not to sound gross, but taking a class from Don, is like a colonic for writers.

In one particular brainstorming session, the light bulb went tilt! tilt! over my head.

When I finished Televenge, I contemplated my next novel. I love writing about the gritty south, the pretentious north. The religions of both are just as gut-wrenching, but from a totally unique viewpoint. My group threw out a few ideas and my subconscious went to work.

Over the next weeks, I knew I wanted to write a novel that included the possibility of the paranormal, spirituality from different points of view and a character-driven plot. I also knew I wanted to write in first-person, and last but not least, I wanted the story to include an animal that has fascinated me all my life—the wolf. I decided on the timeline between November 1959 until March 1960, which was a different route entirely for me. Televenge, my debut novel coming to you in October of 2012, spans thirty years, from 1972 to present day.

But for my new book, I focused on a young girl with fuzzy red hair who wore thick eyeglasses. For a while, all I had was an image of Neeley. A skinny, lonely, parentless country girl who lived on a tobacco farm. I quickly fell in love with her and needed to write her story. Placing my little red-headed white girl in the caring hands of the most opposite character, a seventy-year old African-American male, a rugged individual who wasn’t afraid of his gentle side, the novel took shape. The what-ifs began to roll, and each morning the characters revealed a little more of their story.

It wasn't long, however, and I got stuck. Back to my brainstorming group of friends.  

In a brainstorming session, bring a tape recorder, because you really can't write fast enough. Ideas and thoughts and words fly at the speed of sound. To capture it, you must record the session. But it was at that second brainstorming session that the plot began to thicken.

I contemplated the one social issue I feel strongly about. Prejudice. To me, racism is the biggest white elephant in the South. I know some southern writers have grown up under the care of an African-American woman hired by their family to cook, clean and care for them. They fondly remember her as a precious piece of their childhood inspiring them to write such books as: The Help by Kathyryn Stocket; Plantation and Sullivan’s Island by Dorothea Benton Frank; The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kid, and The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin.

I wish I could say I experienced the wonderful memories of the above authors. But that is not the case. My experiences were quite different. Thus, creating a new perspective and a fresh voice.

Although my parents taught me respect for all people, I soon discovered blatant prejudice in other families around me. As a young girl, it affected me so deeply, I never forgot it. This began my quest to write a story about the evils of racism.

On January 29, 2010, The Greensboro News & Record published a special magazine dedicated to the new International Civil Rights Center and Museum, located in the old and newly restored Woolworth’s building in downtown Greensboro. In an act of courage, four black students sat peacefully at a whites-only lunch counter on February 1, 1960 and changed the world. The civil rights movement had begun. From that publication, my imagination took off once again. I wrote dialogue, paragraphs, whole scenes, and sketched it into my outline.

The area in which I lived at the time, is rich in tobacco history. Historically saturated with horse and tobacco farms, today they still dot the landscape. I also discovered James W. Cole (1924-1967) was ordained into the ministry in Summerfield, NC at the Wayside Baptist Church in 1958. He toured the Carolinas as a tent evangelist and broadcast a Sunday morning radio program, becoming an active member of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and eventually the Grand Dragon of North and South Carolina. The man intrigued me. Since the story was shaping up to take place in North Carolina during that time period, writing Reverend Cole into it was a perfect fit.

As I further pondered the civil rights movement, I checked my notes from my brainstorming session and saw I had written down the word, Cherokee. I began to think of civil rights for all people, which led to the Native American plight in my story. According to my father, our family’s historian, my great grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee. Listening to the pain of the Cherokee voices inside my head, I knew I had to include them.

The wolf finally appeared in the story. Wolves are about family and order. The wolf is a subtle character, but still a voice to be reckoned with. I had studied the wolf carefully, and found there were people who loved wolves enough to create sanctuaries for them. Later, I discovered a wolf sanctuary only a four-hour drive from my home. A wolf sanctuary in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the town of Bakersville. We drove up the side of a mountain leading to a sign that read, The Wolf Sanctum. From that moment, I called my novel, The Sanctum.
When I pulled my outline together, I sat for one last brainstorming session with my dear friends. It didn't take long before I felt I had the inciting incident. The book is complete and hopefully, with God's blessing, it will be published.
Televenge was such a personal story, I didn't feel the need to brainstorm. But for future books, you can bet I will gather my brainstorming group together for at least three sessions per story. In addition to your research, a writer should not be afraid to ask for help.
Brainstorming. It's a writer's boost from ideas rolling around in your head, to getting it onto the page.
Try it.
Blessings to you and yours.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Would You Drink the Kool-Aid?

Isn't is amazing that you know to what I am referring?

'Drinking the Kool-Aid' in urban slang, has nothing to do with that wonderful, fruity drink we guzzled by the gallon when we were kids. It refers to the 1978 cult mass-suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. Televangelist, Jim Jones, took cyanide and some kind of sedative and mixed it with Kool-Aid to poison his massive following at Jonestown. It may have been Flavor Aid, but no matter what he used, we know what it means when somebody says, "Don't drink the Kool-Aid!"

I watch a great deal of religious TV, mostly because it's what I write about. Some of it moves me, most of it—does not. Watching one particular televangelist recently, I was moved to tears. Not because of what he was saying, singing, or pushing. It was the faces in the crowd that kept me glued to the screen. Each face was wet with tears. Those precious people, reaching out for hope, for a healing, for God. Their hands raised, these folks had come to that great arena to worship, receive a blessing, and touch the hem of their Creator. It grieved me so, I eventually had to change the channel.

I sure hope that televangelist knows the tremendous responsibility on his shoulders. I wonder.

The new face of televangelism is still pretty much the old face. One of prosperity messages and miracles. The difference is that the audience has grown by mega leaps and mega bounds. In a bad economy, a great majority turns to God for help. They’re attracted by those prosperity messages. The problem as I see it, televangelists can lead sheep to the slaughter like nothing and no one else. They can bring out the tears and sell God better than Tony the Tiger sells cornflakes. They can whip up a batch of Kool-Aid, knowing millions of honest hearts would drink it. And for some reason, we Christians are hesitant to hold our pastors accountable for what they say and do. They don't have to be perfect. In fact, I'd prefer if they were not. But we tend to overlook these rock stars of religion, and confuse the human with the divine, believing every word they speak comes from The Almighty.

