Thursday, April 3, 2014

Remembering Rhubarb Pie and Bingo

My ears perked up at the familiar thud…thud…thud on the staircase, followed by the slam of the screen door. My brother was fourteen — six years older than I — and we didn’t communicate much, other than to fight and say dreadful things to each other. But I could always count on him to indirectly let me know when it was time to go to our grandmother’s house for lunch. “Tom!” I’d yell, scrambling to tie my sneakers and get through the door before he was out of sight. “Wait for me!”
My grandmother and grandfather lived in our small town “down by the creek,” and even though it was only a couple of blocks, there was a busy street that I was forbidden to cross alone. Tom would allow me to go with him…as long as I stayed at least half the distance to the moon behind in case he ran into one of his buddies along the way. Nothing would be more humiliating to a high school freshman than to be seen walking anywhere with his dumb little sister. It was worth the effort to stay out of his way because at the end of our journey was the promise of a table full of the greatest food in the world.

May Blume Rainbolt and Grover Cleveland Rainbolt planted an “award-winning” garden. Each year they’d grow corn, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, cabbage, fresh mint, and much, much more. But best of all…they grew rhubarb. My grandmother was the best rhubarb pie baker in the county, which was proven by the stash of blue ribbons she kept “inconspicuously” in an old Ball canning jar on the windowsill. Oh pshaw, she’d blush. Those old things? I’m just saving them for quilt scraps. She even made her own piecrust — an art she passed on to me (for which my husband is eternally grateful). Come to think of it, the quality of our grandmother’s rhubarb pie was one of the few things my brother and I ever agreed on when we were kids.
Lunchtime was a real event at her house, especially since my mother worked, which meant I’d usually settle for baloney or tuna sandwiches at home. And besides, Mom insisted I was too young to stay by myself. I wonder what she’d think if she knew my “babysitter brother” threatened, on a regular basis, to hang me by my heels out his second-story bedroom window. I overlooked that since we always managed to arrive in Mamaw May’s kitchen just as she was filling the table with bowls of mashed potatoes swimming in real butter, pinto beans seasoned with country ham, stewed okra, sliced tomatoes — still warm from the garden sun — and cucumbers smothered with onions. Although peas weren’t a favorite of mine back then, I enjoyed the days I watched my grandfather gracefully eat them with a table knife. He’d somehow manage to fill the entire length of the knife with little round peas, then tilt back his head and let them slide into his mouth. I tried this once, to my grandmother’s dismay, and ended up spending the better part of the afternoon picking peas up off the linoleum floor.
More exciting were the August days we’d spend together at the Harrison County Fair playing bingo. Come to think of it, I probably acquired my taste for gambling — without the risk of losing much money — from her. We’d sit for hours under a dusty tent on the Midway, playing two and three cards at a time, and competing for valuable prizes. I suppose it must’ve seemed strange that I preferred playing bingo with my grandmother to riding on the Ferris wheel or the tilt-a-whirl with my friends. I can still remember the excitement of winning a rainbow-striped pitcher and matching iced-tea glasses to proudly present to my mother. After all these years, I’m still not sure whether the tears in her eyes were from joy at the sight of my gift, or from wondering where in the world she was going to store another set of worthless glassware.
My grandmother lived well into her 70’s, but in my family, that’s like being struck down in the prime of life. She should’ve lived at least ten more years, but a freak auto accident was responsible for her early decline in health. My main regret is that, because she died when I was in my teens ― I wasn’t able to truly appreciate and enjoy her company in my adult years.  Still, I learned some valuable lessons. For instance, the best piecrust is made with vinegar. Yes…vinegar. And if we’re persistent, the true bingo professionals, like us, will beat the socks off the amateurs every time.
But the most important thing she taught me, is that sometimes, especially on a steamy, Southern Indiana evening, it’s best just to sit on the front porch and rock gently back and forth in the swing.
Add a slice of warm, rhubarb pie…and it’s perfect.


