Well, it all started one night when I was bored with every story/novel/poem I’d been working on over the past several months. I wasn’t suffering from that somewhat vague malady known as “writer’s block.” No – I was just bored. I couldn’t seem to make myself work on any one piece that was currently under construction, yet I didn’t want to give up and walk away from the keyboard in a funk. Now, I did walk away from the keyboard, but it was mainly for the purpose of walking around in order to think better.
Suddenly, it hit me! “Sandra,” I said to myself out loud, “you are constantly telling your students that if they find themselves struggling to write on a current project, then that’s an excellent time to pull out one of those writing exercises and throw themselves into it with abandon. So practice what you preach, girl. Just clear your head of everything you’ve been struggling with, sit down at the keyboard, and write down the first two words that pop into your mind. After that you know the rules keep writing until you feel like you’re done.”
Now, this particular exercise is one that I enjoy using in my creative writing classes because I am always amazed at what my students come up with in the end. Of course, there are a few students who hold themselves back and don’t give their imagination totally free rein, but most of them throw themselves into the exercise whole-heartedly to get all the fun out of it that they can. I’ve made myself do such exercises a number of times and have had some really good results and some not so good, but each time, I at least felt refreshed after having done the work-out. And, in all honesty, a work-out is exactly what we’re talking about. These kinds of exercises do the same for a writer’s mind, imagination, and creativity as a physical work-out does for his body. And I keep reminding my students that sometimes the simplest, “silliest” writing exercise can end up netting them one of the best books they will ever write.
So I did it! Now, I do keep lists of words, phrases, and short sentences that I can go to and use as prompts for such exercises, but that particular night, I felt that if I took time to hunt for one of my lists (and at my house, I have to hunt for anything that hasn’t been used in the last three days), I might give up before I got started. So, trying to keep my mind in neutral, I sat down, and instantly grabbed the first two words that popped up when my bottom hit the seat. And – wouldn’t you know – the first two words that popped into my mind came at me out of nowhere: “peanut shells.”
Don’t anyone ask me why. I haven’t a clue. I hadn’t been eating peanuts, nor had I been craving them. In fact, I would have said they were the farthest thing from my mind. But, all of a sudden, out of the clear blue, here I was – faced with those two stupid words to write about. Well, I’m not a wimp, and I hate to accept defeat without even fighting, so I opened a new document, sat up straighter in my chair, took a deep breath, and wrote – literally not pausing to think about what I was writing – but just tapping out one word after another as it rushed out.
Within ten minutes, I realized that I had the kernel of a whole story, but it wasn’t until I had written for about 30 minutes that I realized I had the makings of a complete novel in front of me. The story unfolded, one part after another, in my mind, and by the time I’d finished typing the first chapter, I was captivated with it.
To be honest, I felt slightly guilty for putting aside all the other things I had been working on, but that guilt didn’t last long. I tell my students that they need to go with the flow of their own creativity. No matter how many pieces they are working to complete, if, suddenly, something new rises up out of their soul, and it is truly alive and growing, then they need to give themselves to it and see where it takes them.
Now, that is not to say that I don’t teach them discipline as well. There are times when we do have to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and just make ourselves complete a task we’ve started. However, we have to recognize, as well, that every single thing we begin to write may not be a piece that has enough life in it to keep growing and come to maturity. There’s also a time and place to say, “This piece is not what I thought it was, and I don’t want to devote any more of my time and creativity to trying to make it into something it can’t become.”
However, in my case, I knew I would return to all the projects that I had set aside. They were stories that I believed in and actually wanted to finish – but not right then – because this new story – the “Peanut Shell” story, had captured my heart, and I wasn’t about to throw away such a jewel or let it lie on the shelf to collect dust.
For several weeks, I wrote on the story, using the working title “Peanut Shells.” I knew, of course, that the final title would be something different, and before too long, I knew exactly what it would be. I won’t give away the reason for choosing that title, because I want the readers to discover it for themselves as they move through the story. But, needless to say, it has something to do with God’s Word and His promises. Yes, A Quiver Full of Arrows is another of my inspirational novels that lets us see God at work in our every-day lives, caring about all the little things that matter to us, and giving us help and deliverance through the power of His Word when we need it.
I tell my students that when they give themselves to a writing exercise such as the one I’ve described and make themselves keep writing without stopping to plan or make decisions – and without stopping to make corrections – they are allowing things from deep inside of them to come to the surface and come out in what they write. When they abandon themselves, with no restraints and no rules except to keep writing, ideas and images pop up inside and come rushing out while no one is standing guard with the normal rules of “good writing.”