Many years ago, I never missed church. I believed, tithed, raised my hands in every service, answered hundreds of altar calls, and gave love offerings instead of paying my light bill. I trusted and obeyed. Sowed my prosperity seeds and read every prosperity scripture over and over again. I gave out of my need. For years I lined the pockets of a pastor who traveled around the world, taking my husband with him, leaving me to suffer alone at home. Until one day I asked myself this question. Do I feed my kids or pay my tithe? I fed my kids.

For years I had loved my preacher, believed in my pastor, and gave everything I had, including my spouse, to the televangelist my pastor had become. In the end, it didn’t matter because I rebelled and “sealed my fate.” I was rejected, divorced, and eventually homeless.

Is there such a thing as a good televangelist? No doubt some possess honest hearts with admirable intentions. But it’s tough to retain those intentions, that good heart, the humility required and pay for expensive TV time. I speak from experience. Be careful. Don’t be a gullible Christian. The wolves are still out there. And so is the Kool-Aid.
Blessings to you and yours.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Dinner With The Girls

They were only 15 by the end of the summer. Girlfriends. Meeting for dinner at the Diary Queen next to the Ocean View Restuaruant because after they pooled their money, they only had six dollars. Besides, Jimmy Johnson, the cute boy in Social Stuies, lived on the same street.

Ten years later, the group of 25-year-old girlfriends agreed to meet at the Ocean View Restaurant because the beer was cheap, the band was good, and there was no cover. And lots of cute guys.

Ten years later, the 35-year-old friends shared the cost of a babysitter and met at the Ocean View Restaurant because the cosmos were good, it was close to the gym, and if they went late enough there wouldn't be too many whiny babies.

Ten years later, the 45-year-old girlfriends met at the Ocean View Restaurant because the martinis were big and the waiters were college boys with nice bums.

Ten years later, the 55-year-old girlfriends met, once again, at the Ocean View Restaurant because the prices were reasonable, the wine list was good, it had windows that opened (in case of a hot flash) and the fish was good for their cholesterol.

Ten years later, the 65-year-old ladies argued that the Ocean View Restaurant wasn't what it used to be, but the lighting was good and someone had a coupon for the early bird special.

Ten years later, the 75-year-old friends found their way back to the Ocean View Restaurant because the food wasn't too spicy and the place was handicapped-accessible. And it had an elevator.

Ten years later, the 85-year-old girlfriends discussed where to meet for dinner. Finally, they agreed to meet at the Ocean View Restaurant because it sounded nice and they had never been there before.

By Anonymous ...

Blessings to you and yours, :-) My how time flies.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Don't Get Your Panties In a Wad!

It was my first real writing award. 2003 at the Burlington Writer Awards in North Carolina. No Time For Laura, a short story that was eventually published in Southern Fried Women.  A baby step. A little taste of success that kept me hungry for more.

Some of us shoot ourselves in the foot before we take one step toward success. It could be the environment we were raised in, or lack of self-esteem, but the negativity has to stop at some point if you want to see a return on the thousands of hours you put into your writing.

I listened to a webinar last evening. Now, I'm not a fan of veg-o-matic salespeople pushing their get-rich-quick ideas on the Internet. I've listened to a few of them and they're a real turn off. The seller gets rich while the buyer gets confused and gives up. But Kristen White, a personal media expert, sparked my interest. I saw her at the BookExpo in New York City this past June, and decided to listen to five or ten minutes of her webinar. I ended up listening to the whole thing. Google her and sign up to listen to her next webinar. She's got some fantastic marketing ideas. Not sure I'm going to buy the program, but her step-by-step coaching system to put your product, book or brand in the spotlight and build a solid platform is intriguing.

However, some of the things she said got me to thinking. One something in particular, and that is I have to stop any negativity wanting to creep into my mind on a daily basis. I have to quit focusing on those who don't like me or my views or ideas and concentrate, instead, on those who do. Or will.

Lately, I've read a few Facebook posts by people who get all riled up because somebody doesn't agree with their views on one thing or another. Mostly politics and religion. The usual. But everyone has an opinion and the right to voice it. We don't have the right to sling mud in the process. Who cares, really, if someone doesn't agree with you? Our differences are what makes the world go around. It makes life interesting. As long as no one gets hurt, a little friendly banter is good.

Love your neighbor, and don't get all shook up if your neighbor doesn't share your views. There is something to love in everybody. Find it. Concentrate on that instead of the negative. And don't get your panties in a wad over things we can nothing about. Life is too damn short.

Give it a rest. Take a step back, and let go of the stress.


And just don't count your blessings. Share them.

Blessings to you and yours.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Does Jesus Really Need our Money?

It was a marathon "praise-a-thon" to raise money. For the religious TV station, or missions, or for a new satellite to preach God’s word to the world. I perched myself in front of the TV, watching folks stand at their seats with arms raised, moving and swaying to the music, eyes all watery, and shouting out a few praises in between stanzas.

A group of professional singers and musicians blanketed the stage, leading the auditorium from one tear-jerking song to the next. I sat thinking no TV audience could possibly be moved enough to donate by watching this. But the on-screen total kept growing by the minute. A man in 70s couture shouted loud and long about sowing seeds of prosperity. Giving in faith. He testified because he didn’t rob God of tithes and offerings, that had God blessed him. In fact, God had saved him from a life of poverty, sickness, and disease. And then one day, because he was a tither, a check for six thousand dollars mysteriously showed up in his mailbox. Praise God!

Phone numbers blinked at the bottom of the TV screen and I wondered how many of these marathon offerings I've sat through in my lifetime? Does God really need my money? Or does He really intend to test my faith on a regular basis by whether or not I give my last dime?

I suppose that depends on whether or not we take the scriptures literally. The condemnation I feel for even writing this weighs heavy on me, because I was brought up on the covenants of God. On the conviction of the Holy Spirit. On the literal meaning of each and every scripture. And if you did not believe as we did, then whoa be unto you, you sinner. You were dead already.

I understand why praise and worship offering marathons exist. Somebody needs to carry the burden to pay for TV time. It might as well be you or me. But I also know the fear involved. I swallowed that dogma for years and chased the feelings of eternal security until my feet were worn to bloody stubs.

Am I now an apostate? Have I forsaken the cross?


I've grown tolerant. I've learned God's love cannot be explained or compared to the love we know as humans. I've learned that we cannot control God by "giving until it hurts." I've even grown tolerant of folks praising God on camera and living like the devil when the house lights are turned off.

