We all have a favorite Christmas memory, and mine happens to be one of my earliest— As all kids do, I would pilfer around under the tree in the days leading up to Christmas, looking at the presents and looking for my name, and shaking those of course. When I was around five or six, at a certain point in all the looking and shaking, I realized my mama didn’t have a present under the tree. And that made me sad. I remember going into the kitchen where Mama was working (she was always working at something) and asking why she didn’t have anything under the tree. I don’t remember her answer, but she must have seen the distress on her youngest’s face. She didn’t tell me that providing Christmas for seven children put a severe strain on her and Daddy’s limited resources; she didn’t tell me they didn’t have the money to buy presents for themselves; she offered up a solution instead. She gave me a powder compact she hadn’t yet opened, a small square of Christmas paper, and told me I could wrap it up for her. To this day, I still remember how good it made me feel to put that small present under the tree for my mama. And looking back, I think I realized that day that it truly is better to give than receive. My favorite Christmas song, “Little Drummer Boy”, is about giving; more specifically about the giving of self, whether it’s your time, talent, donating to charities—something other than buying presents that put you into debt, and/or will be shoved in a closet and forgotten by New Year’s day. Make lasting memories instead. Little Drummer Boy (also known as Carol of the Drum) video Performed by: Vienna Boys Choir Written by: Katherine Kennicot Davis ©2019 KT Workman (Note: This was originally posted on a previous blog. I've been so busy this week, I haven't had time or energy to post, and very little time to read posts of those I follow. Here's wishing all a very Merry Christmas. I hope Santa brings you all your heart desires.)
Summer lies hot and heavy on the open field. The brown grass crackles under the little girl’s feet As she races from the house to the rambling branch, Almost—but not quite—bone dry from baked July days. Long-legged Sister and Brother are already there, Ankle deep downstream of the constant eternal spring, Lifting mossy stones, searching for pinchered treasure. The shy little girl joins them, splishing and splashing Ignoring their wrinkled brows and hot, flashing stares Knowing that treasures may go, but will also return. Soles gripping slimy stones, she lifts a plate-thin rock Lazing stuporously beneath the blue-green veil. And there! Treasure! Red-tipped pinchers raised high, it stares Beady-eyed at her, daring her to make a move, Daring her to attack—and she does, strikes boldly. Small hand darting snake-quick, she snares the piqued treasure, Flings it to the thirsty ground where water-things don’t tread. Her spring eyes dancing, she charges to the bald bank, Scoops up the crawdad, drops it in the gallon can Among the other treasures there, plotting escape. On the way back to the old, weathered house called home, Brother and Sister praise the girl’s special treasure, Eyes rolling, saying hers is the biggest of all. The little girl smiles, imagines the pride that will Shine on her mama’s tired but still beautiful face When the tale is told; and for that moment in time Of summer in the South, all is right with the world. ©2021 KT Workman
(Note: Written in free verse, which does not contain rhymes, strict meter, or the use of repetition. It has varied meter, but can use loose iambic pentameter and cadence.)
I don’t remember seeing my Grandma Workman laugh, or even smile, until after Grandpa Workman passed away. I was around eleven when he died, but I barely remember his death—or him. But I recall that to me, he was a scary, cranky old man who didn’t seem to like children. Funny considering the fact that he and Grandma had nineteen children.
My daddy was the eldest. He was a good daddy, a kind, gentle man who didn’t have a mean bone in his body. I suppose he must have gotten his goodness from Grandma because to hear him tell it, Grandpa had a terrible temper. I recall my daddy telling a story once about Grandpa, something about him getting so mad at a horse that he practically beat it to death. But if Grandpa treated his children and wife like he treated that horse, Daddy never spoke of it—at least not that I know about.
Grandpa died in his seventies. My grandma lived into her eighties. And it was somewhere in that time when she lived alone, when she was free to be herself, that I really got to know her.