Mary Cunningham ©2007

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Reading Recommendations, Susan M. Toy

Buried Treasure: The Adventures of Max and Maddie, was recently showcased on Reading Recommendations Blog, created by Susan M. Toy, author, publisher, and overall champion to writers of all genres.

So, I decided to do a little promoting for Susan! Here's a little about Susan and her "many hats."

About Susan Toy:

have been a bookseller, an award-winning publishing sales representative, a literacy teacher, and a promoter of fellow authors and their books through my company, Alberta Books Canada. I am also an author and publisher, under my imprint, IslandCatEditions.

Through Alberta Books Canada, I have represented authors directly, helping them find promotion for themselves and their books, seeking out new readers, and assisting them in making wise career decisions. I champion Alberta authors in particular, singing their praises throughout the province and online to the rest of the world, and I have displayed books for authors and publishers at Alberta library conferences.

I created the writing contest, Coffee Shop Author, have sat on the Board of Directors of the Fernie Writers' Conference, served as a member of the Calgary Distinguished Writers Program steering committee, and was a member of the board of directors for the Writers' Guild of Alberta.

I have made the decision to temporarily suspend operations of Alberta Books Canada in order to concentrate on my own writing and publishing, but my friends know this is just a cunning plan to spend several months at my home in the Caribbean, avoiding yet another Calgary winter ... I promise to return to Calgary in the spring with even more ideas on how to promote and market Alberta books.  Susan M. Toy

Also visit Susan's Blog, Books, Publishing, Reading, Writing.

Island in the Clouds: [Amazon] [Amazon CA]

And, don't forget to check out Buried Treasure on Reading Recommendations!

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Day A Nation and a Teenager Grew Up

November 22, 1963 changed an entire nation.

It also changed my life forever, but for an entirely different reason.

            My first encounter with Doctor Jordan was as a 7-year-old, when my dad decided—much to my mother's dismay—that I should be exposed to the new young doctor in town. "Mary needs a doctor she can count on in the years to come," he explained. "One who will be around to take care of her children."

             Oh, if only he had realized the irony of that statement.
            Flash forward, ten years.

             "Mary, the doctor will see you now." I, somehow, put one foot in front of the other and walked into the examining room to confirm what I already knew.

             Half hour later, I walked through the waiting room door, and barely heard the murmurs roaring like a tidal wave. Words like “Dallas” and “assassination” didn’t sink in since my mind filled with my own personal turmoil. The brisk November air didn't even faze me as I struggled with how to tell Mom and Dad I was going to have a baby in a few months. It seemed only yesterday I’d gotten my driver’s license, and now I was going to be responsible for steering a child through the twists and turns of life.
            Slumped beside my hand-me-down gray Studebaker, I felt overwhelming loneliness as two school buses passed by on the street with loads of chattering, carefree high school students. I could only imagine the serious discussions taking place about what to wear to the basketball game that night, or who did and didn't have a date to the “sock hop” after the game. I flashed ahead six months to the prom I’d been anticipating, and the graduation ceremony that I would probably miss because I’d have to drop out of school since, in the ‘60’s, a girl who became pregnant was not allowed to corrupt her peers by attending day classes. Looking back, I can't remember the same stigma applying to the fathers! All I really knew was that my decisions had forever altered the path my life would take from that moment on. 

             My mother came home early from work. I’m not sure if it was because of the dark events transpiring in Texas, or because intuition pulled her home. For whatever reason, the look of anguish on her face as I blurted out my news, is something I'll never forget.
           "It will be your responsibility to tell your dad when he gets home tonight."
            She might as well have said, "You're the one who has to stick this dagger into your dad's heart."

