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    July 2017
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Aunt Eileen’s Chicken Dinner

These Stories My Family Tells are obviously ones we’ve heard many times in my family. That’s kind of the point. So, when we were young and any of my Dad’s siblings would come to visit, we knew we were going to be hearing some funny stories, well told. One of my favorite stories is one my Aunt Eileen used to tell on herself and I started anticipating hearing it the moment she arrived.

My Dad’s family grew up way, wa-a-a-ay back in the hills of Eastern Kentucky. Roads? Were there roads? Of a sort—a narrow, gravel track winding its way to the homestead. So, these were not people who popped into town for non-essentials. They stayed put, raised their own animals, and tended a large garden.

My Aunt Eileen had a lower pitched, gravelly-sounding voice and would always start this story with a laugh. “One time I decided to help Mommy with supper,” she would say, and I would start grinning.

Supper was whatever food was found in the garden or barn yard. But Aunt Eileen didn’t want to help with one of the easier tasks, such as picking a few tomatoes, or shucking some green beans. No, she would prepare the chicken. And that didn’t mean pulling a dressed chicken out of the refrigerator. The chickens were roaming around outside in the yard, scratching for bugs.

But after all, she’d seen her Mommy wring a chicken’s neck before. How hard could it be? For someone who knows what they are doing, wringing a chicken’s neck is a quick, simple procedure. However, for a six-year-old child who lacks the strength and skill, it’s neither simple, nor quick.

Eileen grasped the chicken around the neck and started swinging, but the chicken wasn’t cooperating. It wouldn’t die. Swing, swing, swing. . .swing, swing, swing. Still alive. Finally, Mammaw saw what Eileen was doing and ordered her to put down the chicken.

When my aunt released that poor chicken, it went staggering around the yard as if it had been on a weekend bender. “Brrrraaaahk, brok, mrrrrahhhk!”

My aunt would laugh and laugh. It makes me happy that she passed on one of her cherished memories and in the process, created a cherished memory for me.

Stella is not amused

Stella is not amused

Don’t miss the rest of the Stories My Family Tells as I Write 31 Days this October. Click here to check out the wide range of topics from a wide range of writers

The Economics of Halloween Candy

Are you stocking up on Halloween candy yet? I used to love Halloween. It was the only time there was a lot of candy in our house. You know that is the focus for kids, right? Also, it doesn’t matter how much you are trying to impart the deeper meaning of the traditions behind various holidays, here is the way kids think: Easter = chocolate bunnies, Memorial Day = s’mores, Independence Day = ice cream, Halloween = candy, and Thanksgiving = pie. Christmas is special though. Christmas = presents.

But getting back to Halloween: Mom used to tell us a story of a politician in the making. Once after the annual neighborhood candy shake-down (saying “Trick or treat” is actually a threat, you know) she heard our five-year-old brother Ronnie dividing up the candy with his cousins, David and Danny. Like this:

  1. Ronnie, to David: “One for you and one for me.”
  2. Ronnie, to Danny: “One for you and one for me.”
  3. Repeat until the candy is gone.

Is not that an excellent example of a politician’s definition of equal division of goods!

Probably the five-year-old actually thought he was being fair, and I’m sure Mom corrected the situation.

Still, it seems the kid had a career path chosen at a very early age.

Don’t miss the rest of the Stories My Family Tells as I Write 31 Days this October. Click here to check out the wide range of topics from a wide range of writers.

A Bargain at Any Price

When my niece, Karen, was four years old, and her sister, Ashley about two, they took a trip with their mom to visit their Aunt Kathy and family. Mama Susie was driving and Aunt Kathy was occupying the front passenger seat. The two girls were in the back seat, doing what many siblings do on long car trips—fighting and quarreling. Then the antics began escalating to smacking each other.

Finally, Mama had enough. She glanced (glared, maybe?) back at her daughters and delivered that Classic Mom Line, “Am I going to have to pull this car over? Because if I do, I’m going to paddle you both!”