When we were in our early teens, too young to date but not too young to like boys, my cousins, sisters Lesa and Jennifer, (You have previously become acquainted with them if you’ve read “The Root House”) and I spent many Saturday nights at Grandma’s home. She’d sit cross-legged on the bed with us and talk about school, makeup, boys, whatever subject our featherbrained minds flitted upon. And even with her gray hair and wrinkles, she fit right in with us giggly girls. She took delight in our silly talk, her blue eyes sparkling like she was right in the thick of it with us—girls on the verge of becoming women. It was easy to forget she was our grandma.
Grandma’s house had two bedrooms, so we slept two to a bed, and we girls took turns on who had the honor of sleeping with Grandma—after we had talked ourselves out, which sometimes didn’t happen until the wee hours of the morning. No matter when we fell asleep, though, Grandma was an early riser, and we were up at the crack of dawn helping her fix breakfast. It was always the same: homemade biscuits, fried eggs, white gravy, and coffee. Grandma took her strong brew black, but Lesa, Jennifer, and I liberally laced ours with cream and sugar. Then, we tidied up the house and talked more.
I never thought about it at the time, but Grandma never had the chance to be a teenager, to be frivolous and lighthearted. She married Grandpa when she was thirteen. Child to wife, nothing in between. I don’t know how they managed it, but my daddy wasn’t born until Grandma was eighteen. Then it was one child after another. Nineteen children! I can’t even begin to imagine what that was like, always pregnant, always a baby at her breast. For over thirty years.
But you don’t ponder such things when you’re a fledging. You don’t think about your parents or grandparents as ever being young, walking the same path, thinking the same thoughts, having the same dreams as you. That comes after you are no longer young, after life has beat you down, and you realize that most of what you dreamed about, most of what you planted in the garden of your life is never going to bear fruit.
Then you wonder: Did Daddy’s life go the way he wanted it to? Did Mama ever dream of doing big things? Was Grandma happy with the hand fate had dealt her?
I don’t have the answer to any of those questions, and I never will. But I do know that for a couple of years, before Lesa, Jennifer and I moved on from just talking about boys to dating them, before we traded our Saturday nights with Grandma to Saturday nights with our boyfriends, we made her life exciting in a way she’d never experienced: we made her young again.
And it wasn’t all one-sided; she shared some of her experiences also: She and Grandpa fleeing West Virginia after Grandpa had beaten a man so severely that the man died. Their trip by covered wagon to Montana, where my daddy was born. The time she threatened to walk out on Grandpa, leaving him with the kids, if he didn’t stop drinking. (And it worked!)
Mostly though, she preferred talking about what was going on in my cousins and my lives. Through us, she lived the carefree, and sometimes heartbreaking, teenage years she never had.
But there are two things she told us girls that have stayed fresh in my mind for all these years. One was her telling us that Grandpa had never seen her in the altogether. Lord, did we ever wonder how they’d produced nineteen children, and he’d never seen her without clothes. And the one I still laugh about today. I can still hear her saying: “Girls, there’s nothing uglier on the face of this earth than a naked man.”
©2021 KT Workman
On a side note—the reason I used the image of an old woman’s bare feet is because I rarely saw Grandma Workman in shoes. One of my sharpest memories of her, second only to her grin that was so like my daddy’s, are her feet.
Mom so dear, I still hear your soft, sweet voice in my memories of a long-ago time. I was small, you a giant, quiet and gentle of nature. You were homemade bread, killer of snakes, dressmaker extraordinaire, cow milker, gardener, canner, factory worker, herder of children, a comfy lap, the scent of vanilla, honest sweat, a good example, warm heart, rough-workened hands, bent body. You were many things— Mama to me, home, sweet home, safety. Missed.
©2021 KT Workman
Happy heavenly Mother’s Day, Mama.
(Note: an etheree poem consists of 10 lines of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 syllables. The lines can be reversed in order—10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1. And you can do a double etheree, like my poem here, which is 20 lines of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1. Or can be written in reverse order.)
The summer I turned nine, The Root House ate my cousin Lesa’s foot.
Bad things happened to Lesa. I don’t remember if she was on the clumsy side or just suffered from plain old bad luck, but whatever the reason, she was always getting hurt. That’s just how it was.