            Funny, I flashed back, once again, to the day I decided to surprise my mother with a gorgeous bouquet of the neighbor's freshly-bloomed tulips. I had expected a look of sheer joy and appreciation, instead, I got a look of horror at having ruined our sweet, elderly neighbor's prized flower bed. I can't say I ever expected a look of joy at my latest news, but the look of horror…pretty much the same.
            Yes, this was far beyond the time I'd had to admit breaking a neighbor’s window playing baseball three summers earlier. How ironic! My baseball and glove still held a prominent place on the bookshelf in my room, but soon, I would face the future…perhaps playing pitch and catch with a five-year-old.
            Through the afternoon, the steady, wrenching television coverage of President Kennedy’s death, made the wait for my dad easier. Is it any wonder that focusing on a national tragedy, rather than facing the problems and decisions that lay ahead, was welcome relief? My dad was a huge supporter of John F. Kennedy, and I knew he would be devastated by his death, so for me to add to his pain on this day was unbearable.
           The lights flashed from left to right through the front windows signaling my dad pulling into the driveway; home from his hour commute. I let him get seated in his comfortably broken-in chair before I spoke, like that would make the news a bit easier to bear. Perhaps thinking better of her stern admonishment from earlier, Mom took me off the hook and quietly told him he was going to be a grandfather. Without saying a word, Dad crossed the room, patted me on the shoulder and kissed my forehead. He wasn’t ordinarily demonstrative, so I knew this rare show of emotion was truly loving and supportive. A tear slip from my cheek as I choked, “I’m sorry, Dad.”

             The next three days were a nightmare. Our president was dead, his alleged assassin was gunned down on live TV, and I would soon be a seventeen-year-old mother. I hardly knew which event to focus on at any given time!

            On the Monday of the President’s funeral, my emotions fluctuated wildly from overwhelming sadness and confusion, to total wonderment and respect for Jacqueline Kennedy who planned this stately funeral, and  conducted herself with amazing class and decorum. I, along with the rest of the country, cried when John Jr. gave his innocent, but timely salute. Could I learn from her strength and ability to pull an entire grieving country together?

             At that sad, confusing moment, it seemed unlikely.

             To my surprise, the sun came up the next morning, and reality hit me square in the face. It was time to confront the issues I’d allowed myself to avoid because of the assassination.  What was to happen to me and to the baby that would soon be a major part my life? In those days, even considering raising a child by myself would have been absurd. The decision that marriage was the only way out of this shameful situation, was made by our parents.
            A week later, the wedding took place in my church, with my kindly minister officiating. My brother and sister-in-law stood up with us as our parents and grandparents looked on with sad resignation. There were no flowers or elegantly dressed bridesmaids to brighten the occasion. There was no photographer to capture a joyful and positive beginning to a story-book marriage I’d anticipated from the time I was ten years old. I promised myself, however, to make the best of it.
            John Allen was born a few months later with eyes wide-open, ready to take on the world. Being two months premature, he wasn’t expected to be big enough to live, but fooled everyone, including his doctor, by weighing in over five pounds.  His father, John, always assumed that his son had been named for him, but little did he know, I wanted my precious son named John after the little boy I’d watched salute his father during that emotionally charged weekend in November. A good solid name to carry throughout his life would also have special meaning to me.
            It's been a half-century since that tumultuous weekend in 1963. I look back on those five decades with both sorrow and gratification. I was divorced the year after my son graduated from high school, and have now been married to my “soul mate” going on 30 years. My son and I have had our share of challenges, but one thing stayed constant throughout; the love for that new little life that changed my life forever.



Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Bears of Blue River, by Charles Major

(Killing) The Bears of Blue River

Imo, that should be the title.

The summer before my brother entered 5th grade, he trotted to the library, just two short, small-town blocks from our home. His purpose? To check out a book he desperately wanted to read, Charles Major's classic about the adventures of a young boy, Balser, growing up in Southern Indiana.

The Blue River was a huge part of our childhood days. Before the public swimming pool, or the local country club, we spent many weekends, camping on the banks, and swimming in the ol' swimming hole above the dam in the picturesque little river a few miles south of our Corydon, Indiana hometown. I'm sure that's why Tom was so eager to read the book.

Georgia Stockslager Fisher had been head Harrison County librarian since 1911. It would've been around 1951 when my older brother strode, confidently, through the doors, and up to the huge wooden desk to check out the book he'd heard his friends talk about. The great adventure story set, almost, in our own backyard!