Instant silence from the Peanut Gallery.

Then, a small, still four-year-old voice came from the back seat, saying, “Mama, I give you a quarter, you not give us a spanking.”

Of course during this mother/daughter exchange, Aunt Kathy was doing her best to keep from laughing. You may remember, Kathy was sent to her room once for threatening the efficacy of character training with her laughter and now she was risking a paddling at the side of the road. After shushing her sister, Susie responded to her daughter’s negotiations for a quarter, “Well, I’m sorry, Karen. That’s just not enough!”

Instant silence, again. The next thing they hear is Karen’s small, plaintive voice saying, “I’ll give you a dollar.”

Don’t miss the rest of the Stories My Family Tells as I Write 31 Days this October. Click here to check out the wide range of topics from a wide range of writers

The Clown Car

You may be surprised to learn that my family was part of a circus act. We performed every Wednesday evening and twice on Sunday for a least a year back in 1973, then expanded our act in 1974.

This was the gig the congregation at our church would gather to watch after every service ended: My family of six people would all pile into the family car, a 1973 Ford Pinto (You see, it was a clown car before the act even got started.)

To begin, Wayne would get in and sit on the hump in the back. Kathy and I would fold ourselves in on either side of him, where I would balance Dad’s guitar case. The members of the Back Seat Crew weren’t little either. We were aged sixteen, twelve, and ten years old at the time. After the BSC were settled, the FSC would perform. Susie would climb in the front of the car and perch prettily on the console, and Dad and Mom would swoop gracefully in to take the spacious driver and passenger seats, respectively.

The bonus for the congregation was if they were outside to see the front end of our performance when we burst out of the car after arriving at church. I think some people came to church just to watch our performance, but it is not an evangelizing tool I would recommend.

And the expansion of our act? Mary Ellen was born. She, of course, immediately snagged a coveted spot with the FSC on Mom’s lap. The BSC, of course, was taxed with the responsibility for keeping up with her carry-on luggage filled with clothing, food, and burp cloths which the little princess demanded as her due. Such a prima donna!

Don’t miss the rest of the Stories My Family Tells as I Write 31 Days this October. Click here to check out the wide range of topics from a wide range of writers.

Phone Soup

This story is adapted from one I told on this blog years ago, but my girl asked for it again. So Abs, this is for you.

Scott and I did not jump on the cell phone band wagon as soon as it started rolling along. There were two reasons for this: 1) We knew that technology becomes cheaper if you wait a while, and 2) in the words of my nephew, Scottie, we’re “old foggies.”

So, it wasn’t until 2005, that we finally sprung for cell phones. Ahh! Early millennial cell phones—they flipped, you know. These were a major purchase for us, and were intended to last a long time.

One day, Abigail had a few friends over for lunch. I was busy filling soup bowls, filling water glasses, fetching crackers and grapes. After all the friends were set for lunch, I sat down to enjoy my soup.

I glanced around, saw my cell phone on the table, then noticed an absolute forest of water glasses. I wondered why I had filled the glasses so full and why they looked so. . .so menacing. I looked at the water glasses, looked at my cell phone, looked at the water glasses, plucked my phone up to avoid the imminent flood—and dropped it in my soup.

Oh, yes. I did.

Don’t miss the rest of the Stories My Family Tells as I Write 31 Days this October. Click here to check out the wide range of topics from a wide range of writers

The Knee’d for Restraint and Restraints

If you remember, I told you how easily Mary Ellen could disrupt a church service—and promised another example. The time for that story is now.

Mary Ellen was slightly older in this story. Don’t get me wrong. She wasn’t loud in church. She didn’t cry or fuss much that I remember—no beating on the pew with her toys or anything like that. Mary Ellen was a stealth disrupter.