Because I pray regularly for the Lord to give me the stories He wants me to write – and to help me create the works that will fulfill His will and His desire to help people – and that will give Him glory – I believe that when I end up with a story like A Quiver Full Of Arrows, I have the Lord Himself to thank for it. I may have been engaging in a writing exercise, but as I freed myself from all the self-imposed restraints of “good writing,” I allowed His Spirit to pour through me all the ideas that He wanted to include in that story.
So, there you have it, dear readers. That’s exactly how it happened. I can’t take credit for a whole lot of it. Of course, in the weeks that followed day one, I did have to start thinking and planning and checking on facts — especially for a couple of events that needed to take place. And, once the story was finished, I had to do the normal pruning and polishing. But none of that activity would have been possible if I had not sat down and played around with that simple exercise. I started with peanuts; somewhere before the end of chapter two, I had a quiver; and by the time I got to the words “The End,” my quiver was full of arrows.
I do hope my readers enjoy the book. Personally, I think it’s one of the best novels I’ve ever written. And it’s the kind of book that almost anyone will enjoy – unless your appetite is for horror or moral degeneration. But I have to warn you: as you read it, you just might find yourself getting hungry for some peanuts, so better stock up when you buy the book.
St. Ellen Press has just recently published it in digital format as well, and you can find it at the Kindle Store on Amazon for only $2.99. If you purchase a copy and read it, please go on the site and write a brief review for me. Buy one for a friend as well. And don’t forget to get your friend a bag of peanuts.
P. S. By the way, if you do not have an e-reader, but would like to read digital books, you can download a free app from Amazon that will let you read any and all e-books on your own personal computer.
Why is it that it’s always on days when I have a thousand other things I’m supposed to be doing that the Friday Fictioneers picture grabs my imagination and won’t let go? I really don’t mind, except for the fact that I feel to doggone GUILTY the whole time I’m writing the story because I know I’m supposed to be using the time for something else. Aaahhhhh, I just had another thought: Perhaps that aspect of it adds to my creativity …….
THE LIFE YOU SAVE MAY BE YOUR OWN
The image of that chandelier hanging from the scroll-work ceiling is emblazoned on my mind for life. My enchantment with the artistry of that ceiling was almost my downfall. I still don’t know what sound made me look to the right in time to see Sheila leaning over the top-floor banister, aiming her rifle at me. I choked on my questions — and my scream. But the railing broke away a mere second before she fired, so the bullet missed me.
When I’d filed through that railing, re-painting it, I’d hoped it would do the job when Sheila leaned on it as she loved to do. But I’d had no idea how much my own life depended on my success.
1. What’s your favorite charitable cause and why?
Well, to begin with, I am extremely wary of charitable organizations in general. I’ve learned that in a majority of cases — no matter how altruistic the original motives were for founding the organization — once a group of human beings begin to control it and experience the power and the monetary benefits of that control, the organization becomes something less that what it was intended to be. There are a very few organizations that are considered “charitable” that I do support, however, and I’ve listed two.
The Salvation Army — because they genuinely care more about the needs of hurting people, both physically and spiritually, than they do about their own comfort, their own power, and their own financial advancement. I find that so many charitable organizations have an agenda that includes careful planning for the folks in charge to line their own pockets and advance their own careers, with only a partial amount of attention and money going to actually meeting the needs of those whom they claim to be representing. The Salvation Army’s only agenda is to lift up hurting people, feed them, clothe them, give them a safe haven, and restore them to the solid, healthy, productive person God intended them to be.
Another cause that I readily support is the work of children’s orphanages and children’s homes that are honest, above-board, and totally open to public scrutiny, making it undeniably clear that they devote the vast majority of time, effort, and money to the children themselves and their betterment, rather than to lining the pockets of the ‘administrators’ of said programs.
I probably sound cynical as I give my reasons, but I have had good reason to question the motives and the outcome of so many organizations who try to make their work sound good to the general public, but at the level where the rubber meets the road — in the everyday lives of the people who are supposed to be helped — there’s a different story to be told.
Question # 2: What color do you feel most comfortable wearing?
I seem to look best in blue, brown, pink, yellow, and red — and sometimes green. Well, dang, I look good in anything! So I guess I don’t have a “most comfortable” color.