When we were catching crawdads in the branch, she often slid on the moss-covered rocks, fell, and got her butt wet. (Then would want me, sister Linda and her sister, Jennifer, to get wet as well so she wouldn’t be the only one getting in trouble.). Thorny briars snagged her clothes and skin in the blackberry patches. She tripped over fallen tree limbs in the woods. There were four of us girls, two sets of cousins, but most of the bad stuff, accidents and what-nots, happened to Lesa—such as The Root House eating her foot.
Lesa and her little sister, Jennifer, had spent the night with me and Linda, who was twelve at the time. Lesa, Jennifer, and I had gotten up early the following day and had gone out to play, leaving Linda in bed sleeping. Linda had gotten her period a couple of months ago and thought she was all grown up now. She didn’t play much with our cousins and me anymore, and on top of that, had gotten downright cranky at times.
One of our favorite places to play was on and around a towering sycamore perched precariously on a steep section of a crumbling creek bank. The tree’s roots snaked over and under the ground, and an equal amount spoked the air over the stream that cut into the earth beneath it.
No sooner had the three of us arrived at what we referred to as “The Root House” than Lesa’s bare little foot sank up past the ankle into the soft dirt between two roots and became trapped there. I tried several times to pull her foot free, but it was wedged tight. No luck.
“Go get Linda,” I told Jennifer. We all knew that Linda, older, wiser Linda, could get Lesa’s foot unstuck. With a nod of her head, Jennifer was gone.
After a bit, Lesa wiggled her foot a little, and lo and behold, out it came. Then we heard voices: Linda and Jennifer’s.
Her eyes as big as saucers, Lesa looked at me and said, “She’s gonna be real mad we woke her up for nothing.” She glanced over her shoulder at our approaching sisters. Then she did the darndest thing: she stuck her foot back between the roots.
I thought it was a crazy thing to do, but I didn’t really blame her. Neither of my cousins would cross Linda back then; I didn’t care so much if she got irritated but knew my cousins were somewhat in awe of my older sister. And if Lesa wanted it to be Linda who rescued her from The Root House’s clutches, who was I to argue?
Then there was the time Brother Mike made a misstep when perched on the roots that stuck out over the branch. I was even younger than in the previous incident, and on this occasion, The Root House’s inhabitants were me, Mike, and Linda. My memory is sketchy, and I don’t recall if Mike slid all the way down to the few inches of water that ran over the flat rocks below or saved himself by grabbing onto some passing tree roots. I do remember, though, his scratched-up chest and hearing that he’d told his friends at school that Daddy had cut him with a chain saw.
The last time I remembered to look for The Tree House, which is visible from the road leading to my parents’ old home, it didn’t look nearly as impressive as when I was a kid. I suppose memories are that way, stored away as larger than they actually were. And I’ve read that our memory of an event changes down through the years, that each time it is recalled, it morphs slightly from the previous recollection. All I can say with certainty about The Root House is that it was a grand place to play, and it did eat Lesa’s foot.
©2021 KT Workman
My Granny Tucker was the kindest, gentlest soul I’ve ever known. And patient, lord above, did that woman have patience.
She came to live with my family when I was about three years old, following Grandpa’s death. I don’t remember Grandpa—probably just as well that I didn’t since according to my mama, he was a mean drunk—but I do remember Granny. I was still young, twelve or so, when she died, but many wonderful memories were crammed into those seven years, memories I’ll carry with me to my grave. And a few bad ones as well.
But I’ll get to the good ones first.
Granny read to me when I was a wee one. All my siblings were in school, and it fell to her to entertain me. But I don’t think she did it out of any sense of duty, but out of love. After I became a grandmother myself, I realized just how special grandchildren are. As a parent, one is often too busy to appreciate the company of a child, to experience the joy one feels in seeing their joy, to savor the love that fills one’s heart to bursting with love for that special little person.
But I digress.
In my mind, I see little me scrunched beside Granny in the old wooden rocking chair she favored. I hear her soft voice, feel the warmth of her thin, bony body against mine as she reads.
According to my siblings, Granny and I played teacher and student, with me insistent on being the teacher. I don’t remember this, but since my sister says I was a stubborn little thing, I’ll take it as fact. Being the spoiled baby of the family, I’m sure I was used to getting my way. I’ve mellowed since then. (“Yeah, right,” I can hear my siblings saying.)