After some time, I changed the channel. Tithing and giving can be looked at in a different way. For me, giving to a down-and-out family across the street is doing God's work. His hand reaches out to the poor and the homeless when we give food and shelter to the needy. You don't do it for recognition, but for love and compassion for your fellow man. That, my friend, is following in the footsteps of true Christianity.

I think many evangelicals have lost their focus of what it means to give. We've become so wrapped up in believing that God wants His people to have the best, that we forget Christ lived and dwelt among the poor and the destitute. I'm not saying it's wrong to have nice things, and I don't have a problem with sitting in a pretty church, but I do have a problem when it becomes the focus of a church to make sure their pastor lives in the lap of luxury. I have a problem with pastors who wear designer clothes when some in his congregation can barely feed their kids!

I realize most churches claim to be good stewards with their money. I'm sure some would permit you to see where their money is spent. Many church congregations are extended family to their members, loving them and caring for their needs during a family crisis. Church families can be a real blessing. But when televangelists hound you week after week to hand over your ten percent in addition to your love offering—they not only take away from the local church, they’re also manipulating you to give out of fear. Fear that you won’t get that raise, that new car, or the healing for your bad back. That you’ll miss out on an “anointing” that comes with supporting their ministry. TV preachers and marathon praise-and-worshippers know exactly what to say to make you weep. They can send you to the phone to donate before you realize you've left the comfort of your Lazy boy.

We can reach out in many directions, inside and outside of the church. And we shouldn't feel guilty for it. I believe He blesses us according to the intents of our heart. I've experienced the stranglehold of a megachurch. I know first-hand the guilt involved in not paying your tithes. But never again will you see me clutching my hard-earned money in my hand and walking down the aisle to throw it at the pastor’s feet. A pastor who wears Italian leather shoes and Armani suits. I'd rather take my chances and give it to the panhandler on the corner.

Find a charity. Sponsors for children in underdeveloped countries are needed, as well as here in America. With our economy the way it is, struggling families in your own neighborhood need help. Be an anonymous donor. Give your ten percent or more to a hurting family. Pay their light bill, a mortgage payment, or stock their cupboards with groceries. Control where your money goes. Leave a note on their door with a word of encouragement.

That is the priority of us all. Christian or not.

Blessings to you and yours.

Monday, August 13, 2012

It's My Birthday And I'll Cry If I Want To ...

Yes, this baby girl was me. I was Calendar Baby of the Year. They plastered my little face on calendars everywhere. Thank God there were no toddlers wearing tiaras back then, or my debutante mama would have toted my frilly butt from one Holiday Inn competition to the next. (Notice the finger waves in the hair. Lordy.)

She kept me in crinolines and frilly dresses. Bonnets, gloves, and patent leather shoes. Hair bows and lacy socks that matched the lace on my panties. They tell me I was a prissy little thing. Until the day I discovered playing in the dirt roads in front of Grandma's house was a lot more fun! Could be that stubborn Leo trait that follows me to this day ... "I'll play in the dirt if I want to!"

I can't believe it. Another year. Ugh. Loved those birthdays when I was a kid, but they can slow down a bit now. Trouble is, it seems they show up more often as I grow older. I was thinking about life back then. Back when a gallon of gas was 22 cents, a movie ticket was 70 cents and the cost of the average home was $11,000.00. What happened to us? We of the baby boomer generation, will we leave this world in a better place for our grandchildren? Well. I suppose that's a blog for another time.

It's my birthday, so I'll try to end on a happier note. I'm not saying which year I was born but you might guess from the following:

The year I was born:

Marilyn Monroe married Joe Demaggio
Elvis was King

Popular Movies:
White Christmas
The Caine Mutiny
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Popular Books:
Live & Let Die - Ian Fleming
Lord of the Flies - William Golding
Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien

Born in my year:
Ron Howard
John Travolta
Christie Brinkley
and my friend, Oprah Winfrey

Swanson introduced TV Dinners! Yay!

The first mass vaccination against polio put scars on our arms

The first RCA color TV went on sale!

Eisenhower was President

Churchill was still Prime Minister of England

Snow tires with studs cost $15.00 each

and last but not least ...

Playtex Magic Controller Girdle went on sale.
You know, the one with reinforced garters,
no-roll sides and no-hike-up backs
$7.95 at your favorite department store

First grade picture. Still got those finger waves.

Blessings to you and yours.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Coal Dust On My Feet ~ part 14 ~ The End

~~~Sunday, May 10, 1953~~~

Odie spent the last night on his farm laying his important papers, along with a few pictures of Savina, where Thirl would see them. In the crude barn he’d built after the first one burned, Odie cleaned the horse stalls and said goodbye to his small herd. He fed his dogs, chickens, hog, and his horses, and then laid the feedbags where DeDe could find them easily. Hanging his head and dragging his body through the house, he gathered Savina’s belongings and what few clothes he owned and put them into two boxes to be given to the Baptist missionary fund. Finally, he collapsed into a chair and stared into a blazing fire until morning.

~~~Monday, May 11, 1953~~~

Outside, the low light of dawn came quickly. The sun won its battle and the storm clouds departed, leaving behind ragged wisps of black and gray streaking the blue sky like soot on a clean sheet.

 Odie had one last mission. His car totaled, his truck confiscated by the authorities at the cook shack, he relied on his bay colt to help him fulfill his last duty to his friends. Seizing the reins, Odie swung up onto his horse’s back, knees tight around the animal’s barrel of ribs. The horse uttered a great whinny, tossed his head, and broke into a lope across the hill. Odie wiped tears from his eyes with his coat sleeve and headed for Colored Holler.


DeDe’s body, slow and heavy, rolled out of bed early. She had filled her washing machine with boiling water from the stove. Sleeping the day away under a pile of blankets was an option she’d considered. Except something made her get out of bed. The sunshine, perhaps.

Sheets and towels went in first, then underwear, socks, Thirl’s T-shirts, colors, and lastly—Thirl’s work clothes. The same wash-load line-up every week for the past few decades.

At the bottom of the basket the smell of coal rose from dirty pants and shirts. Her hand shook lifting them out—they were her son’s. She shoved them into a paper bag with no intention to wash them. DeDe set the bag in his room and closed the door behind her. She wanted the room sealed off, kept as a tomb. What would we ever use it for anyway? DeDe forced her mind to go blank, refusing to think of the fresh graves at the end of town.


The sound of a horse brought men and women out to their porches in the hollow.