At the small church where my Dad was pastor, the order of service usually went like this: opening prayer, congregational singing, prayer requests and congregational prayer, special singing, then the sermon. There was a young man named Eugene who would often play his guitar and sing during the special singing time. Eugene was a good guy, and bless his heart, he persevered through circumstances that would have put off someone less determined. Once when he was singing and playing the guitar, the microphone started to sink. The mechanism that kept the microphone at a chosen height became loose for some reason, and the microphone started a slow-motion descent.

Eugene didn’t let that incident stop him however. And later, at another church service when he was singing, we noticed he looked a little flushed. He kept singing though, getting redder in the face as the song progressed. When the song was finished, Eugene. . .and Mary Ellen came out from behind the lectern and down off the podium.

I don’t know how Mary Ellen got up there without anyone seeing her—stealthy, like I said. But the reason Eugene had such a problem finishing the song is because Mary Ellen was standing behind him, with her head stuck between his knees and one little arm around each of his shins!

This was about the time Mom started harnessing Mary Ellen to the pew. Just kidding! It would have been a waste of time with our little Houdini anyway.

Don’t miss the rest of the Stories My Family Tells as I Write 31 Days this October. Click here to check out the wide range of topics from a wide range of writers

Autumn Leaves

October gave a party;
The leaves by hundreds came,—
The Ashes, Oaks, and Maples,
And leaves of every name.
The sunshine spread a carpet,
And every thing was grand;
Miss Weather led the dancing;
Professor Wind, the band….
The sight was like a rainbow
New-fallen from the sky….
~George Cooper (1840–1927), “October’s Party,” c.1887


Nearly everyone who knows me knows that autumn is my favorite season. October is my favorite month. Better writers than I have tried for hundreds of years to capture the season in words, and I don’t think anyone has succeeded yet. I’m not even going to try. Besides, this story is really about my Mom.

Back in the early ‘90’s, I was in the Air Force stationed in Greece. Of course, I loved being there. It is gorgeous there on the blue, blue Mediterranean Sea. But. . .seasons don’t change there in the way they do in the eastern U.S. and I was missing my October colors.

Mom, being Mom, got creative to help me out. One day, when I walked to the post office on base, there was a package waiting for me. A package! This is like gold for someone stationed away from home. And this package was of the finest pure gold.  It was from Mom and was filled with sugar cookies, cut into leaf shapes, and frosted with the colors of October. They were the most beautiful cookies I’ve ever seen, and delicious as well.

A simple tale, but poignant for me in the telling, because it shows the essence of Mom’s love—thoughtful, creative and individualized. And this memory gave me yet another reason to hold to October as my favorite month.

Don’t miss the rest of the Stories My Family Tells as I Write 31 Days this October. Click here to check out the wide range of topics from a wide range of writers.

Bossy Big Brothers and Ornery Little Sisters

Stanley and Eileen are my Dad’s siblings, along with my Aunt Edith and Uncle Ernie. And according to my Dad, from the time Stanley and Eileen were old enough to do so, they spent the better part of their time arguing, bickering, and fighting. This was still happening into their early adulthood when this scene takes place. Stanley, as the oldest sibling, usually had the upper hand. However, as anyone who has a little sister knows, we girls often find a way to turn events to our own advantage.

It all started with the older brother, of course. Stanley had picked up fifteen cents Eileen had left lying around, citing that tired, old saying which is the bane of forgetful people, “Finder’s keeper.” Nothing Eileen said, either threatening or pleading, swayed Stanley one bit. Since the disagreement was settled (he supposed) Stanley went on about his day, preparing for a date he had later that evening. (If this were a movie, you now would hear the music turn to a minor key.)

Emerging from the house later, happy and fifteen cents richer, Stanley headed for the car, ready for a lovely time spent with his best girl. But first, he had to face down another girl, his sister Eileen. Eileen—who was in the car and had the keys. Eileen—who had locked all the car doors. Eileen—who wanted her fifteen cents back.

