Find the Good

A book.

We’re publishing a book. We’ve got a publisher lined up. We’ve got committees in place to select the stories and choose a title and edit the manuscript. We’ve even got a professional editor lined up to proof the manuscript next spring. Our yet-unnamed book will debut in September, 2009. This is a good thing.

This venture belongs to the Council for the Written Word, a nonprofit organization with a mission of encouraging, educating, and empowering writers. I am president for 2008-2009, when this project will be active and will see fruition. The book will be an anthology of short fiction and creative nonfiction written by our members and by the noted authors who have been selected for our Hall of Fame of Williamson County writers.

Yesterday, the Selection Committee met for the first time in the atrium of The Factory. Louise, Currie, Nancy, Angela, Bill, and I have the honor of reading every submitted story and selecting those appropriate for the anthology. We left the meeting on a high — with the first 8 stories — well-told, unique, memorable!

One story in particular that provided encouragement to me was written by Alana White. In it she mentions a quote from the bottom of Alex Haley’s letterhead: “Find the good — and praise it.”

For me, the GOOD came when I checked my mailbox yesterday after arriving home from the meeting. I pulled a brown manila envelope from the stack. It was from a high school classmate whom I have not seen in xx years. In the enclosed letter he sent condolences about my husband. He lives near the nation’s capital now, and he’s been reading my blog (where he learned of my husband’s death) after he saw a newspaper article about my book Pink Butterbeans in our hometown paper, the Bolivar Commercial, three years ago. Most of my stories are about the Mississippi Delta, from whence he hails, as well. We were post-war babies and grew up in the 50s and 60s in that hot, flat land — it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. My memories are fond ones, though, and it is good to re-connect with those who were part of those days.

JPH, you made my day! Thanks!

Lunch, A Tomato Sandwich

“Three months of high summer — July, August, and September — I relish fat, red, and ripe tomatoes off the backyard vines. Homegrown Tomato Red with the smell and taste of the sun and earth packed inside.” This passage is from my essay “Tomato Red” in my book Pink Butterbeans: Stories from the heart of a Southern woman.

Yet it’s almost August and the tomatoes are still green. I have six plants and no fat, red, and ripe tomatoes. I can hardly wait, though, and I will begin my watch for green to turn to yellow, then orange, then a fine ripe red. I know lunch that day will be a tomato sandwich, along with a few chomps on the little banana peppers planted beside the tomatoes in my tiny backyard garden, and maybe a few slices of cucumber, soaked in a vinegar/sugar mixture.

Green Tomatoes

Green Tomatoes

The recipe for a tomato sandwich, as described in Pink Butterbeans, is as follows:

Pick one garden-grown, softball-sized tomato, still warm from the vine. Place it on a cutting board. Cut a 3/8″ slice crosswise into slippery, orange-red pulp, through a sunburst of yellow, as seeds and juice spill out. Smother two slices of white bread with swirls of creamy mayonnaise. The slice of tomato should cover the slice of bread, touching brown crust on all four sides, leaving only slight triangular corners. Salt sparingly. Savor the first bite and let the juices trickle down your chin. The season’s first tomato sandwich is worth the wait, worth sweaty garden travail — a reward for suffering through sweltering, simmering summer days in the South.

More Rain

A sign on a church on Franklin Road, the route I take to the office, says, “You think this is hot? Try hell.” I’d been thinking recently about hell, that hell doesn’t scare me any more. I’ve lived in it for four weeks now.

The sons were here for a few days. They rented a U-Haul. We’d sold a lot of office furniture on Craigs List, but there was a tremendous amount left in the offices of Genisys Systems Group. We packed up workbenches and stools, shelves, desks, kitchen stuff, ladders, inventory, books and software, customer job files and billing files, millions of patch cables and RAM–new and used–and old monitors and computers that I couldn’t dispose of because of sensitive data on the hard drives.

There was a big Tupperware container of computer case fasteners (why did he keep those things?) that I couldn’t even lift. My friend Currie was helping me clean and pack and she pointed it out. I studied it a moment. “I’m going to make a path out of those — a little silver path through my flower garden.” We laughed. Colleen suggested later that we could make garden stepping stones out of them.

There were two Genisys systems in the office — old ones that had recently been taken out of service at customer locations — from when our company built computers, back in the day before Micron, Gateway, and Dell took the market and made it so that small companies like Genisys couldn’t compete price-wise. I’m thinking about making a computer graveyard out of them in the backyard, like the Cadillac graveyard on I-40 outside Amarillo, Texas.

There were some light moments, but as the day wound down and the office became empty, the tears rolled and wouldn’t stop. It was by far the most stressful, the most awful, the worst day of my life. I stood in that dark, empty, silent office and knew it was really all over. He is gone, his work is done. I took the sign down and turned out the light.

I cried all the way home.