Nappy-headed children peeked through windows. Smoke floated out of every chimney. When the horse stopped in front of Jabo’s house, Mama Ola clopped out on the porch, her eyes stern and her lips stiff.

Odie tipped his hat. “Ma’am.” He remained on his horse. “Mister Kelly awake?”

“Nawser, you g’wan now … git. We don’t need no trouble up heah.”

Hephzibah stepped out on the dilapidated porch and wrapped a shawl around her mother-in-law. “Jabo’s in the house. He be out directly. We’re grievin’ too, Mist’ Odie.”

“I know. You loved my Savina, and I appreciate what you done. You know what I come fer?”

“I knows why,” said Hephzibah. “You ready to tell the Nettles the truth?”

“I am.”

Jabo walked out with his rifle. “You do this, Mist’ Odie, you do this right, or ah swear ah hunt you down mysef.”

“I promise, Mister Kelly. I promise to make the Nettles’ world a little happier today. I’m goin’ to prison, probably for the rest of my days. You’ll have no fight from me, Sir. Was my bullet that killed Cole Farlow two nights ago. I’m gonna pay for that.”

Jabo nodded. “Come inside then.”


Thirl, having the week off, roamed the house, the porch, and the yard, bumping into his wife at every turn. His mind weary, his hands empty—his heart needing a reason to beat, he carried the heavy basket of sheets to the back yard for DeDe to hang them on the line. Needing to be near her, Thirl handed her clothespins, until the first glimpses of the funeral procession for Cole Farlow moved up Nicholas Street. Recognizing the few cars that followed the hearse, Thirl walked back into the house and stepped out on the front porch. His legs buckled under him—falling to the steps, his eyes fixed on the motorcade rolling by slowly. He had no idea where they were burying him … he didn’t care.


The sheriff arrived early to arrest Odie at his house, but when he walked up on the porch he saw a note had been tacked to the door. You can find me at Thirl Nettles’.


Squeezing with his feet, he gave a little hey-yup and set the horse into motion, waving goodbye to Jabo and his family. He headed to Widen. Odie passed houses at a slow trot; it’d been many years since folks had seen a horse in the middle of town.

DeDe heard the noise of the crowd getting louder as she hung clothes on the line. It sounded as if the whole town was walking up Nicholas Street again.

Thirl stuck his head out the back doorway. “DeDe! Come quick. It’s Odie riding his horse up the street. Ya ain’t gonna believe this.”

            DeDe wiped her hands on her dress and walked inside. The air in the house was electric. Watching Thirl limp out to the front porch, DeDe's head tingled and music played inside her again. Grief moved aside for a moment as she stepped out on the porch with her husband.

            Odie sat on top of his horse that pranced in the street by the gate. Odie’s right hand was wrapped around the chest of a smiling baby boy propped in the saddle in front of him. The baby looked to be about ten months old. DeDe ran to Odie and reached up. Tears flowed as she laid her hand on Odie’s leg. The book of life had never closed. In moments it was revealed to her mind.

Gazing at the boy for a second, Odie tentatively touched the child’s forehead and cheek. He folded the blanket down around him and allowed the baby to slip off his saddle, out of his large hands, and into DeDe’s arms. He had James’ eyes and Savina’s mouth. And red hair. Lots of dark red hair.

“The most powerful force in the universe is gossip,” said Odie. “Savina didn’t want anybody to know, didn’t want people pointing at her baby, calling him a bastard. It was my fault they didn’t marry sooner. But they was gonna leave town next month, get married, come back later, after some time had passed. Jabo and his family been takin’ care of the boy all this time, that’s why Savina spent so much time there. He was born last July fourth.”

Thirl walked up behind DeDe and put his hands on her shoulders, then touched the child’s head, smoothing down his fine hair. The baby smiled, its toothless little mouth opened with a gurgle. With his finger, Thirl wiped drooling spit from its chin.

Odie choked on his tears. “Thirl, meet our grandson. This here is Emery. Emery Curtis Nettles. Son of James and Savina, grandson of Deanna and Thirl, and Josephine and … me.”

Thirl unhooked a sack of clothes and diapers tied on the saddle. Odie laid his hand on Thirl’s shoulder and smiled.

“We’ll take good care of him,” Thirl said and nodded. He shook Odie’s hand.

DeDe kissed the baby and held him close as a silent police car nosed through the parting crowd and pulled up behind the horse.

~~~Thanksgiving 1953~~~

The music dueled in the barn. Thanksgiving held a special meaning this year to the residents of Widen. Groups of men and women played their fiddles, banjos, and mandolins. A few guitar pickers joined in. They danced and sang old mountain songs from their past and set rows of food for the town to partake together, giving thanks for an end to the strike.

Thirl raised Emery to his shoulders. “Mamaw, you want us to bring you some cider?”

“No, you boys go on. I’m gonna sit here a spell and listen to the music.” She hesitated a moment. “Thirl?”


“I want … I want you to know how much I love you.”

He smiled down at her as he patted his grandson’s legs hanging around his neck. “You’re a fetching woman, Deanna.”

She smiled back. He had been her rock. She wanted him to know.

Watching her husband carry his grandson with the same love and affection he once carried James Curtis in the Thanksgiving barn, the pain of loss pulled at her insides. She’d grown weak in her mind. Mournful. Raising Emery only put a Band-Aid on the infected wound of losing her son. Even Doc Vance worried about her—part of his rounds to sick folk included a visit to the Nettles family every week.

Her foot tapped in time to the music. She shoved stray hairs back into place and closed her eyes, absorbing the low cry of the steel guitar.

“Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance.”

She recognized him. Herald Wingate. DeDe turned toward the voice; her mouth opened but remained silent.

He hiked up his same nasty boot on the bench beside her and rested his arm on his leg. “God will not let you suffer what you’re not able to bear.”

“I cain’t bear anymore.” Anger filled her throat like she was choking on a piece of meat.

“He knows that. But you’ve got to find the strength He sent you a while back to raise this young’un.”

“What strength? When?”

“The night you heard the angels sing. That was for you, Deanna.”

“Just who are you? Why did you come back here?”

“He sent me, to tell you that. Who I am doesn’t matter. Your suffering is over. You’re to be a witness to those who will still have some suffering to do.”

“That’s my purpose? To help others get through their suffering?” She turned away from him, indignant, and stared straight ahead to watch people dance.

“Yes, and to raise their child. They’re watching you, you know. They’re proud of you.”

DeDe continued to stare at the dance floor, ready to match him word for word. “Who’s watching me?”

No answer.

Jugg Pyle’s fiddle began to play Angel Band, and the aroma of apple blossoms filled the room. She turned to speak to his face, but his face was gone. Along with the rest of him. Nobody had seen him that night, nobody but DeDe.


Odie’s trial lasted for months. He was found guilty of first-degree murder and given life in prison. The Clay County grand jury handed up a series of indictments, from holding up the railroad and stealing dynamite to blowing up the bridges, and the murder of Cole Farlow.

In November 1953 the evidence gathered by the FBI was finally laid before a federal grand jury in Huntington against the UMW strikers. More of the striking miners found themselves doing time in a federal prison. The United States Department of Justice regarded the indictment as the most important attempt to deal with labor violence under civil rights statutes. Widen’s reign of terror was over.