When Granny’s sons (my uncles) visited, one of them—I think it was the uncle who always wanted money from her—invariably brought her a box of chocolate covered cherries. I don’t think Granny ate a single one; instead, she doled them out to her grandchildren. We seldom got candy, so the sweet, gooey chocolate mounds were pure delicacies to us. And to this day, my sister who is three years my senior, and I love chocolate-covered cherries with a passion.
The only mean thing I recall Granny doing was tattling on said sister and me. And looking back, I know it wasn’t really mean of her; it just seemed that way at the time.
One weekday morning, Sister and I decided we didn’t want to go to school so we pretended to be sick. Well, as soon as Mama headed out to the barn to milk the cow, Sister and I got out of bed, and if memory serves me correctly, went outside and played on the teeter-totter. Granny came out of the house and told us she was going to tell Mama as soon as she came back from milking. I suppose we got in trouble, and I suppose I was a little mad at Granny for a bit.
But I got over it. She was way too good to us kids for me to carry a grudge.
She got thinner over the years she lived with us, and frailer as well, but she told no one that she hurt or felt bad. The first clue we had that something was wrong was when I found her outside after she’d fallen. Mama took her to the doctor. I think exploratory surgery was done, and it was discovered she had colon cancer, was in fact so eat up with it that the doctors sewed her back up and sent her home to die.
And it wasn’t a pretty death; it was ugly and horrible, the way cancer most often is—at least that how it was in those times.
She had pain medication, but it could only do so much. I remember Granny telling Mama that rats were eating on her, and her taking my mama’s hand and placing it over her pubic hair to show her the rat.
Now, and even when I was just a kid, I wondered why such a good woman had to suffer so. And how could a loving God allow it?
I wasn’t in the room with her when she died, but for whatever reason, wasn’t in school that day. I remember seeing my mama crying and Daddy holding her. I remember my Grandma Workman, who was there helping out any way she could, coming into the front room to tell me what my Mama’s tears had already told me. I remember Grandma asking if I wanted to tell Granny Tucker goodbye. I remember going into the small bedroom where my Granny had breathed her last and staring at her beloved face.
But I didn’t cry. I knew that at long last, her suffering was over.
My Granny Tucker had loved to read, and that love was passed to Mama, then to me. I believe whatever small talent I have as a writer originated with those two wonderful women. That is why I use the Tucker name (It is the “T” in KT.) as part of my penname: to honor them with my words, the only way I know how.
An old Conway Twitty song titled “That’s My Job” just about sums it up. We go through our younger lives depending on our parents and grandparents to be there when we need them. But there comes a point when we step up to the plate, so to speak, and be the ones “doing the job.” The final stanza of Conway’s song brings this point home.
If you care to listen to it, I’ve added a YouTube link to it below. And if you don’t at least tear up listening to it, you’ve got a pretty hard heart.
©2021 KT Workman
Snow ice cream served up in a bowl (one of two) that Mama gave me when my first husband and I married many, many years ago—along with a few other needed odds and ends we didn’t receive at our wedding shower. The bowls are special, antiques at least as old as I am; but what makes them even more special is that they had belonged to my mama, that I had eaten out of them when I was a kid.
Last week, for the first time in several years, we received enough snow—around five inches—that I could scrape up (from my vehicle’s hood) clean, fresh snow and whip up a batch of snow ice cream. I have to say, it was almost as good as my mama used to make.
The simple treat took me back to winters spent in that weathered, drafty house filled with kids and love. Mama cooking on the wood stove, Daddy out tending the cattle, Granny Tucker sitting in front of the fireplace in an old, wooden rocker as close as she could get without scorching her legs. My brother, sister, and I out playing, having snowball fights, skating in our shoes on the frozen-over branch, our half-ass attempts to build a snowman. The time my brother fell on the ice and hit his head so hard the ice cracked. Seems like I recall him lying there for a bit before getting up. The time he threw a snowball at me with a rock packed inside and cracked the front door. I guess I’m lucky he missed me. The seemingly endless days we were out of school around Christmas break because the buses couldn’t run the rural routes.