Now it was Stanley’s turn to threaten and plead, the threatening getting more menacing and the pleading getting more pitiful as time passed. Finally, rather than risk being late for his date, Stanley agreed to restore the fifteen cents to its rightful owner. Eileen rolled the window down, just far enough for Stanley to push the money through. She quickly scooted over to the far side of the car, unlocked the door, jumped out and RAN!

Dad never said whether Stanley made her pay later, but likely, he did—because that is the way of bossy big brothers and ornery little sisters.

Note bene: Fifteen cents may not sound like a lot of money to cause such a fuss, but at the time (late 40’s to early 50’s) fifteen cents could buy a dozen donuts, a pound of apples, or a loaf of bread. Besides, it’s the fight that counts—or something like that.

Don’t miss the rest of the Stories My Family Tells as I Write 31 Days this October. Click here to check out the wide range of topics from a wide range of writers.

The Weekend Trip from Heck

(Yes, from Heck. This is a family-friendly blog.)

My daughter, now nearly 20 years old, often chides me for being such a homebody. But it is partly her fault that travel holds such little charm for me.

When Abigail was a year old, we decided to take a four hour car trip to visit family in Kentucky. It was the first long trip we attempted with Abigail, because she didn’t travel well—meaning she did not drop off to sleep the instant one stuck the car key in the ignition, as most babies do. Abigail didn’t sleep in the car—at all.

Perhaps the trip started out all right. I really can’t remember, because of the traumatic experience that followed. First, the weather turned bad. Second, Abigail got colicky. Third, the Mama about lost her mind.

This was the sequence of events at my brother’s house on that particular Saturday night:

  1. The tornado siren would go off.
  2. We would all troop down to the basement for safety
  3. The tornado warning would expire
  4. We would all troop back upstairs to bed.
  5. Abigail would get colicky.
  6. I would take her outside for some fresh air, so she could breathe easier.
  7. The tornado siren would go off.
  8. Repeat at least two more times

The next morning, we headed home—in the rain. Because of all the rain, we learned the bridge across the Ohio River in Louisville was closed. We diverted to Cincinnati, still driving through the rain.

Seven hours and forty-five minutes after leaving my brother’s house for the four hour drive home, we pulled up beside our house. We unbuckled and got out of the car. Scott closed his door, not quite slamming it. Our eyes met across the expanse of the car roof and Scott said, more resolutely than I had ever heard him speak, “I am never going on another trip. as long. as. I. live.”

So, Abigail, my dear child, remember this story the next time you are urging me to go somewhere with you.

Don’t miss the rest of the Stories My Family Tells as I Write 31 Days this October. Click here to check out the wide range of topics from a wide range of writers.

The Reason Children Should Be Seen But Not Heard

One of the best things about having a wonderful brother is that, eventually, you can get a wonderful sister-in-law. And my family did. My sister-in-law Debbie has been a blessing to our family ever since Wayne convinced her to marry him over 30 years ago.

But even a sweetheart like Debbie has stories that can be used as blackmail material—excuse me, I mean to say, amusing stories from their childhood. And fortunately, Debbie’s mom, Wilda, is happy to share them with us.

Every parent has moments when a young child embarrasses them in public. My own daughter was a master at that when she was a baby. I held my breath, afraid, every time Abigail opened her mouth to speak when she was little. Not only was Abigail apt to comment on a stranger’s personal appearance (and not usually the good stuff,) but she was just as likely to invite them home for lunch.

This was not something Wilda worried about, as Debbie wasn’t a gregarious child. So Wilda wasn’t on guard when a lady in the grocery store stopped to comment on what a pretty baby Debbie was—such pretty hair and such big, brown eyes!

The not yet three-year-old Debbie sat in the cart, sober-faced, used her big, dark eyes to look the lady up and down, then said emphatically, “You old. . .hag.”

Debbie, when she was a little older and had learned how to smile at people

Debbie, when she was a little older and had learned how to smile at people

Don’t miss the rest of the Stories My Family Tells as I Write 31 Days this October. Click here to check out the wide range of topics from a wide range of writers.