~~~May 1954~~~

Spring came again.

            In the mountains, near the shadows of town, side by side in their graves, the young lovers slept under the apple tree. Close by the humble walls of the little Baptist church, in the heart of Clay County they laid, unnoticed. Daily the tides of life went ebbing and flowing beside them. Every Sunday throbbing hearts filed past where theirs were at rest. Every Sunday Pastor Jessie searched the scriptures, but their minds were no longer busy. Their eyes were closed for eternity. Every Sunday the toiling hands of the Pastor shook those of his congregation while their hands ceased from their labors and a thin gold band laid forever buried under a stone in a cabin now abandoned. Every Sunday weary feet drug into a sanctuary to rest from a weeks’ worth of backbreaking labor in the mines, but their feet had completed their journey. Every Sunday the Pastor reached across his pulpit for the souls of his congregation, but their souls had walked to the light.

As Pastor Jessie concluded his sermon, his gaze fell upon Thirl, DeDe, and their grandson asleep in his grandmother’s arms. He stretched his arms above his head, and held his black King James in his right hand. His voice bellowed and he wept aloud. “The United States Government may have ended the strike, but Savina and James Curtis ended the hatred of family against family, brother against brother, man against himself. Their love was not in vain. God’s ways are not our ways, His thoughts not our thoughts. Who are we to know the plan of God?”

“The violence and sorrow in Widen will not be put away and forgotten like an old picture book, but passed on for future generations to never forget what has happened here. This tale of woe is not the sole possession of one family, but of all families in this town. For all are punished. Let us pray and let us remember.”


He played coal miner with his toy truck on Nicholas Street. On warm sunny mornings he could be found sitting in the dirt, a little redheaded boy with brilliant blue eyes and coal dust on his feet.

The End

Friday, August 10, 2012

Coal Dust On My Feet ~ part 13

~~~Saturday, May 9, 1953~~~

            She’d survived the night. DeDe sat up slowly, feeling the creak and snap of each vertebra. She’d slept in James’ bed, or tried to. She wanted to smell him, feel where he had been only hours before. What little sleep she did get was filled with dreams of him as a baby, crying at her feet, toddling behind her as she hung sheets on the line, or playing with his puppy.

            Swinging her feet over the side, she put the sole of her foot down on one of her son’s drawings sticking out from under the bed. A picture of Savina. James had not shown this picture to her. There was a curious look in her eye; she looked strange … different … not his best drawing of Savina. DeDe noticed it was dated July, last year. She carried the drawing to her chifforobe and placed it in the box with the rest of his drawings. Until she could bear to put them into a scrapbook in her old age, they would be buried there.

            “Bury,” she said aloud. The word stuck in her throat.

            DeDe wasn’t a stranger to burying a child. But she had not known her stillborn son. This was different.

James Curtis had slept his last night in their home. She slid her hand along the top of the closed casket that rested on two sawhorses in her front room. How could she find the strength to put on her blue funeral dress, eat breakfast, and face the crowds again? How on earth could she lower her son’s body into the ground and keep on living?


            DeDe stumbled into the church, watching Pastor Jessie greet people with a double-handed shake.

            “You and Thirl need anything, anything at all, you call me, hear?”

            DeDe smiled weakly, but said nothing.

            She walked to the front pew and looked into the sleepless face of Doctor Vance; his glasses had steamed up from humidity and tears. She sat next to him. Hands clasped together, twisting in her lap, she avoided his gaze.

            “He was a good son.”

DeDe cleared her throat. “Thanks, Doc. I just want this day to be over.”

He leaned toward her. “But you can’t let grief consume you, Deanna.”

            She nodded. “People give in to grief the way they fall in love. Grief will be my constant companion for the rest of my days.” Doctor Vance squeezed her hand, then moved over so Thirl could sit beside her.

            The crowd grew quiet, except for a low volume of grumbling and dissension when Odie walked up to the altar where his daughter’s casket lay next to James’ at the front of the church. He stood disheveled in a wrinkled suit and placed each hand on a coffin. His shoulders heaved up and down until Thirl stood and guided him back to the front pew for the eulogy. Tears rolled down Odie's cheeks, unchecked. The crowd of mourners murmured among themselves over such a blatant display of forgiveness.

            Aging years since DeDe had seen him last, Odie was frail, hairless, and embryonic.  His old man’s shoulders, thin and lifeless, moved beneath the fabric of his jacket as he grabbed hold of James Curtis’ casket and hoisted it to his shoulder. DeDe prayed for Thirl’s bad leg when he raised Savina’s casket to his own shoulders. Sixteen men in all carried Savina and James to their final resting places. Sixteen men who were neither union nor company on that day.

Odie had appeared on their back porch to ask his friends for forgiveness and grieve with them. Thirl had contacted the sheriff and requested Odie be allowed to go to the funeral and then get his house in order before they arrested him. The Nettles took responsibility for Odie, promising the sheriff that he would be at his farm on Monday morning. Thirl made a promise to his old friend that he would sell his farm and put the money in a fund for miners’ children.

            Thirl, DeDe, and Odie were miner's children who became miners. It was only fitting they carry one another's burdens and share in each other's sorrow on the day they buried their children--together. They buried them under a Golden Delicious apple tree in the church cemetery, two rows down from a tombstone barely readable. Herald Wingate, Born 1884, Died 1909, Friend of C.G. Widen, town founder.

... the last part of Coal Dust On My Feet will post tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Coal Dust On My Feet ~ part 12

~~~Friday, May 8, 1953~~~

DeDe sat on a log near the old church in the cemetery as the rain fell pitilessly upon her. The trees offered little protection. It was as if someone had poked a hole in the awning of green over her head. It wasn’t a cleansing rain. She knew it wouldn’t renew her. Instead she expected it to wear her down, obliterate her features, and allow her to dissolve back into the earth like warm rain on snow.