Question # 3: If you had your own talk show, who would your first three guests be? (guest can be dead, alive, famous or someone you just know)
1. Chuck Norris: He’s one of the most straightforwardly honest American’s that I know — and a straightforwardly, honest Christian as well. He has great wisdom and intelligence, as well as creative ideas for helping other Americans — especially youth — to recognize and appreciate — and protect — our heritage. I would like to sit with him in an interview and let him expound on those subjects for a couple of hours and let the world benefit from his wisdom.
2. Author Harper Lee the way she was in the 1980’s. I would like to have the opportunity to sit and talk with her when she was in good health, both physically and mentally. Since there is great speculation right now — and investigation— concerning whether or not she is even mentally healthy enough to permit the publication of the newly discovered book, I wouldn’t want to subject her to an interview in such a questionable state. However, could I interview her as she was in the 80’s — when she was refusing to be interviewed and refusing to allow anyone to know about her personal life or to know whether or not she had written anything else that was special to her — I would treasure the opportunity.
Because I do not believe that any writer capable of such a wonderful work does not write a lot of other stories as well. We know there was one other book To Set A Watchman — written prior to To Kill A Mockingbird and told from the perspective of Scout as an adult — then laid aside in order to write basically the same story from the point of view of Scout as a child. But there must have been other books — or at least other stories. I’d like to know about them and about the true reasons for keeping them hidden.
3. Author Margaret Mitchell. I guess I’m just into authors today, but I have always felt a great sadness that Margaret Mitchell died before she could give us her own sequel to Gone With the Wind. I’m certain that her own sequel would not have been anything at all like the attempt made with the book titled “Scarlette” several years ago.
Gone With the Wind is such an ‘American’ novel, and it says so much of importance while, at the same time, entertaining us. (In much the same way as Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird does). And I suppose I have always been so deeply saddened by the thought that a great creative mind didn’t have the opportunities to share all the wonderful works that were resident within it before it was snuffed out. I’d like the opportunity to bring it back to life and give it another chance to give something to us, the ever-hungry-for-more reading audience.
Question # 4: List: What are at least five places you’ve enjoyed visiting?
Well, you all know what’s going to be at the top of my list, so here goes:
1. The Great Smoky Mountains
2. Sanibel Island in the Gulf of Mexico
3. New England
4. Charleston, South Carolina
5. New Harmony, Indiana
Bonus question: What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?
I’m grateful for the opportunity to spend time with my step-mother, who is home from having spent the past year in Colorado Springs to attend a Bible College. She will be going back for another year, but we will get to spend a good deal of time together this summer.
This week, I’m looking forward to being involved in a minsters’ conference at my home church. Generally, there are ministers from various places around the world as well as several different states. It’s always a blessed time of worship, prayer, and fellowship around tables piled high with great food.
Off Season Huh? Well, that’s all the excuse I need to post Christmas pictures!!!
I’m still working on narrowing down the list of short stories for the anthology that’s coming out later this summer. It’s called Stories That Leave You Thinking, and I posted re-runs of several of my stories a couple weeks ago in case you readers could give me some feedback about any of them that you liked or didn’t like. Here’s six more — totally different from what I posted last time. If you read any of these that you especially like or especially don’t like, let me know. It may help me with my final decision. I’m not choosing from all my stories. The ones for this book have to be stories that deal with a thought-provoking subject or that end in such a way that the reader is left to decide exactly what happened — or what is going to happen soon.
Story # 1: LOVE POTION ALA CABBAGE
Two old cronies sat on a bench at the edge of a small city park, their 78-year-old bones soaking up the sunshine.
“Ahhh, just smell that!” Harry said, taking in a deep breath, rapture shining from his face.
“What?” asked George.
“Love is in the air,” Harry replied, breathing deeply once more and smiling. “Mm-mm; Yes sir – love is in the air.”
“You’re daff, Harry. That’s just the cabbage cookin’ in the diner across the street. Wind’s from the south today.”
“Oh, come on, George, don’t be so mundane. Give yourself over to your senses, man.”
“Senses? Why, Harry, you ain’t got the good sense God gave a duck.”
Looking offended, “Why would you say that?”
“Well, look at you. 78 and a half, if you’re a day, and you’re sittin’ here on this comfortable bench with not a care in the world, but you’re talkin’ about love like it was somethin’ glorious and somethin’ you want.”
“Well, it is somethin’ I want.”