The snow is gone now, though because of the unusual cold snap that arrived with it, hung around for a few days. When I looked out on all that snow, my mind traveled back to those times, long gone but never, ever forgotten. Yes, our house was old with cracks between the boards you could have slung the proverbial cat through. Yes, by today’s standards, we would have been considered poor. But you know, I never felt poor. I had a roof over my head, a warm fire—though you had to be practically on top of it to feel its heat—clothes to wear, good food in my belly, and loving parents. In all the things that really matter, I was rich.
©️2021 KT Workman
A few days ago, I saw the first sign that it won’t be long until spring in my neck of the woods. Near my patio, a tiny bed of tulips and daffodils are poking up through the cold, damp soil.
My mama always loved spring. She was an avid gardener of both vegetables and ornamental plants. In the growing season, if you went to visit in the daylight hours, most likely, you’d find her outside rather than in. As an adult, I don’t know how many times I dropped by, calling out for her as I let myself in the front door without knocking, only to be greeted with silence. I’d make my way to the kitchen, look out the window, and there she’d be, most of the time, in the garden, but sometimes in the yard tending her flowers.
In late winter, she’d pour over seed catalogs she received through the mail. I’m not sure if she ordered anything—I think not—but she loved to window shop. She purchased most of her seeds and plants at the local Farmer’s Co-op Feed Store in early spring, and as soon as the soil was warm enough, planted her onion sets, potato cuttings, leaf lettuce, radishes, turnips, and other hardy plants and seeds. Soon it was on to cucumbers, squash, bell peppers, tomatoes, corn, carrots, beans, peas, and last but not least: okra. (Please forgive me, veggies, if I left some of you out.)
I know our garden was important in feeding our large family, especially in the early years; but Mama continued raising a big garden long after all of us were grown and gone, long after there was a monetary reason to do so. As the years went by, Daddy helped her more and more. And my brother and sister-in-law, who lived nearby, took over the most backbreaking work, enabling her to continue doing what she loved.
Mama surrounded our old house with all manner of flowering plants and shrubs. She loved anything that grew—she had to. What other reason than love would she have for spending hours tending vegetables, then still carve out time to work her flowers? And all this while holding down a job in town for a lot of those years.
During the last few months of my mama’s life, her mind was slipping away. She died in mid-January when a lot of the days were cold, dreary, and sometimes rainy, as it is here today. Quite a few times, when she was cognizant of the weather outside, especially when it was raining, she’d remark that she wished it would stop so she could get out in the garden. It broke my heart because I knew she would never walk those rows again. I’d tell her it was winter, and the garden was resting, and she should too; that come spring, she’d be out there again.
In the years since she has been gone, when spring comes and everything is green and growing, I take it all in and think how Mama would love it. Sometimes, I cry. Sometimes, I smile. And sometimes, I do both.
©️2020 KT Workman
Image via Pixabay
I don’t like Christmas—there, I said it.
But to be more precise, I don’t like what Christmas has become. It’s all about shopping, buying presents for family, friends, acquaintances—as well as “deals too good to pass up” for oneself—and trying to outdo one another to see who has the most expensive and elaborate decorations, both indoors and out. And cost be damned! If one has to put it on a credit card that most likely will not be paid off when next Christmas rolls around, so be it.
For many, Christmas has become a secular holiday wrapped up in rampant consumerism—not to mention poor Thanksgiving, which has been co-opted into the holiday buying frenzy). Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think buying gifts is necessarily a bad thing; I just think it has been taken to excess. And on top of that, many children, and probably some adults, don’t even know the true reason for the celebration: the birth of Christ.
I wasn’t raised in an overtly religious family. Yes, we went to church on Sunday, sometimes on Sunday and Wednesday nights, and occasionally to revivals; but God and Jesus were not frequent topics of conversation. My parents taught values by example. Both were soft-spoken and kind, but believed in discipline when needed; did their best to teach their seven children right from wrong; worked hard to take care of the family without government help; and were there to help extended family members and neighbors in their time of need. In reality, we weren’t much different from most other families of that era.