            Leaning forward, she crossed her arms on her lap and hung her head low as the fat drops turned her auburn hair into a twisted brown mop. Her thick yellow housecoat, now drenched and clinging to her thin body, hung like a wet rug from her shoulders. Her pale feet, covered with mud, lined her naked flesh like wounds as she cried huge heaving sobs.

DeDe had felt certain Thirl would find him, safe. Drunk, maybe. But not dead. The devastation and grief in her husband’s eyes had told the story. Her head pounded from a river of endless tears and a restless night’s sleep.

When Thirl returned at dawn with Pastor Jessie and no one uttered a sound, DeDe instinctively knew her son was dead. Still in her robe, she bolted from the house like one who had lost their mind. Careening down the street to no place in particular, her march ended at the cemetery behind the church staring down the hole that had been dug for Savina’s funeral.

            DeDe rose on shaky legs on that dreary morning. She felt Thirl standing behind her. It was only natural that he would follow her. She took a breath to gather her strength, turned around and stepped closer to her husband, narrowing the distance. Pounding her breast with her fist, emphasizing each word, she said in a voice betrayed, “God has allowed my child to be stolen from me. He has deceived me!”

            Thirl caressed her face in his hands. His voice was low and hoarse. “You don’t mean that. He loves you, Deanna.” His arm steadied her, and his kiss to her forehead spoke of a love come down from God, a love she would have to trust more completely in the days ahead. Leading her to his car, he gently put her in.

The rain poured down once more, and the old Plymouth’s defroster sputtered and coughed against the fogged windshield. Just as Thirl and DeDe got back to the house, the storm subsided. Sunlight washed over the leaves of the dogwood in the yard and the tree glowed. It lit up and sparkled like tiny flashlights had been attached to every branch. Flashlights through the valley of the shadow of death.

That’s when they saw them: the neighbors, half the town scattered across the lawns. They had got in their cars and drove to Nicholas Street, or opened their front doors forgetting to close them, and walked into her yard and her neighbor’s yards, and stood there—silent. On her tiny lawn and porch, each person held some part of themselves: an arm pressed to a chest, a hand up across a forehead. Union sympathizers and men and women loyal to the company, mixed together for the first time since a gunshot maimed Thirl last September.

Edith Holcomb wore only one shoe. Tessa Butcher clutched her newborn to her chest, her other three children strung behind her as she bolted across the street. By mid-morning there were twenty more people draped across her porch, front room, and at her kitchen table—sniffling into  handkerchiefs, wiping tears. Opal Hamrick’s scream broke the silence in the yard. “Goose Digg told me, but I couldn’t believe it.”

            Some of the men wanted to know where the Farlow boy was hiding out. Some guessed which paths over the mountains he’d take.

“This is in God’s hands. Let the sheriff take care of this,” Thirl said in spurts, barely audible. “There’s been enough killin’. Leave it alone, boys.”

             Stiff breezes blew through the windows, filling the front room in a sea of floating white chiffon—surreal and ominous. Clergy from area churches descended, while Pastor Jessie along with his wife and two daughters in tow organized food, spoke to Jugg about a double funeral, and started a prayer circle in the Nettles’ front room.

DeDe dried off and changed her clothes, but her face never dried completely. Covered with tears, it felt chapped and raw to the touch from so much wiping.

Trickles of silence filled the morning until someone caught a glimpse of Dewey Wilson running across the road in his stocking feet. His shadow flung out in front of him, painted long by the early sun, Dewey arrived at the front steps heaving for breath. Clutching a newspaper in his hands, his socks soaked with morning dew, he pressed through the crowded yard. “They’re callin’ for an end to the strike! Where’s Thirl?”

            Lottie Digg, a nervous, pinched woman in a blue housedress, stood on the porch, her hands around her Bible. “Where d’you think he is, Dewey? He’s in the house with DeDe.”

Dewey bolted inside and laid the paper gently in Thirl’s arms. “This won’t ease yer pain none, but looks like the strike might be over. It’s over because this town’s finally come to its senses. This town and them vultures in Charleston. James had to die for it to happen, but it ended it.” He turned to DeDe. “I’m sorry, Deanna. I’m sorry your boy had to die for all of us.”

            “Kinda makes me know how God must’ve felt.” DeDe’s voice was as dense as freshly poured cement. “But let’s remember all the families that’ve lost someone they love in the past few days. I hear the Frame family is burying Charles today. So many families are mourning in Widen.” She nodded in appreciation of Dewey’s words and hung her head.

Later, the house filled with another shift of townsfolk. Visitors brought food—dozens of casseroles, pots of beans, a ham, a few pies—gallons of tea. One preacher or another led many weeping mourners in prayer. Lottie stood to read the Psalms. Her gentle reading voice wavered only slightly. “How is this God’s will, Pastor?”

            Thirl wandered to the back yard to smoke with some of the men, his face calm, almost blank. DeDe roamed the peopled rooms of her house, walking from bedroom, to porch, to kitchen, wishing they would all leave. But she didn’t have the heart to tell them to go—they were all grieving. She wanted to be alone when the undertaker brought James’ body back to the house. They would be quick about it and bury him beside Savina tomorrow.

            She stopped and looked out through the rusted screens at the hazy view of the back yard filled with people. They weren’t good at much. All they knew was mining. Nobody had made it to college. But the one thing they knew how to do was pray. If the town had one talent, it was faith. They believed in the power of Jesus Christ. The same yesterday, today, and forever. They had been raised up in the shadow of this great faith, in the vast floodplain of belief. To DeDe, Jesus was more real than the people of Widen. As she walked to the school or down the path across the creek to the store, she often heard His voice. He was her comforter, her most intimate friend. As far as DeDe knew, Jesus was a Baptist. To say you didn’t believe in the existence of God was like saying you did not believe in corn flakes, or sunsets, or that the earth was round. But in the last few hours, His voice had gone silent.