“No it ain’t. You done had it – four wives — and all it did was cost you lots of money – first for getting’ married, then for buyin’ houses, then for buyin’ your wives everything they wanted, then for the divorces, and now – every month – for the alimony – four alimonies.”
“But it’s Spring, Harry! Don’t that make you feel alive and ready to take a chance on love again?”
“No, it don’t! I’ve had it with love. It’s three square meals a day, a nice warm bench to rest on, and a trustworthy buddy or two that makes life worth livin’. Those things are better than what you call love any day.”
“Well, I do remember hearin’ a quote by somebody once that said havin’ all your own teeth and a good solid bank account beat marriage for makin’ a body happy.”
Nodding his head, George answered. “There you go. Now you’re talkin’ sense. And since we both have our own teeth still yet, and money in our pockets, what say we go across the street for a big helping of Archie’s corned beef and cabbage? It’s smellin’ so good right now my stomach’s growling.”
Sighing, Harry got up from the bench. “Okay, George. I guess it is time for lunch, but I still say I can smell love in the air.”
“It’s the corned beef and cabbage, you dope. Cain’t you tell the difference?”
“George, my friend,” Harry said, placing his hand on his friend’s shoulder as they jiggled their legs to work out the stiffness, “It may smell like corned beef and cabbage to you, but it’s got magic in it. In fact, I have this feelin’ that love is just around the corner for me.”
They both started across the street, but just as they reached the center of the road, a car came swerving around the corner and squealed to a halt, just missing George and knocking Harry flat. A beautiful woman jumped from the car and ran to kneel down beside Harry.
“Oh, sir, are you alive? Are you alive?”
Harry opened his eyes, looked up into her delightful face with its halo of golden curls, and grinned broadly. “By golly, I told George love was just around the corner.” He got up and dusted himself off. Taking the young woman’s arm, he escorted her to the curb. “How about I buy you lunch, pretty lady,” he said, beaming at her. “Let’s step into the diner, here, and talk about our future.”
George followed them into the diner but went to sit at the lunch counter all by himself, shaking his head in frustration.
“What’ll you have,” Archie asked him.
“Confound it! Just give me a order of that love potion you got brewin’ in there.”
“You know – that derned corned beef and cabbage.”
Story # 2: FOR LOVE OF BERNADETTE
What he really wanted to do was own a dairy farm. Every evening when he finished work, he drove out of town and cruised by Old Man Swagle’s farm, looking at the fields of cows and the neat homestead – and dreaming.
Sometimes he’d stop, walk to the fence, and pet the cows. They knew him by now and came to him, but there was one particular brown and white lady who made sure she got the most of his attention. It made him feel loved.
If only he could manage to buy the farm. Old Man Swagle had put it on the market last year, but so far no one had met his price. Herbie had some money saved, and he’d talked to the bank about a mortgage, but Isabelle, his betrothed, said he’d be a fool to leave a secure business and go into debt for a cow farm. He used to love to talk about his dream, but lately, he’d just stopped mentioning it to Isabelle. He didn’t like the quarrels it led to. Sometimes he wondered …. But … they’d been engaged a whole year. It wouldn’t be right to back out now.
One afternoon, when Herbie didn’t have any appointments, he spent a couple hours sitting on the fence, talking to the cows and petting his favorite. As he glanced toward the farmhouse, he saw Swagle’s 11-year-old grandaughter came running across the field. He knew she visited often, and today she hailed him. “Hi,” she said. “Grandpa sent me to fetch Bernadette.”
“Oh, is that her name?”
“Yep. Grandpa let me name her.” She gave him a speculative look. “ My Grandpa said you want to buy this farm.”
“He did, huh? Well he’s right, but I don’t think I can.”
“Oh,” she said, hanging her head in disappointment. “I sure wish you could buy it.” She looked up. “My Grandpa is getting really tired and wants to come into town and live at my house with me and Mommy and Daddy. I stayed all night last night, and I heard Grandpa praying a long time that God would send someone today to buy the farm and take care of the cows the way he does.”
Herbie felt tears rush to his eyes.
“Why can’t you buy it?” she asked.
He cleared his throat. “Well … the lady I’m going to marry doesn’t want to live on a farm.”
“But you love cows. I can tell. I’ve watched you petting them and talking to them.”
“And you’d keep them and take care of them just like Grandpa does.”
Herbie nodded again. “If I could buy the farm.”
They were both quiet for a few moments — each lost in personal thoughts. Finally, she looked up at him with determination in her eyes.