Ah, but, not so fast, young man!

Miss Georgie refused to let him check it out. Said it was 5th grade reading level, and since he wouldn't be in 5th grade for another three months, he'd have to come back then. Tom flushed, bright red, turned and walked out of the library, never to return. My mother was incensed! She stormed in to the library and confronted the imposing figure sitting on her all-empowering library throne. To no avail. I don't believe my mother or brother entered those doors again until Miss Georgie retired, or died, or both, and my brother stopped reading, except for mandatory homework selections.

I've held that story in my memory for well over a half century. Always curious to read the book that caused so much controversy. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure my mother would've let me read it. No matter. My elementary school days were spent devouring sports biographies (Aaron to Zaharias), not history.

So, it's 2013, my mother has long passed. So, regrettably, has my brother. But, curiosity got the best of me and I downloaded the Kindle version of The Bears of Blue River.

The story starts innocently enough. Young Balser Brent and his family moved from North Carolina to the banks of the Blue River when he was five or six and his father received eighty acres, at the huge sum of one dollar an acre, in a deed from President James Monroe, no less.

At the time of the story, Balser is thirteen or fourteen, with a nine-year-old brother and a one-year-old sister. During a trip to the "drift" to catch a mass of fish (yes, the book says, mass, although I wonder if it's one of many misprints in the Kindle version), the trouble begins with Balser's first bear encounter. Bam! One bear down, a couple dozen to go, I reckon.

Before you think I'm a squeamish, gun-hating, Peta-lover, I do understand, especially in the 1800s, that killing was a necessary way of life, for food, clothing, and protection. In most cases, Balser and his friends did just that. From the legendary fire bear, who blazed up when he was angry, to deer, wolves, fox, and beaver, no animal was sacred, or without purpose.

I was, however troubled when a male wolf, looking after two cubs was killed, and then the mother was, subsequently lured out of the den, and shot, too. The only reason given for killing the pair was the boys wanted the cubs as pets. During another gruesome scene, one of Balsers friends is burned alive, along with the fire bear mentioned above. The final killing scenes includes a fawn and its mother. The fawn is shot in order to lure the mother to its side. Bam! Another one bites the dust. The coup de grĂ¢ce, an especially brutal fox-trapping scene, which I won't describe, ends the book on a sickening note, at least for this reader.

So, back to Miss Georgie. I have no doubt her authoritarian manner instigated my brother's reading reluctance, at least for a few years. I wonder, however, how his townie, wouldn't kill a bug, psyche would've been affected by Balser and his, kill anything that moves, mentality.

Guess I'll never know. While I don't agree with the reasoning, or the method, the librarian may have had a point.

I appreciate the historical nature of the book, and the vivid pictures the author paints of early Southern Indiana history, but am disturbed by the fact that killing is portrayed as easy, frequent, and with no regrets. Not my kinda book, nor, I suspect, my brother's.

Thankfully, my mother continued to let me check out books, even under the watchful eye of Miss Georgie, but only when my beloved aunt, Gertrude, became head librarian, did my mother go back through those massive doors.

I'd recommend The Bears of Blue River, for sixth grade and beyond, and only then if the reader is comfortable with killing, and the raw brutality of living in the wilds of a Southern Indiana woods.

For a more innocent slice of Southern Indiana life, read, Cynthia's Attic!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Cheryl Malandrinos does the Blog Hop!

Cheryl Malandrinos is not only an author, she keeps extremely busy posting interviews and reviews at The Book Connection and The Children's and Teens Book Connection where she has generously reviewed my previous series, Cynthia's Attic.

Welcome to Cynthia's Attic, Cheryl!

1. What are you working on right now?

I’m participating in 12×12. Authors write one picture book each month for a year. So far I’m five for five. Having compiled a set of 30 ideas last November as part of Picture Book Idea Month certainly helped.