DeDe crept into the bathroom to be alone. She sat on the floor. The sun strained through the window, the light bounced off the chrome handles in the tub and shimmered across the porcelain. It filled the small bathroom with an underwater radiance. It felt like somebody had taken the needle off the record and for the first time, the music she’d heard her whole life, the music that played all around her, just stopped. She’d never heard such silence. DeDe rubbed her ears for a moment and thought perhaps she’d gotten something stuck in them, some water from the rain that morning. She shook her head back and forth. But there was nothing. Just silence. And sorrow. She’d had no premonition of her son’s death. She felt betrayed.


When the last mourner had gone and James Curtis was laid out in the front room, Jugg Pyle, Widen’s undertaker, closed the casket’s lid for the night. DeDe hoped Jugg thought about the morning he and Dewey had stood in her kitchen and argued with James about shoving the strikers off the hill. She hoped they both thought about it good and hard.

“I’ll be by in the morning to get things ready for the funeral procession,” Jugg said.

            Thirl nodded, shook Jugg’s hand, and closed the door behind him. Exhausted, he fell into his worn chair. His elbows angled on the arms, Thirl turned pages of his Bible. Its spine crackled under his grip. His eyes took in each paragraph, quick and hungry searching for answers.

At midnight the house was finally quiet. DeDe sat with her arms outstretched on the kitchen table, her hands folded, staring at a blank wall. The emptiness of it all caved in on her.

How can I be childless?


Childless women have more than one church dress; wear pretty shoes and sweaters with no stains. They smell of perfume, not spilled milk or fried bologna sandwiches. Their stomachs are flat and their breasts—small and manageable. They go to Summersville for permanent waves and live in tidy houses with clean walls, floors, and pretty towels and pillows they never use. But I never cared about all that. And yet, Dear God, I learned to be content with the one child you gave me. Now You have taken my only son! How do I live with the memories of him. Tell me God, how do I do that?

            DeDe pulled her arms back, laid her hands in her lap and her head on the table.

            Thirl heard the knock at the back door and sighed. “No more, not tonight. Not at this late hour.” But DeDe had already stood and opened it, finding Odie Ingram standing on the back porch in the dark, with his hat in his hand.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Coal Dust On My Feet ~ part 11

Strong enough to show the washboard road ahead of him, evening's light illuminated every pothole. James Curtis drove along with ease.

            Coasting his truck past Cole’s house, James stared at a group of men gathered on the porch. He figured they were kin. Cole’s dad had died during the invasion of Normandy. Cole lived with his eccentric mother and grandmother; both had refused to leave Widen after the war.

            James recalled the day he stopped at Cole’s house—the day after Cole turned sixteen, quit school, and went to work in the mines. Cole's mother stumbled into the house, screaming drunk. Pounding her son with her fists after finding money in his shirt pocket, she then disappeared for two days. Word was she got saved during some local summer revival. But that didn’t save Cole from trouble. “Bad seed,” Doc Vance had said once as he stitched up James Curtis’ eye from a punch Cole had thrown over a lost game of pool.

As boys, they had played in an abandoned mineshaft on the opposite side of South Mountain dug by the sweat and blood of miner’s backs. Men who had worked the earliest mines in Widen at the turn of the century. The ancient cave was unlike the new coal mine with its main shaft located near the tipple, and the underground maze of tunneled streets that ran sixty miles from Clay to Nicholas County.

At fifteen, Cole had built a moonshine still close to the opening of the old mineshaft, and James Curtis had donated ingredients from his mama’s fruit cellar. But when Thirl found out, both boys had been immediately introduced to the wrath of God and the rod was not spared. Neither boy could sit for a week. In spite of warnings to never visit the dangerous mine again, it remained a place of risk and adventure for the boys and young men of Widen.

The night of their high school graduation, Cole joined James Curtis and several boys from the class, filled a washtub with ice and beer and carried it into the mineshaft. They spent the night drinking, playing cards, smoking packs of stolen cigarettes, and puking after hours of pretending to be men. Driving in the dark, his eyes stung wiping his tears with his bare hands. James determined he would have ended up like Cole, alone, with no direction in life, had it not been for Savina.

Rumors spread quickly that the authorities had rounded up every striker involved in the cook shack shootings, all but Odie and Cole. He’d heard it before he left Doc Vance’s office. Still, James couldn’t imagine Odie not knowing about his daughter. Somebody had to have gotten word to him by now, even if he and Cole were hiding out. Odie, a seasoned hunter, was well acquainted with every mountain and trail in the state. With access to a good horse, James figured he was probably miles away by now.

As for Cole … James knew his hiding places. The first on the list was the old mineshaft. 

Pulling his truck up as far as it would go, James stepped out into the tall grass and weeds leading up to the cut timber logs that framed the opening. The wind blew colder after the sun had gone down, but the rain had lessened since morning. He shook visibly, but not from the night air or from fear. Ravaged by grief, insanity had begun to seep into his pores like a cold rain. Rage twisted tight around his head as if caught in a vice squeezing out all reason. He switched on his flashlight and pulled his shotgun off the front seat.

“Cole! It’s me, Cole. We need to talk!”

James walked to the edge of the mineshaft. The light from a small fire cast flickering shadows on the walls of the mine. He tossed the flashlight into the weeds. Cole crouched like a feral cat against a pile of rusted metal. The remains of their moonshine still sat crusted with several years’ worth of dirt, but the recipe still hung on ancient wires from the ceiling. An empty whisky bottle lay in the dirt. Coatless, Cole’s clothes were covered in dried mud. His lifeless green eyes fixed on James Curtis.

“It was an accident, wasn’t it? You didn’t mean to kill her, tell me that. You owe me that. Tell me you didn’t mean to kill her.”

Cole stood and smiled a ragged gap-toothed grin that was both knowing and mean. Another half-empty bottle of whiskey dangled from his right hand. “I don’t owe you jack shit.” Large and chinless, he had an enormous adam’s apple and sideburns like Elvis. At school, his breath was like coffee and cavities. But all James could smell was the dampness of the old mine and wafts of Cole's 100-proof breath.

Cole dropped his bottle to the ground. He shook out a Lucky Strike, tapped it on the side of his lighter, lit it, and then blew a stream of smoke toward James. He had tucked his filthy T-shirt in tight, and rolled another pack of cigarettes into his right shirtsleeve. His Levi cuffs were turned up around muddy work boots. But it was his big round ears that made him almost comical to look at.

Sweat rolled down James’s cheek. “Did you do it on purpose? Did you touch her?”