“You know what I think?” she said.
“I think you should tell that dumb lady to marry someone else, and you should come and live here with Bernadette.”
Herbie looked at the child thoughtfully for a few moments. Then a huge grin spread across his face. Suddenly, he hopped off the fence and jogged toward his car.
“Where you goin'” the girl called after him.
Herbie glanced back over his shoulder, but he didn’t stop. “To the bank!”
Story # 3: GOODBYE, SNOOKY
“Here we are, folks: the legendary bar where Snooky Adams was gunned down by his partner, Lila Corbell.” The young tour guide positioned himself against the bar to imitate the gangster, leaning on one elbow and scanning the group with a cocky light in his eyes. He was dressed in Snooky’s signature red turtle-neck and gray, pinstriped jacket, his hair slicked back in Snooky’s oily-smooth style. The resemblance was perfect — disturbingly so.
He continued to relate the history of Snooky and Lila, the gangster’s lover and partner in crime. As he came to the events that led to Snooky’s last minutes, he turned from the audience and looked into the wide mirror behind the bar, intending to make eye contact with his group again via that reflection. But instead, as his eyes focused in the mirror, he suddenly shouted, “Lila!”
His audience jerked heads to look behind them at the same second the shots rang out. But seeing no one else in the room, they all turned back to their guide. He was on the floor, three bullet holes in his chest.
Lila’s reflection lingered in the mirror, smoking gun in hand. The tour group stood speechless, thinking surely this was a staged production. But the gruesome realization that the bullets had entered the guide’s chest, rather than his back, struck them completely dumb. While they stood entranced, the guide bled his life out onto the scuffed wooden floor, and Lila, a satisfied smile on her lips, faded from the mirror.
Story # 4: WHAT IF?
“The planet Verdure is still in a state of internal combustion,” he replied, his face pinched. He looked at the camera relay screen. “Watching that planet disintegrate right before my eyes and knowing I can’t stop it is tearing my guts out.”
“How long do we have?”
“I’ll know more when Beryl and Oma return. They’re out measuring the light levels in the power garden.”
“That red gas is our main enemy?”
“Yes, as our energy pods absorb it, their energy – the energy that holds this planet together – is drained off and absorbed by the gas.”
He panned the camera across the power garden of mushroom-shaped growths from which the planet drew all of its life. “See how many of the healthy purple pods have absorbed the gas until they have turned red and shrunk to half their original size?”
He panned to the pod where Beryl and Oma were still at work. Oneida spoke: “Look, Oma’s starting to descend. Maybe they’ll be back with their report soon.”
“Yes, but I’m not sure I want to hear it. Sometimes, I think we should turn off all the surveillance equipment so we can’t see it all happening one step at a time. Perhaps we should all just gather in the communal hall and do our best to comfort each other until it comes.”
“Until the end comes, do you mean?”
“Of course! What else?”
She looked at him gravely. “I’ve been thinking ….”
“Well … I’ve been wondering … Did we just happen?” Tron looked at her quizzically, and she continued: “I mean … well … I find it hard to believe this whole planet of Mushroom just happened – and that all of us who live here were non-existent one second and then – bang – here we were!” She looked at him hopefully.
“I don’t think I’m following you. What does it have to do with Verdure’s decomposition and destruction of everything within its electro-magnetic sphere?”
“Don’t you see? If we didn’t just … happen … then someone or something more intelligent, more creative, more powerful than ourselves had to have created us. And if that someone cared enough to make us, then wouldn’t it – or he – care enough to save us?”
Tron’s eyes grew large. Oneida could see that it was a concept he’d never imagined. But now … with no other possible avenue of hope … perhaps even he thought it was worth considering.
She continued. “I guess I’m wondering if we were to look back in all the records of Mushroom – especially the copies of those old black books the leaders buried underground last century — ”
“You mean you think there might be answers to our origins in those books? But the leaders insisted that they were lies and made it illegal for any citizen of Mushroom to read them.”
“But what if we could find out … and … what if … just what if we learned that there was a creator … and we could find a way to connect with him —”
“Is it? Our survival is impossible as we are now. But, just think, Tron … What if ….?”
Story # 5: THROUGH GEOFFREY’S WINDOW
“Oh, look!” Sally called out to her brother as she ran toward the odd wooden door that had a window with a giraffe painted on it. Jackie followed more slowly.
“That’s sure a funny-lookin’ door,” he said. “It isn’t hooked to any walls.” His eyes searched the area on either side of the door. “And, look … there’s nothing behind it either!”