2. How does it differ from other works in its genre?

It’s not so much that my projects differ from other books in their genre, as committing to writing on a regular basis has made me more comfortable writing diverse stories. My first two books, plus the next one that is currently under contract, are message-driven fiction. They are meant to educate and entertain. The last two books I’ve written for 12×12 have been stories solely meant to entertain. One is Cinderella’s story as told from the point of view of one of her stepsisters. The other is about a turkey who keeps making new costumes to disguise himself from Farmer Jones so he doesn’t end up on the Thanksgiving Day table.

3. What experiences have influenced you?

Reading is a huge influence for any writer. My children and my faith also inspire my writing. Cheryl Malandrions Guest on RRRadio-RFK: Stories for Children –January 3rd.

4. Why do you write what you do?

I’ve been a Sunday school teacher for over 20 years. My message-driven fiction comes from that background. I’m always looking for new ways to teach familiar lessons. I also like to make people laugh. With my most recent projects, I feel I can do that.

5. How does your writing process work?

Since I am writing shorter pieces of fiction right now, there isn’t a ton of research and I don’t outline. I’ve had a few months to consider the ideas I committed to working on for 12×12, so the starting point is usually easy. It’s hard to control my desire to describe everything, but with picture books the reader has a visual aid, so you don’t have to paint as much of the picture for a reader as you do in middle grade or young adult fiction. If I’m having a busy month, I will write longhand while sitting at softball practice or the girls’ dance lessons. Most times, though, I sit down and type away. Most picture books take me three full days of writing to develop. That’s not to say it’s easy. Before I sit down to write I’m fairly certain of where I am going with a project. That means writing less often than I would like, but I need to be comfortable that I know enough to prevent me from staring at a blank screen for hours. I am also a firm believer in the practice of write now, edit later. Once I type “The End,” I can take my time pondering what works and what doesn’t before sending it off to my critique group for feedback.

6. What is the hardest part about writing?

For me it is definitely the waiting. Right now, I have no less than nine picture books completed. One is with my publisher awaiting an illustrator to be assigned to it. Another is with a local artist who I’m working with because we might self-publish. Two are ready for me to write query letters so I can submit them to publishers. The others are in various stages of editing. Sometimes it’s tough waiting to hear back on queries or holding out to see the cover art the illustrator designs. But it’s part of the process. You can’t experience the successes without the wait.

7. What would you like to try as a writer that you haven’t yet?

I would love to write an inspirational romance or a cozy mystery. I’ve been a mystery lover since I was kid. My largest problem is creating villains. They never come easy to me.

8. Who are the authors you most admire?

Laura Ingalls Wilder and Lucy Maud Montgomery were superb writers. Before I began reviewing so many books on my blogs I read the Little House and Anne of Green Gables series annually. These authors both had a keen eye for detail that should be studied. Christian authors Jerry Jenkins and Kathi Macias have wonderful ministries. I try not to miss any of their books. Southern fiction authors Karen White and Rhett DeVane are excellent at blending past and present and uncovering family secrets. What surprised me is how much I enjoyed The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. Dystopian fiction has never been my thing, but Collins helped me develop a taste for it. I also love historical fiction from C.W. Gortner. I’m staring at one of his recent books now and it’s crying, “Read me.” If you love historical fiction with strong female characters, you have to pick up one of Gortner’s books.
9. What scares you?

My list of phobias would scare you. :) From a writing point of view, I’m afraid of making bad choices. When my second book came out, I decided to write it under a pen name. That’s not proving to be the wisest choice. I can handle two websites and multiple social media accounts–though they take a lot of time and are an extra expense–but if I had truly thought about my work as a whole, I would have realized releasing my second book under my actual name would have been just fine, even if it wasn’t a faith-based project. Please check out Mary’s answers to the questions on her blog at Cynthia’s Attic Blog.

Cheryl Malandrinos is a freelance writer, children’s author and editor. Her first children’s book, Little Shepherd, was released in August 2010 by Guardian Angel Publishing. She is a member of the SCBWI, a book reviewer, and blogger. Cheryl also writes under the name of C. C. Gevry. Ms. Malandrinos lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband and two children. She also has a son who is married.

Visit her online at: Website