Cole flicked his smoke into the dirt and stared, shooting James a don’t-mess-with-me smirk, the drink long gone to his head. He snarled like a rabid dog. “I shoulda shoved her into the back seat ‘fore I shot her, now I’m gung fuggin kiw you!”

A war scream pierced the darkness and echoed through the mine as James hurled himself at Cole, dropping his rifle in the dirt.

            James got him first with a left hook. Cole wheeled and came back at him and drove a vicious blow right into his nose. It sent James reeling. He felt the crack and went to one knee, his eyes welled up and a fountain of blood erupted from ruptured vessels, pouring like a faucet thrown on. He wiped blood from his face. It dripped from his hands, as his nose seemed to disappear into its cavity.

            The blood appeared to unnerve Cole. He let James crawl up the side of the wall to steady himself.

Through eyes blurred by tears and blood, James caught movement coming toward him again. Struggling to hold on to his bearings he crouched low, preparing for the strike. He ducked Cole’s fist and it landed high above his head into the rock wall. He could see it sent a bullet of pain up Cole’s hand and arm.

            But Cole’s advantage was clear. Swooping in from above he rushed James once more, whirling his pained fist squarely at his head. Fighting back a sudden wave of nausea from a pungent mix of tobacco smoke, alcohol, and Cole’s unwashed body, James forced himself to push off with his feet, turning his body slightly, and caught the blow in his right arm instead of his face this time. He somehow managed to snake his arm around Cole’s, his hand winding up on Cole’s shoulder. Making full use of their combined momentum, James sidestepped Cole, allowing him to trip over his feet and tumble to the ground.

            A sickening pop echoed off the rock walls of the mine, followed instantly by a hideous scream of pain and anger. James had maintained his hold on Cole’s arm, forcing it farther and farther back, then letting him fall into the dirt. Squinting through swelling eyes, James bent over Cole where he lay, face down, moaning and clutching his wracked shoulder.

Mercilessly hooking the toe of his boot under his armpit, James rolled him over onto his back, meeting with another wretched cry. Staring up with eyes blinded by rage and pain, Cole used his legs and good arm to skitter away. James stalked after him, adding fear to the hatred that glared back at him. Cole’s attempt at escape was cut short as he rammed into a wall of railroad ties.

Eyes darting from side to side like a cornered fox, he accepted escape was not to be found. Fumbling at the top of one boot with his good hand, he produced a Bowie knife from its sheath, satisfaction replacing some of the fear. Undeterred, James drove forward with a purposeful stride, dodging a feeble swing of the knife but tripping over Cole’s deliberate swipe with his feet, landing flat on his back in the dirt. Cole rolled, stood and placed the heel of his boot squarely on James’ stomach, just below his rib cage, the knife at his neck drawing blood. James grimaced and let out another gasp of pain.

            But the pain from Cole’s arm caused him to stagger backwards a little, lifting his boot from James’ chest. James heard the wheezing sound of air being forced back into his own lungs. Cole staggered forward again; his hand flashed out from behind his back, trailing after it a reflection of the metal that swung toward James in a sweeping arc. James flinched instinctively, but his blurred vision hampered his reaction; too slow to save him from the unexpected attack. He rolled, but not far enough. This time he felt the jolt, then the sting. A sharp smell cut through his swollen nostrils, a damp stain grew across his arm, then the loud whine of his own voice pierced the dead air of the cave.

            Cole, also fighting against his own pain, rocketed through the air again and stabbed ruthlessly at an unsuspecting James, this time slicing his cheek open with the tip of the knife. Half crawling and half falling, Cole stabbed at him again but missed entirely and bowled over from drunken exhaustion.

            James rotated to his hands and knees, breathing fast and hard. His head wanted to explode from the pain, his arm throbbed with his heartbeat, blood soaked his coat; he felt vomit stirring inside. Picking up a rusted pipe near the fire, he struggled to his feet and swung at Cole’s head, hitting him square in the mouth. Cole’s lips burst open, shooting blood everywhere. Smack against the mineshaft wall; his face, sideburns, and shirt were instantly soaked in blood.

            “Yer fuggin dead,” he muttered, spitting a tooth into the dirt. A wicked smile twisted on his mangled lips, causing James to wince as the expression tugged at the flesh and bone of his busted nose. Through the slits of swollen eyes, he saw the terror and humiliation that now held Cole in their sway. Cole swung the knife loosely in his hand.

James Curtis took a breath as if to say something, but words seemed inadequate and insufficient to account for the years of humiliation Cole lived with on a daily basis from an over-bearing mother and taunting men from the mine. A cry from a distant hollow rung in his ears and pulled at his heart. James raised his hands; sanity replaced his adrenalin.

“Cole … enough.”

“It’ll never be ‘nuf.” Cole lunged with the knife again, trapping James against the twisted metal of the old still. The strength poured out of James’s injured arm; his futile attempt to fight off his adversary made Cole laugh. “Yer just like her. She walked off, refused to fight me, and she paid fer it.”

 Cole pricked the point of the knife through his enemy’s shirt and into his chest, seemingly surprised at the ease with which the sharp blade penetrated. James’ swollen eyes popped wide as the knife entered his body. Cole shoved the knife deeper, the resistance of the blade bit through to the bone. He shoved harder until it plunged deep into James’ lung, until he coughed and gasped, until warm blood oozed from his mouth. Cole tore the knife through his skin, spilling more blood out of James’ chest wall and down his shirt.

Without a word, Cole yanked out the knife and backed up. Stumbling toward the dying fire, he bent down with his uninjured arm, picked up his whisky bottle, and then took a long swig. He swayed back and forth, feeling his way back along the rock wall until he tripped over James lying on the floor of the mine.

Sitting in the dirt, he finished the whiskey to numb his pain then leaned over and pulled James’ truck keys out of his jacket pocket. Getting to his feet, he staggered back to the mine opening and found James’ rifle lying in the dirt. He picked it up.

Cole looked back into the darkness and laughed. In minutes, he was spiraling slowly down the mountain in James’ truck … looking for a store, or a bar, and another bottle of whiskey.


            James heard her voice; it was Savina, he was sure of it.

Blood seeped from every orifice as he tried to whisper her name. But his lips only motioned what his tongue would have spoken. His breath stopped. Not breathing came as a relief from the shortened, labored gasps his breath had become over the last few minutes. Was the voice real, or imagined? Savina.

Sinking down through depths of darkness, James Curtis watched the fire die in the cave. Her voice was the last thing he heard.