“But it has a pretty window,” Sally answered.
By that time, they both stood before the door, staring up at the giraffe in the window. Suddenly the giraffe spoke: “Hello, there.”
The children sucked in their breath at the same time and looked at each other with eyes made huge by the shock.
“Did you hear that?” Jackie asked.
Sally nodded and turned back toward the window. “Did you say something, Mr. Giraffe?”
“Yes, I did. I said Hello.”
“Oooh, Helloooo!” Sally said. “We didn’t know you were real.”
“Well, I’m not real to everybody, of course.”
“No, no. In fact, most people just pass right on by and never even stop to look at me, so I remain just a picture to them.”
“Then why are you real for us?” Jackie asked, skepticism in his young voice.
“Because you believe in make-believe,” the giraffe replied.
“May we come in?” Sally asked.
“Don’t be so dumb, Sally,” Jackie said, taking hold of her arm. “There’s nothing behind the door.”
“I’m back here,” said the giraffe.
Sally reached up and turned the knob.
+ + +
Suddenly jolted out of her reverie by the ringing of the phone on her desk, Sally jumped. She had been reminiscing again. She smiled. She did love to remember how it had all started some twenty years ago. She picked up the receiver. “Hello.”
“Hey, sis, how’s it going?”
“Great. Just finished the 10th book in the series.”
Jack laughed on the other end of the line. “I just can’t get over it, Sis. Who would have thought your turning that doorknob to step into Geoffrey Giraffe’s world would have landed you nine best-selling children’s books.”
“Well, Geoffrey was so grateful, you know. He had lived in there for so many years with no one believing, and was so lonely for friends.”
“He certainly found a faithful one in you. And your Through Geoffrey’s Window series has made him famous.”
“Yes. And now thousands of children believe. You know, I think it’s about time I went back for another visit. I’ll read him this new story, and I know he’ll love it.”
Story # 6: CELLO LOVE
They’d met at a rehearsal in this very theater. He, with his polished coat of dark walnut, was instantly captivated by her honey-maple coloring – but even more so by the sweet voice she gave to every note assigned her in the performances. Standing beside her during a performance always brought out something in his own tonal quality that he knew would not have been there if he hadn’t been playing to impress her. And as the sounds from each of them blended in the symphonies, his heart soared.
Eventually, bravely, he’d professed his love to her, and she’d responded exactly as he’d hoped. From that moment, their harmony became something so rare that many a conductor had commented on it to the musicians who owned them, and they had made exquisite music together for 74 years.
Now, with their respective masters in their graves, the two aging instruments rested against the wall of an old closet behind the stage of the theater that had been home to so many of their performances. His coat was battered and marred significantly. But her luster still had the power to draw music from him every time he looked at her. They sighed quietly – in unison. They still had each other – and the music that lived within them. His strings touched hers in a gentle caress. Her instant response released the beginning notes of a new song.
Outside, people slowed their stride as they passed the old theater. “There it is again,” said one young lady, as she stopped and inclined her head toward the old building. Others stopped. “Do you hear it?” she asked them. They nodded, looking at her oddly because the theater was completely dark, and the doors had been boarded up.
An elderly gentlemen ambled toward them and stopped as soon as he heard the music. “Aaahhh, yes, I thought it was about the right time.”
The young woman looked at him. “So you were expecting to hear it too?”
“Oh, yes,” he said. “Every evening.”
“That’s what’s so strange,” she said. “Every night, I’m sure I hear music coming from inside — some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard. But there is never anyone there.”
The old man smiled. “My dear, there may not be any people inside, but somewhere within these old walls, there is still love. And where there is love, my dear, there is always music.”
This weekend I dug into my poetry archives and dusted off a few of my old poems. Thought I’d give them a re-run and some time in the sun. So below you will find a few of my favorites. Of course, “favorites” is a relative term. Some days I like one better than another, and my preferences change with the wind, but — for today — here’s what I have to offer.
Middle age is calling me,
But I just cannot go.
I have too much of childhood left,
So much that I don’t know.
Why, I still love to color
And to play with paper dolls.
I still delight in bubble pipes
And bouncing rubber balls.
Ah, middle age is calling me,
But I just cannot go.
I still feel like a coed,
Full of life from head to toe.
Yes, middle age is calling me,
But my decision’s made.
I’m just too young at heart to go.
Middle age’ll have to wait!
