Category Archives: Nostalgia

My Journey of Re-evaluation

It's really strange how things, good and bad, always seem to happen for a reason. I've also noticed time and time again that God, Fate, Gaia, the Cosmos, or sheer, dumb coincidence, depending on your belief system, tends to remind us some things need to be addressed or taken care of at different times in our life.

If you're reading this post, then there's a 99% chance you already know I'm a writer and have been writing to some degree since I was in junior high school. I don't profess to be a great writer or a gifted writer, just a writer.

But there are a lot of writers out there and there are various levels to being a writer, not only levels of talent but also levels of willingness. These include a willingness to write about things which make us uncomfortable, a willingness to try and write a short story (because those are hard),  or the willingness to devote enough AIC (Ass in Chair) time to finish writing a book and then the willingness to either seek a publisher or spend extra time and effort self-publishing, which comes with its own challenges and rewards.

In another post I'll discuss a trip I took to Natchitoches on June 6, and finding a patch of low bush huckleberries with my Uncle Mike in Kisatchie National Forest. For those of you who read my book, The Bottle Tree, you'll remember huckleberries played a part in the story.

Not long after, I was writing at my desk when my Jack Russell Terrier 'Sup began barking and having a fit on my desk, his usual resting place when my wife isn't home. I looked out the window to see a raccoon in the front yard, calmly eating something she was picking from the ground. While I live in a small East Texas town, I do live in the city limits and  this is the first raccoon I have ever seen in the area but she has apparently taken up residence here now. Again, raccoons and 'coon hunting play a part in The Bottle Tree.

Other things kept happening to remind me of my book, the first one I published although not the first one I'd written but those are enough examples for me to share and, as I said, sometimes things happen to get our attention for a reason.  

On June 17, 2015, 21 year old Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, sat through a church service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and then, after discussing Scriptures,  pulled a Glock .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol from a fanny pack and shot ten African American members of the congregation, nine of whom died. While shooting them he is reported to have shouted racial epithets and said, "Y'all want something to pray about? I'll give you something to pray about." He also reloaded his pistol five times. The victims ranged in age from 26 to 87.

The book description of The Bottle Tree on Amazon and other sites is:

Deep within the piney forests of central Louisiana, three children learn that life amid the turpentine and lumber camps they call home is not what defines who they are, or who they will become as adults. In the early 1900s, Louisiana’s forests were home to hard working men who made turpentine from the piney lumber by day, and then went home to the clapboard houses in company camps set up around the sawmills. If they were lucky, they had families waiting for them when they got there. The Bottle Tree is a gripping account of life in a turpentine camp for 3 resilient families and their children, who must face this harsh environment in order to survive. Leesie, Johnny, and Caleb endure many of the same hardships as their parents, but once their bond is forged, the trio takes a stand against one of the camp’s most common problems: the struggle with racism. While the segregated camp feeds adult insecurities, Leesie and Caleb befriend Johnny and begin teaching each other that racial divides are fabricated by ignorance and fear; 2 qualities each child refuses to possess. The Bottle Tree will make you laugh and cry and leave you entertained.

At its core The Bottle Tree is about racism and hate for no reason other than the color of a person's skin.

Many of you know that the Johnny Robinson in the story  was named after a friend of mine I went to school with in Provencal, Louisiana. Although he was the first black person I knew, I never really thought of his or his family's skin color. He was always just a nice kid that I wish I'd kept in touch with when I'd moved away. I still saw him when I'd come back to the school to visit, just as I'd see the other people I'd known, but anytime I saw racial issues pop up wherever I was my mind would always snap back to Johnny and how race had never really been an issue in that small, Louisiana school way out in the country.

As I mentioned in the prior post, I had always been "proud of my southern heritage" based on oral family traditions and was surprised to learn from my research that my family had actually owned slaves. Not only slaves but teenaged slaves.

Once I learned that, all the crap about Southern Heritage goes out the window. While my forefathers may have believed in state's rights, etc., the simple fact is that if they owned a slave, even one, at the time of the Civil War then the presumption must be that they were fighting to preserve the right to own that human being and, I'm sorry, say what you will but only an uneducated fool can call that something of which to be proud.

Not only that, but the simple fact is that many of the black (or African American, whichever term you prefer) families that live in the rural south are direct descendants of the slaves who were freed in that area.

For me, what that means is the kids I went to school with, Johnny and others, could very well have been descended from or relatives of the very people my ancestors once owned.

I'm all for learning about your ancestors. Studying history, good or bad, is important because as philosopher George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it".