Christmas at our house was more of a celebration of family, though we all knew it was Christ’s birthday. And I don’t think He probably minded all that much. Mama cooked for several days to feed her husband and children—and later on, spouses, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren—a scrumptious Christmas dinner. When I was still at home, us kids received a few gifts, but nothing expensive. And looking back, something I gave instead of received, is my most treasured memory…
In the days leading up to Christmas, as all kids do, I pilfered around under the tree, looking at presents, looking for my name, and shaking those, of course. When I was about five or six, at a certain point in all the looking and shaking, I realized my mama didn’t have a present under the tree. And that made me sad.
I remember going into the kitchen where Mama was working (she was always working at something) and asking why she didn’t have anything under the tree. I don’t remember her answer, but she must have seen the distress on her youngest’s face. She didn’t tell me that providing Christmas for seven children put a severe strain on her and Daddy’s limited resources; she didn’t tell me they didn’t have the money to buy presents for each other; she offered up a solution instead. She gave me a powder compact she hadn’t yet opened, a small square of Christmas paper, and told me I could wrap it for her.
I still remember how good it made me feel to put that small present under the tree for my mama. And looking back, I think I realized that day that it is better to give than receive, whether it’s your time, talent, donating to charities—something other than buying presents that put you into debt, and/or will be shoved in a closet and forgotten by New Year’s Day. (My favorite charity is The Salvation Army, an organization that helps all regardless of race, creed, or sexual orientation—despite what you may have heard or read otherwise).
Some years ago, I quit the Christmas rat race of spend, spend, spend. I put up a tree, cook a nice meal for my family, and in the years that little ones are about, get them a simple, inexpensive gift. My present to all is the getting together of family, which is not always easy to accomplish in today’s busy world.
I am not a religious person, but I am one who believes in tradition. We so need tradition in the fractured society we live in, and I think Christmas affords us that opportunity to come together as a family and appreciate the fact that we are lucky enough to have one. And to look past differing opinions and beliefs, and all the other “differings” of our families and fellow humans, and realize we are much more the same than we are different.
Love and peace to all, and a very Merry Christmas.
©️2019 KT Workman
Photo via Pixabay
My sisters, mother, and her mother all read extensively, my father and brother, not so much so. It didn’t dawn on me until I was an adult that only the women in my family were avid readers, and I wondered why that was so. My first thought was it had to do with genes, that only the females in my family had inherited the reading trait－if there is such a thing. Then it came to mind it might be learned behavior.
I don’t recall ever seeing my father read when I was growing up, but my mother was another story. She didn’t have much leisure time, taking care of a husband and seven kids, a farm/ranch, and holding down a job in town from time to time saw to that. But when she did have a minute or two free, it would be spent between the pages of a book.
Most of Mama’s days were spent moving from one chore to the next with no breaks in between; there was no time to read. So she made time. Most nights when she went to bed, she read for a while before turning off the lamp and settling in beside Daddy—if he was there and not working out of state. She traded much-needed sleep for the world of words.
When I was around four, Mama’s mother came to live with us after Grandpa died. Granny was a reader too. I remember sitting by her in the old wooden rocker she favored while she read to me in her soft, gentle voice. I remember wishing I could read for myself, and envying my brother and sisters who had been taught to read at school. I wanted to go to school and learn to read too (Once I got there, I hated it…a story for another time).
I don’t recall seeing my brother read a book. I think he was busy helping Daddy and doing guy things, and picking on me and another sister who were younger than he was. Maybe he thought reading wasn’t manly. I don’t know; you would have to ask him.
I have one child: a son who is not a reader. When he was small I read to him, and growing up, he saw me with my nose in a book every chance I got. Still, he didn’t read for pleasure. (He listens to books now, so I am at least grateful for that.) I wondered where I went wrong. Then all squinty-eyed I looked to his dad, an outdoorsman, and saw the problem. I had produced a child with a man with no interest in books.
I came to the conclusion that either my son did not inherit my love of reading, or by observing his father and other males in the family, subconsciously believed that reading was not an acceptable male pastime.
Nature or nurture, or a combination of both…I still don’t know the answer.
What do you think?
©️2019 KT Workman
Photo via Pixabay