Heave! – Ho! Heave! – Ho!
Over the rim and into the stow;
The anchor’s away, and we have to go.
Heave Ho, me mates, Heave Ho!
I had shore leave, but now ’tis done,
And I must sale at rise of sun,
To join the fight two weeks begun,
Heave Ho, me mates, Heave Ho!
Heave! – Ho! Heave! – Ho!
Over the rim and into the stow.
The anchor’s away, and we have to go.
Heave Ho, me mates, Heave Ho!
I kissed my love and wished her well;
Said, “I must make my way to hell;
To win this war my soul I’d sell!”
Heave Ho, me mates, Heave Ho!
Heave! – Ho! Heave! – Ho!
Over the rim and into the stow;
The anchor’s away, and we have to go.
Heave Ho, me mates, Heave Ho!
I found a locket nestled ‘neath a tree.
It sparkled, and it twinkle, and it surely winked at me.
It looked forlorn, forgotten, skimmed with dew,
And I felt an intruder as I wondered what to do.
At last I reached and plucked it from the grass.
The chain was fragile – I could tell – and had a broken clasp.
A lovey heart, engraved on back and front,
Showed me it was a gift of love that someone still would want.
I opened it with tender, loving care,
And found, all safe and snug inside, a single lock of hair.
The curly tress was of the darkest brown,
And I felt so entranced by this small mystery I’d found.
But I was in a quandary what to do:
How to locate the rightful owner I had not a clue.
Then finally I thought, “I’ll advertise,
And if the owner sees my ad, there’ll be a nice surprise.”
I tucked it in my pocket, nice and warm,
And, eager to relay my news, I headed quickly home.
I couldn’t help but sing a little song,
So happy I could have a part in helping love along.
I know a guy who’s very tall,
Stands six feet, seven inches.
He finds his height a great delight,
An asset in the clinches.
He’s very smart, and that’s a help.
It compensates the strain
Of all the time it takes for blood
To move from heart to brain.
In public he stands proud and straight;
He literally has a ball
When people lean waaaay back and say,
“My goodness, you are tall!”
Height has its setbacks, though. Take clothes:
They must be special bought.
And going in and out of doors,
He must take special thought.
And then there’s dating; it’s a trial:
He’s anxious, Heaven knows,
To hold his partner cheek to cheek,
Not middle chest to nose.
But, still, he sees his height as Heaven’s
Gift — a special gene.
Believes all men wish to be tall,
And with envy they are green.
So happily he struts about,
Looking for that perfect mate.
His only foe the hometown priest,
Who stands at six foot, eight.
Sister Mary Margaret will never live it down:
I guess you’d say the story’s set in stone.
Our town is now quite famous, and the tourists flock around.
And it’s for sure the credit’s hers alone.
But Sister Mary Margaret will never live it down.
She did wait for somebody else to act.
But since no man among us would move to save the town,
The sister did her duty well; that’s fact.
But Sister Mary Margaret will never live it down:
You see, a bull came charging down Main Street –
Stompin’, snortin’, chargin hard at people all around –
And all the folks made haste in their retreat.
Poor Sister Mary Margaret will never live it down:
She had just finished services at church.
She stepped out to the street; her smile became a frown.
Her gold-rimmed glasses on her nose she perched.
Ahh, Sister Mary Margaret will never live it down:
The bull so wild was goin’ to take a life.
Up came her skirt; her petticoat she ripped it right around:
A petticoat as RED as cherries ripe!
Poor Sister Mary Margaret will never live it down:
The gasps of horror echoed through the air.
For no one – not one single person ever could condone
A nun who wore bodacious underwear.
Sad Sister Mary Margaret will never live it down.
But at her petticoat that bull did charge.
And Sister Mary Margaret taunted him right out of town,
And off the cliff that bull she did discharge.
But Sister Mary Margaret will never live it down.
Poor Sister Mary Margaret will never, never, never live it down.
She walks in ‘beauty,’ like the night,
But morning hours she feels a fright.
She cannot seem to get it right
‘Til she’s worked hours in mirror’s light.
Each day she wakes with cheerful sun,
Then looks in mirror and feels undone.
How can she venture forth for fun
‘Til make-up’s on that weighs a ton?
She struggles to impress the crowd
And hold her head up high and proud,
To make sure she is not a dowd,
But ‘neath the load her heart is bowed.
Because she feels she must comply
With this world’s rampant beauty lies:
“Wear this on lips and that on eyes,
And starve that waist, those hips and thighs.
