A long time ago, in a place far, far away…okay, it wasn’t that long ago, and the place isn’t all that far away. However, it doesn’t exist anymore.
Are you wondering where it is? What I’m talking about?
One of my favorite Christmas memories occurred in a weathered gray house far out in the sticks of west Tennessee. It was an unplanned stayover with Grandma and Clarence, my step-grandfather. We’d paid a visit on Christmas Eve, when Mom and Dad decided it would be nice to stay the night.
After assuring my brothers and me that Santa would surely find us, they tucked us into bed. Then, the parents quietly left to “bring Christmas.”
The old mantel clock chimed the hours, while I tried to imagine how Santa would get in. There was only a metal pipe attached to the pot-bellied woodstove. No fireplace. The smell of wood smoke assured me the stove was too hot for anyone to come near.
But my worries were unfounded. The red-clad elf had found a way. A small, hastily cut, and sparsely-decorated cedar tree stood in the front room, blending its pungent aroma with the wood smoke. And beneath its branches, we found toys and sacks of goodies.
It probably wasn’t an especially great holiday for Mom. But it was a sacrificial gift to Grandma, giving her the rare opportunity to see some of her grandkids wake up to Christmas morning. And it was a celebration I still remember with a mixture of joy and sadness. (Betty and her grandmother below in the 1980s)
Grandma’s been gone for nearly forty years, and the house is gone, too. Where she lived and raised chickens, grew beautiful flowers, and a productive kitchen garden, is an empty parcel of land. Nothing grows on it now but weeds. Where there had been cotton fields and corn to feed the horses, and a big barn to house the horses—all gone. No trace.
But the three kids grew up to raise families of their own. My elder brother owns a large farm where he and his wife raise cattle and board horses. My younger brother helps build cars. And I write books.
When I sat down to write the Kinsman Redeemers series, I decided to place the story in those long ago days, on the small farm where I’d walked as a girl. At one time, I knew every hollow, every “critter” path, every nook and cranny. I helped dig in the earth to harvest root crops. I reaped beans and peas, tomatoes, and squash. I chopped cotton in the summer, and picked cotton in the fall.
I fell asleep to the songs of the night creepers, frogs, and crickets. Woke up to the aroma of meat frying and biscuits baking in the oven. And I will never forget the southern voices, with their warm west Tennessee drawl.
I’ve stood on the barren land, where I could still hear the echo of long-ago—children laughing, day laborers singing—the jingle of tack and harness as the workhorses delivered their loads. The plop of a fish jumping in the pond. When the whippoorwill sent up its mournful cry, I vowed never to forget.
You’ll find these memories of sounds and life recorded in the pages of my novels. And in this way, I pass on those precious times spent with loved ones and long ago friends. Through the magic of imagination, I’ve done my best to breathe life into them. I hope you’ll think so, too.
Rose here: I hope you got a taste of Betty’s beautiful lyrical writing from her memory. I felt like I was there with her in the “weathered gray house” in Tennessee. She has written two books in the Kinsman Redeemer series, and is offering the second one, Sutter’s Landing as a giveaway, so please leave a comment to be entered. Maybe you could even leave one of your own Christmas memories! Then travel to her blog and leave a comment on my post starting tomorrow to win one of my books. A double giveaway! We will both contact the winners next weekend!