I'm not getting into a discussion of the Confederate Flag here, this isn't a political website, although I'll be glad to discuss my views one on one if anyone wants to talk to me about it but what I will say is that between 1900 and the segregation years of 1950s-1960s the flag wasn't being used or flown anywhere on a regular basis and the talk of it representing "Southern Heritage" simply didn't exist in any resources I've been able to find other than those dedicated to the history of the confederacy.

As I said at the beginning, this is my journey of re-evaluation, so make of it what you will and choose to stand pat on your own views or re-examine them as your conscience sees fit. It's not my duty to judge you.

It is, however, the duty of history and future generations to judge us.

Funny How Your Philosophy of Life Changes (and Some Music Videos)

So much of my high school life seems to bring back memories of music. Like I mentioned in an earlier post (also with a music video) the song Brandy by Looking Glass always brings back memories of summer and the vision of a deep tan, the smell of coconut oil and a strawberry scented shampoo one young lady used that was kind enough to let me snuggle up against her and sniff her hair (and we'll stop that thread right there).

I remember Neil Young and Crazy Horse released the album Live Rust and one of the songs, Hey Hey, My My, got a lot of airplay. I loved the one line from it, "It's better to burn out, than it is to rust" and for a long time that seemed to be my philosophy of life, despite at least one person telling me that as far as a credo went, they didn't think much of it (and if you're reading this you know who you are).

As an older man now, and one who has a great deal of rust developing from the early years, I find that my philosophy has changed quite a bit.

I bought a Warren Zevon MP3 album (Life'll Kill You) not too long ago, one I had when I was a long time ago, and was amazed to find a song on it that I didn't remember and that seemed more fitting now that the rust has set in. It brings to mind not so much a rebellious young life but rather one that has resulted in a lot of experiences and wrecks (in a lot of ways) and facing getting old and things not working the same as they used to. I'm putting the YouTube video below but it is NSFW as far as sound so if you're listening to it around a bunch of prudes, turn it down or slip in the earbuds.

 

Junebug and the Body – Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars Felt Like a Kid Again July 16, 2012
By Evergreen
If you like books that can take you back to a simpler place and time, read this one.
Sweet and endearing, this book is very enjoyable, with well drawn characters and a few twists and turns. I read this on the beach in Michigan, but as I flipped the Kindle pages I was easily taken south, to a small Texas town of the 70's. It brought back many great childhood memories of my own. Don't be afraid to upload this to your Kindle, and enjoy.

5.0 out of 5 stars Best Whodunnit Read For Summer …(or anytime, really) July 23, 2011
By bookfan
I just read this little gem of a whodunnit and was completely enthralled. First off, kudos to the author on character development. It's the first thing that carries you in to the story because the 2 boys are so genuine that they engage you right away. This can't be easy for an adult author to pull off, but he does it in expert fashion. The use of childhood -or rather, boyhood humor, comes at unexpected yet welcomed times and had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion. You might be disappointed if you're looking for a gruesome read, because this one's "G-rated."
Second, the plot is masterfully crafted with twists and turns that come at the pace you'd expect from a murder-mystery. Plus, the twist at the end will surely come as a surprise to even a serial whodunnit reader. I have to add that for anyone who is fond of southern culture and idioms, this story will quench your thirst in a big way. I can't remember the last book I read that had this kind of authentic grasp on southern mannerisms, and being a born and bred northerner, I literally crave southern characters. I'm definitely adding this author's name to my search list.

5.0 out of 5 stars Will be rereading this one. June 20, 2013
By Donna B. Smith
Eagerly awaiting sequels. Chilling story line with unique characters. I certainly felt connected to events as they unfolded and felt the horror that Junebug and friend must have felt. Chillbumps!

Recipes From The Bottle Tree – Fried Apple Pies

One of the finest things I have ever eaten is a Fried Apple Pie. These aren't the kind you buy in the convenience store, overly sweet, with a crumbly crust and covered in a glaze. Instead, these are made with real fruit, usually dried, and the taste of the fruit bursts in your mouth as opposed to the store bought kind that are cloying.

This recipe, slightly modernized as lard is not used, would be the same one used by Johnny Robinson's grandmother and the ones which Ukiah loved so much in the book,  The Bottle Tree  .

It is extremely hard to find anyone that still makes these but they are well worth the trouble!

The ones I like the best used reconstituted dried fruit, since that is the old fashioned way, but today it is cheaper and easier to use fresh fruit. Likewise, the old fashioned recipe used lard instead of butter and incidentally, lard gives you a flakier crust than anything else.

The best recipe I found was the one from the Foxfire books, but unfortunately I've loaned those to someone and don't have access right now. However, this is another recipe that is extremely close to the old fashioned one and almost impossible to tell any difference:

The Filling:

  • 3 medium apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced, or 8 ounces dried apples
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water (1 cup if using dried apples)
  • 3/4 cup oil for frying
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar

The Pie Crust:

  • 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon of fine salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 egg, beaten

1. To make the filling with fresh apples, combine apple slices, sugar, and 2 tablespoons of water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are tender, about 20 minutes. To make the filling with dried apples, combine the dried apples, sugar, and 1 cup water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer until the apples are soft and syrupy, about 30 minutes.