“Walk tall on heels that are quite frail,
And don’t forget those fingernails.
Stuck on with glue that cannot fail,
All fear of fungus kept curtailed.
“Now bleach those teeth until they shine –
Until your smile the sun would blind.
Don’t button top; wear loose neckline,
So lots of cleavage you can find.”
And on she goes at each day’s light,
So stressed and strained to do it ‘right’ —
To find acceptance in world’s sight,
For deep inside there is a fright.
She fears and doesn’t have a clue,
That deep inside a beauty true
Awaits its chance to make debut,
If she’d but to herself be true.
My love affair with the Smoky Mountains began when I was still a very young child. Except for a two-year stint in Fort Wayne, IN, my years between infancy and third grade were spent in Southern Illinois. And most of our family travels took us into the northeastern sections of the country. But when I was six, my family traveled south for the first time. On our way to South Carolina, we passed through Tennessee, and I came face to face with the homeland of my Cherokee ancestors: the Appalachian Mountains – and specifically the area known by that time as The Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
I remember two specific things about those mountains. In one sense they were a little frightening to a six-year old. Highways were not what they are now, and the less developed highways ran in among those mountains with a little more drama than they do today. The inclines were exceptionally steep in places, with warning signs everywhere about making sure autos were in lowest gear and with stories rampant about “runaway” semis barrelling down those inclines. I remember coming around curves more than once where the road looked as though it would literally lead straight into the mountain. It was a little overwhelming in one way, but it was tremendously exciting as well. The second thing that struck me was that within these mountains and their foothill regions dwelt people of a different culture and attitude toward life. It wasn’t just the Cherokee people who exhibited that difference. It was virtually all the people who called that place home.
That particular trip touched, not just me, but also my parents. They fell in love with Tennessee and decided that they wanted to live there. When an opportunity came along to do so – through a job opening in Nashville, TN – my parents jumped at it. Nashville wasn’t in the mountains, of course, but it was a lot closer. I can honestly say that I have never lived any place that was so special to me as Nashville, Tennessee. I fell in love again – with the city of Nashville and the whole state of Tennessee.
In the years following, my family and I made many trips into the Smoky Mountains. We saw the Park and the surrounding towns change considerably during that time, but the area never lost its unique culture. And having a strong Cherokee heritage in my own life, the older I got, the more I wanted to know and be known by the people who had given me my great grandmother. My immediate family eventually moved back to Illinois, but we have never stopped visiting the Smoky Mountains.
I’ve wondered sometimes if there’s something in my own blood that calls me home to the Smokies. I don’t recall ever visiting any other place – or even living in any other place – that kept pulling me to come back to it the way the Smokies do — or where I felt so much as if I were “home” each time I visited. Over more recent decades, I’ve tried to maneuver some things in my life and work out a way to have my work and my everyday life in the midst of that area of the country. But the Lord has kept opening doors to the ministry He wants me to do in other areas instead. So those other areas remain my world of everyday life. And, alas, I am still relegated to making visits to my mountains.
But those visits, over the years, have gleaned me an entire family of wonderful characters who do get to live and love and work and play right in the midst of the Smokies. So I’ll have to settle for that. When writing the books in The Smoky Mountain Series, I live there with them and enjoy being “home” for all those months. And I’m grateful that, through these books, I can truly live in two worlds at the same time.
The Smoky Mountain Series began with the novel Set Free To Love, which was actually the first novel I had ever written — although it was not the first of my novels to be published. The second book nudged its way into my heart and mind just as I was writing the conclusion of Set Free, and by that time, I couldn’t shut off the flow. Two more novels later, I had a four-book series, but book number 5 is in progress even as I write this post.
Most of you, my readers, know that I have finally been catapulted into the digital age, and I can now offer Set Free To Love in digital format for all those lovely technologically advanced gadgets that make reading while on the go so easy.
You can find Set Free To Love — and a synopsis of the story, along with a rerun of this article — at the Kindle store by clicking on the book cover above, and you’ll find book number 2 (Cameron’s Rib) in the same store shortly. So many readers have shared with me about how they have been blessed by Set Free To Love. I hope all the new readers will be equally blessed as well.
Oh, and one more thing: Last fall, on my most recent trip to the Smokies, I picked up a little magnet for my refrigerator door that says, “Heaven’s a little closer in the mountains.” Ahhh, yes it is, my friends. YES IT IS!