The next milestone will be the merger of the business, and when that happens, I will feel relief for our customers, and I will feel grief for myself. My husband was Genisys. Genisys will move forward and grow and be better. He won’t. He is gone, his work is done.

The sons pointed out that my right eye was red, I had burst a blood vessel in it, the stress had made my blood pressure shoot up sky high, I should be careful and calm down a little.

“No,” I said, “I stuck my fingernail in my eyeball by accident yesterday. That’s all it is.”


Finally, rain. Three in the morning and I can’t sleep, so I get up, turn the coffee pot on, and go out in the garage to clean off some more shelves. I don’t know why my husband had so much stuff. Stuff that I will never use. Enough stuff to open an electrical company, a phone company, a plumbing company, and of course, a computer shop.

Today is the day I move stuff out of his office in Nashville. For two weeks I’ve been cleaning out and throwing away and making runs to the dumpster. How do you throw away a man’s life? I’ve sold a few things, but by and large the rest of it will be coming home to sit in my garage for a while.

And the rain is a fitting tribute.

Creek Party

This morning I picked up my writing for the first time — my essay titled “Sisters.” It was supposed to be critiqued by my writing group July 1, but instead of meeting at 6:00 in the cafe at Barnes and Noble that Tuesday evening, we were all at Williamson Memorial Gardens for my husband’s service.

I wasn’t sure I’d ever want to write again. But my husband was my biggest fan, and he’d want me to keep on. Besides, I’ve lost a big part of my identity, and I don’t want to lose my writing side. I need to pick it up, move forward with it. And besides, this blog is supposed to be about writing.

I never dreamed I would be at this point of my life in my 50’s, but here I am. Now.

Yesterday, I saw something I’ve never seen before — someone else marking her 50’s in a different way.

Yesterday, Currie, Colleen, Susie, and I spent the afternoon in Leiper’s Fork, an upscale artistic community a few miles southwest of Franklin. We ate lunch at The Back Porch, and we all had homemade cake for dessert. Then we visited antique shops and spent some time in a gallery and bookstore with a collection of old books, and a few new ones. We talked to the owner about having a booksigning there. Then the owner, Annie, told us about a party she was going to that evening — a Creek Party. Someone was having the big 5-0 birthday party, and they were giving it in the creek behind the house across the street.

“Come on,” she said. “I’ll show you.” She took us over there where they were setting up, and we stood on the deck at the back of the house and looked down through the trees at the creek. In the middle of the brown water was a long table covered with a white tablecloth hanging down in the water, candelabra sitting on top. There were chairs and small tables and other pieces of furniture in the middle of the creek. “Sometimes they’ll put a bed out in the water,” Annie said, “and people will lie on it.” All the guests would wade in the creek to get refreshments, sit in the water, recline on floats, sit on the bank. There were candles in the trees, and I could imagine the flickering lights reflecting in the rippling water under a full moon on a summer night.

It hit me that life goes on, like the flowing creek. We stand in it and drink of it, celebrate it, linger a while and let it flow around us, but even while we stand still, it keeps on moving. And that big moon keeps on doing what it has always done, regardless.


Sunday morning I turned to the crossword puzzle in the newspaper. I thought I would never attempt one again. That was something we did together. He was the one who could sit down and fill out the whole thing in a few moments. I can sit down and fill in eight or ten words. We kept about five puzzles going, leaving them in strategic places around the house. “I corrected all your mistakes,” he’d tell me. A few times I got to correct his, and those were gold medal moments.

So Sunday morning, I started filling in answers. I kept going — somehow — and in half an hour I filled in the whole thing. Then I tossed my pencil across the newsprint, said humph, and chuckled. His presence. He was working it for me, putting the answers in my mind.

The shock started wearing off last Friday, and by the weekend full reality set in — crippling grief, anger, and guilt, along with devastating loneliness. I didn’t think Saturday would ever end, and then I knew Sunday would come.

My heart pounds in my chest and throat. I cannot swallow air, I cannot breathe. At times my legs are too heavy and I cannot lift one foot to put it in front of the other to walk across the room. I am numb all over. The dog keeps watching the back door, still expecting him, wondering why he doesn’t come. It breaks my spirit to tell her that Daddy is gone and he will never walk in that door.

People have been wonderful, but I feel as though I am a reminder of pain, of what horrific, catastrophic things can and do happen in life, and I feel as though I should be shunned so people don’t have to think about it and deal with what if it happens to them.

So I walk the dog and keep my back curled, my shoulders caved, my face down as close to the concrete as I can get it, because that is all I can do now. And I try to get used to being alone. Because that’s all there is.

And then he comes and it eases for a while and I think maybe we can get through this together.

Summer Rides

Dog Stroller

The dog gets a leisure ride after a walk around the neighborhood.

New Bike

The human gets a leisure ride after a walk around the neighborhood.