2. On a floured surface, roll out half the pie dough out until you have a rectangle about 1/8-inch thick. Use a 4-inch round cutter to cut out as many circles as you can.

3. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling in the middle of each circle. Fold dough over to form a half-moon. Using the tines of a fork, press down on the edges to seal them. Repeat with the remaining dough.

4. Heat the oil in a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet over high heat until very hot. Working in batches, fry the pies, turning them once, until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Serve the pies warm or cool. The best ones I have ever eaten were snuck from a plate covered with a "dish towel" from my great grandmother's pie safe.

Yield: Makes 20 to 24 pies.

 

 

The Things We Remember

It's interesting how certain small things burn into our memory when we are kids, only to come back to the front when we are adults. Even more interesting to people who aren't writers is how often these things make it into our books.

As an example, one of my fondest memories of summers as a child was going to Louisiana and staying with my grandparents at their home a few miles outside of  Natchitoches, La. Many of the settings for my stories and books are based on that area. I may say it is Texas or somewhere else, but when I am writing it and picturing it in my mind, it is always there that i picture.

I have always been a voracious reader and visited the library at least once or twice a week there during the summer, joining the reading contest and always leaving with an armload of books after every visit. I can still remember sitting in the air conditioned library in a soft leather chair with the smell of old books surrounding me and looking out the back wall, which was made of glass, and out over Cane River which stood at the bottom of the hill behind the library. Often I would leave the library and wander a few blocks down Front Street, struggling with the stack of books, until I got to St. Denis Street, turning there and going to the P & C Rexall Drugstore. 

The P & C was one of those great stores that not only carried comic books, make up, assorted medical supplies and prescriptions, but also had a counter where they served sodas, sandwiches, and ice cream. To any of those reading this who visited the P & C they will remember that the ice cream scooper was square, and I can still taste the delicious chocolate ice cream cone I would eat while sitting there on a revolving bar stool at the counter, struggling to read a book without dripping the melting ice cream and waiting for my grandparents to pick me up after they had finished their shopping elsewhere in town.

The P & C isn't there anymore, stores like Wal Mart and K & B Drugs having put it out of business, and the library has moved somewhere less scenic and that I'm sure doesn't smell as musty but they will both live in my memory just as the settings still live in my book, Junebug and The Body.

 

Harry Potter and Nostalgia

I love reading and that love is probably one of the reasons I love writing.

When I was a kid I used to go down to my grandparent's house in Natchitoches, La. and spend every summer there. My grandparents lived outside of town a few miles and once a week or so my grandmother would go into town to buy groceries or shop. She never learned to drive and so it was usually a family trip involving assorted aunts or uncles and was an eagerly awaited affair.

I wasn't much on the shopping so they would drop me off at the library where I would bury myself in the books while sitting on a comfortable chair looking through the wall of glass onto Cane River. To this day, the smell of old books is still one of my favorite things (that and the feel of the book are the only things that make me prefer physical books over my Kindle). After picking out my stack of books I would go to the P & C Rexall Drugstore and get a chocolate ice cream cone (they used a ice cream scoop that made them square) and wait to be picked up, often spending part of the time reading comic books from the stand at the store.

These experience made it into my book, Junebug and the Body, and as I read it over and over doing edits it never failed to bring back those memories. I get the same feelings when I read one of the books that were available at the library. The Henry Reed series, Beverly Cleary's books about Henry Huggins, and, as I grew older, the S.E. Hinton books are sure to trigger memories.

I wonder if the kids raised on Harry Potter will experience the same sense of nostalgia? It is probably more common nowadays for parents to buy books for their children than it is for the kids to go to the library. I can remember every summer there was a reading contest at the public library with a party at the end. The winners, which usually included me (just like Junebug), were presented ribbons.

Harry Potter was the biggest thing to hit the world of children's books EVER but  I'm curious to see if that has long term effects on the industry or if children will gradually slide back into the world of video games and television with no time for the heroes of the printed word.

I hope not, because "leaders are readers" and the world is sorely lacking in independent minded imagination right now and we need a generation of people willing to "go on walkabout" and not just be lemmings.

A NOTE TO eBOOK AUTHORS:

When publishing on the Kindle I make it a point to  check the box to allow lending and I'd urge you to do the same. As writers we have at least a little duty to try and encourage people to read and some just don't have much extra money now. A plus is that by allowing at least some of your books to be loanedt you can pick up fans.